|Wednesday, July 5, 2000,
talks, Punjab style
slide into fame
upon emotions of people
Money talks, Punjab style
PUNJAB has imparted a powerful thrust to the ongoing autonomy debate. In fact, it has put the contentious question on a different track, loading the demand with economic content. As Finance Minister Kanwaljit Singh argues, political autonomy as outlined in the resolution passed by the J&K Assembly will remain hollow without enlarging the financial powers of the states and earmarking to them a greater share of the tax revenue collected by the Centre. The Minister is actually giving voice to the urges of the state as a whole and not his personal or departments opinion. He is close to the Chief Minister, general secretary of the ruling Akali Dal and is very articulate. No doubt, he has been fielded to present Punjabs charter of demands at a crucial time. The committee set up by the state to work out its approach to the Constitution review committee, meant to consider only political aspects, met in New Delhi on Tuesday. The memorandum should be ready by the month-end. Mr Kanwaljit Singh wants his party to submit a separate list of what needs to be done, as it did when the R.S.Sarkaria Commission on Centre-state relations held hearings. The immediate context, including the fund crunch the state government faced recently, would give the impression that the Akali Dal is a late entrant to asking for greater financial powers. Quite the contrary. Along with the Left Front of West Bengal, it has been consistently pressing for a larger fund flow from the Centre and also opening new avenues to raise revenue. A resolution which the Akali Dal passed as early as 1973 raised for the first time the question of a genuine federal financial structure. At one time it even wanted the exclusive authority to fix the prices of agricultural products; but the problem of procurement, the third leg of the agricultural policy triad, deterred it from fighting for it. Given this long history, it is only fitting that Punjab should have skilfully turned the ongoing autonomy debate into the more meaningful area of devolution of funds and greater powers to the states to impose taxes. The demands are not new but the timing is all too crucial and the fact that the Akali Dal is a member of the ruling alliance at the Centre adds substance to the debate.
There is an irony
though. Of late the Centre is actually encroaching on the
financial powers of the states. First it tied emergency
assistance to the states following certain policies. Then
it asked the Eleventh Finance Commission to link grants
to financial rectitude. What is intriguing is that this
assault on the states coincides with the Centres
alacrity to surrender its own long-practised autonomy to
big business Indian and foreign and
multilateral institutions. Further, its incessant advice
to states to adopt prudent financial management policies
is hypocritical. Its own management is nothing to crow
about. The fiscal deficit is soaring as is public debt.
The states are in trouble because of the Centres
policies. As Capt Kanwaljit Singh emphasises, he has only
excise duty (on liquor) and sales tax as major sources of
mopping up funds. And the state has all the spending
departments like education, health, rural development and
agriculture. Thus shrinking revenue goes hand in hand
with exploding expenditure. This is the powerful
motivation behind the demand for financial autonomy. Over
the decades the Centre had steadily nibbled at the
political powers of the states, paving the ground for the
clamour for autonomy. Not many will go as far as the
J&K Assembly has gone nor will they whip up so much
emotion. But there are pockets of sympathetic response in
regional parties. A similar process is in motion in
respect of financial powers. The problem should be solved
before it becomes intractable.
THE 16 youths from the Doaba region, who were promised jobs in foreign countries, should count themselves lucky that they have returned home alive. Evidently these young men had not got to know about the misadventure of the 22 illegal emigrants from the same Doaba region and their close encounter with death. The fortunate survivors were witness to what came to be called the Malta boat tragedy. The boat in which they, along with another 300 illegal emigrants from Sri Lanka, Pakistan and India, were travelling was deliberately sunk by the agents on December 25, 1996, in the Mediter-ranean to avoid getting into trouble with police and customs officers. The tale of the cold-blooded mass murders may never have seen the light had the young men from Punjab not been able to get out of the sinking ship. They were promised jobs as seamen with Greek-ship-owners. Instead of finding work they ended up in Greek jails on the charge of trying to get into the country without proper papers. It is often said, and not without reason, that gullibility is the other face of poverty. Those who are poor are more likely to be impressed with the tales of living life king-size in some distant land. Illegal emigration is essentially a Third World problem and a joint international initiative would be in order for tackling it. Recently 60 persons of Chinese origin died of suffocation inside a truck container while being illegally shipped to Britain.
The 16 youths from the
Doaba region too were evidently fed up with the
hand-to-mouth existence and were promised a life of
comfort and luxury in some exotic country by unscrupulous
agents Most of them sold whatever little they had,
including land, for raising the Rs 5 lakh demanded by the
agents as service charges. For
over two months they were treated like bonded labour by
the crew of the ship which was supposed to take them to
the land of plenty. They were later forced to live in
hiding in a decrepit and discarded ship off the coast of
Okaba in Jordan. Since it is a recurring problem and is
not confined to Punjab alone, the Centre and the state
government should draw a joint strategy for protecting
gullible youths, mostly from poor families, being
exploited by so-called travel agents, placement centres
and recruitment agencies. The authorities concerned
should examine the feasibility of putting into place a
set of rules for regulating the trades related to
arranging foreign travel, career openings and admission
to professional courses in foreign countries. The youths
from Punjab are more vulnerable because most stories of
success of non-resident Indians are scripted by those
whose roots are in the region. That is the reason why the
government of the state should pay more attention to the
need for evolving a mechanism for protecting
impressionable youths from being exploited by
THERE are two Indias. One is inhabited by the rich and famous, the India of dazzling jewels, swanky cars and high-rise buildings. The other is a hellhole which is the abode of the lowest of the lowly, the poorest of the poor. What is common between these two sides of the same coin? Corruption, jealousy and encroachments! They are omnipresent evils. You can find encroachers even in protected monuments and top-security areas (like airports). Is it any wonder that squatting has already acquired alarming proportions even before the country has become fully conversant with the cyber-world. For the uninitiated, a bit of explaining is in order. In the big bad world of the Internet, every person or business house has to have a name. Most prominent persons have a website in their name. For instance, Bollywood heartthrob Hrithik Roshan has a website, which attracts more hits in a day than those scored by the sites of other stars in a month or even a year. These names have to be registered with an international body. But many prominent persons are finding to their chagrin that someone else has already registered their names. So, neither Lata Mangeshkar nor Dhirubhai Ambani can have websites in their name because these are now owned by somebody else. There are more than two lakh titles blocked by various people. The registration fee is low and the squatters are willing to part with the name for a hefty price. Things have come to such a pass that even Information Technology Minister Pramod Mahajan finds that somebody has stolen his name. Either he will have to pay a substantial amount to get it vacated or fight a lengthy court battle, just as Hollywood actress Julia Roberts did recently. Incidentally, even Mr Mahajans daughter has registered a site under the name amaratma to host departed souls and offer them shradhanjali.
To be sure, the
name-grabbers think that they are hoarding the names as a
fair business practice. After all, some buy art objects
at throwaway prices so that these can appreciate in value
over time. Investing in a name is not much different, in
their warped thinking. But this business acumen has been
causing too much trouble to the nameless
people who have been clamouring for steps to curb the
menace. India may be a greenhorn in the Internet maze but
it has long experience in handling squatters of various
hues. That expertise will now come in handy. Even though
it has a police force which cannot differentiate between
a port and a portal, there have been quite a few
convictions for cyber-crimes. While one Delhi resident
made sure that a person stealing his Internet time was
caught red-handed, another brave lady went
after a cyber-stalker who was giving out her telephone
number to sundry people while engaged in
adult chat on the Net. This was despite the
fact that tracking such a person is an almost impossible
task. So, cyber-criminals better watch out! They may find
their match in this unlikeliest of places.
ATTACKS ON CHRISTIANS
THE attacks on Christian missionaries and Christians started in early 1998 and by January, 1999, there were reports of about 70 attacks on Christian churches, schools, etc. The most serious of them was the killing of Rev Graham Staines and his two young sons in a brutal manner in Orissa by a mob instigated by anti-Christian elements. It was a serious event to bother the conscience of any nation and understandably it led to adverse reactions in Western countries. The Government of India appointed an enquiry commission headed by Justice Wadhwa of the Supreme Court. The enquiry commission did not find any direct linkage between Hindu communal organisations and the Staines killing.
Then came the visit of Pope John Paul in November, 1999. Addressing the Bishops Synod, the Pope urged the Bishops of Asian countries to make even greater efforts to spread the gospel of salvation throughout the length and breadth of human geography of Asia. He hoped that the coming millennium would see the Cross firmly planted in Asia just as it was in Europe in the first millennium and America and Africa in the second millennium. So may the third Christian millennium witness a great harvest of faith on this vast and vital continent as it was thirsting for the living water that Jesus alone can give.
There was widespread resentment over what the Pope asked his Bishops and the Church to do. The well-known Far Eastern magazine, Asiaweek, characterised it as the Vaticans expansionist agenda and added that it lent credence to the longstanding complaint that Christianitys many good works in India were meant to give a foothold on the nations soul. By inflaming local tensions the Pope has done more harm than good for Christians and their cause in India, it added.
The Indian Constitution has listed Freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion as one of the Fundamental Rights in Article 25. This Article provides that all persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right to freely profess, practice and propagate religion. The Indian Constituent Assembly consisting of liberals and intellectuals nevertheless had some doubt about including the word propagate ones religion, a provision which does not figure in the constitutions of many countries. The partition of the country on the basis of religion should have also given the Constitution-makers a sense of caution. However, the provision was included, the consequences of which are being seen today.
Even before the Popes visit and his provocative exhortation to Christian missions about evangelical work, certain senior members of the Sangh Parivar had alleged aggressive designs on the part of the Christian missionaries. The RSS ideologue and BJP leader, Govindacharya, referred to an alleged document circulated by the US Baptist Church called Joshua 2000 which reportedly asked the Christian missionaries to achieve the target of one Christian in every village and Bible in every house by the year 2000.
There has been a rash of attacks on Christians since early this year. These attacks were not confined to a particular State or area since they had taken place almost throughout the country. These attacks were accompanied by a campaign on the part of the Sangh Parivar against the Christian missions. The Prajna Pravah of RSS had addressed an open letter to all MPs exhorting them to expose the activities and intentions of the Church and alleged that the missionaries were indeed engaged in mass conversions. It claimed that Church publications, including the Delhi Catholic Directory and the Word Christian Encyclopedia published by Oxford University Press, carried all the details.
Acharya Giriraj Kishore, Vice-President, VHP, asserted that the Christian community was worse than Muslims in converting and that Christians went around desecrating Hindu gods and asking tribals to accept Christ. Dharmendra Sharma, the Sah Sahyojak of Bajrang Dal, declared recently that his organisation was ready to fight wherever Church institutions were active and that they were prepared to use violence without limit. Another Bajrang Dal activist, Rajesh Chaudhary, District Convener of Mathura, said that their aim was to drive all the Christians away since the Christians wanted to take over the country. He added that the day the Bajrang Dal started chasing them away the Christians would not be able to save themselves and even the administration would not be able to help them.
These statements appeared prominently in a leading national daily on June 23, but to this day there is no condemnation of these statements by any responsible minister or BJP functionary. The daily also editorially commented on June 24 that senior BJP leaders seem happier to blame all incidents of violence on Pakistan and on an international conspiracy to defame the Vajpayee government than to turn light inwards and see whether the partys strident stand against Christian missionaries and religious conversions might have something to do with the recent violence.
It was left to the Attorney General Soli Sorabjee to tell a well-known TV channel that persons who made statements that Christians were bigger enemies than Muslims should be locked up either in jails or in a lunatic asylum. He referred to the recent incidents of attacks against Christians and the vandalisation of a cementery in UP and said that all this would damage the secular image of the country and the government and also induce a sense of insecurity among the minority. Indeed the attacks on Christians had already led to a section of US House Representatives to ask President Clinton to declare India as a terrorist state. When Prime Minister Vajpayee met the Pope at the Vatican during his recent visit to Italy and Portugal, he assured the Pope that Indias secular character was against such attacks, that the Christians and other minorities would be protected and action taken to punish those involved in the attacks.
Attacks on Christians have been extensively reported from Indonesia and some of these are on a very large scale as gangs of Muslims had gone on the rampage against the Christian minority in the Maluku islands and other isolated areas in Indonesia. As many as 4,000 Christians have been reportedly killed in these attacks. However, this is no consolation for India as Indias historic and traditional tolerance of minorities seems to be in doubt at this stage of history in the third millennium.
Sometime back Prime Minister Vajpayee had made a statement that there should be a discussion on the subject of conversions. Indeed it would be worthwhile for the NDA government, along with the BJP and other political parties, to have extensive discussions with representatives of the Bishops Conference. While Article 25 of the Constitution provides for propagation of religion, the Article starts with the proviso subject to public order, morality and health and to the other provisions of this part. Article 25(2) prescribes that this provision need not affect the operation of any existing law or prevent the State from making any law.
It was under this dispensation that several States had framed laws to prohibit attempts to convert any person by allurement, false promises etc and that such activities would be illegal and actionable. In most States, however, such provisions are a dead letter and this has not acted as a deterrent to mass conversions of the tribal communities in far-flung areas. Is it possible to arrive at certain agreed principles or provisions whereby the district administration is informed by the Church concerned about the impending conversion, followed by such enquiry with the district or state administration might like to carry out. Secondly, the activities of missionaries in the interior areas of the country, especially among the tribals and backward classes, should be largely limited to welfare and educational activities and they should not resort to direct or indirect attacks on or criticism of Hinduism and Hindu gods.
Opening of new churches
should be regulated, even as construction of new mosques
and other places of worship are regulated in certain
States and border areas. The total number of conversions
made in each district under the respective jurisdiction
of the Christian Church hierarchy should be made
available to the district administration every quarter
with full details of the persons converted, their age,
parentage, etc. These should govern the re-conversions by
the Sangh Parivar as well. If these measures could be
mutually agreed upon, there is a possibility of lessening
of tension between the Sangh Parivar and the Christian
missionaries leading to amity and peace in the long run.
THE desire for distinction and name which not only helps affirm your identity, but also your pride as someone whos to be counted in a crowd, and looked up to is really a deeply human urge, and if allowed to mature, like wines in a cellar, does vindicate its authenticity. To extend the trope, the seasoning is necessary if your talent has to give off its full aroma. And if one studies the history of men and women of great achievement whatever their field of interest and engagement , this process of intellectual development is to be seen at work. Even in the case of geniuses, as a rule, fame and rewards are earned in a hard, strenuous way, though in rare cases, a novelist, a poet or a painter, a scientist, a visionary man of action has to be sure, cleared the hump of history in one great epiphanic leap. However, its clear, we are not talking here of such prodigious persons whose work defines their existence as a sui generis phenomenon. Our concern here is with persons of talent and virtues who engaged in their labours eventually graduate to the point where recognition comes naturally, sweetly like a breath of spring breeze. And its a most welcome thing.
Though one could cite scores of cases in this regard, but what really ignited my imagination of distress is a different story. For when one finds friends, colleagues and others of a certain frame of mind pursuing fame with so much energy, self-abasement and vulgar ceremony, one does begin to question the authenticity of that talent. And the sifarash route begins to raise a moral stink. I have known academics, writers, doctors, researchers and a whole lot of publicity-hounds who would go any length to see their names in print, and their mugs on a paper page. They would use any one, yes, any one, including those whose honour, otherwise, should be their deepest concern. But such is the nature of this tribe of traders of small-change that once the itch starts, they go on scratching compulsively every back and bottom within their reach. Its a slide to fame, and its singlemindedness or really, its pettiness, then, knows no limits.
One would imagine that the writers and artists would, more than others, resist such sirens, for they know, whoring after anything money, name, award, honour, position etc. is to put their conscience to sleep, or drown it in a drink, and that to achieve a work of art is to gather all ones moral, intellectual and spiritual energies in full measure. For a great writer or artist is nothing if he isnt a monk in worshipful labour. In other words, art is, by its very nature, a sacrificial process even as its playful game of words invested with god-like authority. To, therefore, make ones talent a thing of the marketplace, to find hawkers for their merchandise, and to commission agents and panders, and to ingratiate themselves with those who could bring them the coveted prizes is to put out all ones wares on the street. I use the idiom of commerce and traffic because thats precisely what, in reality, underscores the nature of this strange syndrome. Which, of course, is not to say that all those who receive state or academy awards, and are honoured by their nation or community, are to be put in the same basket. My ire is directed against those who do not let their work speak for itself. For no great and genuine act or artefact of the mind and the imagination can remain obscure for ever. Its timell come, today or tomorrow or even after ones gone and gathered with the spring grasses. But posthumous fame is not what one seeks, and, therefore, in the age of instant returns, the cutting of corners becomes a requirement of the hungry spirits in search of recognition. Whoever thought the stratford boy holding the horses of the gentry in an Elizabethan theatre would after his death, achieve immortality beyond ones wildest dream? And Shakespeares greatest priest in English poetry, poor Johny Keats, son of a stable-keeper, slighted and scorned by the poetry magazines, would, in a letter, declare that he would burn each poem each night, and yet write and write if only to satisfying his ravishing imagination!
Fame lives eternal in the human breast, said Milton. Yes, that flame, when pure, has a touch of beauty. But when one seeks it in a dubious and devious style, as for instance, Howard Springs hero does to achieve the highest political office, the novel appropriately called Fame Is The Spur becomes one long expose of talent degenerating into a commodity, and the questing knight hangs up his sword and armour to wear ermine and plush!
Let me wind up this painful piece with an Urdu couplet by a Chandigarh poet, Taseer, which loosely rendered reads:
Those emblems of pride you wear on your breast
Why this insult to uniform?
THE other day at Jalandhar, a private security guard employed by a pub, was arrested by the police for wearing uniform similar to the army uniform. Following this incident, Senior Superintendent of Police Guarav Yadav asked the managements of hotels, restaurants, pubs and other such organisations to ensure that their employees and security guards do not don dresses akin to the armed forces uniforms. Mr Yadav further said: Legal action shall be taken against such persons.
Time was when the army uniform was highly venerated by the public and it was the dazzle of this dress that attracted the youth to opt for the defence forces. Not only that, even the girls were so overwhelmingly charmed by the glitter of the military uniform that they preferred soldiers to all others when it came to marrying.
That the military uniform does not inspire our youth today is clear from the shortage of over 13,500 officers. This shortage is increasing by the year. One could never imagine at the time of Independence that we will downgrade our soldiers to such an extent that one day they will be equated with unskilled labourers.
How does a jawan earn his uniform? Not just by making the grade for enrolment after a gruelling physical, medical and written test. Not even by doing a year-long recruit training during which he wears a recruits uniform which is grey in colour. He gets entitled to a soldiers uniform, which the doorman at a hotel wears, only after he, by putting his hand on the holy book, pledges his allegiance and loyalty to the country, his unit and his superiors at a specially organised attestation parade. And it is this oath-taking ceremony, on the successful completion of his recruit training, that changes his status from a recruit to a sepoy.
The Army should whole-heartedly thank Mr Guarav Yadav, SSP, Jalandhar, who has taken the initiative to stop this wrong practice of private security guards wearing the army uniform.
Surprisingly, the Army has never complained about this degradation of their uniform. Had these private guards worn police uniform, they would have been charged for impersonation and put behind bars. But it is only the Army that has become so weak-kneed that any transgression into their domain is accepted without a demur.
The wearing of army uniform by the private guards of various organisations all over the country has become a common practice because the Army authorities have never objected to it. Ironically, this point has never been raised by senior Army officers at civil and military liaison conferences which are held every year at all the command headquarters.
If the status of the
Army has fallen and the military uniform has lost its
shine and respect, the blame for this should squarely lie
on the Army hierarchy. In his letter to me on my article
in The Tribune, Serve with honour or quit
(August 14, 1992), Lt-Gen S.D. Verma, who emerged larger
than life in soldiering and resigned in 1961 over
differences with the then Defence Minister, Mr Krishna
Menon, wrote: A lot of senior officers you mention
in your article, were time servers and
anxious to get promotions. As long as politicians keep a
finger in the pie, the Army will go down and down.
Playing upon emotions of people
THE late Sheikh Abdullah was often criticised for talking in two tongues one for the people of Kashmir and another for the rulers in Delhi. A surviving associate of the Sheikh recalled to this correspondent the discrepancy in his utterances in the valley and in Delhi. Kasti bhanwar me hai, doob jaigi (the tiny boat is in a tossing tempest and it may sink any time) was the refrain of his speeches in the valley, while in Delhi he would talk of complete accession with the Indian Union and swear by the Indian Constitution.
His worthy son, Farooq Abdullah, has left his illustrious father far behind in double talk and in the art of deception. True to his tradition, he would attack the Centre in Srinagar and strike a conciliatory note in Delhi. Some of his estranged colleagues in the National Conference call him a charming liar. Even the late Indira Gandhi was wary of Farooqs double talk and would often have a dig at Sheikh Abdullahs son saying: When he comes to see me, he says you are like my mother but the moment he crosses the Banihal, his tone and tenor changes.
Summoned to New Delhi as the State Assembly was in the midst of the debate on the autonomy resolution, he categorically stated before the glare of TV cameras that the motion would not be passed. In complete reversal of his assurance, the resolution was adopted within 48 hours, notably, by voice vote and in absence of the Opposition.
He took the opportunity to make most the vituperative speech against the NDA Government at the Centre of which he is a part and his 30-year-old son a Minister. In a desperate bid to refurbish his sagging image, he did not spare the previous governments at the Centre right from the time of Jawaharlal Nehru.
Close associates of Farooq say that the passage of the resolution was his compulsion and he could not have stalled it even if he wanted. Also, the attack on the Centre was a political necessity. The autonomy package as incorporated in the resolution may have been Farooqs political compulsion in view of the State Assembly elections due next year but can it wipe out the scars of his misrule? Why allround dismal performance of his government, he has virtually no chance at the hustings and desperately wanted a poll plank. In a brilliant strategy, he tried to play upon the emotions of the people and revived the year-old State Autonomy Commissions report just as V.P. Singh has resurrected the Mandal Commissions report from the cupboard.
Though no Government at the Centre can accept the charter of autonomy as contained in the resolution, Farooq has found an issue to project in next years elections. In the process, he also made an attempt to hijack the azadi plank from the Hurriyat leaders and sabotaged the Centres overtures towards the multi-party conglomeration. New Delhis plans to have a meaningful dialogue with the Hurriyat Conference may be offset, as of now, but the fact remains that Hurriyat Conference can emerges as a mighty force if it changes its ways and joins the democratic mainstream in India.
Farooqs reported remarks had Kashmir acceded to Pakistan he would have a fair chance of becoming the Prime Minister of that country and this is not possible here are preposterous. Had Farooq become Prime Minister of Pakistan, there was also a fair chance of his languishing in jail like the democratically elected Nawaz Sharif with a noose dangling over his head. One would not like to wish the Kashmir Chief Minister the fate of Z.A. Bhutto, had he been a leader in Pakistan. Farooq must thank his stars and his foresighted father that he is a leader in democratic India which tolerates dissent even if it implies virtual secession and still heads a politically sensitive government.
Farooq accompanied his father to Pakistan in1964 at the invitation of the then President, Ayub Khan. On return, he left for London, ostensibly, to set up medical practice there, fell in love with an English girl, Mollie Fleen, and married her. According to the Panthers Party leader, Bhim Singh, be came in contact with the JKLF leader, Amanullah Khan, became the organisations Vice-President and subsequently acquired British citizenship. Farooq returned to India in 1976, a year after the historic Sheikh Abdullah-Indira Gandhi accord was signed and plunged headlong into politics.
Farooq was elected unopposed to the Lok Sabha in 1980 from the Srinagar constituency, chosen President of the National Conference a year after and became the states Chief Minister in 1982. In the 1983 elections he returned with a massive majority but within a year his government was dismissed following defection in the ranks of National Conference MLAs, led by his brother-in-law, Gul Shah.
Farooq is shrewd, sharp and a gifted orator, like his
father, but the general impression is that he is a
slippery customer and cannot be relied upon. He enters
the most crucial phase of his political career and faces
an uncertain future.
Emergency and Indian diplomats
ON the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the Emergency declared by the late Prime Minister, Mrs Indira Gandhi, the print media and television channels had featured in the past, couple of weeks a series of articles and discussions on the experiences of dissenting politicians of the time and editors and journalists who had the courage to denounce the demise of democracy. As senior journalist C. Rammanohar Reddy noted in his article in The Hindu the other day, anybody who is somebody including those with a shameful record of the time has been pontificating about those 20 months of 1975-77.
The one aspect of the temporary aberration in the unique record of democracy of independent India that has won the acclaim of the rest of the world concerns the impact of the Emergency abroad and how our diplomats handled the unenviable task of defending the indefensible. Until the Emergency, Indian envoys had had a comparatively easy job in projecting Indias foreign policy on which there was not much of a difference between the government of the day and the Opposition, and more so when one party dominated at the Centre.
But for the first time in 1975, our diplomats faced acute embarrassment in explaining to their host governments and the local media why Mrs Gandhi had to resort to the extreme step of throttling a vibrant democracy. The exercise could not be called by any other name except disinformation. Some diplomats perhaps involved themselves in the exercise wholehog, and some others had to go along reluctantly though unless they were prepared to call it a day.
During the days of the Emergency, I was serving as the PTI Correspondent in London, and my task in reporting the reaction of the government and other leaders and the media in the United Kingdom and other European countries proved comparatively easy. Suppressing news is not ethical for a journalist, but knowing for certain that any story critical of the Emergency would not see the light of the day, I turned to reporting more mundane happenings. Of course, votaries of the Emergency rule visited London to (they would say) put the whole thing in perspective. Needless to say, they failed in their endeavour I had the unfortunate duty of filing reports on their pronouncements for home consumption. I remember that the late Congress leader, Mr D.K. Barooah, who will be remembered for his famous quote Indira is India, did not like my reference to Dr Subramanian Swamy, who had fled to London, as a leader.
It is not an exaggeration to suggest that during the Emergency some diplomats mistook their assignment to be to please their political masters instead of just projecting the views of the government they represented. One notable exception was the then High Commissioner in London, Mr B.K. Nehru. The seasoned and distinguished diplomat had no option but to defend the Emergency, but he drew a line. He was unhappy that he could not answer some of the questions posted by the media like the one about how many prisoners Mrs Gandhis government had detained.
I dont know why they (the Government of India) are not giving out the figures, he told reporters. That was a bold remark for a diplomat to make in the days of the Emergency, but Mr Nehru in a way conveyed that he was not comfortable with the situation. He and his deputy, Mr Natwar Singh, were clearly unhappy with the autocratic role power without responsibility played by the late Mr Sanjay Gandhi during the Emergency rule.
I remember that at a public function on the day after Mrs Gandhis announcement about the general elections, Mr Nehru, speaking in a lighter vein, said: I am like the Vicar of Bray (systematic turncoat, according to the Oxford dictionary) I go on for ever, and indeed, as the Vicar of Bray or like the Vicar of Bray, I wish to keep that position. Please dont expect any political pronouncements from me (unlike the other speakers) because who knows who is going to be the next Prime Minister of India two months from now? The audience enjoyed the banter. Even for an after-dinner speech, it was a cheeky observation for any diplomat to make, more so in the days of the Emergency. Only Mr Nehru could do that.
Probably not all the
envoys spoke or argued with conviction while explaining
the actions of Mrs Gandhi, and some at least were
entitled to the benefit of their predicament they
were doing their duty if at times it came closer to the
famous but unconventional definition of an ambassador
being sent abroad to lie for his country.
Creator and Truth,
Guru Ram Das, Sodar-Rehiras
In this world holy company is rare and inconstant. It is hard to obtain even for an instant.
Ramacharitamanasa, Uttar Kanda, chaupai 118
Sit not near those men
Saint Ravidas, Darshan, 171
Taste the nectar of
satsang, O man
Mira Bai, Satsang no ras chakh prani....
In the company of Saints
Saint Kabir, Bijak, Ramaini, 64
Good company and good discourse are the very sinews of virtue.
Izaak Walton, The Compleat Angler, 1.2.
Yoked with horses such as hearing, and occupied by selfs image, with the dextrous mental faculties for charioteer, the libido-chariot is mounted on by I-sense riding incessantly in search of pleasurable external.
Atmopadesha Shatakam, 69.
Valour and fortitude are the wheels of that chariot while truthfulness and good conduct are its enduring banner.... Strength, discretion, self-control and benevolence are its four horses, that have been joined to the chariot with the cords of forgiveness, compassion and evenness of mind. Adoration of God is the expert driver; dispassion and shield and contentment of sword. Again, charity is the axe; reason, the fierce lance, and the highest wisdom, the relentless bow. A pure and steady mind is like a quiver; while quietude and the various forms of abstinence (yama) and religious observances are a sheaf of arrows...; there is no equipment for victory as efficacious as this. My friend, he who owns such a chariot of piety shall have no enemy to conquer anywhere.
The mind which, like an expert charioteer who drives skilfully the horses in the chariot wherever likes to reach, motivates and drives all human beings to wherever it wants to take them; which is positioned in every heart like a courtyard; which is the speediest among the speedy ones; let that mind of mine be full of auspicious ideas.
Shukla Yajurveda, XXXIV. 6
Know the Self as the Lord of the chariot, and body as the chariot. Know intellect as the charioteer, and mind as the rein. Senses are said to be the horses, and sense objects what they range over. The Self, united with senses and mind, wise men say, is the enjoyer.
Katha Upanishad, III, 3-4. Translator, Swami Muni Narayan Prasad
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