A Tribute To K R Narayanan
15 November, 2005
The inevitable happened. For over 13 days K R Narayanan fought with death valiantly even when the news crazy TV channels declared him dead yesterday evening. Perhaps they were already waiting for the same. Though, painfully, all of them sidelined the news which means much to all right thinking people of the country. Narayanan was more than a Dalit for all those who saw him guiding the destiny of nation during the period when Hindutva and its followers were trying to bulldoze every democratic institution of the country.
K R Narayanan proved through his work that Dalit given opportunity can match any other meritorious fellow in the world and do wonders. He was truely a custodian of our secular ethos. Not only this, he did not sign on the dotted line to dismiss an elected government simply because the centre wanted it. Narayanan departed from many traditional path in the parliament. He spoke of his mind and was really worried about the growing threat that fundamentalism as well as globalisation posed to the down troddens particularly the Dalits and tribals in India.
It was easier for the middle class journalists to condemn him as a left oriented Dalit president but it was difficult for them to ignore him. He was not comfortable with his government when Gujarat happened in 2002. He must have felt helpless that his prime minister never acted against a government which had forgotten its Rajdharma. In fact, he spoke very boldly on the issue after his retirement that he had written letter to Prime Minister Vajpayee. The inquiry Commission, though, asked for letters to be given, have been denied by the Presidential office, under the pretext of private conversation between two important functionaries of the state. Narayanan, reminded all those government who were going ga ga over their act of ommissions and commissions that everything in India was not that shining as they might beleive in. In the age of India shining, when the Hindutva brand went overboard to attract the American capitalist to India, it was Narayayan who reminded the power hungry politicians to remember the prophetic words of Dr Ambedkar that there cannot be contradiction between social and political democracy.
Narayanan was well respected by even his opponents but the Hindutva liked him as long as he was not disturbing their equations. The middle classes liked him as long as he did not want Justice K Balakrishanan to the Supreme Court. The 'open Indian media' liked him as long as he did not speak of evils of opening up with out a fair consideration to the welfare of the Dalits and the marginalised. Yes, Narayayan was a show case boy for corrupt Indian upper classes who wanted to tell the world the 'success' of Indian democracy and how a 'Dalit' can rise upto the post of the president. I still remember the day Narayanan won the election with massive support, a German radio journalist interviewed me and asked about what do I feel about a Dalit taking over India. I remarked that though I feel it is a great day for Dalits in India yet Indian political class want to show the world how mature it has become. The same political class which is basically opposed to the idea of affirmative action. Nothing would change I said as long as Narayanan would remain caged in the prism of upper caste guides. But as soon as he assert, the same class would turn against him." We all know the entire events later.
Those who followed up the entire situation of Narayanan becoming president know very well how this issue when raised by V P Singh got negative reviews. One as VP Singh has been one of the most hated politician for his sin in implementing Mandal commission reccomendation and second the idea of reservation given upper castes sleepless nights. " How can we have a caste based president, they said." Don't compromise with merit, said others. Finally, Shankar Dayal Sharma took over and Narayanan was settled for the vice presidentship.
Narayanan proved himself a worthy president. A president of the republic whom a large section of our populattion looked with pride. Yes, there is no denying fact, that Dalits and marginalised felt immense proud in K R Narayanan. More so when they heard his meritorious background, his successful instincts as India's Ambassador in China and US and as an academic. It was more important because Dalits are always blamed that they don't have merit.
Unfortunately, the Hindutva sympathisers have lot of complaints against him. His speech on Grahm Strain's murder which he rightfully condemned though I don't agree that it was an abberation as we have seen many such atrocious cases on part of Hindutva in the past, was considered against the protocol, as presidents are supposed not to speak. But then what do we expect from the head of the state. Just to keep quiet and speak on ceremonies. But for Narayanan, it was ocassion to punch on a government which was on the warpath with its own people. Narayanan's frankness made new converts and also created a lot of heartburn among the Hindutva voteries. Today, I still see articles by them calling him mediocre and activist president. Some of them were so angry with him during his speech in honour of president Clinton in which he said we don't need a global village master today, that they called it undiplomatic. But perhaps that is true. Today, the upper caste journalists have become real diplomats. They would like us to speak like them.
When Narayan raised the issue of Dalit representation in judiciary, the corrupted class again raised the issue through media. He is compromising in merit? How can a meritorious person compromise on merit ? All Dalits who donned Indian ministries were people of great integrity. They are still respected with in those ministries. WE had Ambedkar who drafted Indian constitution and the Hindu code Bill, we had Jagjivan Ram who headed many ministries successful and we had K R Narayanan who left his marks everywhere he went. A Scholar, a foreign ministry official and as minister in different ministries and vice president and president of the country.
The last time I heard K R Narayan was on the issue of reservation in a conference called by National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights ( NCDHR) in Mavalankar hall. He was looking frail and spoke for two minutes. He supported fully the idea of reservation for Dalits in the private sector. He supported wholeheartedly the affirmative action. Reservation for him never meant that he was talking for second class representation. It was for him a representation of community which has been denied human rights and equality by the Shastras and by the corrupt socio-religious system. Who can know what merit was more than Narayanan, for despite topping Travancore university, he was not given a job of lecturership and was asked to join as a clerk which he politely declined. Yes, Narayanan was firm but polite. He has no illwill against any one including the university which denied him his rightful place later confer him doctorate.
The best tribute to Narayan would be to understand the dangers of Hindutva and religious fundamentalism. If India has to march ahead as a strong nation, it must stick to the path of pluralism, of mutual respect for different cultures and cutsoms and it must think of a place for those who have been left marginalised. Moreover, Narayanan was clear that the new forces of economic liberlisation can not succeeed if they don't address the issue of social marginalisation of different communities. Dalit face both these task. Hindutva is trying to put them under the brahmanical agenda in their larger anti Muslim agenda while the globalisation and corporatisation is undermining their right over natural resources and rendering them workless. Dalit intellectuals and political leaders should understand Narayanan's ideas for he was much ahead of his time and more thoughtful. Unfortunately, the Dalit political leadership and intellectual class both have diverse agendas, some of whom never felt apologetic about alliance with Hindutva as well as supported Globalisation unquestionably. We all know there are certain things which are inevitable but should we not question those who take away our rights and resources ?
In K.R.Narayanan's death, India has lost a statesmen who could speak on all these issues without any prejudice. His contribution to Indian polity and Indian nation will always be remembered by all those who want to see India for all and not for a few upper caste elite with parochial politico-religious mindset.