Saturday, November 4, 2006

This Above all
The art of Cabinet making

When a Prime Minister reshuffles his Cabinet, it is in order to speculate on what basis he selects his ministers and allots them different portfolios. His choice is restricted to his partymen and MPs supporting his government.

To become a minister requires no great expertise. So when Pranab Mukherjee is shifted from Defence to Foreign Affairs, it would be na`EFve to consider that overnight he converted himself from an expert of guns, fighter aircraft and submarines to a skilled diplomat who can handle relations with our neighbouring states, the United Nations and other international organisations. Expertise is not required of him but got from Secretaries and specialists working under him. A wise minister listens to what they have to say before he opens his mouth.

In some ways Cabinet reshuffles are like dealing out cards in a game of bridge — except for the fact that the Prime Minister knows what cards he is dealing out and to whom. He has quite a few men with very high IQ e.g. P. Chidambaram, Kapil Sibal, Mani Shankar Aiyar. They are his aces. There are also a few who have political clout and followers of their own in states they come from and in Parliament, e.g. Sharad Pawar of Maharashtra and Lalu Yadav of Bihar. They are his kings and queens. A.K. Antony counts among aces and kings. He is a man of proven integrity and ability.

However, there are plenty of knaves and jokers who the Prime Minister has to reckon with. Knaves are capable of making mischief, and have to be kept in good humour. Jokers like knaves are ever-willing to switch loyalties, bray like donkeys on behalf of anyone who promises them greener pastures. They need a carrot dangling before their noses but beyond the reach of their mouths.

It is fortunate that Manmohan Singh has the confidence and guidance of the Congress party President Sonia Gandhi. So far she has not made one false move which would shake people’s faith in her ability or integrity. She has an uncanny sense about what is and what is not good for the country she has chosen to make her own.

Question of God

The debate on whether or not God exists is as old as humanity itself. And goes round and round ad nauseam, repeating the same points for and against His existence. Our ancients—from the Charvakas to Mahavira and Gautama Buddha—expressed their doubts and came to the conclusion that conduct was more important than belief. Our religious thinkers asserted that not only did God exist but questioning His existence amounted to blasphemy.

All of us accept the fact that if a thing exists, there has to be someone or something that brought it into existence; if there is a watch, there must be a watchmaker; if there is world, some person or power must have created it. If everything has a cause, what was the primary cause, causa causans (cause of all causes). Believers call it God. That is how we explain our existence to our children. But when a child asks, "Mummy who made God?" Mummy has no answer.

In recent times it was philosopher Bertrand Russel who in his essay Why I am not a Christian, published in 1927, totally rejected the notion of God as perceived by Judaism, Christianity and Islam. He was more inclined to accept Darwin’s Origin of the Species. Atheists continue their tirade against believers. The latest is Professor Richard Dawkins of Oxford University. In his book The God Delusion (Houghton Mifflin), he lauds atheists’ "brave and splendid" aspiration and condemns belief in God being "not only a delusion, but also pernicious". What then is the answer? The honest one is "we do not know nor does anyone else."

However, I believe that believers have no justification in ascribing attributes to God like almighty, just and merciful. Epicurus gave cogent answers to believers. He wrote: "Is God willing to prevent evil, but is not able? Then He is not omnipotent. Is He able, but unwilling? Then He is malevolent. If He is both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? If He is neither able nor willing? Then why call Him God?"

I for one am not able to refute Epicurus’s logic.

There are other accretions to religion, which I find unacceptable. All of them, at least all who subscribe to one or the other, believe their religion is superior to others. This gives birth to narrowmindedness, intolerance, bigotry and fanaticism. It leads to inter-religious violence. "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities," wrote Voltaire. And added for good measure, "This world will never know peace in the world until the last politician has been strangled with the guts of the last Priest."

Prayers make even less sense. Prayer should be addressed to oneself for self-improvement, to make oneself a better human being. It seldom is. Most of the time it is addressed to God or some deity about whom one knows nothing. And most prayers are little more than chaaplusi (flattery) and chamchagiri (sycophancy) to an unknown entity.

My India

I love my India, I love my India

A thousand times I would repeat

Here idols can drink milk

And sea water can become sweet.

I love my India for in my blessed land

A miracle can happen every day

A goddess can speak from under the rocks

Even lifeless bodies can water supply spray.

A faqir with magical touch of his hand

Can cure you of any ill

With the blessings of a bogus sant

You can achieve what you will.

Every Indian is an untrained doctor

A firm fatalist and a counsellor nice

Talk to him on any subject

And he will give you free advice.

(Courtesy: G.C. Bhandari, Meerut)