| Before and after: Atal Bihari Vajpayee on Wednesday at the inaugural session of Dialogue of Civilisations: Quest for New Perspectives in New Delhi. The minor eye surgery was conducted on June 29 under local anaesthesia at an army hospital in the capital. (AFP and PTI pictures)
New Delhi, July 9: Speaking for the first time in public since the Sankaracharya’s Ayodhya settlement effort collapsed, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee gave ample indications that his eyes are still fixed on a negotiated resolution.
“I must emphasise that we need a culture of dialogue at a national level so that contentious issues can be resolved amicably through talks,” he said.
“Dialogue is an essential part of democracy,” the Prime Minister said in a speech opening the ambitiously-named Dialogue of Civilisations organised by Murli Manohar Joshi, the human resources development minister.
In keeping with his weakness for the grand, Joshi had earlier insisted on holding the conference at a level higher than domestic issues of conflict. But he had not bargained for a Prime Minister determined to do just that, stung as Vajpayee has been by the painful setback to the attempted out-of-court settlement of the dispute.
Until the exercise collapsed last Sunday and ever since, Vajpayee has been the target of a steady stream of abuse from the Vishwa Hindu Parishad which has been stepping up the pitch for a temple, by force, if necessary, and sharpening a domestic issue of conflict.
He said a dialogue on civilisations must begin at home. “The more a nation can harmonise differences at home, the greater will be its ability to contribute to a dialogue at the international level.”
Delegates from 50 countries, including Pakistan, are attending the conference being held in the background of heightened tensions over Ayodhya.
Joshi tried to steer the conference towards non-controversial subjects, but the Prime Minister appeared to have come in full battle gear and confronted the theory of a clash of civilisations.
“Some years ago a famous writer put forward a thesis on the ‘clash of civilisations’. The thesis was flawed and baseless,” Vajpayee said, referring to Samuel Huntington’s book by that name where the author talks about a remaking of the world order based on the central assumption of conflict.
“The theory failed to recognise that civilisations do not — or rather — cannot clash. To be civilised is to abjure clashes and conflict — to try and resolve all contentious issues through a dialogue,” Vajpayee added.
The role Vajpayee sees for himself in what he has described as a “problem-solving phase” came out in the statements he made, which were not without a touch of the poetic.
“The future of mankind is not going to be determined by a conflict among civilisations but rather — as some people have beautifully put it — the future of humanity will witness a concert or a confluence of civilisations.”
It appeared that at least the confluence of thoughts had started occurring with a Pakistani delegate broaching the subject of conflict.
Sahfqat Ezdi Shah, secretary in Pakistan’s ministry of education, said: “We must ensure minorities are treated fairly and justly by majority communities.”
“South Asia needs a robust process of dialogue between religious, ethnic and linguistic communities as well as countries of this region.”