Saturday, February 11, 2006

End of the road for Buta

KHUSHWANT SINGHAssuming that Buta Singh’s career as a politician has come to an end, it is permissible to look back on his rise as a prototype of Indian politician of our times. He subscribed to no political ideology; nor do our netas of today. He started off as an Akali, then joined the Congress, then for a time the BJP when it was in the ascendant, and went back to the Congress when he sensed his chances of rising ‘higher’ would be brighter there.

Coming from a Scheduled Caste with a college education, he found it comparatively easier to get elected to the Lok Sabha from a reserved constituency, first from Punjab then Rajasthan (he changed his turban from the Sikh style to Rajasthani style to suit his purpose). When both options were closed to him, he was up for grabs for anyone who hoped to utilise his undoubted energies for his own purposes.

He supported Operation Bluestar and readily agreed to rebuild the Akal Takht against the wishes of his community. He got the fat Santa Singh Nihang to do the dirty job for him.

Several lakhs of rupees, if not crores, were blown up to complete the structure which included buying some kilos of gold to emblazon the domes. He and Santa Singh were declared tankhaiyas (guilty) by Akal Takht jathedars and were ostracised from the community. I was among the few who ignored the medieval brand of a Sikh fatwa and attended his mother’s bhog ceremony. Buta’s Akal Takht was pulled down and another rebuilt by kar sewa. Crores went down the drain.

Buta’s politics took another about turn. He ditched Santa Nihang and tendered an abject apology to the Panth. He went through the punishment prescribed and was re-admitted into the community. The wretched Santa languishes somewhere in the Punjab countryside.

Buta Singh was a good worker. He was put in charge of building stadia for Asiad Games. He finished it in record time. He also knew how to keep his bosses happy. I had one experience of his expertise. A month or so after the anti-Sikh violence in November 1984, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi called a meeting of some MPs in his office to find out how the victims were being rehabilitated. He asked Buta Singh, who was the Home Minister, to make a statement.

Buta Singh assured him that all that was necessary had been done. I butted in and contradicted whatever he had said. I gave the instance of Charanjit Singh of Pure Drinks. All his machinery had been wrecked by hired saboteurs. Far from being compensated, replacements ordered from abroad had been deliberately held up by Bombay Customs. I gave other instances. Rajiv accepted my statements. Buta Singh changed his tune and promised to look into my allegations.

Within a few hours the customs cleared Charanjit Singh’s consignments. Buta Singh took credit for it. So did another MP who was taking a monthly allowance from Charanjit Singh. He did not open his mouth at the meeting.

Buta Singh makes a calculated display of his religiosity. Most Indian politicians except Communists do the same. Some days after the Akal Takht jathedars lifted their ban on him, he rang me up and told me what agonies he had suffered while being separated from the Panth.

I did not believe a word of what he said and wondered why he had picked an agnostic like me to convey his sense of relief. Some days later, a TV channel showed him visiting Gurdwara Bangla Sahib. He went inside the sanctum bowing his head. His PRO had done a good job. I don’t trust his word; I don’t trust the word of any Indian politician. Now he is at the end of his political road, I wonder which way will he turn. Money is no longer his problem and even lesser for his sons. They have done well for themselves. They are like any other Indian political family. They not only ensure good living for themselves for their lifetime, they do so for seven generations to come. Buta Singh is no exception to the general rule of opportunism to serve one’s ends.

Unanswered queries

I receive quite a few letters questioning my lack of belief and suggesting ways of overcoming this deficiency in my character. Some I can immediately recognise as believers by the signs they put on top of their letters like ‘Om’, ‘Ik Onkar’ or ‘786’. I realise the futility of carrying on a dialogue with them.

But one person who I have never met but continue corresponding with is J.M. Rishi, an industrialist from Jalandhar. I had assumed he was a free-thinker. His last letter begins with Hari Om. It is a circular letter addressed to his friends, and a copy with his initials sent to me. I don’t know how his friends answered his queries; I will do my best to deal with them. Rishi writes:

“We experience dukha because not ‘seeing’ the true nature of things, we long for something permanent, something that doesn’t change. Yet our actual experience provides nothing but change.

“Nothing can truly be taken from us. There is nothing to lose. Inner peace begins when we stop saying about things “I have lost it”. Instead say, “It has been returned to where it came from.”

“Nowhere can man find a quieter or more untroubled retreat than in his own soul.

“Nature transmutes into itself everything that seems worn out or old or useless, and re-fashions it into new creations.”

To start with thanks to the Buddha, we make too much of the prevalence of dukh (sorrow) in the world. As a matter of fact, there is as much, if not more, sukh (joy) in our lives. And more than dukh or sukh, there is just humdrum doing our daily chores. Whether dukh is caused by our wanting permanence while everything changes I am not sure. But I am sure that things i.e. lives do not return from where they came. And that because we do not know where we came from nor where we go. As Azimabadi put it: “Na ibtida kee khabar hai na intthaa maaloom (We know not our beginning, we know not our end).

The truth is that we come into existence because our parents copulated and our mothers conceived us. There is nothing more to it except conjectures. It is the same about our dying. Heaven and hell are creations of human fantasy. We lack the guts to admit our ignorance. Soul, I don’t understand at all. Perhaps Rishi or someone who has his way of thinking will tell me what it looks like and where it dwells.

I admit my failure to understand the religious-minded. I am at one with Voltaire in holding “religion is the source of all imaginable follies and disturbances. It is the parent of fanaticism and civil discord; it is the enemy of mankind.”

Life unsure

My friend, a retired government official, has been interested in profitable investments. One of his weaknesses is insurance policies, and fitting them all into the family budget becomes a problem. A few months ago, he told his wife about the insurance agent’s latest offer for increasing their insurance, and she blew her top.

My friend hastened to explain that the policies were designated to take care of her and the children in case he died. “Yes, I know,” she sighed, “but what will we do if you live?”

(Contributed by Reeten Ganguly, Tezpur)