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Posted at: Aug 20, 2017, 12:14 AM; last updated: Aug 20, 2017, 12:14 AM (IST)

Our missing corporate conscience...

Harish Khare
KAFFEEKLATSCH
Harish Khare

Most of us in India may not be much aware of the drama that has taken place in an American town called Charlottesville. This town recently became the staging ground for what the American media calls the “white supremacist violence.”

Since the Civil War in the 1860s, 

the American society has always entertained a “red neck” fringe — white Americans who remained unreconciled to the very idea of giving the black Americans any kind of respect and equality. “KKK” — Ku Klux Klan — has been the most infamous organised expression of this bigotry. 

Donald Trump got himself elected President of the United States by deliberately pandering to this lingering white resentment. To this soft bigotry, he dangerously added the toxic slogan of “America First”— a xenophobic invitation to hold and blame the outsiders for the white Americans’ miseries and misfortunes. 

That was politics. And that is what all demagogic politicians all over the world do — appeal to our baser instincts, incite us to hate our neighbours.

Once Trump got elected, it was widely hoped — inside and outside the United States — that he would sober down. Therefore, when Charlottesville happened, the expectation was that the American President would be unsparing in his condemnation of the white supremacist violence.

Instead, he appeared to be siding with the violent goons. Expectedly, he was denounced by his political rivals as well as by most of the saner civil society groups. 

But it was the reaction of the business leaders in America that should be of interest to us here in India. Corporate America stood up to the American President and told him that it was unworthy of him to fail to denounce the violence. One corporate leader after another resigned, in protest, his seat on the President’s advisory councils; all that an embarrassed Trump could do was to disband those bodies. 

A typical reaction came from Jeff Immelt, chairman of General Electric; he had his company put out a statement criticising President Trump: “The President’s statements were deeply troubling...GE has no tolerance for hate, bigotry, racism, and the white supremacist extremism that the country witnessed in Charlottesville.”

Bravo.

Can we imagine a similar forthright stand by any of our corporate leaders in defence of basic constitutional values?

I am afraid, not. The reason is simple: our corporate houses have never practised clean businesses nor acquired an ethical voice that would enable them to stand up to the politician. Even the best of our so-called entrepreneurs are aware of their vulnerabilities — and, these vulnerabilities are self-inflicted because of their greed, dishonesty, and illegalities. Perhaps each Indian corporate leader is content to prefer expediency over ethics.

No society can achieve genuine progress, peace or national glory if its business community does not become a site and a source for good moral conduct. The American corporate leaders are quick to realise that if the demagogues are allowed to have a run of the place, they would end up reopening the settled equations and arguments which underwrite the society’s compact and cohesion. 

Any genuine business leader in India ought to feel that he and his company have a stake in the rule of law, a lawful society, and a just and fair social order. And, that he has an obligation to stand up to any demagogue who threatens to introduce violence and venom in our society. 

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Last Sunday, The Tribune focussed on the memories of Partition by way of observing the 70th year of our Independence. That has prompted very many readers to send in their own personal recollections of what happened to them or their loved ones in those trying days, immediately after August 15, 1947.

Those were horrible, horrible days. The writ of the government on both sides of the border simply did not run. And, each family, each clan and each village was left to its own devices. A delirium of madness had swept over the land.

What I find remarkable and reassuring in these communications from The Tribune readers is that each one of them is anxious to tell a tale of a good deed done to them by a neighbour or a friend or even by a total stranger of the other faith. 

Perhaps, the most touching tale is narrated by Mohinder Pratap ‘Chand’ who informs us that he has been a Tribune reader for 63 years. He is a much-honoured and much respected author in our region. It appears that in 2010, he had managed to visit his ancestral home near Lahore. He produced a booklet about his two-week stay and the warm hospitality he received in Pakistan. 

Chand sahib was kind enough to send me a copy of this booklet. He ends the book with a reference to eminent Pakistani writer Saqib Zirvi’s experience of the Partition. Zirvi recalled how a Sikh friend saved his life. It seemed a mob was chasing Zirvi and he took shelter in his friend Sardar Gurmukh Singh’s house. When the killers came hunting to Gurmukh Singh’s house, the good Sardar made Zirvi lie alongside his ailing wife and covered the two with a blanket. The marauders were invited to see how there was only the unwell wife. “His wife’s face was partially visible from the fringe of the blanket. Those cruel-hearted slayers could never have thought even in their dream that a non-Muslim, a Sikh would make such a unique sacrifice for a Muslim friend,” he remarks.

Such tales are a reassuring reminder to everyone in both India and Pakistan to never again let the politicians instigate religious frenzy in pursuit of their lust for power. 

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The stunningly beautiful book-cover arrests the eye. A scene of a snow-covered Bhimkali Temple at Sarahan in Himachal Pradesh brings alive the spiritual tranquillity of this magnificent place of worship. But what attracted me to legendary photographer Ashok Dilwali’s latest book was its title, So Said the Wise.
An extremely presumptuous title, I would say. Who is the ‘wise’ one? And, who gets to decide as to who is ‘wise.’ And this is a question that cannot be easily answered, certainly not in these turbulent times, when we are busy judging our national geniuses by new standards, and are rewriting our national history, and replacing our national icons. 

Ashok Dilwali is a master-photographer of the Himalayas. He has a perceptive eye and understands the camera’s creativity. And, in this book he has sought to blend the visual with inspirational voices. Without making any claims to being a historian or a philosopher or a political ideologue, he has put together a list of thinkers and social reformers who have given our civilisation its coherence and its spiritual energy.

No one can quarrel with the list. Gautam Buddha. Meerabai. Pandita Ramabai. MG Ranade. Mirra Alfassa (“the Mother”). Chanakya. Sant Eknath. Rabindranath Tagore. Keshub Chandra Sen. Bulleh Shah. Thiruvalluvar. Swami Chinmayananda. Sivananda Saraswati. Nizamuddin Auliya. Jiddu Krishnamurti. Abdul Kalam Azad. Gopal Krishna Gokhale. S. Ramanujan. Osho. Moinuddin Chishti. Mirza Ghalib. Jyotirao G. Phule. Guru Nanak. Gandhi. Nehru. Periyar. Swami Prabhupada.

And, many more.

This simple compendium is a yet another reminder of how blessed this land of ours has been, how it has been enriched by the teachings and wisdom of these seers and gurus. This list gives us a glimpse of our composite culture and how the “wise” from each generation and each religion helped society find its way out of confusion and confrontation. 

A reader can open this brief book at any page and get a glimpse of the true Indian genius. Shree Narayan Guru, the saint-reformer, says: “Men may differ in their faiths, their languages and their modes of dressing; but there can be no evil in inter-dining and intermarriage, because all belong to the same kind of creation.”

It is a welcome antidote to all the anger and all the animosity that is being sought to be injected in our body politic in the name of nationalism. 

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Poor Ms Priyanka Chopra! The young lady is being aggressively rebuked on the social media by the new nationalists for not wearing a sari or a salwar-kameez in her Independence Day post! These indeed are demanding times. 
Well, well, well! Time for a hot cup of coffee. 

kaffeeklatsch@tribuneindia.com

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