Thursday, October 31, 2013

Remembering Indira Gandhi

Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her security guards on October 31, 1984. It was a tragic happening. I have had the opportunity to work in the PMO earlier in two stints from April, 1974 to October, 1977 and for about a year in 1982. My job and responsibilities entailed brief and cursory interaction with PM Indira Gandhi on many times both in the office and PM’s residence. It was an honour to work in the close vicinity of the great leader of India, Indira Gandhi. I wish to write about those days sometime later, if I could do. Today, I would like to recall her from another point of oral history.  It so happened that I was again involved in the matters on October 31, 1984 which are still vivid in my memory.

President Giani Zail Singh was in Sana’a on October 31 on a State visit to North Yemen. I was staying with President Giani Zail Singh and his personal entourage in the Presidential Palace as the Liaison Officer from the Indian Embassy. As the President was to scheduled to leave Sana’a for India well before noon on October 31, my job was to see that all the personal baggage of the President and his family members is collected and sent to the airport and everybody gets ready after breakfast. I got up early and went to the dining room for breakfast. One of the Presidential Body Guards of the Indian Army, a young Captain, joined me. While taking quick breakfast he told me that he had heard on the radio that some incident had happened in Delhi involving PM Indira Gandhi. He did not have further details. I enquired whether he had told about this to anybody.  He said no. I considered and thought that it should be brought to the notice of President Zail Singh immediately. I being a junior officer thought of informing Ambassador Ranjit Gupta or Chief of Protocol Hamid Ansari (now Vice President of India) who were staying in a separate hotel. I knew COP Ansari well as I had worked with him earlier as Protocol Officer in the Ministry of External Affairs. I could get COP Ansari on phone and informed him. He rushed to the Presidential Palace. Meanwhile, I, at the Control Room, started getting telephone calls from the media in Dubai. The picture was clear about the misdeed of the security officers of PM Indira Gandhi. COP Ansari arrived at the Palace and I accompanied him to President Zail Singh. Simultaneously, we tried to get confirmation and details of the happenings in Delhi from the Rashtrapati Bhawan on the hotline set up in the Room of PS to President. But nobody was responding. With great difficulty, we could get confirmation from the Rashtrapati Bhawan and Ministry of External Affairs. President Zail Singh got visibly very upset. He desired to fly back to Delhi immediately without any ceremonial send off which was scheduled. The Yemeni hosts including President Ali Abdullha Saleh were informed accordingly. The aircraft, technically, needed refueling on the way. President was informed of this. He categorically said that he did not want to stop and would go to Delhi direct. President Saleh came to the Presidential Palace, as the official send off was cancelled, to say good bye to President Zail Singh. He waited at the ground floor. I brought down President Zail Singh in the lift. On meeting President Saleh, President Zail Singh broke down and wept. I could feel the pain and his worries in the aftermath of PM Indira Gandhi’s assassination.  The rest is history. Incidentally, I knew Basant Singh Khalsa, one of the assassins of PM Indira Gandhi from my PMO days.

Yet another co-relation with the tragic incident is that I as Under Secretary (East Europe) in the Ministry of External affairs processed the gifting of the Crystal River by Czechoslovakia/ Czech Republic in 1990 which covers the blood spot where PM Indira Gandhi was shot at on the pathway at the residence of the PM which has been named as Indira Gandhi Memorial.

I write this as a tribute to PM Indira Gandhi, a great leader, with whom I have had the good fortune to work and interact though in a small way and in a very junior position.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

The greatest Stigma - the Caste System

I have recently read ‘Khushwantnama – The Lessons of my Life’ of Khushwant Singh. Khushwant Singh (98) India’s best known writer and columnist. The book is worth reading. I quote just one assertion from the Chapter ‘The State of the Nation’ of the book. It does not require any explanation.


Of all the stigmas that disfigure the fair face of Mother India, the worst is the caste system which inflicts unspeakable indignities on lower castes designated Harijans, Dalits or Bahujans. It is sinful, and more so since we have not been able to wipe out the stigma to this day.

However, the things have begun to change. The four people who played major roles in bringing about some change are Baba Saheb Ambedkar, Babu Jagjivan Ram, Kanshi Ram and Mayawati. Of these four, Dr. Ambedkar was the messiah. He never forgave Gandhi for granting the lower castes only reservation of seats and not a separate electorate. He played a key role in drawing up the Constitution of India and was later law minister in Nehru’s cabinet. Disgusted with the social framework of caste hierarchy, Ambedkar exhorted his followers to opt for another religion and persuaded his community of Mahars to convert en masse to Buddhism. He remains the most respected icon of the Dalits and one of the greatest Indians.


I like Khuswant’s honesty and his columns.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Relevance of Kanshi Ram

Today, October 9, is the death (Parinirvan in the Buddhist parlance) anniversary of Babu Kanshi Ram, a sterling dalit leader of the contemporary times. His followers rightly called him, out of reverence, Manyawar, Sahib, Babuji, in spite of the fact that he never hankered after name and fame just for the sake of it. Kanshi Ram (March 1934-October 2006) belonged to an ordinary family of Punjab. After studies, he joined service as a Scientist in one of the Governmental lobotomies. He had no political inclinations. But the ongoings in the office and the society at large, particularly discrimination against and ill treatment of dalits made him think and revolt. He studied Dr. B.R. Ambedkar and the leaders like Mahatma Phule, Shahuji Maharaj, Ramaswami Naicker and many more.  He was fully convinced that a relentless struggle was needed to awaken and emancipate dalits of the country. He disapproved the dalit leadership, particularly of the Congress Party and BJP, and their ways to deal with the problems of dalits. Later he termed them as Chamchas (stooges) thrown by the understandings of the Poona Pact signed between Gandhi and Ambedkar in 1932 in which Ambedkar, under duress, conceded to Joint Electorate instead of Separate Electorate as provided by the Ramsay MacDonld’s Communal Award.  Kanshi Ram initiated to ‘distinguish between genuine and counterfeit leadership’ as stated by him in the Preface of his book the chamcha Age.

Kanshi Ram dedicated his book Chamcha Age to Mahatma Jyotirao Phule and said “We are thinking, planning and struggling to put an end to the Chamcha Age and usher in Bright Age for the Shudras and Ati-shudras.” Keeping in line with his thinking and vision, he floated an outfit of dalit employees called Backward and Minority Communities Employees Federation (BAMCEF) in 1978, Dalit Shoshit Samaj Sangharsh Samiti (DS-4) in 1981 and ultimately to realize his political goals established Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in 1984. Kanshi Ram was a crusader and dedicated visionary.  He vowed that ‘he would not marry. He would not make any property. He would not visit his home and family. He would devote and dedicate the rest of his life to achieve the goals of Phule-Ambedkar Movement’. Giving shape to his philosophy, he said that he believed in two nation theory of his own: those who oppressed and those who were oppressed.  With this, Kanshi Ram arrived on the political scene of India. He was instrumental in generating self confidence among the dalit masses. With his political acumen, BSP succeeded in having its presence felt in north of India, particularly UP. Under the leadership of his protégé Maywati, BSP became the ruling party successively. BSP showed a good presence in the Indian Parliament.  The fate intervened and the mission was cut short with the untimely death of Babu Kanshi Ram on October 9, 2006.

The relevance of Kanshi Ram and his mission remains. It will remain as valid as it was before till his goal of empowering dalits and making them the equal partners in the power structures of India is not achieved. BSP under the stewardship of Mayawati, of course, would try and encash the legacy of Kanshi Ram. But it is matter of satisfaction that, of late, the other political parties has started to recognize the importance and relevance of Kanshi Ram. Recently addressing a seminar on ‘National Dialogue on Social Disparity” organized by the National Commission for Scheduled Castes, Rahul Gandhi praised Kanshi Ram and said that the movement started by Kanshi Ram had come to a standstill after his death.  It was a well deserved tribute to Babu Kanshi Ram. BSP should take it seriously. Congress Party may hijack Kanshi Ram and his legacy as it helps in making the political arithmetic more rewarding. Let it be as it comes as long as it works for the emancipation of dalits. It will be a fulsome tribute to Babu Kanshi Ram.

Post script: Speaking at the S.C. empowerment workshop organized by the National Commission for Schedule Castes on October 8, 2013, Rahul Gandhi again made a significant statement to own Kanshi Ram. He said “There are three stages in the Dalit movement of India - the first led by Dr BR Ambedkar, the first Dalit who attained escape velocity and gave us the concept of reservations; the second under BSP founder Kanshi Ram who consolidated the Dalits who gained from reservations; the third, under Mayawati wherein the production of Dalit leaders has stopped,”