Monday, December 29, 2014

Bharat Ratan Atal Bihari Vajpayee

With PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee & Krygyz President
Bharat Ratan, the highest civilian honour in India, has been conferred on PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee on his 90th birthday on December 25, 2014. It has also been decided by the Government of India to observe the Day as Good Governance Day every year. It is a well deserved recognition to the worthy son of India to put him in league with the galaxy of Indian leaders of the Indian society.

The occasion gives me an opportunity to recall my own cherished memories and recount my brief encounters with Atal Bihari Vajpayee.  I first saw young Vajpayee in 1968 in Jalandhar when I was a student at the local DAV College. As a student, I had a good interest in the socio-political activities in and around Jalandhar.  The annual session of the then Jan Sangh was held in Jalandhar.  Atal Bihari Vajpayee was elected as the President of Jan Sangh. He was taken, I vividly remember, in a regal horse-driven carriage in a procession around the city. I saw the procession, standing in the crowd, at the famous Patel Chowk. I don’t remember as to what he said in Jalandhar but I certainly recall that he was the talk of the town for his spell-bound oratory.

I went to Delhi in March, 1970 to join Ministry of External Affairs as a junior official. I had a good interest in the day to day politics of the country as an aspiring apprentice and as such it was natural to follow Atal Bihari Vajpayee, an able and lively politician. In spite of some spicy stories about his personal life, he commanded all respect and acceptability in the political and social circles of the society at large. In slow progression, I also rose in the ranks of the MEA and was posted in the PMO during the emergency years for protocol and hospitality duties not only for the foreign visiting delegations but also for the cabinet meetings and other related matters. After the emergency was lifted and elections were announced in the early months of 1977, I distinctly recall Vajpayee speaking at a mammoth public meeting on Rajpath, probably the last public meeting before the canvassing came to a close. It was a spirited and emotional speech, an excellent piece of oratory. The Congress Party and PM Indira Gandhi were trounced in the elections. The rest is all history. Atal Bihari Vajpayee was appointed as Minister of External Affairs in PM Morarji Desai’s Government. It fell on me to escort Atal Bihari Vajpayee from his office in South Block to the Conference Room in the PMO for the first Cabinet meeting of the Janta Government. It was a pleasant experience. Later in the evening when I reached home, my wife told me that I appeared on the TV with Atal Bihari Vajpayee. I was delighted.  I witnessed him speaking in Hindi at the delegation level talks with the Foreign Minister of the then USSR, Andrei Gromyko in the Committee Room of the MEA. It was for the first time, I understand, when any Indian Minister of External Affairs spoke in Hindi with his foreign counterpart.

During my long diplomatic career, I could have some more intimate moments with Atal Bihari Vajpayee.  He visited Peking (now Beijing) in 1978. We at the Indian Embassy arranged a tea party for him to meet the slander Indian community in Peking and the Embassy staff. I was looking after the service and hospitality. Vajpayee, as it is well known, has a great sense of humour. We offered him Pakoras. He was not inclined to pick up one. I said, ‘ Sahib Leejiye. Garam Garam Hai.’ He touched the Pakoras and retorted, “Agar Yeh Garam Hai To Thanda Kya Hota Hai.’ We all laughed.  During the course if my duties and work from 1998-2000 when I was the Director of Central Asia Division in the MEA, I had a couple occasions to come close to Vajpayee during the state visits of the Presidents of Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. I was to help our leaders to sign the Agreements during one of these visits at the Signing Ceremony at Hyderabad House. The first document was to be signed by the visiting President and our PM. Two special pens are generally kept for the purpose. I got the documents signed by PM. After the signing, PM instead of keeping the pen on the table, subconsciously, put it in his pocket. The next document was to be signed by External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh. There was no time and option.  I immediately pulled out my pen from my pocket and gave it to the EAM for signature. Jaswant Singh is fond of good pens and knew that there has to be a special pen for the purpose. There was no time to discuss. He reluctantly signed the documents with my personal pen. All the remaining documents were also signed by other dignitaries including Lal Krishan Advani and Ananth Kumar with my pen.  Later, I explained the mishap to the Chief of Protocol and EAM Jaswant Singh. He smiled. Later, with the help of my friends in the PMO, Ajay Bisaria and Sunil Jain I obtained one of the photographs of these ceremonies autographed by PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee. I keep it as a prized possession.

With PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee & Uzbek President
With this, I wish PM Atal Bihari all the very best and good recovery from his health problems.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Some Random Thoughts of a Novice

Today, December 19, I have become grandfather for the sixth time. Sulekha, wife of my son Rupesh, has given birth to a baby girl
at a hospital in Jalandhar.  Both the mother and the baby are fine. We already have five grandchildren – Pallavi and Arvind; son and daughter of Anju and Naresh, Komal and Tanya; daughters of Vaishali and Jatinder and Suhani; daughter of Sulekha and Rupesh. Now. the fifth i.e. Suhani is 5 plus. My son Naresh lives in Sweden. Pallavi and Arvind were born in Stockholm. They are in their teens. Komal and Tania were born in Faridabad where my daughter Vaishali lives. Suhani was also born in Faridabad in the care of Vaishali and Jatinder before Sulekha and Rupesh moved to our small flat in Gurgaon on return from Prague. On my retirement in December,2010, I came to Jalandhar and Rupesh and his family also followed me in Jalandhar subsequently in the beginning of 2013.

It is for the first time for me that I am around at the time of an addition in our family. We have been moving from one place to another in my diplomatic career. I recall that my wife visited Stockholm in 1999 to be with Anju and Naresh at the time of birth of Pallavi, our first grandchild. We were posted in Delhi. Vaishali and Rupesh, my daughter and son, went to Stockholm when Arvind was born in 2001. We were posted in Tokyo. Komal and Tania, daughters of my daughter Vaishali, were born when we were posted in Tokyo and Prague respectively. Suhani was born 2009 in Faridabad when we were working in Minsk. I think, with the sixth grandchild- daughter of Sulekha and Rupesh, our family is almost complete.

 We all are happy. There is a mixed feeling. As regards the family life, I am a novice. We are blessed with three children, two sons and a daughter. Frankly, consciously or sub-consciously, I neither felt elated when sons were born and dejected when the daughter was born. May be it was because of the fact that our first born was our son Naresh. With the arrival of Naresh’s daughter and son in Stockholm, life remained as usual but happy. It may be because of the fact that they are living in a developed country, Sweden and their future is safe and secure. Vaishali, my daughter, has two daughters. Somehow, at the back of my mind and more so with Vidya, my wife, we expected and longed for a son in the family of my daughter. But now, let me say with a sense of pride that both Vaishali and her husband Jatinder behaved and performed so well in bringing up Komal and Tania that there is no sense of remorse any more. Sulekha and Rupesh are also blessed with two daughters with the arrival of the new one. Today again, I am gripped with a mixed feeling. I must confess. It is more so because of the fact that Rupesh is still in the processing of settling down nicely in life. Though God has been kind to us that we can afford to give our children a reasonably good bringing up yet there is a lingering worry and concern. What is this concern and worry? It is difficult to explain and write. My children may or may not agree with me but the fact remains. Perhaps, we are to deal with a mindset which comes up and boys are preferred and expected over daughters. It is a pity. We are yet to overcome this social humbug. It is a matter of gratification that my daughter Vaishali and my daughters in law Anju and Sulekha are so nice and caring. It gives me considerable solace and strength to cope up with any negative felling on getting another daughter in the family. Life goes on.


Sunday, December 7, 2014

Mahaparinirvan Diwas of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar

Sardhanjali function at Ambedkar Bhawan on December 6

Today, December 6, death anniversary (Mahaparinirvan Diwas) of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar (April 14, 1891-December 6, 1956) was observed throughout India and abroad to pay tributes to the great leader. As usual, there was a solemn function at Ambedkar Bhawan at Nakodar Road, Jalandhar.  I, as a humble follower of Babasaheb Ambedkar, participated in the function at Ambedkar Bhawan. The function was organized by Ambedkar Bhawan Trust, functioning under the patronage of staunch Ambedkarite Lahori Ram Balley and presidency of Dr. Ram Lal Jassi. Member of Parliament from Jalandhar, Chaudhary Santokh Singh was the Chief Guest at the function. All the main speakers namely Dr. Jassi and Shri Balley spoke with conviction and paid glowing tributes to the greatest son of India, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar. Chief Guest Chaudhary Santokh Singh highlighted the contribution of Dr. Ambedkar in establishing democracy in India and said that he would only be happy to associate himself with the Ambedkar Bhawan. He also announced a grant of Rs.5/- lakhs to the Bhawan out of the MPs development fund which was much appreciated by the organizers and the audience. There was a small book exhibition at the campus of the Bhawan from where I purchased two books – Mr. Gandhi and Emancipation of the Untouchables by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar and Who Weakened India – Buddhism or Brahminism? by Dr. Surendra Ajnat.

In the evening, DD Punjabi telecasted a special programme to pay tributes to DR. Ambedkar. Apart from others namely Prof. G.C. Kaul, Dr. Ram Lal Jassi, Shri Paramjit Mahey, I also spoke in the telecast and underlined the fact that besides a renowned authority on the constitution law, Dr. Ambedkar was an economist of great standing. He was much interested in contributing to the economic development of the country but somehow could not get much needed opportunity to do so.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Last Few Years of Dr. Ambedkar

Last month I wrote about the two books on Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, I purchased from Ambedkar Bhawan at Jalandhar on Deeksha Day (Ambedkar’s embracing of Buddhism) on October 14. The book review of Reminiscences and Remembrances of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar has been published in the Ambedkar Times being hosted from California (USA) and the Identity being published from Chandigarh. I have now finished reading the second book – Last Few Days of Dr. Ambedkar - written by Nanak Chand Rattu, PS of Dr. Ambedkar who worked with him from April, 1940 till his death in December, 1956. The publisher has said about the book, “the volume is brought out to mark a few day to day interesting events in the stormy life of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar.”

Frankly speaking, most of the things are already well known and available in the public domain in various publications on Dr. Ambedkar. Nevertheless, there are a few incidents and events of the last years of the life of the great leader which are not well known so far. I have the following observations in this regard.

The partition of India in 1947 saw mindless bloodshed and communal violence. It appears Dr. Ambedkar had a premonition of this in the prevailing communal situation at that time. Nanak Chand Rattu has recorded Dr. Ambedkar’s views on this, “Dr. Ambedkar had proposed partition of the country with complete transfer of population of Muslims and Hindus from their respective zones to avoid bloodshed and avert a civil war. His sincere call, however, fell on deaf ears.” Historians would judge this in its right perspective for posterity. In the wake of partition, dalits were at the receiving end both in India and Pakistan. They were being converted forcibly to Islam in Pakistan and bordering states like Hyderabad, Bahawalpur and Junagarh. Dr. Ambedkar was much worried and concerned about this. He wrote to PM Jawaharlal Nehru and urged him to intervene and tell Pakistani authorities to take care of the interests of dalits. Dr. Ambedkar was a nationalist to the core. He said, as the author recorded, “The scheduled castes are the children of the soil and India is their motherland as much as it is the motherland of any other group. They must wish and strive for her greatness and fight for her independence and maintain her dignity.”  Dr. Ambedkar further said, “All I am anxious about is that no person from the schedule castes brings disgrace upon the community for siding with one who is the enemy of India.”

It is well known that Dr. Ambedkar was a staunch critic and opponent of Mahatma Gandhi. But he was humane to the core without compromising on his considered position. On one hand, Dr. Ambedkar not only visited Birla House, where Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated on January 30, 1948, to convey his condolences but also joined the funeral procession the next day in spite of his not so good health.  On the death of Mahatma Gandhi he said frankly, “Great men are of great service to their country but they are also, after a certain time, a great hindrance to the progress of their country.” He further said, citing the history, “There is one incident in the Roman history which comes to my mind on this occasion. When Caesar was done to death and the matter was reported to Cicero, Cicero said to the messengers, ‘Tell the Romans your hour of liberty has come.’ While one regrets the assassination of Mr. Gandhi and one cannot help finding in ones heart the echo of the sentiments expressed by Cicero on the assassination of Caesar.”

Dr. Ambedkar, himself a votary of parliamentary democracy, could not make much dent in electoral politics. He stood for a strong opposition and desired to join hands with the socialists like Jai Prakash Narain, Ram Manohar Lohia, Ashok Mehta, S.M. Joshi and others in the run up to launching a new political outfit, the Republican Party. He said, “Why should people think that I should remain an untouchable even in politics.” Nanak Chand Rattu recorded that in November, 1951, addressing a public meeting in Bombay, he even advised Jawaharlal Nehru to join them and lead the country. Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia wrote to his colleague Madhu Limaye in July, 1957, “Dr. Ambedkar was to me, a great man in Indian politics, and apart from Gandhi, as great as the greatest of caste Hindu. This fact has always given me a solace and confidence that the caste system of Hinduism could one day be destroyed. Such a great Indian, as Dr. Ambedkar, I had hoped, would someday be able to rise above the situation, but death came early.”  It is strange and not understandable that the so called socialists of the day and the professing followers of Dr. Ambedkar in the BSP and Republican Party are quarrelling among themselves. Dr. Ambedkar had a unique idea of launching a training school, to attract the youth, for those who cherished the ambition to enter politics.

Dr. Ambedkar’s fast failing health in his last years was a great worry and concern to his close associates and millions of his followers. On the other hand, as recorded by Nanak Chand Rattu, his wife Savita Ambedkar and treating physician Dr. Madhav Malvankar were not allowing anybody to interfere in his treatment. Some of the associates of Dr. Ambedkar suspected some foul play on the part of the duo. The repeated efforts and offers of K. Krishnamurthy, a social activist and a trade unionist, to get Dr. Ambedkar examined and treated by a specialist L.F. Bastien from France did not find favour with Savita Ambedkar. The correspondence exchanged in this regard by Krishnamurthy, which has been appended to the book, is revealing.  In the aftermath of Dr. Ambedkar’s death on December 6, 1956, this suspicion got further currency. There was an underlying current against the wife of Dr. Ambedkar. She did not inform Prakash Ambedkar, son of Dr. Ambedkar from his first wife, about the death of Babasaheb. She even wanted to take the dead body to Sarnath, instead of Bombay, for final rites. An eminent scholar who knew Dr. Ambedkar well, as recorded by the author, C.B. Khairamody clearly alleged Savita Ambedkar’s hand in the mysterious death. Khairmody’s letter dated August 10, 1957 has been appended to the book. This suspicion got further impetus because of the rumors that Dr. Ambedkar was not too happy with his wife’s activities and behavior. 

Some more new information and light on some other aspects of Dr. Ambedkar’s life have come up in the book. Dr. Ambedkar’s financial position was not sound. He had to borrow money to settle the bills for the repairs of his house ‘Rajgriha’ in Bombay.  There was no money to pay for the air-lifting of the dead body of Dr. Ambedkar from Delhi to Bombay. Babu Jagjivan Ram extended help in chartering a small plane for the purpose. Dr. Ambedkar kept himself busy in his last days in preaching and propagating Buddhism.  Nanak Chand Rattu has written about some personal aspects of relations between Dr. Ambedkar and his wife Savita. Before marriage in April, 1948, they discussed issues and concerns pertaining to divorce and sex. On divorce, Dr. Ambedkar wrote to her in a letter dated March 15, 1948, as mentioned in the book, and said, “In case you would be wanting a divorce, you would need to find a cause of action against me. For I shall neither be cruel nor unchaste. If you want divorce, you will have to force me to seek for it by practicing unchastity. I cannot help you. You will have to help yourself. There is only one way I can help you that is to live apart and away from you when you have so tired of me. That is easy. You have only to say so and you will be relieved of the tedium of having to live in the company of a husband for whom you have no use.”  In the same letter, Dr. Ambedkar wrote on sex and said, “I don’t know why you have talked so much about sex. Since you seem to abhor sex, my condition is an advantage to you…. I am a gentleman and if a woman against whom I have the right of a husband, I can practice self control and continence which I have used it for the last 15 years.” The author has cited the source and given these in quotes. But it may be observed that the language used in the said letter tends to generate doubts on the veracity of the matter.

Dr. Ambedkar’s speech delivered at Nagpur on October 15, 1956 at the Deeksha ceremony has been appended to the book. It is one of finest speeches of Babasaheb on Buddhism and why he embraced it.

The book “Last Few Years of Dr. Ambedkar” has many flaws pertaining to its editing and presentation. But still it is worth reading as it came from a man who remained with the great man as his trusted aide for a long 17 years. I conclude this with a quote from the last chapter of the book, Dawn of Ambedkar Era.


The Gandhian era with its ignorance and darkness will come to close with the end of twentieth century and Ambedkar era of Equality, Liberty, Justice and Fraternity will unfold with the dawn of twenty first century. The twenty first century belongs to Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar and the people for whose liberation he struggled hard and sacrificed his life.


It is my tribute to Dr. B.R. Ambedkar on his death Anniversary (Mahaparinirvan Diwas) on December 6.

By:- Ambassador Ramesh Chander, IFS (Retired)

Monday, November 24, 2014

Dr. B.R. Ambedkar and Economic Development

Dr. B.R. Ambedkar
It is a known and well documented fact that Dr. B.R. Ambedkar was a great authority on constitutional law, a staunch social reformer, an acclaimed scholar and an original thinker and writer. But is not well known that he was also an economist of high caliber, not only by intellect, but also by training.  Dr. Ambedkar was, inter alia, an alumnus of the London School of Economics. In the early years of his life, before dedicating himself fully to the cause of untouchables and social reform beginning in the mid 20s, he wrote three scholarly books on economics viz.:
i)                  The Administration and Finance of East India Company.

ii)               The Evolution of Provincial Finance in British India.

iii)            The Problem of the Rupee: Its origin and Solution.

That is why, a renowned historian, Ramchandra Guha has recognized Dr. Ambedkar as “as a great scholar, institution builder and economic theorist.”

Dr. Ambedkar contributed immensely to the labour welfare policy and legislation as Member of the Viceroy’s Executive Council (1942-46) before independence in 1947. The prevailing socio-political scenario confined him to other important tasks and challenges namely the making of the Indian constitution and reform of the Indian society through the Hindu Code Bill etc. and as such he could not engage himself in the issues of economic development, much against his desire and plan. On Dr. Ambedkar’s suggestion, PM Jawaharlal Nehru had agreed to give him the portfolio of Economic Planning after the task of the constitution making was completed. But PM Nehru did not do so, as alleged by Dr. Ambedkar. It was one of the reasons of Dr. Ambedkar’s resignation from the Cabinet of PM Nehru in 1951.

Dr. Ambedkar stood for democratic socialism as a considered policy for India’s economic development.  The basic tenants of his economic policy were – eradication of poverty, elimination of inequalities, ending of exploitation, equitable distribution of national wealth and income. He was a proponent of land reforms and also supported a prominent role of the State in economic development of the country. With a view to achieve these economic goals, he, inter alia, proposed:

I)                  All basic industries should be owned and run by the State.

II)               Insurance and Land should be nationalized and managed by the State.

III)            Introduction of collective farming.

IV)           Propagation of family planning.

V)              Empowerment of Women.

VI)           Abolition of caste system.

A prominent economist Dr. Narender Jadhav has written in one of his essays, “Dr. Ambedkar’s attack on caste system was not merely aimed at challenging the hegemony of upper castes but had a broader connotation of economic growth and development.”  Dr. Ambedkar was of the view that political democracy, as stipulated in the constitution, has no meaning if it is not converted into social and economic democracy in a reasonable span of time. He has a definite and potent economic agenda to take on but his failing health in the last days of his life and political and social engagements at hand did not permit him to do so. One may grasp this sense when Nobel Laureate and renowned economist Amartya Sen says, “Ambedkar is my father in economics. His contribution in the field of economics is marvelous and will be remembered for ever.”


Saturday, November 15, 2014

Reminiscences and Remembrances of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar

Dr.B.R. Ambedkar with Nanak Chand Rattu

The other day, October 14, I visited Ambedkar Bhawan in Jalandhar for a function to observe the day Dr. Ambedkar embraced Buddhism in 1956. The function, regrettably, turned out to be a damp squib. The only consolation was that in the process, I could pick up two old books on Dr. B.R. Ambedkar – Reminiscences and Remembrances of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar and Last Few Years of Dr. Ambedkar, written/compiled/edited by his trusted and dedicated aide Nanak Chand Rattu. I have finished reading the former.

The book is basically a compilation of reminiscences and remembrances of a few colleagues and associates of Dr. Ambedkar. In fact, I am somewhat disappointed as the book could not fill the gap of information on the personal likes and dislikes and also the day to day living of the greatest son of India in the contemporary times. Some interesting aspects of Dr. Ambedkar’s personality have come to light in the reminiscences under the chapter ‘Lofty Ideas and Integrity of Character’. The written exchanges between Dr. Sharda Kabir and Babasaheb Ambedkar before their marriage are not only interesting and informative but also dwell on the fact that Ambedkar was as human as any simple and ordinary man could be. Dr. Ambedkar was a man of morals and integrity. He did not accept the proposal that Dr. Sharda Kabir who was looking after his health may accompany and stay with him in Delhi. Dr. Ambedkar wrote to her and said, “You were perhaps disappointed when I declined to accept your services as a nurse to accompany me to Delhi and stay there for a month. But my          whole position in public life is built upon my reputation as a man of character and unsullied morals. If my enemies are afraid of me and respect me it is because of this. I can never be a party to damage it in any way.” Later, they got married and Dr. Sharda Kabir became Dr. Savita Ambedkar. Dr. Ambedkar informed much about himself in one of his letters to Dr. Sharda Kabir. It makes an interesting reading. He said, “I am a difficult man. Ordinarily, I am quiet as water and humble as grass. But when I get into temper, I am ungovernable and unmanageable. I am a man of silence. There is charge against me that I don’t speak to women i.e. other women. But I don’t even speak to men unless they are my intimates. I am a man of moods. At times I am very serious. At times I am full of humour. I am no gay person; pleasures of life do not attract me. My companions have to bear the burden of my austerity and asceticism. My books have been my companions; they are dearer to me than my wife and children. Morally, I am intractable and do not tolerate any lapses from strict rules of morals.” The letter further reveals how simple but straight a person Dr. Ambedkar was in his personal approach to family life. He wrote, “I have recounted these facts about myself to give you some idea of what a difficult customer you have to deal with. Evidently you are not worried about all this. You perhaps think that as any scratching and biting cats and dogs come together so in the same way we too by scratching and biting shall come together. I wish you all success. While asking for some details of her personal history, at the same time Dr. Ambedkar informed her, “I like art and have a great sense of aesthetics. I do not like ugly things. Dr. Ambedkar believed in youth of the country. While speaking at D.A.V. College in Jalandhar in October, 1951, he said, “I am really very glad to talk to students. A great lot of the future of this country must necessarily depend on students of this country. Students are the intelligent part of the community and they can shape the public opinion.”

In the second part of the book i.e. the remembrances, U.R. Rao of  Thacker & Company, the publishers of Dr. Ambedkar’s books, has made candid observations under the heading ‘Dr. Ambedkar I knew’ about the great man and his love for books. He wrote about the ‘genial humour and urbanity of the man.’ and Dr. Ambedkar’s liking for good fountain pens, particularly of outsize shapes.  Polonius (a senior IAS Kartar Singh) wrote about some of the likes and dislikes of Babasaheb.  Books (reading, writing and collecting) was an ‘all-absorbing passion’ for Dr. Ambedkar. He liked gardening and dogs. As regards dislikes, Dr. Ambedkar disliked ‘political vagabonds’ of the community and treachery of his own followers and associates. Polonius quoted Dr. Ambedkar, “one can fight ones adversaries in a straight battle but it is difficult to deal with the traitors in one’s own camp.” Polonius further wrote that Dr. Ambedkar had a mind and transparent actions as “in public life I will not do a thing which I cannot defend publically.” Yet another trusted aide of Dr. Ambedkar, Sohan Lal Shastri, in his remembrances informed that Dr. Ambedkar did not like intoxicants and was a frugal eater of ordinary meal of bajra roti, rice and some fish. Another interesting entry in the remembrances is that of M.O. Mathai, PS to PM Jawaharlal Nehru and is titled ‘A victim of obscurantism and barbarous intolerance’.  Mathai informed that Dr. Ambedkar was not happy that Shankaracharya, ‘a desecrated expert at logic’ drove away Buddhism from India. He was of the view that Buddha was the greatest soul India ever produced. He also said that the greatest man India produced in recent centuries was not Gandhi but Swami Vivekananda.  It is a known fact that Mahatma Gandhi was Dr. Ambedkar’s adversary but it is surprising to know that he recognized and appreciated Swami Vivekananda. Many people may not know of this. Some of the remembrances of Nanak Chand Rattu, the author of the book, reveal the state of mind of Dr. Ambedkar in the twilight years of his life. His health was failing. His eye sight was diminishing.  He was a lonely man in the hanging political and social scenario in the country. He was up-set and angry with his own followers and associates. Rattu confirmed that Dr. Ambedkar was worried and perturbed in the last years of his life. He used to weep alone. There was no one who could give him solace. Rattu saw him weeping many a times and with courage asked him the reason. Babasaheb did not answer. But one day (July, 1956) he broke down and confessed everything to his trusted aide, as recorded by Nanak Chand Rattu himself, “You people do not know what is troubling me and what makes me so sad. The first worry to my mind is that I have not been able to fulfill my life’s mission. I wanted to see my people as a governing class, sharing the political power in terms of equality with other communities……Whatever I have been able to achieve is being enjoyed by the educated few, who with their deceitful performance, have proved to be a worthless lot, with no sympathy with their downtrodden brethren. They have surpassed my imagination. They live for themselves for their personal gains. Rattu recorded that Dr. Ambedkar was worried about the books he was writing and was very much eager to complete them with his dwindling physical conditions. He was concerned and worried about the line of leadership of his movement after him. Dr. Ambedkar lamented and told Rattu, “My lieutenants, in whom I had full faith and confidence to run the movement, are fighting among themselves for leadership and power. Both, Rattu and Babasaheb were weeping. Babasaheb consoled Rattu and said, “Take courage, don’t get up-set, life is to come to an end one day or the other.” The climax was yet to come as probably the last message to his followers. Rattu recorded that after a little pause and wiping his tears, Dr. Ambedkar said,” Tell my people, Nanak Chand, that whatever I have been able to achieve for them, I have done it single handedly, passing through crushing miseries and endless troubles in the midst of abuses hurled at me from all sides, fighting with my opponents all my life as also with a handful of my own people who deceived me for their selfish ends. But I will continue to serve my country and any down trodden people till my end. With great difficulty, I have brought the caravan where it is seen today. Let the caravan march on and further on, despite the hurdles, pitfalls and difficulties that may come its way. They must rise to the occasion, if they want to live an honourable and respectful life. If my people are not able to take the caravan ahead, they should leave it and must not, under any circumstances allow the caravan to go back.” Dr. Ambedkar further said, ‘This is my message probably the last message in all my seriousness which I am sure will not go unheeded. Go and tell them, go and tell them, go and tell them.” He repeated thrice.

As I said above that the book disappointed me as I expected more from Nanak Chand Rattu who worked with Dr. Ambedkar not only as his office aide but also as a dedicated follower for a long time from 1940 to 1956, a crucial period in the life and mission of his master. It seems that the publishers have also not paid much attention to the project. Nonetheless, some of the real aspects of the life of the greatest son of India which were hitherto unknown have come to light through the pages of the book of Nanak Chand Rattu. As regards the message, it has gone unheeded, unfortunately.  The educated segments of the community and its leaders certainly owe an answer not only to Dr. Ambedkar but also to the suffering masses of the country.

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Wonders of Democracy

When Mayawati became the Chief Minister of UP for the first time in 1995, PM Narasimha Rao termed the development as a “wonder of democracy”. It was an appropriate comment with reference to hitherto unknown and non-entities coming to occupy coveted positions or the other way round that powerful politicians and personalities are unable to make it at the hastings in a democratic set-up. People like Kamraj and Giani Zail Singh, and may be many more, with popular support but no formal education, could rise to great heights at the national level. On the other hand, people like Giani Gurmukh Singh Musafir and Comrade Ram Kishan, in Punjab, could become Chief Ministers. It is an irony of democracy that people like Mahatma Gandhi and Jayaprakash Narayan did not contest elections and Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, Chief Architect of the Indian constitution, could not win any direct election. Jagjivan Ram, an able politician, in spite of his ambitions, could not become PM but unknown leaders like H.D. Deve Gowda became PM by fluke. These are the wonders of democracy. I think in politics and public life, apart from ability and opportunity, a bit of luck is needed otherwise there is no answer for unaccepted failures and undesirable successes.
Vijay Sampla at the Swearing in ceremony
The immediate provocation to write this piece is the appointment of Vijay Sampla as the MoS in the Council of Ministers at the recent reshuffle by PM Narendra Modi. The appointment of Vijay Sampla is yet another wonder of democracy. No political pundit could have thought of Vijay Sampla reaching the honors at this juncture of his career. It is certain that Vijay Sampla himself did not nurture such an ambition at the national level. But it was destined to be a different story. Vijay Sampla, 53, is a shy and low-profile leader. He is a first time MP from Hoshiarpur constituency of Punjab with no record of contesting assembly or parliamentary elections.  Vijay Sampla, a dalit face of the BJP in Punjab, is a self made man. With odd jobs both at home and Saudi Arabia, he became a successful business man while doing his work with the society as a politician. Vijay Sampla became the Sarpanch of his village Sofi in the vicinity of Jalandhar in 1998. His political fore-sight made him join BJP and become an activist of RSS, the dividends of which he is reaping now. Vijay Sampla is a dedicated cadre of the BJP and RSS with proven track record of good work from district level to state level. He is currently the Senior Vice President of Punjab chapter of BJP. He worked as Chairman of Punjab Khadi and Village Industry Board with elan. Vijay Sampla also runs an NGO called Bharat Gaurav for community services and awakening. The compulsions of electoral politics in Punjab, with more than 30% dalit population, have worked in favour of Vijay Sampla. Notwithstanding his humble educational background, Vijay Sampla showed considerable political maturity and acumen and created space for himself in the competitive political set-up.

Let us wish Vijay Sampla all success and let the wonders of democracy continue happening.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Worshipping False Gods

One may recall that Arun Shourie’s book ‘Worshipping False Gods – Ambedkar, and the facts which have been erased’ published in 1997 generated considerable heat and controversy in India. I also read some of the reviews of the book and vehement protests by the followers of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, in the aftermath of the book. Arun Shourie being a known columnist, journalist, writer and an intellectual and on account of my own interest in Dr. Ambedkar, I wanted to read the book but somehow I could not do so till recently. The book is at hand and I finished reading it just recently.

I was disappointed. The stock of Arun Shourie went down in my estimation of him. During my diplomatic service, I happened to meet him twice in Tokyo. Once I accompanied him to a meeting with UNSG Kofi Annan during a conference on aid to Afghanistan in 2003. I found him intelligent and articulate.  Arun Shourie is entitled to his views like anyone else. But it appeared to me that he is totally biased against Dr. B.R. Ambedkar. The lack of substantive arguments and material, however, resulted in making the book of 664 pages. I have found that one third of 664 pages of the book are quotes from the speeches and writings of Dr. Ambedkar, his fellow members in the Constituent Assembly, correspondence and dispatches of high ranking British functionaries and so on. I think his main grudge is why the Government of Maharashtra listed the Constitution of India as one of the works of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar. Arun Shourie dedicated the book to ‘For those few who speak the truth to the people also’. But going through the book one gets the feeling that the author is trying to shroud and hide the truth with the help of his ‘scholarly rigour’ like a trained prostitute trying to hide her modesty with her professional skills.

Arun Shourie has labored hard to say that Ambedkar was not a freedom fighter. But the question remained that Ambedkar never claimed that he was a freedom fighter. He clearly set his goal and said, “I have never claimed to be a universal leader of the suffering humanity. The problem of untouchables is quite enough for my slender strength. I do not say that other causes are not equally noble. But knowing that life is short, one can only serve one cause and I have never aspired to do more than serve the untouchables.” Mahatma Gandhi and the Congress Party were his political adversaries. Why should he have sung praises of them and cooperated with them? I don’t understand the argument of Arun Shourie. The writer has objections to Dr. Ambedkar becoming the Minister/Member of the Viceroys Council. Again it is not understandable. Why Dr. Ambedkar should not have accepted the coveted position offered to him particularly when the discriminatory and casteist society was not inclined to recognize his ability and position to represent the interests of untouchables? Arun Shourie has repeatedly quoted in the book that Dr. Ambedkar was of the view that the untouchables supported establishing the British Raj in India in the battles of Plassey and Kirkee. What was wrong in doing so? The untouchables were not worthy of sitting near the high caste Hindus. They were not fit to be in the armies of the high caste Rajas and Maharajas. Why should they have not accepted the jobs in the British army and earn their bread with dignity? Dr. Ambedkar was a nationalist to the core but his priorities were different.  “Beware of false knowledge. It is more dangerous than ignorance”, said George Bernard Shaw.  The twisted facts, as the book shows, are even more dangerous.

Arun Shourie has tried his best to explain that Dr. Ambedkar was not a social reformer either. It is surprising that in the analysis, he praises Mahatma Gandhi and his Harijan Sewak Sangh, Gandhi’s cosmetic efforts against untouchability etc. It is a new-found love just to corner and downsize Dr. Ambedkar. Otherwise, I don’t think Arun Shourie, being a staunch RSS and Jan Sangh/BJP man, has any love lost for Mahatma Gandhi or Congress. Dr. Ambedkar’s efforts to educate and reform the dalit community and the entire society at large is well documented. His earnest desire and efforts to reform the society through the Hindu Code Bill may not be ignored by the genuine historians easily.

Dr.B.R. mbedkar's statue at Parliament House, New Delhi
Arun Shourie is not inclined to accept Dr. Ambedkar as the ‘Manu of our times’. I think Dr. Ambedkar would have or must have hated this expression that is calling him the modern Manu. Dr. Ambedkar was dead against Manu and Manuwad.  The major grudge which Arun Shourie has against Dr. Ambedkar is  why is it said and believed that he was the father of India’s constitution?  Dr. Ambedkar never claimed that honour at anytime. Keeping with the desirable modesty, he always said that he was a small cog in the wheel of the long process. It was the President of the Constituent Assembly Babu Rajinder Prasad, PM Jawaharlal Nehru and most of the honourable members of the Constituent Assembly who acclaimed and appreciated the work and contribution of Dr. Ambedkar in this regard. Arun Shourie has quoted at length and I quote only one. This is what Pattabhi Sitarmmaiyya, speaking in the Constituent Assembly, said, “What a stream-roller intellect he brought to bear upon this magnificent task: irresistible, indomitable, unconquerable leveling down tall palms and short poppies; whatever he felt be right, he stood by, regardless of consequences.”  Some people with Manuwadi attitude are unable to digest the honours bestowed on Dr. Ambedkar. They try to belittle the status and position of Dr. Ambedkar by saying that it was Mahatma Gandhi, Sardar Patel, Pandit Nehru and even Jagjivan Ram who were instrumental in bringing Dr. Ambedkar to the Constituent Assembly as if he did not fit the bill otherwise and was a non entity. He was made the Chairman of the Drafting Committee just for nothing. The upper-hand mentality of the casteist mindsets are at work, it is evident. That is why they cannot see above their noses. Why were all these worthies falling over each other in favouring and accommodating Dr. Ambedkar for such an important task of constitution making? No one, of the likes of Arun Shourie, has the answer. In spite of this attempt of Arun Shourie of character assassination, that too posthumous, historians and intellectuals from the cross sections of the society declared Dr. Ambedkar as the Greatest Indian as recent as August 2012. Arun Shourie must be sulking. The Drafting Committee, under the Chairmanship of Dr. Ambedkar, drafted, steered and piloted the constitution in the Constituent Assembly. He did a splendid job which has been duly recognized by the people of India. It is preposterous to suggest and undermine the role of Dr. Ambedkar and say that his role in the process was worthless and marginal. Only a totally biased mind can think of that.

The last chapters of the book suggest ‘Invention, Intimidation, Assault’ unleashed by the followers and the dalit masses against “few who speak the truth”.  It again indicates the mindset only. How can the lowly of the low question all the knowledgeable and powerful Manuwadis? Arun Shourie has termed criticism of his manuwadi ideas as “verbal terrorism”. In fact, his book ‘Worshipping False Gods’ may be termed as intellectual terrorism perpetrated against one of the greatest sons of India and that too long after his death. The title of the book has mentioned about “the facts which have been erased”. Which facts? And who has erased those facts.  The poor followers of Dr. Ambedkar do not have that strength to erase the facts. Yes, some manuwadi intellectuals are trying to create new facts. Most probably they would not succeed. In fact, the colleagues and friends of the author in BJP and RSS are interested in strengthening and supporting the facts which make Dr. Ambedkar a true nationalist, father of the Indian constitution and a great social reformer.
Dr. B.R. Ambedkar

Interestingly, on the front and back cover pages are given two  photographs of Dr. Ambedkar wearing hats and English clothes. It is a subtle attempt to show that Dr. Ambedkar was an English man in his thinking and living. Though it is a small point yet it may be added that Dr. Ambedkar used to normally wear Sherwani-Churidar, Bandgala suits, Kurta Pyjama/dhoti as required, befitting the occasion. In fact, Dr. Ambedkar was a well dressed man always at his sartorial elegance.

It is gratifying to note that Arun Shourie could not succeed in denting the exalted personality of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar. The book “Worshipping False Gods – Ambedkar, and the facts which have been erased” generated considerable heat but did not throw any light to educate the discerning readership.
ऐ मुनकरेजात तेरी बहस मुस्सल्लम;
मगर यूँ वह कुछ और नुमाईअ नज़र आता है ! 




Tuesday, October 14, 2014

My tryst with Buddhism

Since my childhood, my family has been a passive follower of Mahatma Budh, generally because of the influence of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar in the Doaba region of Punjab. If my memory supports me well, I remember that even 50 years back, my uncle Jai Ram who had an artistic bent of mind, painted ‘Buddham Sharnam Gacchami’ on the doors of our house. With this early influence, I have been following Buddhism consciously or sub-consciously, in spite of the fact that neither my family nor I ever followed, at any time, religious rituals strictly. After joining government service in 1970, I went to Delhi. There also occasionally, I visited  Budh Vihar in R.K. Puram along with my likeminded colleagues and friends. In my day to day living when ever some thought of peace and compassion came to me, Mahatma Budh appeared at the back of my mind.

I was posted to the Indian Embassy in Beijing in 1977. The Chinese masses followed Buddha before communists took over. During my interaction with some of the Chinese, they told me that still most of the people particularly the old generation still worshipped and followed Buddha in their minds. I also told them that I was a Buddhist by mind. During my stay in Beijing, I visited many closed monasteries and other places where thousands of statues and images of Buddha were discarded and stored. Now with the changed situation in China, people are free to follow their religion and Buddhism is back in currency.

Sri Lankans follow Buddha. I was posted at Assistant High Commission in Kandy, the seat of Dalda Maligawa, where the tooth relic of Buddha is kept and preserved. I visited Dalda Maligawa many a times to satisfy my inner urges pertaining to Buddha.  I witnessed Perahera (procession) every year in which the tooth relic of Buddha is taken out. The tooth relic used to be carried by a majestic elephant named Raja, gifted by PM Jawaharlal Nehru in the early 50s. Raja was declared a national treasure by Sri Lanka. Raja died sometime in 1988. It fell on me to place a wreath on Raja, kept at the Dalda Maligawa, on behalf of the Government of India to condole the death and pay regards. I still cherish the memory of that unique experience. I had occasions to speak and interact with Bhikkhus (Buddhist priests) many a times during my stay in Kandy.  The link and association with things Buddhist were kept and maintained.

Japanese Buddhist Priest Rev. D.S. Uchida in Jalandhar
In the process of my diplomatic duties, I was assigned to the Indian Embassy in Tokyo from 2001-03. Japan being a Buddhist country, there were many opportunities to get associated with Buddhism. I visited a number of times the Renkoji Temple in Tokyo, where the ashes (remains) of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose have been kept, to represent the Embassy at many events and joined the Buddhist ceremonies and rituals. My Japanese friend Reverend D.S. Uchida, who was a great friend of India, provided me many opportunities to visit Buddhist temples. I visited the famous city of temples Kyoto and went to many famous temples as a pilgrimage. I was specially obliged and honoured by Rev. D.S. Uchida and his associates by conducting a Buddhist welcome ceremony on the marriage of my daughter Vaishali at President Hotel in Jalandhar in December, 2001. They specially came to Jalandhar for the purpose on my humble invitation. I was touched by their generosity. On my introduction and request, Rev. Uchida visited a local Budh Vihar in Bootan Mandi, my native place, and made a special prayer.

I have had the pleasure of meeting His Holiness Dalai Lama. I met and had lunch with Dalai Lama in Tokyo in 2003 at the residence of DCM of the Indian Embassy Biren Nanda. Second time I met him in Prague sometime in 2006 at an international spiritual conference. Dalai Lama is such a humble dignitary that he immediately recognized me as the representative of the Indian embassy and hugged me warmly. My Buddhist spiritual instincts were touched and I felt contented from within.

With Japanese Buddhist Priest in Tokyo
In Scotland, where I was the Consul General of India in the years 2007-08, I regularly interacted with the Buddhist community in Glasgow, ardent followers of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, and attended a couple of their functions. At one of the functions, they gifted me ‘The Buddha and His Dhamma” the book written by Dr. Ambedkar.  I read this book only recently, after my retirement in 2010. In Dr. Ambedkar’s own words, “it is a clear and consistent statement of the life and teaching of the Buddha.”

Lord Buddha’s teachings and philosophy has a considerable relevance in the day to day life. We are a poor country and most of the followers of Buddha in India are poor. As some food for thought, I quote from the book ‘The Buddha and His Dhamma’ from the chapter “His dislike for poverty”.  Giving the reasons, answering a question, why one should acquire riches? Lord Buddha did not comfort the poor by praising poverty nor did he sublimate poverty as a happy state for man to live in. It is message not only for the poor followers of Buddha but for the whole country. The followers of Mahatma Budh shall not be poor and depressed.



Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Legacy of Babu Kanshi Ram

Today, October 9, is the death anniversary of Babu Kanshi Ram (March, 1934-October, 2006), the Mesiah of dalits after Dr. B.R. Ambedkar in the contemporary times. Babu Kanshi Ram was an ordinary man in the formative years of his life and career. After education in Punjab, he joined one of the defense research laboratories   and started his professional career as a scientist. He did not have any political leanings to begin with. The discriminatory and Manuwadi  working environment at the work place motivated and attracted Kanshi Ram to Ambedkar’s mission and philosophy. He resigned his well placed job and joined fulltime public life to integrate and organize the Bahujan Samaj (as against the minority Brahamnical order).

Kanshi Ram’s first priority was to engage and streamline the Government and organized sector employees. In December, 1978, He floated Backward and Minority Communities Employees Federation (BAMCEF) for the purpose. It was a success and he could establish himself in the educated and well-to-do employees belonging to dalit and backward communities. He marched further on his chartered course and established Dalit Shoshit Samaj Samiti (DS4) in December, 1981. With the experience, he graduated and initiated a full fledged political party named Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in April, 1984. Kanshi Ram worked hard with unprecedented zeal. In no time, BSP became a force to reckon with. I recall the famous columnist and journalist, M.J. Akbar observed in one of his articles in the late 80s that ‘He (Kanshi Ram) has arrived but is yet to reach’. He did reach, not at the goal during his life time, but certainly near the goal. Kanshi Ram’s untimely demise changed the entire scenario.  His followers like Mayawati showed some promise under Kanshi Ram’s leadership to begin with. The dalit masses extended the desired support and understanding but, it appears, that the inheritors of Kanshi Ram’s legacy are unable to sustain the situation.

Coming to the legacy of Kanshi Ram, it will be in order to know his views on some of the vital issues. The things will become clear. He dedicated himself totally to the cause he espoused. He stood for socio-economic change as against the status quo supported by the current political and social order. Kanshi Ram proved himself a game changer. He told his followers to become self reliant and retaliate against oppression. He taught his followers “ Ek Eent Ka Jawab, Do Pathar (for one brick respond with two stones) otherwise they were not his followers. Kanshi Ram wanted for the dalit masses their share in the political and economic structures as a matter of right and not magnanimity of the upper castes. The potent force behind this agenda of Kanshi Ram was his total dedication and self sacrifice. Before he ushered himself to the tortuous journey, Kanshi Ram vowed “I will never get married. I will never acquire any property. I will never visit my home. I will devote and dedicate my life to achieve the goals of Phule-Ambedkar movement.” He stood by the vows he took throughout his life. He never cared for is personal comforts. This total involvement and dedication of Kanshi Ram made him dear to the suffering and oppressed masses. He could establish and register his presence in the political and social spheres of life. He became a living legend. His political outfit, BSP became a strong cadre based political party by its own right. Thus, Kanshi Ram proved himself a powerful leader with vision. His legacy is relevant and important and will remain so in the years to come till a just and equitable social order is established.

Let us watch and see. The situation is taking a different turn. The opponents of Kanshi Ram in the major political parties like Congress and the BJP are willing to own Kanshi Ram on account of his following and political weight on one hand and his political heirs like Mayawati (no second name comes to my mind) are losing their steam and relevance, of late. The followers of Kanshi Ram are getting disgruntled and tired. It is a sad and bad commentary on the legacy of Kanshi Ram.


Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Mahatma Gandhi in Scotland

It was in order to lower the political temperature in Scotland after the September, 2014 Referendum on Scotland’s union with the UK. Rightly so, the authorities organized a week long activities in and around Edinburgh to coincide with the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi on October 2. The day is also observed as the International Day of Non-violence on the initiation of the UN.
Naming of Gandhi Avenue in Edinburgh
I followed some of these activities with interest, simply, to renew my own association with Scotland as the Consul general of India in Edinburgh from 2007-08. One of the renowned writers, intellectuals, administrators and diplomats, Gopal Krishna Gandhi, grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, was the main inter-locator and speaker on a number of events in this regard. Gopal Krishna Gandhi, whom I followed from my tenure in Assistant High Commissioner of India in Kandy (Sri Lanka) also served in Kandy before me as a diplomat and dealt with the registration and repatriation issues of stateless Indians of Tamil origin mostly working on the tea estates in the picturesque hill districts of Sri Lanka like Kandy, Nuwara Eliya etc. Gopal Gandhi earned a name for himself in Kandy while doing his diplomatic duties. The elite circles of the Kandyan society loved him very much.  Gopal Gandhi addressed the Parliament of Scotland. He spoke at University of Edinburgh on the theme ‘India Yesterday, India Today’.

With Arun Gandhi at Edinburgh
I am confident his speeches in Edinburgh must have been received well. Incidentally, I received and hosted Arun Gandhi, another grandson of Mahatma Gandhi in 2008 at Edinburgh.

At Gndhi statue in Edinburgh
Mahatma Gandhi is well known and respected personality in Scotland. There is a well maintained park in Edinburgh where a statue of Mahatma Gandhi has been placed in the lush green surroundings. I started the practice of observing International Day of Non-Violence on October 2 at the statue of Mahatma Gandhi with the help and co-operation of Lord Mayor of Edinburgh and the Scottish government. One of the roads leading to the park was named as Mahatma Gandhi Avenue on my initiative in 2007. A senior NRI, Mohinder Dhall was a great help in the process.  A. Hazara,  an old Indian settler in Scotland and his gracious Scottish wife along with other fellow Indians and friends of India established Bharatiya Ashram in Dundee, another small but beautiful town of Scotland. They also celebrate the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi every successive year.


Thursday, October 2, 2014

Swachh Bharat Campaign – Gandhi Jayanti

On PM Narendra Modi’s call Swachh Bharat (Clean India) campaign has been initiated. October 2 (Mahatma Gandhi’s birth anniversary), will be observed as Swachh Bharat Day. It is a laudable activity. India is one of the dirtiest places in the world. It is a matter of shame for all Indians particularly it spiritual, social and political leadership. We claim that our scriptures teach us that cleanliness is godliness. We pride that in the recent times, our father of the nation Mahatma Gandhi was an ardent votary of cleanliness. Then why we are the dirtiest people. The answer is not far to seek. But we are not honest in our thought and action.  The caste system, to my mind, is the primary reason for our neglect of our physical cleanliness of our homes and surroundings. We require a safaiwala (cleaner) to the odd cleaning jobs. That safaiwala generally comes from a low caste in the social strata. It is below our dignity to do our own work and keep clean. The safaiwalas have further division. There is a general safiwala who will not touch the garbage and the bath rooms. We need to have another person for that and he or she generally belongs to the lower castes. Unless, this narrow mindset is changed nothing is going to work. We need to establish a casteless society to begin with.  The leadership is required to see the things in perspective and educate the masses. Only a lip service has been done so far in this regard. We are not ready yet to undertake our own cleanliness and remove and handle our own waste. The practice of cleaning our house and dump the garbage at the neighbors door step is still is still happily prevailing.  It has to change.

I am living in Jalandhar. I have seen today, September 26, the photos of brooms and buckets being held by the political leadership particularly belonging to the ruling BJP on the commencement of Swachh Bharat Saptah (Clean India week) as willed by PM Modi. It is the dirtiest joke of the day. For the last 10 years, BJP is in power and runs Jalandhar Municipal Corporation. Every nook and corner of the city is dirty. The heaps and mounds of garbage is just dumped on the side of the road, of course at the open site designated by the municipal authorities. First the garbage is examined by the stray animals then by the rag pickers. The left over is occasionally trucked by the authorities in an open air fashion leaving the foul smell all around. The Akalis who rule the state from Chandigarh are equal partners in Jalandhar Municipal Corporation.  Now the BJP has their government at the centre too. The Swachh Bharat campaign belongs to PM Narendra Modi. Let us see what happens? Nothing will, I think, happen. It will remain a photo opportunity till the mind set is rectified, as I said before.

Not to talk of developed world, I have seen poor countries like us. The situation is not bad at all. China is as populated as we are. There railway tracks and stations are not dirty as ours. I travelled from Hongkong to Beijing by train many a times and from Beijing to Pyongyang (North Korea) a couple of times. I did not see anybody defecating and urinating in the open. I travelled widely in poor Africa and countries of Central Asia. There is no visible eye shore. They are much better and ahead of us.

Gandhi Jayantis will come and go. We will remain where we are if don’t change our thinking. For that the governments need to provide facilities and the common people like us to realize the saying ‘Cleanliness is Godliness’ by shedding our inhibitions that the odd jobs are to be done by the so called ‘Safaiwala’ alone.

Postscript: A little while ago, PM Narendra Modi launched Swachh Bharat campaign from New Delhi. He reiterated that it is not the duty of safaiwala alone to clean our dirt. It is the duty of all us to keep ourselves clean. He said, “Is cleaning only the responsibility of karamcharis ? Do citizens have no role in this ? We have to change the mind set. On this day, October 2, when we are observing the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, we should support Swachh Bharat campaign as a national movement and do our best to make it a success.


Thursday, September 25, 2014


It has been decided to shut down the HMT Watch Division after 53 years of its operations. It is said that HMT watches were a tribute to the manufacturing skills of India.  PM Jawaharlal Nehru called it (HMT watch) a jewel in India’s crown. HMT watches became a household name in India before Tata and other brands came as its competitors. My first watch, costing a princely sum of about Rs.70, sometime in 1965-66, was an HMT beauty.  Later, in the early 70’s, on my father’s requirement, I purchased, with a recommendatory slip from the PA of the Minister of Industries, a couple of watches from their retail outlet in Connaught Place in New Delhi and sent them to Jalandhar.  Later, in the early 80’s I was the Protocol Officer in the Ministry of External Affairs dealing with gifts to be exchanged with foreign dignitaries by our political and beaurocratic leadership. The HMT watches were one of the easy and acceptable options for presentation both to male and female recipients. In fact, we used to keep in stock a few HMT watches of different kinds to meet any immediate and sudden requirement. HMT watches did well. It appears that the company could not keep pace with the new market requirements. It is a pity.

My HMT watch
I still use HMT watches. Chairman of HMT gifted me in 1999 a commemorative watch issued at the silver jubilee of India’s Independence. I have an HMT pocket watch which I generally use with Nehru jackets and bandgala suits. These are my valued possessions. Sometimes things can go wrong without reason. In 1993, I accompanied a high level official delegation to Riga,  Latvia. As usual the gifts were exchanged at the end of the tour. Our delegation carried good HMT watches for the senior officials. After breaking away from the USSR, Latvia became independent in 1991 only. They were yet to establish protocol procedures. One of the recipients opened the gift there itself and wanted to show it around. On opening the gift, to our utter surprise, one of the hands of the watch was broken. It was an uncalled for embarrassment. Luckily, we had an additional gift (HMT watch) and we promptly changed the broken watch. I am sure our Latvian friends understood our right and honourable gesture.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Scottish Referendum

With Lord Mayor of Edinburgh and Foreign Mister Fiona Hyslop
With First Minister Alex Salmond
Scotland is, currently, in the news. The September 18 referendum on the independence of Scotland from the UK has negated the move. Scotland will stay with the UK. It is a momentous development of far reaching implications for the UK and Europe at large. The referendum may be seen as a tribute to democracy. People exercised their vote in a peaceful manner, in spite of the political and emotional heat generated by the ‘Yes’ campaign spear headed by First Minister of Scotland Alex Salmond and his party Scottish National Party (SNP) and the ‘No’ campaign led by PM David Cameron and the major political parties of the UK. It is said that the issue has been decided by the ‘Heads’ over the ‘Hearts. But it seems the ‘Purse’ i.e. economics has played a major role in tilting the scale in favour of ‘No’ vote. Nearly the two hundred thousand strong immigrant community, mainly of Indian and Pakistani origin, in Scotland, it appears, decided to go for a safe bet to remain with the UK rather than sailing in the unchartered waters. First Minister Alex Salmond has resigned and has accepted the verdict of the people.  He called for unity and urged the unionist parties to deliver on more powers."I accept that verdict of the people and I call on all of Scotland to follow suit in accepting the democratic verdict of the people of Scotland," the leader of the Scottish National Party said. He tweeted to say "Let's not dwell on the distance we've fallen short — let us dwell on the distance we have travelled".

I followed these developments with keen interest with regard to my own association with Scotland as the Consul General of India in Edinburgh from 2007-08. It was an interesting time. I reached Edinburgh at the time of general elections in 2007 under the arrangements of devolution of powers. The SNP led by Alex Salmond won and came to power. Consul Generals in Scotland are a little better placed as Scotland enjoyed a degree of independence from London. It has its own Parliament and Minister of Foreign Affairs. It has a separate seat in the EU and Commonwealth structures and also separate national (Scottish) teams in sports. The Indian Diaspora, one hundred thousand strong, mostly settled in and around Glasgow, is doing well. No political party can afford to ignore them. In my diplomatic capacity, I enjoyed excellent relations with First Minister Alex Salmond and his colleagues in the Cabinet and Parliament particularly the Foreign Ministers Linda Fabiani and Fiona Hyslop and the Chairman of the Scottish Parliament at that time. The Lord Mayor of Edinburgh and his gracious wife were very friendly and considerate.

India has historical ties with Scotland. It is said that the English ruled the empire but the Scots ran it. In the early years of the colonial period, many Scotts worked in India on tea plantations and railway network. The founder of the Indian National Congress A.O. Hume was a Scot. The first Geographical Survey of India was done by a Scot Colin Campbell. India has much to do with Scotland, no matter whether it stays with the UK or  otherwise. It is the internal matter of the UK and the people have decided the matter in a democratic vote. I wish the UK and Scotland all the best in the years to come.