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The CII must apologise

The CII must apologise

Author: Balbir K Punj
Publication: The Hindustan Times
Date: May 12, 2002

I must congratulate the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) for organising a discussion on Gujarat at its annual conference recently. I also thank the organisation for inviting the BJP to participate in it. This purely industrial confederation is taking a deep interest in the burning political and social issues of the day, and has made a welcome departure from the problems of business that are normally discussed at its prestigious annual conference.

The regional chairperson of the organisation, Anu Aga, had left the security and comfort of her home to tour some of the relief camps in Gujarat. I, as well as the rest of the audience, was moved as she gave a graphic account of the plight of riot victims and raised some fundamental issues like that of human rights and the looming threat over secularism in our country.

The CII's sympathy for the riot victims is understandable and its concern over the level of violence in Gujarat is laudable. But India is a large country and serious calamities (sometimes man-made, like the present one in Gujarat, or God-ordained like last year's earthquake) strike every now and then in various states. I wonder if the CII's concern is confined only to the sufferings in one state, or does it extend to all?

I wish the CII or someone from the esteemed organisation had also visited Jammu and Kashmir during those years when over three lakh Hindus were driven out of their homes and Kashmiri Pandits were specifically targeted by Islamic militants. Due to the violence, tourism, a major industry in the State, collapsed, with serious consequences for the economy of the entire country.

Flying to Kashmir may have been a difficult proposition in view of the disturbed conditions in the State. But even then, may be the members of the CII could have found time to visit refugee camps in Jammu, Delhi and other parts of the country. Could there be a bigger shame for a civil society than to find such a large number of its people living as refugees in their own country?

May be after such a visit, the CII did not consider it necessary to express its concern openly or hold a discussion on the plight of an entire religious group. May be it found a radical difference between the Pandit blood shed in J&K and the Muslim blood shed in Gujarat. I say so with a full sense of responsibility. There are 40,000 Hindu refugees in the various camps in Gujarat and not a word was said about their plight at the conference. No one visited them. Why?

Many of the victims of the J&K violence are fellow businessmen and so are thousands of Gujarati Hindus who have lost their livelihood due to the senseless violence in the State. At least they must have expected the CII, as an organisation of businessmen and industrialists, to be sensitive to their plight, particularly when it devoted an entire session to the woes of Gujarati Muslims.

There is no record, as far as I know, of the CII discussing the suppression of civil liberties in West Bengal under a Marxist regime, with CPI(M) cadres replacing the state machinery over the years. Or of the total lawlessness that prevails in Patna, where businessmen, often people like kirana merchants, cloth shop owners etc., are routinely kidnapped for ransom. In Assam, there have been ethnic murders and regular extortion of businessmen, particularly tea estate managers. Punjab was in the grip of terrorism for almost two decades and all economic activities had come to an end. Did the CII ever find time to discuss such serious developments at an equally important forum?

It cannot be that the CII had no tears to shed for all these people. Did fear of the consequences impose silence on it? Its selective behaviour and partisan sympathies where human rights issues are concerned can sometimes be disturbing, for the CII represents the very cream of the people whose enterprises create wealth. If there is a credible explanation for this selective sympathy, I am sure many citizens would like to know it.

Something that struck me in the conference as unique, if not conspiratorial, was the reversal of the usual procedure of inviting the Prime Minister to inaugurate the annual conference (as is done by FICCI and ASSOCHAM also) and then have other political leaders for other events during the conference. I recall that the CII took the lead in the early 1990s in getting a wide spectrum of political views by inviting the then Leader of the Opposition (Atal Bihari Vajpayee) at one of the events while the then Prime Minister came for the inauguration.

Perhaps it was just a coincidence that this time it was the Leader of the Opposition, Sonia Gandhi, who came first and the Prime Minister last. But it cannot be that our wise businessmen did not know that the politician in the Leader of Opposition would seize the opportunity to interpret it as a message for a change of government.

If there was no political significance to this move, there was ample opportunity for the CII leadership, before the conference closed, to correct the wrong impression Gandhi sought to give. Vajpayee was large-hearted enough to take no further note of the issue after decrying Gandhi's interpretation of using the CII as a political weathercock. But the institution of the Prime Minister is larger than even Vajpayee. How can the country and its people overlook this insult? I am sure that you would agree with me that you yourself would not like the great CII to be caught in political crossfire. Imagine the CII doing this when Indira Gandhi was the Prime Minister!

If the CII does not seek to give the impression that it is partisan, that it is swayed by media hype and that it is not averse to playing political satta in stormy weather, the organisation's leadership has to be as much correct in its behaviour. It must apologise to the nation. I think I am speaking for the countless enlightened citizens of the country and for my colleagues in Parliament who also believe that this insult to the highest institution in the land is unparalleled and somebody must pay for it. I am awaiting the CII's response.

(The writer is a BJP MP)

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