Strong and small The Indian Express

27, May 2015 | Julio Ribeiro

Modi is a tall leader. Then why does his government sometimes act in petty, vengeful ways?

Written by Julio Ribeiro | Published on: May 27, 2015 12:00 am

“Pseudo-secularism” is alive and kicking in our country. After I voiced my concern about the peaceful Christian community becoming a soft target of Hindu extremist elements, I received a pile of mail, overwhelmingly supportive but with the expected dose of hate messages. “Pseudo-secularists” outnumbered “secularists” by a wide margin.

What warmed the cockles of my heart was that the bulk of the support was from a wide assortment of Hindus, many of them old friends but many also individuals not known to me till then. A young Bengali executive I met at an airport came up to me to voice his agreement with my stand. The critics included a couple of my former colleagues in the IPS — incidentally, strangers to me — who, I learnt, had served in the country’s premier intelligence agencies. How could they have arrived at any objective conclusion in the course of their work if they were so steeped in a particular ideology?

Here, I must mention an honest, upright, remarkable police officer, a year senior to me in the service. S.E. Joshi, who hailed from a distinguished family in Amravati in Vidarbha, retired as chief of R&AW. When we were junior, he was the central intelligence officer covering Vidharba and Marathwada. I was superintendent of police of Parbhani district and then Nanded, both in the Marathwada region. Joshi would make half-yearly trips to review the work of his officers and stayed with me whenever he visited.

The Marathwada districts had been merged with the old Bombay state, later Maharashtra, from the nizam’s Hyderabad. The influence of the Razakars was still felt. The IB officer who patrolled my districts was a Brahmin from Vidarbha, as was Joshi. When I praised his deputy’s acumen, Joshi cautioned me to be careful in accepting all that he told me. “He is biased against Muslims,” he said, “and bias is a major defect in any intelligence operative’s armour”. It was a lesson I never forgot.

Contrary opinions, even extreme ones, should be taken seriously. They exist in every religion in all countries of the world. Religion brings out the best and the worst in human beings. We are lucky that hatemongers can be counted on one’s fingers. Among the voices which did not like what I had said was that of Jagdish Bhagwati, an internationally known economist, and of T.V. Mohandas Pai, the IT wizard. I got the feeling that they felt that my writing would denigrate Prime Minister Narendra Modi and weaken him in the eyes of the Western world, which he was so assiduously wooing for investments.

Actually, I want Modi to succeed. Let me make this clear. After Indira Gandhi, he is the only strong leader we have had. And the country needs a strong leader, a determined leader, a charismatic leader. Modi gives the impression that he is such a leader. Only he can change the mentality of a people. Many voted for Modi and not for the BJP — numerous Christians I know did. They voted for development and jobs. What needs to change if the country is to develop is the “chalta hai” attitude of the people when they routinely, though unwillingly, pay speed money to the lower rungs of the bureaucracy, when they disregard the rules of the road, when they litter public places without batting an eyelid and accept injustices without protest. Only a strong leader like Modi can lead a public campaign to rectify these innate defects in our collective psyche.

But instead of concentrating time and energy in bringing about such fundamental changes, his government seems to prioritise fixing Greenpeace and Teesta Setalvad, that intrepid champion of justice for the Muslim minority that fell victim to the 2002 Gujarat killings. In its anxiety to take revenge on Setalvad, the government has upset a universally acclaimed philanthropist organisation, Ford Foundation, which has funded a nationally recognised centre of learning and thinking, Tata Institute of Social Sciences.

Why is the Modi government wasting the precious goodwill it enjoyed after it was voted to power in small, mindless, negative acts of vengeance that do not behove a great nation? Is Modi the only giant among pygmies? We hear that he is the puppeteer who pulls all the strings from the PMO. In which case, how did this petty piece of governance get past him — especially when the complaint against Ford Foundation’s support to Setalvad’s NGO emanated from his own home state, Gujarat?

I hope Bhagwati is listening. He should advise Modi to refrain from acts of petty-mindedness that will only boomerang on all his other valiant attempts to reform the economy. And Pai should add his bit of advice. I am sure that on this issue, both of them think like me and numerous other fellow Indians.

The Modi government has completed a year in office. Its report card is positive. It has secured good grades in certain subjects — corruption in the higher reaches has gone down, noticeably down. In the lower reaches, it is business as usual. Modi will have to act drastically against those who refuse to reform. The voter must know that she can get what is legally due without having to grease palms.

And that brings me to the question that is uppermost in my mind. I run an NGO called Public Concern for Governance Trust (PCGT). It was established a decade ago in Mumbai by B.G. Deshmukh, a former cabinet secretary and a true servant of the public. The PCGT relies heavily on the Right to Information Act to fight the day-to-day corruption that troubles people.

Why is Modi so wary of the RTI that he does not think it necessary to appoint a chief information commissioner and information commissioners at the Centre? Is this his idea of good governance? He was also reluctant to fill the posts in Gujarat when he was chief minister there. Does he feel that he can single-handedly fight corruption without institutions in place? There are many others like me who would like to know.

The writer, a retired IPS officer, was Mumbai police commissioner, DGP Gujarat and DGP Punjab, and is a former Indian ambassador to Romania.

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***This Article was originally published by the Indian Express. It can be found here.


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