Amid Clamour for War, Devegowda Asks Centre to Create Space for Bipartisan Discussion

The former prime minister urged the Union government and all political parties to exercise restraint and sought transparency about the violent clash between Indian and Chinese soldiers.

New Delhi: Amidst a clamour of war with China pervading the air, and a situation in which most political parties have been hesitating to openly challenge the jingoistic fervour surrounding the India-China face-off in eastern Ladakh, a veteran Indian politician stood out for his statesman-like approach.

On a day when Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared to opposition parties that the Chinese were “taught a lesson”, hinted at retaliatory action against China if provoked and contentiously claimed that there was no Chinese incursion into the Indian territory, former prime minister and Janata Dal (Secular) leader H.D. Devegowda, in a dove-like statement, urged the Union government and all political parties to exercise restraint and create space for transparent, bipartisan discussions.

Ahead of the all-party meeting called by the prime minister on Friday, Devegowda made six suggestions to the Union government.

In one of his points, he said, “In order to ensure that we do not escalate matters, I sincerely urge that nationalist rhetoric should be toned down. This is not the time for a language of provocation and revenge.”

He urged the government to take steps to check “fake information” and “cheap rhetoric” used by multiple media outlets and calls for “retribution” on social media. He said that such campaigns could “endanger the lives of soldiers and diplomatic staff”.

“By this, I do not mean that critical mainstream opinions, analyses, and reporting should be stopped,” the former prime minister said.

“The government should also not encourage reactionary language of economic boycott. Its implications are deep. We should here be guided by pragmatism,” Devegowda suggested to the government against the widespread call for the boycott of Chinese goods in the Indian market.

He also urged all political parties not to use “intemperate language”. “This is an hour for cooperation. Domestic politics and national security interests cannot be equated,” he said, adding that opposition parties should question the government but only with the understanding that there are “larger issues at stake”.

He requested the government to arrange for a senior military official and senior serving diplomat to give a presentation detailing the on-ground situation and progress of talks to the opposition parties before the meeting. He said for any meaningful exchange between the government and political parties, such transparency was necessary. He said that since the media reports could not always be trusted as accurate, the government could give the leaders “truthful information” without revealing any “classified details”.

Also Read: Modi’s ‘No Intrusion’ by China Claim Contradicts India’s Stand, Raises Multiple Questions

“There is a feeling among our fellow citizens that we are engulfed by hostile nations. It is the duty of the political leadership to ensure that such anxiety is quelled with proper information. It is important to keep the nation informed at all times,” he said.

What was equally a critical take on the government and the big media, he said, “Underplaying certain developments and overstating certain information may be a bad strategy in the long run.”

“In recent times, there is an effort to politicise the armed forces. This is dangerous. They should be allowed to remain a professional force,” the JDS leader said, adding only a professional force would create an environment in which the armed forces can “advise the government fearlessly and correctly”.

He also demanded that an enquiry committee should immediately be constituted to probe the circumstances which led to the death of 20 soldiers in Galwan valley.

PM Modi did not pay much heed to these suggestions in his concluding speech at the Friday meeting. Instead of a top army official and a senior diplomat, Union external affairs minister S. Jaishankar made a presentation detailing the protocols between the countries and the chronological build up to the clash between the two armies.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the all-party meeting to discuss the India-China standoff in Ladakh on Friday. Photo: PTI

Yet, Devegowda’s temperate suggestions need special mention as they have also come at a time when he has been specially targeted in the right-wing social media campaigns over the last few days. The right wing ecosystem has attacked him for the India-China Treaty, signed in 1996 during his prime ministerial tenure, in which both countries agreed to not use guns and bombs within two kilometres of the Line of Actual Control (LAC).