The Singapore PM was only speaking the truth, Mr Modi

What angers the Modi government so much about Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong describing Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru as one of the greatest nation builders across the world?

The Singapore PM was only speaking the truth, Mr Modi
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Sujata Anandan

What angers the Modi government so much about Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong describing Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru as one of the greatest nation builders across the world? Or that there was a decline in parliamentary standards since Nehru and the quality of MPs had fallen with many criminal charges against nearly half of them? Isn't that true? Lee was speaking in his own country's parliament and has as much right to his views on Nehru and India as as has Modi on Somalia and Kerala. But I think I can glean some of the reasons why this government is angry.

Lee had been speaking about accusations of lying against a Singaporean opposition member – lying by anybody, including our own top leadership, would never have been cause for debate in our own parliament today. But in Nehru's time? It would never have been condoned. And that is what Lee was stressing on – the decline in Indian standards since Nehru built up the nation after the British quit in 1947. If he had just said Indian MPs are nothing to write home about, the Modi government may have not even sniffed or snorted but bringing Nehru into the comparison is what probably got their goat.

Despite the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and Modi constantly knocking his achievements, they have not been able to destroy the reputations of both Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi. On his visit to the US last year, Modi was compelled to listen to high praise of Nehru from both President Joe Biden and multiple US senators and Congressmen and had to grit his teeth on the same. He did not have the guts to protest or deny Nehru's greatness. Nevertheless summoning the Singaporean envoy to the Ministry of External Affairs to object to someone speaking the truth, has showed up India as more of a fascist state than we ourselves had believed and obscured all the efforts by the RSS to obliterate Nehru from the history books. Well, if the Modi government won’t acknowledge Nehru's efforts at freedom fighting and that at nation-building, others will and the Modi government is clearly unable to convince other nations that Nehru was Muslim (does it matter – he was still a great nation-builder), that he was a dynast (though that is not strictly true, does even that matter at all, for he was still a great nation-builder), that his ancestors were darogas to the Moghuls (again does that matter for isn't Modi the self-proclaimed chowkidar of the nation - Nehru still beats him on every parametre of nation building). They have tried to insinuate Nehru didn't give up his title of ‘Pandit’ wearing his Brahminism on his sleeve (how does that matter when it never took away from his nation-building skills?) or that he was too fond of cigarettes, wine and Edwina Mountbatten (again did these fondnesses interfere with his devotion to the people of India in their entirety, Hindu-Muslim-Sikh-Isai, with no discrimination between the castes and religions?).

None of these attempts to bring disrepute to Nehru have succeeded here in India or abroad. In a recent conversation with a RSS ideologue, he tried to tell me how great Modi was and when I told him that Modi would not have had a leg to stand on, had Nehru not built a secular, unified and casteless India (the RSS would have introduced the Manusmriti instead of a Constitution) and Modi would not have had Nehru's painstakingly built assets to sell off to his crony capitalist friends, he got rattled and said, After Modi ceases to be prime minister , he will go to the Himalayas and become a great saint!”

I simply laughed. It was so obvious he had nothing else to say for Modi's greatness.

I believe Modi might be upset how several Indians, including those from abroad have come down in defence of Lee and even Dr Manmohan


Singh, the quiet, self-effacing prime minister who preceded Modi, has gently reminded his successor that seven years after coming to power, he is still blaming Nehru for no good reason at all. Dr Singh worked silently to do so much good for the nation without being bombastic, abusive or divisive. And spinning yarns that had got Lee to mourn falling parliamentary standards, most of us are still waiting for Rs 15 lakh to be deposited into our banks accounts, for black money to return to India (rather than have the fraudsters flee abroad without trouble) or even youngsters to find even one of the two crore jobs promised by Modi.

But why the comments by Prime Minister Lee angered Modi were two-pronged – despite his efforts to help the rich get richer (and render the poor poorer than they were in 2014), most capitalists are fleeing to Singapore tor a better quality of life and a fearless existence. That tells us how terrible Modi's India is – even if you have loads of money, you cannot be sure there will be no midnight knock on the door just because the government has taken umbrage at a tweet or your failure to contribute to electoral bonds. If you are poor you can no longer expect justice from the courts and if you are Muslim or Christian, expect to be gutted by a violent mob any hour of the day or night.

But probably what upset Modi the most, was Prime Minister Lee's subsequent words. I do not know if he was pointing towards Modi but he said future generations who enjoy the fruits of democracy and nation building undertaken by the founding fathers of the nation often do not understand the hard efforts that went into building the nation and tend to knock those achievements. To me that was Modi all over and I think he interpreted it similarly.

Like Dr Singh said you cannot demean India by overreacting to a passing statement of an international leader and foreign policy is not built on the basis of hugging leaders across the globe. That was a hard-hitting statement for the gentle Dr Singh but isn't it true that Modi has been pouncing on international leaders for hugs and hoping they will respond in kind? Some like the US president Joe Biden were not amused, others for diplomatic reasons kept silent. But 5hey were hot amused either.

Our own foreign minister, gn minister, a career diplomat who should have known Indian diplomacy better but yet spouts all Modi's sectarian opinions, has had to nevertheless emphasisenemphasise several times that Indian democracy was based on secularism and equality for all citizens and friendship with all nations (another way of saying non-alignment). That is Nehruvian nation building, diplomacy and foreign policy, after all.

And before anybody asks, let me say when Nehru extended a hand of friendship to the Chinese and they stabbed him in the back, Nehru had the guts to go to war with China even with the limited resources a nascent India had at the time. We lost, but we tried to safeguard our borders.

What has Modi done to regain Indian territory after the Chinese muscled their way in? Like Dr Singh said, Chinese soldiers are still sitting on our borders. For Dr Singh it was a rather hard rap on Modi's knuckles when he said swaying on a jhoola (with the Chinese premier) or dropping in uninvited (on Pakistan) to eat biryani does not constitute foreign policy. I would add it earns you only ridicule, wins you no friends and remains just a photo-op.

You have to have more S.T.R.E.A.N.H. of character for nation building, diplomacy and to emerge as great an all-time world leader as Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. Until then international leaders will always point fingers at us and compare us poorly to our founding fathers.

Views are personal

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