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Vajpayee’s thoughts on ‘Kashmir problem’, from Kumarakom, December 30, 2000

Atal Behari Vajpayee was highly popular in Kashmir | The Dispatch

Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee spent a week in run to the New Year in 2000 at Kumarakom Resort on the famous backwaters of Kerala. Vajpayee was known for yearend short vacation to some calm location escaping the noise of Delhi. On almost all such holidays, the Prime Minister wrote articles which he called his musings. During Kumarakom stay, Vajpayee produced two articles. In one of the two pieces, the Prime Minister dealt extensively with Kashmir issue which was extensively debates in India and Pakistan. [In his thoughts, Vajpayee has repeatedly mentioned ‘Kashmir problem’, which is why its essence is captured in the headline.]

Vajpayee’s both pieces of ‘musings’ are reproduced below:

As we bid goodbye to 2000 and usher in 2001, I send my hearty New Year greetings to all my fellow countrymen, as also to the large Diaspora of Indians abroad.

The beginning of a New Year is always a time to look back and to look ahead. A year is but a speck in the life of an ancient nation like India, which is ever youthful in spite of her great antiquity. However, unlike our nation, all of us have a limited life. Each new generation, therefore, has to give a worthy account of itself in its own lifetime, aware that its contribution to India’s progress will be judged essentially on two counts: One, how many ‘legacy problems’ inherited from the past has it resolved? Two, how strong a foundation has it laid for the future development of the nation?

Also Read: Why did Prof Soz, after all, vote against Vajpayee bringing down his Govt in 1999?

My mind probes these questions as my eyes feast on the verdant environs of Kumarakom resort on the banks of the sea-sized Vembanad Lake in Kerala. I have come here for my year-end holidays, far away from the national capital. Nature’s silent beauty provides a perfect setting here for contemplation. And I wish to share some of my thoughts with my countrymen with this article.

Also Read: Vajpayee Cabinet said this while rejecting National Conference’s Greater Autonomy demand

Our country is facing many problems that are a legacy of our history. I wish to share my views on two of them. One is the long-standing problem with Pakistan over Jammu & Kashmir and the other is the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute at Ayodhya.

A self-confident and resilient nation does not postpone the inconvenient issues of yesterday to a distant tomorrow. Rather, it strives to decisively overcome the problems of the past so that it can pursue its developmental agenda for the future with single-minded determination. I have heard many of my countrymen tell me that, now that we have entered a new century and a new millennium, it is time we found lasting solutions to these two problems, one of which is a legacy of the last century and the other a legacy of the last millennium. I agree with them.

Kashmir

The Kashmir problem is an unfortunate inheritance from the tragic partition of India in 1947. India never accepted the pernicious Two-Nation theory that brought about the partition. However, the mindset that created Pakistan continues to operate in that country. This is why it is continuing with its untenable policy on Kashmir, disregarding the considerations of both good-neighbourly relations with India and the well being of the people of Jammu & Kashmir.

India is willing and ready to seek a lasting solution to the Kashmir problem. Towards this end, we are prepared to re-commence talks with Pakistan at any level, including the highest level, provided Islamabad gives sufficient proof of its preparedness to create a conducive atmosphere for a meaningful dialogue. I am sad to note, however, that the Government of Pakistan is not doing enough to reign in terrorist organisations based on its soil that are continuing their killing spree, targeting both innocent civilians and our security personnel in Kashmir and other parts of India.

Also Read: PM Vajpayee said this while announcing Ramazan ceasefire in Kashmir on November 19, 2000

The Government is taking well-conceived steps to normalise the situation in Jammu & Kashmir. The unilateral cessation of combat operations against militants in the State, which was observed during the holy month of Ramazan, has been extended till January 26. My heart shares the agony of the grieving mothers, sisters and widows who have lost their near and dear ones in the violence that has bloodied the beautiful Kashmir Valley. I also feel the pain and anguish of those Kashmiris who have become refugees in their own motherland. The New Year is the time to heal their wounds. The Government will soon initiate talks with various representative groups in the State. We are prepared to take further steps to respond to Jammu & Kashmir’s deep longing for peace, normalcy and accelerated development.

In our search for a lasting solution to the Kashmir problem, both in its external and internal dimensions, we shall not traverse solely on the beaten track of the past. Rather, we shall be bold and innovative designers of a future architecture of peace and prosperity for the entire South Asian region. In this search, the sole light that will guide us is our commitment to peace, justice and the vital interests of the nation.

Ayodhya

The Ayodhya issue is another problem from the past that we should not allow to remain unresolved too far into the future. It is a challenge to the collective wisdom of our society that we find a peaceful and amicable solution to this problem, sooner rather than later. I had consciously not commented on this issue for the past three years. However, I am sad to note that, when I was constrained to speak on the subject after the Opposition stalled the proceedings of Parliament for three days in a row, my comments were twisted and turned for no other reason but to gain political advantage.

Overnight I was transformed by a section of the media and the political class from a “moderate” to a “hard-liner”. “Vajpayee Unmasked,” they said, conveniently masking the fact that my long stint in public life is an open book. Worse still, a campaign was launched to create misgivings about me in the minds of our minority brethren.

I had hoped – and I am sure that most of our countrymen too had hoped — that my comprehensive replies to the debate, first in the Lok Sabha and then in the Rajya Sabha, would put an end to the controversy. Alas, that has not been the case. I must confess that I am pained by some of the comments, observations and speculations in the aftermath of the recent developments in Parliament. My political adversaries are entitled to disagree with me, but they will not be able to see any inconsistency in my views on the Ayodhya issue, all of which are well recorded.

I have always held that there are only two ways to resolve this contentious issue: the judicial route or the route of negotiations leading to a mutually acceptable solution. I have stated that the Government will accept, and is Constitutionally bound to implement, the judiciary’s verdict, whatever it might be. But this does not foreclose the need for negotiations in a non-governmental and non-political framework. The judicial route and the option of talks do not exclude, but are rather complementary to, one another.

Irrespective of what the judicial verdict might be, its smooth implementation would require a conducive social atmosphere. Resumption of talks between representatives of the two communities, conducted in an atmosphere of trust, goodwill and flexibility, has the potential to create such an atmosphere. The ongoing controversy over implementing the Supreme Court’s verdict in the case of relocation of polluting industries out of Delhi has strikingly highlighted the need for a supportive social environment involving all the parties to a dispute.

Few can deny that Ram occupies an exalted place in India’s culture. He is one of the most respected symbols of our national ethos. Respect for him transcends sectarian barriers. Many Indians revere him as an avataar of God and some regard him as Maryada Purushottam. Non-Hindus, too, see in him an ideal king and an embodiment of great human qualities. Had it not been so, Poet Allama Iqbal would not have penned the following eulogy to Ram.

The cup of India has always overflowed
With the heady wine of truth.
Even the philosophers from the West
Are her ardent devotees.
There is something so sublime in her mysticism
That her star soars high above constellations.
There have been thousands of rulers in this land
But none can compare with Rama;
The discerning ones proclaim him
The spiritual leader of India.
His lamp gave the light of wisdom
Which outshone the radiance
Of the whole of humankind.
Rama was valiant, Rama was bold,
Rama yielded deftly his word,
He cared for the poorest of poor,
He was unmatched in love and compassion.

No wonder, then, that the movement for construction of a Ram Temple at Ayodhya struck a supportive chord in more than one political party. Had it not been so, the government of late Rajiv Gandhi would not have taken the kind of specific steps it did to facilitate the construction of a Ram Temple at Ayodhya. Rajivji even inaugurated the Congress party’s 1989 election campaign from the vicinity of Ayodhya with a promise to usher in Ram Rajya, which was also Mahatma Gandhi’s dream. There was nothing communal about either Gandhiji’s vision or Rajiv Gandhi’s initiatives at Ayodhya.

This shows that there was no dispute over a Ram Temple at Ayodhya being an expression of the national sentiment, in the same way that reconstruction of a temple at Somnath too was recognised by the then Government as an expression of the national sentiment. (The Government of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru had set up a committee for the reconstruction of Somnath Temple under the chairmanship of K.M. Munshi. Babu Rajendra Prasad, the then President, himself participated in the temple’s inaugural function, calling Somnath a “symbol” of India’s national culture.)

The only dispute at Ayodhya was over where and how. On this contentious matter, too, my views have been clear and consistent. I never stated that the temple should be built at the disputed site without either a judicial verdict or an amicable agreement between the two communities. This is how it should be in a law-governed country. I wish to make it absolutely clear that the law will take its course, should any organisation attempt to disturb the status quo. The Government will not remain a silent spectator and adopt delaying tactics, as unfortunately happened eight years ago.

In my reply to the debate in the Lok Sabha, I had stated that, in addition to Ram, many other personalities and places symbolise our national culture. Be it the Dargah of Ajmer Sharif or the shrine of Nizamuddin Aulia in Delhi, the Golden Temple at Amritsar or the Church of St.Francis at Goa – these are all proud symbols our syncretic national culture.

My statement that the movement for construction of a Ram Temple in Ayodhya was an expression of the national sentiment has been misrepresented in many ways. What is overlooked is the past tense that I had consciously used in my statement. In my reply to the debate in the Rajya Sabha, I had clearly stated that although the movement for the construction of a Ram Temple at Ayodhya was an expression of our national sentiment, this sentiment became narrow, and its inclusive character became restrictive, because of the unfortunate demolition of the disputed mosque structure on December 6, 1992. A flagrant violation of the law, it certainly was. But it was also at totally variance with the Hindu ethos. The wrongs of a medieval past cannot be righted by a similar wrong in modern times.

The status quo at Kashi, Mathura and other disputed places of worship must remain undisturbed. Far from indicating the Hindu society’s weakness, this will show the strength our national ethos of tolerance and religious harmony.

Deeply saddening though that December Sunday was, we cannot forever remain shackled to the debate on demolitions, either of the distant or the recent past. India must move on. The best of India resides not in the past. Rather, it belongs to the future that we all must collectively build. Glorious though our past was, a more glorious destiny beckons India. However, its realisation calls for a radical shift from contention to conciliation, from discord to concord, and from confrontation to consensus and cooperative action.

How do we make this transition? I would like to share some more of my thoughts with my countrymen in another article tomorrow.

 

Second piece: Call Of The New Year: Clear Vision, Concerted Action

In my article yesterday, I had expressed some thoughts on the Kashmir question and the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute, the two problems that we have inherited from the past. Today I wish to share my vision of how we can leave a better legacy for our future generations.

I am one of those fortunate people in public life who have not only observed, but also participated in, the evolution of independent India from 1947 till now. As a student I had taken part in the Freedom Movement. As a young man of 22, I had seen our first Prime Minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, unfurl the Tricolour at Red Fort at that immortal midnight hour on August 15. Little did I know that just after a decade I would be sitting with him in Parliament discussing and debating affairs of the nation. It is a tribute to the power of India’s democracy that an ordinary man like me, son of a village teacher, has since been called upon to serve the nation as its Prime Minister. The days of dynasties are over in India’s vibrant democracy.

When I look back at Free India’s journey through the past five decades, I am filled with pride and disappointment in equal measure. Pride because we have been successful in preserving two ideals that are most precious to all of us: one, the unity of India; and two, our democratic system. This is not a mean achievement given the track record of many newly independent countries, including some in our own neighbourhood. Few countries in the world facing the kind of challenges of development and governance that India does, have so steadfastly continued on the democratic path. Similarly, few multi-religious, multi-lingual and multi-ethnic societies in the world have presented such an exemplary demonstration of unity in diversity as India has done.

On the developmental front, too, we have many proud achievements to our credit. All the governments of the past, belonging to different parties and coalitions, have contributed in their own way to India’s self-reliant progress on several fronts. Many developing countries look up to India as an example for building indigenous policies and programmes for socio-economic development. We should never belittle India’s achievements, as some people do. Such belittlement only serves to spread cynicism, apathy and inaction, qualities we must shun.

Nevertheless, I am as distressed as all my countrymen are at the wide gulf between India’s indisputable potential and her actual performance. Nothing agonises me more as the Prime Minister than the realisation that millions of my countrymen, even after five decades of independence, still do not have enough to eat and proper roofs to sleep under. Many have to suffer even for the lack of drinking water and basic medical care. If children are deprived of good food, good education and good upbringing, the loss is not only theirs and their families’; the nation too deprives itself of precious human resources for its all-round development.

We must change this reality, and we can. India does not lack the requisite natural resources to remove these basic developmental inadequacies. We also have a vast reservoir of talented and hard-working men and women. Many of those who have gone abroad to work have scripted amazing success stories, earning high reputation for themselves and their motherland in their host countries. I often ask myself the question: If Indians can overcome all the odds and succeed spectacularly outside India, why can’t we do so in India itself?

Yes, we can create prosperity for all. We can fully remove poverty, unemployment and all other traces of underdevelopment from India. What is needed is an inspiring national vision, a strong sense of purpose shared by all the citizens and communities of our diverse country, and a single-minded determination supported by concerted action to achieve what are identified as common national goals.

A nation attains greatness when it develops a strong national mind. All of us know that the power of the mind is immense. It is true about the individual mind, and also true about the national mind. When India was unfree, attainment of freedom was our single-minded national objective. Sadly, after independence, we failed to mobilise our national energies for a similar single-minded pursuit of the goals of nation-building.

Our first task is to strengthen the awareness that we are one people — sisters and brothers who are children of the Great Mother India. Ours is a vast and varied country. Sometimes, however, we get so involved in our own narrow concerns and so obsessed with our own specific identities, that we tend to ignore the chief source of our national pride and strength – namely, India’s diversity and her essential unity. Some of our citizens focus too much on one or the other aspect of our diversity, ignoring the common national bonds that unite us. Others ignore our diversity and, instead, tend to overemphasise only certain aspects of our national unity. In my view, both approaches are flawed.

Diversity does not permit divisiveness or exclusiveness. Similarly, unity cannot be achieved through uniformity.

In this context, I must confess that the growing trend of intolerance which I see in our society today worries me deeply. This trend must be checked.

India belongs equally to all her citizens and communities, not more to some and less to others. At the same time, all citizens and communities have an equal duty to strengthen our national unity and integrity, and to contribute to the nation’s progress. In recent times, there has been a tendency to focus more on one’s rights, and less on one’s duties. This must change.

Throughout her long history, India’s unity is nurtured by an ethos of secularism that teaches all her people not only to tolerate each other’s customs, traditions and beliefs, but also to respect them. Mutual tolerance and understanding leads to goodwill and cooperation, which in turn strengthens the silken bond of our national unity. Secularism is not an alien concept that we imported out of compulsion after Independence. Rather, it is an integral and natural feature of our national culture and ethos.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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