Friday, December 22, 2017

Bits and Pieces – As I Please – 11

Bits and Pieces – As I Please – 11

Rahul Gandhi – Rahul Gandhi, 47, is a scion of the Nehru-Gandhi clan, a known family of India with a long legacy of Motilal Nehru, Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Feroz Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, Sanjay Gandhi, and Sonia Gandhi in the social and political life of India in the contemporary times. Rahul Gandhi, a reluctant politician to begin with like his father Rajiv and mother Sonia, has come of age in politics. He took over the reins of the old grant party of India, the Congress Party on December 17, 2017 as expected. Notwithstanding the propaganda onslaughts of his political opponents terming Rahul’s elevation as the President of the
Congress Party as ‘dynastic coronation’, Rahul has arrived, if the results of Gujarat elections are any indication where he led the Congress election campaign.  The BJP has won, no doubt, but not without getting the heat against the self-righteousness of the ruling elite led by PM Narendra Modi. Rahul, by now, I think, is a mature politician. He should firmly stand for secularism, pluralism, democracy and casteless society. I could not understand his over emphasized and over professed Hindu identity, as ‘Janeudhari Hindu’ in the run up to the Gujarat elections. He should proudly remain what he is, like his great grandfather, Jawaharlal Nehru. Let us wish Rahul Gandhi all the very best in the larger interest of India and its democratic polity. The political forces of India should polarize under the respective banners of the BJP, right of the Centre and the Congress Party, left of the Centre, leaving good space for the Centre. This kind of polarization is needed if we want to see the largest democracy of the world as a dynamic one too.

Falling Standards of Electioneering – The state elections in Gujarat and HP are over and also municipal elections in Punjab. The political pundits are busy in analyzing the results and political parties and their leaderships busy in justifying their role, conduct and outcome of the elections. Some pertinent points have come to the fore which ring warning bells for the democratic polity, secular and pluralistic society and adherence to unconstitutional methods to achieve political goals. It is time to stop, sit and think before it
becomes too late and we put our democracy in “jeopardy” as visualized by no less a person Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, father of the Indian constitution. The elections were not contested on the basis of political agenda, social and economic interests and concerns and above all not with “Gyan and Sheel”; the much needed moral fabric for the democratic set-up. The often confessed agenda of so called “Vikas” was side-lined and abandoned in favour of caste and religion with a view to polarize vote banks. It suits the ruling BJP. The Congress led by Rahul fell into the trap. He over-zealously visited Hindu temples. BJP countered it and challenged his Hindu credentials. Rahul Gandhi lowered himself further by flaunting himself as a “Janeudhari Hindu” against the Nehru legacy of secularism. Mani Shankar Aiyar added fuel to the fire by terming PM Narendra Modi as “Neech Aadmi”. He did not use the word ‘Neech’ to identify his caste or birth, to my understanding, but to say that Modi was low i.e. ‘Neech’ in his conduct, behaviour, and demeanor.  PM Modi, as a past master to exploit such situations, encashed it by stressing that Aiyar not only insulted him but also hurtled the pride of Gujarat by calling him ‘Neech’. It was a willful distortion of the intent of Aiyar’s untimely utterances. BJP was feeling the heat of the youth brigade of Rahul Gandhi supported by Hardik and Mevani, among others. Again, Mani Aiyar’s dinner diplomacy on the eve of voting in Gujarat provided the BJP and PM Modi further ammunition to fire to defeat the opponents. PM Modi, to my thinking, crossed all limits of diplomatic niceties by dragging Pakistan and PM Manmohan Singh in the alleged conspiracy against him. He also generated the “Supari” allegedly arranged by Mani Shankar Aiyar in connivance with his Pakistani friends to defeat and unseat the democratically elected government of Modi. The acrimonious comparing, led by no other than PM Modi, crossed all limits of political sagacity and morality.  This fast falling standards of electioneering is a matter of worry and concern. I am reminded of Babasaheb Ambedkar on the subject of morality in politics and I quote, “The education can hardly be the sole qualification for membership of the parliament. If I may use the words of Buddha he said that man requires two things: one is Gyan and other is Sheel. Gyan without sheel is very dangerous. It must be accompanied by sheel by which we mean character, moral courage, ability to be independent of any kind of temptation, truthful to ones ideals. I am very keen to see that no member enters this august assembly who does not possess Sheel in adequate degree.”

Municipal Elections in Punjab – Elections to some of the municipal corporations and councils in Punjab were conducted last week on December 17. Jalandhar Corporation was one of them. I am based in Jalandhar and as such I witnessed these elections. It is a matter of regret increasingly we have made a mockery of our system. It is a matter of concern and worry. First of all, after the delimitation of Municipal Wards, the elections were announced in a hurry which created all round confusion among the political parties and aspirants to participate. The administrative and election machinery were not fully prepared and equipped to handle the
elections. New Ward Limitation details were not readily available even to the aspiring candidates. Polling booths were not allocated properly and in many cases these fell in the neighbouring wards. The voters were not briefed and informed through voting slips, as it was done earlier. It was a noisy affair with loud speakers mounted on rickshaws and three wheelers. There were several categories of wards namely; General, SC reserved, SC ladies reserved, General Ladies reserved, OBCs etc. The whole exercise was confusing. With a view to match the categorization, many couples from adjacent wards were in the fray. The wives of aspiring players were thrown in the arena as their wards became lady’s reserved. Obviously, it led to piling of reluctant and unsuitable candidates. Most of the lady candidates were dummy candidates or Mukhotas as it was certain that their husbands will hold the fort in practice. It is a negation of democratic norms. I am told that husbands of such lady Councilors even attend the meetings of the Council and act on behalf of their spouses.  The redeeming feature is that this time the ladies have a majority in the 80 member Jalandhar Municipal Corporation. It was also in the media that most probably, the coveted post of the Mayor of the city of Jalandhar will be reserved for a lady councilor and that too from the SC community.  The local councils are expected to play a definite role in not only strengthening the grass-root democratic institutions but also play a big role in providing good municipal services and facilities to the citizens. It is all the more important to pay much needed attention to smoothen the functioning of the municipal councils. It will go a long way in bringing about and attaining the objectives “Smart Cities” project.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Sardar Swaran Singh

Sardar Swaran Singh

One of my colleagues in the IFS has circulated an E-mail message of the daughter of Sardar Swaran Singh about interesting anecdotes pertaining to EAM Sardar Swaran Singh. I am a retired Ambassador of the IFS.  I started my career at the lower echelons of the service in the MEA in March, 1970 when Sardar Swaran Singh was the EAM. Before joining the service, I was a student in Jalandhar and as such had a glimpse of Sardar Sahib, a towering
personality and smartly dressed in white khadi, many a times at my native place Bootan Mandi where he used to stop at Seth Khushi Ram’s, a Congress leader, place on his way to his native village Shankar or on tour of his Jalandhar parliamentary constituency. I was impressed by Sardar Sahib’s personality. After joining the MEA, I met him briefly in the Parliament House sometime in the later months of 1970 along with Master Sadhu Ram who was the MP from Phillour. I often saw him coming to his office in the South Block where my office was also located.

I was attached to the Interpreters Cell of the MEA from 1970 to 1973. Interpreters often get the opportunities to work with the top leadership during the course of their duties as Interpreter. Some interesting encounters were often discussed in the Cell. I would like to narrate some such anecdotes relating to Sardar Swaran Singh. One of the Arabic Interpreters and Persian Interpreters narrated interesting anecdotes:-

Protocol Conscious EAM – Sometimes in 1971, Sardar Swaran Singh was on an official visit to one of the Arab countries. He was to call on his counterpart after lunch. He went to his room in the hotel for a siesta telling his aides that he would come down to the lobby five minutes before the scheduled call. But Sardarji did not turn up. They waited for another five minutes. There was no sign of the Minister. In panic the Interpreter went to the EAM’s room and belled. Sardarji opened the door quickly in a huff saying that he was sorry, he fell asleep. He picked up his untied turban (he was not in the habit of using already made turbans) and rushed out. He tied the turban while sitting in the car by using the car mirror. On arrival, he apologized to his counterpart and narrated the entire laps in a childlike simplicity. There was a big laugh. The second such incident was narrated by the Persian Interpreter. Mohammed Daoud, Special Envoy of Afghanistan Head of State King Zahir Shah, was in Delhi, sometime in the early 1970s. He was slated to call on EAM Sardar Swaran Singh in his South Block office. The Interpreter and the Protocol Liasion Officer were to bring the Afghan Envoy to the call from his Hotel. At the eleventh hour Mohammed Daoud refused to move stating that the Indian Minister should call on him as he was senior to him as the Presidential Envoy. What to do? These officers were dumb founded. The matter was reported to the Chief of Protocol. His intervention also could not resolve this protocol intricacy. The Interpreter was sent to EAM’s office to brief him appropriately on the protocol stance of the Afghani guest. Sardarji calmly listened and got up with a big laugh and said let us go. He was fully aware of the sensitivities of such trivial matters.

Cool-headed Sardar:- Sardar Swaran Singh was a cool- headed and soft spoken person with a demeanor of a seasoned diplomat. He was apt at maintaining his cool in the face of extreme provocations by his opposite side. He was often fielded to hold the fort where it was expected or desired that nothing concrete would come out of the talks and negotiations. He would carry on endlessly in the garb of seriousness knowing full- well that it was a sheer waste of time. After one such negotiations, one of his opposite numbers remarked that the Hon’ble Minister must be carrying a slab of ice underneath his turban. On reporting the matter to him, Sardarji had a hearty laugh and said that he was deliberately creating that ‘Bhambalbhussa” (bamboozlement).

In April, 1974, I joined the PMO, the then PM’s Secretariat, as Protocol and Hospitality Assistant and worked there till October, 1977. In that capacity, I had many more opportunities to see Sardar Swaran Singh in the meeting rooms of the South Block and also in the corridors of power in the PMO and the MEA as a humble functionary.

Seasoned Diplomat: I saw Sardarji in action for the first time in April, 1974 in the protracted meetings and negotiations at the Tripartite meeting of FMs of India, Bangladesh and Pakistan to address and settle the issue of repatriation of POWs and civilian internees. Sardar Swaran Singh, Aziz Ahmed and Kamal Hossain headed delegations of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh respectively. I was impressed by the statement of Sardarji at the opening plenary session and was privileged to be present in the conference room of
the PMO. One of the formulations of his statement still lingers in my mind when he said in a calm and cool manner, “let us forget the hostilities and confrontations of the past as a bad dream.” Our job was to look after the hospitality that is requirement of tea, coffee, snacks etc.  during the meetings. On the final day at the concluding plenary session in the evening when the protocol and agreement was to signed, I was standing outside the conference room along with my boss Vimla Sindhi, commonly called Behanji. The three FMs came out from the office of PM Indira Gandhi after an official call, situated on the other corner of the corridor, and walked towards the conference room. Seeing Behanji, whom Sardar Swaran Singh knew from her duties at the Teenmurti House in the staff of PM Jawaharlal Nehru, enquired in lighter vein “Han to Vimlaji, ab kya seva karogi? Humne bahut kaam kiya hai. Koi badiya cheez lana.” Vimlaji responded instantly and said, “Yes sir, Aaj bahut garmi bhi hai. Hastakshar hone ke baad, Faluda Kulfi serve kiya jayega.” Sardar Saheb smiled and muttered, “Han yeh theek rahega.” I learnt how Sardar Swaran Singh mastered the art of lowering the diplomatic temperature with his earthy wit.

Political Sagacity: Here is one more anecdote which may be of interest to see another facet of Sardar Swaran Singh’s personality. It is recorded fact that Sardar Saheb was not too happy with the imposition of emergency. His portfolio of MEA was changed. After a cabinet meeting, one day, he came out of the conference room along with some other Ministers. I was standing near the lift in front of the conference room. One of the Ministers asked Sardar Sahib the reason and logic for the change. Sardar Sahib responded curtly, but with his usual smile, and said, “She wanted young blood” in the MEA, probably referring to Y.B. Chavan who replaced him in the MEA. I liked Sardar Swaran Singh as a pleasing and amicable personality.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Bits and Pieces – As I Please – 10

Bits and Pieces – As I Please – 10

Sant Surinder Dass Bawa:- I was at the residence of Prof. Balbir Chander, my brother-in-law (Jijaji) for a pre-marriage ceremony of my niece (Bhanji) Priya, on November 4. I met Sant Surinder Dass Bawa at the ceremony. Santji was invited to bless the family and invoke auspicious aura for the marriage scheduled for November 6. I may mention that Sant Surinder Dass Bawa is one of the educated Sants of the dalit community in the region who was a student of Prof. Balbir Chander at Doaba College in the early 1990s. Sant Surinder took to spiritualism as a young student under the influence of Dera Sachkhand Balan of Sant Sarwan Dassji, a prominent
social spiritual personality of the Doaba region. He got initiated and trained under the wings of Sant Garib Dass and Sant Ramanand and acquired and earned good recognition in the aftermath of Sant Ramanand’s assassination in Vienna (Austria) in a mindless shootout by some Sikh fundamentalists in May, 2009. He earned and attained further prominence in the following years as the chief spokesperson of the Dera and Chief Aide of the Dera Chief Sant Niranjan Dass. It is a common knowledge that Sant Surinder Dass was main adviser and executor of the Dera Sachkhand Balan in the run up to the pronouncement and propagation of Ravidassia Dharam in 2010-11. He is said to be one of the major contributors to the compilation and making of the Amrit Bani, the said to be holy book (Religious Granth) of the Ravidassia Dharam. But due to reasons not available in the public domain, Sant Surinder Dass Bawa fell from grace and was made to part ways with the Dera in the following years. Sant Surinder Dass Bawa now runs his own Dera in a village in the outskirts of Jalandhar. He resisted the unpleasant fallout but could not gain the confidence of Sant Niranjan Dass and his coterie. Though we knew each other somewhat earlier as well, in this meeting we could interact a bit more seriously. I enquired about the main thrust of his mission these days. He said of course it was to enlighten, unite and empower the weaker sections of the society as visualized by Guru Ravidass and Babasaheb Ambedkar. He said he was fully engaged, both in India and abroad, in spreading and acceptance of Ravidassia Dharam and the message of Amrit Bani for the good of the down trodden people. The accompanying Ragi Jatha of Bangar Brothers later while singing gave the audience the fore-taste of their mission – their unbroken allegiance to the Dera Sachkhand Balan of yore, Ravidassia Dharam and Amrit Bani as the new identity of dalits, congruity of the philosophy and mission of Guru Ravidas and Dr. B.R. Ambedkar etc. Currently the underlined theme of ‘Chamar Pride’ was a visible item on their agenda. Sant Surinder Dass started his discourse, after the singing of Banger Brothers on the lines of the above mentioned trend setters. I had to leave midway due to some other engagement and could not listen to him. Later my brother Paramjit told me that Sant Bawaji spoke about his untiring efforts to enlighten the community and carry forward the caravan of Guru Ravidass and Babasaheb Ambedkar. He spoke very high of Prof. Balbir Chander and his alma mater, Doaba College in shaping his personality. I respect Sant Surinder Bawa as a well meaning Sant who has dedicated himself totally to the causes of the community. But I have my doubts and reservations on the need and desirability of the Ravidassia Dharam, the authenticity of the Amrit Bani as a holy granth, limited agenda of chamar pride, confining the total thrust of the agenda of the community to Dera Sachkhand Balan. I think, these things lead to disunity and generate animosity which is the anti thesis of the mission and philosophy of both Guru Ravidass and Dr. B.R. Ambedkar.

MLA Chaudhary Surinder Singh: - Though we nodded at each other on a couple of public occasions earlier as well, yet I had a chance encounter with MLA Chaudhary Surinder Singh at the marriage of my nephew (Bhanja) Kamaljit yesterday, December 3, 2017. I introduced myself and exchanged usual courtesies and niceties. Chaudhary Sahib was harmoniously responsive. I introduced my brothers Krishan Lal and Paramjit and Chaudhary instantly responded that they were no strangers and he knew them already. He came on the invitation of the girl’s side. I informed him
that it was the marriage of my Bhanja. He was happy to know and congratulated me and my brothers. Saying that since there were many more people waiting in the wings to meet him and say hello, I will not like to engage him further and wished to meet him some other time. He humbled me by saying that don’t worry on that count and added that he was pleased to meet me as an important person of our community. I found Chaudhary Surinder Singh a well groomed and cultured personality. His grounding and upbringing in an important dalit family of Punjab, Master Gurbanta Singh, who made a good and positive contribution to the polity and society was clearly demonstrated in a few minutes of our interaction. Surinder Singh is the grandson of Master Gurbanta Singh, a Congress leader who remained a Minister in various governments in Punjab. Surinder Singh is the son of Chaudhary Jagjit Singh who stepped into the big shoes of Master Gurbanta Singh and added many feathers to the family’s turban and handed over the baton to his younger brother MP Chaudhary Santokh Singh. Chaudhary Surinder Singh is a first time MLA from his family’s bastion, Kartarpur Assembly segment. Sometimes it may happen that one carries a false image of someone just on the basis of misinformation or disinformation.  I must write that it was so with me in the case of Chaudhary Surinder Singh. I was told that he was an alcoholic and was not a serious politician. It was wrong. My brief encounter with the scion of Master Gurbanta Singh’s family changed my impressions of Chaudhary Surinder Singh completely. I close this with hearty compliments and all the best wishes to the upcoming leader of the community. It is rightly said:
बद से बदनाम बुरा !

The significance of December 6:- I was to post this blog on December 6, death anniversary (Mahaprinirvan Diwas in 1956) of Babasaheb Ambedkar and the date of demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992 on December 6 but could not do so because of technical reasons. The Hindustan Times of November 4, 2017 carried a well articulated article by Shashi Shekhar, Editor -in- Chief of the paper under the heading ‘The significance of
December 6’. The Supreme Court also started the hearing of the Babri Masjid case on December 5, on the eve of the 25th year of the demolition.  Shashi Shekhar has raised a valid question in his article.  He argues, “The date has a special place in the pages of Indian history. In 1992, the Babri Masjid was demolished on this date and in 1956, Bhimrao Ambedkar breathed his last in Nagpur (There seems some inadvertent mistake. Actually it was in Delhi) on the same day. Why I am connecting Ambedkar with Ayodhya, you may ask in surprise. From the outside, these two appear unrelated but the threads of the Indian survival instincts connect the two.” He added, “Don’t be surprised, if within the next two years, you see the temple and the mosque being built at the same time. If that happens, as Indians, we can again proudly declare that our model of coexistence is timeless, eternal, and indestructible. If Ambedkar’s life struggle and teachings drive home the message of social harmony, why can’t the city of Ayodhya become a symbol of our coexistence?” Shashi Shekhar has given us ‘food for thought’ underlining the significance of December 6 in the larger national interest to ward of the lingering dangers to the social and constitutional fabric of India.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Bits and Pieces – As I please – 9

Bits and Pieces – As I please – 9

Kashmir Issue – Kashmiri leader Farooq Abdullah is grabbing the headlines these days for his said-to-be provocative and anti-national statements on POK. Farooq Abdullah is of the view that Pakistan is a stakeholder in the Kashmir issue and it should be discussed and settled. He also inserted that POK, under the given circumstances and history of the issue, belonged to Pakistan and India-held J&K belonged to India. Both the claimants, India and Pakistan, did not have the wherewithal to change the status quo even after 70 years of the dispute, he further asserted. He believed
that this may settle the matter and bring peace in the region. Obviously, these provocative statements were criticized widely, particularly by the BJP and its allies. Without going into the history of the Kashmir issue, which is well documented, let us consider and analyse the point of view of Farooq Abdullah dispassionately. No normal and easy solution is possible, it is almost certain. The status quo is difficult to change with force or by military means, given the nuclear status of both India and Pakistan and also direct or indirect involvement and strategic interests of China and other powers. Too much damage and harm has already been inflicted on India and her people. A viable solution has to be found, sooner the better. The time has come, I think, to try, explore and find an “Out of the Box” solution through political and diplomatic means to address the issue. The governments of the day with involvement of civil societies on both the sides should forge national consensus on the issue and move ahead with an attitude of “Give and Take”. Otherwise, there will be no peace in the region and people will continue to suffer. Some hard but realistic decisions need to taken by the leaderships.

Democratic Hypocrisy – We observed the Constitution Day on November 26, the day we gave ourselves the constitution in 1949. It was a low key affair as the government did not pay much attention. It was noted and I term it as democratic hypocrisy by the vested outfits and by the so called extra-nationalists. I have two immediate instances on hand to prove my assertion. One, the needless controversy on the film Padmavati spearheaded by the Rajputs and some narrow minded Aasthawadis. The film has not been cleared and certified by the competent authority that is CBFC. Not only some street-smart leaders but some people occupying positions of responsibility are making a hue and cry without caring for the law of the land and also established norms of democratic behavior. They are threatening the producer, the actors and supporters of democratic rights, such as freedom of expression, as stipulated in the constitution.  Unfortunately, the governments are
seen as silent spectators. The leaders of Bhim Sena, an outfit of dalits having no social and economic clout, are languishing in jails and the leaders of Karni Sena and their associates are calling the shots from the roof tops. Is it not a democratic hypocrisy? The second is rather more bizarre. Whether Rahul Gandhi is a Hindu or something else? The crony media is hosting debates on the issue. Both the BJP and the Congress are jumping on each other on the recent visit of Rahul Gandhi to the Somnath Temple which has created a controversy on the religion of Rahul Gandhi. Non-Hindu visitors are required to register their religion in the register of the temple as required by the temple authorities? Common people are not interested in the religion of Rahul Gandhi. Yes, the politicians are interested. Are we secular as enshrined in the constitution? Nobody has raised any objection to the discriminatory and communal practice of the Somnath Temple. Is it not a democratic hypocrisy on the part of Rahul Gandhi who did not set the things in their right perspective once and for all?  And on the part of his opponents who raised uncalled for controversy by flagging the religion of Rahul Gandhi in so-called secular India? Are we heading towards “Grammar of Anarchy” as warned by Babaseheb Ambedkar?

Adampur Airport to be named after Guru Ravidass – The Punjab Legislative Assembly has done well by passing a Resolution to name the Adampur airport after the name of Guru Ravidass, a great Guru who stood against the torturous caste system and propagated the principles of liberty, equality and fraternity which later became the core values of the constitution of India.  I fully support and endorse the decision of the Punjab government which has already been communicated to the Ministry of Civil Aviation in Delhi. I am confident that the central government of PM Narendra Modi will accept the recommendations of the Punjab
Legislative Assembly and also the wishes of the millions of followers of the great Guru who live in the Doaba region and beyond not only in India but abroad also. Naming the airport after Guru Ravidass will go a long way in providing impetus to affirmative actions of the government and the society at large to empower the weaker sections of society by giving them psychological and moral support on one hand and will also be considered a befitting tribute to the social and spiritual icon Guru Ravidass.