|E D I T O R I A L
P A G E
Friday, July 31, 1998
Labour Members suspended
Signals from Colombo
THE most cheering news to emanate from Colombo is the decision of the Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan to resume the dialogue between the two countries. The Foreign Secretaries of India and Pakistan are supposed to work out the modalities of the proposed talks. This will not be an easy task if the Pakistanis maintain their rigid postures on certain key issues, including Kashmir. Bilateralism demands both flexibility and sincerity in dealing with difficult matters. To begin with, the frameworks of thoughts and action, and the perspectives which are crystallising, need critical attention at the highest level. Mr Nawaz Sharif and Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee will have to understand the changing global realities which demand pragmatic responses to break the deadlock. The unchanging status quoist ambience and the post-nuclear blast euphoria cannot take India and Pakistan very far. There is need for great maturity in tackling the critical issues clearly and firmly. We are not sure whether Islamabad is yet ready for a new positive line of thinking. Take the Kashmir issue. Why should Pakistan continue to insist on third party mediation? Mr Sharif knows that New Delhi is not averse to discussing Kashmir bilaterally within the Shimla Agreement but is dead set against internationalising the issue. So, no purpose will be served by inducting an outside element in Indo-Pakistan relations. True, there is a powerful confrontation lobby in Islamabad which thrives on the Chagai blast. But an adventurist course will only be disastrous for Pakistan. Critical to the India-Pakistan dialogue is the need for a new package that accepts ground realities as they exist today, reviews the follies of the past to ease tensions and misunderstandings distortions too and tackle the outstanding issues objectively and dispassionately. The two countries must think on new lines with seriousness. For, they cannot afford to make more mistakes.
Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee seems to understand Indias compulsions. He also realises the importance of evolving a new order bilaterally as well as within the SAARC framework. In his speech at the 10th SAARC summit at Colombo on Wednesday, the Indian Prime Minister showed both maturity and sincerity in spelling out the parameters of regional cooperation in economic, social and technological fields, away from the present nuclear arms race. His suggestion for the setting up of a SAARC Economic Community on the lines of ASEAN and the European Union is sound and hence it should be pursued vigorously. Strengthening the framework of economic cooperation must remain the focus of the SAARC agenda, Mr Vajpayee said. And he has given enough evidence of Indias commitment in this regard by announcing a number of proposals to strengthen the bonds of economic ties in the region. He has offered bilateral free trade agreements, which await the formalisation of SAFTA by 2001. He has also unilaterally lifted restrictions on over 2000 Indian products to promote opportunities for SAARC countries to access the Indian market and increase their exports. These should be seen as a major step forward to create an ASEAN-type atmosphere in South Asia. Indeed, the SAARC nations must move to anchor themselves to the totality of human growth and consciously motivate the people in the region to abandon the aberrations of the past. Faith and passion will be required to develop a new SAARC order. The task is not easy. It demands hard, coordinated and practical application of the plans and ideas. India, Pakistan and other SAARC nations, therefore, must texture the 21st century very differentlyin simple, uncomplicated and terrorism-free dignified living. It has to be done now, or else it may be too late. A lot depends on how the Pakistani leadership, especially the military establishment at Islamabad, responds to new challenges and priorities. A detenteist framework in India-Pakistan relations can go a long way to settle the bilateral issues, defuse tensions, ensure peace and regional viability and cut expenditures on confrontations. We see a ray of hope at Colombo. This should help in setting the tone for a meaningful dialogue.
Democracy loses in Goa
THE swift political developments late on Wednesday night resulting in the installation of a new government in Goa need to be studied with care for a correct assessment of the constitutional validity of the change effected by Governor Lt En (retd) J.F. R. Jacob. What can be said straightaway is that the dismissal of the three-and-a-half-year-old Pratap Singh Rane ministry is bad news for the Congress, which had on Tuesday launched a virulent attack on the Bharatiya Janata Party-led coalition at the Centre by holding a massive street demonstration in Delhi headed by its President, Mrs Sonia Gandhi. The BJP is in no immediate danger of losing power at the Centre. Instead it can count Goa as a small bonus since it is now part of the ruling alliance in Panaji comprising the regional parties and the breakaway faction of the Congress. What message does it send to the rank and file in the Congress now that Mr Wilfred De Souza, who led the revolt against Mr Rane, is the new Chief Minister and that he is not uncomfortable doing business with the BJP? However, there should be no confusion that the revolt and the change in government have thrown up questions which only constitutional experts can answer. A close scrutiny of the fast-moving developments suggest that the institution of parliamentary democracy has suffered another blow for which both the Governor and the Speaker of the Assembly, Mr Tomazinho Cardozo, may be equally responsible. When Mr De Souza along with nine MLAs abandoned the Congress and demanded the dismissal of the Rane ministry they also claimed recognition as a separate group in the Assembly. Instead, the Speaker disqualified them from membership under the provisions of the anti-defection law.
When the rebels approached the Governor he issued a statement that he was exercising all options as per the provisions of the Constitution to ensure that the Financial Bill was passed on the due date. In between, amidst high drama in the Assembly Mr Rane secured a vote of confidence in which the 10 disqualified MLAs were not allowed to participate. Earlier, the Opposition and the rebel group held a special session and passed a vote of no-confidence against the Rane government. The House even adopted a motion expressing lack of confidence in the Speaker. Some members picked up paper weights and came close to repeating the scenes which have brought a bad name to the Uttar Pradesh Vidhan Sabha. The report on the installation of the new government said that Lt En Jacob used the provisions of Article 174 which empowers the Governor of a state to decide on the local political situation without consulting the Centre. What about the disqualification of the 10 Congress rebels by the Speaker? The Governor has stated that after considering all options, I took the decision in the interest of Goa. In effect Lt En Jacob has revoked the ruling of the Speaker against the rebel Congress members and has also not recognised the vote of confidence which Mr Rane secured hours before he was shown the door. The Congress and the Opposition understandably raised the issue in Parliament, but a final ruling on the complex political drama enacted in Panaji is likely to come from the judiciary.
Height of frustration
THIS practice of climbing a tower to express one's frustration seems to be becoming a fad. Earlier, there was that jilted lover from Varanasi, Ashraf Jamaal, who perched himself atop a 220-ft high transmission tower near the New Delhi railway station and braved six days of torture without proper food and water in January. While his feat reminded one of the cameo enacted by Dharmendra is the film "Sholay", what has been done by a councillor of the Municipal Corporation of Delhi, Mr Asif Mohammed Khan, on Monday falls in a different category. A responsible person like him resorted to this unusual method of protest (climbing a tower at Nehru Place in South district of Delhi) because he wanted the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi, the Chief Minister or the Delhi Vidyut Board Chairman to listen to the problems being faced by the people of Okhla, from where he contested and won the MCD election. What he has done is highly unusual and illegal but shows how frustrated a man of even his stature can be while dealing with an unresponsive system. Apparently, this brother of former Union Minister Arif Mohammed Khan must have tried to make the administration aware of the problems and only when he found no remedy, he did this. Just imagine the difficulties of a common man. Can he really make the administration budge? There is something seriously wrong with the bureaucracy. It has become too inward-looking and too unconcerned to listen - let alone react - to the common man's woes. This sympathy for their cause should in no way be treated as justifying or condoning what Mr Khan has done. But the point is, why has he been forced to do so. Even now, instead of punishing him, the authorities should do a bit of soul searching and ask themselves whether they have really been doing what they are paid to do. The honest answer will of course be an emphatic no.
At the same time, there is need for going into the question of the security of such installations as electricity pylons or microwave towers. These should not become such a common setting for this form of protests. Yes, the government does drive one up the wall but the towers should not be so freely accessible for this metaphoric exercise. People like Mr Asif Mohammed Khan or Mr Afsar Jamaal might have been endangering only their own lives. There might be others who might take a leaf out of their books and might disrupt electricity supply or transmission by damaging the equipment there. Perhaps it is not possible to post a constable at every such tower but surely concertina wires etc can be used to discourage such mad capers. The media should also provide less exposure to such people because the lure of publicity might also encourage some to emulate them. While the municipal councillor came down from his high horse on Monday night without waiting for the Lt-Governor or the Chief Minister to show up, a city constable emulated him elsewhere in the city. His reason? He was under the spell of black magic!
GROWING SOCIAL IMBALANCE
WHILE politicians play their petty games, India is fast becoming a virtual volcano of social and economic malfunctioning. Caste and community-based conflicts are seen in every segment of society. For the record every politician decries caste-based and sectarian politics. But in practice, he invariably does the opposite of what he preaches publicly. Double-speak has become an integral part of Indias social scene.
True, political games cannot be delinked from the existing social realities. What is, however, disquieting is that these are being constantly played to the detriment of national interests.
Caste groups act as the most potent pressure groups, clamouring for more favours and benefits. In a way, there is nothing wrong in caste groups promoting the interests of their community. But the problem arises when they are pursued in utter disregard of the needs and sensitivities of other sections of society. Such a pursuit sows seeds of tension which often culminates in an open confrontation and violence. What is tragic is that every leader tries to exploit these conflicts and unstable social conditions to create his/her own vote bank.
Let us be clear about certain harsh realities. Poverty is a fact of life. Nearly 40 per cent of the population lives below the poverty line. This in itself creates a deep multifaceted crisis which undermines societys potential and resource base. The problem of poverty is further aggravated by various other social deprivation and discrimination from which the poor suffer. These sufferings get accentuated notwithstanding the provisions for reservations and shallow slogan-mongering of gharibi hatao. In any case, the question of poverty is not a matter of statistics. It is a grave human face which requires passionate understanding, a long-term commitment and sustained follow-up action.
When the reservation for the Scheduled Castes, the Scheduled Tribes and other backward classes was written into the Constitution, it was assumed that we will be able to bring the deprived and under-privileged sections of society to the levels of the more fortunate ones. But after 50 years of Independence, we find the gaps between the poor and the rich have widened. Does anyone care? How about the creamy layer? Does any political leader bother about the root causes of our socio-economic crisis that places India very poorly in the comity of nations?
The countrys problems cannot be solved by dividing it into different reserved compartments. What is important here is the attitude towards the weaker and deprived sections and the willpower to bring them into the mainstream of national growth. But the commitment in this regard is lacking. Everybody pays lip service to the removal of poverty and social justice. In practice every political leader and every political party thinks in terms of vote banks. It is indeed paradoxical that the question of poverty is being exploited in terms of caste, creed and community.
Of course, every society has to do certain adjustments to reach the lofty social and economic levels aspired for. And in a country where social reforms take ages, the reservation system is perhaps one way to speed up the process of socio-economic justice. Unfortunately, this process has become long drawn-out, making it an instrument of power in the hands of vested interests.
True, the caste system in India is a harsh reality. It has been used to exploit and dehumanise the lower castes. This is an anachronistic system which must not thrive in a democratic polity. Afterall, no caste group can live in isolation, and those who graduate into minimum standards of economic and social uplift have to make room for the less fortunate members of society. Social justice and equality demand this.
History, one might say, is a record of mans follies and his attempt at correcting things. Thus, during the 1000 years of Brahminical order, the Brahmins did everything to make their power last. But soon the Kshatriyas came to dominate society until they were routed in battle by foreign invaders.
The Vaisyas, who resented their lowly status, were always in favour of republics. Steadily, they too have come up to the top. Aurangzeb used to rely on these merchant princes. Today a hundred corporations control the destiny of the world. In our own country the entire government machinery is geared to promote business.
But vast masses of people remain submerged below the poverty line. Vivekananda saw the emergence of these people (Shudras). The point I want to make is this: no one can hold on to power in perpetuity. Do our rulers realise this? I wonder, for there is nothing on record that they were planning a smooth social transition until Mandal came, well, by mistake.
In fact, those who were in power were trying to hold on to it by any means. There was no attempt at sharing power with those who were denied it. There was no attempt at sharing the political space.
Although the Congress was an umbrella party, sheltering a bewildering variety of interests, the top men in the Congress had no intention to share power with these groups. Thus violence and agitations began to mark social change. The Congress failed to work out a smooth transition. Today half the population of India, which had no social or economic status, is on the move. Perhaps, these people are on the warpath. They are bound to ask for quotas, because in no other way can they secure a slice of the national cake for themselves.
In 1952, after the first general election, women had a share of 4.4 per cent in the Lok Sabha. In 50 years, this share has risen to 7 per cent. And yet women constitute 50 per cent of the population. Men have tried to monopolise power. Freud would say that it is their drive for power. But is this right? Who is responsible in this country to see that the constitutional objectives are adhered to?
The system that we have devised is full of loopholes. It does not speak highly about us as a thinking people. The system can neither defend nor advance the constitutional objectives. The Womens Reservation Bill was introduced in September, 1996. For the past two years, it has been tossed about. But there has been no debate in Parliament or the media. The people are in total ignorance of the issues. But this is what the politicians like.
Today we know who is who. Large numbers of Congressmen and BJP-ites are opposed to the Bill. That is why it could not be even tabled. What is their objection? They say privately that it threatens their career. In other words, these men, all honourable, were ready to violate the constitutional objectives in order to protect their own personal interests. But this fact must have been known earlier to the BJP. Then why this charade? Is this the way a country gives itself laws?
But this is not for the first time that members of the Lok Sabha have reacted violently to bringing about a change in the status quo. They react violently whenever someone mentions the need for the Presidential form of government.
The social justice lobby wants a quota within the quota for the OBC women. They also demand a quota for the minorities. Their case is that the upper caste women will grab the quota for themselves. Let us concede this point. But is there no creamy layer in the OBC? Have not all advantages gone to this layer? Will the social justice parties agree to radical land reforms in Bihar and UP in order to promote the cause of the millions of landless people?
Indians do things in a strange way. The fact is: there are few women in the political field, fewer still with a popular base or election experience and fewer still with what is called winnability. In this situation, the quota will be seized by the powerful politicians for their wives and daughters. This has already happened in a number of places. We are unwittingly planning to fill Parliament with dummies! At least one-third of the seats; or Rabri Devis if you like. What happens to Parliament in that case? What is the real position in the panchayats? Has enough been done to uplift the status of women belonging to lower castes? We have to find honest answers to these questions.
It is primarily the job of political parties to promote women interests. But no one has shown any interest so far. That is why the state must do everything to provide them a ladder.
But, then, we are a people given to rituals. It was more important for us to pass the Bill. But what kind of a Bill? It is drafted by some ignorant people. The biggest flaw is that the reserved constituencies are going to be selected through a lottery system necessitating rotation each time an election is around. This is in total violation of the spirit of the parliamentary system, for candidates are to choose their constituencies and nurse them. This means one-third of the constituencies will witness a routine change. And women will know their constituencies only at the 11th hour.
A NEEM tree by a road. Someone has hung a swing from a stout branch. Sitting on it, a child moves merrily back and forth. Some others are eagerly awaiting their turns.
Oh, it is swing time.
No doubt, children would like to swing at any time of the year. But Sawan is the month of swings. It has always been so in India. Both kings and commoners had swinging fun alike. Many paintings give us glimpses of it.
More than that, swing songs have come to us down the generations. Now we have such film songs as well. Raga Hindola is in celebration of swinging in springtime.
Our summer is hot and long. The heat dries up the soil. There is not enough grass for the grazing cattle then, and sometimes not enough water to drink. It is a trying time indeed.
Then come the rains and break the long, dry spell. The air turns cool and pleasant. New grasses and plants come up. The koel calls. The peacock dances. There is a new joy, a new fervour all around.
The change is dramatic. It is the more so in the arid parts of Rajasthan, Haryana and nearby areas. The people at once thrill to it. They sing and swing.
On the third day of the bright fortnight of Sawan they have Teej, a swing festival. It is a girls day.
Married girls visit their parents homes. They colour their palms with henna and wear new glass bangles and bright clothes. With their friends they eat sweets and savouries of the season. And they sing and swing in the courtyards or out under the trees.
Oh, the clouds gathering in the sky,
Oh, the clouds.
All the lakes are brimming,
The lovely season has come to my country,
The good season has come.
So says a Rajasthani folk song. In another song a girl gleefully tells of the swing her brother has fixed for her:
Brother Kanhaiyalal has put up a swing,
And sister Gouri has come to swing.
Many folk songs tell of Krishna and Radha swinging together. (There are old miniatures and new paintings on the theme too). Some songs describe the swings hanging from mango trees. In some Punjabi songs the tree is a tall tali.
Swinging is not peculiar to India alone. In every land people like it. The Athenians had a swinging festival. Women sang voluptuous songs then. Gilbert Islanders have a swinging custom. A young man swings a girl from a coco-palm, and then swings with her.
The Letts swing to influence flax growing. In Thailand, they say, swinging boosts the rice crop.
In some lands swinging is a magic rite. Frazer discusses it in his monumental work, The Golden Bough. The notion seems to be, he says, that the ceremony promotes fertility, whether in the vegetable or animal kingdom; though why it should be supposed to be so, I confess myself unable to explain.
In his own way the woralist too have something to say. These long swings, he says, these high swings are bound to snap. In other words, like pride, going high results in a fall.
But this is reading too much in a simple pleasure or pastime. Perhaps R.L. Stevenson puts it best when he tells of a childs feelings on a swing:
How do you like to go up in a swing,
Up in the air so blue?
Oh, I think it is the pleasantest thing
LONDON: Four Labour members were suspended from the House of Commons on the occasion of the debate on the Scottish estimates. Mr James Maxton and Mr John Wealthey described Sir F. Banbury as a murderer in connection with the reduction in the provision for child welfare and refused to withdraw the expression or to depart, even at the request of the Sergeant-at-arms, but left when a motion for their suspension was carried.
After that the Rev. Campbell Stephen repeated the allegation that Sir F. Banbury was a murderer. Another motion for suspension secured the Rev. Stephens departure.
The uproar recommended when the ministerialist, Sir George Hamilton, made a reference to a Jew while Mr Emmanuel Shinwell was speaking.
The latter objected to the offensive reference to the race to which he was proud to belong. Mr George Buchanan shouted: You white-livered coward and accused the Deputy Speaker of injustice in naming Labour men and not naming the offending ministerialist.
The Speaker declared that he had not heard Sir George Hamiltons remark.
Mr Buchanan refused to sit down and finally was suspended.
Army needs higher education
THE Army is reported to be considering sending a larger number of its senior officers on study leave to cope with the problem of the increasing age of its Commanding Officers (COs). Of all the problems thrown up by the governments sudden order, the extension of the retirement age has been the most worrisome factor for the Army and brooks no delay.
The average age of a CO is already around 41-42 years, which is about the highest in the world. It is likely to go up by another two years with this age extension. Sending a large number of Colonels, Brigadiers and Major-Generals on study leave is expected to help absorb some of its adverse impact. It would also, incidentally, help in improving the educational standards of senior officers.
On the face of it, the idea appears to be excellent. In practice, however, things may not turn out to be quite that well. The policy of study leave in the Army has been in existence for over 15 years now. When it was introduced, it was hoped that it would give deserving officers a chance to update their knowledge midway through their careers. They would thereby bring fresh ideas to their jobs and contribute towards raising the overall standard of the Army.
It has failed to deliver on all these counts. No facility in the Army has been more cynically misused than that of study leave. Both the management as well as the officers concerned have been guilty of it. The noble aims behind the concept have been forgotten and the Army has not gained any benefit from it. A majority of the officers who have been granted study leave since the inception of the policy have all been those who were already known to have not much future in the Army.
Some of them have used this provision to prepare themselves for a second career outside the Army. Others have used it to avoid being posted to an undesirable station or an unwanted appointment. Still others to enable them to stay on for two more years in the same station, so that their children could finish school or college. Benefit to the Army was farthest from their minds. In effect, over the years, study leave has become the preserve of only such officers as had little or no future in the Army. There are, no doubt, some exceptions, specially in the technical branches. But, by and large, this is true.
The main reason for this is the existing system which has failed to give higher civil education any importance, specially for promotion to higher ranks. It should not come as a surprise to anyone that till today not a single Chief of Army Staff or Army Commander has ever availed of study leave. Probably, no other Lieutenant-General, barring those in the technical branches, has made use of it either.
It is not the fault of these officers. Had they ever taken study leave, they would probably have never reached the positions they ultimately did. Such is the system. An officer on the fast track and destined for higher ranks is required to be exposed to all types of command, staff and instructional appointments as well as attend a couple of long courses within a short span of time. He simply cannot afford to take two years off for higher studies. The system has thus created a paradoxical situation. Senior officers who formulate policies and give advice to the government are mostly without higher education. While their juniors, who will never hold any important appointment, have acquired university degrees.
This anomaly needs to be rectified, and now is the best time to do so. The Army Headquarters has approached the Ministry of Defence (MoD) for sanctioning additional study leave vacancies for higher ranks. The MoD must insist that before it accepts the request of the Army Headquarters it must first revamp its policy for granting study leave. The policy must primarily be designed to benefit the organisation and not the individual.
The first step is for the Army Headquarters itself to recognise the importance of higher education for its senior officers. Remembering that the Army officers live in a closed world with very little contact with the outside, their horizons remain restricted. As they grow in rank and service, they tend to become contemptuous of civilians and everything non-military. This is not desirable for a democracy where the government as well as the countrys sharpest minds are civilians.
Higher civilian education helps to prevent this ossification of the military mind. It enables it to absorb fresh ideas and inculcate respect for the academic minds. This in turn helps to create a healthy Army-civil relationship. The need for higher education is even more significant from the point of view of the effect of the media and modern communications on the responsibilities of senior defence services officers. A thoughtless statement or an impulsive action on their part can immediately become a news event and can have international repercussions.
This requires the Army to create a suitable system in which all officers aspiring for higher ranks get an opportunity to go on study leave and broaden their vision.
The Army must prepare itself for the next century. Modern warfare will get even more complex in the nuclear and emerging information warfare environment. Senior officers will need more than professional knowledge to do their jobs well. They will also need higher education to increase their overall awareness in the best national interest. INFA
His life's aim was to avenge
UDHAM SINGH stood smiling and unruffled. He showed no sign of fear or nervousness. A minute earlier, he had shot dead Sir Michael ODyer, a former Governor of Punjab who had perpetrated the carnage at Jallianwala Bagh in 1919.
It was at Caxton Hall in London on March 13, 1940. Sir Michael had just finished his speech at the meeting organised jointly by the Royal Asian Society and the East India Association when Udham Singh pumped five bullets into his body from close range and killed him instantaneously: his lifes aim had been accomplished. The vow, he had taken on the night of April 13, 1919, to avenge the genocide at Jallianwala Bagh, had taken 21 years to fulfil. Life had no meaning for him after this and as such death did not scare him. He made no attempt to escape, though, it was easy enough for him to do so as everyone in the hall was running helter-skelter in panic.
On the other hand, he offered himself for arrest in the same way as Bhagat Singh, and B.K. Dutt had done after throwing a bomb in the Central Assembly at Delhi, on April 8, 1929, or as Madan Lal Dhingra had done on July 1, 1909 after shooting Sir Curzon Wylie at the Imperial Institute (London).
In a statement in the court on April 2, 1940, he gave his name as Ram Mohammad Singh DSouza Azad. It was a clear signal of secularism so badly needed in his country where an unrelenting struggle for freedom was on. It is also a lesson for such petty-minded politicians who, in order to meet their petty political ends, resorted to communalise every issue under the sun. It reminded one of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose who had initiated a common kitchen for INA jawans of all communities i.e. Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians in Japan in 1943-44, when even the hawkers at the railway station cried Hindu pani, Muslim pani & so on. Revolutionaries like Udham Singh knew no religion except the religion of patriotism.
Udham Singh refused to engage a defence counsel although Indians in London had raised funds for the purpose. He advised his friends to spend the money thus raised for the countrys freedom struggle. With a rare sense of courage and confidence, he said in the court on April 2, 1940: I have shot Michael ODyer to make a protest. It has been long wait. It was my duty to do so. I have seen people suffering and starving in India under British imperialism. I do not mind what sentence I got: 10, 20, or 50 years or be hanged. The court need not waste its time any more and pronounce its judgement, he concluded.
His confession was loud and clear. He seemed to be eager to kiss the gallows. He had a sense of fulfilment after having eliminated the perpetrator of the ghastly crime in Punjab. It was a red-letter day in his life and he was feeling the thrill of his bold revolutionary action to the marrow of his bones.
And yet if one looks into his lineage and family background, one would not believe that he would rise to such pinnacle of glory in the history of Indias freedom movement. Born on December 28, 1899, at Sangrur in Punjab, Udham Singh was deprived of parental affection at a very young age. He was not yet two, when his mother died and his father, Sardar Tehal Singh, expired when he was not yet even five.
He and his elder brother, Sadhu Singh lived in utter penury. A roving minstrel and the religious preacher, Chanda Singh, saved the two brothers from the company of gypsies and put them at an orphanage in Putlighar, Amritsar. It was here that his elder brother died leaving him alone. But by this time, he had been schooled into patience and struggle in the face of rough and tumble of life. It was here that he passed his matriculation examination.
The introduction of the Rowlatt Act was the last straw on the camels back. Indians were fretting and fuming. But they were a helpless lot. Mahatma Gandhis appearance on the political scene had made some difference. The Mahatma had given a call for a week-long protest against the draconian measures. Vociferous protests were held all over the country from April 6 to 13, 1919. At Amritsar too, thousands of people gathered together in Jallianwala Bagh for a peaceful assembly. But little did they know about the barbaric designs of the British imperialists who targeted their machine guns at unarmed persons, killing 379 and injuring over 1500. It was a cruel bloodbath. The trigger-happy British soldiers had no sanctity for human life. Streets were seen littered with human flesh and stray dogs were busy tearing flesh from dead bodies besmeared with blood.
The young Udham Singh was also among those wounded. He had seen the enactment of the sordid and ghastly drama. It was here that he took a vow to kill the chief actor of the drama Michael ODyer, who settled in London after his retirement.
Udham Singh also left India. His first sojourn was the USA where he sensed in full measure the joy of freedom. His contact with Ghadar Party leaders like Lala Hardayal sharpened his resolve to kill Michael ODyer. He is reported to have come back to India along with 25 friends on a specific invitation from Bhagat Singh, whom he held in high esteem. He was arrested at Lahore for possessing illegal weapons and after a summary trial was awarded four years rigorous imprisonment. Released in 1932, he was under constant police surveillance.
But he left for Germany in 1933 and later for England, where he pursued an engineering course. While in England, he never lost sight of his vow for a single moment. He had purchased six chamber revolver and plenty of ammunition. Dressed as a pageboy-cum-chauffeur, he had closely surveyed the area where Michael ODyer lived.
The day of reckoning came earlier than Udham Singh had expected. He read in a paper that Michael ODyer would be visiting Caxton Hall on March 13, 1940. He sauntered undauntingly into the vicinity of the place and dodging the security network, he sneaked into the hall and killed him. It was a moment of absolute bliss for him.
Judicial verdict was a foregone conclusion. His bold and unequivocal confession had made the jurys task easier. He was sentenced to death and died a martyr at Pentolville prison on July 31, 1940. His ashes were brought to India long after Independence. His martyrdom will always occupy a distinguished place in the galaxy of revolutionary patriots who laid down their lives on the altar of countrys freedom.
Today as we observe Udham Singhs martyrdom day, it would be worthwhile to emulate the values of courage, secularism and patriotism so fondly cherished by him and for which he lived and died for.
Ideals that inspired India's
WHAT is it that inspired Indias foreign policy? Was it land, plunder, markets or hegemony? India has not been after any of these things. Its objectives were civilisational. And that is how it will remain.
And its civilisation has conditioned India to be its brothers keeper a task few others are fit to take up. Others have more often betray the trust.
It is religious dogmatism that has more often led to crisis in human relations. But India is never dogmatic. The Vedas often express doubts. India has thus avoided the thousand and one mistakes that other civilisations have committed. And the Indians have always lived amidst a diversity of races, religions and languages without conflicts.
Its mind being free, India has wandered where it listed. In the process, it has created a bewildering diversity of thoughts. The West is bewildered by it. It frowns upon diversity.
There are believers and non-believers in India, heretics and sceptics, rationalists and free thinkers, materialists and hedonists. India has never drawn a line of divide between the faithful and the faithless, the blessed and the damned. Everyone followed the faith that suited him best. There never was conscious persecution of any.
The more India doubted the answers, the more tolerant it became. Ashoka, the greatest emperor in history, was an ardent Buddhist. But he exhorted his followers not to make an exhibition of reverence to their own sect while condemning others. On the contrary, they should show reverence to other sects. By doing otherwise, they do harm to both, he says.
It is this spirit of accommodation and tolerance that made India a peaceful haven to many religious and peoples. Religious wars were unknown.
Buddhism was the most sublime religion of the time and Ashoka had it carried to the far corners of the world as far as Syria in the west, Sri Lanka in the south and Kabul and beyond in the north. But all through persuasion. The native culture was only influenced, never replaced.
But propagation of Buddhism was not an end in itself. The real objective was to serve the people. Ashoka says: There is no higher service than the welfare of the whole world.
Plato concentrated on the just society. India on the perfect man. But without the perfect man, there can be no just society. The ideal of the perfect man continues to inspire India.
Similarly, while Europe pursued the path of manly vigour, public spirit and private virtue, India followed the contemplative and reflective side of human nature.
I suppose, said Jawaharlal Nehru, that Indians by and large are gentler than almost any people of the world. They dislike violence. It was their long civilisation which brought about this basic transformation in their character. That is why they have never gone out to conquer.
Indian civilisation is universal in the deepest sense of the term. Which is why this primordial civilisation has survived intact and has not degenerated into a narrowly defined religion. And it continues to produce men with a universal spirit like Gandhi (the great soul), Nehru (the dreamer and visionary), Aurobindo (the mystic), Vivekananda (the reformer), Tagore (the poet) and Dr Radhakrishnan (the philosopher). They were the men who shaped modern India and its thoughts, and they were all universalists. The narrow spirit was alien to them.
Every being has within him/her a code of growth (it is called Swadharma in Indian philosophy), a principle that guides his/her evolution. Similarly, each nation, says Vivekananda, has one principal note around which every other note comes to form a harmony. In Indias case, that centre is its spiritual life.
Nationalism is an enemy of the universal spirit. Yet it is not an evil. The evil is narrowness, selfishness and exclusiveness, says Gandhiji. Hatred of other people, so often associated with nationalism, ethnicism and fundamentalism, had no place in Gandhijis outlook. He hated the British colonial system, but refused to hate the British people. He never wanted India to gain at the expense of other people. I do not want India to exploit a single human being, he had said.
Gandhiji opposed all kinds of national and regional chauvinism. To a Japanese member of Parliament, who sought a message with the Japanese before World War II, Gandhiji wrote back: I do not subscribe to the doctrine of Asia for Asians if it is mean as an anti-European combination.
This was precisely the stand of Nehru at the 1948 Asian Relations Conference,e when he said that he did not propose to oppose Europe. On his policy of non-alignment, he said: I have no objection to people coming together because they like each other. But I have the strongest objection to people coming together because they dislike and hate somebody else.
Nehru was a great champion of the UN and he did everything in his life to promote it. He was convinced that if there is going to be no world order, then there might be no order at all left in the world. he said: I have no doubt in my mind that world government must and will come, for there is no other remedy for the worlds sickness.
In advocating the Panchsheel principles, India was putting across an alternate model of international relations especially of non-interference and cooperation. Nehrus policy of nonalignment prevented the polarisation of the world into two hostile camps.
Aurobindo used to say that there are only two alternatives before mankind: a world state founded on the principle of centralisation, uniformity and mechanical unity, or a world union, founded on the principle of liberty and diversity. The West has chosen the first, India the second. America promotes the Americanisation of the world. If carries the American value system, which vast masses of people do not accept.
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