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Takeaways from the great churning

No room for ambiguity on the foreign policy front as India’s credibility is at stake

Takeaways from the great churning

Clear the air: Outgoing Canadian NSA Jody Thomas has made significant comments regarding India’s stand on the Hardeep Singh Nijjar murder probe. Reuters

Vivek Katju

Former Secretary, Ministry of External Affairs

AS I read the front page of a leading national daily recently, I wondered if we were living in Amrit Kaal or witnessing what precedes the creation of amrit — samudramanthan. There was a report about a Governor who got out of his car and staged an impromptu sit-in, while another mentioned that the Supreme Court had stayed proceedings in the Calcutta High Court after a judge accused another of political partisanship. Also in the news was the demand for Maratha reservation in the OBC category and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s possible return to the NDA camp (which eventually and inevitably happened).

The outgoing Canadian NSA’s comment requires a precise response from New Delhi. India’s credibility would take a beating if does not clarify the situation.

On the foreign policy front, outgoing Canadian National Security Adviser (NSA) Jody Thomas claimed that India was cooperating in the Hardeep Singh Nijjar murder probe. This was significant because all this while, the Indian government had been stating, including to Parliament, that the Canadians had given no evidence; hence, the claim was on a totally different footing from that with regard to the US in the Gurpatwant Singh Pannun case.

Amid these reports was the ‘heartwarming’ story of Gujarat “leaving no stone unturned” to make India ready to bid for the Olympic Games. A Rs 6,000-crore masterplan had been prepared to create infrastructure required for the Games. Thus, even if the present is murky, with the political class engaged in its usual games and constitutional authorities acting contrary to what the Constitution and conventions envisage, the future was projected to be bright for a rising India.

If India is in the midst of samudramanthan — the great churning — norms, values and traditional propriety are necessarily under challenge. In the realm of politics, these have become almost completely transformed since India became a republic. Now, the people accept politicians making U-turns to gain power or remain at the helm as ‘normal’. It is, however, the churning taking place in the conduct of constitutional authorities that still attracts some attention and is troubling. There are also expectations that the foreign policy establishment, while keeping national security in mind, will not make statements which are ‘contradicted’ by its interlocutors; and, if foreign interlocutors take contrary positions on ‘facts’, the MEA will issue clarifications. Hence, the significance of the comments of the outgoing Canadian NSA.

The conduct of governors has changed drastically, though their constitutional position has not changed. While most governors conduct themselves with discretion, the exceptions cast a shadow on the institution. Run-ins between governors and chief ministers have taken place for decades. Governors have been accused of political partisanship in the past, too, especially when the political sands in a state began to shift. On occasions, the Supreme Court has had to step in to scrutinise their actions and lay down guidelines. Disagreeable churning in the institution of the Governor — an important link between the Centre and the states — will not yield amrit.

The higher judiciary inspired public trust. People felt that the higher courts would always act independently and protect life and liberty against arbitrary or motivated actions of the executive. On their part, judges of the higher courts pursued the maxim that justice must not only be done but it must be done so manifestly. The courts have been in the public eye now more than they were in the past. It is good that they have taken steps such as live-streaming of some case proceedings so that the public gains greater awareness of how the judicial system works. What the judges have to ensure is that the Calcutta High Court-like incident is addressed properly so that public confidence in the judiciary is retained. Amrit Kaal would not come if the people lose faith, which they currently have, in the courts.

The Modi government has asserted that through its foreign policy initiatives, it has earned India greater respect in the comity of nations. In this context, it has especially focused on its successful G20 presidency culminating in the 2023 New Delhi summit. There is no doubt that Indian diplomacy’s success in ensuring a ‘clean’ text of the Delhi Declaration was an achievement. India’s management of the economy, despite the increasing gap between the rich and the poor, has also been hailed by the international community, which is interested in the expansion of the Indian market for goods and services. In this scenario, the charges levelled by the US in the Pannun case were disturbing and compelled the government to assure Washington of cooperation. However, as of now, it has, on record, dismissed the Canadian charges. Hence, the outgoing Canadian NSA’s comment requires a precise response from New Delhi. India’s credibility would take a beating if does not clarify the situation. Pakistan has recently made allegations that India has orchestrated targeted killings on its territory. The Indian authorities correctly dismissed these charges.

The manthan going on in the country is essentially about its public culture and values. Clearly, an enormous change which has taken place relates to the involvement of the state in religious matters. Earlier inhibitions have gone, even as the need to take all the people along in the spirit of ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas, Sabka Vishwas’ and ‘Sabka Prayas’ has to be fulfilled on the ground.

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