Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Memories Came Alive – DAV Alumni Meet

Memories Came Alive – DAV Alumni Meet

December 8, incidentally my birthday was the day of the Alumni Meet, 2018 of the DAV College Jalandhar, my alma mater. I was, it was a matter of pride me, hosted as the Guest of Honour at the prestigious day in the centenary year of the college. It is a matter of great satisfaction that I could meet and interact with many high profile and well placed alumni of the esteemed College at the Meet. The memories came alive. The hockey
ground on the main campus of the College where the interactive session was held reminded me of my own Convocation – Graduation Ceremony in 1970 in which I received my university degree from the then CM of Punjab, Justice Gurnam Singh. The guests were hosted, mindfully, on piping hot Sambar Vada and other snacks on the cold evening. Walking leisurely in the campus, we moved to the spacious Auditorium of the College for the cultural interlude of dance and songs – accomplished Kathak performance and Ghazal rendition by the DAV pool of talent. It was good but could have been better. The Alumni Meet was concluded with a sumptuous dinner, as always by the hospitality wing of the College. It was a rewarding day – my first experience of such an event in the lap of my alma mater, DAV College Jalandhar. Thanks to Principal S.K. Arora and Dr. P.K. Sharma, Dean of the Alumni Association and other dedicated members of the faculty.


Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Kartarpur Spirit – India-Pakistan Corridor of Pilgrimage

Kartarpur Spirit – India-Pakistan Corridor of Pilgrimage

The Kartarpur Corridor to be built on both sides of the international border between India and Pakistan - to link Dera Baba Nanak in Gurdaspur district on the Indian side and Narowal in the Shakargarh district on the Pakistan side to facilitate the faithful to visit Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Pakistan - where the great Guru Nanak Devji spent more than 18 years of his life before leaving this world in 1539, is in news. In Pakistan also Guru Nanak Dev is revered as Nanak Shah Pir even by Muslims. Both sides agreed to develop the corridor amidst palpable tension and mistrust between the hostile neighbours ostensibly to placard the Sikh community on one hand and carry forward their diplomatic and strategic interests on the other. The issue had been engaging attention of the Sikh followers ever since partition of the country in 1947. Akali leader Kuldip Singh Wadala flagged the issue in recent years and did his best to register the Sikh interest on the issue. More recently, a few months ago when Imran Khan, a friend of Indian leader Navjot Singh Sidhu from their cricketing days, came to power, the issue of Kartarpur Corridor became alive. Navjot Sidhu, among others, was invited to the swearing-in ceremony of PM Imran Khan which he attended. Pakistani leadership,th anniversary year. It resulted in a much debated mostly acrimonious slugfest between the Congress Party, the opposition and the ruling party at the centre, BJP and also the Akalis. Petty politics came to the fore on the Indian side without realizing the wider implications of the issue. Pakistan, it seems, nurtured its tactical and strategic agenda with regard to the issue to carry forward their nefarious activities to revive terrorism in Punjab taking shelter under the religious sentiments of the Sikhs not only on the Indian side of the border but also in other countries. It seems that Government of India did not take the issue seriously and left it to the political mudslinging for brownie points. Seeing the forthcoming scenario in the wake of Pakistani moves in this regard, the Indian establishment also woke up on November 22, barely a week before the pronounced Pakistani action of “ground breaking ceremony” of the Kartarpur Corridor scheduled on November 28 by PM Imran Khan. The Indian side, in a knee jerk reaction, announced the Dera Baba Nanak Corridor, along with other initiatives, to commemorate the 550th anniversary of Guru Nanak Devji and requested its Pak counterpart to join hands and develop the Kartarpur Corridor. PM Narendra Modi equated the project with the breaking of the ‘Berlin Wall’ in 1989-90. Preempting the Pakistani date, the Indian side laid the foundation stone of the Dera Baba Nanak – Kartarpur Sahib Corridor on November 26 by Vice President of India M. Venkaiah Naidu in the presence of CM of Punjab Captain Amrinder Singh and other dignitaries. Pakistan again stole the show and put the ball in the Indian court by inviting EAM Sushma Swaraj to the Ground Breaking Ceremony on November 28. They also invited CM Amrinder Singh and Navjot Singh Sidhu. Both the Akalis and the BJP and also the establishment at the centre had been criticizing and undermining Navjot Singh Sidhu’s going to Islamabad for the swearing in ceremony of his friend Imran Khan and his bon-homie with General Qamar Bajwa with regard to Kartarpur Corridor. Now EAM Sushma Swaraj found herself in a fix to accept the invitation of her Pak counterpart Shah Mahmood Qureshi for the ceremony on November 28. It was decided to decline the Pak invitation on the pretext of ‘diplomatic pre-occupation’ of EAM Sushma Swaraj with a view to downplay the Pak initiative to do ‘business as usual’ and instead line up a Ministerial delegation headed by Minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal accompanied by an outstanding diplomat and now Minister Hardip Singh Puri. CM Amrinder Singh has declined the invitation in his own wisdom on a terse note of Pakistan’s ongoing terrorist activities and regularly killing our security personnel on the border and Line of control. Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu will be going again to be with his friends on the other side of the border under the influence of “Kartarpur Spirit” a term coined by Sidhu himself. It has also been reported that a high power delegation of Sikh clergy headed by President of SGPC Gobind Singh Longowal will also be participating in the ceremony in Pakistan. All said and done, obviously, the events pertaining to Dera Baba Nanak and Kartarpur Corridor is going to be an important landmark in the so far troubled relations between India and Pakistan. Both the sides have expressed lofty sentiments to make a good start. Vice President Venkaiah Naidu speaking at the stone laying ceremony at Dera Baba Nanak on November 26 termed the corridor as ‘passage of humanity, humility, faith and universal brotherhood.’ Pakistani leadership would also say something similar tomorrow, November 28, it is obvious. Let us see. But I have a couple of observations to make with reference to the ‘hurdles’ in the process which PM Manmohan Singh said should not be ‘underestimated.
particularly the all powerful Pak Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, sounded Navjot Sidhu about their intension of developing Kartarpur Corridor to honour the Sikh religious sensitivities and honour Guru Nanak Devji in his 550th annniversary year.

One, Government of India should have handled the issue with some forethought and finesse. Once it was decided to turn down the invitation to EAM Sushma Swaraj, there was no need to send two uninvited important ministers to convey the message of lukewarm response, if it was intended. Showing large heartedness and magnanimity setting aside the internal politics, CM Amrinder Singh, who was otherwise invited, should have been asked to lead the delegation with Hardip Singh Puri, a seasoned diplomat of India, as a member to represent the central government. Navjot Singh Sidhu should have been included in the official delegation to reign in his flamboyant enthusiasm. President of Akali Dal Sukhbir Singh Badal might have been included in the delegation to balance the representation.  There was no need for Harsimrat Kaur to go just to cater to her religious sentiments. This exercise should have sent a good message not only to Pakistan but also to the local politically frenzied approaches. It could have avoided unnecessary acrimonious petty politics which was witnessed yesterday at the ceremony at Dera Baba Nanak in the presence of Hon’ble Vice President of India. I don’t know as to what was the input of our diplomatic establishment i.e. Ministry of External Affairs in this regard.

Second, it is time to assess and understand the likely nefarious designs of incorrigible Pakistan to create further troubles for India by misguiding the hardcore Sikh elements in reviving the militancy in Punjab. The Sikh community, with a proven track record of nationalistic and patriotic conduct throughout, should be introspective and should not succumb to the machinations of Pakistan in exploiting their religious sentiments to achieve their agenda of bleeding the Indian nation any further. The militant groups like the Dal Khalsa and other Khalistani outfits and supporters of Refrendum 2020 have already started criticizing Captain Amrinder Singh for his terse and straight message to Pakistan while declining the Pak invitation. There was no option left to him in the emerging situation but to stand up and speak to save his political standing. Let the Kartarpur Spirit prevail. Let it be a “beginning of a new chapter” as stated by VP Venkiah Naidu to build “bridges across old chasm”.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

A Moment of Pride

A Moment of Pride

A moment of pride comes and comes rarely in one’s life. I cherish the memory of my retirement from a long career in diplomacy on December 31, 2010, a moment of pride for me. Yet another such moment came, a few days ago, when my brother-in-law Prof. Balbir Chander, husband of my younger sister Sunita alias Lakshmi,  retired from a 33 year long stint in the academics as Head of the Department of Political Science of the prestigious and esteemed educational institution of Punjab, Doaba College in Jalandhar on October 31, 2018. A formal send-off, or farewell, was bid by the college on November 5. It was a unique and gratifying experience to join Balbir and Sunita in the farewell functions hosted by the Management, Staff and students of Doaba College. It was a rare movement of pride. We in the IFS, because of the exigencies of service, rarely witness such occasions as one of my diplomatic colleagues Anil Sood commented on one of my FaceBook posts – “Sir, you are lucky. You have your relatives in the vicinity of your city. Wish your brother-in-law and his family a happy, healthy and contented retired life. For any person who has put in three decades or more of dedicated service, retirement is a welcome stage. I have also observed, in India, in many offices people get a very fitting send off. Such things are generally speaking missing in our service. May be due to frequent transfers.”

While I wish to avail of this opportunity to wish Balbir a happy retired life and good health, I wish to share a couple of observations with regard to this moment of pride for me and my immediate family. The citation “Commendation” conferred by the Staff of the college on Prof. Balbir Chander speaks loud and clear of the personality of their worthy colleague, and is a document to be preserved and I quote from it “Prof. Balbir will be remembered as an accomplished teacher scholar, a generous colleague and as someone who is highly focused on the common good, be it through his dedicated community service or his utmost concern for the well
being of our students.” Principal Naresh Dhiman of Doaba College, who himself is an academician of standing and an able educational administrator, and also Prof Dhall, a mentor of Balbir, his colleagues Prof. Johal, Prof. Mago and Staff Secretary Prof. Sandeep Chahal spoke very high of Balbir in their emotional farewell speeches. Sitting in audience, I was emotionally choked by listening to the moving words about Balbir from his colleagues. It is a sort of confession on my part that we did not, quite often, sub-consciously, give his due place and space in our daily life. I shared this inadvertent mistake with Balbir with my off the cuff remarks “Ghar da Jogi Yogda; Bahar da Yogi Sidh” – meaning that we generally don’t recognize the worth of our own man and tend to appreciate others. It was a whole hearted compliment to Balbir, an invaluable asset of our family. Balbir with impressive educational degrees, MA in Political Science (University Gold Medalist), LL. B, M. Phil and Post Graduate Diploma in Labour Laws and Management, is one of the highly educated persons not only on our family but also in the community around. He has done well in life while living a simple life. His two children, Mohit and Priya are fully qualified MBBS doctors. His son Mohit is a Medical Officer in one of the urban wellness centers in Jalandhar and daughter Priya is happily married and settled in Australia.

Balbir, a son of the soil, a humble and unpretentious man but pragmatic and down to earth and also a family oriented person, has done us proud in the first innings of his life. He is fully prepared to start his second innings, free from the limitation of service or job,
in right earnest. The other day, he showed me his newly built and furnished office from where he will function and operate. He has not removed his gloves and shoes as yet. I take this opportunity to wish Balbir all the best in his second phase of life and further success and prosperity in the days to come.

अपना मुक्क़दर  आप बनाते हैं एहले दिल;
हम वह नहीं जिने ज़माना बना गया!

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Tragic Hypocrisy

Tragic Hypocrisy

The Dussehra or Vijay Dashmi celebrations on October 19 turned out to be an avoidable tragedy in Amritsar in which more than 60 people were killed and more than 100 seriously injured on the rail tracks by a speeding train. The unfortunate, mostly poor migrant workers, crowd watching the burning of the effigies of Ravana and his associates or the Ravan Dahan near the rail tracks got involved in the tragic accident. Such incidents are repeated reminders and wake-up calls to both the administrators and the society that we are
still to go a long way to become a sensitive and a civilized society. There is no point in bragging about our claims of a glorious past unless we transform our present to at least a dignified and sustainable standard. We are yet to pay due attention to these realities of life.

An immediate provocation to write on the subject is the demonstrated and visible hypocrisy by the elite in the administration, concerned outfits, politicians and the media. The law and order authorities and the civil administration have no time and mind to think and plan the public events to ensure public safety and security. They remain busy in catering to the VIP led requirements. The agencies which provide public utilities and services, railways, electricity, public transport, fire control, first aid among others, are awfully negligent and dismissive of public concern. It seems we have mastered the art of blame-game to wash our hands. Politicians are self centered to the extent that they are alive only to their limited agenda of vote banks. The media, both ‘the Sarkari and the Durbari’ i.e. the government controlled and the pliant ones, is totally lacking commitment to public concerns and interests. Unfortunately, with every passing day, things are getting worse. It is a matter of deep concern and worry. We cannot afford to be oblivious to these ground realities, if we want to see our polity and society to stand up and face the challenges of development and progress.

I don’t feel like closing this without mentioning a very disturbing element which has surfaced, of late, in the functioning of our media, particularly the mushrooming TV channels. It was dismaying to watch the Amritsar incidents of yesterday on some of the TV channels, the Bhagat or the Durbari channels. The worthy anchors, while pronouncing that these incidents should be above political considerations, they themselves were busy in politicizing the matter by naming and blaming Navjot Kaur Sidhu wife of a Punjab Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu of the Congress party for the incident. The surprising element was that the script of their presentation was identical as if it was handed over to them by some other vested agency. Who that agency could be, it is anybody’s guess. It is a matter of shame and is the bane of our democratic system. The so called fourth pillar of our polity has failed us.

There is no point in blaming the innocent crowd who went to see and join the festivities of Dussehra. They need to be educated and informed by the concerned authorities of the “Does and Don’ts” of such gatherings. The administrators and politicians should be caring and sensitive. The media should be vigilant and not pliant to the power centers. But unfortunately they crawl where they are asked to bend and still they pat themselves to be called free and fair. We are to go a long way.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Swachh Bharat – Remembering Mahatma Gandhi

Swachh Bharat – Remembering Mahatma Gandhi

Today is October 2, birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. With a view to pay befitting tributes to the Mahatma, PM Narendra Modi started a well-meaning programme on the day in 2014 – Swachh Bharat Abhiyan i.e. Clean India Campaign.  There should be no hesitation in admitting that India is one of the dirtiest countries in the world. It is a matter of shame for all of us. It is well documented that Mahatma Gandhi realised the importance and need of cleanliness and he even said, “Sanitation is more important than independence.” He also said, “Everybody must be his own scavenger.” We Indians also boast of a people of culture and lofty traditions. How come then India remained one of the dirtiest countries? These issues need to be addressed. PM Modi’s government tried to flag the issue through the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan and rightly so. The government has also claimed that good work has been done in this regard. The target was to make 90
million toilets by October 2019, the 150th birth anniversary of Mahtma Gandhi to end the dirty and uncivilised practice of open defecation. Yes, some progress has been registered and is visible on ground. But most of the activities and programmes, unfortunately, remained cosmetic and photo opportunities. It is a matter of regret. PM Narendra Modi’s expectations made at the launch of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan in 2014 mostly remained on paper. He said,”I am sure you have heard time and again that cleanliness is next to godliness. Alas, things are often different when it comes to putting this into practice.” It is a national shame that still every year more than 300 safai karamcharis die cleaning gutters and sewers. It is pertinent to add that much more needs to be done not only by the governments but also by ‘We the people’ - the civic society at large.
Why the cleanliness campaign of Mahatma Gandhi in good old days and now of PM Narendra Modi could not take off as it should have? The reasons are obvious. The visible and immediately noticeable reasons are, of course, poverty, illiteracy and under development, India being a poor and developing country. We need to set our priorities and watch the pace of economic development and overall wellness of the society. The real reasons, to my mind, are deep rooted in our history and tradition and even religion which justify and glorify the dirty work of manual scavenging under the garb and pretext of Manuwadi dictum of caste system. On one hand Mahatma Gandhi said that one shall be one’s own scavenger and on the other glorified the caste sanctioned manual scavenging as “sacred”. I don’t understand ‘How sacred is this work of scavenging?’ PM Narendra Modi also termed it as “experience in spirituality”. Yes, it may be true for those who are not condemned to do and undertake this most inhuman and degrading activity but
not for those who are made to do it to earn their livelihood and live a wretched life. We often succumb to the ritual of discussing Swachh Bharat in the august houses of parliament and legislatures and talk of Millennium Goals from the high tables of the UN. The real problems are often side-tracked under the pretext of tradition and social cohesion as ordained in the texts justifying the caste system. Swachh Bharat Abhiyan is much needed and must be supported whole heatedly. Let us start it with sincerity and will both on the part of the governments and the society:-

-         Hit the caste system. Swachh Bharat is not the responsibility of the Safai Karamcharis (sanitation workers) only mostly belonging to the Scheduled Castes of Valmiki extraction.

-         Stop justifying or glorifying this dirty work of manual scavenging as ‘sacred’ or ‘experience in spirituality’. It is the most degrading and inhuman work. Let us start this sacred work and get the experience in spirituality right from our own homes without waiting for the Safaiwalas who otherwise are not even allowed to drink and eat in the house. As PM Narendra Modi himself said, “The dream of swacchata cannot be achieved even if 100 Mahatma Gandhis or 1,000 Narendra Modis or even all the CMs and governments come together, but if 125 crore Indians come together that dream can be easily fulfilled.” The organizations like RSS and SGPC, among other, need to involve themselves in this huge task to change the societal ‘mind set’ that safai is required to be done by so called Bhangis and Valmikis alone.

-         Take remedial measures to end and stop almost 100 percent reservation in posts of Safai Karamcharis. The votaries of ‘No Reservation on the basis of caste”, the so called General Samaj or Upper Castes, shall get their due and rightful share in these posts. Otherwise they should stop crying from the house-tops against the caste based reservations.

-         We have made many successful strides in technology and science. Why aren’t our technicians and scientists encouraged to develop cost effective mechanical or electronic equipment to clean the gutters and sewerage? Why don’t our local bodies tend use the already existing technology to carry out the dirty work, thus relieving the safai karamcharis from such degrading and inhuman jobs? Provide safety gears and sensors for toxic fumes to safai karamcharis to make their job somewhat less hazardous. Invest and make appropriate budgetary allocations to address these issues. Mere lip service will not do.

With this I pay my tributes to Mahatma Gandhi on his birth anniversary and wish Swachh Bharat Abhiyan further success.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Poona Pact of 1932 – A Cursory Appraisal

Poona Pact of 1932 – A Cursory Appraisal

Poona Pact of 1932 was signed on September 24. Today, is the anniversary of this unsung and forgotten but important pact which was signed by Babasaheb Ambedkar and upper caste Hindus led by Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya to save the life of Mahatma Gandhi who had undertaken a fast unto death to oppose the Communal Award of PM Ramsay MacDonald? In the aftermath of the Round Table Conference to address the communal issue, PM Ramsay MacDonald gave the award on August 16, 1932 in which all the minorities including the depressed classes or dalits were given separate electorates to elect their representatives to the provincial and central legislatures. Mahatma Gandhi opposed Dr. Ambedkar, who pleaded for separate electorates for dalits, and termed him as “unrepresentative” of the depressed classes even at the 2nd Round Table Conference. Having failed to convince the British rulers, Mahatma Gandhi resorted to the coercive and clever method of fast unto death, to undo the communal award. The entire leadership of the Congress party and hardcore Manuwadis stood against Dr.
Ambedkar and even threatened him of dire consequences to the extent of endangering his life. The emotions were raised to a sort of frenzy, terming Dr. Ambedkar as an ‘anti-national’ and ‘anti-Hindus’. Mahatma Gandhi was of the view that the separate electorates to dalits would “slowdown the integration of the depressed classes into the society”. He did not oppose separate electorates to others but to dalits. It was a clever ploy, as some critics observed, to keep dalits under the subjugation of upper castes as ordained in the traditional texts of Hindus. While promising to undertake the issues of untouchability and empowerment of the weaker sections of the society, Mahatma Gandhi opposed the communal award tooth and nail and said that it was an “injection of poison that is calculated to destroy Hinduism and do no good whatsoever” to the society.

The Poona Pact was formulated under such diverse and difficult political and social scenario. The objective and intention of Mahatma Gandhi was to save Hinduism at the pretext of social cohesion at the cost of rights and dignity of dalits on one hand and on the other Babasaheb Ambedkar was concerned about the welfare and empowerment of suppressed and oppressed people of India. It was a challenging situation. Dr. Ambedkar was a nationalist to the core. He was a spiritual person with a strong moral standing. Dr. Ambedkar succumbed to the pressure and machinations of Mahatma Gandhi and other Hindu leaders who were raising the bogey of saving the life of Mahatma Gandhi who was continuing his fast unto death in the Yerwada jail at Poona now Pune. The Poona Pact, a turning point in the Indian history and the position and space of dalits in the polity and society, was signed and Mahatma Gandhi ended his fast unto death. Some analysts termed it as “Ambedkar won the battle but lost the war to safeguard the rights of dalits” to save the life of Mahatma Gandhi and maintain the social cohesion and also the momentum of struggle for independence from the British as a true nationalist and human par excellence.

The Poona Pact carried forward the concept of reservations propounded by William Hunter and Mahatma Jyotiba Phule in 1882. It carried 9 clauses stipulating, inter alia, 148 reserved seats for dalits under the joint electorates (dalits clubbed with Hindus) as against 71 seats reserved for dalits under the separate electorates as provided in the communal award of PM Ramsay MacDonald. It was provided to give special consideration to dalits in civil services and sufficient educational facilities. The Hindu leaders under Mahatma Gandhi agreed to launch a movement against untouchability and care for empowerment of dalits with a view to integrate them with the main stream of the society. These pronouncements were made by the leaders at a conference in Bombay, now Mumbai, on September 25, 1932 in which Dr. Ambedkar also participated. He endorsed the Poona Pact in the larger interest of the country and the society. The necessary and relevant provisions of the Poona Pact were duly incorporated into the subsequent legal framework including the constitution of free India. The rest is history.

Since the Poona Pact of 1932, much water has flowed into the Ganges. It is time to have an appraisal of the pact in the given and current socio-political and even socio-economic status of dalits in India even after almost 9 decades. Not long after the signing of the pact, the dalit leadership led by Dr. Ambedkar expressed their regret and dismay on the outcome and results and even behavior of the upper castes to address the problems of dalits. All India Scheduled Castes Federation of Babasaheb Ambedkar in its Madras, now Chennai, session in 1944 passed a resolution and demanded separate electorates for dalits.  Dr. Ambedkar took up the matter with Lord Irwin and Winston Churchill appropriately to get the separate electorates as stipulated in the communal award. The reason for such a change in their approach was the non-serious attitude of the upper castes and the society at large to address the issues of untouchability and empowerment. Moreover, it was felt that the reservation of seats in the joint electorate tended to promote and elect stooges and yes-men who were not the true representatives of the suffering masses. Even after independence and provisions in the constitution of India, the question of true representation and social acceptability of dalits remained an issue.  Babasaheb Ambedkar along with his several lakhs of followers converted to Buddhism in October, 1956 to end the social and spiritual subjugation of dalits. The subsequent developments and leadership under the likes of Babu Kanshi Ram underlined the ground situation and demanded to rectify the situation appropriately to get the true representatives of dalits elected to the legislatures and parliament.  Babu Kanshi Ram’s book “Chamcha Age” published in 1982 addressed the issue threadbare. The question of reservations in services and educational institutions attracted the attention of the community and its leadership in the face of unplaced clamour and opposition of the so-called general classes or say Manuwadis. These issues tend to generate avoidable heat and animosity in the society which is termed as ‘unwarranted and dangerous’.

Let us try to find answers to some of the relevant questions in this regard. In spite of constitutional provisions, has untouchability and caste system been abolished? The answer is a big NO. Did political reservation in the legislatures help? Again the answer is a big NO. In the given political arrangements, the dalit representatives are nothing but glorified ‘Chamchas or Stooges’ as termed by Babu Kanshi Ram. Reservation in the general electorate has no meaning. It seems separate electorates are the answer. Political polarization of dalits on the basis of issues pertaining to their empowerment and integration into the main stream of the society is much needed to address the issues of caste, social, economic, educational and political marginalization of dalits. The so called general class or Brahmanwadis oppose reservation of dalits in the services and educational outfits. Is it justified? Not at all. Are they interested in abolishing caste discrimination? Do they tend to claim their share in the dirty work like manual scavenging and going down the sewer? No they want to have the cake and eat it too. The general class must know that these special provisions or reservations for the weaker sections of the society were not given voluntarily by sweet will of the rulers and the society. These were earned and obtained by a relentless and right struggle by the suffering humanity under the leadership of Dr. Ambedkar and his associates. His heirs are interested in maintaining these till the lofty ideals of ‘Equality, Liberty and Justice’ as enshrined in the constitution are attained to usher the country into much needed ‘Harmony’.  Could we succeed in transforming our political democracy into a social and economic democracy, as visualized by Babasaheb Ambedkar and other leaders? Again the answer is in the negative. Let us have a sincere introspection to answer these questions on this day of the anniversary of the Poona Pact which was an instrument to preserve the social and political order and to maintain the momentum of our struggle for freedom from the British rulers. The issues of dalits should be addressed with all sincerity before it gets too late. They contributed much in sacrificing their ‘identity’ under the Poona Pact in the larger interest of the country to defeat the often alleged ‘Divide and Rule” policy of the British. We will ignore this historical background at our own peril.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

S.C. Commission Ch Mere 6 Saal – Book Review

S.C. Commission Ch Mere 6 Saal – Book Review

S.C. Commission Ch Mere 6 Saal is said to be an account of the Chairman of the Punjab SC Commission, Rajesh Bagha. It is also claimed to be an auto-biographical narration but the contents, if I venture to say frankly, do not justify the claim. I think, Rajesh Bagha, is an educated and well groomed political and social activist under the wings of RSS and the BJP. His biography is still in the making. It is better to wait and see. Rajesh is a good friend of mine and I take the liberty of saying this at the risk of getting misunderstood. But my intension is positive and complimentary.

In the brief prologue of the book, he has clearly indicated that even after completion of his tenure as the Chairman of the Punjab SC Commission in November, 2017, he intended to keep the oil burning in the journey of his social and political work. Rajesh has frankly indicated that it could become possible only with the active support and involvement of Desraj Kali, a community activist and a renowned and duly recognized figure in the acclaimed literary circles not only in India but beyond. The book clearly carries the signatures of Kali Sahib in the prose and presentation. Desraj Kali is also a dear friend of mine. It is a matter of gratification.

The book has 15 chapters spread over 112 pages. Many chapters carry verbatim record of some important meetings of the Commission and decisions taken. It seemed a routine aspect but a couple of pointers came to fore. One, the system, or say the government did not attach much importance to the Commission and its functioning, though it is said to be a statutory body. The low level of official representation at the meetings deputed by the Departmental or Divisional Heads where they were supposed to be
in attendance was disturbing. The financial crunch and lack of proper working tools like computers and other apparatus and also human resources i.e. staff, obviously, adversely effected the functioning of the Commission. Chairman Rajesh Bagha tried his best, given all the constraints, to set the position in order but it appeared the political bosses did not have the will to provide teeth to the Commission.

The first Chapter touched upon the social and economic condition of the Punjab Dalits in the changing socio-economic and political scenario. Chapters 2 and 3, if I say so, are the only pages where the auto-biographical aspect found some space with regard to Rajesh’s initiation into RSS fold and his political affiliation with the BJP. Rajesh Bagha carefully chose his path which helped him to find his due place in the BJP hierarchy. He became President of the BJP’s SC Morcha at a young age under the able stewardship of now President Ram Nath Kovind. Incidentally, it may not be out of place to mention that Rajesh came to our family home in Jalandhar to meet my brothers Krishan Lal and Paramjit along with Ram Nath Kovind Sahib in 2006 for a political rally “Dalit Bolia Shinghasan Dolia” at Bootan Mandi. Kovind Sahib, one of our family friends, was an MP and President of the SC Morcha of BJP. Kovind Sahib’s gracious wife Savita Behen is a close friend of our sister in Delhi, Kamla Kumar. Rajesh rose up the ladder in the party and was made the General Secretary of the Punjab BJP and rightly so before his appointment in 2011 as the Chairman of the Punjab SC Commission, a well deserved position and an important job. While the book under review is awaiting its formal release and launch, Rajesh Bagha has been made the Vice President of the BJP in Punjab, yet another high position in the party. Congratulations to the young and energetic Rajesh. Chapter 3 is devoted to his family. Rajesh’s upbringing and thinking, it seems, have been influenced by the personalities of his UK returned grandfather, whose name should have been mentioned, and his elder brother Tilak Raj ‘Bhalwan’, the Punjabi version of Pehalwan or wrestler. Rajesh himself was a sportsman of sorts and remained a wrestler. It is a matter of satisfaction to note that he was never a politician or social activist depending financially on others and ran successfully his restaurant and community palace to earn his bread and butter. Of course, these business establishments helped him dig his roots and also make and nurture his political associates in his chosen career.
Rajesh considers that the issue of reservation should be seen not through the prism of economics but through the social background.  He is of the view that good results and resultant positive impact of reservation is much visible in Punjab. There is a need to harness
and channelize the newly generated energy among the dalit youth to make them equal partners in the social, political and economic order of the country and the society at large. Surprisingly, in spite of his political affiliation with the BJP, Rajesh Bagha is a fan and follower of Babu Kanshi Ram. It fully demonstrates his strong sense of understanding and conviction. I liked his narration, attributed to Babu Kanshi Ram, when answering a question from the media that BSP had not issued its election manifesto Babu Kanshi Ram replied that Shri Guru Granth Sahib was his manifesto. Rajesh has rightly termed that Babu Kanshi Ram was not a person but a phenomena.

Rajesh Bagha has listed some of his major activities and contribution towards empowerment of dalits of Punjab during his tenure as the Chairman of the Punjab SC Commission viz. Post-Matric Scholarships for dalit students, allotment of common land to the dalits for agriculture, redressal of complaints of high handedness and discrimination against dalits in the villages and government services, celebration of 125th birth anniversary of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar in a befitting way involving the bigwigs and the academia in the process, demand for revival of Chamar regiment, inter alia. These are not small achievements but it could have been better if the government and the political bosses could have extended all due help and facilitation to the functioning of the Commission and its Chairman.  Frankly, I was expecting some firework in the book exposing the Thekedars for putting hurdles in the functioning of the statutory Commission on account of their own hidden agenda. But it was not to be. Rajesh Bagha has promised the second part of the book. Let us hope to listen something more to make a full assessment both of Rajesh Bagha as Chairman of the Commission and the Commission itself. Nevertheless, I am impressed by the simplicity and unassuming nature and demeanor  of Rajesh Bagha as clearly narrated in the last chapter of the book when the security guards of a leader in Chandigarh mistook him as the driver and treated Des Raj Kali as the VIP.

अपना मुक्कदर आप बनाते हैं एहले दिल;
हम वह नहीं जिन्हें  ज़माना बना गया !

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Bits and Pieces – As I Please – 16

Bits and Pieces – As I Please – 16

Rahul Gandhi’s Kailash Mansarovar Yatra – Rahul Gandhi has arrived in the political firmament of India, it seems. But, let me add hastily that he is yet to reach. His position and space i.e. “Dasha and Disha” will be decided by the elections of 2019. Many new stories about him, good and bad, are discussed in the media not to tell the truth to hapless voters or general public but to camouflage and confuse things, unfortunately. I take one such issue, Rahul Gandhi’s on-going Kailash Mansarovar Yatra. The forces opposed to Rahul Gandhi including the pliant media, I think, are making unnecessary noises to cater to their political ends. General public is not interested and is totally unconcerned. The Mansarovar Yatra is a private matter. There is no need to highlight the issue. The media and the BJP, if I
go by the debates being conducted on the electronic media, are dragging in China in the matter which is totally unwarranted. Kailash Mansarovar is located in China. There is no way one can go there without going to China. What is the issue? Why has Rahul Gandhi gone to Nepal first and from there he has flown to Beijing? Whom he would meet and why? These are irrelevant and bizarre questions particularly because of the security aspects of the one who is having the highest category of security umbrella provided by the government of India. He is also a leader, President of the one of oldest political parties which is also the biggest opposition party. Rahul Gandhi is also the scion of Nehru-Gandhi clan which ruled the country for decades. And as such he enjoys his own political and social standing not only in India but also abroad. It would be better for the subservient media and the vested political interests to rise above petty politics particularly the China connection. It is a sensitive matter. It has already become a laughing matter. Media, knowing full well that it is a non-issue, still showing exclusive interviews a Minister terming the photographs of Rahul on the yatra as fake and photoshopped. It is the height of lopsided reporting at the cost of hapless public. Rahul Gandhi to put the things in perspective tweeted “The waters of lake Mansarovar are so gentle, tranquil and calm. They give everything and lose nothing. Anyone can drink from them. There is no hatred here. This is why we worship these waters in India.”

Now I come to some diplomatic insight as a humble player in game of diplomacy. The opponents of Rahul Gandhi have raised a question on the said interest and request of the Chinese Ambassador in New Delhi to go to the airport to see off Rahul Gandhi leaving for the Kailash Mansarovar Yatra. There was no diplomatic “not to do” in this. Rahul Gandhi President of one of major political parties of politics in India. He is the young face of Indian politics in the years to come and is the flag bearer of the cherished legacy of India. Any Ambassador stationed in India will only be too happy to avail of an opportunity to come closer to the current and future leadership of India. Why one shall find fault with the Chinese Ambassador when Rahul Gandhi was going to his country. It is a recognized diplomatic nicety. I think any Indian Ambassador should have done the same, in such an eventuality.

RSS Invitation to Rahul Gandhi - Yet another non-issue and an hypothetical proposition of RSS’s intended invitation to Rahul Gandhi to come and join them at some meeting/dialogue to be fixed and arranged in Delhi along with other political and academic personalities in September, 2018. As usual, the so called ‘Bhagat” electronic media made it a big issue and wasted hours in discussing Rahul Gandhi and RSS’s masterstroke. The RSS invitation is yet to come. Obviously, Rahul Gandhi would respond to it as he considers fit and proper. Where is the need to raise the dust to blind the general public?
As regards whether Rahul Gandhi should accept or decline the invitation,
my personal thinking is that he should accept the RSS invitation to join others to say their mind as openly and candidly as they deem fit to address the challenges before the country. We are living in a democratic country. There is no harm to sit and discuss issues of interest and concern. RSS is the biggest outfit engaged in socio-cultural life of India with an enormous political clout. There is no point in treating them as ‘untouchables’. More over the ‘caste system’ has been abolished in India. RSS, though still considered a ‘Manuwadi’ organization by the large chunk of dalits, is to prove itself that they stand for social justice and equality as stipulated in the Indian constitution and not in the traditional Hindu texts.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Bhima-Koregaon Incident and its Fallout

Bhima-Koregaon Incident and its Fallout

The ghost of Bhima-Koregaon events (December, 2017-January, 2018) are still haunting the administration and the society even after nine months. It seems the things have taken full circle. It turned out, rightly or otherwise, to be a turning point for the fight against Brahmanwad or Manuwad and their off shoot, Caste system, one of the biggest menaces against the unity and harmony in the country and the society at large. One may or may not agree with this assertion, depending on one’s mindset and resultant
perceptions. It is time to sit and think coolly and calmly before we push the country to “Grammar of Anarchy” as warned by Babasaheb Ambedkar, the chief architect of our constitution. The forces supporting the tyranny  and high-handedness of the so called upper castes, knowingly or sub-consciously, and forces, representing the oppressed and marginalized masses,  opposing the prevailing situation, through empowerment and awareness,  increasingly tend to have head on confrontation with each other to change the status quo with the fast changing and changed times. The sooner we understand this, the better. We may ignore this ground reality at our own peril.

I will not dig into the details of the Bhima-Koregaon incidents but would like to underline the trigging effects of these incidents. Dalits are no more ready to pocket and get the things lying down. They tend to assert themselves and stand up to protect their honour and respect. It was clear from the incidents of January, 2018 that the water has come a full boil. Subsequent events like Supreme Court’s verdict on SC and ST Atrocities Act, arrest of Bhim Sena’s Chandrasekhar Azad resulted in a successful and eye opening Bharat Bandh of April 2 with its pan India manifestation. The government has taken a few steps like amendment in the SC and ST Atrocities Act, launching of Ambedkar memorials etc to placate the dalits with an eye on the vote banks in the ensuing elections. But it is a matter of regret the message of professed ‘change of heart’ is not going down to the mass level. Milind Ekbote and Shambhaji Bhide, the alleged culprits of Bhima-Koregaon violence are still roaming scot free. Some of the upper caste Hindu outfits and their field operators are opposing the empowerment of dalits and enabling judicial provisions. Dalits perceive, rightly or wrongly, that this is being done with the implicit direction and guidance of the RSS and BJP. No strict action has been taken against the known to be upper castes Hindus who burnt the constitution and raised slogans against Ambedkar and Chamars. The arrest of some human right activists and said to be supporters of Maoists and Naxals has been linked to the Bhima-Koregaon incidents. These, some of the recent happenings, have further polarized the caste divide. The country is passing through a challenging time. The government and the civil society need to take an immediate notice of it before things go out of hand. It may be true that some vested interests representing anti national and anti social forces were exploiting the situation by supporting the marginalized and oppressed sections of the society. But how can we blame the suffering humanity, if they, willingly or unwillingly, fall prey to such forces. Dalits are clamoring for respect and dignity and due space both in the polity and society. The powerful and established social and cultural forces like RSS, among others, should come forward and join hands with the weaker sections of the society to address the challenges before it gets late. Any communal confrontation should be avoided at all costs. 

I close by quoting Faiz Ahmed Faiz to drive my point home:

खाक नशीनों उठ बैठो; वह वक़्त मुकाबिल पहुंचा,
जब तख्त गिराए जाएँ गे; और ताज उशाले जाएं गे !

Friday, August 31, 2018

Sikh Gurdwara at Leith in Edinburgh

 Sikh Gurdwara at Leith in Edinburgh

Guru Nanak Gurdwara at Leith, a coast town on the outskirts of Edinburgh, the capital city of Scotland of the UK, is in the news for wrong reasons of arson attack a couple of days before by some unknown elements which are still to be identified.  Some mad caps do these “deliberate” acts of “hate crime”. A similar act of arson took place in 1989 too. Edinburgh is a historical city with multicultural heritage. Scots are tolerant people. The First Minister of Scotland, Nicole Sturgeon condemned the attack and termed it as “appalling “and rightly so. I can say this after my association with
Scotland, its leadership and also with Guru Nanak Gurdwara at Leith and its management as the Consul General of India based in Edinburgh in the mid 2010s. I am confident that the administration will handle the matter with care and concern. The Sikh community in and around, though not big, is resilient enough to withstand the onslaught by some anti-social elements. The local government of Scottish National Party (SNP) and the national government in London simply cannot allow to hurt the religious sentiments of not only of the Sikhs, a prominent and prosperous community in Scotland, but also to disturb the social and spiritual harmony of the society at large.

Sikh community in the UK is well settled and is vibrant. They have done well in Scotland too. It was a pleasure to interact with the community in capacity as the Consul General of India in Edinburgh.  Guru Nanak Gurdwara in Leith is a historical landmark in Edinburgh housed in church of 1843 vintage. The Sikh community purchased the church and converted into a Gurdwara in 1976. I visited Guru Nanak Gurdwara a couple of times to pay obeisance and join in the celebrations. It will not be out of place to mention that Sikh community in and around Edinburgh is not very big, about 500, as compared to community in around Glasgow. A special feature is that the Sikh devotees at Leith Gurdwara belong to a somewhat distinct segment or sub-sect of the community which are still traditional in their day to day life. The veil (Ghunghat) by the ladies, traditional dress sense, marriage or death ceremonies as per the old norms are still observed even after three generation of their migration to the UK. I don’t know how far it was correct but I was told that even alcoholic beverages were served on special days as ‘Parsad’ in the Gurdwaras. With my interaction with the community, I found them living in a foreign land of their choice but still having strong bonds of belonging with their native place India and its culture and tradition. It was gratifying to see that they were the true followers of Sikh tenants “Kirat Kar Te Band Sak” without any visible trace of fundamentalism.

I cherish my memories of interacting and socializing with the Sikh community in Scotland.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Blood Donation – An Appreciable Activity

Blood Donation – An Appreciable Activity

Yesterday, August 19, it was a pleasure for me to join a blood donation camp at Dhan Dhan Shaheed Baba Nihal Singh Gurdwara at Talhan organized by Youth Blood Donors Organisation and Welfare Society, an NGO. It was a unique experience.  By the time I reached the venue, the blood donation exercise was already on. I was called upon to declare the camp open formally by standing with the blood donors and giving them certificates for donating blood. It was an honour to associate myself with this humanitarian and noble activity. The young volunteers of the NGO were busy in handling a well organized show. A dedicated and fully involved team of doctors and Para-medical staff of Johal Multispecialty Hospital were at work. A stream of volunteer donors emanating from the spiritual visitors to the Gurdwara was lining up themselves for donating blood. I was impressed by the sense of awareness among the youth for a good cause. There was no
monetary compensation except a glass of milk or juice with two bananas to the donors. The event was sponsored by Trilok Singh Sraan, a social activist of the area. It was all the more gratifying to note that prominent people of the area like Former Chairman of the Punjab SC Commission, Rajesh Bagha, Chief Editor of evening daily of Jalandhar Metro Encounter, Rakesh Shantidoot and a social activist, Jiwan Singh were there to encourage the organizers. A young couple from a nearby village Puranpur, Sarpanch Harbans Kaur and her husband Chiranji Lal donated blood to support the activity. The entire exercise was pleasant and smooth.

India is a developing country. Health services are not fully geared to cope with the needs. Voluntary efforts are much needed. According to Red Cross only 28% people in India qualify to donate blood and out of which only 10% come forward to donate. Going by experience yesterday at the camp, I tend to say that, of late, much needed awareness in this regard is emerging. During my brief interaction at the camp, I observed that blood donation costs nothing but saves life. The team leader of the organizers, Kulwinder Bagha was much appreciative and happy to find me with them in this noble activity and so was I as a humble volunteer.

It will not be completely out of place to mention about the Dhan Dhan Shaheed Baba Nihal Singh Gurdwara. I recall the Gurdwara remained in news for wrong reasons some years before. There was some tussle with regard to management and control. The Jat Sikhs, unfortunately, tried to control it without associating strong and enlightened dalit communities of the village and area. It led to
conflict sometimes violent. Fortunately, with the intervention of saner elements and the administration, an amicable settlement was reached. As a result, Gurdwara now is a hub of not only spiritual fulfillment of thousands but also a centre of social and community activities. The finances are used judicially for the development of the village Talhan and the adjoining area. It was my first visit to Talhan. It could easily be called “Smart Village” by any standard. I was surmising that why all the Gurdwaras were not run on the lines of the Dhan Dhan Shaheed Nihal Singh Gurdwara? I leave it at that as food for thought.

Somebody has rightly said, “Tears cannot save life but blood donation can.”

Friday, August 17, 2018

Atal Bihari Vajpayee – A Tribute

Atal Bihari Vajpayee – A Tribute

PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee (1924-2018) is no more. An era in the political life of India ended yesterday, August 16, 2018 with the demise of Vajpayee Sahib, one of the greatest sons of India in the contemporary times. He was a tall figure, with a distinct personality, in the political crowd of India. He became an MP at comparatively a young age, got elected 10 times to remain in the parliament with a unique distinction of representing four states like MP, UP, Gujarat and Delhi for different terms. It is said in Hindi, “Honhaar Birban Ke Chikne Chikne Paat”. PM Jawaharlal Nehru was so impressed by the personality and conduct of the young Atal Bihari Vajpayee that he visualized him to be the future PM of India. It came true and Atal Sahib, as he was affectionately called by his colleagues and friends, adorned the high office of PM of India not once but three times including a full five year term from 1999-2004. He was a leader by his own right and rightly so. The most prestigious awards and honours were conferred on him, Padam Vibhushan, Best Parliamentarian and ultimately the highest civilian honour Bharat Ratna in 2015. Atalji was an orator par excellence as we call it in Urdu “Jadu Bian Mukarrar” with vision and thought. His sane and balanced approach in the political councils and corridors of power will be greatly missed in the years to come.

On hearing of the passing away of Vajpayee Sahib, I wept as a mark of my respect and regard to the great man. I have had opportunities to see, meet and interact with him in the course of service in the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) and the PMO. I was greatly impressed by his personality and charm even in my formative years in Jalandhar when Atal Bihari Vajpayee did a road show in an open horse-driven Baghi (carriage) in 1968 as the newly
elected President of the Bharatiya Jan Sangh and we greeted him near the Patel Chowk as young students. Then in 1977, when Janta Party came to power in the aftermath of emergency, it fell on me as a humble functionary in the PMO to escort Vajpayee Sahib to the first cabinet meeting of the new government of PM Morarji Desai.  Thereafter, many opportunities came my way to see him working closely as the Minister of External Affairs during his interaction with his foreign counterparts during the course of my duties as Protocol Officer in the MEA and PMO. I distinctly remember Vajpayee Sahib interacting with his Russian counterpart in Hindi and the terminology he used, referring to the traditional friendship between India and the USSR, he said “Ganga aur Volga mein bahut paani behe chukka hai, ab waqt hai hum aage badein aur apni mitrata ko majboot Karein”. It was a pleasant change in our approach to take pride in our national language.  Next, I met the great leader in Beijing, then Peking, in China in 1978 during his official visit. I was posted in Beijing  as an Attaché. There were pleasant encounters with him and these anecdotes I save for some other occasion. My real and close work and interaction happened after Vajpayee Sahib became PM for the second and third term in 1998-99. I was the Director of Central Asia Division in the MEA from 1997-2000. The Central Asian region, India’s near neighborhood, is very important in our foreign relations and policies. It was my good fortune to see and interact with PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee during the high and summit level visits from the Central Asian countries. I vividly recall his meetings and interactions with his Uzbek and Kyrgyz counterparts. PM Vajpayee exercised his great charm and a great sense of history in dealing with his Central Asian visitors. My cherished possession from one of these interactions is a photograph with PM Vajpayee and the Uzbek President very gracefully autographed my Vajpayee Sahib himself. Vajpayee Sahib was not only a politician of standing and caliber but also a fine and apt diplomat.  Again, I will not like to burden my readers with personal anecdotes here with a view to maintain the solemnity of the occasion and close this tribute on the sad demise of our beloved leader.

The legacy of PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee which will remain, to my mind, is that he considered Dal i.e. party, above the individual and Desh i.e. country, above the Dal. This is the most needed input or ingredient in our polity and politics to ward off the dangers to our independence which was very dear to Vajpayee Sahib as Babasaheb Ambedkar warned, “We are going to have many political parties with diverse and opposing political creeds. Will Indians place the country above their creed or will they place creed above country? I do not know. But this much is certain that if the parties place creed above country, our independence will be put in jeopardy a second time and probably be lost forever. This eventuality we must all resolutely guard against. We must be determined to defend our independence with the last drop of our blood.”

May the soul of PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee rest in peace.

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