Tuesday, January 2, 2001,
Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Musings from Kumarakom — I
‘We shall be bold, innovative on Kashmir’
By Atal Behari Vajpayee

THE beginning of the 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 its 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?

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 in this article.

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 and 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 past century and the other a legacy of the past millennium. I agree with them.

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 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 and Kashmir.

India is willing and ready to seek a lasting solution to the Kashmir problem. Towards this end, we are prepared to recommence talks with Pakistan at any level, including at 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 rein in terrorist organisations based on its soil which are continuing their killing spree, targeting both innocent civilians and our security personnel in Kashmir and other parts of India.

The government is taking well-conceived steps to normalise the situation in Jammu and Kashmir. The unilateral cessation of combat operations against militants in the state, which was observed during the holy month of Ramzan, 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 land. 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 and 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.

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 implementating the Supreme Court verdict in the case of relocation of polluting industries out of Delhi has strikingly highlighted the need for a supportive social environment involving all 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 rever him as an avtar 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 ancient 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 the 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 the 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 Rama Rajya, which was also Mahatma Gandhi’s dream. There was nothing communal about either Gandhi’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 Jawaharlal Nehru had set up a committee for the reconstruction of Somnath temple under the chairmanship of K.M. Munshi. 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 of our syncretic national culture.

My statement that the movement for construction of a Ram temple in Ayodhya was an expression of 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 of 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 totally at 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 Hindu society’s weakness, this will show the strength of 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.

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