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Perspective | Oped

PERSPECTIVE

A Tribune Special
Manifesto of an unborn party
People want to live in an India managed by competent rulers, says Ram Jethmalani
The nation is getting ready to elect a new Parliament. It
is by no means amused
by the antics of the current
occupants whether on the
government benches, the
Opposition or even known
independents. Except
for a few honourable
exceptions, politicians
are held in contempt.
Illustration: Kuldeep Dhiman



EARLIER STORIES

Third Front
March 14, 2009
Pakistan on the brink
March 13, 2009
Army’s warning
March 11, 2009
Et tu, Naveen?
March 10, 2009
Limits of protest
March 9, 2009
Underachievers at school
March 8, 2009
Mahajot in Bengal
March 7, 2009
Pawar at play
March 6, 2009
Blame-game won’t help
March 5, 2009
Pak terror in sporting arena
March 4, 2009
A destabilisation game
March 3, 2009
THE TRIBUNE SPECIALS
50 YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE

TERCENTENARY CELEBRATIONS


OPED

Lessons from Gitmo closure
Need for balance between security and human rights

by Arun Bothra
US President Barack Obama’s first official decision — suspension of the controversial Guantánamo Bay military tribunal and eventual closure of the detention centre in a year — has a few lessons for India.

On Record
Nadeem Aslam
Pak writer’s tribute to embattled Afghanistan
by Charu Singh
Nadeem Aslam, noted Pakistani author, was in the Capital
recently to promote his latest book, The Wasted Vigil. Inspired
by the long years of strife and struggle in Afghanistan, it is his
tribute to the embattled nation.
                                    Nadeem Aslam

Profile
Naveen proves smarter than BJP leaders
by Harihar Swarup
Nine years back when Naveen Panaik became Orissa’s Chief Minister, he was new to politics, considered immature and suffered from a handicap — he could not converse in Oriya. But he picked up the ropes fast, matured politically and proved smarter than the BLP leaders, his allies for last 11 years.

 


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A Tribune Special
Manifesto of an unborn party
People want to live in an India managed by
competent rulers, says Ram Jethmalani

The nation is getting ready to elect a new Parliament. It is by no means amused by the antics of the current occupants whether on the government benches, the Opposition or even known independents. Except for a few honourable exceptions, politicians are held in contempt.

The chances are that most of the current herd will face ignominious defeat. Parliament will doubtless have a new look. Will it be pleasing or even uglier than before remains a troublesome question. No one should venture a prediction.

Surveying the political scene, I do not see any possibility of any principled coalitions or electoral alliances. All the ones being negotiated or planned have no discernible ideological rationale nor any public weal in view. Naked and sordid pursuit of power appears the sole motivation. Mortal enemies seem to be shaking hands and allies till yesterday are ready to stab and destroy one another.

This is a draft manifesto of a party that exists only in the imagination of a few likeminded citizens. Their only qualification is that they are not in the power game but want to live in a better India whose management is in credible and competent hands. A party or coalition that swears by this manifesto may never be born but at least the voter will find in it some useful advice who to vote for. Naturally we first turn to foreign affairs.

India is now facing a totally new world order which hardly bears any resemblance to that which our first Prime Minister encountered. Communism has proved to be a total failure and both Russia and China are Communist only in name. Both have switched over to the free market and Russia even pretends to some kind of political democracy. The US has emerged as the only military super power.

Globalisation has made obsolete many economic shibboleths and conventional trade tariffs have fallen by wayside. The current rulers have no expertise for surviving in this totally unfamiliar milieu.

However, the Constitution makers have left for all succeeding generations a compulsory lesson about how our foreign policy should be conducted. The lesson is written in the first Article which reads as under: India shall
promote global peace and security;
maintain just and honourable relations between nations;
foster respect for international law and treaty obligations in the dealings of
organised peoples with one another; and
encourage settlement of international disputes by arbitration.

Our commitment to world peace and security is the constitutional obligation. Maintaining just and honourable relations between nations and fostering respect for international law or encouraging settlement of disputes by peaceful arbitration are just corollaries from this grand theorem.

Thirty years of research has shown that democracies do not easily go to war. The horrendous consequences of war fall heavy upon the citizens in their character of soldiers and taxpayers.

Modern International Law has created an elaborate system of human rights. Starting with the Declaration of 1948 the effort has culminated in the too elaborate Covenants of 1966. The governments which do not practice rigorous democracy cannot pretend to be upholding human rights.

With all its faults and failures, India has a vibrant democracy and we have to promote the spread of democracy in all parts of the globe. It was a proud moment for India when Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh and former US President George Bush entered into a partnership for furthering democracy.

In its conduct of foreign relations, this shall be the basic agenda of the new Indian government. It also follows that India will do nothing to encourage or enrich those states which are well known enemies of democracy and whose acceptance of human rights is only a pretence or a fraud.

September 11, 2001 and now November 26, 2008 have precipitated a climactic confrontation between the irresistible forces of good and evil, reason and unreason modern civilisation and primitive barbarity. Time has come when we have to recall what President Theodore Roosevelt said almost hundred years ago: “We stand at Armageddon and we battle for the Lord”.

Relations with Pakistan require the highest statesmanship. Partition and its horrible aftermath have unfortunately coloured our response to Pakistan. We cannot honestly claim that we have ever gone out of our way to win the hearts and minds of the people of that country.

India had always been opposed to the two-nation theory but we forget that Qaid-e-Azam Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, had himself repudiated it as soon as he won independence for his state. He had declared that Pakistan would be a democratic liberal and just state. It would live peacefully with its minority Hindu population and relations with India would be of friendship and cooperation.

Unfortunately, Jinnah died soon of tuberculosis and the first Prime Minister Leaqat Ali Khan was cruelly assassinated. Its excellent first Constitution of March, 1956 was superseded and luckless Pakistanis have had to suffer long and repeated spells of autocratic military rule.

The present is the chance to undo the past. Pakistan has got back its democracy; its war mongers are lying low; the establishment understands the futility of war and the Pakistan-created Frankenstein of Terrorism has now turned on its creator.

External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherji must stop his silly claptrap of “All options open”. War is not the option. A No War Pact with no loopholes and escape routs is the only option to pursue. Every thing else will take care of itself.

People blessed with a genuine democracy, constitutionally protected rights and duties of individuals and an independent judiciary to enforce them have attained Azadi. Any violent action to secure more of it or of a different kind or content is the crime of terrorism or treason or both.

Pakistan and India must be transparent in their dealing with the local populations on both sides of the LoC and the international community must be able to certify that there is no colonial type exploitation of their material resources. The Kashmir problem found its solution long ago but the political will has been lacking.

President Zardari is ready; Manmohan Singh has to be willing. The BJP wants immediate cessation of diplomatic relations. People of India should and will dismiss it as political bankruptcy and electoral insanity.

A genuine settlement with the Pakistan Government will make the Army retire to its barracks and make Pakistan’s revolving door democracy stable for a change.

Threats of war from India only make our neighbour’s democracy wobbly and vulnerable to its old enemies. India must guarantee that Pakistan does not turn out to be a failed state.

India and the US are pledged to fight a war against terrorism. Our ministers,
however, are not acting like warriors but policemen. Their emphasis does not
seem to be elimination of terrorists but on catching a few and punishing them
through our judicial process.

All our attempts to make Pakistan admit that the Mumbai terrorists are Pakistanis and prepare elaborate dossiers for the consumption of Pakistan and other world states are futile and wasted effort.

India and the US must persuade Pakistan to believe that terrorists are also a threat to its fledging democracy. It is in its own interest to cooperate with us in exterminating this lethal virus. The three governments must together hunt them out in their habitations and destroy them.

This action is urgently called for and must be undertaken before any terrorist organisation can lay its hands on nuclear weapons.

The war against terrorism cannot be fought without neutralising the states which foster, finance and harbour terrorism.

We know the birth place of both Sunni and Shia terrorist organisations. We must persuade the Security Council to take decisive action.

If the Security Council’s action is paralysed by the veto of one or the other member, we must be prepared to act alone in exercise of our right of self-defence expressly recognised by the UN Charter.

The heart warming development which we have failed to notice or publicise is the declaration made by thousands of Muslim clerics who under the inspiration of Darul-Ulloon declared that terrorism is condemned by Islam.

There is not one word in the Holy Quran to sanctify the killing of innocent, unarmed, children, women and old men. The terrorists are too cowardly to engage the military forces and regular combatants.

Tackling terrorism will require unapologetic honesty and total moral clarity. The rogue states must be identified, named and tamed. To hobnob with them for whatever reasons is treason against the Indian nation.

One of the priceless legacies of the British rule is the judicial system with its emphasis on absolute integrity of character and a high degree of technical competence in the shape of deep knowledge of law and tremendous facility in sifting facts and analysing evidence. At the same time, justice was prompt and cheap.

Every citizen today knows that our judicial machinery has totally crumbled. It
should be the primary duty of government and Parliament to restore the system
to its pristine glory.

Lord Brougham in a speech on “Law Reform” said, “It was the boast of Augustus that he found Rome of brick and left it of marble. But how much nobler will be the sovereign’s boast when he shall have it to say, that he found law dear and left it cheap; found it a sealed book, left it a living letter; found it the patrimony of the rich, left it the inheritance of the poor; found it the two-edged sword of craft and oppression, left it the staff of honesty and the shield of innocence.”

The present method of recruitment and dealing with judicial delinquents is totally outdated and impracticable.

India has the experience of 1993 when a credible and foolproof impeachment motion failed, because the ruling party did not vote and the required 2/3rd majority could not be collected.

It was a case in which Parliament’s corruption cooperated to sustain its companion, the judicial corruption.

Moreover, judges are made to sit on Benches before which all sorts of matters turn up. Some of them arise out of areas of law of which one, more or all the judges on the Bench have not the faintest idea.

Litigants have had the misfortunate of appearing before Benches in serious criminal cases where not one of the judges could claim any familiarity with criminal law.

The counsels even find it difficult to decide, how much enunciation of the relevant
law they must attempt or when to stop in the belief that their argument has at last
been understood.

It is easy to deal with a loquacious Judge, but it is difficulty to fathom a non-speaking one and the ignorant usually adopt a sphinx-like posture.

Repeated suggestions that matters relating to specific branches of law should be put before Judges who are experts in those branches of law have fallen on deaf ears.

Perceptive practitioners only, while sitting in court, observe the frequent miscarriage of justice happening before their eyes. These go unnoticed by others and do not evoke a protest.

Dealing with this deficiency does not require any legislation. It can be done by setting up traditions binding on the Chief Justice of the court.

It is a scandal that 30 million cases are pending in the subordinate courts and thousands in the higher courts.

Successive Law Commissions have time and again reported that we need to multiply our courts five times. This shall be speedily done by the new government.

By reason of its unpardonable dilatoriness, criminal justice has lost its deterrent
punch. Crime and criminals continue to grow and threaten the stability and
security of society.

About four years ago, Transparency International and the Delhi-based Centre for Media Studies undertook study of corruption in India. The result published the same year said that Indians pay out more than Rs 20,000 crore as bribes every year and scores of public servants at all levels are involved.

Connected with the question of competent courts is the issue of corruption. The political system and our legislators have become totally insensitive to this galloping cancer. But the people know that corruption has permeated into every part of our body politic and it has ascended to the level of the Apex Court.

The public suspicion is heightened by the Supreme Court Judges’ reluctance to declare their wealth. Once the people’s faith and confidence in the judicial process are gone, the vacuum will be filled by musclemen and murderers.

Legislation has failed to deal with this menace proving the old adage that we cannot legislate character. Our schools and colleges curricula need to be reformed to include ethics and moral science as compulsory subjects.

The current tenure of Parliament even saw large wads of currency notes being
bandied about in the Lok Sabha. Voters must ensure that only persons of the
highest integrity are voted into our legislatures, Cabinets at the Centre and in
the state level.

For the last six months, practically the whole world is reeling under economic meltdown. India too has not escaped the catastrophe.

Wise economic policies will have to be put in place but dealing with growing corruption should be an urgent and conspicuous strategy.

On the economic front, the solution is not to revert to the old system of government controls, licenses and permits. That will be a remedy worse than the disease.

Our Finance Ministry must now study the principles of Keynesian economics which worked for the US during the 1930s and for almost all European countries during World War II.

Massive investments in infrastructure and creation of new jobs for employing those who have lost their earlier ones for the new ones who are entering afresh the employment workforce are called for. Private entities must have easy access to public funds with checks to prevent misuse.

Our pluralist multi-religions and multi-lingual society can march forward only by demolishing dividing walls and cultivating a dominating Indian identity. Lesser identities will coexist.

This is best secured by a rational secularism which makes the needs of the Republic paramount with power to trump all religions beliefs and practices.

Secularism, correctly understood, requires every Indian life to be guided by reason
and logic. In the distribution of economic, political and social rights, the state shall
remain neutral and treat all as equals; religion of a citizen shall never justify any
hostile discrimination.

The new government shall expound and enforce this secularism without deviating from it to get some electoral advantage.

The Constitution of India recognises the need for reservation in legislatures and in public employment for those sections of society, who historically have been unjustly treated and suppressed. The women of India doubtless belong to this category.

On democratic principles half the members of every legislature must be women but as a compromise it has been proposed that one third of the seats in Parliament must be reserved for them.

Unfortunately, a male-dominated society is still resisting this proposal becoming law. The next government and Parliament must secure this justice for women in the first six months of its tenure. This makes our Parliament more orderly, purposeful and, certainly, more colourful.

This missive is our advice to voters to identify honest candidates with high liberal education committed to international peace and domestic unity with a past record which guarantees that they will not abandon principles when seeking public office. 

The writer is a jurist and former Member of Parliament

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Lessons from Gitmo closure
Need for balance between security and human rights
by Arun Bothra

US President Barack Obama’s first official decision — suspension of the controversial Guantánamo Bay military tribunal and eventual closure of the detention centre in a year — has a few lessons for India.

In a way, the US has finally accepted that the extra-judicial methods of dealing with terrorists do not pay in the long run. In its fight against terror, the route of justice is difficult and at times frustrating. But democracies like the US and India have to live by their ideals. The state cannot defeat terror by becoming a terrorist itself.

The closure of Guantánamo centre called Gitmo is not an off-the-cuff decision. The idea of this off-shore kind of outsourced detention-cum- torture centre has been under fire since its inception in 2001.

After release or deportation of about 420 detainees, the facility presently houses about 270 hardcore terrorists captured mostly in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many of them have been imprisoned since years without a trial.

The Bush Administration tried its best to justify Guantánamo on various pretexts. It tried to wash its hands off by arguing that since the detention centre was not located in the US, it was not responsible for any human rights violation there.

It smartly termed the detained persons as “enemy combatants” who were not entitled to protection given to war prisoners under the Geneva Convention.

But the issue generated such intense debate and criticism in the international arena and shame and anguish for most Americans that Obama had to declare, even before assuming charge, the centre’s closure in a year.

In India, too, we have an ongoing debate about human rights of terrorists. The Mumbai massacre has also prompted this debate.

Not only security personnel but common people are also asking if terrorists and their supporters and mentors are entitled to the same human rights which were due to their innocent victims.

About 183 people lost their lives and more than 300 were injured, some maimed for life in the attacks. These deaths have destroyed many more lives like that of a 2-year-old Israeli child Moshey, orphaned by the terrorists.

Even as there is demand for a tough anti-terror law, questions are raised why terrorists should be arrested and why not shoot them point blank instead? There are valid reasons for such suggestions.

It really hurts when one finds a Maulana Azhar Masood unleashing a reign of terror all over India. This man was in our custody but we failed to punish him due to our ever-dithering political will and sluggish criminal justice system. Finally, a plane was hijacked and he walked away smiling.

However, we need to tread with caution. There is an imperative need for a strong anti-terror law. But careful use of this double-edged weapon is a must. For, disrespect for human rights has high potential for breeding terrorism.

Kashmir and to some extent Gujarat have a few lessons for us. If terror mails received after every attack talk about Ayodhya, Gujarat and Kashmir, then, we simply cannot wish some bitter truths away.

Legality of punishment is a must while dealing with terrorism. Shortcuts like extra judicial killings might seem easy and tempting. These can, at times, look justified and appropriate considering the brutal acts of terrorists.

But every extra-judicial killing might result in many more new enrollments in terror training camps. When a person is hanged through proper judicial process his near and dear ones feel angry.

But when someone is killed out of judicial process his whole community is estranged. This is one of the reasons why young boys of interior villages of Pakistan are rushing to join suicide squads against actual or perceived atrocities in Kashmir and Gujarat.

Terrorism aims at creating fear. It does not matter whether the fear originates from act of terrorists or that of the state. Terrorism almost lures sovereign governments to the path of terror.

When people and their civil rights are crushed in the name of counter terrorism, it helps the terrorists. Finally each mistake of the government becomes a point of validation for terrorism.

The US anti-terror effort has committed the same mistake many a time. The US has flexed its muscles in Iraq and Afghanistan in the war on terror.

But has it been able to achieve its goal? Americans have themselves rejected the ways and means of the Bush Administration in this regard.

The world was full of sympathy for the US after 9/11. But action in Iraq has turned the world opinion upside down. It is no secret that today the people suffering in the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan are full of hatred towards the US.

The shoes hurled at George Bush by Iraqi reporter Muntazer al-Zaidi amply demonstrated this. The US has appreciably made its homeland security foolproof since 9/11 but with its war stances it has also strengthened the Jehadi elements all over the world.

In India, the big problem is the slack criminal justice system. Had we been able to hang 10 terrorists by judicial process we might not need to kill a hundred others in encounters, real or otherwise.

When we fail to punish an Afzal Guru in accordance with a verdict from the
Supreme Court, we compel common people to believe that bullet is the only
resort in controlling terrorism.

An efficient and prompt judicial process helps in more than one way. It ensures that punishment to the guilty is certain and swift.

This certainty of punishment works as a deterrent for others. Otherwise, keeping hundreds of terrorists in Jodhpur or Jammu jails without punishing even one is highly counterproductive. It actually encourages more people to take the gun.

A speedy justice delivery mechanism also makes it possible to save innocents from unnecessary harassment.

Again, keeping hundreds of innocents in jails even without proper trial is dangerous. Suffering and torture of innocent people is a certain recipe for creating terrorists.

It is crucial to strike a balance between ensuring security and integrity of the country and safeguarding the human rights of the people. There can be no compromise with terrorism.

The state has an obligation to ensure human rights of its citizens and others by taking positive measures against the threat of terrorist acts.

People also expect the government to take all possible legal, military and economic measures to dismantle terrorist modules.

But the agencies deployed in counter-terrorism efforts of the state must follow
the “due processes of law”. If the state fails to do so, it inadvertently helps the
terrorists. A moral and legal victory is a precondition and prelude for armed success
against terror.

In a pluralistic society like ours, it is much more important. Other than making our laws tougher, we also need to urgently overhaul our justice delivery mechanism.

It is good to give ourselves sharper teeth with strict laws but we should first learn to bite well.

The writer is a senior IPS officer of the Orissa cadre

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On Record
Pak writer’s tribute to embattled Afghanistan
by Charu Singh

Nadeem Aslam, noted Pakistani author, was in the Capital recently to promote his latest book, The Wasted Vigil. Inspired by the long years of strife and struggle in Afghanistan, it is his tribute to the embattled nation.

It gives a haunting message about the small lives of people that die in the bud scarred by long years of violence and destiny. Nadeem speaks to The Sunday Tribune about his book, brought out by Penguin-India.

Excerpts:

Q: Your book is set around Afghanistan. Why did you devote an entire novel
to Afghanistan?

A: I thought Afghanistan had been forgotten. It has been in the news for wrong reasons. One reason why I wrote this was to convey that today no one’s life story is happening in a contained place. One person’s story impacts another on the other side of the world. For instance, someone in a small village in north Russia became a soldier and came to Afghanistan in 1979. He was face to face with Mujahideen who had been supplied weapons by the US.

Q: Can you tell us more about these obvious linkages you have been writing of and the characters that reflect them?

A: My idea was to show linkages between different parts of the globe. I have
used the Afghan, Pakistani, Russian and US characters. It was wonderful having
created these characters with their stories. I convincingly got into the mind of
Russian and US characters. I thoroughly enjoyed creating characters that are
both hateful and loveable.

Q: Did the people of these countries inspire you to create these characters?

A: The characters are based on me. Indeed, they reflect different facets of
my personality. So I am my own inspiration. There were no people as such
who inspired me.

Q: Does the book convey any message?

A: Yes. Whether a super power like the US could go into Afghanistan, play its geo-political games and then withdraw and expect there not to be of any consequence. When in 1989 the then USSR withdrew from Afghanistan, the US thought the cold war was over and it withdrew but billions of weapons had been flushed into Afghanistan.

Consequently, this encouraged the development of a culture of violence which was bound to have global repercussions, specially on the US. In 2001, the consequences for the US became apparent with September 11.

My writing is an exploration of my own life and if the book is useful to others, they may find a message in it.

Q: Can you share something about the writing process?

A: Frankly speaking, the writing process was extremely intense. I am grateful to my parents that they instilled in their children a contempt for money and helped us develop our more imaginative and creative faculties.

I have lived a passionate life and the book emerges out of this passion for life. I wrote through the night, writing mostly after midnight until 7 or 8 in the morning, catching a few winks of sleep in the day.

Q: There is a tinge of sadness in your book. Why?

A: Ah! Every character in my book is separated or has gone through separation. There is a moment in the novel when someone looks at a list and mistakes a ‘death’ list for a ‘wedding’ list. The book is full of that kind of sadness.

Q: Did you visit Afghanistan for writing the book?

A: Yes, I went to Kabul, Herat, Jalalabad and wandered around the narrow bylanes. After visiting these cities, I made corrections to the novel. I travelled only after completing the novel. The travel was most informative but it was not leisurely as I was working so to say.

Q: Are you writing a new novel?

A: I am currently working on a new novel called the Blind Man’s Garden. It centres around recent happenings in Pakistan, on the suicide bombings, etc. and on how the ordinary man in Pakistan feels about all this. The book is still developing.

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Profile
Naveen proves smarter than BJP leaders
by Harihar Swarup

Nine years back when Naveen Panaik became Orissa’s Chief Minister, he was new to politics, considered immature and suffered from a handicap — he could not converse in Oriya. But he picked up the ropes fast, matured politically and proved smarter than the BLP leaders, his allies for last 11 years.

He dropped a bomb shell when L.K. Advani’s emissary, Chandan Mitra, journalist-turned- politician, met him and was tersely told that BJD could not offer more than 31 assembly and five Lok Sabha seats to the BJP. (Orissa will have simultaneous elections to the Assembly and Lok Sabha).

Naveen did not lose his composure even for a moment while telling Advani’s emissary that the alliance with the BJP was over. BJP leaders, who thought Naveen to be their most dependable ally, were shocked and changed their tunes, calling him a “serial killer” and “betrayer”.

BJP’s harsh words notwithstanding, there is a grudging admiration for the BJD
Chief in the BJP circles. He is seen as a smarter politician compared to much
senior ones in the BJP. More importantly, people see him as a clean politician,
who is striving to end corruption.

What brought the BJD and the BJP together in 1998 was their common enemy — the Congress. But in an alliance one party grows at the cost of other. The BJP was never comfortable with a situation that demanded that it permanently remain a junior partner. It was a matter of time before the opportunistic alliance ended in divorce and it did.

Naveen has aristocratic upbringing and his pursuit since he graduated from Delhi University has been history and literature. He also evinced keen interest in Ayurveda and wrote a well researched book on the healing properties of various plants grown in the sub-continent.

Having been brought up and educated in Delhi and sojourned in the United States for years, Naveen hardly looks an Oriya in conversation or appearance. So much so that he could not speak in his native tongue and this had been a disadvantage in the poll campaign.

Also never before a Chief Minister was so new to politics — hardly four years. Naveen might have been new to politics but he picked up the ropes fast and his observations since his impressive victory in the Assembly elections reflected firmness, maturity and confidence.

His performance as the Union Minister for Steel had been better than many of his colleagues. He created a record having won three successive Lok Sabha elections — in 1997, 1998 and 1999.

His illustrious father, Biju Patnaik, had a domineering personality and strode the political scene like a colossal but Naveen is timid, a loner and, for whatsoever reason, remained a bachelor. His elder brother is an industrialist and sister, Gita Mehta, a well known writer. Naveen, like his sister, has a literary bent.

Among his many friends abroad was Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and in India they included erstwhile Rajas and Maharajas. Jacqueline was Editor of an excellent book, A Second Paradise, written by Naveen, depicting the courtly life in India from 1590 to 1947. The book was produced to mark the Festival of India in Washington in 1985 and to coincide with Rajiv Gandhi’s visit to the US.

Biju Patnaik was quite close to the Nehru-Gandhi family. He was a friend of Indira Gandhi though later they moved apart politically. Naveen was a friend of both Rajiv Gandhi and Sanjay Gandhi and Mrs Gandhi would send her two sons to Biju’s house to keep company with Naveen who later moved to Doon School.

Naveen’s another book, The Garden of Life, is on an altogether different subject. It deals with the healing plants in India used for preparation of Ayurvedic medicines. How Naveen got interested in herbs, having medicinal value, is still shrouded in mystery. He quotes from the Rig Veda to describe the healing power of herbs:
You herbs, born at the birth of time
More ancient than the gods themselves,
O Plants, with this hymn I sing to you
Our mothers and our gods.

The chapter on Tulsi (basil) says, “modern science has established that this modest aromatic shrub perceptibly purifies the air within a wide radius of its vicinity, proving most effective just before sunrise, the time when it is ritually circled by the devout”.

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