Veteran Indian journalist Kuldip Nayar has mingled and schmoozed with the notables in the political circuit. He has read the minds of strategists and penned down numerous covert incidents which would not have been revealed otherwise. In a candid conversation with Tarun Khanna of Zee Media Corp, the nonagenarian columnist talks about India's political metamorphism, Pakistan, foreign policies and contentious Article 370.
From Lal Bahadur Shastri to Indira Gandhi and now to Narendra Modi, you have seen the tactics used by the premiers to stay in power. How do you analyse the political growth of India? Has there been any change in the strategies employed today?
Nayar: Strategies in Indian politics have changed many folds. During Nehru and Shastri’s regime, we were so fresh from freedom struggle that the entire politics used to revolve around national struggle. It was more of patriotism based politics. There was an inheritance of Gandhian ideology. Later, through the entry of Indira Gandhi, came the politics of dynasty. Then the politics was within the party like who would hold the topmost position and who clings to dynastic roots. Today, we see the politics of religion. The connection with the RSS plays a pivotal role.
You have witnessed the highs and lows of Congress in the past decades. If we talk about 1967, 1977 and 1989 elections, Congress had performed fairly poor. However, 2014’s crushing defeat is being termed as a demise of Congress. What’s your view on this?
Nayar: The best advantage with the BJP today is that the Congress is not a substantial opponent. The latter is not willing to go beyond dynasty. People knew that the next heir of the party will be Rahul Gandhi, so comparisons were bound to be drawn between him and the leaders of other parties. And this did not go in his favour. If ever, then Congress can only revive if it brings a non-Gandhi face to the forefront. It needs to establish itself above dynastic politics. I think people like Digvijaya Singh and Sachin Pilot are not related to Gandhi family and so can spearhead the party.
You are often criticised for having a soft stand towards Pakistan. Don't you think that to India's consistent efforts for peace, Pakistan responds with hostility?
Nayar: I'm not soft on Pakistan. Indeed, I've been severe to it on many occasions. But yes, since I was born in Sialkot there and saw the post Independence massacre, I feel that the people there are no different from us. We share same language and I respect the sovereignty of the two nations. Outside the subcontinent, camaraderie between Pakistanis and Indians is exceptionally good.
However, Pakistan suffers with a serious insecurity syndrome. Fauj (Army) rules it and it doesn't want friendly relations with India. I agree that it's a fault in their governance, but India also at times acts like a 'big brother'. They should not get the feeling that they are small and not democratic in the sense we are. At the end of the day, we have no choice but to convince Pakistan to fight against terrorism.
We must relax visa norms for them. Let the people from that side of the border come in. Agreed, that at present borders are violent and taking such a step is risky. But, we can at least allow a hassle-free entry to lawyers, doctors and journalists from Pakistan. We act sceptic while issuing visas. Ironically, whites can move freely anywhere into the subcontinent, but browns can't (referring to recent visa relaxations for US citizens by Modi government). We have to build a strong subcontinent with India and Pakistan leading the front.
You had once tricked Pakistan’s nuclear scientist and father of the bomb AQ Khan into admitting that Islamabad possessed nuclear weapons. In that meeting Khan had said that Pakistan will not hesitate in pressing the nuclear button against India. Do you think Pakistan is in the position to wage a nuclear war?
Nayar: It’s true in that meeting AQ Khan had said that if India ever drew Pakistan in a war like it did in 1971, then Pakistan will not be at the receiving end and will use nuclear weapon. However, since then things have changed. Nawaz Sharif knows that he has to live with India. He wants to maintain bilateral relations, but can’t because Army’s interference in governance doesn’t allow him to. Still, I really don’t think that they will use nuclear weapon against us. These are just speculations.
You have authored nearly 15 books and in most of them you have disclosed some political conspiracy or hidden information. Do you not feel that had you disclosed these during your career, it would have justified your journalism ethics?
Nayar: As soon as I resigned from the post of Lal Bahadur Shastri’s press advisor, I wrote ‘Between the Lines’. I support the fact that all those who were ever part of any ministry and have something to say, should come up with these revelations. However, at times one has to protect the source of information. I knew many things but had to hide them as disclosing them at that very moment would have put someone else in a fix.
But, things are different now. Journalism has changed. In our times it was a profession, today it’s an industry. Journalists nowadays are no longer fearless.
You were a member of India’s delegation to the United Nations and were also appointed as High Commissioner to Great Britain. What are your suggestions regarding foreign policy for the current government?
Nayar: The government has to remain firm on keeping India a non-aligned nation. It should understand that India is the only bridge between Russia, the US and West. Though after Modi’s visit to the US some people held the opinion that we were getting too close to America, Putin's visit at the end of 2014 has balanced the act.
India should put its weight behind those nations which are pluralistic, democratic and secular. Moreover, we cannot ignore the fact that Israel claimed its stake in Palestine’s area. Israel was planted there and so Palestine has a case. India must back Palestine on humanitarian grounds, simultaneously maintaining harmonious relations with Israel.
What is your view on Article 370? Do you think it needs to be revoked?
Nayar: I don’t think it will be a sound decision to touch Article 370. It was an assurance given to the people of Jammu and Kashmir and Sheikh Abdullah. The whole accession is linked with Article 370. Kashmiris have given us certain rights and now it’s up to them to give us some more rights. But we cannot really force ourselves on them. We must go back and read the pact between Indira Gandhi and Abdullah which was signed in 1974. Instead of revoking Article 370, government should rehabilitate Kashmiri Pandits and should make all efforts to protect their rights. This is the only solution to bring back peace in Kashmir.