Monday, November 28, 2016

Dalit Manifesto of AAP

An Open Letter of an AAM AADMI – Dalit Manifesto of AAP

November 28, 2016
Dear Voters of Punjab,

It is in continuation of my open letter of November 21 in which I said that the AAP has arrived. All the parties are burning mid-night oil to impress the people of Punjab with their credentials. The
election manifestos are being readied. As said earlier, dalit vote bank with more than 32% share, obviously, holds the key to enter the portals of power in Chandigarh and as such no party can afford to ignore this ground reality. The traditional parties have been befooling dalit communities in the successive elections by their policy of ‘Divide and Rule” either through the community Deras or by exploiting the inherent weaknesses of dalit political outfits by throwing the crumbs of small positions and other fringe gains.

AAP is the first party to come out with its dalit agenda in form of a Dalit Manifesto which was released on November 25 by the Convener of AAP, Arvind Kejriwal at an impressive public meeting at Gorayan in Jalandhar. I also voluntarily contributed to the Punjab Dialogue – a process to make the manifesto by a committee appointed for the purpose. Both the AAP’s Dalit Manifesto and a Non-paper submitted by me are appended to this letter as
Annexures for the ease of readers. Though it is a good beginning to bring about some focus to the issues and concerns of dalits of Punjab yet I regret to say that the much talked about document has fallen short of my expectations. It has failed to catch up with the imagination of dalit masses particularly the educated youth. It seems that the Punjab Dialogue was short of time and bereft of ideas and attention to address the dalit issues and concerns. I also communicated directly with Chander Suta Dogra, a prominent member of the manifesto committee and forwarded my submissions to her. This cursory approach to handle the important subject, it seems, would not prove to be helpful. The Tribune of November 27, 2016 has rightly observed in a story, “The AAP on Friday tried to touch all issues relating to the dalit community in Punjab in its 19 point Dalit Manifesto released specially for the scheduled castes but fell short of presenting itself as a party having different approach for the age old issues of the scheduled castes.” AAP has yet to convince the dalit community about its credentials. Its opponents, the Congress Party, Akali Dal, the BJP and also the BSP, are all geared up to exploit the fears of alleged anti dalit policy and conduct of the AAP, both real and instigated. The issued Dalit Manifesto of AAP is not enough, to be frank as a well wisher and a humble member of the AAP. There may be some political and practical compulsions but a course correction is needed, to my mind.

Nevertheless, it is satisfying to note that perhaps the top leadership of the party is aware of the ground realities. They would address the issues otherwise in the process of the election campaign itself. Arvind Kejriwal has already taken the initiative by declaring that, when they would form the next government in Punjab, a dalit would be made the Deputy Chief Minister of Punjab. It is appreciable as it is for the first time that any party has made such a commitment. But let me add hastily that this announcement has received a mixed reaction from the dalit intelligentsia on one hand and political circles on the other, if one goes by the media particularly the social media. Obviously, in a democracy numbers count and rightly so. Many people have commented that why Deputy CM and why not CM, if SC’s make a good contribution to the AAP’s kitty of MLAs. At the Dalit Manifesto release both the National Convener Arvind Kejriwal and the Punjab Convener Gurpreet Ghuggi invoked Babasaheb B.R. Ambedkar and Babu Kanshi Ram to fill in the gaps and holes in the manifesto by stating that as dreamed and desired by these dalit icons the AAP would share power as Baghidari with dalits. It has been appreciated in dalit circles but more needs to be done.

Coming to the dalit manifesto, as I said it is a good initiative and must be appreciated. Now it will require skillful marketing among the dalit masses particularly the dalit youth. There are some common points which the traditional parties have been saying and promising over the years but could not deliver. It is said that the proof of pudding is in its eating. Let us hope that AAP will give more impetus and implement the promises made in the 19 point manifesto. The point on distribution of common land among the dalits is a good point and would make a real difference to the economic empowerment and well being of the marginalized sections of the society. Clearance of backlog of reserved vacancies in government jobs, provision of a loan of Rs. 2 lakh to dalit small businesses and setting up of a SIT to review and investigate the cases, allegedly false and discriminatory, against dalits are some of the good points and should go down well. It would have been better if the core issue of reservation finds a mention specially the issue of implementation of the 85th amendment of the constitution to allay the fears of dalits. Though Arvind Kejriwal in his speech on April 14, 2016 at Talkatora Stadium candidly addressed these issues yet some instigated and falsely floated fears remain. He also reiterated that he and the AAP fully support reservation as provided in the constitution in his speech at Konica Resort in Jalandhar in May, 2016. Again, I repeat, more needs to be done to clear the air on the reservation related concerns of the community. Other praiseworthy and good points in the manifesto are: Provision of pucca houses to the needy dalits, more powers and bite to the SC Commission, Special Cell to oversee the post matric scholarships and more importantly reservation in the boards and commissions of Punjab government as in the government departments. If implemented in right earnest, it would greatly help the community to stand and go hand in hand with the main stream of the society.

The purpose of this open letter, as stated earlier, is to support AAP and put the things in right perceptive from the point of view of an Aam Aadmi. There are certain points which could have made a good dent in molding the dalit opinion about the AAP. I suggested in my submissions to make special training programmes for the dalit educated youth to enroll them in the armed forces and also para military organizations not on the basis of reservation but to compete with others on the basis of suitability and selection on merit. No such arrangements exist at present, according to my information. It will go a long way in empowering the dalit youth. Yet another point which I made in my submissions is to satisfy the ‘Identity Urge’ of the community by providing for due recognition of dalit religious and spiritual icons namely Guru Ravidass, Bhagwan Valmik, Satguru Kabir and also social and political icons like Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, Babu Kanshi Ram among others. The successive governments have been doing cosmetic and adhoc exercises in this regard which could not serve the purpose and attract association and affiliation of the dalit masses. I made another thoughtful proposal which entailed no financial and other costs but a considerable potential to satisfy the increasingly getting assertive dalit youth. It is my proposal made to the Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj and also to PM Narendra Modi to make a demarche to the UN to declare April 14, birthday of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar as the International Day of Equality. The proposal has duly been acknowledged both by MEA and PMO. Forum of SC Parliamentarians and Legislators adopted it and submitted to PM Narendra Modi in a Memorandum in November, 2015. The Chief Indian delegate to the celebration of 125th anniversary of Dr. Ambedkar at the UN Headquartes at New York in April, 2016, Punjab Speaker Charanjit Singh Atwal, duly took up the matter in his speech. He subsequently included this proposal in a report submiited to PM Modi in May, 2016 and requested him to approach the UN in this regard. The matter rests at that. I urged the Punjab Dialogue of the AAP to include the proposal in the party’s Dalit Manifesto by supporting it and saying that if AAP comes to power after the 2017 elections, the Punjab Cabinet and the Punjab Legislative Assembly would pass a resolution and forward it to the MEA and PMO with a request to officially take up the proposal with the UN appropriately. I still hold that it could have caught up with the imagination and goodwill of the vast majority of Ambedkarites throughout India and the world at large irrespective of their party affiliations. I will not be surprised if some other party comes forward and owns up the proposal in one way or the other.
In conclusion, I must say that AAP has really taken good initiatives to address the concerns and issues of dalits in its Dalit Manifesto. I am confident that the remaining gaps will be filled in due course by the leadership in their verbal and written announcements and commitments in the run up to the elections to invite and attract the dalit support, a large chunk of the electorate which has the potential to make or mar.

With regards,

Yours Truly,

(Ramesh Chander)
Ambassador – IFS (Retired)

तू पहले बात फिर बात  का अंदाज़ पैदा कर ;
फिर जमानेमें तुझे  कोई नज़र अंदाज़ कर नहीं सकता!

 Annexure - 1
 What Dalit manifesto promises
·         Low-cost housing scheme for Dalits; pucca houses for all community members
·         Village common land reserved for Dalits won’t be up for auction for persons of other castes
·         Crop failure: Farm labourers to get compensation of Rs 10,000 for every month of loss of work
·         Shagun scheme amount to be increased to Rs 51,000; old-age pension, widow pension and handicap pension to be increased from Rs 500 to Rs 2,000
·         Free education for underprivileged Dalit girls up to Class XII
·         Punjab Scheduled Caste Commission to be empowered
·         Provision for reservation in state boards and corporations for Dalits on the pattern of government departments
·         Special cell to monitor proper implementation of post-matric scholarship scheme
·         Special SIT for atrocities and false cases registered against Dalits in past five years
·         Committees in each department to identify and fill job vacancies for Dalits
·         Social security scheme for all Dalits
·         ollateral free loan of Rs 2 lakh for small businesses or village-based enterprises for poor
·         Mandatory complaint office to deal with discrimination against Dalits in all educational institutions, offices and NGOs
 Annexure- II

Non-Paper by Ambassador Ramesh Chander, IFS (Retired)

Some random issues of interest and concern to dalit communities of Punjab – Submissions before the AAP’s Punjab Dialogue on SCs

Education and Empowerment – Education and empowerment is an important issue not only for Scheduled Caste communities but also for all other weaker sections of the society. Obviously, provisions for good and affordable educational facilities, comparable with the private schools, should be made available in government schools where most of the SC and other poor students go for schooling. The cardinal principle is ‘Empowerment flows through Education’.
·       Private schools and colleges run by SCs should be given financial, managerial, academic and consultancy support to make them stand up to and compete with general schools. It will give and impart a sense of empowerment to the SC investors and players in the field of education. It will also tend to inculcate a feeling of ‘Yes, we can also do it’. It will go a long way in removing the existing inferiority complex among the SCs and will lead to their empowerment to join the mainstream of the society.
·       The Pre and Post Matriculation scholarships given to SCs need streamlining and proper execution. It is one of the often and much discussed issues of concern to the SC students. There is no solution in sight. As per the reports, SC students suffer and are harassed on one hand and the educational institutions complain of financial and other difficulties with governmental agencies. It is the egg and chicken situation. Rules say that schools and colleges will not charge fees from SC students and the government will pay directly to the schools and colleges. The schools and colleges claim and blame that they do not get due reimbursements in time. In turn, they start harassing students. The central government blames the state government and the other way round. As a result, the poor students suffer not only educationally but psychologically too. The problem generates avoidable worries for the poor parents. The very purpose of these scholarships gets defeated. Our suggestion is as under.
·       The governments, both central and of state, should open an “ESCROW Account” in one of the public sector banks. On getting the requisite information and data from the schools and colleges, routed through the competent Education Department authorities of the state government, should transfer, twice in a year, the due and requisite amounts in the ESCROW Account maintained for the purpose along with documentation pertaining to the scholarship. The school and colleges will claim and get the due amounts from the concerned bank. It should be done in a time bound manner failing which the schools and colleges will be entitled to claim an interest of 10% on the amounts due. It will end the blame game. The poor students will be saved from harassment and highhandedness by the educational institutions.

Education/Training and Employment – Education and training should result in good employment and vocation. SC youth and also the other weaker sections certainly need some additional care in this regard. Some of our suggestions are:
·       Intake of SCs in the armed forces is negligible. This anomaly should be corrected. More and more SC young people should be encouraged and motivated to join the armed forces including reservation of seats in Sainik Schools and also other educational and training outfits. There should free training and coaching for the educated SC youth, graduate and below graduate levels, to compete at the CDS and IMA examinations conducted by the UPSC and other relevant organizations. The Sainik Boards may be engaged for the purpose. This action will not only provide employment to the SC youth but also empower them to join the mainstream of the society as dignified partners. Another aspect of this is that it will set right the dwindling share of Punjab in the armed forces.
·       Special training arrangements for SC educated youth to join para-military and armed police forces are needed. Apart from non-officer levels, there is a great need to encourage and train SC youth to sit in examinations conducted by the UPSC and other recruiting agencies for direct recruitment at officer levels in various para-military and armed police forces. As of now, there is hardly any intake from SC communities in these organizations. With this, a much needed sense of space and share of SC communities in the power structures will come which will be good for a healthy society.

Dignity of Labour – Dignity of labour is an essential ingredient of a healthy work culture. It also contributes positively to establishment of just and an egalitarian order as stipulated in our constitution. The AAP’s election symbol of Jhadu (broom) duly signifies this.

·       The practice of cleaning sewerage manually by going down the manholes should be immediately dispensed with. It is not only inhuman and below human dignity but also unhealthy and physically dangerous. These services should be maintained by mechanical methods. With view to watch the interests of the work force engaged in such jobs, there should be special training modules to engage them in operating machines deployed to such jobs. Since such jobs are generally done by SCs of Balmiki community, willing or unwillingly, it will a go long way in providing these safai karmcharis much relief and a sense of dignity of labour.

Recognition and honouring of dalit icons – The dalit icons, spiritual, social and political, should be duly recognized and honoured with a view to establish an inclusive culture and society.
·        Religious and spiritual icons like Guru Ravidassji, Satguru Kabirji, Bhagwan Balmikiji, Bhai Jiwan Singhji should get befitting recognition and honour spreading their message of love and passion for the benefit of the society at large. The holy sites, like, inter alia,  Khuralgarh in Hoshiarpur pertaining to Guru Ravidassji, Ramtirth Mandir in Amritsar pertaining to Bhagwan Balmik and appropriate sites belonging to other dalit icons should be developed and handed over to the community and the society.
·       Social and political icons like, among others Babasaheb Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, Udham Singh, Babu Kanshi Ram should be recognized and honoured befittingly. It will go a long way in assuaging the ruffled feelings of dalits.
·       In the contemporary context, the life and mission and also the contribution of Dr. Ambedkar to the country and society should be included in the school and college curricula. It will not only cheer his followers but also provide the much needed information and knowledge to the youth of India about the greatest son of India and inspire them to become better citizens.
·       Of late, Babu Kanshi Ram played an important role in creating and generating immense awareness and energy among the dalit masses about their political right and succeeded in establishing a distinct entity in the political firmament of India. His successors headed by Kumari Mayawati under the banner of BSP have lost track and abandoned the legacy of Babu Kanshi Ram. It has not gone well with the awakened dalits. They are looking for an alternative. Perhaps, the AAP may consider owning the legacy of Babu Kanshi Ram. It will throw additional benefits and advantages to the AAP. Some institutions may be named after Kanshi Ram. An annual lecture on the contribution and role of Kanshi Ram in bringing about awareness in the dalit psyche may be instituted.

Economic empowerment – Besides, social and political development and well being of the SC communities, economic power is the crux and is instrumental in bring about level playing field. Incidentally, the dalit community in Punjab is better off than their counterparts in the other states. But still traditional mindset of oppression and highhandedness by the landed peasantry in villages does exist which requires to be shattered.

·       Dalit share in agricultural land is negligible. The nazul and surplus land in villages is generally allotted or contracted to non-dalit peasantry because of their social and economic superiority. It is a sheer injustice which should be stopped. The poor dalits, sons of the soil and actual tillers, should get their share in the common land. It will certainly help the poor dalits in the villages not only in earning their bread and butter but also tend to minimize the tensions in the society.
·        In the sports industry in and around Jalandhar, the labour force traditionally belonged to SC communities migrated from Sialkot in the wake of partition in 1947. Same is the position in some pockets of Gurdaspur and Pathankot. The business is owned and controlled by the upper castes. Even after 60-70 years of independence, the ruling masters did not pay any attention to the fate and condition of the labour class in the sports industry. There is hardly any labour welfare mechanism in place as corporate responsibility. The norms of minimum wages, stipulated in the law, are observed more in breach rather than implementation. The exporters are making profits without passing on its share to the labour. These problems need to be addressed in the light of the existing laws and if need be make new laws. Government may consider floating cooperatives in which the labour also gets its share and stake. It has been told that it has been done in Pakistan, a major competitor in the field, successfully. The case of Pakistan may be studied, if required.

Honouring Ambedkar and respecting Equitable World order – April 14, Dr. Ambedkar’s birthday to be declared as International Day of Equality - Dr. B.R. Ambedkar is the greatest son of India. His contribution and relevance has been duly recognized, of late, not by India but also the world at large. His 125th birth anniversary was officially celebrated at the UN in New York in April, 2016 for the first time.
·       After the government of India decided last year, 2015 to celebrate the 125th birthday anniversary of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, I wrote in July/August, 2015 to EAM Sushma Swaraj and FS Dr. S. Jaishankar to make a demarche to UN to declare April 14 as the International Day of Equality. My letters were duly acknowledged by the JS(UN) in MEA. I wrote to PM Narendra Modi to include this suggestion in his speech at the UNGA in September, 2015 and simultaneously approached MPs and MLAs to endorse the proposal. Forum of Schedule Caste MPs and MLAs which is headed by Speaker of the Punjab Legislative Assembly, Charanjit Singh Atwal, to whom I also wrote on the subject, took up the matter in their Memorandum submitted to PM Narendra Modi in November, 2015. In the celebrations at the UN on April 13, Charanjit Singh Atwal in the presence of India’s PR at the UN, Syed Akbarudin, made a demarche to UN in his speech to declare April 14 as the International Day of Equality. Subsequently, in its report to PM Modi, Speaker Atwal wrote on 3rd May, 2016 and requested the Government of India to take up the matter with UN officially. The matter rests at that.
·       My submission in this regard is that the AAP should look at the proposal, made by one of its humble workers Ambassador Ramesh Chander, and consider endorsing it. It will go a long way in winning over the millions of followers of Dr. Ambedkar the world over and reap good political dividends in the days to come. After coming to power, which is almost certain, the AAP may promise to pass Cabinet and Assembly resolutions of request to GOI to take up the matter with UN officially to declare April 14 as the International Day of Equality.


Monday, November 21, 2016

AAP has arrived

An Open Letter of an AAM AADMI - AAP has arrived

Dear Voters of Punjab,

I am an Aam Aadmi, a humble member of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) based in Jalandhar, Punjab. On joining AAP in February, 2016, my maiden entry into public life after retirement from a fairly long diplomatic career, I wrote and shared my random thoughts in my blog, as a novice politician. As advised and prompted by the party and also by my own decision, I was one of the aspirants of the party ticket to contest the forthcoming elections in Punjab to be held in the early months of 2017. But I could not make it. Nonetheless, I remain a simple member of AAP, which I joined on my own volition, to serve the society to pay back my debt of gratitude in a small way. I will write occasionally on matters of interest and concern from my personal perspective, in the run up to the elections, with a view to contribute positively to the AAP campaign and to generate public awareness in a transparent manner. Let us participate in this dance of democracy.

The AAP leader, Arvind Kejriwal has started today, November 20, his whirlwind tour of Punjab. There is considerable excitement in the political circles. He will remain in Punjab for 10 days and will address more than 20 public meetings. If his meeting at Jalalabad is any indication, I can safely say that the AAP has arrived. He has taken the ruling Akalis head on by declaring that MP Bhagwant Mann will contest against the Akali big-wig Sukhbir Badal from wherever he contests. The decision has electrified the people of Punjab at large and the supporters of AAP in particular. Arvind Kejriwal is all set and determined to bring about the much needed change in the political landscape of Punjab which has been badly tarnished and destroyed by the ruling parties, namely the Congress, the Akalis and the BJP. Let us join hands to support him and AAP, a new party with a vision has appeared on the political firmament of the country. People want change, a good change and AAP has come to fit the bill.

In the media coverage, there are many stories on the elections in Punjab. The Inqalaab Rallies of the AAP in the coming week will warm the cold weather of Punjab. All the parties are busy in wooing dalits by all means at their command with 32% vote share and rightly so. The party who would succeed in attracting them may, in all probability form the next government in Punjab. We would discuss these matters in detail in the coming weeks.

I have been communicating with the AAP bosses in black and white ever since I joined the party in February, 2016 by way of my weekly reports and special dispatches. I have changed the mode a little bit as I feel that transparency is important in a good democratic process. My party also believes in this lofty ideal.
The AAP has arrived and we will make it reach for the benefit and advantage of Punjab and the country at large.

With regards.

Yours truly,

(Ramesh Chander)
Ambassador – IFS (Retired)
Tele: 09988510940

Postscript :

 इक तर्ज़े तुगाफिल है सो वह उनको मुबारक;

इक अर्जे तमना है वह हम करते रहेंगे !

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Pride Vs Prejudice

The title of the biographical book of former Lord Mayor of Wolverhappton (UK), Bishan Dass Bains, Pride Vs Prejudice
resembles the famous novel of Jane Austen, first published in January, 1813 – Pride and Prejudice basically deals with issues of manners, upbringing, morality, education and marriage in the society. The theme of the novel is still relevant in the contemporary times. Bishan Dass Bains, it seems, has also dealt with the same traits in his book at hand as he asserts in the title page itself “One man’s fight against racism and inequality.” One can make out and understand that Mayor Bains is a staunch Ambedkarite. The book has been rightly dedicated to “Babasaheb Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, the architect of Indian constitution, the emancipator and liberator of untouchables and down trodden masses of India.” The publisher of the book is also an ardent Ambedkarite and my friend Harmesh Jassal of Malind Prakashan who has published dozens of books in recent times on Dr. Ambedkar and Mahatma Buddha and subjects pertaining to dalits of India and under-privileged of the world at large. Pride Vs Prejudice makes a good reading. I take this opportunity to congratulate and appreciate both the author Lord Mayor Bishan Dass Bains and the publisher Harmesh Jassal. Prof. Carl Chinn of University of Birmingham in his nicely written Foreword of the book has rightly said “One of the pioneers of this Indian migration was Bishan Dass Bains whose absorbing and inspirational life story has been set down in an important book called ‘Pride and Prejudice.’ It is important because it is a rare account of first generation immigrants’ experience.”

Mayor Bishan Dass Bains is a proud inhabitant of Wolverhampton, one of the famous and big cities of the U.K – “a vibrant, multi-cultural and multi-ethnic city with a history that stretches back to 985 AD.” He himself says in the Introduction of the book “I am proud to be associated with and to be living in this city over the last more than half a century. I regard myself a true Wolfrunian as against an Asian as I lived in India for only twenty years of my early life.” With this sense of belonging, no wonder, he rose to the coveted position of the Lord Mayor of the great city of Wolverhampton.

The publisher’s note on the back side of the cover page of the book gives the fore-taste of the book with these words. “In 1963, Bishan
Dass Bains left his small village in northern India for an exciting new life in Great Britain. But he did not except to find pride and prejudice and inequality not only amongst the British population but also amongst the large Asian community as well. Despite this he entered local politics and eventually became Mayor of Wolverhampton, the first Asian to hold such a prestigious position anywhere in the country. The book tells of his personal fight to overcome prejudice and racism in both his social and public life. It is a story that is disturbing and inspiring in equal measure.” One would tend to agree with these assertions. It was not easy and maybe it is still not that easy to achieve and attain such heights in ones career as Bishan Dass Bains did particularly because of his social background back in India and financial paucity in his early days in the UK.

Bishan Dass Bains’ is the story of many of us with poor family backgrounds back home in India. In spite of numerous difficulties and hurdles, he could make it to higher education in a degree college in Hoshiarpur and graduated in 1963, a rare honour for an ordinary person that too belonging to the socially marginalized strata of the society. Bains Sahib has given a detailed account of his ‘Tryst with destiny’ starting towards the end of 1963 when he came to the UK on a ‘Work Voucher’.  Starting from casual labour to a blue collar, from blue collar to a white collar job, from a white collar to a managerial executive position must have been a hell of an experience for him. His experience as a member of the trade union in the early 1970s was not very pleasant. He records in the book, “However, unfortunately the union was for white workers only and the interests of black workers never became an agenda item for them. If any Black or Asian worker ever raised concerns over equality of opportunity or objected to unfair treatment, their voice fell on deaf ears.” Nevertheless, he persisted with his trade union and community activities. Where ever, we Indians go, we take with us our baggage of caste also. Bains sahib’s encounter with the dirty caste system is an eye opener when he was eased out in 1975 by an Indian landlady in Leicester only because he was an untouchable back home in India. Bishan Dass Bains engaged himself in the community activities against racial discrimination and racial prejudice in the 1970s particularly in the wake of Enoch Powell’s “River of blood” diatribe. He worked with the Anti-Nazi League, Indian Workers Association, Indian Republican Group of Great Britain, Guru Ravidass Dharmak Sabha among others to address the social and community issues. But it could not satisfy his inner urge to do something more as some of these organizations, according to him, were lacking clear direction and agenda. He was fed up of the infighting of these outfits for leadership. I don’t think the situation is any better now also. He was attracted to active public life and politics under the flag of the Labour Party. Here also he faced opposition and discrimination not from the locals but from the caste oriented mindset of Indian Workers Association dominated by the Jat Sikhs and the likes of Niranjan Singh Noor, President of the Indian Workers Association, an outfit of communists affiliated with the likes of Harkishan Singh Surjit. In spite of stiff opposition from these Indian quarters, Bishan Dass Bains got elected to the Metropolitan Borough Council of Wolverhampton in 1979 with a good majority. He did not look back from there on and became the Lord Mayor of Wolverhampton by his own right in May, 1986. Unlike India, Lord Mayor in the UK not only leads the city politically but also socially and culturally. I have had the first hand experience of this as the Consul General of India in Edinburg, Scotland 2007-08. Bishan Dass, being the first Asian, did the honours with aplomb while maintaining the traditions and also introducing the new order in a cosmopolitan city of multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-faith, multi-racial society. Speaking at the Mayor Making ceremony (oath taking), Bishan Dass Bains rightly acknowledged Dr. B.R. Ambedkar and his Indian roots and said, “Secondly and most importantly, I shall
remember my political and moral beliefs without which a person in public life is arid. The influences on my life have been many, the teachings of my guru Dr. Ambedkar who struggled so hard for the poor and deprived people of India, the struggle of the trade union movement and the policies of the Labour Party. All these seem to me to point in the same direction, the promotion of equality, liberty and fraternity. My wife, my family and I shall be delighted to try
Vidya Chander with First Minister of Scotland Alex Salmond
and promote these ideals in Wolverhampton over the next year.”  In the face of threats and abuses from the opposition and other detractors, which I believed was not a general trait of the British politics and public life, Bishan Dass Bains prevailed. It is interesting to note from Bains Sahib’s narration that I have something in common with him. I am also a humble Ambedkarite like him. Second, we both shared the common dilemma of taking along our spouses, Lady Mayoress Ram Piari Bains and my wife
Vidya Chander, a gracious lady of an Indian Diplomat i.e. me, in our high profile official duties and responsibilities, given their educational and family backgrounds. I am happy to observe that both the worthy and gorgeous ladies could make and stand by their husbands with dignity and grace. Bishan Dass came out with flying colours as Lord Mayor of Wolverhampton. In the next elections in 1987, he lost to his Liberal party opponent. Bishan Dass Bains candidly admits that primarily he lost because of the unfortunate incident of Clinton McCurbin happened in February, 1987 which divided the electorate on racial and other extraneous considerations on one hand and the deep rooted caste prejudices of the fellow Indians. These are the hard ground realities even in the UK. Bains Sahib remained active and engaged in political and social work and again made it to the Wolverhampton Council in 2004, yet another feather in his cap. Besides serving in the Council, Bains Sahib actively worked with voluntary and community organizations such as the Haque centre and the Sewa Centre. People appreciated the services rendered by these centers.

Pride Vs Prejudice is a well written account of a man, Bishan Dass Bains, who did well in life, in spite of many pitfalls of pride and place; he rightly or wrongly faced in the course of his journey from a small village in Punjab in India to a cosmopolitan city of Wolverhapton in the UK. The story is inspiring for the younger generations. I personally feel that it would have been all the more better, if the author could have provided some more space to his work and experience with the dalit outfits and community both in India and the UK for the benefit of the society at large. Bains Sahib’s experience, as a trade unionist, a politician, a social and community activist and above all a Mayor of an important city like Wolverhampton, is rich and diversified. Let us hope he shares that with us, from an Indian perspective, in a separate volume in the days to come. One can understand the state of his mind when he spoke at Dr. B.R. Ambedkar Mission Society at Bedford in January, 1987, “I am proud to be associated with and to have worked for Babasahb’s mission over the past many years. In fact, the mission of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar has hugely inspired my whole life. Often people asked me the reasons for being an Ambedkarite and my answer always is that when a person has been a victim of caste based hatred and had suffered racial prejudice for his whole life, it is natural for him to become a dedicated Ambedkarite.”

The last chapter of the book has been titled as “Nirvana”. Though I vaguely understand the meaning of nirvana yet I thought of checking it from the Google ji the great. The meaning of Nirvana in the Buddhist sense is, “(in Buddhism) a transcendent state in which there is neither suffering, desire, nor sense of self, and the subject is released from the effects of karma and the cycle of death and rebirth. It represents the final goal of Buddhism.” In simple language, the dictionary meaning of the word is, “Nirvana is a place of perfect peace and happiness, like heaven. In Hinduism and Buddhism, nirvana is the highest state that someone can attain a state of enlightenment, meaning a person's individual desires and suffering goes away.” Being an ardent follower of Dr. Ambedkar, Mayor Bishan Dass Bains, it seems, has a strong influence of Buddhism on his life and conduct.  He concludes his biographical narration with these words, “Pride vs Prejudice is a story of just my life; it is a story of millions who had been through or are the subject of prejudice, oppression and discriminatory treatment on this beautiful planet earth. I salute all those who had scarified their lives fighting for the cause of equality, liberty, justice and peace.” He lived a life of achievement and contentment and received respect and affection which made him write, “All these compliments, respect and affection are a source of great pride in my life and resonate my feelings as if I had attained Nirvana in life.”

With this, I wish Mayor Bishan Dass Bains good health and further success in the years to come.

अपना मुक़्क़दर आप बनाते हैं एहले दिल;
हम वह नहीं जीने ज़माना बना गया !


Friday, November 11, 2016

SPEED – Let us wish It a God Speed

I wrote earlier also about SPEED – Society for the Poor’s
Educational and Economic Development, an outfit of educated and well placed retired and serving professionals and administrators and academics interested in the empowerment of the weaker sections of the society. It is matter of gratification that over the years, SPEED has done well and has undertaken many projects to help the needy under the stewardship of my friends Janak Chauhan, a retired Bank Officer, Dr. Ram Lubhaya Jassi, IPS – Retired ADGP and others.

On November 6, SPEED opened its 7th Computer Centre in and around Jalandhar at Floret Public School in Ram Nagar for the benefit of the poor students of the area. The computer centre at Ram Nagar has been rightly dedicated to the memory of Dr. V.K.
Tiwari, a renowned educationist who was one of the supporters and patrons of SPEED. It was nice to meet the gracious wife of Dr. Tiwari, Dr. Savita Tiwari who was the chief guest at the function, an academic and an acclaimed artist herself. Though I have had pleasure to know Dr. V.K. Tiwari a little bit yet Dr. Savita Tiwari’s emotional and spontaneous speech about her beloved husband touched the core of my heart. Dr. V.K. Tiwari was a man of sterling worth. Again it is a matter of satisfaction that these days our banking system has come a full circle. The banks are actively engaged in social and community activities. Shri Baldev Raj Dhiman, Regional Executive of Bank of Baroda was the guest of honour at the function who helped SPEED not only in the Ram Nagar project but in its earlier projects by providing computers and other accessories. It was good to meet and listen to Baldev Dhiman, particularly his advice on financial literacy and management required for the economic well being of the weaker segments of the society. The chain of Floret Public Schools is run by a dynamic personality, Dr. Jagan Nath Paul of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar Educational Organization, a staunch Ambedkarite and a recognized and respected social activist in the area. It was good to meet and interact with him.

Janak Chauhan informed that SPEED is in the process of opening more such schools in the days to come. He also informed that SPEED has also started some professional courses for the poor students which are duly registered and recognized by the various authorities including Ministry of HRD. Assistant Director M.R. Sallan of Central Institute of Hand Tools also spoke and gave an overview of the short and long term courses being run by his organization situated in the outskirts of Jalandhar. Most of the people are not aware of these facilities available in the area. It was a good effort on the part of SPEED and Dr. Salan to generate much needed awareness for the benefit of the interest people.

I also presented a computer to the SPEED’s Computer Centre at Floret Public School at Ram Nagar as my humble contribution in support of SPEED. I take this opportunity to wish SPEED - A GOD SPEED.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Operation …Blue Star – The True Story

I ordered the revised edition of the book Operation … Blue Star – The True Story written by no other but Lt. Gen. K.S. Brar who
himself led the “most controversial and hotly debated military operations in the history” sometime last year but could not unwrap and read it. I traveled to Delhi from Jalandhar on Amritsar Shatabadi last month on October 18 and took the book with me to read while travelling. It was a good start. A young lady, an IT expert working in Gurgaon (I am finding it difficult to recall her name now) who was sitting by my side saw the book on my table and spontaneously commented that it was a good book which she had read last week. I was further motivated to read the book. I stayed with my senior diplomatic colleague and a good friend Ambassador Bal Anand at their newly built house at the lush green and peaceful IFS Villas at Greater Noida and enjoyed their hospitality over numerous sessions of informal chats on subjects of mutual interests one among them literature and general love for books. Though I also claim to have some interest in reading and writing of which my hosts were aware yet I am nowhere near Ambassador Bal Anand, a vivid reader and a prolific writer. I informed him that I was reading the book of General Brar on operation Blue Star. He advised that I should write a review of the book on my return to Jalandhar. Here I attempt one not as an expert but as a common reader.

Since the Operation Blue Star at the Harimandir Sahib (Golden Temple) at Amritsar, the seat of spiritual status and power of the Sikhs, 32 long years have gone by. But this unpleasant scar in the contemporary history of India is still alive and will remain so in the years to come. In the aftermath of the infamous operation in June, 1984, the sad and uncalled for happenings on October 31 in which PM Indira Gandhi was assassinated and the consequent holocaust in Delhi and other places against our Sikh brethren are the festering wounds which require constant balm to get some much needed relief. While I am writing a review of the book of General Brar today on November 3, the air in Punjab is thick with the sordid happenings of 1984 which, to my mind, should be removed from the psyche and forgotten like a bad dream. Such first hand and objective accounts given by the actual actors and players would certainly put the things in their right perspective. Lt. Gen. K.S. Brar has done a good job in writing the book “Operation … Blue Star – the True Story.

General Brar is quite candid when he says in the preface of the book itself “I know that many will disagree with some of my observations and comments but then, the true test of the book of this nature is that it should evoke discussion and introspection, which I hope will be healthy and honest not bitter and acrimonious.” The ground situation has belied the expectations of the author. It is unfortunate. The hard core elements are getting strength both in temporal and spiritual Sikh hierarchy - Miri and Piri. There are vested political interests. The successive governments could not demonstrate strong will power to address the causes and concerns which were responsible for the military action at Amritsar in June 1984 and its fallout in October, 1984. A sincere introspection is needed as advised by the author of the book.

I fully agree with General Brar when he says “Operation Blue Star was launched in order to preserve the country’s unity and integrity and it can perhaps, be classified as one of the most traumatic, sensitive and thankless missions ever undertaken by any army of the world.” The Indian army, one of the most dedicated and professional armies of the world as also recognized and appreciated by the UN in its various peace keeping operations, did a job under difficult and trying situations and circumstances. General K. Sundarji, who was also one of the chief players in the operation commented and said “We did not go in anger but with sadness; with prayers on our lips and humility in our hearts.”  The role of General Sundarji in the operation will find a mention in the proceeding paras of this review of the book. The army did its duty. There should be no bitterness or ill feeling against the army. It will serve as the first step to forget and forgive the sad and traumatic experience like a bad dream.

The social, political and security situation in Punjab in the late 1970s and 1980,s, in wake of militancy and political expediency, have been well documented and need no elaboration. All the main political parties i.e. the Congress, the Akali Dal and the BJP contributed, in one way or the other, to the situation which they may or may not admit. The Hindu Sikh divide was evident. The Sikhs were getting more radical. The political expectations were inter-knotted with religious fundamentalism. The meteoric rise of Jarnail Singh Bhindrawale and his associates like Major General Shabeg Singh, Balbir Singh Sandhu, Harminder Singh Sandhu and Rachpal Singh and many more completely sidelined the main stream Akalis like Harchand Singh Longowal, Gurcharan Singh Tohra, Parkash Singh Badal, Surjit Singh Barnala among others. The Congress was a divided house, with President Giani Zail Singh on one side and Darbara Singh on the other. The BJP and other Hindu outfits were at a loss to understand, in the aftermath of assassination of Lala Jagat Narain and his son Ramesh Chandra and other Hindu leaders. It was total chaos. By the early months of 1984, Bhindrawale with his hard core militants had occupied and fortified the holy complex of Harimandir Sahib and started functioning from there. The Akali leadership like Harchand Singh Longowal and Gurcharan Singh Tohra and others also shifted to the complex. The high priests of Harimandir Sahib were totally terrified and were unable to render any sober advice particularly to the militants under Bhindrawale. The government of PM Indira Gandhi tried its best to negotiate with Akalis and Jarnail Singh Bhindrawale to salvage the situation but could not succeed. Akalis did not have political will and writ and Bhindrawale and his group were all determined and ready for the show off. The militants, under the control and directions of General Shabeg Singh, had entrenched themselves at the Akal Takhat and almost the entire complex was fully fortified to fight back any forced assault. But they did not know, as also confirmed by General Brar in the book that the government would hand over the matter to the military. They were expecting some sort of police action or at the most involvement of para military forces for which they armed themselves to the teeth and were confident to meet the challenge. In the case of armed conflict, the militants were all set to declare Khalistan and were expecting the lakhs and lakhs of people from the rural areas would rush to Amritsar in their support and save their holy shrine, Harimandir Sahib. It seemed all the options were closed and there was complete deadlock.

By the end of May, 1984, the iron was cast and the D-day had come. In her ‘toughest decision’, PM Indira Gandhi was advised to take military action to flush out the militants from the holy place. I am certain that it was the most difficult decision of her life. She was assured, as recorded, that the military operation will be taken and completed in a few hours and the holy complex cleared of militants without much damage. The military action was ordered on May 31, 1984 in ‘deep anguish’.

General Brar has given a detailed and complete narration in the book of the operation which he led under the overall command of General A.S. Vaidya, Chief of Army Staff and Lt. General K. Sundarji, Chief of the Westren Command and Lt. General R.S. Dyal. The narration of General Brar suggests that there was no pre-planning and they mobilized themselves at a short notice beginning June 1. PM Indira Gandhi spoke to the nation on June 2 and took the people into confidence. General Brar has written that the PM’s broadcast was delayed for 45 minutes as she was still reaching out to the Akali leadership for an honorable and peaceful settlement but that was not to be. The Akalis, who boast of and claim innocence, as written by General Brar, “had virtually abdicated their authority to Bhindrawale”. PM Indira Gandhi said in her address that ‘the government could no longer remain a silent and passive spectator to the morbid happenings in Punjab, as also the secessionist movement designed to break the country’. She ended by saying “Let us join hands and shed hatred, rather than shed blood”.  Against the expectations to end the operation with quick results, it took almost 10 days to neutralize and flush out the militants from the holy shrine with unexpectedly huge loss of life on both the sides and avoidable damage to the historical buildings including the Akal Takhat. General Brar has given all the operational details with graphics and pictures in his narration. From these details one can easily find and assess the gravity of the situation. Thank God that there was no physical damage to the Golden Temple in spite of efforts on the part of the militants and other vested interests to provoke and engage the army and other forces to do something untoward and create further difficulties. It is a credit to the Indian armed forces, against all odds and provocation; they could manage to save the holy Golden Temple and the sanctum sanctorum of the shrine. In the main assault on June 5 and 6, the hard core militants like Jarnail Singh Bhindrawale and his military commander General Shabeg Singh and others were killed in the operation and the rest were neutralized or flushed out. President Giani Zail Singh visited the shrine on June 8. It was providence that he was saved from a volley of fire busted by the militants during the visit, as stated by General Brar. It could have been yet another blot in our history, had they succeeded in harming the President of India. PM Indira Gandhi visited the shrine and paid her obeisance on June 23. She expressed ‘her grief over the unfortunate consequences of violence and terror perpetrated from within the Temple for the past few months’. She interacted with the high priests of Harimandir Sahib and stressed the necessary safeguards to ensure that a place of worship was never again misused.

The unfortunate happenings of June and October, 1984 are behind us. We need to forget and forgive to carry on. But reading of the book of General Brar certainly compels us to sit and contemplate what went wrong for which the country and the society at large suffered immensely? It was a collective failure, to my mind, of the whole system - the governments, administration .i.e. bureaucracy and intelligence agencies, political parties, and religious leaders. The army did their job to the best of their ability and responsibly under trying circumstances with their hands tied to their backs from day one of the Blue star operation except for the one rider. It is believed by political and security analysts that PM Indira Gandhi was misled and misinformed by some jingoistic and flamboyant army brass, said to be led by General Sundarji, that they were competent and prepared to undertake the operation and were capable to flush out the militants from the holy shrine in a few hours without much damage to the buildings and loss of life. Had she been informed of the factual position, my gut feeling tells me that she would have exercised more caution and thought in taking such a drastic decision? Anyway, she took the decision, like a leader of a democratic country, and paid the price by succumbing to the bullets of her own security guards.

Let us stop the blame game. Let us shed our anger, hatred and revenge. Let us stop eulogizing the militants by making memorials to celebrate them. Let us not mix religion with politics for our narrow agenda and vested interests. Let me quote from Lt. General K.S. Brar, the author of the book “Operation – Blue Star – The True Story” to conclude this piece “Finally, I can only fervently hope and pray that better sense dawns on the radicals and hardliners and that they begin to realize and understand that it is time now to live in peace and harmony.”

वतन की फ़िक्र कर नादाँ; मुसीवत आने वाली है,
तेरी बर्बादियों के मश्वरे हैं आश्मानों में ,
नासमजोगे तो मिट जाओगे हिन्दोस्तान  वालो;

तुम्हारी दास्ताँ तक भी होगी दस्तानों में !