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A friend from France

Friday 12 March 2004, by NATWAR SINGH*K.

ON February 13, 2004, the cerebral French Foreign Minister, Dominique de Villepin delivered the Madhavrao Scindia Lecture at the auditorium of the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library.

He spoke to a full house. He spoke with passion and subtle candour. An impressive and engaging personality is further buttressed by a razor sharp Latin mind. Villepin spent some years in New Delhi as a middle level diplomat some years back. He is, therefore, familiar with the coruscating intricacies of our polity. That day he won Indian hearts by lauding our potential for becoming a world power. He supported India’s claim to a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council. On terrorism, he is fully with us. Iraq he handled with superb skill. The United Nations was defended as only an accomplished diplomat could. The Americans were treated with astute, respectful, implicit, not explicit, disdain. This was far more lethal than a frontal assault. Unilateralism was not to be encouraged, he said. We live in a multipolar world. Here again he touched a sympathetic cord.

Farooq Abdullah, Karan Singh and Chinmoy Gharekhan asked sensible questions and received sensible answers. Oddly enough, I saw no senior members of the Ministry of External Affairs in the audience. Pity. They would have learnt a thing or two.

Dominique de Villepin did something else. He spoke in flawless English. A French Foreign Minister not speaking in his mother tongue is an event in itself. For over 300 years, French was the language of diplomacy. Even Lenin’s Russia gave French the second place after Russian. Since the end of the Second World War, the French language is giving ground to English. This is because America speaks English. She very nearly did not. When the vote was taken in the Congress as to what the language of the 13 colonies should be, German lost out by one vote.

THINGS are looking up on the India-Pakistan horizon. This is to be welcomed. As a former Ambassador to Pakistan, I take keen interest in what goes on inside our northern neighbour. Democracy has never really flourished in Pakistan. By and large, the Islamic world has not taken to democracy. Things might change. One hopes they do. This brings me to the very worrying case of A.Q. Khan, the father of the Pakistan/Islamic nuclear bomb. Would he have done what he did (ensure the destruction of humanity) if Pakistan was a functioning democracy. Unlikely. What is equally disturbing is the American attitude to the "Khanegate". Double standards with a vengeance. Iraq had to be destroyed because Saddam Hussein "possessed Weapons of Mass Destruction". It is now clear he had none. Pakistan has been indulging in a nuclear black market for over a decade. Khan has been allowed to get away with nuclear murder. Why? The Americans owe the world an answer. The Vajpayee government should ask them for an explanation. That is the least our "natural allies" can do for us.

THE Lok Sabha elections are now round the corner. The contest is between two Indias - one represented by the Congress and the other by the Bharatiya Janata Party. The voters will decide which India they want - the India of religious tolerance, bhai chara, political uprightness, an India which cares for all its sons and daughters, an India in which Hindustaniat and Insaniat march hand in hand or an India in which 10 per cent of people feel good and 90 per cent don’t. An India where religion is used to divide people, an India in which history is being falsified, bigotry celebrated. An India in which the rich get richer and the poor, poorer. What, may I ask, is the swadeshi-loving BJP’s Hindi translation for "feel good factor"? Could not the BJP ideologues coin a Hindi phrase? "Shining India" is an offending slogan in a land where 25 per cent people are below the poverty line, where the obscurantists praise the horrible sati ritual, where dowry deaths are frequent, children are forced to do slave labour. And the Babri Masjid. Some "Shining India".

The astute and discerning Indian voter will know the gulf that divides these two Indias, a gulf created by the BJP and its outdated outfits. For me the feel good factor is Indira Gandhi defying the United States’ Seventh Fleet in 1971, Rajiv Gandhi getting a standing ovation in the U.S. Congress. For me the feel good factor is Indira Gandhi making history and altering geography. For me the feel good factor is remembering the great poetry of Tagore, the sublimity of Gandhiji’s life, the nobility of Nehru and the political sagacity of Sardar Patel, the iron-like gentleness of Lal Bahadur Shastri.

For me the feel good factor is in seeing our IIT products leading the IT revolution. For me the feel good factor is to see Amartya Sen getting the Nobel Prize. For me the feel bad factor is the shoddy and shallow vision of the BJP, its scarcely hidden fundamentalist agenda.

STROBE TALBOTT, the Deputy Secretary of State in the Clinton administration, was in India a few days ago. In his talk with Shekhar Gupta of the Indian Express, he acted with scarcely believable irresponsibility. He disclosed that Bill Clinton had spoken to P.V. Narasimha Rao in the mid-1990s asking the Indian Prime Minister to refrain from going in for nuclear tests. Such top secret matters should not be aired in public. Talbott should know that he is in fact walking on very thin ice, and perilously close to interfering in the internal affairs of India. This is not done by friends.

ON January 31 and February 1, a Global Convention on Peace and Non-violence was held at Vigyan Bhavan in New Delhi. The Prime Minister inaugurated it. The former Presidents of Indonesia and Germany also spoke. It was an important occasion, but I could spot no BJP Minister or MPs in the audience. Only two Congress MPs were visible, M.V. Rajasekharan and myself. I wish more of our political colleagues would attend such functions. Too many politicians lead single-dimension lives when there is so much else to do - reading, writing, music and painting, to name only a few areas of human activity.

See online : Frontline


in Frontline, volume 21 - Issue 05, February 28 - March 12, 2004.

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