Can raising the right questions ever be dubbed ‘anti-national’?

AB Vajpayee had raised questions as a Rajya Sabha MP during the 1962 war


Did the PM know whether our military was ready to face the attack? If he knew then why did he not disclose that he directed the Indian Army to throw out the Chinese from the land of India? Why did India not prepare itself for so many days? Why was the border not secured with enough soldiers? Why were they not well equipped?  And if the entire issue is unknown to him then who kept him in dark? I want to know whether the government is guaranteeing that what has happened will not be reiterated? These questions are neither raised by Sonia Gandhi or Rahul Gandhi nor by any member of the Opposition.

A person had once claimed, “At the time of the instant crisis, our Government is not willing to make it clear that there is a huge negligence on their part about China’s intentions, their military preparations and their incursions in our land. On the contrary, China has made us insignificant in front of the whole world, in front of our neighboring countries and more so in our own eyes. By carrying out this attack, they have proved how weak we were in terms of security. China will now offer themselves as the form of the embodiment of peace. But their motive has been fulfilled in one way or another.” No, no one from the present opposition camps had criticized the Modi government by saying anything like this.

Then who said all this? If we rummage through the old records of Parliament, we definitely find on November 9, 1962 a young Rajya Sabha MP slammed the then government. He was none other than a great leader and one of the greatest orators of yesteryears, Atal Behari Vajpayee. Then he was only 36 years old and called the then PM Jawaharlal Nehru, then at 72 exactly twice Vajpayee’s age with a two-thirds majority backing him.

What would he have been called if Vajpayee had asked all these questions today? The so-called ‘nationalist’ saffron gang obviously criticized him by saying that Vajpayee is trying to create turmoil when India should unite against China. He is breaking the morale of the Army, disrespecting the Army and trying to gain political advantage by raising questions about national security!!

All the leaders of BJP starting from top to bottom cast the same aspersions upon all those from the opposition camp who raise questions about the Chinese infiltration in Ladakh and killing 20 soldiers, including a Colonel. Opposition has made a serious allegation that the Sino troops have been occupying Pangong Tso Lake in India since May 5, 2020. Whether the government has suppressed that fact? What is the truth? Why did they conceal it?

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh replied that he will give all the answers in the Parliament. But no one knows when the session of Parliament will be called in wake of the coronavirus outbreak. Forget about the session, the Opposition is demanding a meeting of the Parliamentary Committee through video conferencing but nobody is listening to that plea either. The lawmakers of the ruling party said it might compromise the confidentiality of the meetings by citing Rule 266 which mandates that all committee meetings have to be held in private. But in 1962, when Vajpayee sought an immediate convening of Parliament, Nehru instantly agreed on that without any hesitation. Both houses were immediately summoned on November 8, 1962.

Around 4 A.M on October 20, 1962, the Chinese forces invaded Indian territory in today’s Arunachal Pradesh, then called NEFA. On October 26, 1962 Nehru’s government issued a Proclamation of National Emergency. And on the same day Vajpayee met with Nehru and demanded an immediate convening of Parliament. It was actually an objective lesson in how the democracy functions in the time of armed conflict.

Need to remember that the number of MPs’ of Jan Sangh was only four then and PM Nehru enjoyed the 2/3rd majority. Despite that Nehru accepted Atal’s demand. He never made any excuse by saying that when there is a conflict with another State; the opposition should stand by the government instead of criticizing. He called the session on November 8, 1962. Before that he already accepted the resignation of the then Defence Minister VK Krishna Menon. If Nehru wanted, he could have called a closed-door session because there was a proposal to that effect. But he chose to go public by saying, “The issues before the House are of high interest to the whole country. Right at the beginning, to ask for a secret session would have a bad effect on the country and send a bad message to its countrymen.” Not only would he welcome criticism, he also encouraged it. The session was continued for one week. Then Vajpayee was in Rajya Sabha. He got his turn on November 9, 1962. The war was not stopped. It was still continuing. When Vajpayee, the fiery orator, was in his top form, bombarding Nehru inside the Parliament then the Chinese troops were climbing one mountain after another in NEFA.

Today, in Ladakh, China is occupying Indian territory, obstructing Indian military surveillance in its own soil and building bunkers to set up their bases. The Foreign Ministry and the Army openly admits it. In fact, India’s main demand while bargaining with China is for China to retreat and return to its territory on the opposite side of the LAC. But PM Narendra Modi called an all-party meeting and claimed that no one has entered in Indian territory or captured any military post. Later, the PMO issued a statement by saying that attempts were being made in some quarters to give a ‘mischievous interpretation’ to the remarks made by the Prime Minister.

Vajpayee lamented the government’s reluctance to accept the reality in 1962. He mentioned in the Rajya Sabha with heavy heart, “We should not hesitate to admit that we have committed a great crime with the country by neglecting the aspect of national security.” In a Parliamentary democracy neither he was stopped by shouting that day nor did anyone even try to label him as ‘anti-national’.

India lost that war. Didn’t the opposition try to take political advantage of India’s defeat in that war? Of course they did. They left no stone unturned. Post 1962 war in the consecutive four by-elections, Jan Sangh and other opposition parties fought unitedly against the Congress treating the country’s defeat as a tool. Two Socialist leaders JB Kripalini and Ram Manohar Lohia, Minoo Masani of Swatantra Party and Deendayal Upadhyaya, the then General Secretary of Jan Sangh collectively fought against Congress with full vigour.

This is the history of democracy of this country. Our country is not run by dictators. In this country, not only the Opposition, rather everyone has every right to raise questions and the government must be held accountable and that is the sine qua non of a republic. If Vajpayee raised his voice during 1962, at the same breath Congress also raised a finger during the Kargil war. Not long back, during the Manmohan era veteran leaders Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj also pointed their fingers and raised their pitch at the failure of the government when Pakistan and China tried to infiltrate. They did not sit idly by thinking that the unity of the country or the morale of the army might be affected.

The question is, is there any Atal Bihari Vajpayee in the opposition camp today? Like the question, the answer is very easy too and we all know it.

Though Rahul Gandhi threw several questions to Modi but his ultimate goal is to establish himself as a leader of the opposition camp. Attempts have been made to bring him back to the post as Congress President. But the Congress itself is weak now. Besides that, most of the opposition parties are not on the side of the Congress. Rather, the opposition parties are leaning towards BJP. Even the strong alliance of Congress like NCP and DMK are reluctant to sharply criticize the government in the face of conflict with other countries.

Like Nehru, Modi also enjoys the same advantage. During Nehru’s rule the opposition camps were practically dispersed. The same condition is also omnipresent now. Therefore, the Modi government does not have to be held accountable. No one can ask the government how the problem was created in Ladakh or how it will be solved? Because no one is raising questions like Vajpayee – “The way China deceived us, sent huge numbers of troops to attack, then complained that we attacked first, will we forget that? If it is forgotten, will it not affect the morale of the people and the army? What is the guarantee that China will not re-enter even after leaving our territory?”


The author is an advocate, Calcutta High Court


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