Credibility of Nobel Prize for Literature down to its nadir

The Nobel Prize for Literature for 2016 to rock-and-roll musician Bob Dylan has wiped out whatever was left of the credibility of the prize insofar as literature is concerned. Indeed, the Swedish Academy has of late begun to indulge in an orgy of perversities in regard to the selections of awardees for peace and literature. An audible gasp of  ugly surprise went up when, a few years ago, Barack Obama was awarded the Peace Prize. Obama himself gave all the appearance of being thoroughly embarrassed by the choice. This year’s choice of the Colombian President for the Peace Prize hasn’t also gone down very well. But it is in the field of literature that the Swedish Academy’s penchant to cause outrage has been most in evidence. The ostensible argument advanced by the Academy for the selection of Bob Dylan is that he has “created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition”.  With all the sympathy and empathy, and all the poetic sensibility, and all my love of music, I could muster, I listened to a sampler of his songs and pondered over every line of his lyrics. I am indescribably, overwhelmingly bewildered, shocked. I am in a rage in fact. I could at least find something to appreciate in the lines and tunes of the Beatles, Rolling Stones, (P)Elvis Pre(s)sley and others. But Bob Dylan’s monotonous, moaning, droning, blabbering balderdash is beyond endurance. How do Americans — and now the Swedish selecters — fall for this rubbish, and even ferret out non-existent meaning in this nonsense? Altogether, this year’s Nobel for Literature is both an absurdity and a monstrosity!


My first reaction to the news that the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, was going to the US for yet another meeting (his seventh) with President Barack Obama, was one of scepticism. My misgivings arose on four counts: First,  about Modi over-exposing himself , thereby incurring a dent on his gravitas, affecting his and India’s emerging role as a world leader; second about his being discounted in the eyes of the political leadership and public opinion in that country and the international community as a supplicant or a client of the US many of whose policies and approaches have been self-centred and hegemonistic; third, about the possibility of such a manifestly effusive and effervescent relationship impairing India’s capacity to judge world issues on merits and its right to independent decision-making; and fourth, about drawing needless attention on himself  by investing so much time and energy in cosying up to someone who is lame duck.

But seeing him in action on the US soil, especially after going through the statement issued jointly by him and Obama, and more emphatically, after listening to his speech to the Joint Session of the US Congress, I am happy to cast off my misgivings like wornout garments. There is  only one way of summing up the outcome of his visit: Narendra Modi has once again done India proud. I say “once again” because I have by now watched him speaking at a variety of forums, and as a role model of effective commuinication, he is non pareil. Among the country leaders in Asia, Africa, the West and the Indian Ocean Rim I have seen over my long many years in public life, Narendrabhai comes close to being hailed as a man for all seasons with unmistakable grasp over the many complex and intricate issues of moment impacting the world. He captures and holds the attention of whatever audiences he addresses with a cogently and coherently woven tapestry combining sweep of vision with tangible pathways to realise it, as also with his conviction and commitment matched by impressive eloquence and flawless delivery.  His ideas flow in the right sequence with the right emphasis, laced with humour at appropriate junctures. In his latest address to the US Congress, for instance, he quoted from the Amrican national anthem, the declaration of Independence and Walt Whitman with effortless ease and ithout fumbling and faltering. And he pulls it all off in a relaxed manner. That explains the rapturous ovations he got from the hard-boiled Congresspersons and Senators. Chapeau, Narendrabhai!

There is a fitting answer to the reservation about his repeatedly meeting and doing business with a lame duck President. Presidents may be ephemeral, but Governments are eternal, and once the directions and dimensions of a partnership are affirmed in a declaration signed on both sides, it binds the governments concerned in all aspets. The fact that the Modi-Obama  joint statement has been enthusiastically welcomed by the leading lights of  the US Congress and the media is a pointer to the US-India strategic partnership assuming broader, deeper and stronger proportions in the near future.

Now to brass tacks. Let’s face it: By whatever name it is camouflaged,  call it “major defence partner” or the new found phrase during the current trip, “priority partner”, India, under Narendra Modi, has wittingly and willingly decided to become the staunch ally of the US and signed and sealed something which is nothing but a grand alliance for all practical purposes. For half-a-century after Independence, India was happy to be virtually in the camp of the Soviet Union which stood by it through thick and thin. Besides providing easy access to supplies of arms and weapons systems, it committed itself to military help in the case of attack on India and extended unquestioned and unconditional  support to India’s stand on Jammu and  Kashmir in UN and wherever the question was raised.  But the tensions of the cold war and the label of a communist state constricted the influence and authority of the Soviet Union; there was also a tinge of unstated disreputability attached to India seeking its backing.

For these reasons, there are those in India itself who argue that it would have been far more beneficial for India to have been the friend and partner of the US during those, what now seem to them, wasted years. In their view, by getting under the wings of the Soviet Union, India denied itself the gains flowing from  the military might, technological prowess, and unbounded wealth of the US — all of which would have been at its disposal. At that time, it was the anti-capitalist prejudices, and pro-socialist predilections of the first Prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, and his daughter, Indira Gandhi, who also became Prime Minister, that ruled the roost, making estranged democracies of India and the US.  Rajiv Gandhi, P.V. Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh, each in his own way, tried rebalancing the relations, but the inhibitions and repressions of the past disabled them from going the whole hog. Since the Leftists still had a sizeable presence and a vocal say in Parliament and in the country, they had to walk a tight rope so as not to be seen currying the favour of the US. Meanwhile,  even the Congress and preponderant section of India’s political class had quietly veered round to the view that in the unipolar world in which the US has emerged a decisive player, it is best to side with the strongest, the richest and technologically the most advanced. Because of his spectacular electoral victory, Modi had far greater opportunity vouchsafed to him to shape India’s relations with the US without “the hesitations of history” (as he put it in his address to the US Congress) in terms of either ideology or the past baggage, and he has grasped it by taking India, based on his own world view, to where he believes India should be heading.

One can be sure that this has not been without ratiocenation or rationalisation of some kind. One can guess what must have provided the ballast to Modi deciding to throw in his lot with the US: China! Before I set out the basis for my statement, I must, for the record, make a disclosure: I have been, for as long as I have been writing on public issues, an ardent proponent of understanding and accommodation with China.  I had a romantic vision that the two ancient civilisations, by working together and mutually reinforcing their strengths, can usher in a brave, new world order and put their stamp on the coming centuries. Alas, China has managed to shatter that vision by continuing to behave, in relation to India, like an insensitive, intractable, impolitic, implacable dragon in the China shop. I have been disillusioned to the extent of being driven to ask myself whether all the effort that India has put in from the time of Nehru  to be on its right side has been futile.

In retrospect, it would seem that the fiery socialist, George Fernandes, who was the Defence Minister in Atal Behari Vajpayee’s NDA Government, like the Deputy Prime Minister, Sardar Vallabhhbhai Patel, at the time of India’s Independence, was only being prescient when he declared publicly in 1998 that China was India’s “potential threat No.1″. He cautioned India to wake up to the fact that Chinese military activities and alliances, particularly those involving Pakistan, Burma (Myanmar) and Tibet, had begun to ”encircle” India. He was trenchantly critical of the ”carelessness and casual attitude”  in regard to national security in recent decades, in the context of the reality of what China was doing. ”China has provided Pakistan with both missile as well as nuclear know-how,” he said. ”China has its nuclear weapons stockpiled in Tibet right along our borders…..We have become a very soft people, and we must realise that nations are not built through soft options, nor are the country’s frontiers secured by a soft line…..One has to be willing to live a hard life.”

Indeed, China has pulled all stops to prop up Pakistan to the detriment of India. It has provocatively resorted to issuing “stapled visas” to Indian passport holders hailing from Arunachal Pradesh wanting to travel to China, and has been brazen in warning Prime Ministers of India to desist from visiting that State. Off and on, its authorised spokepersons have been proclaiming Arunachal Pradesh as Chinese territory. More recently, it blocked UN action against Pakistan for releasing Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, allegedly the masterminded behind the Mumbai terror attacks of 2008, blaming India for not providing adequate documentaion for his complicity. It has voiced its strong opposition to India’s admission to the Nuclear Suppliers Group, without Pakistan also being made a member. All this makes nonsense of all the pampering of Chinese President, Xi Jinping, by Modi.  In short, it has been using every conceivable opportunity to harm India’s interests and has been myopic in pulling all stops to prop up Pakistan, a failing State and a seedbed of terrorism, to boot.

The other problem with China is its promulgation of its ever expanding core interests.  It covers a wide range from sovereignty, territorial integrity and security (Tibet, Taiwan, Xinjiyang) to furtherance of its economic, commercial and maritime ambitions (South China Sea, Yellow Sea). It has been adding to them from time to time creating uncertainties and insecurities in tge meinds of its neighbours and the world community by its minatory attitude of confrontation. At this rate, nothing may stop China from extending the coverage of core interests to even the operation of exchange rate to suit China’s exports-imports and currency management regimes, right to exercise veto over other countries’ foreign and domestic policies, unilateral claim of ownership of other countries’ territories, and deciding when, where and how it would strike to enforce its diktats!

In sum, over a period, China has been proclaiming more and more areas to be out of bounds for the rest of the world, and taking aggressive postures to enforce its own version of Monroe Doctrine. At one stroke, China has brought the entire Korean peninsula within its sphere of influence; it has enlarged the scope of maritime domination in strategic waters that connect northeast Asia and the Indian Ocean; and it has asserted its interventionist rights over whatever has a bearing on its ‘core interests’.

The result is that even those who were in favour of friendly and harmonious relations with China, are now convinced that there is a megalomaniacal streak of insensitivity in its make-up leading to its behaviour as the odd person out and that it only understands the language of tit-for-tat. It may have a sobering effect on China if India also draws up its own list of inviolable, immutable core interests and asks China to adhere to them.

It is not to be wondered if, in this background, other countries, notably those in its neighbourhood, with their own stakes and core interests, engage themselves in devising the means of injecting a sense of sobriety in China’s conduct. In that sense, if the comprehensive and concrete dimensions of strategic partnership worked out by India and the US seem like a grand alliance targeted at you-know-who, China had better realise that it has fathered it. There is no point in Global Times sermonising to India that “Picking one side or camp against the other is not the way India will rise”, or that “its great vision cannot be realised by bashing or containing China.”

The commentary published by Xinhua news agency was nearer the mark in acknowledging the strategic considerations behind the frequent meetings between Obama and Modi. It quoted Jin Canrong, vice president of the School of International Studies at Renmin University, as saying that “US attaches importance to India’s strategic value, economic development potential and ideological advantage….Embracing India will help consolidate the US rebalance to the Asia-Pacific….(and) India is willing to deepen the India-US relations out of the consideration in both strategic security and economic development.”

I am content to let Jin Canrong have the last word.


B.S.Raghavan is former Policy Adviser to UN(FAO who is currently the Patron of the Chennai Centre for China Studies and Adviser to Indo-Japan Chamber of Commerce and Industry

Why corruption is rooted in India’s culture?

All of us have reached a stage of resigned acceptance of corruption as a way of life in India. I came across a write-up by an observer from New Zealand according to whom there’s no way corruption can be got rid of from Indian soil because it is part of its ethos and rooted in its ancient culture. Read what he says:


Corruption in India is a cultural aspect. Indians seem to think nothing peculiar about corruption .
It is everywhere.
Indians tolerate corrupt individuals rather than correct them. No race can be congenitally corrupt. But can a race be corrupted by its culture?
To know why Indians are corrupt, look at their patterns and practices.
Religion is transactional in India.
Indians give God cash and anticipate an out-of-turn reward.
Such a plea acknowledges that favours are needed for the undeserving.
In the world outside the temple walls, such a transaction is named- “bribe”.
A wealthy Indian gives not cash to temples, but gold crowns and such baubles.
His gifts can not feed the poor. His pay-off is for God. He thinks it will be wasted if it goes to a needy man.
In June 2009, The Hindu published a report of Karnataka minister G. Janardhan Reddy gifting a crown of gold and diamonds worth Rs 45 crore to Tirupati.
India’s temples collect so much that they don’t know what to do with it. Billions are gathering dust in temple vaults.
When Europeans came to India they built schools. When Indians go to Europe & USA, they build temples.
Indians believe that if God accepts money for his favours, then nothing is wrong in doing the same thing.
This is why Indians are so easily corruptible. Indian culture accommodates such transactions morally.
There is no real stigma.Second –
Indian moral ambiguity towards corruption is visible in its history. Indian history tells of the capture of cities and kingdoms after guards were paid off to open the gates, and commanders paid off to surrender.
This is unique to India. Indians’ corrupt nature has meant limited warfare on the subcontinent. It is striking how little Indians have actually fought compared to ancient Greece and modern Europe.
The Turks’ battles with Nadir Shah were vicious and fought to the finish. In India fighting wasn’t needed, bribing was enough to see off armies.
Any invader willing to spend cash could brush aside India’s kings, no matter how many tens of thousands soldiers were in their infantry. Little resistance was given by the Indians at the “Battle” of Plassey. Clive paid off Mir Jaffar and all of Bengal folded to an army of 3,000. There was always a financial exchange to taking Indian forts. Golconda was captured in 1687 after the secret back door was left open. Mughals vanquished Marathas and Rajputs with nothing but bribes. The Raja of Srinagar gave up Dara Shikoh’s son Sulaiman to Aurangzeb after receiving a bribe. There are many cases where Indians participated on a large scale in treason due to bribery.
Question is: Why Indians have a transactional culture while other ‘civilized’ nations don’t?
Third –
Indians do not believe in the theory that they all can rise if each of them behaves morally, because that is not the message of their faith. Their caste system separates them. They don’t believe that all men are equal. This resulted in their division and migration to other religions. Many Hindus started their own faith like Sikh, Jain, Buddha and many converted to Christianity and Islam.
The result is that Indians don’t trust one another .
There are no Indians in India ,there are Hindus ,Christians, Muslims and what not.
This division evolved an unhealthy culture.
The inequality has resulted in a corrupt society, In India every one is thus against everyone else, except God ­ and even he must be bribed.

Technological advances of Ancient India well-documented

It is nowadays the fashion among the prowling gangs of elitist liberal intellectual mafia (ELIM) to bad mouth the BJP, RSS, VHS and other such reputed outfits for their inordinate pride in the glories of ancient India founded on their conviction of its having been technologically the most advanced. The ELIM traduced them for stating that Lord Ganesa was living testimony to the phenomenal advances made in ancient times in plastic surgery. ELIM also pounced on some BJP stalwarts for their statements on the well-organised air transport even in the days of the Ramayan some 10,000 years ago. For instance, Valmiki, no less, has clearly documented how Ravan carried Sita in his plane to Lanka. Likewise, after slaying Ravan in battle, Rama not only takes Sita and his entourage in the Pushpaka Viman back to Ayodhya, but points to them famous landmarks, cities, rivers, mountains and so on from the plane. Which is convincing proof of the highly evolved navigational aids, including, one can be sure, GPS as well, in his time.

Actually, when Sugriva sends his vanar search parties all over the continent to find out the whereabouts of Sita, he gives to the leader of each party detailed descriptions of the countries and kingdoms they would see. From this it is clear that knowledge of geography and topography, derived from cartography, was both profound and prolific in the era of Rama Himself.

There has been some dispute whether Guglielmo Marconi was the real inventor of wireless telegraphy. In fact, this issue has been long settled, and conclusively, by Indian archaeologists leading to clinching evidence that wireless too had its origin in India. For all their furious and frantic excavations all over the country thousands of feet deep into the sacred earth, they founf nary a single bit of wire of any length.

Let us come to Thiruvalluvar whom Western Indologists, out of spite, fix at some 300 BC, but he must have lived and composed his  1330 Thirukkural couplets many centuries before then. Every Tamil schoolboy is by now familiar with his mention of the rifle (thuppaakki) in the 12th couplet occurring in chapter 2.

It is evident from the same documentary source, that cell phones too were widely in use in Thiruvalluvar’s time. Not only were they in use, but the traffic was so very dense and heavy that people were uncontrollably incensed by garbled transmission, disconnections and the like, just as we are these days (so much so that, at home, most of us discard the cell and use only landlines). Thiruvalluvar was concerned that this intense indignation and attendant tension at the non-performance of the cell phones might lead to blood pressure, strokes, multiple sclerosis and even amiyotrophic lateral sclerosis. So, very considerately and compassionately, he advises cell users to take it calmly and not get angry with the cell, “with whatever else they might get angry”.  (Couplet 301, chapter 31) The explanation of commentators of the latter clause is that people didn’t use any other thing 24X7 as they did the cell, and so they must specially desist from getting angry with the cell, if they cared for their health.

OK, for want of space, I skip millennia and quickly come to Kamban, the great Tamil poet, whose Ramayanam is timeless in its conception and content. Do you know, you wanton, wilful ELIM denigrators of ancient India, that cars were common place even in Rama’s time? What greater substantiation of this can there be than that provided by Kamban? Indeed, cars were so commonplace that Valmiki doesn’t even mention them, whereas Kamban, with his eye for detail, refers to them  in one of the many stanzas describing the arrival of invitees to the wedding of Rama with Sita at Janaka’s palace. While noting the various modes of transport — palanquins, chariots, even vandis (ordinary carts) — he unerringly spots the arrival of some in cars. You can see indisputable corroboration of this in stanza 1278 in Ayodhya Kanda of Kamba Ramayanam.

Thiruvalluvar’s reference to cell is nothing surprising when we find from Kamban that there were many brands of cell phones even in Rama’s times. Again, by then, they were so widespread that Valmiki doesn’t consider it necessary to talk about them, just as we do not talk about the things around us that we take for granted. But Kamban is of a different stuff: He seems to have had a premonition of the  emergence of ELIM at some future date and, therefore, wants to leave impeccable record of everything. Of the many brands existing in Rama’s times, one brand seems to have had the dominant, if not monopolistic, market share. Both Rama and Sita were sold (pardon the pun) on the brand as is clearly established by Kamban’s observation in stanza 596 in which he irrefutably says “annalum Nokia, avaLum Nokia” that is, both Rama and Sita had Nokia. (All editions wrongly print the brand name as “Nokkinaal” because of the unfamiliarity of the printers with modern brand names.) Some media anchors, just to jack up their TRP ratings, have started a media trial of Kamban, insinuating that Nokia had paid huge sums to Kamban for giving them prominence in his Ramayanam. This is as preposterous and monstrous as imputing any such motive to Rahul Gandhi for his mention of Fair and Lovely in his speech in the Lok Sabha.

These are just a few, cursory examples to show how advanced India was as far back as in Rama’s days. I hope ELIM gets the message and puts a stop to their vile calumny.


Bureaucracy — Then and now

The print and electronic media, as also the social media, are full of reports of the manner in which a solemn and sacred document like an affidavit to be filed before a temple of justice suffered manipulation bordering on falsehood and forgery at the highest levels of the Ministry of Home Affairs. When G.K.Pillai, Home Secretary at the relevant time, was asked why he did not object to the rewording of the affidavit in Ishrat Jahan’s case by the then Home Minister, P.Chidambaram, even though he knew full well that the manipulation went against the facts as he knew them. he nonchalantly contented himself with stating that since the file came from the Minister himself, he just passed it on as it was,

The Home Ministry was the morphed version of the Political Department of the days of British Imperialism and it was the direct charge of the Viceroy and the Governor-General. For many decades after Independence, it was regarded as the pivot of the Union Government responsible for many areas  such as recruitment, appointment and deployment of the highest services of the land, including the judges of the high courts and the supreme court, , internal security, centre-state relations, administration of preventive detention act and defence of India rules, emergency, president’s rule, the Central Bureau of Investigation, the Intelligence Bureau in its full panoply, including external intelligence,  border security, para-military forces — in short, areas at the heart of the nation now hived off into two or three separate ministries with their own hordes of ministers and functionaries. In the 1960s when I served for ten years in the Ministry, first as Deputy Secretary and then as the Director, there was the Cabinet Minister, two Ministers of State, one secretary, two additional secretaries, five joint secretaries, one director, nine deputy secretaries and 10-12 under-secretaries.

Those working in the ministry were proudly conscious of its being a cornerstone of the Constitution and tried to conduct themselves in the highest traditions of public service. Never once even the faintest glimmer of any thought of fabrication, falsification, manipulation or tampering in any manner with any facts or documents ever crossed our minds even momentarily. On the contrary, even the junior-most officer never hesitated to express himself boldly and frankly in meetings and notings, and even to the extent of recording his disagreement with the views of their superiors.

Compare Pillai’s attitude with how those working in the Home Ministry construed their role and duty to be in those far-off days, as will be evident from the following narrative..

Following the Chinese aggression of October 1962, a section of the Communist Party (there was only one in those days) was reported by the Intelligence Bureau (IB) to be propagating the Chinese line and pitching for a negotiated settlement.
The IB which was exercising surveillance over them forwarded a list of around 1200 persons (dubbed pro-Chinese communists) who were said to be aggressive in espousing the Chinese cause and who, therefore, according to the IB, posed a danger to national security. Home Minister, Gulzarilal Nanda called a meeting of the Home Secretary, the Intelligence Chief and other senior officials concerned to discuss the IB’s report. I was also present, but being the junior-most officer, I was there merely to keep notes and record the decision for further processing.

After a detailed analysis of the pros and cons, the unanimous view of the assembled officials was to act as per the IB’’s recommendation. It was now for me to initiate the concomitant steps: Prepare the warrants of detention, and alert and line up the State Chief Secretaries and Inspectors-General to be in readiness to complete the entire operation in a synchronised manner so as to guard against anyone going underground. I returned to my room with great uneasiness. After all, it was I who would be signing and issuing the orders of detention: so, should I not also be fully convinced that the course of action decided upon was the right one? Somehow, my conscience rebelled against condemning honest dissent as prejudicial to security and defence of India.

After all, to argue that India should enter into a dialogue with China in an accommodating spirit was not a crime. Even if some of the apparatchik had said in secret meetings that India was in the wrong in provoking China, I saw nothing objectionable in it. Further, if the Government went in for wholesale detention, it would lead to a further hardening of their stand and might even make militants of some of them. Finally, what was the proof that these 1200 members were indulging in anti-national activities? We only had the word of some constables covering the meetings incognito, who might or might not be able to grasp the sense of what was being said.

I decided to put down all these reservations in a note and send it to the Home Secretary, L.P.Singh. Remember, a final decision had been taken after due deliberation by a conclave of officials at the highest levels of the Government presided over by the Home Minister himself and also remember, I had no business at that point to be raising objections. The Home Secretary, on receiving my note, could have promptly sent it back peremptorily ordering me to carry out the decision already taken: or, worse, he could have thought that I myself was a pro-Chinese Leftist mole in the sanctum sanctorum of the Home Ministry and got me reverted to Bengal, or in the worst case scenario, had me detained, if not dismissed from Service, under the security clause of the Constitution without proceedings and inquiry.

To the contrary, while he disagreed with my contentions and wanted the decision to stand, the Home Sercretary did me the courtesy of rebutting each of my arguments with reasons and sending the file to the Home Minister with the remark “The Deputy Secretary has expressed his reservations, ably supported by arguments, about the decision taken last evening in HM’s room. For the reasons I have mentioned, I feel that the decision is the right one and should be implemented. Still, I am bringing the DS’ note to HM’s attention as it is well worth reading”. Nanda, too, could have just initialled and sent the file back. No! He sent it to Shastri with his own words of praise for the way I had argued my views. Shastri noted in his beautiful hand to the effect: “I appreciate Raghavan’s effort to put down his views. However, for the reasons mentioned by the HS, we may go ahead with implementing the decision.”

These appreciative observations did not relieve me of my uneasiness on another count. The names of Jyoti Basu, Harkishen Singh Surjeet, A.K.Gopalan, Susheela Gopalan, and E.M.S.Namboodripad were included in the list. In my opinion, their patriotism could not be doubted and they were second to none anywhere in the world in their stature, calibre and service to the country. The very thought of detaining them on an atrocious and unprovable pretext went against my grain. So, I sent the file back once again to the Home Secretary expressing my views to the above effect. This time, my stand was approved right up to the PM’s level, and they were left out of the list of detenus.

Can you imagine a mere Deputy Secretary surviving what would be straightaway condemned as insubordination and disloyalty if only he had been serving political dispensations in recent years? The spirit pervading bureaucracy in those halcyon days was one of fearless expression of views and elders in service and Ministers took it with understanding and good will. If they differed, they had the self-confidence to over-rule you in writing on files, giving their arguments, unlike the present political bigwigs who are allergic to any dissenting opinion. Civil servants too did not feel that they were doing anything heroic or unusual. They took intellectual integrity and freedom to give their views as part of a natural order of things. It never impinged on their consciousness that there was any other way.


Bleeding hearts! Don’t bleed the nation!

The Minister for Human Resources Development, Smriti Irani, brought forth a gasp of disbelief when her appointment was first announced. Lacking any kind of manifest pretensions to scholarship, and, on the contrary, trailed by tales of fudged educational qualifications, there was widespread scepticism about her fitness for the job. Soon enough, several stories began circulating about her supposedly abrupt and abrasive behaviour among those who had encounters with her. Reputed academics and professionals of national standing in various fields who had to deal with her as Minister talked of her penchant for tongue-lashing. Over time, though, she seems to have impressed everyone who met her with her lightning grasp of issues, clarity of thinking, masterly command over both English and Hindi and sparkling humour — making for a brilliant personality. Some heads I know of famous academic institutions readily credit her with intellectual acuity and demonstrable vision in handling her portfolio.

We have now to add to all this political acumen of a high order. I have been keenly and closely watching the way leading lights of the National Democratic Alliance, in general, and the Bharatiya Janata Party, in particular, are comporting themselves, and I have no hesitation in asseverating, after her scintillating performance in Parliament during the debate on the happenings in the Hyderabad and Jawaharlal Nehru Universities, that she bids fair to be counted as the most effective  campaigner for the BJP, and its pillar of strength, next to Narendra Modi himself.  She has torn to shreds the Opposition’s accusations with her convincing rebuttals, leaving the political opponents in disarray and making them seem abettors and accomplices of forces working against the nation’s unity, integrity and security. It was certainly a political feat unmatched by any other luminary in recent memory. Chapeau, Smriti!

It is good that the Government, instead of waffling and wobbling, has taken a tough and unambiguous stand on an issue that has a vital bearing on  nation’s stability and survival.  All their idealism, intensity of emotions, acute sense of right and wrong, and burning passion for public causes can never serve as justifiable grounds to be touted by  students and youths of any country, let alone of India, with all its fragility and vulnerability, to question its unity and endanger its security, or to encourage others to do so, in the name of freedom of expression. The bleeding hearts of the civil society who take their side, either out of a genuine sympathy, ideological motivation, or political opportunism, should realise that they also have a pivotal role as parents and guardians. It is their paramount duty to cooperate with, and support, the law-enforcing authorities and the Government to prevent their wards from committing such excesses.

France, which gave the world the resounding clarion call for liberty, equality and fraternity, as a curtain-raiser to the French Revolution, and guillotined a King and his Queen to uphold the cause,  is cutting down on freedom of expression to combat threats to security after Paris was struck by terrorist attacks in November last year.  French authorities now have powers to conduct police raids without warrants and put suspects under house arrest without prior judicial authorisation. They can also ban public demonstrations, shut down websites and disband groups deemed a threat to public order by the government.

The police can detain terrorism suspects for up to 144 days without charges. The government is seeking new powers, including the ability to hold someone for up to four hours to check his identification and the authority to search bags and vehicles near “sensitive” sites by order of a prosecutor.

The proposed law would also allow the government to put someone returning from a “terrorist theater of operation,” like Syria or Iraq, under house arrest for up to a month.

A provision in the policing bill would let prosecutors eavesdrop on cellphone communications with a judge’s authorization, using technology currently available only to intelligence agencies, which were granted enhanced capabilities after the attacks in January 2015 at the Paris offices of a satirical newspaper, Charlie Hebdo, and a kosher supermarket.

The new bill would also give prosecutors powers similar to those of investigative judges, including the ability to tap phones, use hidden cameras and analyse electronic communications.

France can strip a person of citizenship if he or she is convicted of crimes that violate the “fundamental interests of the nation,” including terrorism,  if the person is a naturalised French citizen who is also a citizen of another country.

A new measure would make it possible to strip the citizenship of dual citizens born in France who were convicted of terrorism.

Recently in Spain, two puppeteers were arrested and jailed because in a street play they showed scenes of violence such as the hanging of a judge or raping of a nun. In France and Germany, persons can be arrested and convicted even for making statements doubting the occurrence of holocaust perpetrated during the Nazi rule

India is not out of sync with the prevailing durrents of opinion in other longer established democracies. For instance, in the United States, the National Security Agency has carried out complex electronic surveillance domestically and abroad since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The agency had been monitoring international calls and emails without warrants. In 2007, President George W. Bush signed a law further strengthening the government’s authority to eavesdrop on international calls and email without warrants. In 2015, President Obama signed a law setting some limits to the government to conduct surveillance operations, but still they are sweeping enough.

Under the provisions of the Patriot Act of the US,  anyone shouting or displaying slogans such as the ones seen and hear at the gathering in JNU, would be immediately picked up and put away by the FBI, without any such protest  or political agitation as was mounted in India. In those genuine and mature democracies, patriotism and loyalty to the country are regarded as inviolate, binding principles and political differences are not allowed to come in the way of any preventive or punitive action taken. Indeed, unlike in India, the moment a person is picked up for violation of any law, even if it be a traffic offence, his hands are pinioned behind his back and handcuffed. Rajat Gupta, the shining star of McKinsey and Indian Business School, for the offence of insider trading and, earlier, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Managing Director, IMF, accused of sexual advances by a hotel waitress, suffered the same fate.

My appeal to the opposition political leaders: Be Indians first, and do not tear asunder the fabric of security and unity of the country for your narrow, selfish political ends, or under a misguided notion of civil liberties.





Malini’s Exit : The expected has happened

former Editorial Adviser to The Hindu and Columnist (1994-2014), The Hindu Business Line
G.Kasturi used to tell me any number of times during my 30 year long association with him that Malini Parthasarathy was a “medical miracle”.  At one stage, in her early years, her survival was despaired of as she suffered from grievously disabling health issues. It was really a miracle that over the years, not only did she overcome those disabilities but emerged as a sharp-witted and aggressive personality, able to hold her own as a correspondent and writer. She was peerless as an interviewer of high profile leaders of Governments in India and abroad and reports of some of those interviews make fascinating reading even today.
She could have made a good Editor too but for her abrasive and off-putting human relations. She was seen as  ill-tempered and authoritarian, with no respect for age or experience. In short, all that Rahul Pandit, Praveen Swami and P.Sainath unburdened themselves about her working style, when they quit The Hindu unable to suffer her,  were true. Within a couple of days of my joining as the Editorial Adviser to The Hindu on the invitation of G.Kasturi in 1989, without standing on protocol or prestige deriving from my background, I called on her in her room in office. She behaved with me so abruptly and insultingly at the very first encounter even without having known me before that I was taken aback. Since then, for 26 years I had purposely avoided meeting or greeting her. Ever since she became the Editor of The Hindu,  my sources in the paper have been constantly posting me with stories of her supercilious behaviour.
Malini’s departure doesn’t write finis to The Hindu’s troubles. It has become an insensitive and encrusted bureaucracy. With the result, the behaviour of the other members too of the once hallowed family generates negative vibes. All my mails to the Trinity, N.Ram, N.Ravi and N.Murali,  have been like stones dropped into a well — and I am supposed to have some public standing. N.Ram often forgets and skips appointments: This happened to me thrice or four times in the early years, and since then, I have not sought one-on-one meetings with him nor spoken to him in all the 28 years after I settled down in Madras, except occasionally and by chance . I have deliberately kept my distance from the three of them  to avoid the embarrassment of any unwelcome boorishness.
None of  them deigned to take note of my son’s, wife’s and brother’s passing, nor acknowledged invitations to functions like my sathabhisekam. Amazing that apparently well-brought up people from supposedly decent families of noteworthy lineage forget the ephemeral and transient nature of life and its trappings and behave in this subhuman manner! Lest some consider the use of the word “subhuman” harsh, here is its meaning as per Merriam Webster: not having or showing the level of kindness, intelligence, etc., that is expected of normal human beings
 The only persons to whom I felt the closest and the greatest degree of affinity in all these years were G.Kasturi and his second son, K.Venugopal.  And Kasturi too, whom I met almost every other week for two or three hours at a stretch for as long as I was with The Hindu and The Business Line, had plenty of his own frustrations to share. His disturbing accounts of the goings-on in the family-run business might cause a sensation.
I am tempted to write frankly, as the family members themselves  have been unsparing and gone public in the past about the unsavoury feuds within Kasturi & Sons. Actually, the firm reminds me of  the kind of devious and pernicious power struggles that were typical of ruling dispensations of Middle Ages. I once got it conveyed to N.Ram, through Sashi Kumar, his side-kick in the Asian School of Journalism, and directly to K.Venugopal, that  such disruptive traits and tendencies didn’t augur well for the survival of the paper too long, and reminded them of how great papers have sunk without a trace like the Titanic.
Here is an extract from my memoirs Fading Footprints soon to be published about family-run media businesses which also apply to Kasturi & Sons:
“All the negative points about the media get accentuated when they are run as family businesses. First, there is no transparency about the methods adopted by the members of the family to make money and spend it, with no sign of social conscience or social commitment or social responsibility.  Huge amounts are blown up in  making rash and reckless investments and worthless pursuits. If such squandered resources are pooled, they could have served to construct hudreds of primary health care centres, and primary schools and provide drinking water sources to as many villages. At the very least, the price of their publications could have been reduced by two-third.
Second, contrary to popular expectations, family members, instead of responsibly supplementing and complimenting one another towards excellence both in conduct and example, spend most of their time waging internecine feuds among themselves in which quarters are neither given nor taken. In the process, attention to the content and quality of products suffers, and the workplace becomes a stinking cess pool breeding backbiting, disloyalty, cronyism, cliques and coteries. The manner in which one faction of Kasturi & Co fraternity ganged up against another and unceremoniously and uncouthly bundled out close kith and kin with no reasons adduced to the readers is reminiscent of what used to be happening in Byzantium.
Third, with relatives swarming all over the place demanding to be accommodated in niches carved out for them, professionalism suffers. For instance, office and accounts management gets to be frighteningly poor, because the skills of supervision are lacking in those at the helm. There is scant courtesy and accountability even in such simple things as purposeful conduct of meetings, keeping to appointments, replying to letters and messages from the readers and members of the public, ability to communicate and motivate, and human relations — in short, everything that pertains to leadership.
Considering all these features, I sometimes think that readers and watchers of the print and electronic media should organise themselves into a Media Watchers’ Association and force the so-called Fourth Estate to observe a stringent code of conduct on the following lines:
1. There should be no acceptance by media personnel of gifts, perks, money, awards or privileges of any kind from the Government, public sector, corporates, civil society, lobbies, political parties, interests and individuals, since these could be misconstrued as compromising their independence, impartiality and professional integrity.
2. Media should be vigilant against allowing personal predilection or partisanship to cloud their judgment or slant their reports and opinions.
3. Media should not adopt a “Dog-doesn’t-eat-dog” policy by brushing the misdeeds of their own ilk under the carpet. First and foremost, their accountability is to the readers and the society at large, and advancing public interest should be their watchword. They should be as willing and courageous to purge the media of pernicious deviations from norms and values as they are to set matters right in the Government and the society.
4. Media should at no time swerve from accuracy, truth and fairness. There should be enough scope for expression of dissenting opinion and right of reply. Comments and articles received from the public should be treated with respect, and in case of their not being accepted for publication, the contributors should be informed of the reasons.
5. While investigative journalism and exposes have a legitimate place, they should not be allowed to degenerate into witch-hunting and vengeful pursuit of individuals and institutions with ulterior motives.
6. There should be no second-guessing of police versions or court decisions in the reporting of crimes and criminal cases, leading to trial by media and tarnishing of reputation.
7. Every media enterprise should publish and put n the public domain its audited accounts at the close of each financial year, regardless of its status under the Companies’ Act.
8. Likewise, it should make available to the public full information about the qualifications and background of its columnists, correspondents, reporters and editorial staff as and when they are appointed.
9. Those at the helm of media enterprises should consider themselves answerable before the people in observing what they demand of all others in their editorials, namely, rectitude, propriety and probity in the management of their internal affairs.
10. Every profit-making media enterprise should be a shining example of philanthropy and public service.
11.Every organ of the media should constitute an independent consultative body comprising five or six eminent public figures who would at periodical meetings advise the Editor on the content and editorial thrust of its publications.
12. Whoever is appointed as the Readers’ Editor should be a reputed expert or professional from outside the media establishment, as otherwise he becomes a proxy and apologist of the establishment.
The Association should set up a performance audit-cum-watchdog panel to keep the media under continuing scrutiny in the above respects and take such action as is necessary against transgressions coming to its notice.”

Narendra Modi should rise above being a mere PM

Sections of India’s intelligentsia, dubbed elitist-liberal-intellectuals (ELI), presumed to be predominantly of Leftist persuasion, have been going hammer and tongs against Narendra Modi for the past few months for his silence over the killing of “rationalists”, lynching of a person for eating beef, the torching of dalits resulting in the death of two children and the proneness of some Ministers and prominent members of the BJP and the so-called fringe elements of the Right to shoot their mouths off with  taunts against Muslims, the most provocative being that “Abdul Kalam (the former President) was a nationalist, despite being a Muslim”. Their contention is that all these incidents and statements are indicative of an  atmosphere of intolerance, and even fascism, in the country, and Modi’s apparent refusal to take notice of it is calculated to further aggravate the situation, by stoking the fires further.

In reply, the apologists of Modi have been vociferously  asserting that the statements to which ELI is taking exception are  played up by media on purpose, that incidents such as Dadri lynching, dalit torching and killing of “rationalists” are the sort of mayhem and murders that will keep happening in one part or another all the time in a vast country like India with !.2 billion people, that, in any case, they are law-and-order matters falling  within the purview of the State Governments concerned, that Narendra Modi or the Central Government led and run by him have no duty or obligation to express their stand on them and that any demonstration of protest on their account is a contrived, motivated one, “manufactured” by “sickularist” or ELI  circles, out to traduce and tarnish Modi. The boot is on the other leg, according to Modi apologists, for it is he who has been made a victim of intolerance.

To this,  the counter-reply of persons like Arun Shourie broadly is that killings for gain, and similar run-of-the-mill breaches of law-and-order  should be distinguished from incidents that have emotive or inflammatory impact on the psyche of the people. True, a PM cannot be asked to take notice of, and publicly condemn, the usual day-to-day incidents as and when they occur, and they have essentially to be dealt with by the State Governments. But a PM, by virtue of his stature as such, is also the leader, mentor and path-setter of the nation, having an educative role to play. He should set goals for the nation in respect of norms of conduct and make his general philosophy and approach known to the people at large in respect of events and incidents impinging on national and emotional integration and social and cultural harmony.

I am no ELI, but I do subscribe to the view that it will be too technical and restricted a stance to dismiss such outrages as falling within the law-and-order responsibilities of the State Governments.  By the same token, the reckless outbursts of some Ministers and members of the BJP cannot also be pooh-poohed as rantings of non-entities deserving to be ignored. Modi and the BJP will remember how on April 4, 2002, while in Gujarat, the then Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, was asked what sandesh he had for the Gujarat Government and its Chief Minister, and he was distinctly heard to say: “mera sandesh hai woh (that is, Modi and State Government) apna raj dharma palan karey…koi raja praja praja mein koi bhed nahi dikha saktha…” He didn’t try to wash his hands off what happened in Gujarat as a mere law-and-order issue.

If Narendra Modi were like Madame Tassaud’s wax statue a la Manmohan Singh, his silence can be taken as his second nature. But he is so very profusely vocal and eloquently articulate on so many subjects and unambiguously expresses himself in public and on social media within India and abroad. It wouldn’t have cost him anything at all if, as the leader of the nation, he gives the right direction to people’s thinking and attitude by educating them on what is good and proper — as Gandhiji, Nehru, Patel, Rajaji, Kamaraj and C.Subramaniam used to do. For instance, whatever be the 20/20 hindsight about Nehru, he played this role magnificently, constantly addressing huge gatherings of 5-6 lakhs in every part of the country, however remote, and telling the people about politics, economics, social issues and the like. He attuned them to what he thought was the right path by undertaking a nation-wide effort on a monumental scale. Sardar Patel too, whom Modi admires, was not second to Gandhi and  Nehru in playing the role of the father-figure of the nation..

I believe that  Narendra Modi has unparalleled gifts which can make a phenomenal difference in shaping the nation’s destiny. In him, we have a charismatic persona who can inspire. He can do wonders if only he dons the mantle of the leader, mentor and path-setter of the nation and for all its people, instead of remaining content with being a mere PM belonging to one of the many political parties.

Modi’s disinclination to do so is what puzzles and saddens me as one whose own life dates back to the halcyon times of freedom struggle leading to India’s Independence and who has seen many of those  heroes of yore at close quarters.




All indications are that Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, will be visiting China some time in May. The maiden visit of India’s External Affairs Minister, Sushma Swaraj to China in the last week of January was apparently by way of preparing the ground for Modi’s visit. India’s National Security Adviser, Ajit Doval, is also slated to visit China shortly to finalise the Prime Minister’s itinerary and consequent arrangements.

The run-up to Modi’s visit is marked by some unusual features. It is taking place within barely eight months of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to India to a rousing reception followed by extensive exchange of views on a wide range of issues. One does not recall an occasion in recent years when a return visit by an Indian Head of State or Government took place within such a short time.

In fact, there is very little that has not already been discussed during Xi’s visit or in the past in respect of any of the issues referred to by Sushma Swaraj after her meetings in Beijing. Boundary dispute, trade, investment, market access, maritime silk route, Kailash-Manasarovar had all figured in the earlier visits also. The 28 paragraphs of the Joint Statement between the Republic of India and the People’s Republic of China on Building a Closer Developmental Partnership issued on September 19 at the conclusion of Xi’s trip had given exhaustive coverage to all matters of mutual interest.

Both Modi and Xi know that if all that there is to show for Modi’s return visit at such a short interval is a repeat of the same old declarations, there will be a terrible sense of letdown in the public mood resulting in future summits losing credibility. Only the possibility of new ground being broken can justify Modi’s trip at this time.

There are some signals from the Chinese side pointing to such a possibility. Notably, China has taken particular care to keep the border free of incidents in the last five months. During Sushma Swaraj’s visit, both the Chinese President and Chinese Foreign Minister showed themselves to be manifestly keen to take India-China relations to a high trajectory. Not only were the talks between Swaraj and her Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, characterized by extra-ordinary warmth and cordiality, Xi set aside long-standing protocol about formally receiving only Heads of States and Governments of other countries and granted an audience to Swaraj and engaged her in earnest conversations. Knowing how inflexible the Chinese are about adhering to protocol, this gesture was unprecedented.

Obviously, the significance of the euphoric public impact of Barrack Obama’s visit to India, a rare second by the same President, meticulously masterminded by Modi himself, the closeness and cordiality exhibited by Obama and Modi, and the comprehensive nature of the strategic partnership envisaged in their joint statement of January 25 has not been lost on China. Although there were no comments from spokespersons of Chinese Government, the Chinese media, which often reflected the official stand, pretended to take the development in their stride. However, from some of the expressions they used in their commentaries, one was able to glean their worry about India “sliding into Western influence”. The Global Times especially cautioned India and China not to “fall into the trap of rivalry set by the West” with the “ulterior motive” of driving a wedge between the two countries by playing up the China threat in geopolitical and economic terms.

Xinhua too while downplaying the Obama visit as unlikely to affect the “longstanding China-India relations”, was concerned that it “may succeed in propelling the US-India relationship forward”, though “it could hardly change the ground reality that India also needs China as a crucial cooperation partner”. It added: “Three days are surely not enough for Obama and Modi to become true friends, given their hard differences on issues like climate change, agricultural disputes and nuclear energy cooperation”.

It should not be surprising if, in this background, China were to conclude that India can no longer be taken for granted or that the entire power calculus it is seeking to establish in this part of the world will be upset if India were to throw in its lot with the US or, worse still, if the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or “Quadrilateral Initiative”, under which India would join a formal defence compact with Japan, the United States and Australia were to take off resulting in the isolation of China. For, Quad’s avowed purpose itself is to establish an “Asian Arc of Democracy,” which would ultimately include countries in central Asia, Mongolia, the Korean peninsula, and other countries in Southeast Asia: “virtually all the countries on China’s periphery, except for China itself.”

These considerations impart an altogether new complexion to Modi’s forthcoming visit to China. It is, and has to be, a visit with a difference, if it were not to prove to be a damp squib. It has to live up to Sushma Swaraj’s commitments, never before so emphatically expressed, of being “outcome-driven”, with Modi and Xi being resolved, as per Swaraj’s assurance, with “out of the box” ideas to settle the border issue.

This is music to the ears of the friends of India and China. Border issue is the crux of India-China relations. There can be no definitive solution without give-and-take on either side, and that is only possible at the highest levels on both sides. Modi, with his acclaimed national stature as an effective leader, has high credentials to bring this about.

Once the recurrent tensions arising out of the border issue are out of the way, everything else will automatically fall into its place. There will be unhindered flow of trade and investment. Both countries will be able to exploit the full potential of their complementarities and competitive advantages. In short, nothing can stop them from achieving the synergistic partnership that can lead to a truly Asian Century.



King, Thou Shouldst Be Living At This Hour!

On the invitation of the Indo-American Association, Chennai, I delivered the Martin Luther King Memorial Talk  on  30th January 2015 (Martyrs’ Day) at the Women’s Christian College, Chennai. It is reproduced below:

                                                      KING, THOU SHOULDST BE LIVING AT THIS HOUR!
I have taken the title of my talk from the immortal line of a poem on John Milton by William Wordsworth, as I think it reflects the current mood of the people everywhere. Let me then start with an invocation to Martin Luther King drawing on that poem:
Martin Luther King! Thou shouldst be living at this hour, the world hath need of thee. Thy soul was like a Star, and dwelt apart; Thou hadst a voice whose sound was like the sea: Pure as the naked Heavens, majestic, free. So didst thou travel on life’s common way, in cheerful godliness. We have become selfish men; O raise us up, return to us again, and give us manners, virtue, freedom, power!
I am most grateful to the distinguished members of the Indo-American Association for inviting me to deliver the Rev.Dr.Martin Luther King Memorial Lecture this year. I am particularly beholden to Mr.P.Murari who has lent lustre to the Association and steered it during the period of his presidency with his wonted dedication and commitment to raising the quality of public life. The leadership and vision of those guiding its current activities have helped further strengthen the bonds of goodwill, understanding, and cooperation between India and USA.
Indeed, the spectacular success of the visit of the US President, Barack Obama, to India this month has opened up infinite possibilities of partnership between these two great democracies, two great countries and two great peoples that will lead to tectonic changes in geopolitical, economic and security alignments in this part of the world and, conceivably, in the complexion of international relations and world order as well.
In the context of today’s talk, it is pertinent to recall that a high watermark of the visit of our Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Washington D.C. in September last year was Mr. Obama personally taking him to the Martin Luther King Memorial on the National Mall. The Washington Post aptly summed up what it called “a moment of sheer diplomatic poetry” thus: “….here was America’s first black president, a living embodiment of King’s dream, showing an Indian leader the monument to King’s struggle. It was a reminder that the world’s oldest and largest democracies share an ideological heritage that links them more powerfully than talks and treaties about trade and politics.”

We are celebrating today a person whom we can call a gift to humanity as a whole. Martin Luther King, in struggling and dying for the liberation of Blacks in his own country, also symbolized the yearning of human spirit to free itself of shackles of every kind and realize its full potential. He was able to visualize the inextricably interwoven nature of the world as early as in the 1950s, long before globalization, global village and so on, became buzz words. “We are caught”, he said, “in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” That kind of an inter-connected world without walls in which a butterfly batting its wings in Brazil can cause an avalanche on the Himalayas, makes nonsense of assumptions of clash of civilisations or violent conflicts over race, religion, creed or language.

Everyone knows that King drew his inspiration from Mahatma Gandhi, but the two had never met. In choosing me to deliver this year’s Martin Luther King Memorial lecture, the IAA has stumbled upon someone who could think of himself as a link between both. When Gandhi came to the then Madras in 1946, I was one of the volunteers standing guard outside his room in the house in which he stayed on Venkatnarayana Road, Thyagarayanagar. I had the privilege of not only being with him for the better part of the day, and sometimes in the night, to attend to his needs, but also being seated on the dais along with him and his two “walking sticks” (as he called them), Manu and Abha, during his prayer meetings.

I have vivid memories of King’s “garment of destiny” even as it was being woven. When I was one of the US Congressional Fellows in 1966-67, in the immediate aftermath of that mammoth mobilization, the first in the US history, in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C., we had King speaking to us on his mission. I can’t describe the thrill I felt on seeing face to face the great and magnetic personality who led the colored people of the US from helplessness to hope by his irresistible moral and spiritual power. He was forceful in his advocacy of Gandhi’s principles and strategy and said that it was no longer a choice between violence and nonviolence in this world; it was nonviolence or nonexistence.

I was witness to the revolutionary changes that King’s March on Washington set in train in the form of the Civil Rights Act (1964) and the Voting Rights Act (1966). I knew in person those who were on both sides of the equation, Roy Wilkins, heading the National Association for the Advancement of the Colored People, Stokely Carmichael of the Students Non-Violent Coordination Committee, and Senators Mike Mansfield, the force behind the civil rights legislation and Ted Kennedy, whose statement supporting it as the new member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, electrified the nation.

I would strongly urge all of you to listen to the soul-stirring speech King gave before the Lincoln Memorial. It is like a beautiful and entrancing sculpture, lifting the human spirit and holding aloft the eternal truths that have inspired and sustained the human race. That speech, which reverberated round the globe, is famous for each paragraph of its peroration beginning with “I have a dream”. It should not be surprising if the idea of dream itself came to King from Gandhi who, too, had projected the India of his dreams decades earlier.

Gandhi’s vision of India ran thus: “I shall work for an India, in which the poorest shall think it is their country in whose making they have an effective voice; an India in which there shall be no high class and low class of people; an India in which all communities shall live in perfect harmony. There can be no room in such an India for the curse of untouchability or the curse of the intoxicating drinks and drugs. Women will enjoy the same rights as men. …. all interests not in conflict with the interests of the dumb millions will be scrupulously respected…. This is the India of my dreams….I shall be satisfied with nothing less.”

The core of King’s dream was, as he put it, to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope, to transform the jangling discords of America and the world into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood, to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, and to stand up for freedom together.

It is clear that although the context and the country differed, both Gandhi and King were alike in their aspirations.

Incidentally, in 1969, as an anchor of the newly established Delhi TV Station, I interviewed King’s wife, Coretta Scott King for an hour. To my question what her own dream was, she without a moment’s hesitation replied, “My dream is that humankind should never run out of dreams!” She couldn’t have put it better,
“for if dreams die,
Life is a broken-winged bird that cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams for when dreams go,
Life is a barren field frozen with snow.”

Those of you who are students of Chemistry know how August Kekule hit upon the structure of Organic Chemistry in a dream while travelling on a bus. “Let us learn to dream, gentlemen”, he told an audience of the world’s great scientists, “for then we shall find the truth”.

At the time King dreamt of equality of rights and equality of opportunity for Blacks in their American homeland, the prospect of realizing it seemed distant and bleak. That was when a deep study of Gandhi’s struggle against the British Rule in India convinced him of the power of non-violence. Being a pastor himself, King could readily relate to Gandhi’s adherence to truth and transparency, and his insistence on reformation instead of retribution. By the way he conducted his mass movement for civil rights; he was able to demonstrate the efficacy of Gandhi’s methods. In fact, he had to innovate in a considerable measure because he was engaged in the more difficult task of fighting his own Government and a sizeable proportion of his own country’s White population which had been oppressing the Blacks, depriving them of their basic human rights and denying them access to public places, public transport and educational institutions solely on the ground of the colour of their skin.

Using nonviolent means to prevail upon the White establishment of his day to adopt measures to bring the Blacks on par with Whites in terms of entitlement to equality of rights and opportunity was no doubt a phenomenal achievement, but that is only one of the battles in a long war which is still to be won. For, intolerance, discrimination, disparities, discords, exclusivism, extremism and supremacist attitude still persist in a large number of countries of the world. Only by decisively winning that war can a new World Order be built on the sound and strong foundations of security, peace and happiness for all.

For instance, in his own land, and in his own time, Martin Luther King was constrained to observe in 1967, “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defence than on programmes of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.” One does not know how he would have reacted to the fact that today, military expenditure in USA under all categories amounts to more than $750 billion, exceeding the total combined expenditure of the Departments of Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, and Education. As a writer in that country in a recent article asked: “How could anyone believe for a second that Dr. King’s dream had been realized, in a world where the median net worth for a white household is almost ten times that for a black household, where black men are six times as likely to be incarcerated as white men?”

The questions that I want to pose and explore through the title I have given for my talk are these: If King, or for that matter, Gandhi, were alive today, would their methods be still effective in combating the ills and evils that we see around us? Are those methods good for all time and all types of causes?

On this, I want to let you in on an experience of mine.
When I was the Chairman of the Board of Selection of post-graduate students for admission to an Institute of Management for five years, I used the opportunity to conduct, in the course of the interview of around 250 boys and girls from all over India every year, an informal and impromptu survey of the mindset of the younger generation. I was appalled by what I heard. Here is the gist of the views of an overwhelming majority of the young boys and girls:
(1) Gandhi and his methods are irrelevant for the modern world. Truth, non-violence, simple living, high thinking, self-denial, rectitude are all platitudes. All sins and crimes will be forgiven once you have wealth and status, no matter how acquired, by fair means or foul. Gandhi’s era did not face this much of competition or struggle to eke out a living. We will all be sunk if we keep clinging to the so-called Gandhian values.
(2) There is little to learn from either parents or teachers; far from being role models, they seem practitioners of double standards. A parent in politics who takes bribes, a teacher who is neither an upholder nor an observer of high standards of performance is not someone for us to look up to. In any case, parents and teachers these days have no time for inculcation of values, since they are themselves in the rat race, feverishly busy with feathering their nests.
(3) The governing class — be it politicians or public servants ~ is stone deaf and bereft of any sensitivity, empathy or consideration. It has no respect for citizens who adhere to constitutional or peaceful methods. On the contrary, once people in their thousands block roads, burn buses, indulge in riots or commit murders, the law-breakers are invited for parleys and parties with the Prime Minister or Chief Ministers who receive them and see them off at the portico. It is pointless sticking to high principles when from top to bottom it is only opportunism that rules the roost.
(4) There is nothing wrong if talented young persons look for opportunities to show their mettle in the USA, the UK or other rich industrial countries. They constitute not brain drain, but brain bank, because, these days knowledge-sharing through information technology enabled services has become instantaneous and it is immaterial where one works.
(5) Indian democracy is a sham and phony. Politics has become a means of plunder. Corruption has become a shameless way of life. There is no hope of any change for the better. The cure seems to lie only in a bloody revolution leading to wholesale extermination of parasites of society.
A survey conducted last year by an Indian NGO brought out the fact that 53 per cent of the college students was in favour of the military ruling the country for some years and 43 per cent felt it was all right to violate laws and rules as things could always be squared up to one’s advantage by paying bribes.

Does it mean that, to the younger generation, India has become out of sync with the era of patriotism and sacrifices that freedom heroes like Gandhi, Nehru, Patel and others exemplified? Have their labours been in vain? At least one of them, aged a mere 42 at the time, entertained no illusion about the shape of things to come.

Listen to Rajaji’s stunning prophecy made as early as in 1921of the degeneration that would set in after Independence: “Freedom will come; but immediately thereafter or even for a long time it may not bring the people happiness or a good government. As soon as freedom comes, there will be a scramble for elected places; in its wake will come corruption, injustice and the wickedness caused by money and an inefficient administration. The life of the people will be like hell. Many will feel that the older regime, which was comparatively more just, efficient and honest, was better. What we get from our independence will be only freedom from indignity and slavery. Our future lies in making our youngsters good citizens by giving them from early days an education, which is likely to create good conduct, righteousness and mutual love. If that is not done, it is certain that they will be crushed under the wickedness of injustice and wealth.”

Gandhi too at age 51 had a premonition that Independence was not going to be the panacea for all the ills India was beset with. In 1920, when he appeared before the Hunter Committee set up by the British Government to inquire into the Jalianwala Bagh massacre, the Committee Chairman suggested to him that India under self-government might not be needing the kind of methods such as satyagraha, civil disobedience and mass agitations that he was known for.

Gandhi replied: “I cannot feel on that point so assured forever. I can imagine a state of affairs in this country which would need satyagraha even under the Home Rule.”

As for the present state of affairs in India, here is a quote: “….as a society we are becoming increasingly insensitive and callous. …. (The state of affairs in India) speaks of a stony-hearted society, not a compassionate one that produced the Buddha, Mahavira, Nanak, Kabir and Gandhi. The unabashed, vulgar indulgence in conspicuous consumption by the noveau-riche has left the underclass seething in frustration. One half of our society guzzles aerated beverages while the other has to make do with palmfuls of muddied water…..‘Beware of the fury of the patient man,’ says the old adage. One could say, ‘Beware of the fury of the patient and long-suffering people.’ ”
Who said this? He was not an anarchist or a revolutionary who uttered this grim warning, but the sober and staid K.R.Narayanan, the President of India, while addressing both Houses of Parliament on the occasion of the Golden Jubilee of the Republic!
Interestingly, however, in respect of two notable events witnessed in independent India, Gandhian approach to remedy the situation made no headway. Jayaprakash Narayan sought to revive the Gandhian ethos with his Nav Nirman movement and his call for Sampoorna Kranti (total revolution) to be brought about by recourse to Gandhian methods. He even gave an open call to government servants, the police and the military to resist all measures and orders which could weaken democracy. He wanted them to defy illegal or unjust orders and to remain faithful to the Constitution and not to a particular party or person.
He based it on the rationale that the police and the military were bound to safeguard and defend the Constitution against threats from totalitarian trends in the same way as they were bound to safeguard the security of the country and the honour of the national flag. (I may point out here that disobedience to unjust laws and orders which was at the heart of Gandhian philosophy was upheld by the International Law Commission which went into the question, at the instance of the UN General Assembly.) The immediate outcome of JP’s high-minded efforts was the clamping of Emergency, and suppression of all dissent by censorship of the media and detention without legal remedies of all leaders of the opposition.
The second event began with a bang and ended with a whimper. It was the tsunami-like mass upsurge of 2011 generated by Anna Hazare, for pressuring the Government to enact his version of a strong Jan Lokpal Bill. It was also along Gandhian lines and looked at one stage like a precursor to an Indian Spring, analogous to the Arab Spring which toppled potentate after potentate in Arab countries in 2010. The tremendous enthusiasm it aroused made the Government palpably nervous, but it could not be sustained largely for want of organizational skills and internal cohesion among members of Team Anna. It got outmaneuvered by a canny Government and petered out.

Both movements were the outgrowths of the general population’s desperate craving for clean politics and good governance. In their absence, regardless of the trappings of democracy and the chant of human rights, rapacious and even criminal elements manage to enter the system, grab unlimited power to plunder the state’s resources and assets, and oppress the people. The face of every functionary of that so-called democracy the people have to deal with at their level and at every turn seems to them to be not that of a sympathetic, honest, dutiful public servant but that of an insufferably corrupt and cruel monster.

Where JP and Anna, Gandhians par excellence, failed, would Gandhi himself and his ardent acolyte, Martin Luther King succeed, if they were living at this hour? Would they have had to reorient their earlier strategy to make sure that We, the People are restored to the pedestal of sovereign masters of the country’s destiny?

The answer to that will depend upon how we interpret their strategy. Remember, theirs were the days when print media, manual telephones and snail mail were the only means of dissemination of an idea or information. So, they had to resort to mass mobilization, since the political dispensation was impressed only by numbers and decibels, and democracy, as it was practised then, was all about numbers.

But today, knowledge and communications revolutions combined with the miracles of technology have placed at the disposal of humankind means and mechanisms making possible flow and exchange of new ideas and best practices at the speed of thought. Internet and social media have become universal in scope, scale, range and reach. Actually, as you all know, social media and information technology-enabled services were the mainspring of the Arab Spring itself. Theoretically, therefore, one can argue that with such powerful instruments at hand, Gandhi and King, if they were alive today, would not have had to bank upon spectacular Marches, but only the click of the mouse, to make the world of their dreams a reality.

But the paradox is that while the velocity, volume, variety and versatility of human exchanges and transactions have leapt to astronomical heights, they have made life unmanageably hectic for the individual citizen, householder or student. There are simply too many distractions with the result he or she has little time or inclination to devote whole-heartedly to the propagation or promotion of causes. One doubts whether it would be possible to enlist and sustain people’s participation in such large numbers as in the case of the Salt March of Gandhi or the Washington March of King.

Further, Gandhi and King were, in their time, focusing on specific goals and causes: Freedom from alien rule in the case of Gandhi, and equal rights for Blacks in the case of King. But today, the daunting challenge before them is to launch a wholesale societal revolution which will transform every average citizen into a good citizen. This will involve making every citizen shed his apathy and non-involvement in social concerns and his tendency to look the other way and take the path of least resistance. It will also involve impressing upon him that evil flourishes in the world not because of evil-doers but because good people do nothing about it, which is tantamount to conniving at it.

The more piquant question is the one that pertains to the scourge of the times: Terrorism. What would have been Gandhi’s and King’s answer to it? In the times in which they lived, terrorism hadn’t assumed today’s monstrous proportions. There have, of course, been assassinations of prominent persons in history, and terrorism by fighters for a country’s independence against colonial rulers, by racist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan or by the Irish Republican Army, but the world hasn’t so far been witness to a phenomenon as malevolent, ruthless, ferocious and barbaric as jihadi terrorism.

However, the lives of Gandhi and King hold a vitally important lesson: That the power of one is immense. Walking all alone into the inferno of Hindu-Muslim riots marking the birth of independent India and laying his own life on the line, Gandhi brought both communities to their senses. Emulating him, the famous actor Sunil Dutt showed how even a single individual could make a difference, if he was courageous enough. He paved the way for an end to Khalistan terrorism by going on a padayatra of love, peace, harmony and goodwill in Punjab.

Is it too far-fetched to fancy Gandhi, bare foot and staff in hand, and Martin Luther King with rosary in his hand and prayer in his heart, undertaking a pilgrimage of peace to the strongholds of the likes of Talibans, ISIS and Boka Haram to win them over to the side of humanity?

The choice of Women’s Christian College as the venue of today’s talk cannot be termed an accident. For, I firmly believe that in today’s context, it is the women who should take charge as change-agents and game changers. Remember, it was Rosa Parks, a woman, who became “the first lady of civil rights” and “the mother of the freedom movement” in USA. Women rose to great heights in fighting for women’s suffrage. India’s own freedom struggle saw thousands of women braving British lathis and bullets and filling jails. WCC’s mission — to provide a complete, meaningful and relevant education to women so that they are intellectually well-trained, morally upright, socially aware and spiritually inspired – is just the recipe for the kind of societal transformation that Gandhi and King would wish for.

I ask you, each one of the young persons in the audience, as not only the custodians, but the sculptors, of the country’s future, to come forward and don the mantle of the Mahatma and Martin Luther King. Do not just be cursing darkness. Light a little candle. Indeed, become those little candles yourselves. Convert today’s challenges into tomorrow’s opportunities. Let your motto be: To strive, to seek, to find and not to yield!

Let me end with the rousing lines of Lord Tennyson in his In Memoriam:
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.
Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.
Ring out old shapes of foul disease;
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.