In the Hindu epic Mahabharata, Kaurava king Duryodhana, having sent away the Pandavas into exile, goes to visit them, to watch their plight and amuse himself. A Gandharva king ties him up and carries him away. Upon learning of that incident, Yudhishtira, the eldest of Pandavas, orders his brother Bhima to release Duryodhana and bring him back. Bhima protests, pointing out that when the Gandharva had accomplished what the Pandavas ought to have done, namely putting the enemy to shame, why he should go to the victim’s rescue.
Hold aloft India’s repute abroad
Yudhishtira then propounds a principle. He says that, while quarrelling internally, their – Pandava and Kaurava – clans maybe a hundred on one side and five on the other but, when faced with an external threat, they should join and become a united 105. Such was the Dharma or righteousness, which Yudhishtira practised!
One wonders why Indian politicians seem to forget, while travelling abroad, that, no matter what party another person belongs to, all are Indians in the ultimate analysis, and, therefore, one should not speak ill of one’s political opponents in front of an alien audience.
After all, do not groups of all persuasions unite, when a foreign enemy is concerned? Has anyone ever heard of one of them joining hands with an external force? And, in any case, what is the meaning of political opponents? Are they not merely people who differ in opinion in matters of policy and principle? Merely on that count, is it proper to wash dirty linen about internecine ideological conflicts in fora abroad? What purpose can be served by indulging in such talk with such an audience?
The ‘if you are not with me you are against me’ syndrome is of a tribal origin. One thing all political parties, no matter what their fundamental philosophy is, need to remember is that all that separates them from the others is a difference of plus or minus 10% margin in votes garnered. And that margin might well get reduced in the next round of elections. This merely goes to show that a substantial section of the electorate endorses the manifesto and the leadership of the other party.
That is why those parties are heading governments in some states of the country. This needs to be recognised, acknowledged and admitted. The devil, after all, must be given its due. One cannot wish away political truths merely because they are inconvenient from one’s point of view. One’s job is to showcase the strengths of one’s party, and, on occasion, gently point out the shortcomings of rivals and keep improving one’s party’s popularity with the electorate.
But, while one can be as critical as one likes within the country, one should desist from speaking ill of rivals when abroad. It should always be remembered that, given the political ambience in a democracy, the party one is criticising today may well be the one to win the next election. And audiences, even abroad, are aware of that. Therefore, any denunciation of policies of opposition and branding them corrupt is likely to cause a reservation in their minds about the wisdom of entering into agreements with our country, as doubts can be created about the sustainability of such arrangements in the future. As a result, all that one would have achieved would be to have smirched the fair name of the country.
There can be no greater mistake on the part of a political leader than to think that his reputation and that of his country are two different entities. The image of a country’s leader is always influenced by that of the country he represents. As Cho Ramaswamy once said, about the applause Mrs Gandhi’s speeches got abroad, every single Indian had a share in the claps she received, as she represented the entire population of the nation. It is, after all, because the particular person happens to be the ruler of the country with business as well as cultural ties with the host country, establishment there and their media, take note of the every word he utters. Same attention cannot be expected neither before nor after the tenure.
Did not the same America, which refused a visa to Narendra Modi once, promptly change tack and invite him, soon after he became the Prime Minister? Why? Because he had become the representative of 1.2 billion people of a country with a great heritage and substantial international standing. Leaders should always remember this harsh truth and behave with appropriate dignity and restraint.
Such wisdom and statesmanship conduct had, in fact, always been the hallmark of the manner in which our Indian leaders conducted themselves while travelling abroad. No matter what their differences within the country, they desisted from referring to such divisive issues in their speeches when away.
A striking instance of such statesmanship was at display by Congress Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao. In 1994, he asked opposition leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee to head the delegation to the United Nations Human Rights Commission to defend India’s position on Kashmir. Vajpayee represented BJP, a party which had serious reservations about the stand of the Congress government party on the Kashmir issue – an issue that was the legacy of a long history of disagreement from the old Jana Sangh days. Still, Vajpayee never referred to such matters during that visit.
These days, amusingly enough, the ruling party as well as opposition denounce each other for giving a go-by to this glorious tradition in recent times. This latest practice of mainline parties taking domestic battles off shore, as per some observers, is to impress the NRIs in those countries so that they can help them with contributions to party kitty and also with votes, if the proposal to grant them voting rights comes through!
Whatever the motive, the parties are serving country’s cause. The references, while on a tour of Bahrain, by Rahul Gandhi to the depressing record of the present government in tackling unemployment as well as his remarks about the similarity between RSS and the Muslim Brotherhood in his speeches in Germany and UK, certainly cannot be said to have helped the cause of enhancing the country’s image.
Home Minister Rajnath Singh may have been right in attributing the Congress leader’s remarks to immaturity. The Congress party pointed out, that Prime Minister Modi himself, in his address to the Indian diaspora at New York in 2014, threw the first salvo in this battle and went on repeating it in various countries. Arun Jaitley’s saying that “Whether you discuss a scam inside the House or in India or in Berlin, the Internet will take it everywhere in the world. So, don’t be touchy about the fact that you can discuss it here but not discuss it outside,” also was, perhaps, a bit surprising, to they say the least, coming from such an experienced leader.
As an independent viewer, one is tempted to concur with the rebel BJP veteran Yashwant Sinha who said, “I appeal to all leaders to refrain from discussing our internal issues abroad. The Prime Minister broke the rule first. Others need not follow his example.”
Let us remember that all that other countries are interested in is the health of the Indian market, its policies, its economy and the robustness of its internal security regime. It matters too little to them who is safeguarding these features in terms of political parties. If only our globe-trotting national leaders could remember that simple fact, India’s image would really ‘shine’ in the comity of nations.