|Friday, February 4, 2000,
this display of military might?
importance of Karmapa
February 4, 1925
Confrontation not desirable
THE controversy centring on Giani Puran Singh, Jathedar of Akal Takht, and the SGPC chief, Bibi Jagir Kaur, is both unfortunate and uncalled for. The question here is not who is right and what is wrong. At stake is the larger one of maryada and Panthic unity. No one questions the well-established norms which are an integral part of the Panth. Of course, certain matters may be seen differently by different Sikh scholars and knowledgeable followers of the Panth. These are better addressed to and sorted out in a spirit of mutual respect, understanding and trust. Confrontationist postures are not desirable; nor do they reflect the path of love, affection and brotherhood shown by the Gurus. Perhaps, certain moves and counter-moves seen in the past one week or so are the offshoot of some misunderstanding or misplaced calculations. The hukamnama has its sanctity in the Sikh tradition. That is the reason why it is issued with the utmost care keeping in view the larger interests of the Panth.
Of course, the Jathedar of Akal Takht has had his own reasons for restraining Bibi Jagir Kaur from functioning as President of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee. This step is probably the first of its kind in Sikh religious history. No one questions the highest temporal seat of the Sikh religion, and rightly so. The very fact that the 10 executive members of the SGPC presented themselves before Akal Takht on Wednesday reaffirms its supremacy. In a way, this also provides legitimacy to the hukamnama of Giani Puran Singh which was issued in an unprecedented manner from Guna in Madhya Pradesh while the Jathedar was on his way to Takht Huzoor Sahib at Nanded in Maharashtra. The Giani acted against Bibi Jagir Kaur and the 10 executive members of the SGPC for violating the directive of Akal Takht by implementing the Nanakshahi calendar. Perhaps, such matters are best resolved through consultation in a spirit of reconciliation. The Sikh community would rather not have an atmosphere of tension at this juncture on an issue which can be easily handled without much rancour. Bibi Jagir Kaur is well-versed in the Sikh tradition and maryada. The very fact that the executive members showed up before Akal Takht is in itself a positive pointer.
The Sikh community has
gone through a very troubled period recently, and much of
it could have been avoided or contained. It is the
responsibility of religious leaders to ensure that the
sanctity of the Panthic tradition is well maintained. In
this respect there should be no scope for personalised
politics. Often, religious atmosphere gets vitiated if
too much of politics gets into it. Religious affairs have
to be conducted in the true tradition established by the
great Gurus. They cannot be played with for personal
ends. Fortunately, the Sikh community has been able to
withstand undesirable pressures from vested interests in
religious matters. We are sure the current controversial
phase too will pass off. What is needed is restraint and
mutual respect and tolerance. Love, affection,
brotherhood and sewa are the very essence of Sikhism. If
along with these basic tenets the message of the Gurus is
constantly kept in mind for guidance, every problem can
be tackled within the parameters of maryada. We hope that
Giani Puran Singh and Bibi Jagir Kaur will play their
roles keeping in view maryada sanctified by past
practices and the changing needs of the times. There is
no substitute for mutual affection, understanding,
tolerance and adjustment for the sake of Panthic unity.
Jail for Jayalalitha
HISTORY was created in Chennai on Wednesday when a former Chief Minister was sentenced to a jail term for twisting rules to favour a hotel owner. There is no mention of Ms Jayalalitha demanding or accepting a bribe but gross abuse of power is a sufficient ground for punishment. She is the first former Chief Minister of a state to face a prison term on this charge. A former Cabinet Minister will give her company, but he is the second senior politician to attract a criminal case and a stiff sentence. Keralas one time Electricity Minister Balakrishnan is the first. It is tempting to believe that the crusade against corruption in high places is getting sharper, although in all three cases a degree of political rivalry and individual perseverance have also played a role. The Chennai verdict has come on the heels of Chief Vigilance Commissioner Vittals posting of more than 100 names of senior IAS and IPS officers on the Internet and the CBI raid on an Additional Commissioner of Police in Delhi. It appears that the fight against corruption in high places has been joined and if men and women with commitment lend a hand, the menace can be checked, although it is too deeply rooted to be eliminated in near future. The first thing is to revive the demand for setting up a Lok Pal with real teeth and make it complainant-friendly. Experience so far has been to attach so many conditions before an individual can seek an enquiry into the corrupt practices of a leader as to scare him away. Now that public servants earn a decent salary, the old alibi that low-paid men succumb to temptation and nudge close to the lala will not do.
Like in other cases
against her, Ms Jayalalithas crime was to ride
roughshod over her Cabinet colleagues and officers in her
eagerness to show who was the boss. This one about a
hotel in Kodaikanal, a hill station, which has earned her
the jail sentence is a typical Jaya model of malevolent
administration. She wanted to amend the rules restricting
building to two stories in that town and when the
secretary concerned protested out he went. A pliable man
took his place and two fresh orders allowed construction
of five more storeys. That officer is under suspension
and now faces a prison term. Somebody went to the High
Court which castigated the former Chief Minister and
quashed the two orders. The additional structure was
demolished and the hotel owner fined for contempt of
court he continued with the construction despite a
stay order. In two similar cases she faced in recent
months, Ms Jayalalitha had pleaded that she did not read
the files and signed them in a routine fashion. Here she
was caught out though, since the file came directly to
her and not through the Chief Ministers office and
three middle level officers had testified to this effect.
Now what? She faces the biggest political crisis. The
verdict will dent her support base and she has no deputy
tall enough to take over and run the party. (This then is
the case in all one-leader parties.) The first indication
will come on February 17 when there will be byelections
in three Assembly constituencies. A new Assembly will be
elected next year and by then the High Court may have
decided her appeal. Even if it upholds her conviction she
can contest elections since a one-year jail term is no
bar. It is acutely ironic that the old DMK split in 1973
on the question of, yes, corruption. The late M.G.
Ramachandran, the mentor of Ms Jayalalitha, accused Mr
Karunanidhi of corruption and launched a hectic campaign,
finally ousting the DMK from power. Now the two Dravidian
factions have switched roles and the anti-graft drive
threatens to topple the mighty madam.
REVIEWING THE CONSTITUTION
THE instant national debate that followed the New Delhi function last week to mark 50 years of the Indian Constitution has already evoked a reasonably positive response from the government. It has abandoned its earlier idea which might have been hidden behind the proposal for a constitutional review by the BJP-led government.
Union Law Minister Ram Jethmalani has categorically stated that the "review" would not tinker with basic features like the parliamentary form of government. This in itself is a major concession since a section of the ruling elite and certain thinking persons outside the orbit of power had favoured a presidential form of government for a qualitative change of governance with speed and fairplay.
This opinion of pro-changers will, of course, continue to be voiced who, understandably, are bitter because of the way the parliamentary system has been sabotaged by vested interests and the mafia-dominated nexus with the ruling clique that well-known administrator N.N. Vohra so passionately talked about in his report.
It will, therefore, be quite a task for the 11-member National Commission to address itself to the basic issues agitating the ordinary citizens beyond its technical parameters spelt out by the terms of reference.
As it is, the terms of reference for the proposed commission will be: To examine in the light of the experience of the past 50 years as to how best the Constitution can respond to the changing needs of an efficient, smooth and effective system of governance and socio-economic development of a modern India within the framework of parliamentary democracy and to recommend changes, if any, that are required, in the Constitution, without interfering with its basic structure or features.
It needs to be appreciated that the India that we see around us is nowhere near our dream concept. Things have deteriorated to such an extent that the real challenge today is one of reviving the people's faith in the system. This is perhaps a tall order in the present situation. For, the distortions in the polity are not entirely due to the present Constitution. Nor are they the sole handiwork of politicians and bureaucrats. The main problems have emanated from the state of drift arising out of the chalta hai attitude and the lack of transparency and accountability at all levels of governance. Apart from the question of accountability and functional transparency of politicians and bureaucrats, one important factor that has played havoc with the system is the way our MPs, MLAs and Ministers have been conducting themselves to the disadvantage of the ordinary people.
The moot point is: will it be possible to suggest changes and initiate the correctives to keep "rogues and scoundrels" under effective check? It is difficult to be categorical on this count. However, once we are clear about our goals and objectives, it should be possible to pursue them rationally and systematically.
Of course, public confidence cannot be restored by merely changing some constitutional provisions. It can be revived only by offering a new deal to the people.
As for the behaviour pattern of politicians and others at the helm, popular pressures and in-built safety mechanisms can help improve their functioning, responses and accountability.
In this complex setting, what is regrettable is the fact that we are yet to fully grasp the constitutional potency and efficacy of the people's power not merely during election times but even in normal functioning. All that is needed is a free flow of right information to make citizens better informed. In fact, democratic functioning cannot improve qualitatively in the absence of "information funds", and without giving due importance to the right to information.
There should be no rigidity in reviewing such a crucial matter. Flexibility in approach and an open mind are two important components of democracy. The problem arises when an issue is either seen through jaundiced eyes or with a closed mind. We know the way national affairs have been run during the past over 50 years after the adoption of the present Constitution on January 26, 1950.
Take, for instance, the question of reservation. The founding fathers of the Constitution desired it to be a 10-year arrangement. Now, it looks like a never-ending process. I am personally committed to the uplift of the poor and underprivileged sections of society. I also believe that every Indian must be duty-bound to extend a helping hand to the downtrodden. But what should have been a national commitment for the wellbeing of the poor and the have-nots has just been reduced to a ritual for the benefit of certain vested interests or small-time operators pretending to be the friends of the backward classes.
This is not what Dr B.R. Ambedkar and other founding-fathers of the Constitution desired. They wanted the process of development of the SCs, STs, BCs and OBCs to be speeded up so that socio-economic revolution can be brought about within the shortest possible time. The point is: why has this become a long-drawn-out process? Who is to blame? Who have failed the Constitution in this vital area? The answers to these questions are obvious.
The nation facing innumerable complexities cannot work on a piecemeal basis or in isolation. It has to function keeping in view all the facets of the problems being faced. Unfortunately, fragmented and compartmentalised thinking on party lines have made things go from bad to worse. We expect top functionaries to rise above considerations of caste, class and community, and lead the nation on rational lines.
A fraud is a fraud. A violation is a violation. Anyone who indulges in a financial irregularity or violates the law of the land, howsoever well-placed, should not be able to go scot-free.
Those in power think that they do have the right to loot as has been happening for the past few decades. This loot mentality does not have any constitutional sanctity. But, what should one make of the system that gives special privileges to mafia groups and their collaborators in power? How come criminals get into legislatures? What is one to make out of the efficacy of the electoral system that puts a premium on dishonesty and fraud? How come honest and well-meaning persons cannot fight an election and get into Parliament? Rowdy scenes, physical assaults and grossly indecent behaviour have eroded the confidence of the educated in the prevailing scheme of things.
What do we make of destructive behaviour within the sacred precincts of our legislatures? What about those who damage public property within the chambers of these Houses? If an ordinary citizen indulges in rowdyism and destroys public property, he is hauled up. Why should our parliamentarians go scot-free for their unparliamentary behaviour? Why can't they be booked?
Also, how do we build bridges of confidence in the absence of seriousness in conducting parliamentary business? It is no secret that even the most important pieces of legislation are enacted without a serious debate and with only a bare minimum number of MPs present in the House. After all, they are being paid handsomely by the people to discharge their parliamentary duties with the requisite seriousness and dedication? Why cannot such behaviour pattern be discouraged? How about punishing guilty legislators by a new legislative provision of the right to call?
Of course, the quality of politicians cannot be improved through constitutional changes. Politicians will be politicians, irrespective of their colour. All the same, safety mechanisms in tune with the peoples sensitivities can make it difficult for unscrupulous power brokers and Aya Rams and Gaya Rams to operate.
Indeed, looking beyond, we ought to have a close look at the existing politico-constitutional setting and redefine the functions of the permanent organs of the government since the conventions on which we have relied for good government under the Constitution have all broken down.
The bitter truth is that
some of the vital provisions have failed the nation,
resulting in functional distortions, corruption,
hypocrisy and callous attitudes. Over to the proposed
commission for constitutional review.
Sparrows of Peshawar
IN Peshawar, those Pathans used to eat sparrows. They would catch them and bring to Hindu mohallas in small cages. The Hindus did not worship the sparrows as they worshipped the cows. But they treated the sparrows as Panditanis (wives of Pandits) and women in particular had a soft corner for them.
The first chappati that my grandmother made in the morning was reserved for our purohit (priest), Pandit Arjun. It was known as handha (charity). The second one was for the sparrows. Grandma would break it into small bits and then offer those bits to sparrows who apparently were having the best of relations with her. It was marvellous to see grandma feeding the sparrows before feeding the rest of us, her very own kids and grandkids.
When the Pathans brought the sparrows in cages, good Hindus and Sikhs would find their hearts melting and plead with the Pathans to release the poor birds. The Pathans would readily agree to do that. They would charge one old paisa per bird released. They knew that in lieu of the birds released, they could easily capture more. How they did it, I dont know. But catching sparrows, bringing them to Hindu mohallas in cages and releasing them in exchange for money was a regular business with them.
I wont say that all the Hindus and Sikhs of Peshawar were pious. Certainly they were not vegetarians. They were fond of eating bara (tender sheep meat), chickens, titter and bater (partridge and quail). Non-vegetarianism was a way of life in Peshawar. Any vegetarian coming to any house from Punjab and beyond was always a problem. One could only fetch for the bloke rajmah from the nearby tandoor which offered it, in any case, free with every tandoori roti purchased.
Why had women such a soft corner for sparrows? I think it was all over Punjab. Sadha chirhian da chamba weh; sahdi lambi urhan weh (ours is a garden of sparrows; long is our flight). That was a popular, poignant song brides sahelis (friends) sang all over as the bride would leave her parents home for the first time in a doli (palanquin). That song is sung unto this day. And that song brings tears into everybodys eyes every time a Punjabi bride leaves her home anywhere.
Any link between that
song and the tenderness with which Hindus and Sikhs
treated the sparrows? I cant answer that. But as I
look at what is happening in Pakistan, as I look at the
place of my birth, coup after coup, one military dictator
after another, throwing up, sometimes, this quisling or
that, in the garb of democracy, and the people,
meanwhile, suppressing their cries, saying something they
dont want to say or not saying something they want
to say, trying hard not even to breathe, lest their
breathing should be construed as revolt; as I see all
this, I cant help thinking of the sparrows I am
talking about. I wish I could do something to obtain
their release from the cages in which they find
Why this display of military
HAVING become a republic on January 26, 1950, India started celebrating this day with gaiety and military might every year. We have completed the golden jubilee of this historic day in January by continuing to give an overwhelming edge to our military might on the Republic Day parade. Should we continue to do this in the coming years? If so, with what purpose?
By looking around in the world, we find that India, barring France, is perhaps the only democracy which focuses on its military prowess on a day of national rejoicing. Such a display can serve only two purposes. One, to make it abundantly clear to our adversaries that we are militarily very strong and will tolerate no nonsense from them. Two, to restore confidence in the public about our military strength and capabilities to thwart any mischief by the enemy.
Today, with a major breakthrough in information technology, there is hardly any worthwhile information about the military hardware of a country that remains hidden or obscure from those who endeavour to seek it. In any case, military might needs to be exhibited on the battlefield and not at a solemn national occasion like Republic Day. This should take us to the recent Kargil conflict.
In the Kargil war, it was our poor equipment that cost us dearly in terms of casualties which could have been considerably reduced if we had equipped ourselves adequately. To quote only one example, many soldiers were killed by Pakistani artillery fire which our guns could not counter because we did not have WLRs which the Pakistan army had procured in the eighties. Our success in Kargil was due to the enviable fighting potential of our soldiers and junior officers. It was here that we should have proved to our adversary that we had a formidable hardware which, in fact, we regrettably lacked not only then but most of it we lack even today.
No wonder then that in his address to the nation on the eve of Independence Day in 1999, President K.R. Narayanan, underlined the need for strengthening the armed forces and equipping them with the latest weapons and force multipliers. He also said that Our expenditure on defence has been one of the lowest in the world in terms of percentage of the GDP, much lower than our neighbours.
Coming to impressing our public with our military hardware, it is questionable whether it serves any useful purpose, for a man on the street cannot differentiate between a Bofors gun and a tank. As for the knowledgeable circles, they know our capabilities as well as the weaknesses.
But the sore point that cannot be ignored is that the misinformation that we dish out on such occasions misleads the public. A few examples from the Republic Day parade commentary are worth taking note of.
The bragging about the Defence Research and Development Organisations (DRDOs) achievements would make many defence analysts laugh. For, it was said that the main battle tank (MBT) Arjun was One of the three best tanks in the world today. The truth about this tank, planning for which was started in 1974, is that after we have wasted about Rs 400 crore on this project, it has failed to come up to the expectations of the Army. As a result, the government is left with no option but to go in for a Rs 5,000 crore deal with Russia to procure 300 T-90 tanks.
Another example is of Agni-II missile which was called a state of the art surface-to-surface missile. In actual fact, it was not the missile but only its model that was on display, though this fact was not disclosed by the commentator. Moreover, only one test of this missile has been completed so far. It would need at least six to seven more tests before it could qualify to be called as a state of the art surface-to-surface missile. Yet again, the Pinaka multi-barrel rocket system, which was praised sky-high, has been shot down by the Comptroller and the Auditor-General in its report for meeting only seven of the 29 General Staff requirements. The Army has, therefore, requested the government for the acquisition of the Russian system.
Now think of the colossal expenditure that we incur on this extravaganza year after year, which involves moving of the equipment and manpower from all over the country and keeping them tied down to the national Capital for about two months.
This is not to say that
we should stop celebrating Republic Day. But what we
should do is to celebrate this day by rejoicing over our
achievements, rewarding the deserving people for their
outstanding work and by honouring our brave soldiers for
their gallant actions.
The importance of Karmapa
PATIENCE this is what will pay in the end against China. The Chinese are masters at it. The Tibetans must out-do them in their game.
The world thought that the Soviet Union was for over. It was not. It did not last even for a century. And when it collapsed, every nationality assorted its independence. I see no reason why China cannot go the same way. Indeed, it seems inevitable to me.
It was said of the Soviet Union that it was a prison of nationalities. That was not true, for it never tried to destroy the identity of the various nationalities which became part of the USSR. In fact, it promoted their identity.
But China is a real prison of about a hundred nationalities, although they add up to no more than fifty million in a population of just over a billion. Mao was not a man, like Gandhi, to say that he would prefer to remain in bondage than be the instrument of bondage of others.
The Chinese empire has stayed on and on for far too long. How is it that the world has allowed China to keep its conquests, while others had to let free their conquered? It is time to open the Chinese prison to those who want to go out free. If China can hold them by love, it will be an example.
The Tibetans have nothing in common with the Chinese. Nor to the people of what was once called Eastern Turkestan. The same is true of the Mangols. These are people with civilisations of their own with their own long history, culture and language.
When China was weak, these people enjoyed their freedom and when it was strong, they were back under subjection. China never forgot its conquests thanks to the Mandarins, who kept meticulous records of Chinas conquests. Even imaginary ones.
Tibet was brought under China by the Hans. They were powerful and the most militaristic of all dynasties. They threw Buddhism out of China because the Buddhist ideal of non-violence went against the military spirit of the Hans.
And yet when the Hans went into decline, the Tibetans challenged the Chinese claim to the vast regions beyond the Great Wall and defeated the Chinese army under General Kao Hsion Chih. For a thousand years China did not make any fresh attempt to stake its claim over. Tibet till the Manchus (a foreign dynasty) brought Tibet back under China.
Chinas policy towards its minorities reflects its imperial legacy. In contrast, its chauvinistic claims on behalf of the overseas Chinese demonstrate the racialist pride of the Han people.
For millennia, China has lived a life of its own. Nature and history made it insular. Its world outlook carried the symptoms of inbreeding of genes and thoughts. It could not get much beyond the Gobi desert in space and the picture ideographs in thought.
But the Chinese are a pragmatic people. A Chinese philosopher once said that he had already too much trouble with his body to bother for the concerns of his soul. But this cynical pragmatism can drain away all that is noble in Chinese civilisation.
Dynasties came and went, the rulers were Chinese or foreign, but the mandarins remained for ever to remind every emperor what were Chinas true interests. This is what accounts for the remarkable continuity of Chinese history and traditions, as also Chinese ambitions.
China has only one solution to the minority problem: submerge the identity of the minorities in the vast sea of the Han race through colonisation, miscegenation and by destruction of the visible symbols of the separate identity of minorities.
What can one say of China, a so-called socialist state, when it asserts that self-determination is un-Marxist, that assimilation is Marxist? Under Maos direction, Beijing established direct rule over the minority regions, but called them autonomous a deception which fooled only very few.
In 1956 China did recognise that it was following a wrong nationality policy. The 8th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party said: In the national minority areas, the workers of the Han nationality should overcome the erroneous views of Great Han chauvinism in all its manifestations. They should actively and patiently help the national minorities to become masters of their lives.
So, the Chinese rulers did see what was wrong with their policy. Yet in 1959 Mao reversed the new policy. China began to destroy the cultural identity of the minorities. This is what forced the Dalai Lama to flee his country.
It is said that the Karmapa had to flee the country because of Chinese pressure on him to denounce the Dalai Lama.
Should India give him political asylum? This is a Hobsons choice. If it grants political asylum, it will annoy China; if it sends him back to Tibet, this will be a big blow to Tibetan aspirations. What is worse, it will be seen as a surrender to China.
But we have our self-interest to pursue and it will be served only if Karmapa stays in India and becomes a rallying centre for his sect the Kagyus. But he should be kept out of Rumtek. A power struggle among the Lamas will weaken the Tibetan cause. His job is to unite the Kagyus and keep alive the fire of Tibetan autonomy.
India has been following a dual track policy with regard to Tibet. On the one hand, India recognises Tibet as part of China; on the other, India does not object to the international activity of Dalai Lamas government in exile.
This is the only card India has against China, while China has been playing a number of them against India. For example, the Kashmir card, Pakistan card and North-East India card, to mention a few. China has played all those cards against India ruthlessly.
It is true, it is not supporting Pakistan on the Kashmir issue of late, but that is because the Tibetan issue is back on the boil and China fears India may be tempted to join forces with America on the human rights question. But see how warm was the welcome Beijing extended to General Musharraf recently! Friends no matter what this is how China Daily greeted the General. Desire for better relations with India, which is now stressed, did not put a damper on Chinas enthusiasm for the Pak military dictatorship. China knows its priorities. I think we should know ours.
But we should be clear in our objective. We do not want to encourage the path of violence among the Tibetans. They are to small a community to wage war against China. What China fears most is the assertion of a separate Tibetan identity. The Tibetans must preserve it at all costs. And India must help them do it. The Karmapa can help the Dalai Lama in this task. And the two together must proclaim their links with the Buddhist world.
Fears have been expressed that the Karmapa is a Chinese plant that he is a Trojan horse. Of course, the Chinese are quite adept at deceptions. It might be a tit-for-tat. India should remain ever alert.
There is, however, no case to send the Karmapa to a third country, particularly the United States. It will divide the ranks of the Tibetans. The Dalai Lama has warned India against it. What is more, the Tibet card (it is actually a Dalai card) will become less useful to us.
China is waiting for the
day when the unifying force of the Dalai Lama will be no
more with us. It may be possible then for China to divide
the ranks of the Tibetans. There is already fear of a
Lama War. This is what India should forestall if it wants
to play the Tibet card.
THE Representative Assembly of the Rajkot State has unanimously passed a resolution to present an address of welcome to Mahatma Gandhi on the occasion of his forthcoming visit to that State.
This is the first occasion that an Indian State has officially decided to do honour to the greatest living Indian, and as such the action of Rajkot is worthy of commendation.
We congratulate Rajkot on the independence and public spirit of its Representative Assembly, and hope that it will serve as an example to other Indian States.
Editor of Vartaman Arrested
AWASTHI, Editor the Hindi daily Vartaman surrendered
yesterday in the court of the Joint Magistrate where he
was taken in custody. The application for bail was
rejected, but on a revision application being filed, Mr
Holmes, the Sessions Judge, ordered the release of the
prisoner on furnishing two securities of rupees one
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