Thursday, May 29, 2014

Educational Degrees in Politics

The case of Smriti Irani, the new HRD Minister, is current in the news. Smriti Irani is an under graduate. There has been some criticism and objections both in the political and also in intellectual circles as to why she has been given a heavy and important portfolio of education and other related subjects.
First comes the legal and practical aspect. It is the prerogative of Prime Minister to distribute and assign work and allot portfolios to his Ministers. PM Narendra Modi has done so. There should not be any problem. Though it seems, prima facie, that it is a case of out of turn promotion for Smriti Irani. She is comparatively a new player in politics. Having lost the election for the Lok Sabha in 2004, Shri was given a seat in the Rajya Sabha. She lost again in 2014 elections and now has been rewarded with a plumb position of HRD Minister. It only proves that she enjoys a considerable clout in the BJP and an excellent rapport with the leadership especially PM Narendra Modi. On the other hand, according to my personal assessment, Smriti Irani is an intelligent person. She made a mark in her professional career as an actor. She climbed fast on the political ladder and became Vice President and the Spokesperson of the BJP after joining politics. She conducted herself well in the Rajya Sabha. Smriti Irani is a good orator and articulate in communicating her mind. The educational degree should not be considered as an important aspect of becoming a good Minister. It is nothing new in Indian politics. There have been leaders with less education or no formal education. Giani Zail Singh was a successful Chief Minister of Punjab, Home Minister of India and to top it all President of India. Kamraj was a successful Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu and one of the strongest Presidents of the Congress. Chaudhary Devi Lal became the Deputy PM and was a successful CM of Haryana. Sitaram Kesari, too, was not much educated who became a Union Minister and also President of the Congress Party. There may be many more such examples. I think education, intelligence and literacy are different attributes of one’s personality.

What should be the important qualification of an MP or a Minister? I would like to quote Dr. B.R. Ambedkar in this regard and it makes lot of sense. He said ‘Education can hardly be the sole qualification for membership of parliament. If I may use the words of Buddha, he said that man requires two things. One is ‘Gyan’ and the other is ‘Sheel’. Gyan without Sheel is very dangerous. It must be accompanied by Sheel by which we mean character, moral courage, ability to be independent of any kind of temptations, truthful to ones ideals. I am very keen to see that no member enters this august assembly who does not possess ‘Sheel’ in adequate degree’.

With this, let us wish the government of Narendra Modi all the best. May the Ministers conduct themselves with ‘Gyan’ and ‘Sheel’?


A degree is not an education and the confusion is perhaps the greatest weakness in American thinking about education.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Sant Ramanand of Dera Ballan

Today, May 25 is the death anniversary of Sant Ramanand of Dera Ballan in Jalandhar. He succumbed to the mindless shoot-out by some fanatic militants on May 24, 2009 in a Guru Ravidass Gurudwara in Vienna (Austria). Sant Ramanand adorned an important position in the Dera Ballan hierarchy. With his concerted efforts and increasing acceptability in the followers of the Dera, Sant Ramanand had become a known personality not only in Punjab but also abroad particularly in the dalit community at large. His immense contribution to the progress and development of Dera Ballan was duly recognized and appreciated by the successive Sants who headed the Dera. Sant Ramanand was much respected in the dalit community for his great zeal in making the community alive and vibrant not only spiritually, with the teachings and philosophy of Guru Ravidasss, but also socially and educationally. He was a preacher and Parcharak of standing with a large and dedicated following.  I am writing this as a tribute to the memory of Sant Ramanand on his Shaheedi Day.

The aftermath of Sant Ramanand’s shaheedi was tragic and violent. The followers of Dera Ballan and the community in general stood up spontaneously. It was felt that the Sikhs were jealous and not happy with the visible progress and forthcoming standing of dalits. These developments generated avoidable friction between the dalits and fundamentalist Sikhs. The further actions of Dera Ballan in floating “Ravidassia Dharam” and launching their religious Granth “Amritvani” aggravated the situation and adversely affected the social fabric of society. The dalit community was further divided. Meanwhile, the vested interests both in the religious realm and also politics worked overtime to take advantage of the situation. Dera Ballan suffered the crisis of genuine and effective leadership. The community is harping in the dark. It seems the sacrifice of Sant Ramanad has gone waste. The current scenario in which the community is condemned to rest was not the vision of Sant Ramanand. Dera Ballan with its very potent following and the community at large should consider and think to set the house in order. It will be a big tribute to the memory of Sant Ramanand.



Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Remembering Rajiv Gandhi

Today, May 21 is the death anniversary of Rajiv Gandhi, a young and vibrant Prime Minister of India. He was assassinated by terrorists at an election meeting in 1991. I am writing this as homage to the memory of the great son of India.

Rajiv Gandhi visited Colombo on July 29-30, 1987 and signed Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement to Establish Peace and Normalcy in Sri Lanka with his Sri Lankan counterpart J.R. Jayewardene. I was posted in Kandy, a scenic hill station and famous for the Dalida Maligawa (tooth relic of Lord Buddha), at the Assistant High Commission and was called to Colombo for the PM’s visit. I was attached to the Media Centre at Hotel Taj Samundra. I saw Rajiv Gandhi, prince charming, from a close angle on July 29 when their helicopter landed in front of Taj Samundra. The visit was to conclude the next morning on July 30 with the Guard of Honour to bid send off to the visiting PM Rajiv Gandhi. I positioned myself with the media entourage at the end of the Guard of Honour line up. The Agreement signed by the two leaders had generated considerable heat in the diplomatic and political circles. During the Guard of Honour there was a lot commotion. I could see clearly PM Rajiv Gandhi being hit by a soldier in line with the butt of his rifle. I was standing just a couple of meters from the spot of the butt attack. PM Rajiv Gandhi’s own presence of mind and agility saved him from major injury. The rest is history. It was my first hand experience to be around the great leader Rajiv Gandhi.

Rajiv Gandhi was killed by a human bomb by terrorists on May 21 in 1991. It is now observed as Anti-Terrorism Day by taking a pledge against terrorism. I had been administering the pledge as Head of Mission at various Indian diplomatic missions for many years. In May, 1991, I was the Under Secretary (Eastern Europe) at the Ministry of External Affairs. The Deputy PM of the Czech Republic came for the funeral of PM Rajiv Gandhi. I was deputed as the Chief Protocol Liaison Officer with the Czech VVIP. The dead body of Rajiv Gandhi was kept in State at the Teen Murti House for paying final tributes by the public and the visiting leaders from various countries. I accompanied the Czech Deputy PM to the Teen Murti House. There were many other leaders from foreign countries. Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan, though not in power, also came for the final rites of the departed leader. She was talking to PM Chander Shekhar at Teen Murti House. We were standing nearby. She said that he (Chander Shekhar) was a leader but did not enjoy support of the people and he (Rajiv Gandhi) who was lying in State was not a leader but enjoyed popular support. It was the second occasion when I happened to be near Rajiv Gandhi in the course of my duties. It was destiny that both Rajiv Gandhi and Benazir Bhutto met the tragic end by the designs of terrorists.


Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Greetings on Buddha Jayanti

Today May 14, 2014 is Vaishakh – Buddha Jayanti or Buddha Purnima. It marks the Birth, Enlightenment and Death of Gautama Buddha on the same day. I greet each and everyone on the Buddha Jayanti and them all the best in the years to come. I invoke the triple gems of Lord Buddha for all round peace and prosperity in India and the world at large.

Buddha Purnima has a special significance for me. My daughter Vaishali was born on the Buddha Purnima day in 1975. May Buddha bless her with success and prosperity?

We the people of India are indebted to Dr. B.R. Ambedkar for the revival of Buddhism in India.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Elections in Punjab – The Dalit Factor

In the run up to the elections for the 16th parliament (Lok Sabha), elections in Punjab for 13 seats were held on April, 30, 2014, of which 4 are reserved seats. It was a smooth affair in spite of the fact that political temperature registered in various constituencies was more than the climatic temperature by any measure. The big player’s viz. Congress, Akali Dal, BJP did not leave any stone unturned to convince the voters both by media onslaughts and also by flexing their muscles of money power and other influences at their command. Their counterpart BSP, as usual, raised some dust too. The new entrant Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) tried its best to register its presence, it seems, with success. The results, it appears, would be unpredictable as both the BSP and AAP would tend to play a spoiling role in the final count. I voted in Punjab for the first time. Let us wait for the verdict on May 16.

Punjab happens to be a state where the dalit population is estimated to be around 35%. In some of the constituencies, it is estimated that it reaches even 40%. The dalits of Punjab are economically better off than their brethren in other parts of the country. A good number of them are settled abroad in countries of Europe and America and also in the Arabian Gulf. The community is spiritually alive under the aegis of Ad-dharam, Sikhism, Kabirpanthis, Valmikis under the influence and association with one Dera or the other. In the thirties, Ad-dharam Mandal of Gadarite leader Babu Mangu Ram and his associates advocated separate identity for the dalits and supported Dr. B.R. Ambedkar. Both Babu Manguram and Babasaheb though did not agree on many issues, played a big role in dalit awakening in Punjab. Dr. Ambedkar’s Scheduled Caste Federation and later Republican Party organized the dalits and brought them to the political reckoning in the state. Congress which remained the ruling party for many years after independence in 1947 under the leadership of dalit leaders like Prithvi Singh Azad, Master Gurbanta Singh and others stood against Dr. Ambedkar. Babu Manguram’s Ad-dharam Mandal became dormant and fizzled out in due course. The Republican Party under the leadership of Piara Ram Dhanowalia and others registered limited success and joined the first ever non-Congress government of Justice Gurnam Singh of Akali Dal in the mid 1960’s. The dalits gained further strength and prosperity. The Akali Dal and the BJP understood the importance of dalits who were hitherto the supporters of the Congress and the Republican Party. These parties started wooing the dalits. Piara Ram Dhanowalia and his associates joined the Congress. The Republican leaders like Lahori Ram Balley, though a competent leader, lost on the way in this transition. Congress, Akali Dal and BJP started embracing Dr. Ambedkar in line with the vote bank politics. Kanshi Ram emerged yet another leader of the dalits and came in the scene as BSP. He could register his presence not only in the Punjab Legislative Assembly but also in the Lok Sabha from Punjab. BSP came but it was yet to reach. Congress’s hold on dalits started diminishing. The new dalit leadership in the Congress under Chaudhary Jagjit Singh, Mohinder Singh Kaypee, Shamsher Singh Dullo and others failed to establish themselves as the community leaders. Akali Dal and BJP, in terms of real politico modus operandi, played their card cleverly. They could succeed in dividing dalit community among Ad-dharmis, Kabirpanthies, Valmikis, Ravidassias, Majhabis, etc. With the propped up leaders like Bhagat Chunni Lal (Kabirpanthi), Hans Raj Hans (Valmiki), Som Prakash (Ad-dharmi) the community further disintegrated. The BSP-trained cadres drifted and found space in Congress (Dr. Ram Lal Jassi, Satnam Kainth & others), in Akali Dal (Pawan Tinu, Avinash Chander & others) and also in BJP and enjoyed the spoils of power. BSP went the way Republican Party had gone and lost its eminance. The spiritual deras particularly the followers of Guru Ravidass got considerable following and influence among the dalit masses. They could not control and consolidate in the absence of enlightened and experienced advisers and aides. The mostly illiterate spiritual leadership of these deras did not find any need to invite and associate the experienced lot as advisers and managers. The actions of a prominent Dera in Jalandhar, in forming yet another sect/religion and the adoption of a new holy book, proved to be a futile exercise which resulted in social tension on one hand and divisive for the community on the other. The crux of the matter is that dalit community is totally divided. The so called economic well being and resultant awakening have tended to divide further rather than uniting. The political parties particularly the Akali Dal played a subtle role in dividing the dalits by supporting one Dera against the other. The vested social, spiritual and political interests wanted exactly this to happen. It suited them to keep dalits under their tutelage.

Punjab with the highest percentage of dalit population will always be ruled by the non dalits. It is a matter of fact in the given circumstances. If dalits wish to get their due space in social, economic and political landscape in Punjab, they need to stand up, consider and act in getting united as dalits irrespective of their religion, community identity, dera affiliation. The food for thought is that which political party has fielded any dalit candidate in the elections other than the reserved seats? None, not even BSP. Does it commensurate with their demographic strength? How do they expect to get their share (Bhagidari) in the establishment and governance? Let us think and get the answers.