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Something terrible has happened.
The self-important prime minister of Singapore – a state we have so admired for its no-nonsense policing and devotion to swacchta (cleanliness, etc.) has taken it upon himself to praise Jawaharlal Nehru.
Speaking of democracy, Lee Hsien Loong lauded “outstanding individuals of immense culture and exceptional ability” like David Ben Gurion and Nehru for having led their countries to freedom and then establishing exemplary norms and practices for running parliamentary democracies.
Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong praises #JawaharlalNehru pic.twitter.com/deS7iYrerH
— NDTV (@ndtv) February 16, 2022
Worse, not only did he make no mention of the superlative “new India” run by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi but suggested he has made things worse:
“But beyond that initial fervour, succeeding generations often find it hard to sustain this momentum and drive, said Lee, adding, the texture of politics changes and respect for politicians declines”.
The question we must ask in national interest is this: why has Lee made these anti-India statements?
It cannot be that the honourable prime minister of Singapore does not know how Nehru has been responsible for all of India’s ills, internal and external, and has chosen to praise him just when Modi has begun speaking openly about Nehru’s faults.
We cannot but conclude that some sinister foreign conspiracy is afoot. Surely the Modi government and its agencies must investigate the matter.
Internally, the matter is best handed over to the National Security Advisor for nailing all those who may have instigated the Singapore prime minster to deliver this baseless and damaging praise of Nehru. It cannot be ruled out that some Indian “urban naxals” and “presstitutes” may be involved in misinforming and misguiding the gentleman.
The Enforcement Directorate has to investigate the nexus between Singapore-based companies, their Indian business partners and the Singapore PM.
External affairs minister S. Jaishankar must also be asked what he intends to do to set things right at the international level. Earlier this week his ministry described a statement on the hijab controversy – another legacy of Nehru – issued by the Organisation of Islamic Community as the product of a “communal mindset”. Surely, the mindset with which foreign governments are praising a leader whose legacy has been so harmful for India must also be denounced.
One option must be to use India’s current membership of the UN Security Council to get friendly foreign governments to issue statements condemning Singapore’s unwarranted and damaging interference in our internal affairs.
At a moment in our history when the Modi government is engaged in the laudable endeavour to correct so many distortions inscribed by previous Indian historians, this suspicious and obviously motivated attempt to reinstate Nehru could cause embarrassment to a resurgent India in international forums.
After all, democracy is much more than only letting parliament function in a free and fair manner, or letting the institutions of state do their appointed work without governmental interference; or for that matter ensuring that the media and civil society activists and sundry other public intellectuals are encouraged to speak truth to power in the national interest without fear of vendetta.
The great achievement of the current Indian executive has been to show that the primary requirement of a democracy is a strong and unquestionable leader, a stout military, a patriotic media, and committed institutions that constantly refurbish the official narrative.
Singapore, which under Lee Kuan Yew seemed to understand the importance of strong leaders, clearly seems to have suffered a deviation that bodes no good to us.
And as to “immense culture” Nehru supposedly embodied and represented, it is only now over the past seven years that culture has been restored to this ancient land after all the liberal depredations wrought by Nehru and his ilk.
The Singapore prime minister needs to look inward to see how our true culture finds much space within his own country, after all, and in adjoining states like Indonesia where Ram Lila is performed with more gusto than some liberals perform it within India itself.
The NSA’s investigation could well establish that it is the Nehru-Gandhi family of today which has somehow talked the Singapore prime minister into saying what he has said.
In which case, a campaign needs to be unleashed in our celebrated, competent way to disabuse any Indians who may feel inclined to succumb to Nehru-revivalism, and, even more dangerously, a democracy-revivalism.
Shoulder to the wheel, and microphone to the mouth is the call of the hour; and without losing the least bit of time, since such calamitous statements could well influence the vote in Uttar Pradesh where Nehru had his pushteni (ancestral) home.
Badri Raina taught at Delhi University.