After his hugely successful and path-breaking visit to the US as the Prime Minister in September 2014 and his subsequent visits to the UK, France, Germany, Canada, Japan, Australia, Saudi Arabia and UAE, I applauded Narendra Modi’s endeavours  and initiatives in my book Modi’s Midas Touch in Foreign Policy. At its launch at the National Media Centre, in the presence of the Minister of I&B Venkaiah Naidu and the Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu, the former Foreign Secretary & Ambassador to the US Lalit Mansingh expressed his view that I was too effusive in my praise of PM Modi. I was also castigated by the members of the IFS fraternity when I gave Modiji 7 on a scale of 10 for the conduct of India’s foreign policy. I complimented him for taking bold and out of box steps like inviting all the SAARC leaders to his inauguration in May 2014, showing up in Lahore on Nawaz Sharif’s birthday and inviting Chinese President Xi Jinping to the Sabarmati front in Ahmadabad in August 2017, though the results didn’t meet our expectation.

I praised him for his determination for promoting Sawchh Bharat Abhiyan, International Yoga Day and scores of inclusive schemes like Jan Dhan Yojana, Ujjwala, Saubhagya, Ayusman Bharat etc and felt that India would be transformed beyond recognition even if 60% of these schemes could be implemented and he could end up as India’s most transformative Prime Minister. I genuinely believe, the concept of Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas aur Chalein Saath Saath is as lofty as the noble idea of Vasudhaiva Kutumbkam and can be equally productive for building friendly relations with various countries if pursued in letter and spirit.

Notwithstanding his detractors’ scathing criticism, Narendra Modi is, presently, the most popular national leader, and arguably, the most suitable to lead the country in today’s trying times. The way he prepared the whole country to face harder days to combat Covid-19 by announcing the Janata curfew and thanked the unsung heroes who provide essential services at the risk of their own lives by a simple gesture of clapping or ringing bells or thalis shows his imaginative and innovative mind to connect with people.

Yes, one can have an honest disagreement on some of his policy decisions or their implementation and even question their need, efficacy and results, but unbridled campaign to demonise him is not going to help his political rivals. Apart from fiery speeches and unending accusations, do they have any alternative vision and action plan to address India’s problems? Not really! So, Modi supporters will chant: Modi Hai to Mumkin hai!

In a speech recently, the PM said that peace was a prerequisite for India’s unity and economic progress. However, social harmony, sense of justice and fair play and inclusiveness were prerequisites for maintaining peace. National unity and economic progress are inseparably linked with social harmony!

The train of my thoughts got a severe jolt. While I was focusing on my visage in the mirror, I heard a stern voice from behind: You Urban Naxal! What are you conspiring? I was shocked! I had a close look at my face and asked myself: do I look like a Naxal? Am I a Naxal? The voice persisted: Yes, you are! You obtained a Master’s degree, so you can be called educated, though you might have forgotten most of what was taught. Delhi has been your place for parking, hence, you can be called urban. And as you voice your views about developments in JMI, JNU, barbaric beating of the Dalit youth in Una, demands  for chanting Bharat Mata Ki Jai, reports about cow vigilantism and fake encounters in UP and publish articles with titles like: Who will Say Sorry for two Millennia of Injustices?, how does that make me a Naxal? I wholeheartedly believe in the Indian State, Indian democracy and rule of law and abhor violence and condemn its use for furthering any political or social cause, though I believe that radical leftist ideological indoctrination notwithstanding, Naxalism won’t have lasted for over half a century if there wasn’t widespread development deficit in tribal areas and if different governments had not failed to remove tribals’ perception that they stood for the MNCs and big private companies and not for them. Determined and sustained efforts to neutralise armed Naxals must continue side-by-side pro-active developmental efforts on a war-footing to win the confidence and trust of the tribals.

Do we have a more potent weapon than Gandhi? Understandably, we make the likes of the Chinese and American Presidents, Xi Jinping  and Donald Trump, squat on the ground and try their hand on Mahatma’s Charkha. Many world leaders from Martin Luther King to Nelson Mandela and Mother Theresa to Dalai Lama have been inspired by the Mahatma. Why has no-one thought of using the Gandhian approach against the Naxals? But do we have someone with Gandhi’s will power and courage? Only a Gandhi could ask the Naxals to give up their arms and fight for their rights within the system following constitutional means. Alas, we have no Gandhi today!

Vaad, Vivad and Samvad have been an integral part of Indian discourse for centuries. We couldn’t have had this great tradition unless the participants were willing to listen to contrarian views. All enlightened rulers devised their own means of ascertaining the pulse of the people. Lord Rama did that. So did Emperor Akbar. Getting surrounded by “Yes men” only is the surest recipes for committing harakiri. Today’s rulers can draw wisdom from Sant Kabir’s lines: Nindak Niyare Rakhiye…

Everyone who questions or opposes certain decisions of the government of the day isn’t a Naxal, irrespective of his political affiliation, Leftist or Rightist! Engage in dialogue with those who don’t agree with you. Disarm them with the strength of your logic and arguments rather than your lung power and the authority at your command. That’s what sabka saath sabka vikas chalein saath saath really means.

Don’t insult millions of law-abiding, proud Indian citizens who stand for the unity and integrity of India and work very hard, in their own ways, to make India a great nation, by calling them Urban Naxals! They aren’t! Sweeping generalisations are never fair and seldom helpful. Why not shun them?

(Surendra Kumar was India’s Ambassador to Libya, Mozambique, Democratic Republic of Congo and Eritrea & High Commissioner of India to Kenya, Swaziland and Malta).