THE RED LINE
Is there a turf war between the Prime Minister's Office and the Ministry of External Affairs? Of course, not. But if you believe the Modi-baiters, the PM has virtually made the MEA irrelevant as he constructs and conducts his own foreign policy. Now, in a free society it is hard to ensure that malicious gossip cannot be passed off as gospel truth. People seeped in ignorance can always be made to believe anything. The fight between the PMO and the MEA is the latest canard of the oppositionists and others who have nothing better to do than to spin yarns in their spare time.
The truth is that Narendra Modi and Sushma Swaraj have an excellent working relationship. The MEA mandarins are impressed by the PM's penchant for diplomacy, his mastering of the craft in no time. In his interaction with the world leaders, Modi has kept to his brief, taking care to adopt as nuanced a stance as the situation warrants. Though undoubtedly new to international diplomacy, he has shown an excellent grasp, notching up major successes renewing old ties and building on them to further the national interest.
Because the critics have failed to find fault with Modi for his welcome forays into foreign policy, they have singled out National Security Adviser Ajit Doval, blaming him for the latest stand-off with Pakistan. It is suggested that Doval was unfamiliar with the art of diplomacy. He is blamed for taking a muscular stand, which gave Pakistan a reason to cancel the NSA-level talks. It is suggested that not allowing the Pakistani NSA Sartaj Aziz to meet the Hurriyat leaders was a deal-breaker and the Indian side should have avoided setting such a precondition.
The fact that India was laying the ground rules for engaging our ever-belligerent neighbour was lost on these "softies", who still romanticise about sadda Lahore and pine for the day when they can have "breakfast in Amritsar and lunch in Lahore". It was forgotten that the Hurriyat busybodies were self-styled leaders who represented no one but themselves and had acquired a great nuisance value thanks only to the successive governments' disinclination to call their bluff.
If Modi has chosen to draw a red line, which Pakistan would cross only at the pain of India discontinuing the dialogue process, it should be welcome. It should matter little if the new line is devised by Doval or the MEA, so long as it is the correct line. But those questioning this no-nonsense stance are not so much concerned about Hurriyat being put in its place, as they are peeved by the fact that a former policeman is getting away fashioning our all-important policy towards Pakistan.
That Doval and Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar are both close to Modi and very often the trio brainstorms for long, especially when the PM is travelling abroad — and that Doval and Jaishankar travel in the same car when abroad — is of no consequence to those bent on raking up the ghost of the turf war between the PMO and the MEA. To an extent, all PMs have taken personal interest in foreign affairs. Modi has excelled at it. Give him credit that, unlike Manmohan Singh, Modi has not committed a Sharm el Sheikh-like blunder.
The Congress seems to have discovered great qualities in the former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. It says Vajpayee was suave and cultured while Modi lacks finesse and nuance. Clearly, public memory is short. At the time, Vajpayee too was blamed for marginalising the MEA. In fact, his Principal Secretary, the late Brajesh Mishra, was criticised for appointing a "weak" IFS officer, Chokila Iyer, as Foreign Secretary so that he (Mishra) could run the MEA. (By all accounts, the present Foreign Secretary, Jaishankar is brilliant, having got the present post by dint of sheer merit and not seniority alone, as was the case with many of his predecessors.)
Besides, how can anyone not remember Sonia Gandhi's statement that "Vajpayeeji apna mansik santulan kho baithe hain"? The Congress criticism of the Pakistan policy lacks substance, stemming as it does from sheer resentment that Modi occupies the prime ministerial gaddi.
A FOUL-TONGUED CM
Back to Arvind Kejriwal. The Delhi Chief Minister can do with a refresher course in etiquette. Using words like kaminey and neech (mean and low-life) to describe respected professionals like Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav, whom he kicked out mercilessly — laat maar key nikal do, he had said — out of the Aam Aadmi Party a few months ago, does not become the Delhi Chief Minister. Even Mayawati tries and be less crude than this apparently IIT-educated Kejriwal.
In fact, either of the two things emerge whenever Kejriwal opens his mouth these days. One, he abuses the Central government, using cuss words. For instance, in the company of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar in Patna last Thursday he said that the Centre was doing goondagardi in Delhi. Two, he is thoroughly hypocritical, exaggerating achievements while trying to hide his selfishness. Single-minded in using public funds to build his own cult, the capital city these days has huge hoardings, especially on crowded bus-stops, which claim that during the last six months the AAP government had "repaired 1,260 kilometers of Delhi roads". Ironically, some of these hoardings have come up on roads which are full of potholes and barely motorable. Having increased the publicity budget of the Delhi government from the earlier Rs 26 crore to a whopping Rs 526 crore, some of the advertisements appeared in Mumbai and Chennai as well, suggesting that the AAP leader is keen to "conquer" those cities next by promising "free water and cheap power". Because the voters are unable to see the great harm such freebies do, they easily root for a leader making such extravagant promises. Indeed, one of the hoardings claims that "the AAP government has given 20,000 litres of free water" to the people in Delhi.
A couple of hoardings in recent weeks were about the late President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam and the current incumbent, Pranab Mukherjee. These clever exceptions were clearly meant to counter the charge that all of Rs 526 crore is to be deployed for building the image of the AAP supremo.
Meanwhile, the Kejriwal fan club may already be toying with the idea of commissioning a biography of the great man. A couple of journalists who make it a point to defend him even when he is clearly in the wrong, figure in the tentative short list drawn up of potential writers.
It pays to be a publicity hog. Unless you court the media and feed it all the great things you claim to have done, the chances are you would not win any national or international awards. For proof go through the list of the recent Magsaysay Award winners. Barring an Anshu Gupta of Goonj, who has truly done great work without drawing attention to himself, most others have to thank the media for winning the Ford Foundation-funded award. From Kiran Bedi and Arvind Kejriwal to Sanjiv Chaturvedi, all can be said to be the creation of the media.
It is not that only a Chaturvedi or a Bedi were conscientious officers. No. Only that they knew how to market themselves. Countless others may work as honestly, but they love their anonymity, believing that goodness is its own reward. But someone like Chaturvedi must feed his friends in the media on a regular basis so that a gullible public can be made to believe that only he cares about public welfare.