|E D I T O R I A L
P A G E
Sunday, December 5, 1999
A dogged fighter
Gamang, then and now
December 5, 1924
A dogged fighter
BABA AMTE now entering the 86th year of his life is, perhaps, one of the great human beings of the 20th century. Regrettably, his name does not figure in the prestigious Time magazine, which has brought out a series of special numbers captioned Heroes and icons of the 20th century, Leaders and revolutionaries of the century, The most influential Asians of the 20th century, and 100 most influential people of the century.
The editorial team of Time, which selected great men of the 20th century was, possibly, not aware of Baba Amte. He was virtually forgotten when he was chosen for the coveted Gandhi Peace Prize for his exemplary work in the treatment and rehabilitation of leprosy patients.
Murlidhar Devidas Amte came a long way before becoming Baba Amte, fighting for forgotten causes, giving voice to the voiceless and bringing hope to civilisation. He has given a new lease of life and dignity to lepers affected by maggots, tribesmen cut off from civilisation, orphans dying of malnutrition, the uncared for aged and the handicapped. His talisman is Charity destroys, work builds: this is the motto of his ashram Anandvan the sprawling home for leprosy patients near Chandrapur in Maharashtra.
Mahatma Gandhi and Acharya Vinoba Bhave have deeply influenced Baba Amtes way of life. He lived at Sevagram Ashram for some time. His spontaneous comment when he was told of the Gandhi Peace Award was: All the isms are lying on their deathbeds including Gandhism but Gandhi will be more relevant in the 21st century. I am sure neo-Gandhis will bring about this change.
India has forgotten Mahatma Gandhi but Baba Amte steadfastly adheres to the Mahatmas ideals be it village industry, uplift of the poor or austere way of life. He wears khadi woven from the looms of his ashram, eats fruits and vegetables cultivated in Anandvan. He is virtually disabled following a severe attack of cervical spondilytis. His spine cannot withstand pressure while sitting, thus restricting him to a standing or prostrate position.
Baba Amte began his career as a lawyer, plunged into the Quit India Movement in 1942 and was imprisoned. He organised lawyers to take up the defence of imprisoned leaders, which landed him in prison. He is also known to have made a foray into politics but soon got disillusioned and developed a contempt for politicians. According to reports he had at a young age developed a craze for fancy cars, wrote film reviews and corresponded with Hollywood icons.
Reports say that the sight of a maggot-bitten leper, changed his life for ever and he became a crusader against the dreadful disease, establishing Anandvan in 1949. The 50-acre plot, where his ashram now stands, was then barren and the first batch of inmates were just six lepers. The total capital of the ashram then was Rs 14 and the asset a lame cow. Anandvan is now a self-sufficient sprawling rehabilitation centre with over 3,000 inmates, largely funded by donations.
In spite of the pioneering work done by the ashram, the institution was in debt to the tune of Rs 1.5 crore when the Gandhi Peace Award was announced. The prize money of Rs 1 crore would be utilised for clearing the debt, says Baba Amtes son, Prakash, a doctor, who like his father, has also devoted his life to the ashram. Prakashs wife, a highly qualified medical person, shares her husbands burden. The couple also works for the uplift of tribesmen in the Naxalite-infested Garh Chirauli district, about 300 km from Nagpur.
Baba Amtes elder son, Vikas and the daughter-in-law, are also doctors and work full time for the ashram. The grandson, also a medical man, took a pledge in front of the Baba and the Narmada that he would continue the legacy. Baba Amtes wife, his companion of 55 years, popularly known as Sadhanatai, is also fully devoted to the cause which her husband has espoused for half a century.
Baba often says: My work is my life, my life is my work but Sadhana is part of both. Sadhanatai, like her husband, has a great sense of humour. She often describes her family in these terms: In our family, Baba is the speaker, Vikas the amplifier, Prakash, the silencer, myself the brake.
Baba Amte lived for seven years on the banks of Narmada on the edge of a village taking up the cause of those whose land was facing submergence as a result of construction of the dam on the river. He was, as others of the Narmada Bachao Andolan, against raising of big dams. He threatened to take jal samadhi along with his wife if the region (Kasrawad) was submerged saying: I am not committing suicide. If the river comes to take me, why should I move. And, the Narmada did come one day but, before that, Baba Amte and Sadhanatai were forcefully evicted by the police in a boat and confined to the nearby Circuit House.
Baba Amte is a disillusioned man today because of the degradation in the countrys body-polity. He does not feel enthused about 50 years of Independence.
Some of his oft-repeated remarks are worth quoting. He draws an analogy between politicians and his leprosy patients When leprosy patients touch the soil, they transform it into gold but when the politicians do so, they convert it into dirt.
The plight of the
tribesmen disturbs him the most and he feels their
condition is worse than leprosy patients. He is for
a balanced economic system and is often quoted as saying
in interviews: The majority doesnt need Pepsi
and Cokes but they want water. You can have your
skyscrapers and Cokes but before this, you must ensure
that the tribal girl defecating in the open, has the
privacy of a toilet.
Gamang, then and now
WHAT can be more ironical that a person who was rated as one of the most efficient ministers in the Council of Ministers of Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao is now hounded for the shoddy manner in which relief and rescue operations were being carried out for the cyclone-affected state. Well, that is Giridhar Gamang for you.
The rating was an internal assessment carried out by Major Sudhir Sawant, then an MP from Rajapur in Maharashtra. Incidentally, Major Sawant is now a Secretary in the AICC.
According to Congress circles, Mr Gamang was suffering on account of bad management, both of relief operations and media, with dissidents striking when the Chief Minister was most vulnerable. Understandably, people of the state find the games of politicians disgusting and the apathy towards the agony of victims of super-cyclone.
However, Mr Gamang knows how to act while under pressure. Last Wednesday, when he found that the AICC General Secretary, Mr Madhavrao Scindia, had landed in Bhubaneshwar to seek his resignation, he quietly left the state capital in a government aircraft, leaving Mr Scindia the choice of travelling to Delhi by the commercial flight in the evening. Once in Delhi, Mr Gamang went straight to Mrs Sonia Gandhi and let off a broadside against Mr Scindia, whom he described as a person inimical to him and requested the Congress President to take a view about his continuation only after seeking a second opinion. I have not been made Chief Minister either by the MLAs or by Mr Scindia but by you, Madam, thus only if you ask me to leave will I resign was his plea.
Not surprisingly, Mr Gamang won a reprieve, even if temporary. A second team was sent to Bhubaneshwar by the Congress President. Incidentally this team did not include Mr Scindia.
The Union Finance Minister, Mr Yashwant Sinha, was in the focus of the international media all through last week thanks to the slew of economic bills that came up in Parliament. Realising that whatever he says is taken note of by the international print and electronic media, the Finance Minister normally makes it a point to address major economic issues in English.
However, he made an exception last week when the Lok Sabha was sitting to consider and pass two Bills amending the Securities and Contracts Regulations Act to clear the way for derivatives trading and bring plantation companies within the ambit of the definition of securities.
A very technical and a new subject in the country, the few members who opposed the Bill included those from the Congress and the Left parties. The Leader of the Opposition and the Congress President, Mrs Sonia Gandhi, was among those who heard the debate with rapt attention.
When it came to Mr Sinhas turn to reply to the debate, he chose to speak in Hindi. Though the Lok Sabha has provision for English translation, the second version normally fails to convey the real spirit of the debate and it takes time for the import of the speakers talk to sink in. Mr Sinha failed to oblige the international media but his strategy paid off. There were few interruptions when he spoke and the Bills finally had a smooth passage.
The beginning of a new Parliament session always brings with it agitations, dharnas and rallies. The winter session of Parliament, which began on November 29 was no different. It, however, compounded the woes of the residents of Delhi, who had to stick it out in numerous traffic jams.
For the residents, who were just recovering from the after affects of the countrys largest trade fair at Pragati Maidan, which ended on November 27, the respite from traffic snarl-ups lasted barely a day. On November 29, the Congress took out a huge rally to protest against the inclusion of Rajiv Gandhis name in the Bofors charge sheet. At another venue, thousands of employees of banks and insurance firms were demonstrating against the government proposal to open up the insurance sector by getting the IRDA legislation passed in Parliament. That was not all as workers of the Bharatiya Janata Party too were on agitation in protest against the attack on Union Minister Shahnawaz Hussain, in Bihar.
While earlier the demonstrations used to be confined outside Parliament House, at the Boat Club lawns or in Sansad Marg, the imposition in the area of Section 144, which bans the assembly of more than four persons, saw the agitation spilling all over the city and choking major roads. Parliament sessions are now being renamed as jam sessions in the capital now.
Baptism by fire?
Having successfully carried out a battle against Kalyan Singh and ousting him from the Chief Ministers chair in Lucknow, the BJP state unit chief Rajnath Singh moved to the larger field New Delhi.
Last Monday, November 29 to be precise, Rajnath Singh was introduced to the Lok Sabha by the Prime Minister as one of the four new entrants to his Council of Ministers. Minutes later, the Union Minister for Surface Transport had to take questions of his ministry.
Having replied from a written text, Mr Rajnath Singh was under attack, at least so it seemed, with a volley of supplementaries with some mocking at a reply that the state of national highways in the country were good. As the verbal attack rose, a supportive BJP member reminded the House that the Minister concerned was making his maiden appearance so due consideration be given to it.
The steam was let off a little later with Opposition member, Rajesh Pilot, stating: Rajnathji aap sadkon ka bhi kalyan kyon nahin karte (why dont you do good for the roads too). The pun was not lost on the House. One only hopes that the new Minister does not do what he did to his bete noire in UP politics putting him to dry.
Only one George
There can only be one George Fernandes. Anyone attempting to be George would see the same fate as that of former Minister of State for Defence Bachi Singh Rawat.
The Defence Ministers prerogative of shooting off his mouth can only be that of Mr George Fernandes. This became evident when Mr Bachi Singh Rawat was taken off the sensitive Ministry in the second round of expansion, just a few weeks after he was given the charge.
Apparently, Mr George Fernandes, used to the idea of being the Lone Ranger, had no option but to accept two juniors when Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee announced his jumbo cabinet after being invited to form the government at the Centre. Not given to sharing his empire as a rule, George was apparently not happy with he having two juniors to cope with.
He, however, did not have to wait long and the chance he was waiting for literally fell in his laps when Mr Rawat was on a 20-day tour of his constituency. Inspired apparently by his senior, Mr Bachi Singh Rawat made statements about certain sensitive matters, specially about the Surya missile project, which were picked up prominently by the newspapers.
This had the Ministry of Defence in a spin and the very next day it came out with a denial saying no such project existed and that the minister had not said anything like this. However, the damage had been done and George had got his chance.
In the expansion, the MoS was shifted out of the Ministry of Defence with persuasion from George Fernandes. The prerogative of talking on sensitive matters could only remain with the senior Defence Minister.
A senior Defence Minister official said the knee jerk reaction in removal of Mr Rawat made it clear that there could only be one George.
Western Air Command scores
Come December, newspaper offices start receiving diaries and calendars mostly from private sector firms and some from the government agencies. The Western Air Command (WAC) of the Indian Air Force has stolen the march this year. This Public Relations outfit sent a sleek Year 2000 diary to mediapersons on December 1 itself way ahead of others.
The WAC diary is not the usual, run off the mill, government regulation issue. It has got a year planner and guide to metro cities of India somewhat on the lines of international diaries. The PR outfits of the Defence Ministry, especially the one of the WAC, had a long interaction with the media during the Kargil conflict during the year that has gone by. The bond between the press and the WAC has certainly been refurbished by this sleek Public Relations exercise.
THE Bombay Government resolution on the administration of the Bombay Municipal Boards for the year 1923-24 refers to the financial difficulties met with by most of the Boards and states that the main cause was the failure of the Boards to increase local taxation.
Whether there is room for a further increase of local taxation and whether the incidence of the taxation per head of the population has not already reached the maximum that can be reasonably imposed on the people having regard to their income, has not so far been considered by the Government.
It was Mr. Gokhale who pressed this point upon the Government and asked for an investigation which was refused.
The fact is that most of
the larger cities in India are growing very rapidly and
the problems of local government and the provision of
reasonable comforts are becoming more and more costly and
complicated so that liberal financial assistance from the
Government is essential in their case.
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