Thursday, December 31, 2015

Out of the Box Diplomacy – India-Pakistan Relations

On becoming the Minister of External Affairs, Sushma Swaraj,  last year in May, 2014, used the term “Out of the Box” diplomacy which PM Narendra Modi’s government would like to pursue in the conduct of India’s international relations, particularly with its neighbors. Accordingly, both PM Narendra Modi and EAM Sushma Swaraj have been pursuing the foreign policy goals of India over the last one and a half years with a new approach and inputs wherever required and possible on one hand and carrying forward the traditional tenets of its international engagement. Obviously, foreign policy is an on-going process and will continue to meet the challenges, both old and new.

The immediate provocation to write on the “Out of the Box”
diplomacy with regard to Indo-Pak relations is PM Narendra Modi’s surprise visit to Lahore to meet PM Nawaz Sharif on December 25, 2015, ostensibly, to wish PM Nawaz Sharif a happy birthday and join the festivities of the marriage of PM Nawaz Sharif’s granddaughter. It is said that PM Narendra Modi has a penchant for high drama. Why not? He is a leader by his own right whose government enjoys clear majority in the Lok Sabha with overwhelming popular mandate. PM Narendra Modi can afford to undertake, as assessed by Vivek Katju an Indian diplomat and Pakistan expert, who termed it as “innovative diplomacy” with “a quest to make history”. Ever since, PM Modi took over in May, 2014, he has given much needed impetus and visibility to the Indian diplomacy by taking personal initiatives and establishing personal rapport with world leaders to protect and promote Indian interests. Obviously, it requires an “Out of the box” approach leaving aside some of the diplomatic nothings, the so called protocol niceties. PM Narendra Modi’s surprise visit to Lahore on December 25 was a diplomatic master-stroke, keeping in line with his work style and “a quest to make history”. It is simply an academic exercise to discuss as to how it happened? I think, it was thought and planned by PM Modi himself. It is possible he kept NSA Ajit Doval and FS Dr. S. Jaishankar on the loop. He knew in his mind how PM Nawaz sharif will respond to his birthday greetings from Kabul and he would immediately grab the opportunity. It exactly happened the way it was visualized by PM Modi. The special Indian Air force plane was deployed to take care of the security requirements. Befitting gifts were available in the gifts inventory for the granddaughter of Nawaz Sharif. The Indian side has explained how PM Modi telephoned PM Sharif to wish him happy birthday and how, in turn, he invited him to Lahore on his way back from Kabul to have tea with him and join the marriage festivities of his grand-daughter. The Pakistani side explained it with a little twist, perhaps to cater to the local needs that PM Modi telephoned to say happy birthday to PM Sharif and desired to make a brief halt at Lahore on his way back from Kabul to do so. Whatever the case, the purpose was served as mused by PM Narendra Modi to “completely transform India-Pak relations” in the words of an enlightened commentator.

It needs no elaboration that India-Pakistan relations are extremely complex and difficult from day one of their becoming independent nations in August, 1947. Most of the Hindus could not digest the two-nation theory on the basis of which Pakistan came into existence. Some of them are still talking of Akhand Bharat. Pakistan and also Bangladesh are independent and sovereign states and will remain so. My advice to the likes of Ram Madhav of RSS is to study the thought provoking book “Thoughts on Pakistan” written by the finest mind of India Dr. B.R. Ambedkar well before the partition of India. The rest is history. The Kashmir issue is the core issue, as stated by Pakistan, which is the left-over agenda of partition. We may or may not admit it but it is a reality. Despite the “Stand-still Agreement”, Pakistan invaded Kashmir and tried to annex it by force in 1948 itself. Understanding the situation, on Kashmir’s legal accession to India, leaders like Sardar Patel, Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, Govind Ballabh Pant and also Babasaheb Ambedkar advised PM Jawaharlal Nehru to throw out Pakistani invaders by force and kill the issue. But PM Nehru’s thinking was at variance.  He was seeing the issue through the prism of the eyes of Lord Mountbatten and Sheikh Abdullah which, it seems, was a big mistake. Dr. Ambedkar, though he was not involved in matters related to foreign policy when he was the Law Minister in the interim government of PM Nehru, suo-motto gave his views on the Kashmir issue. I quote from an article written by Dr. K. Jamnadas “Kashmir Problem from Ambedkarite Perspective,” Even about Kashmir, the issue on which we are fighting, who is in the right and who is in the wrong. The real issue to my mind, he said, is not who is in the right but what is right and he observed: "... my view has always been that the right solution is to partition Kashmir. Give the Hindu and Buddhist part to India and the Muslim part to Pakistan as we did in the case of India. We are really not concerned with the Muslim part of Kashmir. It is a matter between the Muslims of Kashmir and Pakistan. They may decide the issue, as they like. Or if you like, divide it into three parts; the Cease-fire zone, the Valley and the Jammu-Ladakh Region and have a plebiscite only in the Valley. What I am afraid of is that in the proposed plebiscite, which is to be an overall plebiscite, the Hindus and Buddhists of Kashmir are likely to be dragged into Pakistan against their wishes and we may have to face the same problems as we are facing today in East Bengal."
Dr. Ambedkar was a genius. The solution given by him was pragmatic and was not based on misplaced emotions. Had PM Jawaharlal Nehru listened to him, both the newly independent countries would not have suffered the economic burden of defense of the long border and also the subsequent full blown wars and often repeated border skirmishes resulting in constant hostility between the two neighbors. Even after 68 long years, the solution still lies somewhere close to Dr. Ambedkar’s thinking. PM Indira Gandhi and PM Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, it is said, agreed in 1972 at the time of Simla Agreement to convert the Line of Control (LOC) into international border and settle the core issue of Kashmir. It could not happen. The Nobel Peace Prize eluded them. PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee was interested in making history and he tried with PM Nawaz Sharif and President Pervez Musharraf but failed. PM Manmohan Singh and President Pervez Musharraf picked up the threads and thought of making the LOC and International border between India and Pakistan “irrelevant” and become the contenders for the coveted peace prize. But again it was not to be. Somebody else is destined to make history. Will they be PM Narendra Modi and PM Nawaz Sharif? Only time will tell.

We all know that the Kashmir issue cannot be solved by either side
by force. Both India and Pakistan are nuclear powers. The stakes are too high. Nobody will be interested in making it a flash point for the unimaginable holocaust. The leaderships of both India and Pakistan and the people on both the sides and also the international community are not oblivious of these ground realities. The international scenario is changing fast in view of cross border terrorism and regional conflicts. The challenges of development and environment are needed to be addressed to save humanity. The “Out of the Box” solutions and approaches are needed. The festering problem of Kashmir and the emerging situation in Afghanistan needs immediate attention. Both India and Pakistan are required to rise to the occasion to ward of the imminent dangers of allowing the situation to worsen.

Given the background of PM Narendra Modi, he has an image of a
hawk in Pakistan. It becomes all the more difficult for him to do business with Pakistani leadership particularly that of the Pak army and Islamic fundamentalists. On the other hand, it appears that PM Narendra Modi intends to steal the show and make history by adopting an “Out of the Box” approach. He invited PM Nawaz Sharif to his swearing in ceremony in May, 2014 along with his other SAARC counterparts, registering diplomatic deftness on his part. In spite of usual ups and downs in relations with Pakistan, PM Narendra Modi kept the diplomatic routes open. From Ufa to Paris, he did not leave any opportunity to engage Pakistan in constructive dialogue. Addressing the army commanders recently, PM Modi said, setting the agenda, “We are engaging Pakistan to try and turn the corners of history, bringing an end to terrorism, build peaceful relations, advance cooperation and promote stability and prosperity in the region.”  The NSAs of India and Pakistan, Ajit Doval and Nasser Janjua respectively met in Bangkok followed by the visit of EAM Sushma Swaraj to Islamabad in December itself to pave the way for “Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue” which was stalled due to the vicious bitterness and mistrust existing in the relationship with Pakistan. PM Narendra Modi’s unscheduled visit to Lahore on December 25 on the birthday of PM Nawaz Sharif, PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah was a diplomatic masterstroke to engage Pakistan in the process of creating history. Let us hope, the process continues and the desired results obtained.

It is not an easy task. Pakistan has to tone-down the rhetoric of “Kashmir is the jugular vein of Pakistan” and shed and shun the policy of exporting terrorism. India being a big country in the region should be more accommodative and magnanimous in dealing with its estranged brother. The government of PM Narendra Modi, with a clear majority in the Lok Sabha, should create political and diplomatic consensus on the issues of conflict and contention within the country. The civil society should be prepared to engage with Pakistan by encouraging people to people contacts. Cultural bonds should be nurtured. The opportunities for the two way trade between the two countries should be explored, identified and exploited. The likes of Ram Madhav, the votary of ‘Akhand Bharat’, should be asked to shut up. The forces of understanding and friendship should be unleashed to create a conducive atmosphere for meaningful dialogue to solve the vexed problems to mutual benefit and advantage.

It is easier said than done. But there is, it seems, a growing feeling of tiredness on both sides. There is a growing realization that force and undiplomatic methods cannot solve the problems and challenges generated by the history. Let us consider and opt for the policy of ‘give and take’ as advised by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, of course, with necessary adjustments which may be required to address the current situation. Let us wish the leaderships of both India and Pakistan under the stewardship of PM Narendra Modi and PM Nawaz Sharif all the very best in the New Year and help them in making history for the people of India and Pakistan and the world at large.

गैरीअत के परदे इक बार फिर उठा दें;
बिछडों को फिर मिला दें; नक़्शे दुई मिटा दें ,
सुन्नी पड़ी हुई है मुद्दत  से दिल की बस्ती
इक नया शिवालय इस देश में बना दें !

Happy New Year to the people of India and Pakistan.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

On losing a dear one

I write in my blog quite often on matters of interest and concern but
for the last three weeks or so I could not do so. I lost my balance and felt dejected on account of a family tragedy. We lost Brijesh Chander (Bablu), 27 years, newly married (10 months) son of my brother Krishan Lal on November 30, 2015, just in a couple of days, succumbing to a fatal attack of dengue. It was a devastating blow to our family. We belong to an ordinary family of three brothers and four sisters. The sisters are happily married and are doing well in their families. Out of the three brothers, I am the eldest, 65 years, a retired diplomat. With God’s grace and good up-bringing by my poor parents, I could do fairly fine and have no regrets. Krishan, the middle one, is a self made man, in spite of the fact of our difficult days; he could not get a good education and started on his own from scratch in the sports industry. With sheer dedication and hard work, he gave a good education and initial push to his three children. Brijesh, the younger child, was an MBA who decided to be a businessman by the side of his father Krishan in the sports goods market. He could prove himself in a short period of about three years in carrying forward the vision of his partner and childhood friend, Lalit Angural who also left forever suddenly at an age of 23 years succumbing to a severe heart attack. Lalit was the son of my Sambandhi (father of my daughter-in-law Sulekha). Both Lalit and Brijesh were the up-coming and shining stars of our family. Paramjit, my third brother, is also doing well with BSNL in Jalandhar. He has two young and educated sons, Pervez and Umesh, who are also engaged in business in sports goods and are on track. The untimely death of Brijesh has left a wide gap and vacuum which is difficult to fill in our otherwise happy family. It is just very difficult and unbearable to see Reena, 23, the young wife of Bablu who herself was aspiring to join the police force in the sports quota being a trained athlete and state level hockey player. Her future has suddenly become uncertain and directionless. Only time will set the course right.

In accordance with the law of nature, there have been deaths in our family earlier as well. I could not reach and participate in the funerals of any of my direct relations. I controlled my emotions and did not ask my people to delay the funeral on account of my inability to reach in time. My grand-father died in 1972. I was late to reach for the funeral from Delhi. The means were not many and resources were meager. Fearing the untoward due to continuous ill health of my father, Sodhi Ram, I spent a month’s leave in December, 1985 with him in Jalandhar. But he advised me to go ahead and join my new assignment in Kandy (Sri Lanka). Again I could not reach in time to see his face on his death in March, 1986 as it was difficult to come to India from Kandy than any European capital. My grand-mother died in 1996. My sister Kamla and I could not reach in time. Pritam Kaur, my mother died in October, 2005. I could not come from Prague (Czech Republic) due to exigencies of service. I did not, as such, see and experience the pain of death first hand.  I tried and managed things as they came.

Now I am in Jalandhar, back home to my roots after retirement from service. Bablu’s sudden death was a devastating experience for me and the entire well-knit family of ours. A week before his death on November 30, both Bablu and his lovely wife Reena were dancing at the marriage of our niece (sister’s daughter) on November 24. Two days at a hospital in Jalandhar and two days in Ludhiana with deadly dengue took Bablu away from us. There was no delay whatsoever in providing the best of medical help and care but there were no signs of recovery. I personally saw Bablu fighting for life. He wanted, I felt, to live and see the results of his hard work which his young and energetic mind and soul visualized for the family. Bablu was not only my nephew but a friend. After I came back to Jalandhar, I depended on him for so many odd errands which he undertook and did without any hesitation. He used to tease us (me and my wife Vidya) for our simple and frugal life style. Jokingly, he used to say that it was no fun in going to Taiji; she would give us something stale from the fridge. He was such a jovial fellow. I remember once in the days of some marriage in the family, I said before going to bed that now please let me sleep with Shanti (peace). Bablu immediately, with a clear naughty intent, said, ‘Oh Taiji come here, Tayaji is going to sleep with Shanti.’ It was a joke of the day. It was Bablu, our dear Bablu.

Bablu’s funeral was conducted on November 30 and the final rites (Antim Ardas) on December 10. I could see and feel, if I am permitted to say with all humility, how our society in and around Jalandhar felt and joined us in our hour of grief. The entire sports industry and market, where Brijesh and his father Krishan worked, was closed as a mark of respect and sympathy on November 30. More than 2000 men and women joined the funeral procession and paid their homage to the departed soul and consoled the bereaved family. I was told that it was one of the biggest congregations on such occasions in the area. Likewise, on December 10, on the day
of Antim Ardas, Guru Ravidass Dham at Bootan Mandi where the Ardas was held witnessed unprecedented participation by our friends and relations and was over-flowing the capacity of the huge prayer hall of the Dham. I was touched by the spontaneous and heartfelt sympathies shown by the society with our humble family. We value the love and support of our friends and relations in our hour of grief.

Death is an inevitable reality of life. One has to accept it. There is no other way. But it was beyond my imagination that death of one person could change the entire spectrum of a family. Bablu’s death has exactly done so for my brother Krishan and his homely wife Baksho. They were happy and of late said so many a times while talking in the family. Their three children, after good education, were happily married and were doing well in their respective professions. Daughter, Mamta, is a qualified doctor, married to Dr. Varinder Sood in Ludhiana. Both are practicing doctors at their own clinic. Mahesh, the elder brother of Bablu, is an Assistant Professor in the Engineering Faculty at Sant Baba Bhag Singh University in Jalandhar.  He is married to Anju, an M. Tech and has a lovely daughter. Just recently they started living in their new flat with a view to provide social privacy to the newly married brother, Bablu, at their family home. It is beyond ones comprehension to understand the miserable condition of the wife of Bablu, Reena. They were still enjoying their extended honey-moon. Everything has gone topsy-turvy.    Krishan was contemplating to seek pre-mature retirement from his good job in one of the leading companies in the sports industry. It has to be put on hold. Mahesh will resign from his academic career and join business to stand for Bablu in the nascent company. Mahesh and Anju will have to consider and join the family to live together with parents. Reena requires all support to live a dignified life and start afresh. Obviously, an element of uncertainty prevails and challenges are many fold.

Bablu has left a wide gap which is difficult to fill. One can only pray. Time, it is said, is a big healer.

ज़माना बड़े शौक से सुन रहा था;
हम ही सो गये, दास्ताँ कहते कहते !

Thursday, November 26, 2015

The Constitution Day – November 26

The Constituent Assembly drafted, debated, enacted and finally
adopted the constitution of India on November 26, 1949. Government of India has thoughtfully decided to commemorate the adoption of the constitution and to honour its chief architect of, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar as the Constitution Day by devoting a two-day Special Session of the Parliament on November 26-27, 2015. Parliamentary Affairs Minister Venkiah Naidu, announcing the decision said, “Since we are celebrating the birth centenary of Ambedkarji, we have decided this. We will be discussing in parliament the commitment to the constitution and the contribution of Ambedkar to it.” It is a welcome initiative by the Government as it will not only provide an opportunity to the parliamentarians to commit themselves to the lofty ideals and underlying philosophy of equality, liberty and fraternity so laboriously enshrined in the constitution, but also educate the Indian youth to understand and follow the constitutional methods to conduct themselves to take India to further heights. The occasion will also be utilized to remember and pay homage to the memory of the father of the constitution, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, the greatest son of India, in commemoration of his 125th birth anniversary. There was a media report that CBSE has directed all schools and institutions to observe November 26 as the Constitution Day by hosting events to commemorate the constitution and the philosophy of its Preamble. It is an appreciative step which would tend to instill a sense of respect and regard for the constitution of India in the young minds. The decision of the Government would also tend to generate a much needed debate in the parliament and the country at large on the constitution and its philosophy of democracy, secularism, socialism based on the cardinal principles of Equality, Liberty and Fraternity in these days of increasing sense of hatred and strife both in the polity and society. According to media reports, the CPI (M) has endorsed the special session and demanded that Government should come prepared with legislation to extend the provisions of reservation to the private sector “for carrying on the unfinished agenda and vision of Dr. B. R. Ambedkar on the issue of social justice.”

Much water has flown in the Ganges after 68 years of
Independence. We have come a long way but yet to reach our goal which we set for ourselves in the constitution that is to transform India into a democratic, secular and socialist republic in which governance is based on the lofty ideals of equality, liberty and fraternity. Our secularism is under threat. It seems we are working on the assumption, show me the face or tell me the name and I will give and explain the meaning of secularism. It is not what our fore-fathers wanted. As regards, socialism, it is a far cry till date. A vast majority of our people are condemned to live below the poverty line. Income disparities are increasing among haves and have-nots. It was not what our fore-fathers desired. Coming to equality, liberty and fraternity enshrined so wisely in our constitution, we could not realize the magic of these three cardinal words and transform our political democracy into social and economic democracy as visualized by the father of the constitution Dr. B.R. Ambedkar. It seems a casteless society is yet far away.  I hope the parliamentarians, lifting themselves above the party lines, discuss these issues and rededicate themselves afresh in these two days, November 26-27, 2015, of the special session in the 125th anniversary of Babasaheb Ambedkar. It will be a befitting tribute to the memory of the great leader.

In spite of the fact that the underlying current in the country at the
time of independence in 1947 was against Dr. Ambedkar but, it seems, he was destined to make history by coming to the Constituent Assembly. With great opposition and difficulty, Dr. Ambedkar managed to get elected from Bengal, not from his home state Maharastra, with the help of Joginder Nath Mandal who later like Dr. Ambedkar became the first Law Minister of Pakistan. Dr. Ambedkar started his sterling contribution in the making of the Indian constitution. Later when the Congress Party and its leadership realized that it was Dr. Ambedkar alone who was capable to undertake the onerous task of drafting and piloting the constitution, he was helped to retain his seat in the Constituent Assembly from Maharastra. Dr. Ambedkar’s speech on the Objectives Resolution moved by Jawaharlal Nehru set the tone of his mind and soul which he intended to devote to the job. Dr. Ambedkar said, “I know today we are divided politically, socially and economically. We are in warring camps and I am probably one of the leaders of a warring camp. But with all this I am convinced that, given time and circumstances, nothing in the world well prevent this country from becoming one, and, with all our castes and creeds, I have not the slightest hesitation in saying that we shall in some form be a united people.”  Commenting on these developments, the biographer of Dr. Ambedkar, Dhananjay Keer wrote, “The sacrilege had become counsel, and the scoffer had become a friend who cast a spell on the Congressmen. Few speeches have given such a turn to the life of a speaker.” The rest is history. Dr. Ambedkar was made the Chairman of the Drafting Committee to draft, pilot and get passed by the constituent Assembly the new constitution of India. He undertook the job with great élan and completed it in a record time to usher India into the comity of civilized and dignified countries. The constitution was finally enacted and passed and adopted on November 26, 1949 which is today, November 26, 2015, celebrated by the Parliament of India to mark the 125th Anniversary of its Chief Architect, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar. The very opening sentence of the poetic Preamble of the constitution registers the caliber and intellect of its father and I quote, “We the people of India have solemnly resolved to constitute India into a Sovereign, Democratic, Secular and Socialist Republic…” The destiny of India was sealed magnanimously.  Summing up the sentiments of the members of the constituent Assembly, Dr. Rajendra Prasad, President of the Assembly, paid glowing tributes to Dr. Ambedkar and said, “Sitting in the Chair and watching the proceedings from day to day, I have realized as nobody could have, with what zeal and devotion the members of the Drafting Committee and especially its Chairman, Dr. Ambedkar, in spite of his indifferent health have worked (Cheers). We would never make a decision which was or could be ever so right as when we put him on the Drafting Committee and made him its Chairman. He has not only justified his selection but has added luster to the work which he has done.”

Dr. B.R. Ambedkar made a beautiful speech on November 25, 1949, the day before the Constituent Assembly formally finished its work. His tone was jubilant yet somber and reflective. He gave some warnings – place of popular protest in a democracy and termed unconstitutional methods as “Grammar of Anarchy”, the blind following of charismatic leaders and limitations of only political democracy and advised to transform the political democracy established by the constitution into social and economic democracy with delay. These, I think, retain their relevance, perhaps more, today than in 1949.

Greetings on the Constitution Day. Jai Bheem. Jai Bharat

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Bootan Mandi – Its Artistic Heritage

Bootan Mandi is a famous residential and business area of
Guru Ravidass Dham at Bootan Mandi
Jalandhar located at Nakodar Road (Ambedkar Marg). Most of the inhabitants of Bootan Mandi are dalits (Ad-dharmis) who were engaged in traditional leather business. On the out-skirts of the Mohalla, from the 1950s to 1970s, Mirasis, another segment of the dalit society, lived in their shanties/jhuggis. Their main occupation was to sing and cut jokes or do some comedy at marriages and on occasions of birth of a boy or any other auspicious event. Later, some influential  businessmen of Bootan Mandi acquired their prime location on the main road and provided them residential pucca houses at a site nearby. In those good old days, they were living in harmony as an integral segment of the society and inter-mingled with the Bootan Mandi residents.  They considered them as their mentors and depended on them for their bread and butter. Some of them are still living in and around Bootan Mandi. I vividly recall when some Seths of Bootan Mandi used to entertain themselves, off hand and impromptu, with the singing of folk songs by these Mirasis and pay them a few bucks. It is a matter of satisfaction that some of them really saw upward mobility and made a name not only for themselves but also for the society at large. It is a pity that the Seths of Bootan Mandi who claim to be the custodians of the legacy of Guru Ravidass and Dr. B.R. Ambedkar never showed any inclination in owning these Mirasi Musicians who excelled themselves in their labour of love against all odds both social and economic. I have noticed that these renowned musicians also, may be as a conscious or sub-conscious response to their neglect by their benefactors in Bootan Mandi, did not take pride in disclosing their heritage.  It is an injustice to the lofty legacy and ideals of Guru Ravidass and Babasheb Ambedkar. It is just a co-incident that Dr. Ambedkar precisely addressed a mammoth public meeting in October, 1951 at the very location where make-shift shanties of these musicians existed.

The immediate provocation to write about these worthy sons and
daughters of Bootan Mandi is the news that Ustad Puran Shahkoti has been conferred the Sangeet Akademi Award by the President of India, Pranab Mukherjee.  Puran Shahkoti, a living legend of Sufi music, spent his childhood and formative years of his youth in Bootan Mandi. His father Niranjan Dass (Nanjoo) was a good and humble person of the clan. It is a matter of great satisfaction that Puran Shahkoti educated and trained his talented son, Master Saleem, to become a recognized and renowned singer of standing not only of Punjab but also in Bollywood. There is a saying in Punjabi, “Guru Jina De Tapne; Chele Jan Chadap” (disciples excel whose guru is good). Puran Shahkoti is also the guru of world renowned Sufi singer Hans Raj Hans and many more established and budding singers like Jasbir Jassi, Sabar Koti, Parvez Pezi, Dilshan, among others. I take this opportunity to greet and congratulate Ustad Puran Shahkoti and wish him further success and laurels in the years to come.

The story does not end here. Bootan Mandi has the honour of
Nooran Sisters
owning yet another famous name and personality, popularly acclaimed as Bibi Nooran, a Sufi and rustic singer of standing. I have seen her singing both at impromptu sessions to entertain the Seths of Bootan Mandi and also at the Gurupurab celebrations of Guru Ravidass. Her son Karam Chand used to give her company on the harmonium. On recognition of her talent in the 1970s, Chief Minister Giani Zail Singh provided them financial assistance and a pucca house in Bootan Mandi itself. The famous Sufi song “Kuli Rah Vich Pai Asan Tere” which Bibi Nooran sang with aplomb is as good and kicking today as it was before particularly when it is rendered by Nooran Sisters, the great grand daughters of Bibi Nooran. Bibi Nooran’s daughter Swaran Nooran was also a good singer. It seems music was in the genes of Bibi Nooran.  Yet another acclaimed b musician the Mirasi clan of Bootan Mandi produced was Master Girdhari Lal who happened to be blind. He trained many singers and musicians in the area. I am told that, currently, Sonu Sunil of Bootan Mandi has already arrived on the scene and doing well particularly in spiritual and devotional singing. His maiden album cut and released by T-Series has been received well. Though I have not had any occasion to meet and listen to him so far yet I congratulate and wish him further success.

Besides excellence in music, Bootan Mandi, my native place, produced good literary personalities. The best of the lot was Pritam Ramdasspuri, a poet of standing who wrote on social themes in Persian, Urdu and Punjabi. I heard him reciting excellent poetry at various functions. Malind Publications of a fellow BootanMandian, Harmesh Jassal, published Pritam Ramdasspuri’s poetry under the
title “Pritam Kav” which was well received. Hans Raj Bhukha, a trade unionist and a social activist, was yet another poet who wrote revolutionary poetry of sorts. My own uncle (brother of my father), Jai Ram Parwana wrote poetry and songs on social and religious themes. Some of his songs have been sung by the legendary singer Hans Raj Hans and a collection of his works published under the title “Neechon Uch Kare Mera Govind” He had a good flare for drama and acting also. I am told that he formed a drama club and staged dramas against the dowry system which were well acclaimed. Later, a Punjabi film “Daaj” was made which was based on the dramas of Jai Ram Parwana. But
succumbing to intellectual hypocrisy, the film maker did not have the courtesy to ask for permission and give credit to Jai Ram Parwana. I take this opportunity to appreciate and recognize the literary and intellectual personalities of my native place Bootan Mandi. Bootan Mandi is yet to realize and own the rich legacy of its sons and daughters. I conclude this with an Urdu couplet:

हर दर्दमंद दिल को रोना मेरा रूला दे ;
बेहोश जो पढ़ें हैं शायद ऊने जगा दे !

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Unconstitutional Methods and Democracy

The Indian democracy, in its adolescence after 65 years of adoption of the constitution, seems to be in danger, if one goes by the
prevailing political and social environment in the country. The increasing intolerance in general and increasing tendency to adopt unconstitutional methods to articulate or register ones point of view, of late, have become order of the day. It is an anti-thesis of democracy. President Pranab Mukherjee had to pin-point and observe repeatedly that these growing tendencies were not good for the democratic edifice of the polity and social fabric of the society. He candidly and rightly said on October 7, 2015 while releasing a book at Rashtrapati Bhawan, “We must remain true to the core values of our civilization” and reiterated it in Birbhum on October 19 and expressed apprehension whether tolerance and acceptance of dissent were on the wane. He said, “Humanism and pluralism should not be abandoned under any circumstance.”

Ever since India became Independent in August, 1947 and a Republic in January, 1950, one of the major failures in the polity of India, to my mind, had been that polarization of political forces could not happen on the basis of ideology or political agenda, the very basic requirement for the functioning of democracy. Society could not be transformed on the principles of liberty, equality and fraternity, the lofty ideals enshrined in the constitution. The much needed casteless society could not be established, as envisaged by our fore-fathers, especially father of the constitution, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar. On the contrary, it seems, the country is heading in the wrong direction.

The recent incidents and happenings pertaining to the behavior of
Shiv Sena to stop the concert of Pakistani singer Ghulam Ali in Mumbai, to protest the release of the book of Pakistani leader Khurshid Mahmud Kasturi in Mumbai and blackening the face of a renowned columnist and intellectual Sudhendra Kulkarni and barging into the office of the President of BCCI, Shashank Manohar, in Mumbai to protest against the visit of his Pakistani counterpart, Sharayar Khan are the latest examples of undemocratic behavior of the political outfits. These are the “unconstitutional methods” referred by Dr. Ambedkar in his last speech in the Constituent Assembly on November 25, 1949. He termed these methods as “Grammar of Anarchy” and said, “If we wish to maintain democracy not merely in form, but also in fact, what must we do? The first thing in my judgment we must do is to hold fast to constitutional methods of achieving our social objectives.” 

The second biggest problem is increasing social and personal intolerance. It is the very negation of democracy and healthy society. The recent incident at Dadri in UP in which a Muslim was lynched to death at his home on rumours that the family had consumed beef. A  J&K MLA, Engineer Rashid, was beaten by the BJP MLAs in the Legislative Assembly on the allegations that he flouted the “Beef Party” he hosted. Again at the Press Club in New Delhi, the face of Engineer Rashid was darkened and was not permitted to hold his press conference by his fundamentalist Hindu opponents.  Punjab is again on the boil on the issue of desecration (Be-adbi) of Guru Granth Sahib, the holy book of Sikhs. Though atrocities on dalits are a common feature of our social attitude yet the recent incident in which a dalit home in Faridabad was set ablaze and the family burned alive, has added fuel to the fire. The issue of reservation for the SCs, STs and OBCs has not been handled correctly by the successive governments and the society at large. The upper castes stand against these empowering provisions without understanding the issue and the sensitivities of the under-privileged and socially marginalized. The political and social outfits have no will-power to address the issue and educate the upper-castes who felt, though wrongly, cheated and harmed. The society is totally polarized on communal lines though India is supposed to be a secular state as stipulated in the preamble of the constitution and the often repeated pronouncements from the high-tables of various fora that India stands for universal brotherhood on the basis of “Vasudevkam Kuttumvakam” – the whole world is one family as enshrined in our scriptures. These lofty pronouncements do not hold good any longer. We have proved ourselves otherwise and it is a pity. The politics of hatred has taken over. It is evident from the treatment meted out to prominent thinkers like Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare and M. Kalburgi in the recent times.Dr. Ambedkar in his concluding speech in the Constituent Assembly explained how India lost her independence and expressing his anxiety said, “Will history repeat itself? It is the thought which fills me with anxiety. The anxiety is deepened by the realization of the fact that in addition to our old enemies in the form of caste and creeds we are going to have many political parties with diverse and opposing political creeds. Will Indians place the country above their creed or will they place creed above country? I do not know. But this much is certain that if the parties place creed above country, our independence will be in jeopardy a second time and probably be lost forever. This eventuality we must resolutely guard against. We must be determined to defend our independence with the last drop of our blood.”

It is time to sit and ponder over these ground realities, if India is to remain a country of our liking.

Monday, October 19, 2015

The Diksha Day at Jalandhar

The Diksha Day, October 14, is the day Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, the messiah of dalits and the under-privileged, embraced Buddhism by renouncing Hinduism which he considered a religion of graded inequality. Several lakhs of his followers followed him and embraced Buddhism as they were tired and tormented of the social tyranny of the Hindu society. The aim and purpose of Dr. Ambedkar was not only to save the dalit communities of the unjust social order but also to transform the entire Indian society to a just and egalitarian order conforming to the cardinal principles of Buddhism – Equality, Liberty and Fraternity which also was the soul of the Indian constitution.

The Diksha Day was celebrated at the Ambedkar Bhawan at
Newly installed Buddha Statue at Ambedkar Bhawan
Nakodar Road in Jalandhar by the Ambedkar Bhawan Trust in co-operation with Ambedkar Mission Society. The chief speaker at the function was a renowned Bhikshu, Dr. Rahul Bodhi of Sarvodya Buddh Vihar, Mumbai. It was a well attended function. The audience, comprising of mostly the Neo-Buddhists, listened to Dr. Rahul Bodhi with rapt attention and reverence. The high-light of the function was inauguration of a big Statue of Lord Buddha in the Bhawan complex. The white marvel statue will adorn Ambedkar Bhawan as an invaluable asset emanating the message of peace and compassion. In the evening the Diksha Day was observed at the Buddh Vihar at Sidharath Nagar at Bootan Mandi
Diksha Day at Buddha Vihar at Sidharath Nagar
in Jalandhar. This Buddh Vihar is run by my fellow BootanMandians and Hum-Umar friends, inter alia, Hussan Lal Baudh, Ram Lal Das, Darshan Boddhi and others who have embraced Buddhism formally like good and staunch followers of Babasaheb Ambedkar.

It is a pity that unfortunately Dr. Ambedkar died almost immediately on December 6, 1956 after embracing Buddhism on October 14. He wanted to make Buddhism the religion of India, in its pristine glory, with a difference. The 22 vows he listed and adopted in this regard would have made the desired difference as the “Navyana” or the Neo-Buddhism - The religion of rationality and compassion.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

The Buddhist Renaissance in India

Buddhism is one of the oldest religious and spiritual streams of India with a history of more than 2500 years. Due to several reasons, Buddhism declined and almost became extinct in India by the advent of the 19th century. But its high-priest and master, Gautama Buddha, remained a permanent hallmark on the spiritual psyche of India. The Buddha and his Dhamma, somehow, remained as a living legacy in the Hindu ethos and philosophy as an integral part of Indian tradition. It will remain so. Buddhism is evergreen and all-time relevant in these days of religious bigotry and hatred which is increasing every passing day.

The incidental provocation to write on the subject of Buddhist
Diksha Bhoomi
Renaissance in India is the Diksha Day, October 14, the day Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, the architect of the Indian constitution and one of the greatest social reformers of India, embraced Buddhism at Diksha Bhoomi at Nagpur in 1956. It was an epoch-making event in the social and spiritual life of India when along with their leader Babasaheb Ambedkar almost a million people renounced Hinduism and embraced Buddhism. It was a big decision with far reaching implications for the society and polity of India. Babasaheb Ambedkar took this decision to leave Hinduism after considering all aspects of the issue including the much needed dignity and respect of his fellow brethren of dalit communities.

It took almost 20 years to come to this stage on October, 1956 after Babasaheb took the vow to leave Hinduism in October, 1935 after he utterly failed to reform and transform Hinduism to make it a religion of human dignity and equality. Babasheb declared that he was born a Hindu but will not die a Hindu. The mould was cast. The leadership of Muslims, Christians and even Sikhs (who has its origins in Hinduism) considered it an opportunity to invite and entice Dr. Ambedkar and his followers to join their respective faiths. But Babasaheb was not an ordinary human being and was visionary with a gifted foresight. The Maha Bodhi Society of India and one of the known Buddhist monks Ven. Lokanathan approached Babasaheb and tried to persuade him to embrace Buddhism. Knowing the mindset of Babasaheb and his love for and inclination towards the teachings and philosophy of Lord Buddha, they remained in touch with him. But Babasaheb’s priorities were different. He purposely decided to go slow. His first priority was to liberate the poor masses from the “socio-economic thralldom” as stated by a renowned author D.C. Ahir in his book the Legacy of Dr. Ambedkar. He did his best to help the suffering masses as a Member of the Viceroy’s Executive from 1942-46 and later undertaking the first onerous work after India’s independence in 1947, framing and writing of the Constitution of India. The imprint of the Buddhist thought and philosophy of which Dr. Ambedkar was a constant but silent follower, may be seen clearly in the Preamble of the Constitution itself. The very essence of Buddhism i.e. Equality, Liberty and Fraternity is the soul of the Indian Constitution. The slow but steady journey towards Buddhism had already started and was getting visible. By 1950, it was almost clear that Dr. Ambedkar had decided in his mind to embrace Buddhism, a true Indian religious and spiritual stream which will liberate him and his followers from the dogmas of Hinduism, a religion of graded inequality. He asked his followers to celebrate Buddha Jayanti and himself participated in the celebrations in Delhi. He wrote an article in the Maha Bodhi, a monthly journal of the Maha Bodhi Society of India under the caption “Buddha and the future of his Religion” In this article, he compared Buddha with the masters of other three big religions namely Jesus of Christians, Mohammed of Muslims and Krishna of Hindus. Jesus was the son of God. Mohammed was the messenger of God. Krishna was God himself. Buddha never claimed any such status for himself. In this elaborative article, Babasaheb concluded that three steps need to be taken if Buddhism is to be spread in India – i) to produce a Buddhist Bible ii) to make changes in the organization i.e. aims and objectives of the Buddhist Sangha and iii) to set up a World Buddhist Mission. He said that Buddhism was the only religion which suits the world at large because of its rationality, morality, liberty and fraternity. In May, 1950, Babasaheb went to Kandy (Sri Lanka) to participate in the First Conference of World Fellowship of Buddhists. Kandy is a picturesque hill station where the ‘Tooth Relic of Buddha’ is kept at a Buddhist Temple called Dalda Maligawa. While speaking at the conference, he said, “I am an interested observer, not a delegate. I came here with some very specific purpose. You probably know that there are people in India who thought the time had come when an effort might be made to revive Buddhism in India. I am one of them.” Babasaheb further said that he was interested in knowing and studying the Buddhist ceremonies, whether Buddhism is observed in its purity as stipulated by Lord Buddha or superstitions and hollow rituals have crept in negating the Buddhist philosophy and to find out to what extent the Sangha work in the service of community as established by the Master. The intentions of Dr. Ambedkar were becoming clear by every passing day. He spoke at the Japanese Buddhist Temple in Bombay on September 29, 1950 and declared that he would devote the rest of his life to the revival and spread of Buddhism in India. Again in May, 1951, Buddha Jayanti was celebrated with gusto under the leadership of Babasaheb. Addressing the congregation at Ambedkar Bhawan in New Delhi, he said, “change of religion from Hinduism to Buddhism was a sure cure for India’s numerous ills, social and economic.” as quoted by D.C. Ahir in his book. Dr. Ambedkar made it clear and said, “If rest of the Hindu Society does not cooperate, then we, the members of the Schedule Castes, will go on our own and try once again to bring back Buddhism to its former glory and prestige in this country.” It may be observed from these uttering’s of Babasaheb that he did not plan or want only dalits to convert to Buddhism but the whole Hindu society to transform the entire Indian society in the spirit of “Bahujan Hitai; Bahujan Sukhai”. Speaking on All India Radio in October, 1954, he said, “Every man should have a philosophy of life for everyone must have a standard by which to measure ones conduct.” In the broadcast he negated Hinduism and said that the Hindu philosophy had made the caste system and the system of graded inequality the law of Hindu social life. Referring to Buddhism, he said, “My social philosophy may be said to be enshrined in three words: liberty, equality and fraternity. My philosophy has roots in religion and not in political science. I have derived them from the teachings of my Master, the Buddha.” Babasaheb went to Rangoon (Myanmar) in December, 1954 to participate in the Third Conference of the World Fellowship of Buddhists. Addressing the conference, he said, “I have to say this with great anguish that in the land where the great Buddha was born, His religion has declined. How such a thing happened is beyond anyone’s comprehension” and gave details of his plans to revive Buddhism in India.  Babasaheb met and stayed with Dr. R.L. Soni a great Buddhist scholar and founder of World Institute of Buddhist Culture. D.C. Ahir has written in his book “The Legacy of Dr. Ambedkar” that “The historic decision to come to Buddhism in 1956 was taken by Dr. Ambedkar at Mandalay after prolonged discussions with Dr. Soni on the merits of coming formally to Buddhism.” It is a small co-incident that recently I reviewed a speech of Dr. R.L. Soni, published in the format of a booklet “Buddhism and the World Today” in my blog.  Meanwhile, Dr. Ambedkar made all related arrangements for his conversion to Buddhism. He fixed October 14, 1956 for the big and historical event which would become the day of the Buddhist Renaissance in India. This day has a special significance in Buddhist history – The day of Dhamma Vijay, the day on which Ashoka the Great embraced Buddhism in 262 B.C. Dr. Ambedkar gave final touches to his much awaited book “The Buddha and his Dhamma” – The Buddhist Bible which he considered as one of the three important requirements for the spread of Buddhism in India. On the Buddha Jayanti Day on May 24, 1956, he announced at a public meeting in Bombay that he would embrace Buddhism in October at Nagpur. Explaining why he chose Nagpur for embracing Buddhism, he said, “It was the Nagas who spread the religion of Buddha throughout the world. These people were predominantly living in and around the ‘Nag’ river of Nagpur. This was mainly the reason for selecting Nagpur for the great occasion. For this historic ceremony a vacant plot, near Vaccine Institute at Shardhanand Peth, was selected which later became “Diksha Bhoomi”.  Venerable U. Chandramani Maha Thera administered to Dr. B.R. Ambedkar and his wife Savita the Tisarana (Triple Refuses/Jewels) – Buddham Saranam Gacchami, Dhammam Saranam Gacchami, Sangham Saranam Gacchami and Pachsila (Five Percepts). With this the conversion ceremony was over. The vow he took 21 years ago that he will not die a Hindu was fulfilled. Addressing a mammoth gathering as a Buddhist, Dr. Ambedkar said, “I started the movement of renouncing the Hindu religion in 1935 and since then I have been continuing the struggle. This conversion has given me enormous satisfaction and pleasure unimaginable. I feel as if I have been liberated from hell.”  After that the first step to revive and propagate the gospel of Lord Buddha in India started in right earnestness. The vast sea of humanity gathered at the ceremony became Buddhists at one go after taking the Tisarana and Panchsila after Dr. Ambedkar. In addition, Dr. Ambedkar administered to them the 22 vows which he had specially prepared to renew and transform Buddhism to meet the needs of common people. On the next day, yet another conversion ceremony was conducted with lakhs of people embracing Buddhism. Dr. Ambedkar made a long and elaborative speech, as summed up by D.C. Ahir, ‘tracing the history of the suffering of down-trodden people through the ages, his life log struggle to mitigate their sufferings and as to why he had chosen Buddhism of all the religions.’

Dr. Ambedkar was fully committed to propagate and spread of Buddhism as the true religion of India. Immediately after becoming a Buddhist himself, he went to Kathmandu (Nepal) in November, 1956 to participate in the Fourth Conference of World Buddhist Fellowship. The world Buddhist community was eager to listen to Dr. Ambedkar after the historical events of conversion at Nagpur in October, 1956. Sensing the mood of the delegates at the conference, Dr. Ambedkar spoke on the theme “Buddhism and Marxism or Communism” with insight and thought provoking presentation. Concluding the speech, he said, “I am quite confident that, if we will become one-tenth as enlightened as the Buddha was, we can bring about good results by the methods of love, of justice and of goodwill.” In spite of his not so good health, on his way back from Nepal, he visited holy Buddhist shrines in Bodh Gaya and Sarnath, Kushinagar and addressed many meetings with a view to spread the message of Buddha.

His message to follow the Buddha was well taken by the people of India. But his untimely death on December 6, 1956 changed the pace and course of the journey. Dr. Ambedkar, as I understand, was not a traditional Buddhist. He was a liberated Buddhist and desired to make his followers and the suffering masses such liberated Buddhists. He wrote the Buddhist Bible in form of “The Buddha and His Dhamma” in a simple and an educative style for the benefit of all. He added 22 vows to the already existing Three Refuges and Five Percepts to meet the challenges and needs Buddhists of the contemporary times. Dr. Ambedkar desired to make Buddhism functional and dynamic and asked his followers not to get entangled in the existing branches of Buddhism i.e. Theravada, Mahayana, Vajrayana etc.    and called his views as “Navayana” or “Neo-Buddhism”.

The Buddhist Renaissance in India brought about by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar is a fact which will be recorded in the annals of history with much appreciation and gratitude.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

The Legacy of Babu Kanshi Ram

Today, October 9, is the death anniversary of Babu Kanshi Ram
Babu Kanshi Ram
(March 15 – October 9, 2006) leader of the down-trodden and the under-privileged – the Bahujan Samaj in the contemporary times. His followers rightly called him Manyawar or Sahib. He earned and deserved these salutations by sheer dedication and tireless efforts towards safe-guarding the interests of dalit masses and the under-dogs of the society. Babu Kanshi Ram was born in an ordinary dalit family of a village in Punjab with no political background and interest. Like any other young man, he joined Government service as a junior scientist in 1957 after his studies. He was fully engaged in his scientific work in one of the laboratories in Kirki till he got attracted towards Dr. B.R. Ambedkar by reading books gifted by his colleagues. He slowly, consciously or otherwise, started taking interest in community and political activities in the late 1960s. Further developments engulfed him fully and he resigned his plush job. Babu Kanshi Ram devoted himself to the issues related to the dalit communities and weaker sections of the society.

His agenda and mission was dalit empowerment and to get their equal participation in power structures. He believed in aggressive politics, prima facie blended with pragmatic approach to gain access to state power. On the one hand he propagated the idea of powerful retaliation and said, “Ek Eet Ka Jawab Do Pathron Se (two stones for one brick)” and on the other cobbled up governments with the Congress Party, BJP and Samajwadi Party at his will and convenience. Babu Kanshi Ram was a master strategist and a visionary. In the run up to his ultimate goal to grab political power, he launched an outfit of dalit employees, backward and minority communities in 1978 called BAMCEF. He floated yet another organization of dalit and socially exploited communities in 1981 and named it DS4 and graduated to form a full fledged political party on April 14, 1984 (birth anniversary of Babasaheb Ambedkar) and named it Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). M.J. Akbar, a known journalist and columnist, summed up the arrival of Babu Kanshi Ram and said, ‘He has come but yet to reach.” He reached too during his life time and transformed the BSP to a ruling party in UP, the biggest state of India, under the stewardship of his protégé Mayawati not once but four times. BSP sent a good number of MPs to parliament and a number of state legislatures. BSP became one of the several national parties under the arrangements of the Election Commission.

Babu Kanshi Ram became synonymous with dalit empowerment. He stood against status quo in politics and wanted fundamental change by gaining access to power with equal share. He criticized the system of reservation as started with the Poona Pact in 1932 signed between Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. B.R. Ambedkar. Babu Kanshi Ram said that these arrangements of reservation, in place of separate electorates for Scheduled castes as stipulated in the Communal Award of PM Ramsey MacDonald, have created a gap between “genuine and counterfeit” leadership of the depressed classes and termed them as Chamchas (stooges) of the political outfits they represent.

Coming to the legacy of Babu Kanshi Ram, let me quote from one of his speeches and it will set the matter in its perspective. He said, “I will never get married. I will never acquire any property. I will not visit my home. I will devote and dedicate the rest of my life to achieve the goals of Phule-Ambedkar mission.”  He proved himself true to his word till his untimely death in 2006 leaving a rich legacy for the politics and social set-up of India. He proved that dalits could become a ruling class, if they recognized their own inherent strength and acted accordingly. He established without doubt that political power and social equality would not come by begging but by asserting. He showed during his life time that sheer dedication and selflessness in public life is certainly recognized and rewarded by the masses. He was a leader of sterling worth without any bank balance and property. He sacrificed the comfort of family life and devoted himself fully to the common cause of poor people. One of the important and relevant aspects of Babu Kanshi Ram’s legacy is his effort and success in instilling a sense of confidence among the youth of the marginalized sections of the society. He will be remembered for his immense contribution to the social and political transformation of the Indian society and polity.

I conclude this as a tribute and homage to the memory of one of the greatest leaders of India on his death anniversary by an Urdu couplet of Allama Iqbal:

हज़ारों साल नर्गिस अपनी बेनूरी पे रोती है;
बड़ी मुश्किल से होता है चमन में दीदावर पैदा !

PS: I wanted to post this yesterday, October 9, but due to a technical hitch could not do so.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Postal Stamps on Dr. B.R. Ambedkar

The Postal Department of the Government of India issued on

September 30, 2015 yet another postal stamp in commemoration of 125th birth anniversary of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, the greatest son of India in the contemporary times. According to the information gathered from the internet, it is the 7th postal stamp issued in honour of the great leader. The title of the recent stamp is dedicated to Dr. B.R. Ambedkar and the Constitution of India with a view to remember Babasaheb’s contribution in framing the constitution of India which was the first onerous task after Independence of India in 1947. An official statement said, “It is aimed at making the world aware of his work
as a champion of the under-privileged.”

The Postal Department of India, which issued its first stamp on November 21, 1947 depicting the flag of India after independence, issued various stamps on Dr. B.R. Ambedkar with specific backgrounds and mottos. The September 30, 2015 stamp is dedicated to Dr. Ambedkar as the father of the Indian constitution. The official citation of the stamp issued in April, 1973 stated, “Dr. B.R. Ambedkar belonged to the traditional progressive social thinkers in India – the tradition of Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Mahatma Phule and other.” The stamp issued in April, 1991 showed yet another facet of Babasaheb’s struggle – the satyagarha of Chowdar Tank. The official citation termed the great leader as, “Dr. Bhimroy Ramji Ambedkar, the chief architect of Indian constitution and Champion of Human Rights.” With a view to
observe December 6, 1956, the Mahaparinirvana (death) of Dr. Ambedkar, a stamp was issued with the background of Chaitya Bhoomi where Dr. Ambedkar was cremated.

With the release of the stamp, the programme to celebrate and commemorate Dr. B.R. Ambedkar in his 125th anniversary has been set in motion. There will be many more events in the months to come. Let us hope that these events and activities do not remain hollow gestures. Dr. Ambedkar’s life and mission is so important and potent that we all Indians should learn and join in the task of nation building. That will be the correct homage and tribute to the great leader, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

International Day of Equality – April 14, Birthday of Babasaheb Ambedkar

I wrote about the International Day of Equality in this blog earlier.
Babasaheb Ambedkar
With meager sources at my command and disposal, I have been carrying this proposal to declare April 14, birthday of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, as the International Day of Equality for about two months ever since I wrote to EAM Sushma Swaraj on the subject. In the process, after my letter to EAM Sushma Swaraj in June 2015, I wrote and requested understanding and consideration of Shri Charanjit Singh Atwal, Speaker of Punjab Legislative Assembly who is a member of the High Powered Committee to celebrate the 125th birth anniversary of Babasaheb Ambedkar.  My letter to EAM has been acknowledged by the UN Division of MEA. Meanwhile, I also informed and sent copies of my letters to important Ministers and MPs/MLAs cutting across the party affiliations namely, inter alia, Ram Vilas Paswan, G.C. Gehlot, Vijay Sampla, Mayawati, Sonia Gandhi, P.L. Punia, Santokh Singh Chaudhary, Udit Raj, Harinder Khalsa, Sadhu Singh, Rajesh Bagha, Pawan Tinu and others. I also hosted the proposal on social media like Facebook etc. and also wrote to some of the dalit media organs like the Ambedkar Times, Appni Mitti, Bheem Patrika, Begumpura Sehar, and Samayak Bharat with a view to gather support for the proposal. During my public interaction in these months, I spoke at the Annual Meet of the Punjab Chapter of All India SC/ST Employees Federation at Jalandhar and the Annual Meet of the Punjab Chapter of the BAMCEF at Ludhiana in the month of August, 2015 and solicited the understanding and support of the intelligentsia of the community. I write with pain and anguish that response from the political class of the community remained negligible. On social media, it is satisfying to note, there has been good response and a good number of people liked and supported the proposal to honour the worthy son of India, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar.

With a view to carry the proposal to the top echelons of the Government and political circles, I decided and wrote to PM Narendra Modi and Vice President of the Congress Party Rahul Gandhi on September 11, 2015 well before the forthcoming address of PM Narendra Modi at the UNGA. The letter to PM has been acknowledged by OSD (Appointments) at PMO. Let us hope the proposal to declare April 14, Birthday of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar in its 125th Anniversary, which will be celebrated by the Government of India as a special event, is considered positively and the greatest Indian is celebrated and honoured in a befitting manner. I append below the following letters for information and all possible support:

Letter to EAM Sushma Swaraj –

Dear Madam,
I am one among the IFS fraternity. After retirement in December, 2010, I have come back to my roots in Jalandhar. As post retirement activities, I engage myself in educational and social matters pertaining to the socially and economically weaker sections of the society. I am a dalit and a humble follower of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar. After the Government’s decision to observe 125th Anniversary of Dr. Ambedkar, I wrote to Foreign Secretary Dr. S. Jaishankar (copy enclosed for kind perusal) and offered my services with regard to the programmes to be made and conducted by the MEA in this regard.

The purpose of this letter is to make a humble suggestion for your kind consideration. PM Narendra Modi’s government, particularly you as the Minister of External Affairs, has given due weightage to India’s “Soft Power” in diplomacy. The latest feather in your cap is the International Yoga Day under the aegis of the UN. With a view to honour Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, one of the greatest sons of India, by celebrating his 125th Birth Anniversary, the Government has taken a right and laudable decision. It will go a long way in assuaging the ruffled feelings of millions of poor and socially backward followers of the great leader. My humble submission is that it will only be appropriate if India makes yet another proposal at the next UNGA in September, 2015 to declare 14th April, birthday of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, as International Day of Equality. You would agree, Madam Minister, that it would not only carry forward the UN goals of “Empowerment” of the weaker sections of the world population but also instill the democratic values of “Equality, Liberty and Fraternity” in the world order. These democratic and humane values were dear to Dr. B.R. Ambedkar and his spiritual Guru Mahatma Buddha, the greatest son of India.

I am confident that this decision and action of the Government will be much appreciated by the weaker sections of the society. It will also be a befitting tribute to the memory and legacy of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, messiah of the under privileged and neglected sections of humanity at large.

Yours sincerely,

(Ramesh Chander)
Smt. Sushma Swaraj,
Minister of External Affairs,
South Block, NEW DELHI - 110011

Letter to Speaker Charanjit Singh Atwal –

July 15, 2015

Dear Sir,
I am taking the liberty of writing to you on an important matter of mutual interest that of an immense significance to the community at large. You are aware that Government of India has decided to observe the 125th birth anniversary of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar as an official celebration. You are a member of the high power Committee appointed for the purpose.

I have made a proposal to declare April 14, birthday of Dr. Ambedkar, as International Day of Equality. PM Narendra Modi may take up the matter appropriately at the next UNGA in September, 2015. In this regard, I have written to EAM Smt. Sushma Swaraj and Foreign Secretary Dr. S. Jaishankar. I am enclosing a copy of my letter to the Hon’ble Minister for your kind perusal. I am confident, Sir, your support and intervention in the matter will make a definite dent in taking a favourable decision by the Government. I may inform you that I have sent copies of my letter to Hon’ble Ministers T.C. Gehlot, Ram Vilas Paswan and Vijay Sampla.

I will be grateful, Mr. Speaker, if you could kindly consider and pursue the matter not only in your capacity as a Member of the High-Power Committee headed by the Hon’ble PM Narendra Modi but also as a recognized leader of the community and follower of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar. You would appreciate, Sir, that time schedule is of essence to prepare for PM’s address at the UN and include this idea in his address. I would, therefore, request you to kindly make a suitable approach to the Committee at the earliest.

With regards,

Yours sincerely,
(Ramesh Chander)

Shri Charanjit Singh Atwal,
Speaker of the Punjab Legislative Assembly,

Letter to PM Narendra Modi –

September 11, 2015
Dear Sir,
At the outset, let me say, Sir, you are one of the pro-active leaders of India who understands the pulse of the Indian masses. It is a well deserved compliment and rightly so. As PM of India, you have done well and have initiated many good ideas and programmes for further progress and prosperity of India. I take this opportunity to wish you and your government all the very best and all success.

I am writing this to invite your kind attention to an important matter of public interest. You are aware, Sir, under your able leadership, GOI has decided to celebrate and observe 125th birth anniversary of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar. It is a good decision which has found universal appreciation. It is a befitting tribute to the memory of Dr. Ambedkar, the greatest son of India in contemporary times. I thank and congratulate you and your government for this commendable gesture.

You would agree with me, Sir, that Dr. Ambedkar was such a personality that limiting his contribution and legacy to India alone will not do justice to the greatest son of India. Some of the foreign universities and other political and social fora have duly recognized the great contribution and work of DR. B.R.  Ambedkar in bringing about the world order where the principles of Equality, Liberty and Fraternity would be the cardinal fundamentals of governance. We Indians are proud of this. With a view to fete Dr. B.R. Ambedkar as a world leader on his 125th birth anniversary, I made a humble proposal to EAM Smt. Sushma Swaraj and requested that India under your stewardship shall make a demarche to UNGA to declare April 14, birthday of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, as the International Day of Equality.  A copy of my letter to Hon’ble EAM is enclosed for your kind perusal. My letter to her has been duly acknowledged by the Joint Secretary (UNES) in the MEA vide his letter dated August 6, 2015. Subsequently, I endorsed copies of my letter to the concerned Ministers and BJP MPs and also wrote to Shri Charanjit Singh Atwal, Speaker of Punjab Legislative Assembly who is a Member of the High Power Committee to celebrate 125th Birth Anniversary of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar under your able Chairmanship with a view to seek their support and understanding.

You would agree with me, Sir, that if GOI under your leadership approaches the UNGA and you kindly consider and make this proposal to declare April 14 as International Day of Equality in your forthcoming address to the UNGA, it will be a befitting tribute to the worthy son of India, Dr. Ambedkar on his 125th anniversary. I need not add, as you very well understand and know, Sir, how it will be appreciated not only by the under-privileged masses not only of India but also by the suffering humanity the world over crying for their empowerment. You are aware that Empowerment and Equality are the cherished fundamentals of the aims and objectives of the UN. Dr. Ambedkar remained the champion of these lofty ideals to establish an equitable world order. The dalit communities and followers of Babasaheb Ambedkar in India and abroad would appreciate and support you in this regard. Obviously, the social and political dividends in this regard would be considerable which would further strengthen you and your resolve in taking India to further heights.

I am confident, Sir, my submissions would find due consideration at your hands. Your office may like to visit my blog to know my views and thinking on various issues of interest and concern:
With personal regards,

Yours Sincerely,
(Ramesh Chander)

Shri Narendra Modi,
Prime Minister of India,
New Delhi.

Letter to Vice President of Congress Party Rahul Gandhi

September 10, 2015
Dear Sir,
I am writing to you on a matter of public importance. You must be aware that Government of India has decided to celebrate 125th birth anniversary of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar.  In this regard, I wrote to Minister of External Affairs and proposed that GOI shall consider and make a demarche to UNGA to declare April 14, birthday of Dr. Ambedkar, as the International Day of Equality. I enclose herewith my letter to EAM for your kind perusal. The letter has been duly acknowledged by the Joint Secretary (UNES) of the MEA vide his letter dated August 6, 2015.

The purpose of writing to you is to solicit your understanding and support in the matter. I don’t think the government has taken the proposal seriously. Your support and voice to the proposal can flag the issue and in turn would provide considerable political mileage to you and the Congress Party. You very well understand the importance and relevance of the legacy of Dr. Ambedkar not only now but also in the years to come. You may be aware, Sir, on the initiative of the UPA government in 2007-08, 2nd October, birthday of Mahatma Gandhi, was declared as the Internal Day of Non-violence by the UN.

You know that time is of essence. PM is scheduled to address the UNGA in two weeks time. Your articulation of the proposal appropriately, either by writing to the PM or supporting it publically at the forthcoming rally in Bihar (I read in the media that Congress Party is considering to call it Ambedkar rally), to declare April 14 as International Day of Equality will go a long way in assuaging the ruffled feelings of the dalit community and all followers of Dr. Ambedkar irrespective of their party affiliations.

I am confident, Sir, my proposal will find due consideration at your hands.  You may like to visit my blog to know my views and thinking on various issues of relevance:

With personal regards,
Yours sincerely,
(Ramesh Chander)

Shri Rahul Gandhi, MP,
Vice President,
Indian National Congress Party,
New Delhi.

Copy to:

i)                   Smt. Sonia Gandhi, MP, President of Indian National Congress Party, New Delhi
ii)                 Chaudhary Santokh Singh, MP, Jalandhar.