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 ।

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Celebrating Independence Day – Introspection
We are celebrating our 72nd Independence Day today, August 15. President Ram Nath Kovid in his message to the nation on the eve of Independence said, and rightly so” We are at a pivotal moment. Let contentious issues and extraneous debates not distract us” and added that it was time to widen the idea of independence. PM Narendra Modi spoke, as usual, from the high pedestal of the Red Fort and listed the achievements of his government and
developmental strides of the country in his characteristically demonstrative demeanor of an apt orator. He underlined the agenda of ‘social justice’ of his government. Celebrations on national days are normal and expected norms the world over. There is no harm. We should be proud of our country and its achievements. But this important day should not go without stocktaking as a real and honest introspection. We must see and know as to where we actually stand while participating and enjoying the celebrations.

India has come a long way in its developmental endeavors internally and finding its due space externally since independence in 1947. But let me add hastily that we are still to go a long way to remove poverty and misery from each household of the country. All governments have contributed in the process. There is no doubt about it. India is a big country with big problems of under development and social evils and negativities. It is a matter of regret that we are still to transform our political democracy into social and economic democracy as visualized by our forefathers. The society is still carrying the burden of caste system. The communal divide is getting wider. The moral values of our tradition of “Bahujan Hitaye : Bahujan Sukhaye” are getting eroded. The constitutional morality and honesty to bring about and realize the goals of cherished ideals of “Liberty, Equality, Justice and Harmony” so beatifulyy enshrined in our constitution is no where seen both in our governance and civic conduct. The media is increasingly getting subservient and pliant which is not a healthy sign for a democratic set up. The authoritarian and dictatorial tendencies are cropping up against the spirit of our constitution.  Babasaheb Ambedkar, the chief architect of the constitution, warned against the menace of ‘Hero worship’ in democracy. We should be aware of these pit falls.

We are to address these systemic ills and challenges in our “Tryst with Destiny” as stated by PM Jawaharlal Nehru to make our independence meaningful.  It is a matter of worry that, of late, communal cards are played to polarize vote banks. The old enemies of ‘caste and creed’ are still at work, unfortunately. The diverse political creeds are getting preference and importance over the national interests.  These dangers are real for freedom and independence. I am reminded of the worries and anxieties of Dr. Ambedkar which he expressed in his last speech in the Constituent Assembly of India in November, 1949. These uttering’s are as valid today as it were before. After explaining that how we had lost our independence before, he said and I quote Dr. Ambedkar, Will history repeat itself? It is this thought which fills me with anxiety. This anxiety is deepened by the realization of the fact that in addition to our old enemies in the form of castes and creeds 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. (Cheers.)

किसी को लगता हैं हिन्दू ख़तरे में हैं,
किसी को लगता मुसलमान ख़तरे में हैं,
धर्म का चश्मा उतार कर देखो यारों,
पता चलेगा हमारा हिंदुस्तान ख़तरे में हैं.
With this, I extend my hearty congratulations and greetings to my fellow countrymen on the Independence Day