|Thursday, June 22, 2000,
for what, for whom?
small, wayside stations
Indian ideals and values
A CLUTCH of economic policy decisions was the governments way of assuring the people that it is serious about reforms. The Cabinet approval on Tuesday covers a wide range of subjects from moving a little in liquidating state electricity board dues to National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) and Coal India (CIL), doubling the capital base of Birla-AT&T cellular phone operation, clearing the proposal to set up a joint sector fertiliser company with Oman, closure of six sick public sector undertakings (PSUs) and, yes, launching a highly subsidised insurance scheme for people below the poverty line. The last one actually falls more in the political realm than in the economic zone. It is the BJP-led governments antidote to its earlier increase of foodgrains prices for the same set of people and it will not cost it a paisa. It is a belated attempt to rub off the growing impression that this government is not very considerate of the poor. As ad hoc measures go, it is hurriedly thought of, with several weak links and without a design to reach out to the beneficiaries.
The securitisation of electricity board dues is likely to induce thoughts that recovery has been made secure, the boards have been helped to raise the necessary funds and from now on they will develop pink cheeks. Nothing of the sort. The technical term indicates that the money the boards owe to the NTPC and CIL will be erased from the account books and converted into tax-free bonds with a fixed maturity period and offering a 10 per cent return. The state governments will guarantee payment. The government is so happy with this proposal that it expects private agencies to buy the bonds and hand over the cash to the creditors. This is being over-ambitious. For one thing, the return is not attractive and the financial health of the boards and the state governments does not evoke much confidence. What the new approach indicates is that Union Energy Minister Kumaramangalam has given up his big stick approach and now prefers the carrot line. But neither his earlier action of switching off power supply to defaulting boards nor his bond idea touches the fringe of the problem. As he told Parliament recently, the inability to meter the supply by boards is the key factor in the annual collective loss of nearly Rs 20,000 crore a year. Low generation at thermal plants leads to an annual loss of another Rs 12,000 crore. As against this, the accumulated dues of all boards are only Rs 10,000 crore. The Centre should raise a huge loan (from agencies like the World Bank) to install tamper-proof meters and modernise transmission lines to restore the viability of the boards.
The closure of six PSUs
is sure to trigger an implosion within the alliance. Four
of the units are in West Bengal and the Trinamool
Congress will not like it one bit. Not only it will erode
its popular support in the pre-Assembly election year but
also the Left Front will use it to project the Trinamool
Congress as anti-working class. That is fatal in a state
where trade unions are very strong and at a time when it
seems to be growing. Ms Mamata Banerjee, who raised an
unholy ruckus on the issue of the sell-off of a steel
plant in Andhra Pradesh (fearing a sharp fall in the
demand for the products and, as a result, in employment
in the Durgapur Steel Plant) can be expected to repeat
the act. She gets melodramatic when upset and that will
make real news in the coming weeks. The fertiliser plant
proposal with the Oman Oil Corporation is a telling
lesson on how the government functions. It was mooted
seven years ago and has been cleared just now. The plant
will get gas at one third of the price at which Bombay
High sells gas to other fertiliser plants. Is it how the
so-called subsidy on cooking gas is calculated? In the
days to come this question should be debated.
Black spot on nation's face
TRANSPARENCY International, a Berlin-based NGO taken quite seriously for its assessment, has declared India as the 28th most corrupt country in the world. On the face of it, the latest position is slightly comforting in the sense that in 1998 India was at the 20th place on the organisation's list from the bottom. But when one studies it closely, one will realise that this solace is meaningless as the prestigious NGO has enlarged its area of operations to 99 countries. In 1998 it had on its list only 85 countries. Thus the situation remains almost where it has been despite the strenuous efforts being made by the Central Vigilance Commissioner, Mr N. Vittal. The report is upsetting for Mr Vittal more than anybody else because he has been after this disease destroying the system with the dedication of a medical specialist who tries to save his/her patient till the last breath. In fact, it is because of him and a few crusaders like Mr G.R. Khairnar that corruption continues to be discussed as a problem defying all solutions.
Perception Index of Transparency International has its
own significance. It may or may not move the ruling
politicians, bureaucrats and others who can contribute a
lot to the cause of fighting corruption, but it does
affect the country in many ways. "It undermines
economic growth, discourages foreign private investment
and reduces the resources availability for
infrastructure, public services and poverty reduction
programmes", as a senior economist of the World Bank
warned last year. Of course, foreign institutional
investors go by many other things, including the
percentage of return on their invested capital, the state
of corruption does influence their decisions. More than
anything else, it is the question of prestige of India in
the comity of nations that must prick our conscience. Can
India ever think of finding itself in the company of
nations like Denmark, Finland, New Zealand and Sweden
perceived as the least corrupt countries of the world?
Without holding an opinion poll, one can safely conclude
that an overwhelming majority of Indians will say
"no". The reason is that after the end of the
tenure of the Narasimha Rao government people have been
constantly hearing of the government's resolve to
eliminate this disease from the body of the system but
without any result. When Mr I. K. Gujral took over as
Prime Minister, after the exit of Mr Deve Gowda, he
announced from the ramparts of the Red Fort that his
government would do everything possible to immobilise the
monster of corruption, but nothing substantial happened.
Today the situation is pathetic! The Institution of the
Lokayukta, born in the 1970s with much fanfare, has died
in many states or become dysfunctional wherever it
exists. There is an atmosphere of total indifference.
People in general appear to have accepted it as a bitter
reality. But they should not surrender before the
circumstances. The monster and its supporters will run
for cover once conscientious people come forward and
launch a united crusade against corruption.
Grisly human trafficking
THE horrifying Malta incident, in which Doaba Punjabis trying to enter Europe clandestinely were sent to their watery graves, was re-enacted on Sunday when 58 Chinese entering England clandestinely in a truck suffocated to death. The last minutes and hours of these hapless people inside the sealed container, whose airconditioner was not switched on, must have been as horrifying as those of the Jews taken to Nazi gas chambers. The two survivors who are in a state of shock have given some clues about how they and their colleagues banged the doors of the truck which had turned into an oven. The policemen who found the bodies are themselves so shaken that they need counselling. Many individual illegal immigrants have died in the past, but the scale of this macabre journey to death is too gruesome for words. Worse, it is only the tip of the iceberg. Thousands of people risk their all for the promised land, which in most cases proves to be elusive like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. The young Chinese from the Fujian area who perished in such grisly circumstances themselves are believed to have trekked for months overland through Russia and Europe, crossing mountains. The "Snakehead" network of Chinese crime syndicate smuggles tens of thousands of Chinese people to the West each year by charging them as much as £40,000 or $ 60,000 each. The racket from India is also equally well organised. There is big money in this human trafficking and that is why ruthless people are involved in it. While there is a concerted drive against the drug trade, this one has still not received the same attention.
What forces people in
large numbers to leave their homeland for a few dollars
or pounds? It seems that they are victims of greed,
misinformation as well as exploitation. On the one hand,
there is dire poverty in their own countries with very
few avenues of employment. This despair makes them easy
prey to the so-called travel agents, who sell them dreams
that are destined to turn into nightmares. Those who go
in the search of eldorados are influenced by one or two
success stories, little realising that hidden behind each
are a thousand tales of misery and failure. The problem
is that even those who go abroad after undergoing
harrowing deprivation and humiliation do not disclose the
whole truth to the people back home. Instead, they carry
back tall tales of affluence and easy money. The
illiterate and impressionable people are taken in by
these "eyewitness" accounts. Thousands of
Punjabis have sold their land, ending up as paupers in
foreign lands. Many are rotting in prison. There are very
few who go beyond plying taxis or washing dishes. It is
just that these facts are not well publicised. Perhaps
government as well as non-governmental organisations
should join hands to familiarise people in every village
and town about the harsh realities. The wage differences
between developing countries like India and China and the
more affluent West cannot be wished away. But the myths
about the supposed opportunities existing in those
countries should surely be exploded.
for what, for whom?
JAMMU and Kashmir has once again been brought to the centrestage of expectationssome illusory, some real and some false. Most Kashmiri leaders have been playing with the people's sentiments for petty political gains. Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah is no exception to this general rule.
Why has he chosen this critical time in the troubled state to rake up the question of autonomy? His justification will be the report of the State Autonomy Committee he himself set up as part of his ad hoc response to Jammu and Kashmir's competitive politics which mixes fiction with facts.
The tragedy of Jammu and Kashmir is that its small-time leaders pursue a "cash-and-carry politics" to the detriment of the people. They have used religion as a vehicle of disinformation and misinformation. To that extent they have surely proved to be both clever and cunning. Looking back, they have taken full advantage of the drift and adhocism prevailing at the Centre. A sharp, focused and long-term policy approach would not have created a climate of uncertainty after 47 years of bringing the state to the mainstream of national politics. This speaks poorly of our house-keeping, whether it is the BJP or the Janata Dal of the V.P. Singh variety or the Congress.
Dr Abdullah is a past master in political window-dressing. He knows the art of playing with public sentiments. He can say different things to different sets of audiences and extract rounds of applause for striking contradictory postures at different placesfrom Srinagar, Jammu to Chennai, New Delhi and beyond. He knows his importance as a political juggler in the absence of a clear-headed and firm leadership at the Centre.
The Chief Minister does realise the value of the armed forces amidst complex foreign-controlled militancy. Still, he never loses an opportunity to decry the forces for alleged human rights violations? Does it ever strike him that innocent citizens targeted by trigger-happy terrorists too have the right to live peacefully and honourably?
Has the Chief Minister been able to ensure the freedom of movement, safety and the right to earn a livelihood to the people of the valley and those living in the Ladakh and Jammu regions? Have he and his National Conference supporters cared to protect the interests and honour of the Ladakhis and the harassed and uprooted Kashmiri Pandits? Don't they have human rights? Don't they have the right to live peacefully and honourably in their home state? Unfortunately, the conscience of our leaders as well as of "civilised" world stalwarts is aroused selectively.
Governance has to be both transparent and effective. Shadow-boxing can hardly generate confidence among the state's administrators and the public in general. More than the illusory concept of autonomy, the people would like to live honourably and fearlessly. The trouble with the valley leaders and their collaborators is that they have turned the on-going abnormal situation into political business. And when money, politics and religion are exploited by vested interests to pursue their selfsponsored goals the end-result is bound to be deadly.
To say this is not to deny the fact that Dr Abdullah is still the best bet for India. And he knows this. But instead of allowing themselves to be misled, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and his team ought to have taken extra pains to put him on the right course. Instead of striking bold public postures, I wish they could be more action-oriented.
Dr Abdullah will be mistaken in believing that he can defuse the present crisis in the state and end the atmosphere of violence by tinkering with certain constitutional provisions which apply to Jammu and Kashmir's relations with the Centre within the federal set-up.
The Kashmir problem has actually got complicated over a long period because of the petty games most politicians played. For that matter, every leader plays to the gallery, changing postures, tactics and strategies. And in the pursuit of their power games, the people suffer.
I believe that the main task in Jammu and Kashmir ought to be putting an end to violence inflicted on the people by Pakistan and its collaborators within. After all, who is funding militancy in the valley and beyond? Where do the arms and ammunition come from? Who stands for whom and for what purpose?
The answers to these simple queries are known to the persons who matter in the valley and other parts of the state. Once the truth is accepted by the leaders of all shades or opinions in the valley, everything will fall in place.
The key issue is: where to make a beginning. The pre-1953 position? Or, the post-1959 period? Either way, we shall be virtually reversing the entire process of integrating the state with the rest of the country. Is this the right time for such an exercise? What will be the attitude of the All-Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC) leaders? Are they clear about what they want?
It is no secret that barring a few sober elements, a number of Hurriyat leaders have been acting as spokespersons for Pakistan for certain considerations which can easily be conceptualised. Going by their public postures, they either want "azadi" or total integration with Pakistan. Apparently, some of them are party to the bigger gameplan of Islamabad which aims at destabilising this country. Yet another lot of leaders would like to endorse the American plan to freeze the border along the Line of Control (LoC) with several built-in provisions. There are several leaders on this side of the international border who are willing to embrace this plan. This includes Dr Abdullah as well and he has made no secret of this.
What is regrettable is that most leaders in the valley have not only mixed up their priorities but have also conveniently buried the basic characteristic that Kashmir and Kashmiriyat stand for.
It may be recalled that the State Autonomy Committee was set up by the Farooq Abdullah Government in the backdrop of former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao's declaration that "the sky is the limit" for autonomy for Jammu and Kashmir provided the solution was within the framework of the Constitution. Whatever might be the intention of Mr Rao at that time, the fact remains that most Indian leaders have also allowed themselves to be carried away without making a proper assessment of the ground realities.
As for the Chief Minister, the less said the better. He has gone about this sensitive job in a highly amateurish manner. Perhaps, at the back of his thinking is the question of his own survival in the militancy-infested state. The question here is not of the quantum of autonomy, but whether there are genuine intentions on the part of the major players in the valley to adhere to any pledge or commitment. So far there has been no consistency in their principles and postures.
What is tragic is that the people of Jammu and Kashmir are exploited in the name of Islam. The communal feeling is kept on the boil by targeting minority communities and by selective killing of members of one community or the other. The Kashmiri Pandits were the first target of these communal leaders. This was followed by the Kashmiri Sikhs who have been living there for ages.
The latest target of their communal politics is the Shia Muslims. Can any civilised state tolerate such gory incidents? What moral authority Dr Farooq Abdullah has to talk about autonomy if he is unable to protect the lives of ordinary citizens belonging to various communities. Whether he admits it or not, the fact remains, as his detractors often point out, that Dr Abdullah's move to muster a State Assembly resolution for greater autonomy is meant to "hoodwink" people and divert their attention from alleged corruption, misgovernance and the failure to curb militancy in the state.
Indeed, the root cause of Kashmir's alienation, as Hari Om, a specialist, once pointed out, lies in misrule, bureaucratic bungling and the suppression of the legitimate expression of popular will. And the popular will today is certainly against the trigger-happy terrorists sponsored by foreign agencies.
It is, however, a pity that we have been reluctant to call a spade a spade for the fear of offending the various interest groups. We have put up with unscrupulous politicians who have encouraged Islamic fundamentalism and separatism for fear of losing Muslim votes.
It is also a fact that the happenings in Kashmir reflect our failure to evolve a proper policy towards the minorities. One failure has led to another, forcing our leaders to make compromises, which they would not have done elsewhere.
More often, we have chosen to be mute on the matter in the hope that time will resolve the problem. Time does not resolve such problems. Only political will does. And as in other walks of life, there is a total absence of political will in tackling the complexities in Kashmir.
It is no secret that Dr
Abdullah has periodically talked of more autonomy for
Kashmir. So have other leaders. He has, however, not
changed much. But he should know that experiments in
autonomy during the past few decades have failed. It is,
therefore, crystal clear that the demand for greater
autonomy is nothing but a demand for a free hand for the
valley politicians to do what they wish to do.
Ironically, they have done everything except to govern
effectively for the good of the people.
IF you asked me to name the dishes I had for lunch the day before yesterday, I would most probably fail the test, but ask me about the names of the railway stations that I passed by while travelling by train from one place to another, I would recite them as fluently as a child does the multiplication-table. The fact is that I find it an interesting pastime to watch intently small, wayside stations as they eddy past in a mad rush while the mail train is roaring along on its way to its destination.
Strangely, the names of these small stations stick in my memory long after I have performed the journey. And not only the names of the stations, but sometimes even the face of a railway official, as he stands on the platform holding a green flag, is etched in my memory for a long time.
I remember only a few months before the partition of the country, when I was around six, I accompanied my father on a railway journey from Lahore to Ferozepur. Of course, I hastened to occupy a seat near the window the moment we boarded the train at Lahore. It was slow-moving passenger that halted at every station. And the mysterious-sounding names of those stations Ichhra, Nihalbeg, Kana Kachha, Jia Bagga, Raiwind, et al are still vividly imprinted in my memory. Now when I recite the names of those stations in a sing-song, my children laugh and ask me how come I have not forgotton them.
Some place names are startlingly unusual. Recently, I happened to travel by train from Delhi to Chennai. It is a long journey requiring one to spend two nights and a full day in the train. Of course, the stations that the train stormed past during the night were not noticed by me because I was asleep, but the ones I saw from my window-seat during the day had quite interesting names. There was one named Amla. Yes, Amla! I wondered how a place came to be named Amla. Maybe amlas grow in abundance in Amla, I thought. But a fellow passenger, who was thoroughly acquainted with this part of India, said that there were no amlas in Amla.
Another railway station with a quaint-sounding name en route is Chikni Road. Since roads in most parts of our country are in pretty bad shape, the name Chikni Road (smooth road) seemed to be a bit of a hyperbole. How could a small place, I reasoned, boast of a road that was chikni (smooth)?
In Urdu poetry the word diwana (used for a frustrated lover gone crazy) is common currency. Even our film songs are full of the word diwana. But imagine a small place named Diwana. If you travel by train from Ambala to Delhi, the very first station on the way is called Diwana. Whenever I pass by this station. I wonder whether it is populated by diwanas.
Interestingly, there are small, wayside stations in Punjab named after animals. If you travel by train from Jalandhar to Pathankot, the very first station on the way is Kala Bakra (black goat). Then we have another station named Giddarwindi on the Jalandhar-Ferozepur line.
Some place names are,
however, self-explanatory. For instance, there is a place
in Haryana named Budwasni. How it came to be
named Budwasni? A village wiseacre once told
me that there was a time when Budwasni had an
abundance of banyan trees. Maybe the village is
called Budwasni (a place abounding in banyan
trees) because of that, he said.
Indian ideals and values
India is immortal, if she persists in her search for God.
SOME countries and civilisations have left behind their memorials in the shape of cities, buildings and structures with their own style of architecture. Not so the Vedic Age that has stood the test of the longest time. There are no pyramids or churches or mosques or mausoleums to commemorate that golden age; for they believed not in building structures, but building men and women, who would be quoted as ideals and prototypes of the best specimens of humanity. Our rishis and munis, our godmen and saints serve as beacon light to guide humanity. Their values and ideals represented perfection; and though such perfection may be beyond the reach of common masses, they live in the collective memory to inspire, to guide the people.
Satyameva Jayata Truth alone wins, never falsehood; for the path of the gods is paved with Truth. Raja Harishchandra, the king in our hoary Sat Yug (Golden Age) is among our most glorious heroes. He was the ideal of Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi said:
God is Truth also
Truth is God.
Raja Harishchandra sacrificed his all his vast kingdom, all his wealth even his wife and son for the sake of truth. He made a donation (daan) of his kingdom to Rishi Vishwamitra in his dream, and he must not depart from Truth, even from the commitment made in the dream. Countless ages have passed but the glory and brilliance of his name is not a whit dimmed.
A pauper would not depart from Truth, even it you offered him a million rupees. Take the example of our greatest martyrs, the young Sahibzadas, who chose to be bricked alive in the walls, rather then to leave their dharma. Upon such sacrifices the greatest sacrifice in the history of the world even the gods themselves shower incense.
Love of fair play
As a corollary to this worship of Truth is there absolute love of justice, fair play to all, to friend or to enemy. They were above the narrow loyalties to their religion, caste or creed; their only commitment was to even-scaled justice.
Those were the days when history-making public affairs were decided by Shastrarthas or public debates. There was to be one such Shastrartha between the great Shankaracharya (788-820 A.D.) and his rival in philosophy Mandan Mishra. Who should act as a judge to decide who was the winner and who the loser?
The fittest person for this job was Bharti, a woman super scholar, but she was the wife of Mandan Mishra, one of the two combatants. She had a reputation for perfect Truth and Justice and she was appointed the judge.
And lo! When the debate ended, she gave her judgement against her own husband those were the days when to a woman her husband was a lord and a god. (The rest of the story is not relevant).
Today we know beforehand every leader's stand according to his creed, caste, community, party nay even the particular faction of that party. As Nehru says, even an attempt at impartiality and cold justice is regarded as treason against one's party or rather its particular faction; the mind is getting narrower and narrower and more and more distant to Truth.
India's glory was that its rishis, saints and trendsetters of conduct always thought above the considerations of even their religion and all else.
Such was Gandhiji. He became a martyr to save Muslim lives and with his sacrifice, the Muslim killings in India stopped.
The pretenders to highest virtue are many, the actual practitioners are few indeed, and that indeed is the heartache of the masses. All the great religions in India seem to have been hijacked by the politician who exploits them for his own selfish gain.
The two greatest of our Vedic rishis are Vishwamitra and Vasishtha. The former gave to us the all important Gayatri Mantra. Both were seers of a large number of Vedic mantras, suktas, even mandals (verses, chapters, books).
Two of a trade never agree, even godmen and saints are in perpetual, even virulent opposition to each other, as if they would kill the other.
Vasishtha's wife invited her husband to leave his studies and come out in the open and enjoy the most charming moonshine. Vasishtha's answer: "I am reading the writings of Vishwamitra, that are a hundred times more brilliant, dazzling and divine than the best of moonlight that ever was."
Give the highest praise even to your bitterest enemy. Another such hero of ours was Ashoka (whom history calls Great), the Emperor who after winning the greatest military victory, turned a wandering monk; working for public good. Independent India honours him by adopting Ashokan Lions, Ashoka Chakra, Ashokan pillars as our official insignias.
The top leaders used to light the way and the populace, whose flesh is too weak to ascend such Himalayan heights, stayed on the side of God, Truth, Goodness and Justice.
Honouring the word
The famous saying of Ramayana is:Raghukul reeti sada chali ayee
Pran jayen par vachan na jayee
Raja Dashratha died rather than break his word given to Kaikayi.
Arjuna's son Abhimanyu had been treacherously killed by Jayadrath. Arjuna vowed to kill him before sunset. What if you can't kill him by then? I will burn myself to death. Jayadrath went into hiding and the sun set. Arjuna was going to enter has funeral pyre; Jayadrarth and others had gathered to see the fun. When lo, the sun appeared after a total solar eclipse. Jayadrath was killed.
Even demons followed this dictum. Madhu and Kaitabh (Durga scripture) were demons troubling the world. Vishnu fought against them. In a bravado, they told Vishnu, Beg any boon from us and we will grant it. God Vishnu said: Then get killed by me.
They agreed to killed, rather than break their word.
Many roads to God
No religion or faith has the monopoly of Truth; Many roads lead to God and Truth. As a result of this ideology, a large number of peoples came and settled in India and became an indistinguishable part of multi-faceted Indian humanity. They include the Huns, Shakas, Turks, Christians, Jews, Parsis, and Moghuls.
This is in sharp contrast to other faiths. Dante places Socrates, Plato, Aristotle etc. in the seventh circle of his Inferno; (only Christians could enter Heaven). But their Hell is oh so troublesome; it was not their fault that they happened to be born 500 years before Christ.
Be sure your sin will find you out.
The Holy Bible, numbers, XXXII, 23
He that is good is free, though he is a slave; he that is evil is a slave, though he be a king.
St Augustine: The City of God, IV
Evil enters like a needle and spreads like an oak tree.
An Ethiopian adage
The hard of heart
Delight not in the company of the True Guru.
Truth prevails in His presence; the charlatans
Are restless and go out and seek bad company.
Where Truth prevails, there is no place for falsehood.
The lovers of evil should seek the company of evil:
The lovers of Truth should seek for the True Guru.
Guru Ram Das, Var Gauri, Guru Granth Sahib, page 314.
"Resist not evil" means "Do not resist the evil man", which means, "Do no violence to another" which means "Commit no act that is contrary to love".
Leo N. Tolstoy, What I believe
A person may cause evil to others not only by his actions but by his inaction, and in either case he is justly accountable to them for the injury.
John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, chapter I.
He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it.
Martin Luther King, JR, Stride Towards Freedom
Our greatest evils flow from ourselves.
Jean Jacques Rousseau, Emile, I
There are three modes of bearing the ills of life: by indifference, which is the most common; by philosophy which is the most ostentatious; and by religion, which is the most effectual.
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