|Sunday, April 2, 2000,
constitution cant change human character
A constitution cant change human
AG: You have spent a major part of your life researching India and the Indian Constitution. Why did you choose India as your object of study, what is it that draws you to India and keeps you here?
Austin: What drew me to India was that its a very large society, a peasant society. The whole issue of reform in a peasant society interested me. We had Indian friends and I just became interested in the place. And I came to use the Indian Constitution, if you will, as a tool to get into Indian society.
Actually, a tool is a wrong metaphor. I consider studying the Indian Constitution to be a window into India. And that is because the Indian Constitution seems to me to be in hourly, every-minute use in this country by somebody pursuing his own interests or groups pursuing their own interests.
AG: Would you make the same statement about the American Constitution?
Austin: I would and I wouldnt. Americans, because they have been at it for 150 years and because we have had more felicitous circumstances a whole continent to explore, to settle, all these things Americans have done a good deal of their constitutional development already.
Every time the Supreme Court of the USA sits, or Parliament or a state legislature convenes and debates, the Constitution is in use. Every minority in the USA that feels it has been left out of the mainstream, or has just come into the country and is hoping to get into the mainstream of American life and politics, is also using the Constitution frequently.
But I think most Americans continue along without really thinking much about their Constitution and without putting the demands on it that are put on it by people here.
AG: Your first book came out in 1966. The second has just been released. What difference do you find between India then and now?
Austin: India in 1966 was still the nation of the founding fathers. It was still building the basic infrastructure, the dams, the steel mills. Society was still Indias traditional society. There was much less questioning, almost anywhere and at almost any level of society, of the status quo than there is now. Everything today is under challenge....
Power obviously was desired by politicians and had its uses, but there had not yet grown that large-scale personalisation of government (that is seen today). In those days while power was often an end in itself for many people, it was also much more a means than it now is....
Because some of the people who were in government and at the top in society in the early period were confident of their status, they perhaps were more inclined to think in terms of the common good than people are today when the scramble up the social and economic ladder is intense and rapid.
Some of the civil amenities have also disappeared from Indian life. For example, Mavalankar, the great first Speaker, used to complain about decorum in Parliament. If Mavalankar were alive today, he would either be beating people over there with his own lathi, or he would be in shock.
The survival society
AG: Can the Constitution do something to check or regulate the scramble up the social and economic ladder, or what you call in your book the survival society?
Austin: The provisions of the Constitution are there, they have to be utilised by government and by citizens. Article 14, the equality clause (for instance).
Equality, to the extent it exists in India and many other societies, is at the top. If you want equality vertically, or at least, more equality than there is, people have got to use the provisions of the Constitution to bring that equality to be.
Constitutions are inert. Constitutions cant change anything. The most a Constitution can do is to channel mens activities. It cant change human character. Therefore, if there are to be changes in the survival society, changes in the well-being of citizens, they have got to use the Constitution to achieve those things. The Constitution wont do it for them.
AG: So you perceive no deficiency, no inadequacy in the existing Constitution so far as its capacity or potential to control the basic instincts of a survival society are concerned?
Austin: I suppose in general the answer is no, I dont.
AG: Even as regards such problems as the personalisation of government, of official power?
Austin: Sure. How can you stop it by law or by changing the Constitution? Theres nothing I can put in the Constitution that will keep you from becoming corrupt or me from becoming corrupt.
AG: Coming to secularism, we have a BJP government in power, a Hindu majoritarian government in power
Austin: Now wait a minute! You have a majoritarian government in India under all conditions because it is a majority that wins in Parliament. I dont think you can call it
AG: I meant a government run by a party that has a Hindu majoritarian perspective.
Austin: May be it has, but it also has allies. And if you are going to put this in the newspapers, I am not going to agree that the country has a Hindu majoritarian government.
The BJP and the various organisations associated with it may very well tip toward a Hindu view of India, but how they tip, what the politics and governance of India is, is a different matter....
I think it is basically inaccurate to say that India has a Hindu majoritarian government. India always has a majoritarian government because thats the way the parliamentary system works.
AG: Take the specific issue of conversions. We have had a major controversy about whether the Constitution permits conversions or not.
Austin: The whole issue of conversions and the freedom of religion, and the role of religion in Indian society, is a very ticklish one as is obvious. Id think that if you try to put an anti-conversion provision into the Constitution, it could well be struck down as infringing the freedom of religion. Therefore, I dont think thats a way out.
AG: So you believe that the freedom of religion clause (in the Constitution) permits or contemplates a right of conversion?
Austin: It allows it. I dont know whether it contemplates it or not, but it allows it. Yes, I think it does.
AG: Do you think Indias experiment with secularism has succeeded?
Austin: Depends on what you mean by secularism.
AG: What do you understand by it?
Austin: What I understand about it isnt important. But what Indians understand about it is very important, it is obviously critical.
Nehrus definition of communalism was more than Hindu-Muslim relations. Casteism was communal, linguism was communal, regionalism was communal, all these things were communal. He is on record innumerable times on paper as saying these things.
His remedy for communalism was secularism, and for him secularism meant the diminution of sub-national loyalties, almost to the point of the nationalisation of society, though he never put it that way.
What Nehru wanted was to tone down, to flatten out the disparities in Indian society, the compartments in Indian society that he thought interfered with national unity and integrity and with the creation of a nation out of a country full of disparate elements.
Has that worked in India? Has India become secular in that sense? Obviously not. Need it become secular in that sense? I personally dont see why.
AG: Do you approve of the insertion of the word secular in the Preamble via the 42nd Amendment?
Austin: I dont bother to approve or disapprove because it was put in there, in my view at least, as a populist measure by an authoritarian government and I dont know what they meant by it when they put it in. And, therefore, I think, putting it in the Constitution was of no great significance and talking about it now is of no great significance.
I would think, on the other hand, however, that a move to take it out of the Constitution now would be politically very, very upsetting to lots of people. Thats different from putting it in there in the first place. And the reason why it was put in there, and the word socialism was put in there, under a government that was justifying the Emergency in terms of pursuing the social revolution, was entirely spurious.
I think the issue now is it is there, lets leave it there, and go on to more important things. Not that secularism, as somehow defined, is not important, but the word in the Constitution should not be dwelt on very long in terms of keeping it there or taking it out.
AG: The question of reservations has become a major problem. There is resentment and frustration among sections of the people, who feel that merit and efficiency have been continuously compromised and that the politics of vote banks underlies this whole business of reservations.
Austin: I think the term vote banks and politics of vote banks is a misleading, if not misguided, idea and term. It has become a journalistic slogan which gets into the way of rational thinking on how the electoral system works, whether here or in the United States.....
As to those people who talk about efficiency and merit, I think that is largely said by people, not entirely said but largely said by people who feel threatened by someone else taking their job.
When unfortunate students burnt themselves on Ring Road in Delhi after Mandal was announced (my wife and I were there), they were protecting their privilege, they werent interested in any principle in my view...
This (question of reservations) is always a confrontation between equities. And a good people good judges, good parliamentarians have got to come to some resolution of this as best they can. But if the resolution of the problem of equity is always to maintain the status quo, there is no equity.
AG: I would request a direct answer to this one the Womens Reservation Bill. Do you support the move for 33 per cent reservation for women in Parliament and the state legislatures?
Austin: An absolutely straight answer is: I dont know.
The idea of having more women in Parliament, whether it is one-third or 40 per cent, I support because I think women can play an enormously constructive role.
But how you do it, and whether you do it via a womens reservation bill (or otherwise), I wont answer yes or no because I dont know.
Role of the Governor
AG: A problem which has surfaced in recent years and seems to recur every now and then, as in Bihar last month, is the role of the Governor. Would you spurn the idea of some kind of an amendment in the Constitution to regulate the Governors functioning?
Austin: If someone tells me that there arent senior persons in Indian society who are absolutely straight and full of guts and who wouldnt make good Governors, I wont believe him....
The Constitution enjoins that there shall be a Governor appointed by the President and that he shall report to the President on conditions in the State. Therefore, the Governor has a very legitimate role measured by the Constitution into being the Centres representative in the State. The word agent came to replace representative in common parlance.
The behaviour of the Centre can be affected by a whole series of things. You could write an Instrument of Instructions for the Governor which the Constituent Assembly had specifically rejected. Or you could do it by convention. You could have a central government, or a whole series of central governments, that did not misuse the Governor for its own purposes.
Or you could have a calibre of Governor who told the central government when they told him to do something that he thought was wrong: I wont do it! This was the case of S.S. Barnala in Madras, as I recall.
He said, Ill resign rather than take orders from the central government, which said that the government of Tamil Nadu cannot be carried on in accordance with the Constitution, because it can and it is right now.
And the Speaker
AG: The adjudicatory role of the Speaker under the anti-defection law.... should that role not be transferred to the courts?
Austin: Thats an issue I cant talk about because I dont know enough about it. Basically I think you should keep the courts out of Parliament. Which is not to say that there may not be exceptions the UP case of 1964, for instance but basically keep them separate.
If Parliament cant keep its own house in order, the judiciary would be in a very poor position to keep its house in order. As a matter of fact, it cant do it.
Mrs Gandhi & Emergency
AG: What about the Emergency? Shouldnt anything be done constitutionally to prevent a repeat of that phase?
Austin: Something was done by the 44th Amendment....
Sir Ivor Jennings says that a Prime Minister in any country is potentially authoritarian. He says a Prime Minister with a party behind him can get an unpopular measure through a sullen House. So that is possible.
(But) I dont think you can put an Article in the Constitution that says a Prime Minister must not become a dictator. What you have to do is to have a system that works so that you dont have the situation that Mrs Gandhi had in 1975 the entire difficulty surrounding the government, JP vs Mrs Gandhi, the economic situation, and all that.
All the members of the Swaran Singh committee in Parliament in 1979 and all the Congress members of Parliament in 1979 voted for the 44th Amendment, which repealed the 42nd. If those people had been men of courage, there might not have been an Emergency because they would not have ratified it.
All the intelligentsia of Delhi didnt stand up and shout No when the Emergency was declared. And, in part, they thought it wasnt a bad idea, they just hoped it wouldnt go on for very long.
Thats partly an issue of public mood. But the other issue of Parliament is an issue of courage.
AG: And the basic structure doctrine? R.K. Garg, who alongside H.M. Seervai had argued for the State in the Kesavananda Bharati case in 1973, once told me that the doctrine "was a madness, it continues to be a madness, but the Emergency justified it." Do you share that perception?
Austin: Well, that's sort of like Seervai's view. Seervai didn't like the basic structure doctrine until the Emergency came along and he said: "My God, thank heavens we have it!"
But I don't think the idea of a basic structure is madness. I think every Supreme Court in every country, if it is trying to be honest to its Constitution and to what the framers want, has the basic structure in the back of its mind. When Justice Brandeis (Louis Brandeis, US Supreme Court Judge from 1916 to 1939) is giving an opinion in Washington, he has an idea of America, its ethos, its mores, its ethics, where the country wants to go. It is not called basic structure but it has to be in the back of his mind, because it conditions how he thinks about the law.
Here in India, the (doctrine of) basic structure putting it in (the Constitution) was the result of the argument of fear. The Supreme Court was frightened for the country, and for itself, about the trend of politics in India, particularly in the light of the 24th Amendment (and it contrived the doctrine accordingly).
Leaders of foreign origin
AG: One last question. What exactly lay behind the provision in the American Constitution that only a natural-born person can be the President of the USA?
Austin: Some people say that it was aimed at (Alexander) Hamilton because Hamilton had been born in the West Indies.
Other people say that we were just out of a colonial situation such as India has come out of and we didnt want a repeat of the old British Raj there.
AG: Do you approve of a similar provision being added in the Indian Constitution?
Austin: If the Constituent Assembly had put it in when it was framing the Constitution, I dont think anybody could or would question it. It would be a non-issue.
Now it seems to me to be directed only at Sonia Gandhi. It seems to me that it is like a bill of attainder, condemning somebody for something that wasnt illegal when they did it.
And secondly, I think it is a matter of spite. Its not my business whether Sonia Gandhi becomes the Prime Minister of India or not, but to say at this stage of the game that no foreign-born person can become the Prime Minister of India seems to me to be a spiteful act.
We cannot be the constables on the night beat
Chief Election Commissioner, M.S. Gill, on the role of money bags in the Rajya Sabha elections.
Do not forget we have three kinds of economy plough and bullock cart, brick and mortar and, of course, the new dot com economy and we cannot afford to neglect anyone of these
Finance Minister, Yashwant Sinha.
Walshs record is important, not the man who is after it. Hats off to him. Only greats can achieve this
Pakistans coach Javed Miandad, said when Courtney Walsh took his career rally to a world record 435 wickets, one more than the previous set by Indias Kapil Dev in 1994.
The communists are a historic fixture of our (Russia) political culture
Sergei Tarasenko, an analyst with the Independent Fund for Political Realism.
After shaving the constitution, the Congress is now talking of saving the constitution
BJP spokesman M. V. Naidu.
Go to any street in Europe or the US and pick up any good, even the trendiest one, and it is labelled Made in China. Thats the level China has achieved and why cant we?
Noted economist, Arindam Chaudhuri
Social and cultural environment needs to be changed for the betterment of women because reservation alone cannot remove the paradox
Union Minister for Urban Development, Jagmohan
Democracy is the only mechanics to graduate into a right kind of civilised society. A return of democracy is crucial for the future of Pakistan
Secretary General of the J&K Council for Human Rights, Nazir Gilani
Those who discharge noxious polluting effluents into streams may be unconcerned about the enormity of the injury which it inflicts on public at large, the irreparable impairment it causes on the aquatic organisms, the deleteriousness it imposes on the lives and health of animals
The Supreme Court in the Mohan Meakins brewery case
Democracy is still the best form of government, despite all its flaws
Malaysian Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohamad
Spread the swadeshi concept to give a new vision to development, this would check the entry of multinationals in the country
RSS Chief, K. Sudershan
I think ghosts are the centre of everything. In India, when we move into a house, nobody does anything until you get rid of ghosts
India born M Night Shyamalan during the 72nd Academy Award at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angels
Putin is a man who gets down to work in earnest, a man who will be able to establish order and discipline and speed up economic development
Former Prime Minister, Viktor Chernomyrdin
There is only one China in the world and Taiwan is an inseparable part of the Chinese territory
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, Sun Yuxi
The problem is that Clinton envisions himself Asian umpire, while the rest of the world sees Washington as a player with its own agenda
The New York Times in its analysis of Sough Asian situation
I want to leave behind a system containing a cohesive set of principles to guide the fortune of Pakistan Cricket towards a better future
Pakistan Cricket Board Chairman, Tauqir Zia
What Clinton is doing is to strike a new level of relationship and a new hierarchy of relations in which India is on top and Pakistans role has in a way got diminished
Tanvir Ahmed Khan, Pakistans foreign policy expert
By showing that he (Clinton) is close to the Indian position on Kashmir, Clinton is exacerbating tensions
Gen Hamid Gul, former head of the ISI
The Americans are trying to corral the Indian mare into their stable
Gen Hamid Gul, former head of the ISI
We will deal with this with firm determination and create world opinion against cross-border terrorism
Union Home Minister, L.K. Advani, launching a two-pronged strategy of combating escalated terrorism
Drinking milk was equivalent to drinking blood of the animals
Union Minister of state for Social Justice and empowerment, Maneka Gandhi
Vietnamese have a lot of experience in jungle warfare and in guerrilla tactics and we are looking whether we can draw from their experience
Defence Minister, George Fernandes
Slum-dwellers are not birds that they can fly and make a home on a tree
THE newly elected Russian President, Vladimir Putin, was asked by two Moscow-based journalists to name his heroes and, according to Time magazine, he singled out Charles de Gaulle and Ludwig Erhard. General De Gaulle raised a solid, centralised state of France and Erhard was the moving spirit behind economic recovery of the post-war West Germany.
The situation faced by the youthful Russian President is as chaotic as confronted by De Gaulle and Erhard half a century ago. Both France and Germany were devastated by the war but the erstwhile Soviet Union received a graver blow than the ravages of an armed conflict: it collapsed both economically and politically.
Putin faces twin challenges; to economically revive Russia and politically stabilise the country and age is on his side. Since the Russian revolution or in the past 75 years, he is, perhaps, the youngest head of the state which was not long ago one of the two super powers. He is the second democratically elected President. Barely 47, Putin is much younger than his predecessor Boris Yeltsin and leaders of erstwhile Soviet Union. Malenkov, Bulganin, Krushchev, Kosygin, Brezhnev and Gorbachev were all well past middle age or, as some say, other side of life when they reached the top. Along with the age, Putin may need luck also which has eluded other Russian leaders. Fortune may smile on him, who knows!
Putin will lead Russia, the worlds largest country and second largest nuclear power at least for the next four years with sweeping powers. His term may be extended to seven years if he successfully carries out a constitutional amendment extending the presidential term from four years to seven. This will give him longer period to achieve what General De Gaulle accomplished and Gerhard attained.
Putin, unlike Yeltsin, is very fit and his routine is quite disciplined. He does regular exercise, loves sports, is a wrestling fan and, most important, keeps away from alcohol. Unlike his immediate predecessor and other Russian leaders, he despises vodka. So tough is the new President that, according to reports, he flew to Chechnya in a fighter jet and withstood the rigours of the flight.
Born in St Petersburg, then known as Leningrad in 1952, Putin is a family man and loves his wife, Lyudmilla, three years younger to him, and two teenaged daughters. The future First Lady of Russia was an air hostess when she met Putin for the first time. She maintained a low profile during her husbands days in the KGB and later when he rose from strength to strength in politics.
Putin came to limelight after having been appointed the Prime Minister by Yeltsin in August, 1999. There are big gaps in his career graph possibly because of his association with the KGB. Soon after graduation from the citys law faculty in 1975, he began his 15-year long vocation with the KGBs foreign intelligence arm and his postings were in Leningrad and East Germany. His proficiency in German is well known. Reports in the Western Press, which are apparently biased, say that he was an economic spy and entrusted with the task of helping steal the Wests technology and manage the flow of Western investment after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
The Western media also sought to make out on the basis of scanty evidence that he was deeply involved in several of the KGBs highest priority operations through the 1980s. Media reports notwithstanding it was a fact that East Germany was regarded as a prestigious post for a rising KGB officer. It was home to the KGBs largest residency in Eastern Europe.
With the Soviet Union facing collapse, Putin retired from the KGB, having attained the rank of Colonel, and embarked on politics as his new career. He still acknowledges that he is not a full politician. His rise in the 1990s was fast. In the early nineties he began working in St Petersburgs local government, rising to the post of Vice-Mayor by 1994. In 1996, Yeltsins inner circles brought him to Moscow and named him deputy chief of the Kremlin administration. A year before appointment as Prime Minister, Putin simultaneously headed the Federal Security Service, KGBs successor and Presidential Security Council, the powerful advisory body that coordinates the activities of Russias armed forces, security agencies and the police.
In the words of Yeltsin: I am convinced that Putin will serve the nation well while working in this high post (Prime Minister), and Russians will be able to apprise him of his human and businesslike qualities. Pitch-forking of Putin to the top position has belied the general view in the West that he is yet another Kremlin pawn, devoid of an agenda and a political future. He is neither Yeltsins pawn nor a leader without a programme. In his statements after his impressive victory in the presidential elections, Putin has called for market reforms in a strong state and is in the process of formulating an economic policy.
His first statement was
both candid and forthright: There are many people
in the country who are not satisfied with the state of
things. People are tired, things are tough for them and
they expect better things from me. But, of course,
miracles dont occur.
With reports of money being put to use to influence the elections for the Rajya Sabha in circulation, the Election Commission was understandably concerned. As soon as the Chief Election Commissioner, Dr Mohinder Singh Gill, returned to work after his brief sojourn to Pakistan, he spoke to the authorities in the Ministry of Finance. The CEC wanted the authorities to take note of the reports and try and evolve a mechanism to control such practice.
While it is not yet known what controls were put in place, it certainly must have put some politicians on the guard. As the saying goes there could be no smoke without fire, such practice has become a matter of concern and is expected to figure at an all-party meeting to discuss electoral reforms next month.
The Union Minister for Commerce and Industry, Mr Murasoli Maran, minces no words when it comes talking about Government policies. Releasing the Exim Policy for the year 2000-2001, the Minister did some frank talking. Referring to the recent phenomenon of the growth of software exports, he said it has been due to, apart from Indians talent and knowledge in high-tech, the hands off policy of the Government towards the sector.
Some critics say that it is because we did not get to know much about this sector so as to device regulations which would have stifled the growth... the Minister said. Is the Minister for Information Technology, Mr Pramod Mahajan, listening?
Tit for tat
When two Government departments fight, the result can be disastrous. Last week, the Income Tax Department was at loggerheads with the Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd over non-payment of taxes. In a swift move, the Income Tax Department demanded that the MTNL cough up more than Rs 200 crore due to it or face penal action. The department went one step ahead and froze the bank accounts of the MTNL.
Not one to take lying down, the MTNL bosses swung into action and threatened to retaliate. It is understood that the MTNL warned the Income Tax Department with snapping all their telephone lines. Even the Finance Ministry, which backed MTNLs action had to face the Telephone Departments ire. However, things finally settled when the courts came to the rescue of the Income Tax Department and asked MTNL to pay up. The bank accounts of MTNL, meanwhile have been restored and a communications jam was avoided.
The installation of the young Mr Omar Abdullah, son of the Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister, as the Minister of State for Commerce and Industry has finally yielded results for the northern State. A man of few words, Mr Abdullah has been quietly working for his home State.
This was revealed by his senior Minister in the department, Mr Murasoli Maran, at the time of the announcement of the new Exim Policy. As a gesture of bonhomie to my colleague in the Ministry, Thiru Omar Abdullah, I have decided to give double weightage to exports from Jammu and Kashmir for the purpose of determining the entitlement for status certificates, the Minister announced drawing appreciation from Mr Abdullah.
Kerry Packer and India
Never would have Mr Kerry Packer, the irrepressible owner of Australias most well known TV Channel the Channel Nine and the one who brought about the revolution in one-day cricket by starting the day-night games, witnessed the kind of hospitality as was laid out for him by another irrepressible individual, Mr Amar Singh, the General Secretary of the Samajwadi Party and the right hand man of Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav.
Mr Packer, who was in India with the idea of investing in IT, was the guest of honour at a lavish dinner at Hotel Ashok by Mr Amar Singh. It was also the day when the much awaited Sahara TV went on air at 8 pm, in which Mr Amar Singh is a Director.
The evening was one full of fun with Bollywoods Shiamak Davar and his troupe holding all present in all attention to his presentation. From the act of an elephant garlanding Mr Packer to the presenting of a Taj Mahal to his newly wedded son and daughter-in-law, it all went off smoothly. Bacchus flowed freely and there was the best of Indian food, including the chat, papri, tikki and chilas laid out for the Australian guests.
In the Convention Hall, where the tables had been laid out for dinner, there was everything from Rajasthani cuisine to the vegetarian Mughlai, being served by staff dressed in traditional Indian dresses. The typical music from the different states was in the background of each of the stalls. It was purely an experience which Mr Packer and his newly wedded son would probably never forget.
This also for another reason that he had found himself a brother in Mr Amar Singh in India. At the end of the Shiamak show, out in the lawns, there was a presentation ceremony. Mr Amar Singh was on stage, dressed in one of the best tailored suits and supporting an equally impressive tie, waiting to present the Taj Mahal, the symbol of eternal love, to the newly wedded. He called out, I would request my Australian brother and sister-in-law to come on stage. I want to present them with this symbol of eternal love to them.
After a wait of some minutes, the couple came on stage, all smiles and received the Taj Mahal. The junior Packer was definitely impressed and did not waste a minute in saying so. He said that he had never received such hospitality anywhere in the world. The Australian brother was presumably awe struck by the Indian hospitality.
Incidentally the word going around is that Mr Packer had also picked a stake in The Sahara TV and would be taking care of Sports Channel.
Not to be left alone
When it came to sharing the spoils, no one wanted to be left behind. Even the staunchest critic and opponent did not mind becoming a Minister in the Rabri Devi Government when an expansion was effected.
It was a matter of revelation for the Congress Party leaders from Delhi when they found out much to their surprise that even those MLAs who were in the forefront of carrying out a campaign against joining the coalition government had in the end accepted positions in the government.
Perhaps having realised that their attempt to prevent the party from being a partner would fail, some of these MLAs were heard saying that as loyal party workers they were bound to go with the decision of the central leadership.
Slain Sikhs were Kashmiris
I boost up my ego with these lines from Too Bright a Day by Norman Maclaig.
I am sure there will be no curfew; no body or house searches and no mid-day knocks for the time being in this placid city of Chandigarh.
Since I was pushed out of my home in the Kashmir valley, it has been all well here. I am among the luckier ones who have jobs, but dont get promotions under quotas. I spend days in office working, gossiping and drinking cups of tea and return home tired of doing nothing.
Recently when 35 Kashmiri Sikhs were massacred, I was on my feet when a colleague remarked that Sikhs have been killed in your homeland. Enraged, I shot back they were 35 Kashmiris not just Sikhs.
The widespread agitation and condemnation that followed filled me with remorse. For I had, in the rush of procuring lollies, forgotten about the Gyaniji who taught Punjabi in S.P. High School, Srinagar, in the day and attended to priestly duties at Chhati Patshai near famed almond orchids in the morning and evening. How could I forget the debates he used to have with my uncle over the Upnishadic essence of the Gurbani. His beaming face flashes before me when I hear and read the priests of gurdwaras have condemned that dastardly act in Kashmir.
When I read that a section of transporters have refused to carry goods from and to the valley, the genial face of Hari Singh, my classmate in primary, comes before me.
He was not conspicuous in class for being the only Sikh but being good in mathematics in which I am still poor. I didnt get to see Hari Singh after fifth standard as I had to move out of the valley for my father was transferred to Bihar. The transfer was not to foster national integration, but to the punish him for taking part in the 1969 agitation to end discrimination against Kashmiri Pandits.
Years later when I met Hari Singh at Jammu bus stand, he hugged me. He owned a fleet of buses and trucks and was the chief of the truck operators union.
With a twinkle in his eyes he said in Punjabi; Got your spouse from Punjab?
Gone was the Kashmiri affectation of his Punjabi. He seemed to have jettisoned Kashmiri like me.
Being self-employed most Kashmiri Sikhs have business or family links with people in Punjab and Delhi. Sikhs in Kashmir are assertive about their Punjabi connections.
I got a feel of it when I attended a Punjabi Sahit Sabha function before at Srinagar the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits from the valley.
The function highlighted the language confusion among the writers from Kashmir.
Akhtar Mohiudin who writes fiction in absurd vein read his Kashmiri story in Urdu; Harday Kaul Bharati read his Kashmiri story in Hindustani and there were a few Kashmiri Sikhs who read their stories in Punjabi to people like me who knew only a little literature in all of these languages.
One wondered was this the flesh and blood of Sher-i-Kashmir Sheikh Mohammad Abdullahs slogan: Sher-i-Kashmir ka kya irshad? Hindu, Muslim Sikh Itihaad. Urdu is the official language and the sound of political power structure while Punjabi is the voice of economically-sound-miniscule Sikhs. Even secessionist cries are raised in languages other than Kashmiri. Alas! Kashmiri has been enfeebled.
When a major was killed in an action by holed-up militants none among my colleagues said that a Sikh was killed. For that would not only be incorrect politically but also factually.
Till date I have not forgotten a few patriotic songs taught to me by Amrik Singh, physical education teacher, in school. He had served as short service commission in the Army.
When I hear rumblings in a section of Pandits that Sikhs didnt put up a front with them when they were expelled from the valley or when Pandits were slaughtered in Parankot, Wandhama... I am reminded of Martin Niemolers lines.
In Germany the Nazis
came first for Communist.
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