In Satyajit Ray’s unforgettable classic Shatranj Ke Khilari, based on a story by Premchand, two nawabs continue to find ways to play chess even as the British subsume Awadh.
The conduct of the nawabs is strangely reminiscent of the current behavior of the BJP and the Congress. Both parties, prisoners of the predictable, continue to viciously kick each other in the shin even as the Chinese kick us on the border.
The vaudeville show goes on endlessly, oblivious to the looming priority of how to deal unitedly with the arrogant belligerence of China.
To be sure, the Opposition, in a democracy, has the right to interrogate the government. But even this should be done with the right degree of substance and gravitas.
The temptation to be clever with words in the age of Twitter is irresistible but can be very superficial. So, Rahul Gandhi puns on the word “surrender”, and labels “Narender” Modi as surrender Modi.
This kind of attack may provoke a few laughs, but a great many Indians must be wondering whether the key motive here is to find out from the government what the real position on the ground is, or to make a personal attack on the PM. If it is the latter, then the humour is rather misplaced.
When the country is facing an external threat, the priority cannot be the dislike that Rahul Gandhi has for Narendra Modi, or vice versa.
The priority must be to use the vibrancy of democracy for a national response which allows for interrogation but not divisive animosity. Such shortsighted internal rivalry has been the bane of India for centuries. It must be pleasing the Chinese greatly.
The government must come clean on what the position on the Line of Actual Control is. Are the Chinese claiming the whole of the Galwan Valley, and if so, are they now in possession of territories that we have traditionally claimed to be ours? What is the position at Pangong Lake? Are the Chinese now patrolling in areas, specifically between Finger 8 and Finger 4, which was part of our beat? How far has the dragon come in the Depsang plains, and is it really several kilometres on our side of the LAC?
There is little point served in obfuscating an answer to these questions by invoking nationalism and using it to shoot the messenger.
The nation is aware that the Chinese have a superior defence infrastructure and use it with impunity to salami slice the LAC when they wish to. We are not a walkover certainly, and the spirited fight our brave soldiers gave to the Chinese at the Galwan Valley, shows that.
But we are dealing with a stronger adversary, known for its bullying, and it is best that the country is truthfully made aware of what has happened -- or is happening -- on the border.
However, the BJP’s response to these key questions appears to be to show that the Congress and the Chinese are in bed together! Suddenly, an avalanche of “evidence” has come to light about who made donations years ago to the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation. Apparently, the Chinese government was one such donor. From this it is concluded that the UPA government had sold out to the Chinese. The Congress, on its part, accuses the BJP of being the “B” team of the Chinese Communist Party, and cites as evidence agreements it had signed in the past with the BJP. It alleges that the PM, especially when he was Gujarat chief minister, of having a veritable love affair with the Chinese. In other words, both the principal parties in the country are busy accusing the other of being in cahoots with the Chinese! When argumentation, in the world’s largest democracy, in the face of a serious external threat, reduces itself to this ridiculous level, we become the laughingstock of the world.
The truth is that both the UPA government, and the BJP government now, are guilty of underestimating the threat posed by China, which is our principal strategic adversary. Both governments should have done more to increase our defence preparedness, and our border infrastructure, to deal with China. By far the worst Raksha Mantri we have had is the UPA’s A.K. Antony, who suffered from a debilitating “morality paralysis” that stumped our defence preparedness for years. The leadership of both political parties is culpable of having been seduced by China’s carefully choreographed engagement strategy, including at the summit level. The time has now come for the nation to collectively introspect and take stock and build a national security strategy to counter the Chinese threat on an enduring basis. Can we, as a nation, rise to this challenge?
Sometimes, I worry. On a recent TV programme where I was present, Sambit Patra, the national spokesperson of the BJP, said that his party will effectively deal with the three “Cs” -- Corona, China, and Congress! What kind of response is this?
Like Rahul Gandhi, he too was being clever with words, whereas it is time to be wise in action. There was a time when our nation showed the great ability to deal with democratic differences with dignity.
In 1962, Atal Behari Vajpayee, then a young MP, sought answers from PM Jawaharlal Nehru, for our defeat by China. Nehru convened Parliament on his request and answered his queries with respect.
Alas, the level of national political debate has sunk so low that India’s great civilisational asset of samvad, or civilised discourse, is now at stake.