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2 Suggestions For Prime Minister Modi


Sometimes, going beyond comment or analysis, a columnist must advise, for he or she is a citizen as well, and citizens have the duty to speak to their leaders. As a citizen who is a good deal older than Prime Minister Narendra Modi, I reckon this to be doubly my duty.

Since Mr. Modi is my Prime Minister, it is with due respect that I offer these two suggestions. The first has to do with the war in Ukraine. Before I express it, let me repeat an assessment offered previously in this column, which was that the Indian government under Mr. Modi's leadership is justified in making special arrangements with Russia for importing oil. I would add to that comment my view, in respect of the war in Ukraine, that the government's policy of asking for a cessation of violence while also underlining "respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty of all states", thereby clearly implying disapproval of Russia's attack, has been sound.

My suggestion is that Mr. Modi should now use the visit of his eminent guest, Boris Johnson, the UK Prime Minister, to intensify efforts to bring the horrific conflict to an early end. India's close relations with both Russia and Ukraine, furbished by Mr. Modi in his recent phone conversations with President Putin and President Zelensky, give New Delhi an almost unique chance to play an honest broker's role.

As for the British PM, Mr. Johnson surely knows that his hero Winston Churchill, who famously and successfully stood up to Hitler and later gave the world "the iron curtain" phrase, was also the one who strove hard in 1953-54 (when he was Britain's premier once more) for a summit meeting with Russia for world peace.

The world cannot afford to forget the war crimes that seem to have been committed on Ukraine's soil. However, must the world continue to witness the hourly destruction of life, homes, and buildings in Ukraine? Facing unexpected levels of Ukrainian resistance, as also sanctions that have stiffened week by week, Putin appears to have scaled down his goals almost dramatically. He has nothing to gain, and much to lose, by continuing the war. Shouldn't he be probed about an early peace?

We are supposed to marvel at the latest and evidently successful testing of a Russian intercontinental ballistic missile capable of carrying multiple nuclear warheads. We are expected, equally, to salute the precision of small-scale American-made weapons launched from Ukrainian shoulders that hone in on Russian tanks and low-flying aircraft and destroy them. But the world's people, in their billions, are also expected to remain silent and accepting as their life becomes more expensive by the hour because Russia acted from arrogance and the West reacted reflexively.

History's lasting gratitude would probably go to those who even at this late stage can help rescue the hapless civilians and soldiers trapped in caverns in the basement of Mariupol's massive iron and steel plant. And we should also ask how Ukraine or Russia or the world would benefit if a violent stand-off in Donbass, involving hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian and Russian soldiers, continues for years, as it well might?

Let Mr. Modi have a go, perhaps in concert with some other global players, at drawing down this Donbass confrontation, which dates from 2014, well preceding Russia's attack that began two months ago.

The other piece of advice for Mr. Modi is about life in India, in fact about sober threats to dignified life in India. It is about the bulldozer becoming the instrument of choice for governing India, and about the patently selective use of that and other instruments. It is about the frequent picking of helpless Muslims as targets for the coercive arm of the state and of vigilante groups.

Significant observations on this ominous feature of the Indian scene have been made in recent days, including by India's former foreign secretary, Shyam Saran and by Pratap Bhanu Mehta.

Let me quote from what another deeply troubled observer, Yogendra Yadav, wrote about a familiar modus operandi:

"Step one: Organise a religious procession, with or without permission, armed with loud DJs, lathis, swords and possibly firearms. Step two: Take the procession through Muslim localities and ensure a stopover outside a mosque, with the acquiescence or collaboration of local police. Step three: Provoke, provoke and provoke. This could be a verbal provocation by way of hate-filled slogans, bigoted songs or direct action, by way of desecration of the sacred place or planting saffron flags, etc. Muslims have only two choices: being bullied or bulldozed. If they put up with this public humiliation, they are cowards in their own eyes. If they retaliate, they are criminals to be swooped down on by the police that have been sleeping all this while. There is nowhere they can turn to."

Dear Prime Minister Modi, you enjoy great support in today's India. Your name is known throughout the world. However, the unequal and discriminatory treatment the people of India are receiving at the hands of officers of the government you lead will in due course hurt your image and that of our country.

I don't know how many of your party colleagues or official advisers have said this directly to you, but, seasoned as you are, you surely know that the most common criticism being made of you is that you are SILENT when lawless deeds are done or violence is openly called for.

Please end this silence. Please remind officers of your government and the Indian people that humiliating fellow Indians because of their faith is not the way to raise India's prestige.

After landing in Ahmedabad, the first thing that your guest Boris Johnson did was to visit the Sabarmati Ashram. That must have happened with your approval. No doubt you are familiar with this sentence in the autobiography of the man whose ashram that was:

"It has always been a mystery to me how men can feel themselves honoured by the humiliation of their fellow beings."