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Modi All Words No Substance- Salman Khurshid

Salman Khurshid Rips Apart Modi Government

In an exclusive interview with NewsCentral24*7, Salman Khurshid speaks on a range of issues, including Modi’s foreign policy, judicial crisis, and the idea of a plural India.

Edited excerpts:

1. There is clearly a crisis in the judiciary. Yesterday, Justice AP Shah described the situation as “disastrous”. Today, the collegium has deferred the decision on Justice KM Joseph’s appointment. How do you see this situation and what is the way forward?

Clearly, the judiciary today reflects the fragmented society that we have. People have a difference of opinion on everything and they voice it somewhat vigorously. I think that affected the judiciary as well, like all other institution. There is a need for reflection, introspection within the judiciary. I think we must allow for a little space as far as the judiciary is concerned. Time and space is (are) what they need. Also, like some former chief justices said there is (a) real need for statesmanship and leadership on the bench. I hope that happens. The government, of course, has a formal position that it can take and the law ministry has its good offices to try and create the balance that is required.

2. Do you think the government is to be blamed for the situation today?

I think it is a bit distressing and surprising to say the least that the government is taking the position (which it is taking now). I have been on the other side, I have been a part of the government and I know many of my colleagues in Parliament have traditionally been somewhat strident towards the judiciary. But, I think that’s wrong and an enlightened public figure must understand the enormous importance of the judiciary and keep it sacrosanct and keep it independent.

3. There is an increasing resentment against the Modi government. But, a popular sentiment is many people say there is no alternative. What is your response to this or how does the Congress party respond to this sentiment?

See, the Congress party was badly hit in 2014, I must admit that. We were hit in 2014 in a (bad) manner, which took us a lot of time to get back to our feet particularly because there were successive defeats in elections in different states. We got a little breather in Punjab, we got a little breather in Bihar, and very remotely in Delhi. But, the fact that we had been given a very sound defeat in 2014 (which) took us a long time to understand what exactly was the reason and some of the reasons frankly are (were) perceptions created against us, completely unfair.

But, you cannot blame (the) other side for taking advantage. If we couldn’t correct perceptions, or if we couldn’t stabilise perceptions, then obviously we had to pay a price and we did. But, the very fact that we lost (because of) the manipulation of perceptions is something that we had a very difficult time reversing. I think somethings have started happening now, and we have a new leadership, a young leadership, (who) is very vigorous, very energetic, (and) very powerful. But, there was a huge propaganda campaign against our president. I think in the last few months (he has) been able to overcome that propaganda that was unleashed against him. But, we still have a lot of work to do to ensure that our best can be projected in a manner that people will embrace us once again.

Hopefully, results in Karnataka followed by Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh will turn the tide for us. Gujarat could have been the major breakthrough. But, I think we slipped out at the last minute once again because of the same perception, and propaganda battle that we have been suffering. But, I think there was a point that Gujarat performance made that Mr (Narendra) Modi isn’t invincible. He has a lot of tricks up his sleeve, but a good, concerted, and determined effort can bring him down in the elections that are about to come.

3. You were the external affairs minister, Modi government’s foreign policy started with wonderful optics, in his swearing-in we saw a lot of South Asian heads coming, we saw Modi going to Madison Square Garden. But, now we see China threatening us almost regularly, many analysts believe Maldives and Nepal are moving away from us. The situation at LOC is going from bad to worse. How do you see four years of Modi’s foreign policy? What would have the Congress done differently to deal with the changes of hostile neighbours and changing geopolitical alignment?

What you need to do is be pragmatic, be realistic. You cannot dream of a world that doesn’t exist. Mr Modi is a bit of a dreamer. It is not always a bad thing to be a dreamer, but dreams must come with a touch of realism. I think in the foreign policy front as also in domestic policies he thought that words can be magic, words are great allies of any significant effort that you want to make anywhere. But, words cannot substitute substance. I think the big problem with him domestically, and more so internationally, is substance. There is no substance in his policy, and to assume that he has done something and made India great is a big mistake. I think India has been on a steep incline in the last 20 years, since the economic reform under Mr Narasimha Rao when Dr Manmohan Singh was the finance minister. Long before he became the prime minister, he had given to the world something energetic to think about as far as India was concerned. So, India was in a flying path and that was a very impressive one.

But, Mr Modi just debunked everything and said India has done nothing, never done anything. So, whatever was there to show for was in the last four years. This is not how international relations are built. I think he will now have to discover that substance cannot be substituted by words, and anything significant cannot be achieved. The world is a difficult place. It’s not easy to navigate the world. Whether what’s happening in the middle east, or the conflict and tension between Iran and Saudi Arabia or (the) USA under President (Donald) Trump or an extremely aggressive China; realistically you need a lot of patience. The world today is not about quick fixes. You have got to be a little patient and you need to be a little calm without showing it off all the time. That’s what we did with China, a very very long protracted relationship building and that’s what I think we would have done. As far as Pakistan is concerned it is very difficult entity to deal with. We tried to deal with it in an objective manner, but the BJP would never deal with them (that way).

Now, the BJP has a free run and they are not being able to do anything. You can’t wish away your neighbours and you can’t fight a nuclear war. So, what are the options then left when we know that they have betrayed, they have been uncharitable, unkind? But, today the options are restricted and we have the best time now to fix our relationship with Pakistan.

4. Civil servant and academics from across the world have written letters to the Union government, many people believe that there is an existential crisis of the idea of a plural India. The BJP constantly keeps painting Congress party as being only a party of Muslims and when the Congress tries to clarify there are accusations that the party is moving away from the secular project. Is there any truth to the fact that there is an existential threat to plural India. How is the Congress party planning to deal in terms of elections as well as when it forms the government through policies to change the demonisation of Muslims?

The threat is there. The confession of the BJP that they want to change India that they believe that India was on the wrong path, that India is being brought to the right path that the so-called pseudo secular concept of India has to be debunked. Of course, they have a problem, they can’t go to the extreme despite having done something which is of extreme nature. But, in their articulation they still have to talk about Sab ka saath, sab ka vikaas. Why is it necessary? Why should you say Sab ka saath, sab ka vikaas? Wasn’t the Congress concerned only about the minorities and smaller groups and not of everyone? For the BJP to say that Congress is the party of a particular religion which is a minority religion is a little absurd to say the least. They have to do a lot of explaining when they say that such a thing. Congress has some of the tallest, some of the most remarkable Hindu leaders of he world, no less than people like Mahatma Gandhi, Sardar Patel. So, they do a cherry picking of, picking and choosing this is good and that is ours and this is not fine and that is yours.

My answer to that would again be, go to the substance and forget the words. I believe, more Hindus should speak to the Muslims, and more Muslims should speak to Hindus. More Sikhs should speak to others, more Christians should speak to others, more Jains should speak to others. The real project should now be the inter-faith project because that is the true Indian soul that is the true strength of India.

5. Are you saying if and when the Congress comes to power it will make efforts to facilitate?

We don’t have to wait. We can do it now. In my days of youth, I remember what wonderful inter-faith connectivities there were. Even today we see how the two combine together, how people in small villages celebrate Holi, Diwali, Eid, and Bakri Eid together. We have seen all that and then suddenly a dark cloud came over us and the beautiful camaraderie that we had suddenly began to wear off and get covered by a gloom. I think we have become a bit defeatist, we have gone into retreat. We should vigorously fight it. I think the movement Sunil Dutt had done, Sadbhavna, we need it right across the country. We need hundreds of similar people who do not accept that India is what the BJP has made it to be, that India is a much greater entity than BJP can imagine.

6. I was thinking that in the movie Deewar, Amitabh Bachchan whose name is Vijay is temporarily mentored by Rahim chacha, and the billa no. 786 saves Vijay till the end and he goes to Shiv temple. But, that’s not something that stood out.

That is India. That really is India. For anyone who says that the Muslims do not cherish, do not value, do not respect or show affection for their Hindu brethren or for their own practices, I think doesn’t know what India is. I think out of all the beautiful things represented to the world is how Hinduism, Sikhism, and Islam, Jainism, Christianity all (exist) together. I do believe it is a fantastic thing to aspire for and we will get back to where we were.

7. You were in the news recently. Somebody said you said X, while somebody else said you said Y. Do you want to comment? 

It is quite simple. I mean it’s like my conversation with you, If you want an honest conversation, then I’ll have to be transparent. I have to touch upon subjects that may not be comfortable and I cannot give you bureaucratic responses of yes and no, and acronyms and slogans. We have an open conversation and somebody can pick up a word, a phrase, and a sentence and say that is what you have said. Now, if a university as they have often say we hold you responsible for terrible things that have happened to the country and my community. Now, you have to decide shall I start arguing with him or would I able to turn him around unless I earn his trust and faith. You can say okay I have done wrong, but would you give a chance to help you, can I still look after you. There is denial on one side and there is openness and transparency on another, but with the intention of something good, so should you or should you not do it?

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