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.