Open Letter to Mr. Narendra Modi
To Shri Narendra Modi
October 7th 2015
Another birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi (Gandhi Jayanti) has come and gone on October 2nd. I want to compliment you on the way you have handled the age-old predjudice that Rashtriya Syamsevak Sangh (RSS) has had against Gandhiji. Time was, when Gandhiji was assassinated, that radical Hindu communalists distributed sweets in parts of the cities of Pune and Nagpur. But you have realized the significance of Gandhiji’s work and the legacy to the Indian nation and its culture. You went to his memorial (Samadhi), the Raj Ghat in New Delhi, to pay your respects to his memory. You launched an important campaign like “Swacha Bharat” on Gandhi Jayanti. This shows your sagacity. It would be great if you could pay heed to advice that he gave to Congress leaders who went to him for guidance on the eve of India’s independence in 1947. When they wanted him to participate in the freedom celebration, he declined to do so saying that he had no heart for celebration in the wake of the communal riots and genocide occurring across the country. And he said that he may not even be in Delhi at that time as he was planning to go to Naokhali, Bengal, to comfort the victims of communal violence raging there. He however advised them to always think of the poorest and the lowliest Indian while planning any policy and suggested that they should ask themselves the question “How does it affect him or her?” and then do whatever will benefit that person, even a small measure. Unfortunately the nation seems to have forgotten this wise advice from Gandhiji. If you could remind the nation of this advice and act upon it, that would be great.
To start with, we have the land legislation which has yet to be considered. The debate seems to be whether it should benefit the farmer or the industrialist. But more importantly, who speaks for the landless laborer or the tribal, or the forest dweller, the Adivasi? The Adivasis have been the voiceless millions all these sixty odd years. Narendrabhai, with your background of a lower middle class life, like most of us Indians, you have the advantage of knowing the powerlessness and voicelessness of the poor. You have to be their voice and act in their favor. Let it not be said that the Indians treat the Adivasis as the western colonialists treated the native Indian population or the later slave population of the Americas. If you do justice by the Adivasis, it will give you a tremendous bonus of also being able to deal with the Maoist terrorist problem. For millennia these Adivasis have been eking a precarious livelihood of the forest produce. They had certain traditional rights in the forest areas which they inhabited, even during the worst colonial days of the British. Now even these rights are being denied to them thanks to mining rights that are being bought and sold by the privileged rich and the state. Where the land was irrigated or used for farming during the monsoons, the landless laborers were treated more or less as slaves. The question of land reforms had been agitating the country even before India became free. I don’t have to tell you about the peasant revolts in Telangana in the old Nizam state or the coastal Andhra districts in erstwhile Madras presidency. These were really the precursors of the Maoist movement which came later in the Naxalbadi district of Bengal. Now is the opportune moment for you to tackle the twin problems of the Adivasis and the landless laborers. Numerous committees and commissions have debated these problems. But vested interests have been able to successfully stymie sensible solutions. Here is the opportunity for you to take bold action by seeking a consensus beyond the bounds of political parties.
You have been rightly stressing on the strength of India being a nation of the young. Yes, we are a nation of the young despite the fact that the majority is yet to acquire the education and the skills that we would like them to have. The nation has enough engineers, scientists, doctors and other intellectuals to tackle the problems that face us. All that they need is opportunity to put their skills to use without any interference from vested interests. So keeping an eye on the vested interests and curbing their power to scuttle things seems to be the urgent need of the day. This can only be done by a determined government dedicated to its poor and voiceless people. In doing so, you need to have a clearly defined policy and a system of governance which is transparent and inclusive of the people. A word of caution regarding the temptations offered by the western world will not be out of place. You can see where the developed countries of the world have arrived by blindly pursuing the one goal of improving GDP, ignoring other factors like damage to the environment or the increasing chasm between the rich and the poor. Even as I write this letter to you there is a devastating flood in South Carolina in the United States of America. In India of course, the twin curses of flood and drought have sadly been a familiar story all the time. Yet, when we speak of the urgent need for renewable sources of energy like solar and wind, the pundits of industrialization immediately counter with the relative cost of fossil-based energy sources compared to renewable energy sources. They don’t even seem to be aware of the terrible costs that we are already paying and that we will have to pay in the future in tackling damage caused to the environment. So Narendrabhai, if any well-meaning industrialist friends tell you of the cheap energy that you can produce by burning cheap coal that is available in plenty, please think again. Don’t fall into their trap. Please believe the wise scientists the world over. In the long run, renewable energy will be the most economical as well as the best for the environment. Today the cost of energy produced by renewables is a fraction of its cost when people were first talking about it. India has the potential to be one of the largest producers of renewable energy. We have the necessary sunshine, the wind power, and the skills to make this possible. Go for it in a big way, and not only the country but the world will bless you.
Above all, please don’t forget that you are the prime minister of the whole country which includes the majority and the minorities. The strength of India has always been its unity in its diversity. It has always been the cradle of different ethnicities, races, religions, classes and creeds. Tolerance and compassion have always been the pride of India. I have been disturbed about some recent events in India. Dr. Narendra Dabholkar was assassinated in Maharashtra. Dr. Kalburgi was gunned down in Karnataka. Earlier in Maharashtra, Govind Pansare was killed. Dr. Dabholkar, Dr. Kalburgi and Mr. Pansare were killed because they believed in freedom of thought. Dr. Dabholkar, for example, had pledged to end blind belief through his Andha Shraddha Nirmoolan Samiti. Again in UP, a Muslim man was done to death because he was alleged to have eaten beef. These events do not bode well for India. There are certain practices which cannot be legislated out of existence. One can only depend on education and persuasion to cause change. In any case, one should be wary of encouraging moral policing by mobs. In all these cases the tragedies were caused because of mob action encouraged by pronouncements of religious and political leaders. If these are not curbed they will only sully the fair name of the country. The whole world seems to be moving towards a new humanism which respects the universal declaration of human rights. Nobody talks of the exclusive right of any religion over truth. Everybody talks of convergence of all religions towards one goal namely human happiness. That reminds me of what Swami Vivekananda told the Congress of world religions many years ago in Chicago. He said the essence of all religions is evolution of God out of man. Let that old wisdom spoken by a wise soul be the new mantra of secular India.
I am a ninety year old fellow Indian who had the good fortune to play a small role in the last phase of India’s freedom struggle, the Quit India movement. I may not be here to see my wish of a prosperous and happy India in my lifetime, but I go with a hope in my heart that the foundations for such an India will be laid by you. I wish you all success.
Shri N.V.K. Murthy