Monthly Archives: JANUARY 2017
Game of Manifestos: Election is coming
These days, end of season sale is everywhere but one can find the promises of distributing more "free” items in the manifestos of the three major parties, released last week contesting in the coming Punjab elections. While on 4th February, people of Punjab will cast their votes, unequivocally, this time competition in Punjab is triangular i.e. between three major parties. The new bully in the town, AAP is a formidable force and definitely making Congress and Akali Dal clench their teeth in nervousness.
AAP’s manifesto focuses highly on the issue of drug menace in Punjab and several ways to curb it like providing government jobs to recovering addicts, de-addiction centers and life imprisonment for convicted drug dealers. But, the two major highlights of AAP’s manifesto which actually catch public’s attention are distribution of free laptops to children ahead of their board exams and establishing multiple canteens throughout the state which will provide subsidized meals at a cost of 5 rupees. The idea of setting such subsidized canteens is not a new creation whereas it was first executed by former chief minister of Tamil Nadu, J.Jayalalitha.
This time, the trump card of Congress is ‘Har Ghar me Captain’ or ‘Ghar Ghar Rozgar’ of which we are constantly reminded through radios and our phones. Under this scheme, Congress promises to provide at least one job in each family.
But, it is actually the claim made by Akali Dal in their manifesto which will appear ludicrous to most of the people.
Akali Dal promises to buy one lakh acre of land in Canada and other countries. Justifying the scheme, the manifesto says: "This will help farmers in pursuing agriculture in economic farms. This will also endure Punjabis to secure permanent residency status in these countries.” With several other promises, the party has also promised free two wheelers, in lieu of cycles, to all girl students from class 12 up to graduation.
After going through the manifestos of all the three parties, there are two questions which need our attention. Does the credulous public of Punjab really need so many promises of distributing free items? Can Punjab really afford these promises? People of Punjab which is acknowledged as ‘the food bowl of India’ have never shied away from working. It would have been much more pleasurable had all the three parties come up with some real constructive policies to get Punjab out of the clenches of severe debts. Reports indicate that Punjab’s debt has more than doubled under the SAD-BJP rule with the figure touching nearly Rs. 1, 17,353 crore in 2015 from the Rs 51,153 crore in 2007.
Today, everything is smart around us from our mobile phones to televisions then why not we also become smart voters this election season and choose our leaders carefully. The least we can do for our Punjab is that we, definitely, vote.
Why India's bull-taming protest may not be just about bulls
21.01.17 - Soutik Biswas*
India, wrote author VS Naipaul, is a country of a million little mutinies, reeling with rage and revolt.
One such is now brewing in southern Tamil Nadu state, where people have been protesting against a ban on a traditional bull-taming contest, known as jallikattu. They say the ban is an attack on their culture and identity.
Thousands of largely peaceful men and women - mostly students and workers - have been holding an unprecedented beachside protest in the capital, Chennai, since Tuesday. They have been sharing food and water, sleeping in the open, and cleaning up the beach in the morning. Until now, it has been a remarkable exhibition of responsible public dissent, largely free of invective and incendiary rhetoric, which usually mark protests like these.
Outside the capital, people have demonstrated at more than 150 places. There's no let up in the momentum as the local government struggles to resolve the crisis: more than a million people are estimated to have protested across Tamil Nadu on Friday. Public transport has been affected; schools, colleges and businesses are shut. Oscar-winning music composer and Tamil Nadu's most well-known celebrity, AR Rahman, has tweeted that he's fasting in support. Cricket and movie stars have backed the movement. An overexcited newspaper report has even called it India's Arab Spring.
That may well be an exaggeration. But there is little doubt, as a journalist who is covering the protest says, that what began as small protests against the arrest of 200 young men opposing the ban last week has now snowballed into a "mass movement, leaderless and largely peaceful".
Thousands of sturdy, young men chase bulls - mostly owned by the temples - for prizes during jallikattu held during the harvest festival of Pongal in January. The animals are released from pens, with men supposed to hold on to the animal's hump for about 15-20 metres or three jumps of the bull to win the prize.
Animal rights activists, who support the ban, say the sport is cruel to animals. Nonsense, say the bull owners and supporters: the sport is a 2,000-year-old tradition and a way of life with people in large swathes of Tamil Nadu. They say the animals are, by and large, well looked after.
Opinions diverge greatly on the subject. Federal minister Maneka Gandhi has called the festival a day of "violence and killing" where "boys jump on each one (bulls) and try to tear its horns off". She wrote: "Everyone in India looks down upon it - as civilised people should."
Her comments have attracted a lot of flak. Shyam Krishnakumar, a research associate with Vision India Foundation, says: "This statement typifies a cosmopolitan elitism that considers itself to be modern and progressive and rural India to be backward and barbaric, in need of being saved. There is little effort taken to understand and sincerely engage with their lives and worldviews, there is merely the civilising mission to be force-fed to everyone, for their own good of course."
'Bull by the horns'
Activists and bull owners have fought in the courts over the fate of the sport for more than a decade. In 2014, the Supreme Court banned it - and last year upheld the ban after a fresh challenge.
But the January protests - "taking the bull by the horns", as my favourite headline says - is unrivalled in recent memory.
They have been spontaneous and not led by any political party. They have cut across Tamil Nadu's often fractious caste and class lines. Participants include students, info-tech professionals, factory workers, farmers, anti-nuclear activists, and many other ordinary folk.
And the protests are no longer just about bulls. There are people angry with the recent currency ban and the shortage of cash and the controversial judicial order making it compulsory to play the national anthem in theatres and for audiences to stand when it is being played. There are people who have protested against a nuclear plant in the state and against GM crops. There are irate drought-hit farmers who feel they are being deprived of their share of water from a river that their state shares with neighbouring Karnataka.
They share, say many, deeper anxieties about what they feel are assaults on local traditions and cultures by the federal government, judiciary and elites in Delhi. Many of them say they are resisting attempts at "homogenising" India by federal fiats. The protests, many say, represent an inchoate movement, almost like a harbinger of things to come.
"Jallikattu is just a trigger. This huge protest is a manifestation of the trust deficit between Tamil people and the federal government and the judiciary," says historian AR Venkatachalapathy. "They even distrust the media in Delhi which portrays Tamils as some exotic people with weird customs. Many don't trust Prime Minister Narendra Modi's BJP government's muscular nationalism and recent moves like the currency ban."
Like most uprisings, this is also likely to fizzle out as the authorities try to placate the protesters by bringing in temporary laws to allow the festival this year. But the protests mirror modern-day fears about globalisation and anxieties about loss of identity, living, and culture - and authorities who don't care.
Guru Gobind Singh: "Jin Prem Kiyo, tin hi Prabh Paayo”
05.01.17 - Harcharan Bains
Seldom in the history of mankind has the ideal of a fusion between the temporal and the spiritual been achieved with such seamless ease as it does in the Sikh Gurus. Since the times of Guru Nanak Dev ji, one can see a remarkable emphasis on combining the spiritual pursuits with the need to wed these pursuits to the physical reality around the seeker of truth. In fact, the very rationale of Sikh philosophy springs from an opposition to the manner in which the spiritual aspect of life was sought to be divorced from one’s obligations to the compulsions of hard social reality. Thus, Guru Nanak Dev ji gave a call to mankind not cease the search for spiritual through wanderings in wild forests or deserts or faraway hills.
By the time, the sixth Master, Guru Hargobind ji arrived on the spiritual and moral landscape of the country, India had already sunken into moral decay of the rulers which was visible even in the times of Guru Nanak Dev, tough to a somewhat lesser extent. The sixth guru virtually announced the fusion between the spiritual and the real world by declaring that he would wear two swords – one symbolizing each reality: the spiritual and temporal. He also heralded two separate flags – Nishan Sahibs –one each for the spiritual and the temporal. The institution of Sri Akal Takhat Sahib as the highest seat of spiritual and temporal reality symbolizes the climax of this new line of thought introduced by the Sikh Gurus.
It is this fusion which was the underlying force behind the extraordinary life and philosophy of the Tenth Master, Sahib-e-Kamaal Guru Gobind Singh ji. Since his childhood, he emphasized the need for a defiant response to the temporal reality around the seekers of higher truth. He actually took this philosophy to its logical climax by founding an order committed to upholding righteousness in the temporal world while pursuing a union with the ultimate. The Gurbani of the Tenth Master is replete with references to the need for such a fusion. In fact, the Tenth Master emerges on human landscape as the first and perhaps the only messiah whose life itself symbolizes this fusion. Therefore, quite rightly, he is the only messiah in world history who is addressed as a Sant Sipahi – Saint Soldier.
Guru Gobind Singh’s life and his extremely imposing and endearing persona makes him into a cult figure unlike any other in world history. Not surprisingly, there is a romance around the story of his life which exalts him to the level of India’s and perhaps the world’s only spiritual superstar. His mystique of his persona is built around his appeal to the human mind of the magnetic pull of the twin virtues of the temporal and the spiritual hero. He bestrides across history’s
landscape as a valiant champion of the downtrodden, a martial hero willing to take on the mightiest of the mighty in the defense of the poor on the one hand and a devout pursuer of the spiritually awakened soul and a mind-liberating saint.
The Guru is a heroic figure but not one who seeks out wars. In fact, he reveals an extremely sensitive and compassionate soul, the heart of a poet with the vision of a prophet. This combined with a rare humility before his followers creates an image on the history’s screen of a figure who is a rare combination of extreme humility, bordering almost on poetic shyness on the one hand and crusading martial champion willing and ready to challenge the forces of tyranny and injustice with the might of arms on the other. Quite naturally, his anthem – "deh shiva var mohe ehai " – is a song composed on a symphony of notes ranging from a heart full of love and compassion, a resolve firm as steel, a vision clear as sunshine and a heart that beats for the weak, the downtrodden and the defenseless. In fact, he founded the Khalsa chiefly as a temporal response to a temporal challenge. It was a challenge which the Guru chose to accept on behalf of the downtrodden and the defenseless who were reeling under the brutal tyranny of rulers of the times.
But having founded the Khalsa as a martial force, the Guru proceeded to invoke divine benedictions to enlarge the vision and the scope of the Khalsa raison d’etre.
The day of the founding of the Khalsa at Sri Anandpur Sahib was marked by a spectacle of rare sublimity. In the first and the only instance in history, the Guru placed himself before his followers and declared them his Guru and himself as their followers. This was a rare and inspirational spectacle which created the yet unheard-of concept of "Aape Gur Chela” – Guru Gobind Singh becoming a Guru and a follower at the same time. By doing this, the Guru in fact was stating in spiritual symbolism his commitment to an ideal which was take centuries to emerge as an active force in human history: the ideal of the democratic principle in which the leader is not so much a ruler as a servant of the masses. But this was not the only dimension in which Guru Gobind Singh ji was figure far, far ahead of his times. Not many may have noticed that though Guru Gobind Singh ji was the founder of the Khalsa, he was not the first of the Khalsa force. In fact, he was the sixth. He first served Khandedhar Pahul (Amrit for baptism of iron, symbolizing an unswerving will) and then asked the Panj Pyare to baptize him as their follower. This was touching sight, one fit to bring tears to the eyes of the Gurus’ followers and lovers.
Guru Gobind Singh ji’s life, a tale marked by heroic tragedy par excellence and yet one which transcends its own tragedy through moral and spiritual redemption, has no parallels in world history. Here is young and singularly handsome figure of a spiritual and temporal leader sacrificing all he has, including his four children, and yet mounting the stage to announce that the entire Khalsa force was his children and he, their follower. It is impossible to imagine the depth of the pain which the Guru heroically defied to remain steadfast in his commitment to the ideals he had set before himself.
It is for these reasons that Guru Gobind Singh ji remains not only a revered figure but one whom his followers love with a passion bordering on romantic glorification, with all the positive connotations of the term romantic.
And he is the only renowned figure in world history whose story brings as much pathos to one’s mind as it enriches one’s resolve on the path of righteousness and enlarges one’s compassionate vision, a vision based purely on love.
How strange for heroic figure that he should have spent his whole life fighting bitter battles against tyranny and yet never to let go of the divine glow in his eye and to proclaim that not through war or bitterness but through love lies the path to God:
"Saach kahaun, sun le ho sabhe; Jin Prem Kiyo, tin hi prabh paayo”