Friday, April 22, 2016

Guru Ravidass Memorial at Khuralgarh

There is a poetic saying”Kuffar Toota Khuda Khuda Karke”. The
Punjab government has finally woken up to recognize and respect Guru Ravidassji by building a memorial at Khuralgarh, a site at Garhshankar in Hoshiarpur district of Punjab. It is believed that Guru Ravidassji visited and stayed at Khuralgarh which was then a princely state of one of the close relations of Mira Bai who herself was an ardent spiritual follower of the great Guru. This historical fact has been confirmed and authenticated by the concerned governmental authorities on the initiative of a community activist Banta Ram Ghera. There are two sites – one in Khuralgarh village where Guru Ravidassji stayed and meditated and second at the foothill where Guru Ravidass struck water with the toe of his foot on the request of the villagers. That place, since then, is called ‘Charan Choh Ganga’. Obviously, Khuralgarh has become a historical pilgrimage for the millions of followers of Guru Ravidass both in India and abroad. Thousands of faithful followers visit Khuralgarh daily to pay their obeisance to their Guru. The picturesque place is increasingly becoming a tourist attraction in the region, in spite of the fact that there is hardly any development of the needed infrastructure and civic amenities created and extended by the government authorities. The two sites, that is, the Gurudwara at the village Khuralgarh and the Charan Choh Ganga are manned and managed by two separate private trusts. There is no consultation and cooperation between these trusts rather, as I gathered during my recent maiden visit to Khuralgarh, they are fighting with each other and also other vested interests who intend to gain control of these holy sites. The authorities have been silent spectators resulting in criminal neglect and no development and care of the important historical inheritance of the millions of followers of Guru Ravidassji.

The central government, on the initiative of then Minister Ambika Soni, identified Khuralgarh as a tourist destination some years ago. A tourist guest house was built but it was of no use. In the absence of matching infrastructure like approach road and other amenities, this guest house is almost an abandoned building, as I could see myself.

The Punjab government, at the time of last elections about four years ago, with a view to woo dalit votes, showed interest in Khuralgarh. But it was only an election plank. The momentary enthusiasm died its natural death. I wrote to the Culture Secretary sometime in 2013 and offered my services to do something concrete and positive for the Khuralgarh plan. He referred my humble offer to the then Minister Sarwan Singh. As I did not have any political back up, my offer could not find favour with the honourable Minister. The Akali-BJP coalition government did not do anything on the Khuralgarh project. Now the elections are fast approaching. Khuralgarh has again occupied the attention of the government to encash their cheque on the vote bank of the followers of Guru Ravidassji. The seasonal birds have surfaced again with their love for the great guru and spiritual well being of his followers. A grand plan to build a state of the art Guru Ravidass memorial at Khuralgarh, at the cost of 110 crores of rupees, has again been put on the drawing board. At the foundation laying ceremony on April 3, 2016, CM Parkash Singh Badal said “As a tribute to Guru Ravidass, it will be an architectural marvel with a
congregation hall for 10,000, a modern auditorium for an audience of 500 and 151 feet high Minar-e-Begumpura.” The purpose of the memorial is said to establish ‘a sacred place associated with Guru Ravidassji as a world class centre to propagate the message of divinity, communal harmony, peace, universal brotherhood and compassion’. The importance of Guru Ravidass and his followers has appeared in the psyche of the government once again. That is why I said “Kuffar Toota Khuda Khuda Karke”. Let us see how much is done at Khuralgarh before the election. After that the drawing board will be shifted to some junk store to gather dust till the next elections.

All the major players in the great political game are busy in wooing the dalits to gain their support and votes. In the process, they are undertaking and employing all the tricks and tactics not that there is any love lost or they are interested in improving their position or empowering them as equals but only to befool them to get their votes. This is the 10th year of the Akali-BJP government in Punjab, maybe the final year before they are thrown out by the upcoming political forces like the AAP. What have they done for the dalits?  Dalit icons Guru Ravidassji and Dr. B.R. Ambedkar have suddenly appeared on their radar. Have they budgeted any definite amount to be spent on the Khuralgarh project? Have they fixed any timeline to complete the project? Have they put in place any special outfit to see the execution of the 110 crore Khuralgarh project? What special programme have they made to celebrate and observe the 125th birth anniversary of the greatest son of India, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar? I wrote to the Deputy CM of Punjab on the subject some months ago but there was not even an acknowledgement.  Again surprisingly, I read a story in the Hindustan Times that MOS Vijay Sampla has mooted a proposal to make a world class memorial of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar at Bootan Mandi, the so called capital of dalits. I, a humble Bootan Mandian, welcome the proposal. But I am certain that the proposal will remain a news item only.  I will write on this subject separately.

My dear dalit brethren, kindly watch out for the emerging scenario and marshal your forces to safeguard your interests in this great game otherwise you will again be cheated.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Babasaheb Ambedkar – The Greatest Son of India

Today, April 14, we are celebrating the 125th birth anniversary of
Babasaheb Dr. B.R. Ambedkar (April 14, 1891 – December 6, 1956), the greatest son of India in the contemporary times. I greet my fellow citizens of India and supporters of democracy, justice, equality, liberty and fraternity, the values which were dear to Babasaheb, in the world at large. It is a matter of gratification to note that not only the government of India but also several other authorities, the world over, including the UN are celebrating and observing the day in one way or the other to pay a fulsome homage to the great man of our times. It has been noted with a lot of satisfaction tha
t in spite of all social odds, political challenges and personal problems which Babasaheb faced throughout his life, his persona received more and more attention and recognition every passing day and more so after his death. By now, it seems, there is hardly anybody in the entire political, social, intellectual and academic circles of not only India but of the world at large who does not hold him in high esteem and recognize him as an intellectual giant, a constitutional expert, an economist, a statesman, a social reformer, a humanist, a spiritual flag bearer of the great Gautam Buddha. Dr. Ambedkar was a unique phenomena and a legendary figure of contemporary times. Mahatma Gandhi who was one of the staunch critics and opponent of Dr.Ambedkar said long back, sometime in the early 1930s, “You may criticize Dr. Ambedkar but you cannot ignore him.”  I am sure that the importance, significance and relevance of Dr. Ambedkar are bound to increase in the years to come. What could be a better tribute to the memory of the greatest son of India?

It is a matter of great dismay that Dr. Ambedkar did not get his due in his lifetime either from the political establishment or from the people of India at large. Dr. Ambedkar was a stout critic of the Congress Party and as such PM Jawaharlal Nehru and his colleagues like Babu Jagjivan Ram, D. Sanjivaya, inter alia, saw to it that he was sidelined from the thickness of political and even the social playing field. The upper caste dominated intelligentsia also did not take much notice of him. He was condemned and projected as a defeated leader of a section of the dalit communities as late as the 1970s. But it was not to be. Dr. Ambedkar was an ardent nationalist, an intellectual par excellence, a humanist of the highest order, a spiritual leader of the Buddhist heritage. How can such a personality be ignored for long. The wonders of democracy started getting visible, the edifice of which was set up by Babasaheb himself in the constitution and polity of India. The dalits, the backwards, the neglected and marginalized sections of the society started asserting themselves. The resultant social and economic empowerment of the weaker sections of the society including women changed the political scenario drastically. The relevance of Dr. Ambedkar surfaced and surfaced with such intensity that it became difficult to ignore him anymore. Now the situation has emerged that all political parties are vying among themselves to own the legacy of the greatest son of India. The think tanks and academia not only in India but also abroad has re-evaluated and recognized the sterling role played and the contribution made by Dr. Ambedkar in shaping the constitutional, economic, social and spiritual landscape of India for the benefit of the marginalized humanity the world over.  The leading universities and academic institutions including the Columbia University of the US and the Cambridge University of the UK  besides the Indian academic outfits have increasingly honoured and recognized, and rightly so, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar. The print and electronic media has taken a due notice of him and have come up with special issues and programmes on Dr. Ambedkar.  –  Der Ayat; Darust Ayat. It is a befitting tribute to the memory of the legendry personality of Dr. Ambedkar.

The successive governments in India, after independence, did not pay much attention to Dr. Ambedkar and willfully kept him on the margins except the fact that he was given an onerous task of making the constitution of India. It was a challenge which he accepted knowing full well that it was not an easy job. In spite of his failing health and several problems created by his political and social adversaries, he did his best and gave us a fine document to run a country full of contradictions, diversity and graded social inequalities. The constitution has stood the test of times over the years since its adoption on January 26, 1950. India is now not only a vibrant and the biggest democracy of the world but also a respected member of the comity of nations. It is a matter of satisfaction that the 125th birth anniversary of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar
is being celebrated at the UN in New York with all gusto and sobriety. I am happy to state that,  as a humble follower of Babasaheb Ambedkar, I wrote to EAM Sushma Swaraj and PM Narendra Modi in August last year to make a demarche to the UN General Assembly to declare April 14, the birthday of Dr. Ambedkar, as the International Day of Equality. The proposal was duly acknowledged but did not find acceptance. I am confident that the stock of Dr. Ambedkar is bound to rise up and up in the years to come and the suggested honour will be bestowed on him in due course.  The sooner the better.

PM Narendra Modi’s government, due to its electoral compulsions, is trying to appropriate the legacy of Dr. Ambedkar. During the year of 125th birth anniversary of the great leader, the government has come out with many projects and memorials to celebrate the greatest son of India. It must be appreciated. But we need not limit ourselves to tokenism alone. The life, mission and legacy of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar should be included appropriately in school and university curriculum for the benefit of the coming generations. The dalit communities consider Dr. Ambedkar next to god. There is no doubt about it. The political and intellectual elite are increasingly accepting and realizing the importance and relevance of Dr. Ambedkar.  But I note with regret that the casteist mind set of the upper caste society at large is yet to accept and own him. This is a ground reality which cannot be ignored all together.  It will be difficult till the Manuwadi mindset and unequal social order are altered and overthrown. I think it will be done by no one except the larger than life persona of Ambedkar himself, if India has to remain the India visualized by our fore-fathers including Babasaheb Ambedkar himself.  The governments, the political parties, the media, the intellectual elite are celebrating Dr. Ambedkar on his 125th birth anniversary but the public participation seems to be limited to dalits alone. Why should it be so? The only answer to this big question which comes to my mind is that it is due to historical reasons of Manuwadi mindset and caste based social order. Dr. Ambedkar himself said that democracy would have no meaning without establishing a casteless society.
The legacy of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar is such a potent force that it will take its own care in the years to follow as it has happened so far. The emerging political scenario appears to be of concern and worry. Consciously or otherwise, Lal Salam is getting acquainted with Jai Bheem.  If these forces join hands, it will prove to be a force to reckon with. One must not forget that Dr. Ambedkar compared Gautam Buddha and Karl Marx and said their ultimate goal was the same that is removal of ‘Dukkha’and ‘Exploitation’ but the methods suggested and adopted were different.  He said that the communist system was based on force and Buddha followed a democratic system and added that ‘Buddha’s method was the safest and soundest’.  Over the years, the Marxists, the Communists and other Leftist outfits have adopted democratic and peaceful methods to pursue their agenda to end exploitation. These methods are akin to the Buddhist thinking. In simple words, Lal Salam and Jai Bheem, as recently demonstrated at, inter alia, Hyderabad University, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Jadhavpur University, may become slogans of the younger generation particularly that of the depressed and suppressed segments of the society. We must understand it to ward of the untoward. We stand by Dr. Ambedkar for a peaceful and democratic revolution.

I conclude this with an important quote from Dr. Ambedkar to rededicate ourselves to the peaceful methods to save our hard earned independence and for further progress and prosperity of India. He said on November 25, 1949 while delivering his last speech in the Constituent Assembly before the Constitution was finally adopted and passed, “If we wish to maintain democracy not merely in form, but also in fact, what must we do? The first thing in my judgement we must do is to hold fast to constitutional methods of achieving our social and economic objectives. It means we must abandon the bloody methods of revolution. It means that we must abandon the method of civil disobedience, non-cooperation and satyagraha. When there was no way left for constitutional methods for achieving economic and social objectives, there was a great deal of justification for unconstitutional methods. But where constitutional methods are open, there can be no justification for these unconstitutional methods. These methods are nothing but the grammar of anarchy and the sooner they are abandoned, the better for us.”

A poetic tribute to Babasaheb Ambedkar in the words of a renowned poet Gurdas Ram Alam:

ਲੂਹ ਕੇ ਸਿਮਰਿਤੀ ਨਵਾਂ ਵਿਧਾਨ ਲਿਖਯਾ;
ਅੱਗ ਲਾ ਕੇ ਸਾਗਰਾਂ ਦੇ ਪਨਿਆਂ ਤੇ,
ਰਾਸ਼ਤੇ ਹਿੰਦ ਦੇ ਨਵੈ ਉਲੀਕ ਦਿਤੇ;
ਪੈਰ ਫੇਰ ਕੇ ਲੀਹਾਂ ਪੁਰਾਣਿਆ ਤੇ !

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Some Random Thoughts – AAP Jan Sabhas in Punjab

MP Bhagwant Mann addressing the Sabha

The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has arrived in Punjab and it is destined to reach at the first opportunity available in the timeline of the forthcoming elections in Punjab in early 2017. The recently held Jan Sabhas in all the three regions, Majha, Malwa and Doaba, have clearly indicated the mood of the people and have confirmed the findings of the surveys and opinion polls conducted by the expert agencies. People are for change as they stand fed up of the ruling Akali-BJP elite and equally of the runners up and the so called alternative, the Congress Party. Both these groups have lost the confidence and support of the people of Punjab at large. The AAP leadership under the stewardship of Arvind Kejriwal is fully charged and involved in bringing about the much needed ‘Parivartan’ as visualized by our leader Arvind Kejriwal. Through these well organized and attended Jan Sabhas, MPs Bhagwant Mann and Sadhu Singh supported and accompanied by, inter alia, Convener of the AAP in Punjab Sucha Singh Chhottepur, Central Observer Sanjay Singh, star campaigners like Gurpreet Ghuggi, Sukhpal Singh Khaira, Santokh Singh Salana and others have raised the curtain of the upcoming events and scenario on the political firmament of Punjab in the coming months. It seems that Punjab is all set for almost a clean sweep by the AAP.

I am also a small cog in the AAP wheel. I contributed my humble
Ramesh Chander adressing the Sabha
bit to the Jan Sabha on April 3 at Basti Guzan on advice and consultation with our political guides, Rajiv Chaudhary, Dr. H.S. Cheema and Sunil Dutt. It is a matter of satisfaction that the Sabha, which was addressed by MP Bhagwant Mann and Santokh Singh Salana, was a great success. The audience listened to the AAP leaders with rapt attention and interest. I was also invited to speak briefly at the Sabha. It was my first speech from a political platform after joining the AAP in the last week of February, 2016. After living a 35 years long career of a faceless diplomat, it was a new but pleasant experience. I was full of emotions. I had my schooling in the area at the Sain Dass School at Basti Nau. I used to roam around in shorts and knickers in Basti Guzan for cost effective stationery and old books from the make shift ‘Kishoo di Hatti’ located under the huge and old banyan tree at the big round about near the Adda Basti Guzan, the venue of the Jan Sabha. After my education, I enjoyed and relished the fruits of Indian Foreign Service (IFS), one of the coveted services of India. Now from the same venue, I was starting my political life to serve the people and society to pay back the debt of gratitude, I owe to them. I could not control myself and expressed my feelings in a charged and choked voice at the Sabha. I am confident that I will get the due public support in the noble task.

With this, I rededicate myself to work hard under the banner of the AAP to realize the vision of our leader Arvind Kejriwal to give power to the people to transform our political democracy into socio-economic democracy as visualized and stipulated by our fore fathers, particularly my idle and icon Babasaheb Dr. B.R. Ambedkar.

यह राहें ले ही जांएगी, मंजिल तक, हौसला रख;

कभी सुना है ? अँधेरे ने सवेरा होने दिया !