A book to ‘counter the WhatsApp University’ on India’s PMs

By Vishnu Makhijani

Rasheed Kidwai, a political commentator, author and journalist of three decades standing, generally writes in English but chose Hindi for his book on Indian Prime Ministers as he found it the ideal medium to not only counter what the “WhatsApp University” has been purveying on social media but also to serve as a handbook for students of contemporary Indian politics.

“I felt it was best to counter the ‘WhatsApp University’ if the book was written in Hindi. Moreover, the Observer Research Foundation Hindi website had earlier asked me to run a short series on the former Prime Ministers,” Kidwai told IANS talking about his book, “Bharat Ke Pradhan Mantri” (Rajkamal Prakashan).

As a political journalist, Kidwai said he wanted to do a book that will work as a handbook for students of contemporary Indian politics, those aspiring for civil services, dispassionate observers, and the younger generation, “a book that will give the contributions, follies, important events in the life of each of the 14 prime ministers in a capsule form. I think there have been many misgivings, often politically motivated, which are spread about former Prime Ministers on social media platforms.”

How would he assess the legacy of India’s Prime Ministers?

“I think each prime minister had a legacy of their own. They were all sincere, committed to the cause of the unity and integrity of the country. They were men and women in flesh and blood so they were prone to mistakes and open to criticism,” he said.

“Jawaharlal Nehru was a visionary, architect of modern India. He was an internationalist who had a plan for the country’s economy, industrialization. Nehru understood the importance of cinema. Nehru’s impact is evident in the work of many, from Dadasaheb Phalke to Aamir Khan. The films of V Shantaram, Mehboob Khan, Raj Kapoor, and, more recently, Vidhu Vinod Chopra, dealt with the core themes such as love and sacrifice, Hindu-Muslim unity, the rural-urban divide, women’s emancipation, and fear of moral decay,” Kidwai said.

Nehru’s successor, Lal Bahdur Shastri, “was a man of great integrity and character. On his clarion call, millions stopped having a meal a day to save food grains and other resources. Shastri’s call for 1965 war funds saw huge donations of gold by housewives. His ‘Jai Jawan Jai Kisan’ slogan continues to be one of the most popular in the country even today”, Kidwai said.

Indira Gandhi, he said, requires a full volume.

“She defied many odds to emerge as the greatest Prime Minister India had. However, some of her policies made the Congress suffer from a steady breakdown in ideological clarity for decades, evident in its confusion over secularism, sanctioning political defections, appeasement politics etc.”

Morarji Desai had made serious and sincere peace overtures toward Pakistan, Kidwai said.

Rajiv Gandhi was a true modernist and reformer.

“I think political inexperience was his greatest enemy. Perhaps that is why Rahul Gandhi is still reluctant to don the mantle of leadership or become a prime ministerial aspirant. Rajiv government’s decisions on Ayodhya and the Shah Bano judgment have had a lasting impact on the country’s politics. Political naivety overshadowed many of his positive interventions, such as the priority he accorded to technology, education, infrastructure development and economic reforms,” Kidwai said.

“I feel Chandrashekhar was an outstanding prime minister who was close to solving the vexed Ayodhya dispute amicably. He would make difficult decisions with ease but did not have enough time as Prime Minister.”

The greatness of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Kidwai said, “should be part of a full-length book. If politics is the art of always taking credit, Vajpayee was an aberration. He gave credit where it was due, whether it was a friend or an adversary. One of his lasting legacies is his healthy respect for rivals, including Congress stalwarts from Nehru to Sonia Gandhi”. He was a towering leader even in the opposition.

On Manmohan Singh, Kidwai said both he and Sonia Gandhi “were great believers in tokenism”.  “Be it the selection of a new President, the Home Minister, the Speaker, the heads of various boards and commissions, the UPA leadership looked for token empowerment on gender, caste, and community lines. It did not work at all but rather promoted mediocrity at the expense of merit,” Kidwai maintained.

Narendra Modi “has changed all rules of the game in politics. In Indian politics, Modi has become an integral, rather a necessary part of the system. Sometimes I wonder if there are many options before the voters as those who have got identified with him and Hindutva’s ideology cannot take a U-turn. So it is working for him and the BJP”, Kidwai said.

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