India is not a civic nation: Jaswant Singh

Twenty-first century India is no longer Nehru’s India; it is confident, optimistic and on the move, says BJP heavyweight and former union minister Jaswant Singh, but questions whether “it is a civic nation”.

“It is not,” he replies in the same vein.

“For example, Nehru’s dictum in a response to a question that he wanted to achieve a more civilised India through civilised means begs the question whether we are a more civic India? There is another aspect of Nehru’s India that do those who professed to follow his political thought now respect the institution of parliament just as much as he did,” Jaswant Singh asked during an interview.

“In the functioning of our kind of representative, participatory form of government… a very disturbing trend has come into being… It is the rendering impotent of, as illusory, even a maligning of any kind of alternative, of any contrary viewpoint or a thought that opposes indeed of the whole concept of opposition,” he said.

And why “at the government’s cost we are taking out full-page advertisements about the Congress, its president and the late Motilal Nehru, who lived 150 years ago (to mark his 150th birth anniversary)”, he demanded, while referring to a recent ad blitz by the ruling party.

“We need some moderation in public life,” Jaswant Singh mused.

The 74-year-old parliamentarian from Darjeeling, who has courted controversy and expulsion from the BJP for his book “Jinnah: India Partition Independence”, released his new work, “The Audacity of Opinion: Reflections, Journeys and Musings” last week. It is an anthology of his writings for various publications for more than two decades, reflecting on aspects of the country’s socio-political life and the portfolios he has handled.

Jaswant Singh, in his book, says there are some continuities from the Nehruvian era. “We do continue to see a faded reflection of residual Nehruvism in the country, but that is neither here nor there because even when he was alive, it was difficult to define what this Nehruvism was”.

The former minister says he has outgrown many of the views that he expressed in his columns. Blame it on experience.

“There is a famous and fine saying by Arthur Chrysler that I am appalled by the views that I held this morning. Change is the uncertainty of life… So, why should a change of views be looked down upon or treated with derision?”

What has altered is his thinking, Jaswant Singh said. “I was 30 years younger when I wrote the columns. So I am that much more experienced. I don’t think I have rejected any specific political philosophy or view over the years… perhaps some angles of political thought I might have modified through experience and I presume learning,” he added.

The BJP leader, who held the defence and external affairs portfolios during the two NDA regimes (1998-2004), looks back at the Bofors gun deal of the mid-1980s, saying “it was in a sense a precursor of the denigration of the institution of Comptroller and Auditor General”.

“That’s where the rot of a partisan of a political wrong first set in. But C&AG has not lost its credibility though it has been attacked politically. It is a national institution, and for heaven’s sake, preserve it,” Jaswant Singh said.

In his book, he dwells at length on the role that the CAG played in presenting uncomfortable questions to the government through its reports and observations – and at times stowed under the carpet by the government.

Then, the disparity between the urban and the rural becomes palpable in Jaswant Singh’s descriptions of Indian villages. “India has not been able to bridge the gap between village and towns. The National Democratic Alliance in its six years introduced a measure of reforms PURA (Providing Urban Amenities in Rural Areas). It was successful as long as it was pursued. But as it was an NDA programme, its success was abandoned after NDA was voted out of power,” he says.

“The entire blueprint of the model exists…All that is required is an executive-administrative order from the union government for the provision of some fund from the government for its implementation,” Jaswant Singh adds.

Eight essays in his book probe the developmental and political impasse of northeastern India that he visited during his days in the army.

“I fell in love with his beautiful land and its incredible beautiful people. But it sadly remains a forgotten frontier. That sums up the pain of the northeast. It suffers from deprivation of neglect and from this all other problem arises… What kind of a prime minister do we have who falsely designates himself a resident of Assam. That is the insult which causes me to say that this is a forgotten frontier,” Jaswant Singh says, very conveniently forgetting that though a resident of Rajasthan, he represents Darjeeling in West Bengal in the Lok Sabha.

The change in BJP has been faster in the last few years to keep up with the young India. “When we talk of change within the BJP, then the change in the psyche and expectations of the new generation of Indians have outstripped the pace of change in BJP,” Jaswant Singh says.