Updated: May 23, 2016 5:13:56 am
SEATED in his spacious drawing room in a northern Tehran neighbourhood surrounded by books, including Jawaharlal Nehru’s Glimpses of World History in Persian, Saeed Laylaz has a simple advice for visiting Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who landed on Sunday. “If Modi wants to support Iran and its reformists, he should pay back the USD 6 billion worth of past oil dues in the next few months. President Rouhani has to succeed economically in the next six months, or else the hardliners will be back to power,” Laylaz says.
Laylaz, dressed in a T-shirt and trousers, should know the price of having hardliners and conservative groups in power in Iran. A reformist known for his outspoken views, the 54-year-old had been imprisoned in 2009 for a year for protesting against former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmedinejad’s election, five of those months spent in “isolation prison”. He was declared “prisoner of conscience” by human rights organisations.
At the time, Laylaz was a key adviser to reformist candidate Mir Hussein Mousavi’s campaign. Ahmedinejad’s win, many say owing to rigging of votes, had led to protests. Mousavi had been also jailed, and remains under house arrest.
Laylaz, a doctorate in the economic history of Iran from Tehran’s Shahid Behesti University, was also banned from teaching at university during Ahmedinejad’s tenure, and driven out of government jobs. He now works with German auto companies for financial security.
However, he says, he doesn’t bear any grudges for that time. “Some beatings happened inside… but I have no complaints. This is my country, and I have to live here and I have no other choice. I have never felt the need to emigrate, and was and am always hopeful of Iran’s future.”
Laylaz says that, in a way, the experience was “inevitable and necessary”. “During Ahmadinejad’s time, the regime became despots. They were buying loyalty through cash subsidy. But the regime realised that the country cannot be managed and governed by sending troops to the streets and homes. By sending the Revolutionary Guards, you can push the Opposition out, but you cannot manage the people.”
Laylaz asserts there are many in the country who think like him. But they may not speak as “they are afraid”. In Iran, people live “dual lives”, he says. “How we behave in public and what we do in private are different. In a way, we are lying to the regime everyday.”
President Rouhani is different from others before him, he believes. “He is a reformist and his success upsets the regime, especially the (Iranian) Revolutionary Guards. Thankfully, the Revolutionary Guards are not as strong as before.”
Laylaz says social media is helping usher in the change, and that Rouhani’s win in the parliamentary elections in February this year was also possible due to it. A father of two, both in their early 20s, he denounces the curbs on websites such as Twitter and Facebook. “This is a new generation. There is constant battle with them on ideas on views on how to live, dress… but I want the country to allow them to be independent individuals.”
This can change step by step, he says, if the reformists have control. And for doing that, the “most urgent” need of the hour is economic success of Rouhani. “Modi can do a huge favour to him by getting the Indian government to pay up.”
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines
- The Indian Express website has been rated GREEN for its credibility and trustworthiness by Newsguard, a global service that rates news sources for their journalistic standards.