Mr. Lokesh Chandra’s appointment as the new head of the Indian Council of Cultural Relations (ICCR) may have a political significance normally not associated with the post. Most of the media interpretations of the appointment are off the mark. Analysts have emphasized the close links Mr. Lokesh Chandra had established with Indira Gandhi and concluded that he has switched from the Congress to the BJP. Nothing could be further from the truth. The RSS has had links with Congress leaders in the past. Mr. Vajpayee’s appreciation of Nehru was just one manifestation. For perceived national interest the RSS has not hesitated to support the Congress against BJP in elections. The 1984 general elections was one such occasion.
The significance of Mr. Lokesh Chandra’s appointment arises from his known political views and background. Hailing from a staunch RSS family he is the son of late Dr. Raghu Vira who was president of the Jan Sangh and a senior RSS leader. Like his father Mr. Lokesh Chandra was twice elected member of the Rajya Sabha. Although from the RSS both Dr. Raghu Vira and Mr. Lokesh Chandra despite commitment to Hindutva also supported socialist causes. Dr. Raghu Vira supported Ram Manohar Lohia in a parliamentary election and died in a car accident during the campaign. Recently in June this year the Russian government honoured Mr. Lokesh Chandra with its highest Pushkin Literary Award.
Mr. Lokesh Chandra attracted attention and invited ridicule by his praise for Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi describing him as an incarnation of God, of having served the interests of the poor more effectively than Karl Marx, and of displaying practical wisdom in excess of Mahatma Gandhi. It was certainly surprising for an eminent and sophisticated scholar to express such excessive praise. Bur whether his remarks were a deliberate red herring or reflected his beliefs their timing was politically motivated. What needs practical attention is Mr. Lokesh Chandra’s declared political agenda.
Mr. Lokesh Chandra is a longtime advocate of Akhand Bharat and a committed supporter of Tibet’s independence. He is an expert on Tibetan affairs and has written a book on China. He has been a consistent critic of China’s hegemonic policies and has advocated a firm stand against Beijing. He intends using his new office as a means of strengthening India’s historical cultural relations with Southeast Asian nations that once celebrated the Ramayana and Mahabharata. It may be noted that Soekarno’s name was derived from Shiv Karan. In practical terms this suggests the emergence of a South Asian Union reaching out to Southeast Asian neighbours. Mr. Lokesh Chandra rules out a geographic Akhand Bharat. He said: “We have to respect the sovereignty of all nations.” This then is the new ICCR head, wary about China, and honoured by Russia. How might the new ICCR influence India’s foreign policy?