Saturday, June 27, 2015

Chaudhary Chand Ram

I learnt with a heavy heart from an E-mail from one of my seniors, Ambassador Bal Anand, about the death of Chaudhary Chand Ram of Haryana. Chaudhary Chand Ram was a leader, particularly of the weaker sections of the society, by his own right.  I convey my heartfelt condolences to the bereaved family and the community at large.

I have had a couple of opportunities to meet and interact with Chaudhary Chand Ram in my formative days as a student and community activist in the 1960s. Chaudhary Chand Ram was a known Congress politician in the united Punjab. He held many positions of power including Ministerial posts in various Ministries before Haryana was created in 1967. I vividly remember Chaudhary Sahib’s visit to my native mohalla, Bootan Mandi, sometime in 1964-65. I listened to him, as a young activist, at the then famous Chobara (Double Storey) of Seth Khushi Ram. He even toured some manual tanning workshops and interacted with people. Given the dirty nature of manual tanning work, his hosts (if my memory supports me, he was Seth Raju Ram) were a bit embarrassed to take Chaudhary Sahib there. But like a good humble leader, Chaudhary Sahib commented ‘it was fine, don’t worry, my mother had been doing this work.’ These utterances of Chaudhary Chand Ram left a definite mark on my young mind.

Haryana state came into being in 1967. Chaudhary Chand Ram was a towering leader with popular following. In politics, to remain in the reckoning is a hard job. Some politicians tried to side-line him but he was made of a different mettle. With the intervention of PM Indira Gandhi, on Chaudhary Sahib’s approach to her, he was made the Deputy Chief Minister of the new state of Haryana. I heard him speaking of these matters and cajoling the dalit leaders to show courage in claiming their rights at a public meeting at the famous Chak Hakim Mela near Phagwara in 1967-68 where he was invited by the Punjab Minister Piara Ram Dhanowalia who became a Minister in the first non-Congress Ministry of Chief Minister Justice Gurnam Singh after Punjab’s bifurcation. I met, along with my friends and co-community activists Prem Shant and Iqbal Bhatia, Chaudhary Chand Ram again in 1968-69 at his residence at the MLAs Hostel in Chandigarh to invite him to the annual function in connection with Guru Ravidass Gurupurab at Bootan Mandi, Jalandhar.  He was not a Minister at that time. Chaudhary Sahib was considerate enough to immediately accept our invitation to be the Guest of Honour at the function. I clearly recall that we even had a lunch at his residence and enjoyed his homely hospitality. Somehow, I was convinced in my mind that Chaudhary Chand Ram was a good politician and dedicated to the interests and concerns of the dalit community.

I again witnessed Chaudhary Chand Ram in action, in the line of his duties at the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), as a Minister in the government of PM Morarji Desai in 1977 when I was posted in the Government Hospitality organization (GHO) in the PMO. As I know, Chaudhary Chand Ram remained in the thickness of politics and social service. I was told, the other day, by Ambassador Bal Anand, that Chaudhary Sahib did a great job in initiating and establishing many institutions for the benefit of the community in his life time. There was a huge Shradhanjali Samaroh (Tributes congregation) at Rohtak on June 25, 2015 as Antim Ardas (Last Prayer) to pay tributes and pray for peace to the departed soul. Chaudhary Chand Ram richly deserved this.
Chaudhary Chand Ram

जिस धज से कोई मक़्तल में गया;
वह  शान सलामत रहती है,
यह जान तो आनी जानी है;
इश जान की कोई बात नहीं !

Sunday, June 21, 2015

International Yoga Day

On initiatives of PM Narendra Modi at the United Nations General
Assembly (UNGA) in September, 2014, United Nations (UN) decided to observe 21st June as International Yoga Day.  It is a legitimate recognition of India’s ‘soft power’ yet again having declared 2nd October (Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday) as the International Day of Non-Violence in 2007. It is a matter of satisfaction and celebration. It may not be beyond a point to mention that it will only be appropriate, if India again takes yet another initiative to declare 14th April (birth day of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar) as International Day of Equality at the next UNGA in commemoration of the 125th birth anniversary of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, the greatest son of India and the Messiah of the under privileged and suppressed humanity.  He stood, unflinchingly, for Equality, Liberty and Fraternity, the lofty ideals of Mahatma Buddha, yet another Indian who will remain in celebration for generations to come.

International Yoga Day is being celebrated throughout the world under the aegis of the UN. The idea is to spread awareness about the mental and physical well being of mankind through Yoga, an ancient Indian science and method to do so. Last year PM Narendra Modi spoke at the UNGA about the best cultural export of India, “Yoga is an invaluable gift of our ancient tradition," he said. "It is not about exercise but to discover oneness within yourself, the world and nature.” Subsequently, the UNGA adopted an India initiated resolution declaring June 21 as “International Day of Yoga. It is gratifying to note that this is for the first time that such an idea has been proposed and accepted by the UN in less than three months. It also speaks high of the Indian diplomacy. India’s proposed idea to declare April 14, birthday of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar as “International Day of Equality” will bring further laurels to India internationally and much appreciation and dividend to the government internally.

Needless and avoidable controversies on Yoga should be negated. First the government has already clarified that participation in International Day of Yoga is voluntary. The controversial elements like “Surya Namaskar” and recital of some “Mantras” has been taken off the official programme. Yoga is not related to any religion or political party. Yoga Guru Sri Sri Ravishankar has rightly said, “Yoga is universal as breathing is universal.”

As musings of a novice, I may add that during the course of my long diplomatic career, I availed of many opportunities
and associated myself with the propagation and spread of Yoga. In Tokyo, we interacted with Sri Sri Ravishankar’s Art of Living and started the Yoga classes at the Indian Embassy in 2002. We worked with Baba Ramdev in Scotland in 2007-08. He invited me to inaugurate his Yoga Shivers (Camps) in Glasgow and Edinburgh which I did with pleasure. In 2009-10, we started Yoga classes at the Indian Embassy in Minsk (Belarus) on the initiative of an India trained Yoga teacher Natallia Gayatri and her husband Sree Kumar. It was a satisfying experience.

With this, I greet my fellow Indians and the international community at large on International Yoga Day.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Belarus – Musings of a Novice

Belarus is a beautiful country in Eastern Europe bordering Poland
With President Alexander Lukashenko
, Latvia, Lithuania, Ukraine and Russia.  It is currently in news because of the state visit of President Pranab Mukherjee on June 2, 2015, the first ever by the President of India. Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna was the first Indian Foreign Minister to visit Minsk in August, 2010 when I was the Ambassador of India to Belarus. It is a matter of satisfaction that high level contacts have been consciously maintained by both the sides. PM Jawaharlal Nehru, PM Indira Gandhi, PM Rajiv Gandhi visited Belarus when it was a federate of the erstwhile USSR. India-Belarus relations are excellent ever since its independence in 1991 as it has roots in the traditional friendship between the peoples from Soviet days. Belarus is the first and the only NAM country in Europe. Both India and Belarus has everything to gain from each other with mutual co-operation. It is a matter of gratification that leaderships of both countries are fully aware of these opportunities and ground realities. I recall an anecdote to confirm the bonhomie among the leaders. On my first arrival in Minsk as Ambassador of India in February, 2009, I called, inter alia, on the Co-Chairman of India- Belarus Joint- Committee on Defense Co-operation. After the meeting, he invited me to his personal chamber and showed me his photograph, kept by side of his desk, with President APJ Abdul Kalam. Being a scientist himself, he held President Kalam in high esteem.

Belarus is a strong country technically, industrially and scientifically. It was called the assembly-line of the USSR in the Soviet times. Belarus has the necessary wherewithal for heavy transport, defense equipment, scientific know-how which could be of interest to India. Belarus is a big supplier of potash (MOP) not only to India but also to other destinations.  Potash could be another area of interest to India. Belarus has been showing interest in cooperation in matters pertaining to space. These avenues may be explored. It gives me a lot of satisfaction that I could contribute my little bit in further strengthening the cooperation to mutual advantage.

India has been doing well in supply of small consumables by way
At one of the ANM Trade Fairs
of business to consumer exhibitions in Belarus. These fairs are very popular. Shri Naveen Kohli and Shri Anil Mehta of ANM Corporation have been doing good business in this regard to mutual benefit. Indian pharmaceuticals are widely accepted and used in Belarus.  Further opportunities need to be identified and exploited to strengthen economic and commercial relations.

There are constructive understandings on political and diplomatic issues between India and Belarus. Cultural bonds are good. It is good to note that there is a big craze in the younger generation in Belarus about Indian performing arts like dance and music, even Yoga. It must be encouraged and supported. I myself supported and hosted at the Embassy in Minsk the Yoga classes of Gayatri and Sree Kumar and dance training of Sapna Group of Elena Sipach.

President Pranab Mukherjee’s visit will be yet another mile stone in the friendly relations so happily existing between India and Belarus.