There is something wrong with our media; judging from the hours of airtime and reams of newsprint wasted on whether or not there was a mole in the late Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao'soffice as indirectly revealed in Shri Jaswant Singh'sdelightful memoirs A Call to Honour, a mountain was made out of a molehill when a more sensible approach would have been to review the book on its own, which surely would have paid rich dividends to the reader.
For it is years since a diplomat, and a former army officer to boot, has written such a classic study of events in India, especially in the last three decades with such fluency and linguistic merit. This is not, by any means, an autobiography, in the strictest sense of the term. When Jaswant Singh describes his work as belonging to a ?distinct genre? he is eminently believable, considering that a great deal of the work is devoted to an analysis of event such as Pokhran II and the implosion of nuclear apartheid, the troubled time that India went through in its relations with Pakistan, China and a ?natural friend? of doubtful merit, namely the United States of America, that it is truly hard to put it down.
Some of the early sections are lyrical in style and content to the point that Jaswant Singh makes of the desert of Pakistan a paradise on earth. He was born in 1938 and was too young to truly appreciate the trauma of Partition. He and his joint family lived as neighbours with Muslims for years in a long-standing tradition of goodwill that nothing could break.
In his concept of our treacherous neighbour there is then no sense of ill-will. As he says Pakistan may aspire to be ?a modern extension of the Mughal dynasty? but it is no more than a gross misreading of historical reality. Pakistan for Jaswant Singh unfortunately is no more than a ?rented state? and its cultural links with Central Asia (which India had through centuries) do not make Pakistan ?a boundary land?. And what is keeping Pakistan together is ?only hostility towards India?. Jaswant Singh has no illusions about India either, whose Independence he says was won ?not by any account peaceful? but as a result of ?a hasty abandonment of imperial authority by an utterly fatigued Britain, drained by the Second World War? true, even if not very flattering of the Independence struggle non-violently waged by thousands.
Most admirable, however, is his brief, but intensely relevant, references to secularism, which, in India, he insists, ?is not and cannot be a separation of the church and the state? considering that in sanatan thought (that is, in a ?Hindu? India) ?there can be no such thing as an all-embracing, all-powerful church?. As Jaswant Singh sees it, ?Religion is an essentially semitic enterprise. ?Santana dharma cannot simply discriminate, it is sanatan for all who are on India'ssoil and accepts everything whether atheism, non-duality or a self-obliterating faith. Accommodation is not incorporation, which gives India its ?all-inclusiveness, the great spread of its spirit?. Adds Singh: ?That is what ?Hindutva? is and that is why it is so vital that we do not jib at the very thought of it.? Further, he argues: ?The word ?Hindutva? is in reality, an extension of ?Bharatiya? rather than any flanking manoeuvre by this often derided ?Hindu nationalism? as an anti-Islam or Christianity, etc thought.? Very well, and clearly stated. And to that he adds: ?Hindutva? has gathered an ?totally undeserved? imagery of extremism. This is sad. ?Hindutva? in its essence is so profoundly humanist that its reality will remain, it cannot be altered, no matter what the prejudices, the propagated imagery or the wrong practices?There is only one culture in India. It is Indian, thus Hindu or Bharatiya?choose what name you will. But to separate, to discriminate and then, simultaneously, wish to integrate does great injustice to the essence of India.?
Never before has Hindutva been so beautifully and?accurately?defined. As Union Minister of Defence, External Affairs and Finance in the BJP-led NDA Government, Jaswant Singh inevitably trod many paths, handled several issues with panache and was a major player in the release of 166 passengers aboard the Indian Airlines plane, which was hijacked and flown to Kandahar in Afghanistan. It is a traumatic story in itself. But what is so touching is the praise levied on some of the Indian passengers whose ?stoic reserve and courage? came for high praise by other passengers.
Jaswant exposes the hypocrisy of the Americans, the deceitfulness of the Pakistan leaders led by Musharraf, especially in the matter of Kargil and the bravery of the Indian soldier who fought in the mountains and drove the Pakistani thugs out. That last he considers ?to be the most outstanding demonstration of infantry assaults in mountain warfare anywhere, by any army, at any time.? And he adds: ?Long after this conflict was over, when students of military craft from other countries visited the Kargil region, they found it impossible to believe that this simple, unassuming Indian soldier, not always equipped with the most advanced of personal weapons, had sealed these heights, mostly in the dark?so as to avoid direct, aimed fire?and had fought battle after battle, winning each of them and gaining back each of those heights.? Just for this account of the Kargil War and how Musharraf cheated everyone, this book is worth reading.
Jaswant meanders through history; he has utter contempt for the Pakistanis who mutilated and tortured captured Indian soldiers, but what comes through shining is the sophistication with which he faced the double-faced Americans, be it Madeline Albright or Strobe Talbott or the Chinese with whose officials Jaswant had to deal with and the personal reminiscences unencumbered either with pride or bitterness?after all the book is entitled A Call To Honour?makes this an outstanding work of political and diplomatic reminiscences.
To run Jaswant Singh down on the remote issue of a ?mole? is not only an unworthy exercise but call for condemnation. He does not reveal much but what he does?as for example, in the instance of Pokhran II?carries the mark of a true statesman and what is more, a gentleman politician.
In the matter of Jaswant Singh what the armed forces lost, India as a whole has gained. Strobe Talbott admitted as much to it, though Jaswant Singh has remained more reticent. Kudos to him. This book should be recommended reading to all?the media included.
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