Uttarakhand Pilgrims deserve a better deal

Uttarakhand has something for everyone – the tourist, nature lover and the pilgrim, whether one is a Hindu, Sikh or Buddhist. Over the past seventy years, the authorities have gone out of their way to present the region as the thrilling vacation hotspot with compelling landscapes, teeming wildlife, and adventure zones. The same diligence has not been shown to present its shrines, particularly Hindu shrines, as I noticed during my Char Dham yatra.

By all accounts, Uttarakhand is the abode of Gods. Hinduism’s most important pilgrimage centres are here amidst stunning snow-covered peaks and verdant valleys, and some of the holiest rivers — the Ganga, Bhagirathi, Alaknanda and the Yamuna. There is nothing more rewarding than a bath at Yamunotri and a dip at Gangotri.

Reaching Yamunotri is a nightmare even in these days when India is sending ISRO missions to the Moon and Mars. One has to trek for about five- six kilometres along a hill track.

Well, the trek has cement steps but walking on them is no pleasure. People can mount a horse or take a doli –a makeshift palanquin which is carried by four-five people.Both rides make you angry and scared in equal measure with devotion taking a backseat. Also while returning after worshipping Yamuna Maa with the Banderpoonch Mountain ranges in the background!

Well, man and beast (horses) share the same route, which is not wide. So does the incoming and outgoing traffic.

At several places, one runs the risk of hitting the roof literally since the hill side comes out jetting into the pilgrims’ path-way. The horses are said to be well looked after; nonetheless these animals deserve a visit from the likes of Maneka Gandhi, who are only worried about the welfare of stray dogs, and who stand in the way of testing medicines on animals.

SUN RISE AT BADRINATH

From what I have seen and experienced, the pilgrims too deserve a better deal. Taking shelter under the good old adage that God can be found only after a great effort is neither here nor there.

A rope way, like the one to Mansa Devi temple in Haridwar will elevate the spirits of an estimated five thousand people who undertake the arduous trek to Yamunotri every day during the pilgrimage season. Also at Kedarnath.

The government has planned a 3,833-metre ropeway some eight years ago to link the Yamunotri shrine with Jankichatti, the base camp, which is accessible by all-weather road. All clearances – environmental et al were secured by 2014. Yet the ropeway remains, as a local wag puts, PUC – paper under consideration.

I could spot a mobile tower near Yamunotri but did not find anyone speaking on a mobile phone. The standard refrain, not only here but also in most of Chardam Yatra route, is same – mobiles do not work. The situation is not much different in Kedarnath; it is better in Badrinath and Gangotri, though.

Even Uttarkashi, one of the most developed parts of Uttarakhand, makes you believe that you are in pre – mobile age. Only two service provides are active in the city and their phones come alive at their sweet will, as the receptionist at the hotel, where I stayed, told me. Early June (2018) the BJP-government announced plans to connect remote villages with Wi-Fi with balloon-based internet. Another Alnaskar dream in the making!

All this has not come in the way of satellite TV antenna becoming ubiquitous. Which again proves that where there is a will there is a way. And certainly, the will is lacking in Uttarakhand, even with the self-anointed Hindu champion, BJP in power, to make the pilgrims progress a pleasant one.

The demand, indeed the urgency, is for some material comfort – not for a gift like Surya Kund – the hot spring- God has gifted in the cold environs of Yamunotri.

The trek to Kedarnath on the bank of Mandakini River is also very demanding. Before 2013 floods, the situation was better since the route from Gaurikund to Rambara and to Kedarnath was a nicely built pavement with fences, shelters, shops and public conveniences.

The new route is longer (16-17km), and passes through Rambara Bridge and Linchauli. From 2016, two more trek routes have been opened. These are Chaumasi – Kham – Rambara – Kedarnath (18 kms), and Trijuginarayan – Kedarnath (15 kms).

A helicopter service is available to Kedarnath (also to Hemkund Saheb and Yamunotri base camp). Pawan Hans, Heritage, Pinnacle, and Himalayan Heli are among five-six companies that airlift pilgrims whenever the sky is clear. And charge extra from persons with extra kilos (80 kg plus) I found Heritage to be a friendly service with a smile.

MISSING MODI TOUCH

Frankly I did not find the much talked about Modi touch to the Kedarnath yatra though the local know-alls credit the cemented road to the shrine from the helipad and few shelters (that offer protection from wind and rain for a price) to the Prime Minister.

I was surprised not to find Modi photos, and Modi banners in abundance in the BJP – ruled state. It looks like a calibrated effort to insulate the Hindu Hrudaya Samrat from the wrath of pilgrims.

Yatra to Badrinath and Gangotri is, indeed, a pleasant experience.

The trip involves no trekking. And the vehicle takes you to heart of both places. Also to the cave where the sage Vyasa is believed to have scripted the epic Mahabharata. This place is a short distance from Badrinath, beyond Mana, the last village on the way to the border with China.

On the way to Badrinath is the Shakti Peeth, Dhari Devi, considered to be the guardian deity of the entire state of Uttarakhand. The temple priest attributes the 2013 floods in Uttarakhand to the then government’s plans to shift the deity from its abode to facilitate a project on Alaknanda at the very same place.

It is difficult to imagine how Adi Guru Shankaracharya had visited Kedarnath and Badrinath in the 7th Century. Equally impossible is to visualise how a priest daily visited Kedarnath to offer puja and then arrived at Badrinath to conduct regular worship?

My guide, Sanjay from Southern Travels, tells me that the present day priests do not undertake such missions. “Nobody knows what route the old priest took in the mountains?”

Char Dham Yatra, by tradition, begins from Yamunotri (altitude 3235M) in the west and heads eastward to Gangotri (altitude 3200M) and Kedarnath (altitude 3581 M). It terminates at Badrinath (altitude 3133M) where a bath in the Tapt Kund (hot water spring) is an experience with no parallels.

How God created a hot spring on the banks of Alaknanda that flows like a torrent inspiring fear and awe in equal measure is beyond an average mind. Even if one is a rationalist. It is for nothing faith has been dubbed as the opium of masses.

ZIG ZAG MOUNTAINS
As one drives through the zigzag mountainous paths that “remind us of the trajectories of life that are never straight,” a question begins to haunt you. And it is that why successive governments have not bothered to give a makeover to the Char Dham Yatra, which is undertaken mostly by people in their sixties, if not seventies.

China has been able to lay a rail link to Tibet from Beijing through what is no more than a snow desert. Russia is running a train service through Siberia. Not so rich Peru, Bolivia and Argentina are home to the highest (mountain) railways. Yet, we have done precious little to improve journey through our very own Uttarakhand hills taking shelter under the plea that it is a landslide prone belt.

Funnily, this alibi has not stood in the way of the thirst for hydel power. It is turning the hill state into multiple Koyanas (Koyana dam on the Krishna has made the Deccan more prone to earthquakes).

Debris from hydro projects, and road projects is being dumped near the rivers, impeding their flow and causing damage to environment that has witnessed several natural disasters over the last three decades. Mercifully the High Court has just ordered a stay on construction of all hydro-power plants in the state

GAS CHAMBER

More alarmingly the hill state is fast becoming a gas chamber of sorts. Registered commercial cars and jeeps are already more than 10,000. The number of buses – state owned, is put at 1000 plus (on 35 nationalized routes) while private buses are another 3000, if not more. In addition are the tourist buses loaded with pilgrims. Their number is also substantial. There is no thought whether the Uttarakhand roads can take so much load.

Police are seen checking driver’s’ licenses at several places; no such concern is visible to check the diesel fumes the vehicles are spewing. Helmet wearing is a habit that is still to catch up with the youth of the region. In Deva Bhoomi such mundane concerns are not for the man, probably!

Now to the question that rankles one on a visit to Uttarakhand. Why this neglect of treasures of Deva Bhoomi?

As diplomat- politician, Pawan Verma, in his engrossing magnum opus on Adi Shankaracharya, says, “Most Hindus, while practicing their faith in their own way, are often largely uniformed about the remarkable philosophical foundations of their religion. If Hindus are adrift from the deep philosophical moorings of the religion they practice, they are deliberately choosing the shell for the great treasure that lives within. When religions are largely reduced to rituals, there is always the danger that form will become more important than the substance.”

This, like the great neglect of Deva Bhoomi, is a great disservice to Hinduism itself!


The author and his wife Vani at Uttarkashi

(* The author is a Delhi based senior journalist and commentator. A version of this article has appeared in the July 2018 issue of Power Politics, a leading English monthly)
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The killing of Lt. Ummer Fayaz

By ASHOK HANDOO*

May 10, 2017 will go down in the history of Jammu and Kashmir as yet another dark day. On this day terrorists kidnapped and killed a 22- year- old Lt. Ummer Fayaz Parrey when he had come to Kulgam in Shopian district to attend the marriage of his cousin. Fayaz was commissioned into the Rajputana Rifles of the India army recently and was posted at Akhnoor in Jammu.

Intelligence agencies believe that a group of six-terrorists belonging to the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), and Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) are responsible for his killing. The terrorists have been identified and a hunt has been launched in the entire Shopian district to nab them. Their sketches have also been released to facilitate their arrest.

The killing of Ummer Fayaz has given rise to many questions. Why has this particular killing caused so much of rage in the entire country when many, more senior officers, get killed by the terrorists so often? Was he killed because he was an officer of the Indian Army and the terrorists are routinely targeting the army men in the valley? Or was he killed because a Muslim of Kashmir joined the Army which went against the ideology of the terrorists who preach secession or the establishment of an Islamic state?

To the first question the answer is simple. The country feels enraged at the killing of any army jawan and the officers by the terrorists in the valley. But this time this anger is more palpable because of the manner in which this young officer was killed. He was not on a military mission and had nothing to do with anti- terrorist activities in the valley. He had come to attend a social function- a wedding that too – taking leave from his official duties for the first time long months after joining the military service.

It is quite possible that Ummer Fayaz was targeted because the terrorists wanted to send a signal to the youth of Kashmir not to join the Indian Armed Forces. If that was the intention it may not be served. That is because thousands of young Kashmiris throng the recruitment rallies of the Indian Army in every district of the valley whenever these are held and only the most suitable are taken in. There, of course, may be a temporary impact on this out of fear but the youth of Kashmir have withstood earlier threats by terrorists in this regard and will continue to do so. The latest recruitment drive for 300 posts has seen hundreds stand in line.

More alarming, of course, is the deafening silence by the intelligentsia of the valley on the issue. While the newspapers in Kashmir reported prominently the killing of the army officer, no newspaper wrote an editorial or published an opinion piece. The purpose obviously was to avoid any comment on the issue.

If anything a National Conference MLA Abdul Majeed Bhat refused to even admit that the killing was done by the terrorists. His party president and former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah firmly distanced himself from Bhat and said he should not have made such a statement.

The people of Kashmir seem to have been caught in a dilemma. If they condemn the killing they would attract the wrath of the terrorists and if they support it, that would be inhuman more so when a son of the soil was involved. To an extent this is a genuine problem but the bigger question is how long can the people of the valley remain silent when something blatantly wrong takes place? Will the valley continue to suffer the way it has been for the last three decades? Do they feel that they are well protected when they rise against the Indian state in any shape or form because of the image New Delhi has created for itself in the valley? As against this do they think that even a word against terrorists would prove costly for them. If that is the case is it time for New Delhi to take positive steps to change this mindset?

Government of India has been liberal in many ways as far as Jammu and Kashmir is concerned. But there have been mistakes too. Otherwise, why should the people who fought against armed Pakistani raiders in 1947 with sticks or even bare hands, rise against the Indian state? How can we forget the sacrifices of Shaheed Sherwani, Master Abdul Aziz and scores of others who laid down their lives in 1947 but did not allow Pakistani raiders to reach Srinagar city until the Indian Army arrived to fight back the raiders. As late as 1965 when Pakistan made its first bid to infiltrate terrorists into the Valley, Kashmiri people promptly informed the security agencies and got them arrested.

There must be an honest introspection and mistakes identified and corrected in time. There are certain things which the Indian government has to admit as far as Jammu and Kashmir is concerned. At the same time the people of Kashmir must realize that by supporting the path adopted by the terrorists in any form which includes remaining silent on their misdeeds, leads only to destruction. No sane person would advise anybody to follow such a path.

It is a tragedy that the heaven on earth has been converted into a killing ground. This must stop in the interest of every stakeholder, more so the people of Kashmir. No politics need be played on this issue. But can that happen the way our political parties behave? That is a billion dollar question and contains the seeds of the answer to how to deal with the Kashmir problem.

(* The writer is a former special correspondent of All India Radio)

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Meherabad Moments

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Alliance of Subversion Indeed!

by Atul Cowshish

Arun Jaitley, finance minister and a former Delhi University Students’ Union president, told a gathering in London that India was witnessing an ‘alliance of subversion’ on the campuses. That he spoke these words on foreign soil does not look inappropriate when his boss, the prime minister, set the precedent in his first year in office by running down his political detractors in the course of his frequent jaunts.

Jaitley was clearly referring to the country-wide tide of student wrath against the government of which he is a very important part; some say he is an intellectual giant in the Modi cabinet. The remark by Jaitley drew some mild criticism, as you would expect in view of his position (finance minister) and alleged proximity to the fourth estate when most of his colleagues and the prime minister have Donald Trump-like views on the media.

Whatever the reason for the reluctance to question his views, Jaitley has to be asked what precisely he meant by the ‘alliance of subversion’. Presumably he thinks that the alleged alliance has been formed by the ‘Left and secular’ political outfits and their offshoots on the campuses. But what is the ‘subversion’ he is talking about?

Many of his party leaders, including ministers, and those who subscribe to the views held by the Sangh Parivar to which the BJP belongs, have spoken strongly—sometimes in questionable language—against the current wave of growing student unrest which is directed against both the BJP-led government. Is this the ‘subversion’ Jaitley is talking about?

Of course, he could also be worrying about the danger to country’s sovereignty and integrity that according to his government has come under serious threat because of some slogans shouted by ‘anti-national’ students who have been accused of ‘sedition’.

As a former student leader Jaitley must know that governments may find the statements and slogans raised by student leaders who are critical of the government because of ‘ideological’ reasons ‘subversive’. The finance minister is hailed as one of the ‘heroes’ of the Emergency (1975-77) when he was jailed by the Indira Gandhi government because the activities he supported or participated in were considered ‘subversive’ by the rulers of the day.

All the forces that were arrayed against the Indira Gandhi government were supposed to be part of ‘subversive’ activities. But others, many who had no political affiliations or inclinations, thought it was height of arrogance and misuse of power to talk of ‘subversion’ when it was the freedom and democratic values of the country that were under threat from the government.

Despite strict censorship it was not difficult to gauge that there was an overwhelming support for those who were opposing the government even if they were suspected ‘subversive’ elements. The public mood was so charged over the trampling of democracy and freedom that even some who were indulging in what by common definition would appear to be indulging in ‘subversive’ activities –bomb blasts on railway tracks and preparing ‘bombs’—enjoyed silent public sympathy, if not downright support.

One of the figures prominently mentioned in connection with ‘bomb’ making and sabotaging railway tracks was George Fernandes who had no hesitation in defending the violent means to dislodge the government. By Mr Jaitley’s presumed definition, Fernandes, bed-ridden and in poor health, the Indira Gandhi government was right in bestowing the title of ‘subversion’ on the maverick Socialist politician. But, of course, Fernandes has long been admired by the geriatric ‘Marg Darshaks’ of the BJP and even the ‘younger’ lot like Narendra Modi would not brook any derogatory reference to him.

Only Jaitely or his government can tell us if the present lot of ‘subversive’ elements is repeating the ‘dynamite’ tactics of the 1970s. But as far as public knowledge goes, the acts of ‘subversion’ are largely confined to raising ‘anti-national’ slogans by students.

In the opinion of the law and academia, raising slogans, even the ‘anti-national’ ones, do not amount to an act of ‘subversion’, much less ‘sedition’. It is interesting that just after Jaitley’s ‘subversion’ charge the case of ‘sedition’ against the JNU student leader Kanahiya Kumar had fallen. The prosecution could find no evidence to support the charge.

The government may pursue the case against Kumar but it has already demonstrated and proved that it does not believe in dissent. It has also warned dissenters to be ready to face its might, on the field, in courts and, above all, from its army in the social media.

A 20-year-old student of Lady Shri Ram College, Gurmehar Kaur, became the focus of the combined ire of the ABVP, BJP, RSS and hordes of ‘patriots’, ranging from cricketers, wrestlers and film stars. All because she had opposed violence reportedly let loose by the ABVP, the student wing of the RSS, on the Delhi University campus. Scores of students, teachers and even journalists were beaten and injured because they did not fall in line with the ABVP views on the undesirability of a JNU student participant at a seminar in a college on the campus.

The PhD student from JNU had done work on the tribals in Bastar which in the opinion of the Sangh academics might not have been a masterpiece but could not have been ‘subversive’—unless presenting the grievances of the tribal population is to be considered an act of ‘subversion’.

The point here is not the eligibility of the student, Omar Khalid, to attend a seminar in a college. Had it been an ‘established scholar’ there would have been a similar violent protest against his or her presence if the theme of the topic was going to be critical of the government. According to some, another factor that played against Khalid was his name. If true, that is more ‘subversive’ than anything else because discrimination based on religion if allowed unchecked will harm the country.

In speaking of ‘subversion’ or an ‘alliance’ working for it, Jaitley has in fact reinforced his reputation for taking unabashed U-turns. As a former student leader he certainly led many agitations against the government which, howsoever, justified in his view or those of neutral observers, would have certainly been seen as ‘subversive’ by the governments of the time. Would he concede that he has led ‘subversive’ movements in the past? Not at all! Why even ‘JP’ was accused of encouraging ‘subversion’ when he had given a call to the armed forces to disobey government orders. Should that charge stick to him? Hell, no!

BJP leaders like Jaitley would do well to ponder why more and more people are beginning to feel that their government is establishing itself as the most ‘intolerant’ government in the history of free-India. Comparing it with the Inira Gandhi government will not be right because the present government is much more dedicated to the idea of a one-party rule. Its ideology, as propounded by many ‘icons’ in the RSS family, has no place for dissent and divergent views.

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Pakistan, China continue to play double role on terrorism

By Ashok Handoo

Founder of LeT and the head of Jamat-ud Dawa and the mastermind of Mumbai attack Hafiz Sayeed has been put under house arrest for 90 days in Pakistan. He faced such arrests earlier also only to be released to carry on with his nefarious terrorist activities against India and other neighbouring countries. One wonders how long will he remain in house arrest this time. Interestingly, he has never faced a formal criminal prosecution and no FIR has been registered against him even now. More on it later.

China, which has a known anti-Islamist track record at home, has  blocked the way to designate another dreaded terrorist Masood Azhar – the head of Jaish-e-Mohammad and mastermind of attack on Indian Parliament and more recently on the Pathankot airbase -as a global terrorist. It voted against a joint proposal to this effect by the US, England and France at the UN General Assembly saying the “conditions” have not been met for taking such a step and there is no consensus on the issue. The proposal therefore continues to be on technical hold;r China vetoed an Indian proposal to this effect last year as well.

New Delhi has now lodged a formal protest with China and handed over a demarche to the Chinese Embassy over blocking the US proposal backed by UK and France. The argument put forward by China that there is no conclusive evidence of Masood Azhar’s involvement in Pathankot Airbase attack loses all its steam after the Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif admitted to such a role months ago. It may be recalled that Azahra’s outfit Jaish-e- Mohammad is a banned organization in Pakistan and the UN too has declared it as a global terror outfit. Why is then China blocking the way to designate its head Azhar Masood as a global terrorist which could lead to impose sanctions against him?

Having picked up lot many stakes in Pakistan particularly the $46 billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) Beijing is too keen to be on the side of Pakistan even at the cost of adopting a dual policy with regard to dealing with terrorism.

The house arrest of Hafiz Saeed has come about after the warnings and the action on ground by the US president Donald Trump against countries involved in terrorist activities. Though Pakistan has not yet been included in the list of 7 Muslim majority countries on which travel ban had been imposed, the US president has made it clear that the list could be extended to other countries, if they don’t fall in line to fight against terrorism sincerely.

Pakistan has given no reasons for putting Saeed under house arrest except saying that the action has been taken in “national interest”. The Punjab Home department notification said that both Jamat-ud-Dawa  (JuD) and his other outfit Falah-I Insaniyat Foundation (FIF)  are engaged in activities which could be prejudicial to peace and security and in violation of Pakistan’s obligations to UN Security Council resolution 1267 under which Hafiz Sayeed has been sanctioned. According to the notification the action has been taken under the anti- terrorism Act. Punjab’s Law minister Rana Sannaullh even contradicted Hafiz Sayeed’s Kashmir policy saying it is completely different from that of Nawaz Sharif government.

Islamabad is also facing pressure from the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an inter-governmental body formed by G-7 group in 1989 to overlook money laundering and terrorism financing. It has pointed out several shortcomings in Pakistan’s legislation and practices against money laundering and terrorism financing. The house arrest could be an attempt to claim action by Islamabad in its compliance report to the Task Force so that it remain on the white list and not slip into grey or negative zones.

But a week before his house arrest Hafiz Saeed had given enough indications about launching a new outfit Tehrik-e Azadi-e- Kashmir and his impending arrest which proves that he had already a wind of the action being taken against him and that he enjoyed the continued support of the army and the civil government.

True to his pattern, Hafiz Saeed changed the name of his organization yet again to Tehrik-e Azadi-e- Kashmir to circumvent any possible action against him and his outfits. When the LeT that he founded was declared an international terrorist organization, he changed its name to Jamaat-u Dawa and then to Falah-i-Insaniyat foundation (FIF).

But how long can Pakistan pull wool over the eyes of world community? It has been doing so for several decades, even while being an ally with the US in the fight against terrorism. Islamabad has to realize that enough is enough and it cannot hoodwink the international community anymore. India and the world community want concrete and credible action. Pakistan must therefore act before it is too late. (Syndicate Features)

 

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Using Violence to Silence Students

By Atul Cowshish

It is no secret that the Bharatiya Janata Party has not been finding it easy to change the character of Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi from being a ‘bastion’ of the Left to one of a Right-leaning ‘nationalist’ seat of learning. However, efforts in that direction seem to require less effort in the much older and larger Delhi University. JNU has been deemed ‘Left’ almost from its beginning over 40 years ago: its students as well as most of its teaching staff have been known to be ‘Left-leaning’ while the presence of the RSS-affiliated Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad has been strong in Delhi University for nearly the same length of time.

But while students union in Delhi University has been dominated by ABVP with a large base among students, its campus has not been bereft of Left and Liberal influence among both students and academics. In fact, the ABVP could never assume a cakewalk in students’ union polls in Delhi University in contrast to the fact at the JNU where RSS-affiliated student bodies have always struggled to snatch some posts from the Left-affiliated unions.

The ruling party has made no secret of its dislike for ‘Left’ dominance in institutes of higher learning in the country. Administratively, it launched a systematic programme to install men and women of its choice in all the major educational and research institutes, rejecting objections which were raised on the competence or qualifications of the persons chosen. This task was being executed with missionary zeal under Smiriti Irani who used controversies as her pick-me-up while serving as education minister with educational claims that the opposition demanded to be examined.

Led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his buddy from Gujarat Amit Shah as the president of the party, the BJP has clearly set the goal of cleaning university campuses and other institutes of higher learning of all vestiges of Left and Liberal influence. It is a move for a ‘radical’ change and as would be expected in such a case the beginnings have been made with plenty of violence.

Incidents of violence in JNU—and Hyderabad University earlier—have been echoing across the country for more than a year. Some other centers of education in different parts of the country also saw clashes and protests between the ‘Right’ and the ‘Left’. Now a college on the campus of Delhi University, Ramjas College, has experienced a nasty incident in which the ABVP members and sympathisers had allegedly attacked their ideological adversaries even as the police failed to avoid the ugly clashes in which a number of people—students, teachers and journalists—were injured. Inevitably, it led to a country-wide uproar which will not die down quickly.

The bone of contention appeared to be participation of a student from JNU at a seminar in the college. His views are dubbed ‘anti-national’ by the ruling dispensation and, hence, he is a persona non-grata. Obviously, the seminar would have heard a variety of views, both ‘national’ and ‘anti-national’. By using its muscle power to get the seminar cancelled or postponed, the ABVP sympathisers and members had underscored their proneness to intolerance.

But it can also be viewed as their inability to counter an opposite narrative with arguments and reason. That is a dangerous trend because using force to silence different and even disagreeable views ultimately harms the country.

The method chosen by the ruling party to transform the character of campuses in the country has attracted criticism because the change in outlook is designed to be injected through intimidation and force. The favoured ideology of exclusiveness has no room for dissent and critical thinking among the young and impressionable minds.

The BJP has overlooked the fact that it is difficult to expect the youth to conform to one view and ideology. ‘Student power’ has shaken many regimes in the world. One of the most famous instances in India was the ‘Nav Nirman’ movement that started from Gujarat and then to other places via Bihar and guidance of late Jayaprakashnarayan.

Young minds by nature tend to be rebellious and like to experiment with different ideas. The average Indian student, it is true, is rather docile compared to his or her western contemporary. But there are always a few among them who take on the mantle of being student ‘leaders’ following different strands of political beliefs and ideology. Often they are ‘guided’ by their mentors—be they politicians or academics.

Centres of higher learning including campuses in India have a history of dominance by what may be called Left and Liberal thinkers who have not been shy of expressing their opinions and influencing many of their young wards in colleges and campuses. They made their mark as ‘anti-establishment’ brigades which were no favourites of the pre-Modi regimes but were tolerated nevertheless.

The ‘Right’ thinkers have had comparatively little presence in the field of higher education even as student bodies affiliated to the RSS began to grow across the country. The BJP has always been uneasy at the ‘Left and Liberal’ influence on the college campuses because it was viewed by it as undermining Indian ‘culture’ and going against the grain of ‘patriotism’.

Now that Indians are being asked to wear their patriotism on their sleeves it is hardly surprising that the BJP and its affiliates are in a hurry to erase the ‘alien’ influences on the campuses so that their students emerge as blue-blooded ‘patriots’ who do not question the present government which is dedicated entirely to ‘nationalist’ causes, unlike all the previous ones.

The BJP has assumed that this goal can be achieved easily now that it has established itself as the undisputed ‘champion’ political party which is capable of vanquishing all rivals despite facing some ‘demonetised’ moments. The triumphant arrogance can prove harmful in a country of vast diversity and complexity like India.

Forcing ideologies and beliefs down the throats of hesitant populace can lead to more unrest in the country than it has seen so far. Howsoever much the BJP may deny it, a large section of the population in the country, notably the young Dalits and the Muslims, feel marginalised and discriminated against under its rule. The anger among the younger lot in these two communities has been amply visible in the last two and a half years.

When its energies should be devoted to narrowing its distance from the dissatisfied sections, it is unwise of the ruling party to demonstrate strong arm tactics to mould the country’s youth in one ideology. The BJP has to decide what is ‘right’ for the country and not for its expansion.

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Meher Baba at Delhi’s World Book Fair

ambspFor the first time, the World Book Fair in the Indian capital (Jan 7-15, 2017) has a stall devoted to Meher Baba and it is a big draw from Day One.  Sridhar Kelkar, chairman, Avatar Meher Baba Perpetual Public Charitable Trust, AMBPPCT, considers the response of the general visitors to the stall as a facet of Baba’s manifestation.

Set up by the Delhi Centre, the stall stuffed with books, photos and brochures, is tucked between the giant stalls of leading publishers who have come from all over the globe.

Here is a first hand account of a volunteer at the Stall

First day of the World Book Fair, 07 Jan 2017 was as exciting as any Baba enthusiast would imagine. Few got up too early, while some could not sleep the previous night. This was the first time that Delhi Baba Centre was participating in such a big platform like World Book Fair, where the footfall in nine days is expected to be over one million. Right from the word go in October 2016, despite opposition, albeit some minor, the project appeared to be on a trajectory of its own with the officials of National Book Trust, the host, cooperating more than what they usually do and Hyderabad, Pune and Mumbai Centers more than willing to send the Baba books on credit and making very special efforts to ensure that they reached us well on time. There was a Baba lover who had come to the Center two weeks back and he with his friend designed all the graphics. Each One was doing their bit with designing the stall, organizing the official requirements, packing the boxes, transporting them to the venue, arranging the change cash, getting the bill books printed, and all….  Baba was in the driver’s seat as usual and the caravan appeared to move with a steady speed of its own. We were just passengers.

The Stall was opened at 1015 with opening of the cloth shutter, which the organizers had told us to use. Our neighbors became friends the previous evening itself. The Big Picture of Baba was garlanded, TV was installed on the stand and the extra cartons were put aside and the stall was ready by 1035. Then Baba’s prayers were done with one very zealous lady shouting Avatar Meher Baba ki Jai forgetting that this was not Meherabad and that we were not at Amartithi. But these had their own impact on the nearby stalls. They thought we were a bunch of overly happy kind of people who had no other work.

While at 1100 official inauguration by a minister was taking place at the designated auditorium, we were busy planning how to engage onlookers, visitors and Book buyers. We decided that we would talk to everyone who would even pause at the stall. The first English and the first Hindi books were purchased by two among us and then we were ready. There was one guy who was looking for law books and our volunteer said, “Yes you have come to the right place, we have books on love”! He smiled and went off, but the glance of Baba’s picture did not go unnoticed. Many people were so impressed that we had a simple stall and we were not doing any propaganda and did not push anyone to buy.

One youngster came and said, “I had been praying to Baba to buy Baba books and that if only there was a Baba stall, knowing well that neither Baba stall would be available nor His books. The happiness on his face seeing the Baba stall was really touching. He bought books worth Rs 1100/- and he was himself a poet. There was an elderly gentleman and he too was amazed to see the stall and what he told us, amazed us all. He said that he had Baba’s darshan in 1965 and due to some fight with a Baba lover, who was a lady he did not go to Meherabad again. He had also visited the Baba center at Delhi three years back and he too was tremendously glad to see the Baba picture and the stall.

There was another lady who follows another Master but had heard about Meher Baba two weeks back and had wanted to buy few books on Baba. She too was engaged well by the volunteers and she too purchased books worth Rs 635/- on credit!

There was a Pranic healer who wished to buy Baba books because his preceptor had been extensively quoting Meher Baba. He took interest in Meher Baba Calling and was told, open any page Baba would give you a message and to his surprise he opened a page which touched him and his satisfaction could not go unnoticed. He too purchased few Baba books including MB calling!

A Dy Commissioner of Police, Delhi city, too visited the stall and his eyes were gleaming with a smile and then said that he too had visited Meherabad and was more than glad to see the Baba stall. His son who appeared reserved, said he would visit again and buy Baba books. The stall was to be closed by 7.50 PM and the last visitor was to be allowed inside only until 7 PM. This man who stopped along with his wife asked so many questions on spirituality and finally bought Discourses.  He seemed genuinely interested in God. The young couple was highly infused with enthusiasm on buying the books.

There were scores who were given Baba life sketch, Baba calendars, and pamphlets. To all the officials of National Book Trust Baba booklets were given. The effect of the stall is really far reaching. There were so many who knew Baba from YouTube, online library of the AMBPPC Trust and many through their friends or relatives.  There came an old man with a walking stick and said, “I wish I was also young. You all look so happy and cheerful and peaceful, which is really the grace of This Master of yours. You all are really blessed.” There was another old man who stood and watched Baba movie silently and told, “I see so much love coming from Him. Can I stand here watch in full”. He not only stood and watched the Baba movie which was being in loop continuously; he also took many free Baba pamphlets and Booklets in English and Hindi.

WORLD BOOK FAIR: DAY 2

Second day of the World Book Fair, 08 Jan 2017 began with the prayers again.. Those of us who reached early had to wait until the gates were open. Once let in at 1030, the stall was quickly opened and books arranged for sale.

Being a Sunday, the rush was more. One lady who was following another Guru came especially on coming to know about the stall from her friend, who had visited the stall the previous day. She was too excited to see the Baba stall and bought books worth Rs 4000/-.

There were many youngsters, college students, who came to ask about Him. One Engineer, who had graduated a year back, was interested in buying one book of Baba which could answer all questions. He was looking for a best seller type of a book which has a winning formula. He bought Discourses.

When the stall was about to close, a gentleman came who had seen the Baba booklet in Iranian Stall in the Foreign Section and he purchased two issues of Glow and a few Baba books. In the noon, there was this spiritual guru from Vrindavan who came with few disciples and said that he has internal connect with Baba. He would not touch money and he bought Mehera (in Hindi) and other Baba books. One youngster came and he handed over the phone to talk to his bro who is a Hindi Teacher and wanted Hindi books. He went off and came back in the evening and took three books in Hindi including Akhand Jyoti, Hindi translation of Discourses. Overall a satisfying day.

.WORLD BOOK FAIR: DAY 3

Day Three at the World Book Fair, 09 Jan 2017.  The team was more organized.The rush appeared to be less but there were enough inquisitive visitors to keep us busy.

The first visitor was a middle aged lady who saw the video of Meher Baba bathing the lepers and bowing to down to them (on You Tube) and believed that such a person has to be really divine. Her happiness knew no bounds when she saw the Meher Baba stall. She spent a lot of time and bought Meher Baba Calling. She was gifted a Meher Baba calendar.

There was another amazing encounter with a fresh B Tech Graduate, who had read God Speaks as many as 16 times. He had come to buy Discourses. He was so inquisitive that he had a 45 minute session of Q&A with one of the volunteerss and finally promised to visit Meherabad. Just before leaving he took out his mobile and showed Meher Baba’s picture as his screen saver!

There were many such visitors and one Sardarji, who was well settled in life came and gave his address and said that they are running a newspaper in Delhi and Maharashtra and would be glad to publish any Baba programs news like Amartithi. There were many more visitors who wanted God Speaks and other Books in Hindi. Overall a very satisfying day.

WORLD BOOK FAIR: DAY 4

Day Four at World Book Fair, 10 Jan 2017 started slowly. It appeared that there might not be any rush. but we were pleasantly proved wrong.

A gentleman, who identified himself as Banerjee was so serious in his search for Baba books,  it appeared as if he would squeeze out the entire knowledge from the Master. He was the first to ask for Baba’s work with Masts. Wayfarers was not available, however, a small booklet on Baba’s work with God-intoxicated from Mumbai Centre was available, which he purchased. He bought God speaks, Discourses, and Glow International. His picture and details were taken.

A lady Sulekha, about 55 years or so, came and stood in front of the stall and said, ‘Since the morning there is a force which has been pulling me to the Book Fair. There is so much energy here. We asked her, ‘are you a psychic’?  She replied: ‘No, I love living in such an energetic atmosphere.’  She bought Discourses and took a Baba calendar.

A senior lady, Abha Bhandari, came with her son and said, ‘I feel so happy to be here, because I have seen Baba as a child. I have my pictures with women mandali as well.’ She said that she would share the pictures with us.

Another gentleman, Manish, came and wanted to know about Baba’s interaction with Hollywood producer and wanted to know his name. When the name (Gabriel Pascal) was given, he said he is very much interested to make a movie what Baba wanted to make!  He purchased Glow.

One Hindi speaking visitor argued about the concept of Avatar and he was given, Ishwar Vani as a gift.

There were so many of visitors who took Baba’s name and purchased books. The day ended with the satisfaction of seeing His divinity manifesting.

 

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Sai Samadhi centenary year, Trust plans year-long ‘Prasad Bhojan’, invites donations

Shirdi-Sai-BabaShri Saibaba Sansthan Trust of Shirdi is inviting donations to provide free meals (Prasad Bhojan) during the centenary year of Sai Samadhi beginning from October 1, 2017. Donations will be accepted on line at the trust web site, sai.org.in.

“Shri Saibaba Sansthan Trust, Shirdi, has planned to provide free meals (Prasad Bhojan) during centenary year (1st October, 2017 to 18th October, 2018). It will be provided through donations of Sai devotees specially donated for meals only”, said Executive Officer of Sansthan, Bajirao Shinde in a statement mailed from Shirdi today.

Hundred years will be completed for Sai Samadhi in the year 2018.

So, Sansthan Trust has decided to celebrate 1st October, 2017 to 18th October, 2018 as the centenary year of Sai Samadhi.

“Trust has taken the decision to provide the meal in this whole year free of cost”, Shinde said in his statement.

To provide ‘Prasad Bhojan’ for the ever increasing number of devotees from India and abroad, the Sansthan trust has started the huge Prasadalaya spread over seven acres at NimgaonKorhale.

Appealing to philanthropist to donate generously, the Shirdi Sansthan Executive Officer said “Devotees can pay Rs. 8 lakh per day for the periods of festivals including Shri Ramnavami, Shri Guru Pournima and Saibaba Punyatithi. For other days in the centenary year, they can pay Rs. 4 lakh per day. If it is not possible to pay the complete amount, number of devotees can come together and can contribute Rs. 50,000 or more”.

Bajirao Shinde added that the names of such donor-devotees will be “displayed in temple and Prasadalaya premises as per suggested date by interested devotees in this scheme”. Donations can be made to mark occasions like birth day or memory of loved ones.

Interested devotees should contact Prasadalaya office, donation counter, PRO office and IT department for more details. They can these Trust officials for further information on landline numbers (02413) 258844, 258733, 258778 and 258955. Information is also available on www.sai.org.in  .

– By Malladi Rama Rao

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Unrest in Kashmir

Home Minister Rajnath Singh with J&K Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti

Home Minister Rajnath Singh with J&K Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti

By Ashok Handoo

New Delhi (Syndicate Features):  When the Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke about Kashmir at a public rally in Madhya Pradesh on 9th of this month there was a great relief for the people who had been, as usual, wondering why he was not speaking on the burning situation in Kashmir. But when he started telling people of Kashmir to grow more apples as the people in rest of India were waiting to taste the sweet fruit from Kashmir it took away the sheen from an otherwise important statement. His assurances to Kashmiris started sounding hollow. It is hard to believe that Modi did not know that the problem in Kashmir today is not lack of development, unemployment or even the economy of the state which has been taking beatings, year after year, due to militancy.  It is the political issue that is Kashmir.

So much so, the question: Is Prime Minister Modi’s promise of holding a dialogue with political parties and others to address the real issue sincere or only a crisis management technique?

This concern was reflected in abundant measure in the Rajya Sabha debate on the Kashmir situation. Leader of the opposition, Ghulam Nabi Azad, who is also a former chief minister of J&K, raised doubts about the seriousness of the government in coming to grips with the situation.

While the prime minister has been tweeting on something happening in Africa he has no time to talk about Kashmir, the Congress leader lamented. “He (Modi) spoke on Kashmir that too in Madhya Pradesh a month after trouble erupted in the border state”, he remarked. Azad’s concern therefore was: “Can we expect prime minister’s assurances of initiating a dialogue and standing by the people of the state at all times, to have a major effect in restoring normalcy in the valley?” There is no ready answer.

The Prime Minister has since spoken on Kashmir twice – at the all-party meeting held on Aug 13 and from the ramparts of the Red Fort on the Independence Day. He made it clear that the part of Jammu and Kashmir in Pakistan’s occupation (PoK) very much belongs to India. Placing the blame at Pakistan’s door-step and pointing out that the land of the pure has been exporting to the state, Modi reminded Islamabad of the atrocities it has been committing in occupied Kashmir and Baluchistan. “Time has come to expose Pakistan thoroughly”, he thundered. And directed the External Affairs Ministry to locate people of POK living across the world, talk to them and let the world know what all is happening there.

So far so good. But why the Prime Minister did not invite National Conference, one of the mainstream political parties, which ruled J&K for several decades, to the all party meeting? Doesn’t that raise a doubt, yet again, whether Mr. Modi is putting his best foot forward in dealing with the terribly complex K- issue?

Interestingly, Prime Minister Modi has been telling his domestic audience that both means and ends are important in the fight to root out terrorism in Kashmir. He is repeatedly asserting that the fight is a national responsibility.  So does it mean the NDA government would use any method to achieve the end? Opinion is sharply divided given the track record of BJP-led government which has been oscillating between hawkish and mawkish stands.

At the all-party meet, the Prime Minister said that when we talk of Kashmir we cannot forget Jammu, Ladakh and the POK which are part of the state. Quite true, but we would have to do something to resolve the current issue until Pakistan and China vacate the occupied territories. That roadmap is still absent or in any case blurred.

If the Rajya Sabha debate is anything to go by, it only reflected the dismay and anger in equal measure of the members, particularly from the state. Azad described the words Insaniyat, jamhooriyat and Kashmiriyat from Mr, Narendra Modi as sounding weird. “Only the charm of Atal Bihari Vajpayee could win the people of Kashmir with these words because he was sincere in saying so and did follow it up at different levels”.

What was music to the ears of Kashmiris was the observation of Dr. Karan Singh that his father, the last king of the state, Maharaja Hari Singh had acceded to the Indian Union only in three subjects, External Affairs, Defense and Communication. The elder statesman, who was the former Sadre Riyasat (Governor), decried the oft repeated assertion that Kashmir is India’s internal matter. How it can be when half of the area (of Jammu & Kashmir) is with Pakistan and China? So talking to these countries cannot be avoided. Perhaps Sitaram Yechury, the Marxist veteran has hit the nail on its head when he asked the government to find the reasons why the people in Kashmir feel alienated? Unless we address this basic issue, things are not going to improve, he said bluntly.

violence hit srinagar streets

violence hit srinagar streets

For the growing sense of disenchantment, there are several reasons. Turning point was undoubtedly the massive rigging of 1987 assembly elections in which Syed Salahuddin, who later became chief of Hizb ul Mujahideen, was a candidate. This sent a wrong signal that while democracy has become deep rooted in rest of India it is not so in Jammu and Kashmir. That unfortunately was the case for a very long time until the Janata government led by Morarji Desai decided to hold free and fair elections in the state.

Another contributing factor for the mess was the inability of the state and the central governments to channelize the energies of the youth and to protect the pro- India forces, of whom there is no dearth.

It is not that things were always as bad.

After all, did not the people of Kashmir come out on the streets with bare hands and sticks to fight back Pakistani raiders in 1947, until the Indian army reached the valley? Who can forget the role of Shaheed Sherwani and Master Abdul Aziz in holding the raiders at bay at a crucial time?  Honest introspection alone will help to chart the march ahead.

The mischievous role played by Pakistan from day one has never been in doubt. But can anything different be expected from Islamabad and Rawalpindi combine, who declare that Kashmir is their juggler vein.  Certainly not. The ground realities have to be taken into account and the sails adjusted accordingly. That requires wisdom, statesmanship and above all farsightedness. (Syndicate Features)

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Vijay Goel Represents the Boorish Indian VIPs

By Tushar Charan

Sports Minister Vijay Goel celebrating with members of Indian Hockey Team, after their victory over Argentina, at Olympics 2016 at Rio, Brazil on Aug 09, 2016

Sports Minister Vijay Goel celebrating with members of Indian Hockey Team, after their victory over Argentina, at Olympics 2016 at Rio, Brazil on Aug 09, 2016

The sports and youth affairs minister, Vijay Goel, rightly drew criticism for his boorish behavior at the Rio Olympics by invading restricted sporting arenas, as pointed to him by an Olympic official in a letter, with his battery of bureaucratic flunkies. Goel, as was to be expected, feigned ignorance about his team flouting any rule and blamed it all on ‘misunderstanding’ because of the ‘language problem’. He could not have been more unconvincing.

Goel should have known, or should have been warned in advance by his officials, that even though he is a minister in India he cannot roam freely with a retinue at the Olympic Games venue when the competition is on. The ‘language problem’ would have us believe that Goel expects everyone around him to speak or understand Hindi, his mother tongue. Goel, we are sure, can claim some ability to converse in English which is, of course, not spoken as widely in Brazil as in India but there will always be enough English-speaking men and women around the Games venue to help foreigners.

In defence of Goel it has been said that the letter handed over to him did not accuse him personally of bad behavior—it was the battery of his officials who behaved crudely at the Olympic venue. The officials may be used to that kind of behavior in their country but the fact cannot be denied that a lot Indians, if not the majority, make a fool of themselves while travelling abroad.

To digress a little. Some years ago when there was a sudden spurt in ‘racial’ attacks on Indians in Australia it emerged that a lot of trouble arose because of ‘loud’ speaking Indians whose behavior was viewed as loutish. Many Indians do tend to forget when they travel abroad their boisterousness can be irritating to those who are not used to it.   

The reprimand that Goel, the minister, invited should not surprise any Indian. We are used to witnessing our very authority-conscious VIPs behave atrociously in public places. They are rarely seen without being ‘protected’ by a posse of security personnel –in plain clothes or in uniform with weapons. They love being the centre of attention wherever they go. Display of deference towards them is de rigueur. To that list—by no means complete in itself—add one more that is in tune with the contemporary world: taking selfies with people who do enjoy some popularity and recognition in the country—such as sports persons and film stars.

Goel, who was accompanied by his better half, seemed very intent on selfies with the Indian contingent. He did not see any crudeness in his obsession but a much publicized selfie of his with a very tired looking Indian boxer became a matter of disapproval by many.  

Questions have been raised about the appropriateness of Goel’s presence at Rio. He undoubtedly would justify it by saying that as the country’s sports minister it was his ‘duty’ to fly to the Olympic Games venue to cheer the Indian team. In fact, this argument was also at the back of the mind of the Haryana sports minister who also flew to Rio with officials. But his objective was rather parochial. He was not flying out with a team of his officials to cheer the entire Indian contingent of about 100 but about 20 of them who belong to his state. The state exchequer was poorer by at least one crore for financing the Haryana minister’s trip to Rio but what is that amount when the cause is boosting the morale of a section of the Indian athletes!

The Haryana minister’s knowledge or even interest in the various sporting events in which players from his state are participating at Rio may be nil or limited. But he knows that as a minister flying to exotic places is one his perks and he cannot sacrifice it. Nor can Goel who, elected to the Rajya Sabha from Rajasthan, was appointed sports minister only a few weeks before the Rio Olympics began. It means that he had almost nothing to do with the selection of the Indian contingent or its training. But that is pointless quibbling because the minister during whose tenure the Indian team was picked up and trained has been sent to his home state as the chief minister and had presumably such important matters to attend to that he could not even think of advancing his claim to a free ticket to Rio.

The taxpayers’ money spent on ministers’ holidaying during international sporting events rankles a lot of Indian. Dearth of funds never stops an Indian VIP from flying out on the slightest of pretexts but it becomes the main factor in providing adequate infrastructure for the budding sports men and women. Arguably India could do better at the international level if only we had a genuine policy of ‘catch ‘em young’ and provided them the best of training with the best of infrastructure.

India’s poor performance in the international sporting arena in most events barring perhaps cricket is seen as a matter of national shame. It has reached a stage when foreigners too have been deriding the Indian performance. The Chinese media does it regularly, attributing India’s poor record to a variety of weird reasons that include ‘religious practices’ and ‘vegetarianism’. The negative Chinese comments, however, betray their antipathy towards India, a nation that they do not want to see challenge them in any sphere. They themselves need to be condemned for adopting most cruel methods to train their youngsters for international competition. In their desire to excel, the Chinese subject youngsters, some barely five or six, to a rigorous regimen that their delicate bodies cannot take. 

At the end of the day we have to stop being satisfied with a handful or nil medals from international competitions because it is simply not possible that a nation of 1.2 billion people has acute dearth of world class sporting performers. A common view in India is that sports administration in India is among the worst in the world because it is a plaything of our politicians—mostly old. These geriatric politicians also like to hold on to their position in sport administration for life—and frequently fly out to ‘cheer’ the Indian team and, yes, take selfies with them.

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