How not to break our Berlin Walls: Difference between speech and action 

The Prime Minister on November 9 spoke of our own Berlin Walls, but the problem is that his words are not often matched by action of his government, party, affiliates and followers

How not to break our Berlin Walls: Difference between speech and action 
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Sudheendra Kulkarni

Mikhail Gorbachev is my hero. Among the global statesmen who bloodlessly changed the history of the 20th century, and gave us the hope that we can achieve the same in the 21st century, his name ranks among the greatest.

Even though he had to sacrifice his office at the altar of his unwavering and audacious commitment to world peace, he collaborated with Ronald Reagan to bring an end to the Cold War between USA and the Soviet Union. The nuclear disarmament treaties he signed with Reagan in the late 1980s inspired peace-lovers all over the world. At home, he brought an end to the stagnation and self-deception of communist dictatorship with his bold policy of glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring). He ensured nonviolent disintegration of his own country, USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics), because he knew it was an artificial construct, whose constituents quickly became independent nations.

Similarly, guided by the sombre lessons of the two horrific World Wars, he refused to use force when countries in eastern Europe felled their communist regimes and broke away from their alliance with the Soviet Union. This paved the way for the peaceful coming together of eastern and western Europe, best evidenced by the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989.

Even now, in the late evening of his life, the 88-year-old Russian leader remains a rare voice of sanity. To know why, read his sagacious thoughts in the latest issue of TIME magazine commemorating the 30th anniversary of the collapse of the Berlin Wall. His appeal to the world is well expressed in the title itself: ‘In 1989 the World Chose Peace; We Need That Vision Today’.

Gorbachev writes: “The Berlin Wall, which for decades had divided not just a city but a country, and all of Europe, fell in November 1989, and history accelerated its march. Such moments test the responsibility and wisdom of statesmen…We drew a final line under the Cold War. Our goal was a new Europe: a Europe without dividing lines.”

Modi’s address to the nation on November 9:

Why should we refer to the fall of the Berlin Wall in our examination of two momentous events that took place closer home last Saturday — opening of the Kartarpur Sahib Corridor and the Supreme Court’s verdict in the Ayodhya matter?

It is because our own Prime Minister did so, and he deserves conditional praise for doing so. In his address to the nation, he said, “Today is November 9. On this day the Berlin Wall had fallen. Two different streams had come together and taken the pledge to make a new beginning. Today, Kartarpur Corridor has started with the coordinated efforts of India and Pakistan. Today, with Ayodhya verdict, this date of November 9, teaches us [Hindus and Muslims] to come together, move forward and build a New India.”

Gorbachev’s vision of a New Europe. Modi’s vision of a New India.

Cynics would say I am reading too much into the similarity of words. After all, Gorbachev has numerous critics at home. Many Russians blame him for the fact that their country ceased to be a superpower because of what they think were his wrong policies and weak leadership. Modi too has his critics, myself included.

Yet, I am not a blind critic. I had lauded his statesman-like speech at the Central Hall of Parliament on May 25, after he had won a renewed and resounding mandate in the elections to the 17th Lok Sabha. His address to the nation on November 9 was also praiseworthy, in which, sounding very Nehruvian, he extolled the “virtue for which India is known — Unity in Diversity”.

He added: “The harmony, brotherhood, friendship, unity and peace amongst us all, is very important for the nation’s development.” In “New India”, he assured, “there is no place for fear, bitterness and negativity”. He concluded his address with an appeal every patriotic Indian would welcome – “Come, let us make a new beginning. Come, let us build a New India.”

The problem with our Prime Minister is that his fine words are not always matched by the deeds of his party and the decisions of his government. In the past five and a half years since Modi moved into South Block, we have not seen any Gorbachevian glasnost and perestroika in him or in the leadership of the Sangh Parivar he belongs to.

New Europe was born principally because the last Soviet leader showed the courage of conviction in owning up the mistakes and crimes committed by his own communist party in the past. Once the top leader himself opened the doors of honest self-criticism by the ruling party, followed by its credible acts of self-correction, the entire society began to openly discuss the wrongs of the Stalin era.

All this created the hope of “a new beginning” among the people of all the republics of the USSR, and also of Eastern and Western Europe. And Gorbachev himself, along with other leaders of that era (Reagan of the US, Margaret Thatcher of the UK, Helmut Kohl of Germany and François Mitterrand of France), took firm steps that led to the emergence of a “New Europe”.

In order to avoid any misunderstanding, I must hasten to mention here that the wrongs committed by the BJP in India are not comparable to the terrifying criminalities of the Stalin era in the Soviet Union.

Nevertheless, at a time when Modi is making an appeal for a “New Beginning” for a “New India”, and when he is mentioning the fall of the Berlin Wall in the context of the Supreme Court’s verdict that will facilitate the construction of Ram Temple in Ayodhya, shouldn’t he have exhibited at least a little bit of the spirit of Indian glasnost? Shouldn’t he have truthfully acknowledged that some unlawful and unacceptable acts were committed by proponents of the temple movement?

After all, the apex court had minced no words in condemning the Babri Mosque demolition as “an egregious violation of the Rule of Law”. It had also stated that the means for demolishing it “should not have been employed in a secular nation”.

Look at the dichotomy between Modi’s effusive praise for the Supreme Court and his deliberate silence on its words of censure.

On the one hand, he said, “Today is a historic day. It is the beginning of a golden era for the judiciary of the country. The judgement was unanimous and was courageous. Our judiciary needs a special appreciation.” However, on the other hand, he simply refused to endorse what the same court had said about the criminal act on 6 December 1992 by Karsevaks led by his own party and the larger Sangh Parivar. Didn’t he, with his silence, endorse the Karsevaks’ crime?

There were two other regrettable omissions in the PM’s address to the nation. First, the Supreme Court in its verdict reminded the nation that “secularism is a basic feature of the Constitution”. Modi deliberately did not affirm his own commitment to this fundamental Constitutional principle because he has a well-known aversion to the word “secularism”.

Second, the Supreme Court delved deep into the provisions of the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act of 1991, and cautioned against any section of society taking the law into its hands and forcibly converting the religious character of places of worship across the country. Modi kept mum on this.

Alarmingly, on the same day, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad said, “The Ayodhya verdict is not the end of the story, it is only the beginning of it”, thereby clearly hinting that it was committed to reclaiming the mosques in Mathura and Kashi. Obviously, the VHP, a major constituent of the Sangh Parivar, has placed before the nation its own meaning of “a new beginning”, which is at odds with the PM’s call for “a new beginning”.

Modi ji, can a “New India” be built if you permit, and if the Sangh Parivar stokes, the mandir-masjid quarrels of Old India to continue perpetually?

Can you break the domestic “Berlin Wall” — namely, the lack of adequate trust between your government/your party and India’s largest minority community — if you do not show leadership to mitigate their legitimate fears and concerns?

Can you achieve ‘Sabka Vishwas’, which you added to your earlier promise of ‘Sabka Saath’ and ‘Sabka Vikas’? The nation – especially the Muslim community – is awaiting an answer from you.

The second ‘Berlin Wall’

On November 9, in the context of the inauguration of the Kartarpur Sahib Corridor, Modi also alluded to the need to break another “Berlin Wall”, the one of perpetual hostility between India and Pakistan.

The hostility between two Germanys ended in 1989 when, in his own words, “two different streams had come together and taken the pledge to make a new beginning”. History expects him and Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan (with the support of its Army Chief Qamar Javed Bajwa) to make a similar “new beginning” to achieve lasting peace and reconciliation between our two countries.

Modi is offering the dream of a “New India” and Imran Khan’s pledge to his own people is to build a “Naya Pakistan”. Neither “New India” nor “Naya Pakistan” is possible without peace and cooperation between the two countries – in other words, without demolishing the “Berlin Wall” that we have erected with our short-sightedness, prejudices and enmities.

The worst victims of the “Berlin Wall” between India and Pakistan are the people of Kashmir. Will Modi, in cooperation with the civilian-military leadership in Islamabad, show the vision and willpower to convert Kashmir into a bridge between our countries, rather than perpetuating it as a barrier?

Modi deserves our appreciation for thanking Imran Khan for allowing the opening of the Kartarpur corridor between the two countries. He also rightly said, “The message and teachings of Guru Nanak Dev Ji are for all and not only for the Sikh community. Guru Nanak showed the path of unity, brotherhood in the society.”

Guru Nanak is the greatest symbol of “unity and brotherhood” bringing India and Pakistan closer – and also Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus closer. Modi ji, will you now follow Guru’s command and make all possible efforts to break the two ‘Berlin Walls” that you yourself perceptively referred to?

(The author served as a close aide to former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee. He is the author of ‘Music of the Spinning Wheel: Mahatma Gandhi’s Manifesto for the Internet Age. Views expressed are personal)

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