By Saket Suman
New Delhi, Feb 16 (IANS) In a direct attack on the ruling establishment under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, former Finance Minister P. Chidambaram has accused it of violating individual and human rights, intimidating independent think tanks and mixing up history with mythology.
“This government has grossly violated individual and human rights. Some of the supporters of the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) tell us what to wear, what to eat, whom to love and whom to marry. Yet there is not a word from the Prime Minister condemning these extreme elements.” Chidambaram told IANS in an interview here on Thursday.
“Even in the current Uttar Pradesh elections, we have seen extreme statements made by star campaigners of the BJP. These trends do not auger well for an open democracy and thriving society,” the Chidambaram said, adding that he was hoping for maximum opposition unity to counter the ruling dispensation.
His book, “Fearless in Opposition: Power and Accountability” (Rupa/Rs 500), was jointly launched here last week by Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, CPI-M leader Sitaram Yechury and Congress leader Kapil Sibal.
In the book, Chidambaram has accused the government of motivating ultra-right elements to brand as anti-nationals those who disagree with its policies.
“According to this government, anyone who questions its policies is anti-national — anyone who asks why Rohit Vemula was forced to commit suicide, why a mob lynched Akhlaq in Dadri, why Kanhaiya Kumar was thrown into jail. Any thinking human being can but ask questions while anyone who asks questions is dubbed anti-national. As far as we in opposition are concerned, it is our duty to ask questions,” he said.
The 72-year-old Congress leader also expressed his disappointment over constant attempts to rewrite history and give a new interpretation to India’s cultural heritage.
Dubbing the BJP as an “ahistorical party”, he said it had no sense of history at all.
“History is an accurate record of what happened. It must be distinguished from mythology. Unfortunately, the BJP mixes up history and mythology and when people write history, each one will interpret history in the manner he or she thinks is right. There can be no one interpretation of historical events,” he said.
“The BJP wants one single interpretation, which is completely anti-intellectual. That is why they meddle with the curriculum, meddle with history text books, remove books written by certain historians, introduce chapters by known anti-historians and try to push their agenda,” he contended.
Chidambaram also stressed the need for the opposition to be fearless and said that the government intimidates civil servants, academics, independent think tanks and the media. Dalits, minorities, and students, Chidambaram said, currently live in fear.
The Congress leader, who also served as the Home Minister between November 2008 and July 2012 in the wake of the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, further criticised the government for its faulty approach in dealing with Jammu and Kashmir.
“I think the approach of the Central BJP government as well as the BJP-PDP coalition government in Jammu and Kashmir is wrong. What Jammu and Kashmir needs is a political solution but there has been no political outreach to different sections of the people of the state.
“The present approach should be abandoned and a new approach should be adopted. I am afraid that if the government persists in its present approach it will lead only to more conflict and more violence. As it is, in 2016, the number of casualties, both among the civilians and the jawans, have reached a very high point, reversing the decline in the previous years,” he lamented.
Blaming the Modi government for repeatedly flip-flopping in its approach towards Pakistan, Chidambaram said sub-continental ties were at their lowest point. He cited several examples of the government’s changing approach towards Pakistan — from inviting Nawaz Sharif to Modi’s swearing-in ceremony in May 2004 to the January 2016 terrorist attack on Pathankot — and said that the government lacks “a coherent policy” on its neighbour.
How does he evaluate the three years of the Modi government?
“Firstly they have not been able to stop the divisive agenda, polarisation in the name of religion and caste and pushing the Hindutva agenda. Secondly, during 2016, the economy became weaker and economic growth slowed down. Thirdly, demonetisation delivered a terrible blow to the economy,” Chidambaram said.
He also regretted that there was “not enough debate in parliament” and even when debate took place, the government “does not listen to the opposition” nor take corrective measures. Most debates, he said, take place outside parliament, which is not a “satisfactory substitute” to parliamentary debates.
On the possibility of an unified opposition before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the Congress leader said he was still analysing the growing warmth among various opposition parties.
“It is difficult to say. At the moment opposition parties are forging unity at the state level. We had unity in the Bihar elections, we have a considerable amount of unity in the Uttar Pradesh elections. And this could expand to other states. This can perhaps transpire to maximum opposition unity. One has to wait and see how things develop,” he added.
Written in inimitable style and characteristic wit, “Fearless in Opposition” brings together a selection of his most incisive essays by Chidambaram, originally published as a weekly column in The Indian Express.
(Saket Suman can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)