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)