Interview | National

NRC places an intolerable burden on the poor and vulnerable sections: Jairam Ramesh

Congress leader Jairam Ramesh.

Congress leader Jairam Ramesh.   | Photo Credit: R.V. Moorthy

Government is trying to divert attention from economic woes through the Citizenship Amendment Act and the National Register of Citizens, says Congress leader

Congress leader Jairam Ramesh speaks about the Citizenship Amendment Act and the National Register of Citizens while discussing his latest book A Chequered Brilliance: The many lives of V.K. Krishna Menon.

The Citizenship Amendment Act has been in the making for the past four years. Isn’t the Congress too late to begin the protests now?

It’s not quite true. A few months ago, Congress president Sonia Gandhi understood the gravity of the situation; she set up a group. I was a member of that group. We visited the northeastern States and submitted a report. It’s true that the first time the legislation came up in the Lok Sabha, we walked out. I think the walkout was largely because we were unsure. We had not formulated a unified position till then. Because, even within the Assam Congress, there were divisions. This time, we didn’t walk out. We actually voted against the Bill, in both houses of Parliament.

What was the feedback from your party in the Northeast specifically on the issue of NRC?

There was a historical background for the NRC in Assam.

The current NRC was launched in 2005 after a tripartite meeting between Dr. Manmohan Singh, Tarun Gogoi and the AASU. But we have seen the dislocation the NRC causes and we’ve also seen the bogey of the BJP completely demolished. They were claiming 40 lakh illegal migrants. The NRC finally comes up with a figure of something like 19 lakh of which a substantial number are non-Muslims. Now they are trying to discredit the NRC process in Assam because their propaganda was debunked.

But what was the feedback?

Let me tell you. In Tripura it’s very interesting in the tribal areas. The tribal leaders want the NRC and it’s the non-tribal leaders who are deeply sceptical because they will know they don’t have the papers. The Chief Minister of Tripura himself was on record as having said that if the NRC is implemented in Tripura, he would not be part of it. So there were different views on the NRC. All the States unanimously opposed the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) but on the NRC it was a nuanced view... we must have an NRC. Who can be opposed to documenting illegal migrants, nobody. The Congress party is certainly not opposed to the documentation of the illegal migrants. The problem is the way you do it.

So what is the Congress’s final stand on a nationwide NRC?

Given the Assam experience, where we saw, the NRC places an intolerable burden on the poor and vulnerable sections of society, the Congress party’s position is that we need a far greater homework on the administrative modalities of the NRC. We need to create a proper environment in which the NRC has to be implemented. The Citizenship Amendment Act and the NRC are two sides of the same coin.

Personally I think this is a diversionary tactic. Six quarters of declining GDP growth. India now facing high inflation. The government wants to manage the headlines and the headlines are of increasing inflation, declining growth, Indian economy entering stagflation phase.

So what better way of changing the headlines, than CAA and NRC. You can’t delink the political discourse from the economic discourse.

The Congress had announced protests against the economic crisis almost two months ago and it kept postponing it till we saw a rally this Saturday when economic issues got caught in the CAA currents. Are your party’s political instincts getting blunt?

We had a rally planned earlier, but many other issues came up, and that rally had to be postponed. And finally, a very successful rally was held, but by that time, the economic slowdown had been overtaken by the issues of the Citizenship Amendment Act and the NRC. But the economic issue is not going to go away. It’s now very clear that the economic malaise is not cyclical it’s structural. It’s also very clear now that we have the monster of inflation coming up. We thought that inflationary expectations had been controlled but that’s clearly not. And this is inflation, not driven by oil prices as it was during the UPA regime, but this is inflation being driven by rising food prices. So this is a dangerous combination.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi dared Congress and the rest of the opposition to announce that they are ready to open citizenship to all Pakistanis. How do you react?  

We are conscious that this is the only discourse the BJP wants to have. This language, coming from the Prime Minister, is despicable. This is the only word I can find in my vocabulary,  and it's the mildest word. This type of language to come from a Prime Minister -- even granted that it is in an election campaign -- it's despicable. It shows that the real agenda is polarisation; it shows the real agenda is to stick to issues of nationalism, because the agenda on economics has completely gone for a six.

On Article 370, we heard many discordant voices and a lack of ideological coherence in the Congress party. Can Congress afford such ideological incoherence post two consecutive defeats in General Elections?

I think people articulated different views, which I wish they had articulated in party forums and not gone to the public. But you know, we were consistent in our position. And I think we have been vindicated by what is happening. You know since August the situation continues to be very critical. No political process has been followed.  Some fraudulent delegation of EU MPs is taken to create an atmosphere that everything is back to normal. There has been colossal economic damage to the State. Farooq Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti, who both were former partners of the BJP, find themselves incarcerated. No Indian MP is allowed to visit; even Ghulam Nabi Azad, a former Chief Minister of the State, has to get permission from the Supreme Court to visit the State. The Modi-Shah government's game plan is to bludgeon the Kashmiris into submission. And that seems to be their game plan for all of India's periphery States;  because in the bludgeoning of the periphery into submission, people in the centre will become executive.

Coming to your book A Chequered Brilliance: The many lives of V.K. Krishna Menon you bring out the many contradictions of a very controversial character. You write in your book that many believed that he would succeed Nehru. Could it have been the reality had the 1962 India-China War not happened?

I think he was a consequential personality and a compelling personality, but he was also a contradictory and controversial personality, like all great men he had monumental achievements, both before 1947, and after 1947. But like all great men, he made gigantic mistakes. When I started writing this book it was not to make him into a hero or a villain, but try to understand this ‘pheno-Menon’. He was the arch priest of the Left. But ultimately, would he have been Prime Minister, I am doubtful.

You make startling claims in your book that General K.S. Thimayya, then Army chief, openly aired his frustrations about Krishna Menon in his conversations with Nehru and with U.K. High Commissioner Malcolm MacDonald! How did the Indian intelligence not know about it?

If this sort of thing happened today the General would have been sacked! It’s unacceptable. I was aghast when I read the records. He had gone to the extent of telling MacDonald that Krishna Menon wanted to make himself the master of the armed forces so that he might one day have their support to achieve his political ambition to take Nehru’s place either after or even before Nehru’s withdrawal from public life.

Why do you call Krishna Menon, Nehru's ideological soulmate?

Krishna Menon was the only man, that Nehru could relate to. People venerated Nehru, he was always put on a pedestal by his colleagues. Krishna Menon was someone Nehru related to. Both were democratic socialists, both were educated in Britain, both loved Britain. I have described Krishna Menon as a good Britisher, but a true Indian. Nehru never wanted Krishna to resign because he told Krishna Menon that the fault is ours. We all failed, Nehru said. K Subrahmanyam father of the current External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, whom I have qouted in the book, says that 1962 was a military failure which somehow is being pinned on political miscalculations and misjudgments. The make-in-India that this government is talking about was started by Krishna Menon.

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Printable version | Feb 26, 2020 7:03:15 PM |

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