Threat to the Taj

Print edition : July 18, 2003

The Taj Mahal. - JEFF ROBBINS/AP

BUT for the timely and decisive intervention of Union Minister for Tourism and Culture Jagmohan, one of the most beautiful buildings of the world, the Taj Mahal, would have been the victim of the inexcusable vandalism of an ascetically insensitive Uttar Pradesh ruling establishment. But for the timely disclosures made by the print media, irreparable damage would have been done to our heritage and history. U.P. is not under what one would normally term, a "democratic dispensation". It is suffering from hyper-democracy where there is no accountability. No norms of decent behaviour, no just governance. Now that the activity started in Agra has been halted, it is time for us to reflect on the excesses being committed by elected representatives to destroy our secular pluralistic democracy.

It is not likely to happen, but let us give free rein to our imagination and ask ourselves what would happen to this country if a person who became Prime Minister had no qualms about letting loose pliant civil servants to turn North and South Blocks into shopping malls and the Rashtrapati Bhavan into a dharamsala. Such a person could announce that 50 per cent reservations be offered in the armed forces. Many people who misuse the name of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar do not know that the legal genius was against reservations. One has only to read his speech in the Constituent Assembly to know what his enlightened views were on the subject. It is on the persuasion of Gandhiji, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and Babu Rajendra Prasad that he agreed for reservations for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes for 10 years only.

The other disturbing dimension of the governmentally sanctioned unlawful activities in Agra is the role of the Indian Administrative Service (IAS). I was in Lucknow the other day and heard incredible stories about IAS officers being mistreated and humiliated. Others were debasing and degrading themselves to remain on the right side of the powers that be. It is not a pretty picture of the once highly respected IAS. Unless IAS officers are willing to stand up and be counted, their humiliation and degradation will continue at a galloping rate.

Jagmohan has publicly declared that those officers and politicians who sanctioned the Jamuna depredation were now telling lies. The head of the U.P. government maintains that she knew nothing about this outrageous undertaking. No one believes her version.

THE visit to China by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee aroused considerable interest both in India and beyond. The Congress party has welcomed the visit, which is an extension of the historic process started by Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1988 and carried forward by Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao. Our media have of course gone over board and even a balanced individual like External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha has displayed excessive zeal. We must take a leaf out of the Chinese diplomatic book. The Chinese side has maintained dignified restraint and verbal discipline. On the whole, the Vajpayee visit has done much to further strengthen our relations with China. Only five years ago, the Prime Minister had written to U.S. President Bill Clinton that one of the reasons for Pokhran II was the threat from China and his Defence Minister had used phraseology which did him no credit. Now both the individuals have on the soil of China buried the 1998 China bogey and emphasised the importance of these two great Asian nations working together for the welfare of their people and for peace and stability in Asia. The appointment of two senior individuals to get on with finding a solution to the boundary question is a step forward. Brajesh Mishra was our Charge d'affaires in Beijing from 1969 to 1971 and also a member of the team of officials set up soon after the 1962 conflict. He is, therefore, familiar with the complexities of the border issue.

China has resolved its border disputes with Russia, Vietnam and Myanmar. The formula agreed between Deng Xiaoping and Rajiv Gandhi has been extended during Vajpayee's visit and remains the best way to address this question. The Chinese have shown great maturity in not letting the border question come in the way of a better India-China relationship. Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf would do well to emulate the China example and not insist on a policy, which will lead him nowhere.

THE Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) obviously has a poor sense of history. The 50th anniversary of the death of (June 23, 1953) Dr. Shyama Prasad Mookerjee went unnoticed by the BJP. Dr. Mookerjee was a member of Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru's first Cabinet from August 1947 to February 1950. He resigned, not over Kashmir but over his differences with Nehru about the Nehru-Liaquat Pact. Dr. Mookerjee was an accomplished parliamentarian and founded the Jan Sangh in 1951. He was a great friend of Dr. S. Radhakrishnan.

The Vajpayee government should bestir itself a little more to ensure the release of Aung Sang Suu Kyi from detention. She is a heroic individual. She has close links with India. She embraces a free and fearless spirit. The Generals of Myanmar are misreading the temper of the times by turning their backs on the world. They are so afraid of a single lady that they cannot set her free. Free or not, she is the symbol of all that is noble, democratic and moral. She has become both a symbol and an icon.

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