Friday, October 31, 2008

Appreciating JN

Appreciating JN

In childhood, I was lead by teachers and peers to venerate Jawaharlal Nehru. Then, on growing up, I found lot of criticism heaped on Nehru by people around me. They abused him squarely. Adolescence appreciates such fiery criticisms and for some time, I went along with these opposite views as well. Now, when I can discern and choose my views with a bit more equilibrated mind-set, and poise, I think it was Nehru who was the need of the newly Independent India; may be even more than Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, or, Atal Behari Vajpayee. Reasoning is simple, but to begin, as a Prime Minister what kind of India had he inherited, India that historically had never been, politically, a single nation.

To list the sufferings of the newborn India:

1] Illiteracy
2] Superbly superstitious [irrational] India
3] Casteist India
4] Princedoms, where most were egoistic, insignificant, even the Don
Quixote like caricatures
5] Partitioned India with more than half the nation bleeding emotionally,
mentally, physically and economically
6] Enemies gnawing at the borders
7] Almost the entire nation below the poverty line
8] Close to zero industrialization
9] Utter social backwardness in the whole country
10] More religious shrines than medical clinics
11] A country with all sorts of diseases and social evils
12] Floods and draughts both destroying the country at the same time

From 1947 to 2008, just 61 years, but the list looks nightmarish even to imagine. Is this a description of a Somalia or an Ethiopia or some other draught stricken factionalized country, which abound in Africa? No, Sir, this is India, that was! (Grateful for the past tense! Aren’t we all?) It is about our land, us, who are trying to put a man on Moon just 61 years later! Imagine any other leader in Nehru's place and try to evaluate without rhetoric. If, one does not give credence to Nehru, whatever is due, it would be another classic example of history misjudged.

In the above list, illiteracy, princedoms, poverty lines, lack of industrialization, medical facilities are some of the ills strong administration could take care of. Many Indian leaders, both past and present could easily better Jawaharlal Nehru’s administrative qualities. Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel did just that. Nevertheless, he would not have been a right choice for the Prime Minister’s office. National troubles and tribulations firmly rooted in centuries old concepts call for a bird’s eye view of the country’s past, tempered with a sense of justice and a certain visionary approach based on evolution of the world thought. Many of these ills have yet remained deeply ensconced in Indian ethos. To name a few, caste and religious divides, parochialism, language issues, north versus south, and the wounds of the Partition spurring Hindus and Muslims to draw blood at the sight of each other! Could an aggressive Hindu or even a moderate Brahmin lead India of those turbulent times? Ironically, Nehru happened to belong to the highest class of Brahmins, but still, did not believe in the Indian heritage of cast-based society! In Nehru’s choice for the Prime Minister-ship of India unfolding of the events seem harmonious as his ancestors came from Kashmir, the permanent sizzler in Indo-Pak relations.

The choice of Nehru to lead India did not spring from emotional deliberations, but from what he stood for. In a country factionalized on the bases of regions, religions and its subdivisions, a rationalist such as him was the need of the hour. He was a visionary, who could rise above the centuries old stagnant concepts that soaked the wings of Indian psyche. *[The rarity in his vision for India was ‘inclusivity’ in his approach rather than excluding any caste, class or sector. This approach still pays dividends since only in states ruled with the philosophy of one part more equal than the rest (such as Gujarath, Rajasthan, Karnataka, Orisa and Madhya Pradesh) are having tumultuous governance]* He knew future of India lied in overhauling her perspicacity keeping in tune with raw pragmatism. He recognized that to be vibrant and progressive, the power of the proletariat pluralism has to replace the Indian culture based on feudalism.

In his exuberance to lead India on an uncharted path of an idealistic nation, Nehru committed his fatal error. He had also believed in nonviolence and a centrist path in a world divided between communism and capitalism. His folly resulted in the Chinese aggression of 1962, probably hastening his death in 1964.

However, an error remains an error, just that, in spite of the cost. That should not be the only factor while judging a person who walked tight ropes in guiding the nation over abysmal valleys in a country who has buried its head in several millennia old customs and concepts. Kargill war was a folly, too, of an avoidable complacency. Luckily, it did not turn ghastly as much as the Himalayan blunder did.

Arguably, Nehru might not suit the bill in 2008, but in 1947, Jawaharlal Nehru was the only solution to the jigsaw puzzle of problems that India was and he gave a meaning to its futuristic existence. None else could have!

* The bracketed words in red fonts did not appear in the published article
Published in the daily ‘Herald’, Goa, of 15 August 2008


Kalidas Sawkar

11 Singbal Bldg. Tonca, Caranzalem. Goa- 403002

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Indian agoraphobia, knowledge restrictions and the Internet

Indian agoraphobia, knowledge restrictions and the Internet

Over some centuries (20?), Indians have grown into a conservative society. We have a maze of negativity skilfully structured in us over millennia. Adversely, following a consistently conformist behaviour paints anxiety and depression as a background on the social canvas. As Indians, we never knew openness, always shrouded ourselves in secrecy holding ourselves back in life. Our teachings and knowledge about anything was never made public. The knowledgeable chanted in Sanskrit, a language only chosen few were allowed to learn. Information or skill was always a family heirloom passed from a father to a son, or taught to a select few. Lack of proper documentation was favoured so that truth remained hidden. One was never encouraged to think independently, attempt anything new. We dwelt in feudality.

An extreme agoraphobic negativity India practiced and the vestigial derivatives of which still linger in our national psyche was the ban on crossing the seas. Possibly the last Indians who crossed the borders and the seas to trade, or to spread religion were around King Ashoka’s period. Later, when the European pirates, commercial seafarers and empire builders were looting India, the Indian religion had drawn a Laxman Rekha around its borders. During this period, there is no record of Indians crossing the seas to interact, explore and know rest of the world, no agricultural products and innovations imported from abroad, no art, science or cultural exchange. No, nothing! We were cooped up like chicken in the prison of our own making. We still fail to acknowledge the immense harm done to our nation by this imposition. We glorify India chanting ‘India is the Best’ tune, but, irrespective of other facets of societal evolution, the almost total blackout in arts and science really did India in. The German nation has gone through holocaust in mid forties, Japan was virtually scorched in nuclear fire, but these nations have stopped cribbing over it. They look forward to the ‘New Age’. However, to Indians the partition, which took at around the same time, still haunts. We still continue to embrace perceptions and consequences of the partition and of past Muslim invasions. These have now been rusting in the passages of time and, yes, the Internet is helping much in this.

Late Mr. Raja Mangalvedhekar, a Marathi litterateur, defined generation by events and not on time scales, as is the tradition. His reasoning is that in the old times news of any event happening in the world would take around 30 years to spread all over. Today, he wrote in one of his stories, it takes a matter of seconds for the Global village to know about virtually anything. This news may bring about changes in your circumstances, personality and approach to life. In 2008, multitudes of new generations a la Mr. Mangalvedhekar are on the voting list of India but its socio-political leaders have buried their heads in the sands of time. They accept new technologies only to further their medieval ideas. These appear to be successors of the same cult that burned its women alive simply because the husband happened to have died. Don’t they still continue to do the same?

Another telling example: Have a look at Hindu temples in India. The sanctum sanctorums in these have always been so small! The mighty temple builders never realized they have shrunk Gods. You have to struggle to see the deity even if you are a believer. But, we philosophise ad infinitum. We look at things either through microscopes or telescopes. Normal practical range has always eluded us. Our farmers look up to the rain clouds but ignore to conserve the rain water or irrigate their farms. We refuse to see the truth in front, as it is, but worry about the illusiveness of truth! Ironically practicality of truth itself has been eluding us.

We have become paranoid.

A ray of hope was kindled around the turn of the last century. There were leaders with social messages and an overall ‘Indian’ outlook. Mahatma Gandhi even had global outlook. Today, I search around just to know one social leader whose influence transcends boundaries of the state, caste and religion. But the species seems to have become extinct after the Independence. This is the real tragedy in modern India. Fortunately, possibly, things could be changing!

Now, the only social leaders are not humans but Internet and media. It is through Internet that I learnt about how the Stupas built by Buddhist and Jain monks were obliterated or changed into something else by Hindu kings. How, loot and plunder and not religious dominion was the main aim of many of the Muslim invaders. It was also Internet, which told me that Indian Jain monks and mathematicians had inspired a series of numbers known worldwide as ‘Fibonacci Series’. Without a free Internet this might not have become possible. Through it, knowledge in fields such as medicine, science, art, environment, and history is open to its seekers for their ‘enlightenment’. And yes, religion, too!

But, ex-President Dr. APJ Kalam wanted to regulate Internet and Google, just as China does. When, in around 1995, even before Google was born, an annual calendar published in France could carry 1.0 x 0.75 meters photograph of Delhi airport depicting the number and type of aeroplanes parked on the tarmac, from whom to hide knowledge, that too, in this age of openness?

Old habits really die hard.

Kalidas Sawkar

11, Singbal Bld. Tonca, Caranzalem, Goa