Overseas Indians and their ‘Motherland’

By Atul Cowshish

The annual jamboree of overseas Indian was started by Atal Bihari Vajpaee, the first prime minister belonging to the Bharatiya Janata Party, in 2003. It is, therefore, natural that this year the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas that attracts overseas Indians and people of Indian citizens was held early in January in expensively decorated Gandhinagar, the capital of Gujarat, the home state of the new Indian prime minister with a known weakness for foreign travel even while he denounces certain Indians for their ‘foreign’ origin.

There was a distinct Gujarati flavour to the occasion that coincided with the century of the ‘Ghar Wapsi’ (home coming) of the best known Gujarati in the world, Mahatma Gandhi from South Africa. At the end of the overseas Indians’ gathering followed the ‘Vibrant Gujarat’ show that one minister from Gujarat described as the ‘Davos of the East’.

There is no doubt that many of the delegates for the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas gathering must have stayed on to attend the ‘vibrant’ show. The Gujaratis constitute a large part of the Indian diaspora of the rich class. It can also be in no doubt that the two separate gatherings at Gandhinagar had attracted the better off diaspora. The cost of flying into India, the registration fee and five-star board and lodge could not have been small by any standard.

The government of India uses the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas to focus on overseas Indians—those who do well in life. But it is expected to take up the concerns of all overseas Indians, rich and poor alike. While there is nothing wrong in inviting the rich ‘Indians’, the fact is that not every overseas Indians or Indian citizens living and working abroad, is rich.

The Gulf region has the largest number of ‘Pravasi’ Indians– nearly 10 million. Most of them are employed in ‘low paid’ jobs that may not appear ‘low paid’ if converted into Indian rupees but in the countries where they live they will not be included in the middle income group.

The ‘Modi Sarkar’ expects the money that the rich overseas Indians earn to be invested in their ‘mother’ country. The government also hopes that the Indian diaspora engaged in high-tech research and scientific projects will think of sharing their expertise and knowledge with the country of their origin or birth.

But the diaspora from the world of academia and research finds the atmosphere in India discouraging. India has to work out a policy that can lure such overseas Indians. That at the moment does not seem to be part of the government’s agenda.

Most of the super rich Indians prefer to invest their money either in the country where they live or in tax havens. India is rarely their first choice for parking or investing their surplus funds because of many reasons—red tape, corruption, the ‘unease’ of doing business in India and, perhaps above all, the poor infrastructure.

In simple words, foreign funds, whether from the pockets of Indians or foreigners, will flow into the country in small quantities as long conditions do not become more helpful for investment and independent research. The government has done well to merge the People of Indian Origin (PIO) and Overseas Citizens of Indian (OCI) schemes that will make it easier for the diaspora to visit and stay in India. But that is not the only issue that most Indian citizens abroad face.

In the Gulf region it is their exploitation by unscrupulous agents who recruit them and send them abroad to employers who ruin their lives by cheating and ill-treating them at every stage. The government of India has in recent years shown some concern about the issue, but it is still to be resolved entirely. Some might wonder if the delay in addressing the problems of this section of overseas Indians is due to the fact that they are not really the moneybags who will be welcomed with open arms at glittering functions like the ‘Pravasi Bharatiya Divas’.

Then there is also what might be called a ‘political’ problem that sometimes hits the diaspora. In 1987, a military coup in Fiji, led by Lt.-Col. Sitiveni Rabuka, saw the government headed by Mahendra Choudhary, originally from Haryana, thrown out for no reason at all other than the fact that the government was not headed by a native Fijian. The coup was followed by a large-scale migration of ethnic Indians in Fiji, mostly to Australia and New Zealand. Not many wanted to return to their ‘motherland’, despite deep cultural, religious and family ties with India.

It is believed that the expulsion of Indians in Fiji in 1987 led the government of India to seriously think of the Indian diaspora and chalk out a policy for them to safeguard their safety and interests.

In the early 1970s, Idi Amin, the Ugandan dictator, had ordered nearly all ethnic Indians out of his country, virtually without sufficient advance notice. At that time many Indians wanted to return to India but the country was not in a position to accept them all. They then chose to migrate to the UK, USA and Canada where most of them attained a level of prosperity that might not have been possible in India.

God forbid, if something similar happens again will the government of India be able to extend its hospitality to them? Doubtful! The general impression within the country is that India looks at the size of pockets of its OCIs and PIOs to decide what kind of welcome they will be given.

This impression is formed by the treatment of the minorities (mainly Hindus) who came to India from Pakistan and Afghanistan because they did not feel safe in their country where they had lived for centuries. Most of them are virtually stateless persons languishing in poorly maintained camps where succour comes to them from voluntary organisations, not government of India.

Other neighbouring countries from where people of Indian origin have come to India in large numbers include Sri Lanka and Myanmar. The Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka have found hospitality in Tamil Nadu but there is no clarity about their legal status. The refugees from Myanmar have a problem of another kind. Most of them are Muslims and a BJP-led government might not extend the kind of help they expect.

(Syndicate Features)

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Colombo Verdict

By Malladi Rama Rao

Lanka Prez Outgoing- Incoming

The verdict in Colombo gives reasons for New Delhi and Washington to heave a sigh of relief and to sport a smile for the first time in several years; for Beijing, however, it is time for a visit to the strategy board since it had sided with the outgoing President Mahinda Rajapaksa and contributed no less to his down-fall.

The change of guard in Colombo may not herald an immediate change in Sri Lanka’s foreign policy. Maitri Sirisena, the new President, has cut his political teeth in the school of Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), which under Sirivmao Bandaranayke had perfected the art of cultivating China even as she and Indira Gandhi were on first person equation.

There may not be any immediate shift in the policy on the ethnic Tamil issue either; the SLFP has the dubious distinction of institutionalizing discrimination against the minorities particularly ethnic Tamils. And Sirisena is supported by Opposition Sinhala and Buddhist parties, which have made resolution of the Tamil issue a hostage to the Southern (Sinhala) consensus.

Yet, some gradualism in policies on ethnic harmony can be expected. Firstly, Sirisena owes his victory to the Tamils in no small measure. Secondly, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), the ruling party of the Tamil-dominated Northern Province, supported Sirisena to the hilt, presenting him before the electorate as “an untainted candidate with the mission of restoring the values of democracy, good governance, and the rule of law”. TNA leader R. Sampanthan has gone on record to say “Going by the past record, we (Tamils) have no reason to believe that President Rajapaksa will be reasonable by the Tamil people”.

It will be patently unfair to view the Tamil decision to go against Rajapaksa through the LTTE prism. They did not desert him at the end of Wanni War in 2009 and rooted for him in the Presidential election that was held immediately after the war. If they have moved away from him now, there must be valid reasons.

Rajapaksa himself became acutely aware of the groundswell against him in the Tamil heartland when he campaigned in the area in the last leg of his electioneering. This was one reason why he did not speak much on his score card. Instead, he harped on the fact that he was (and is) a known devil as he presented himself in rally after rally. He also imported Bollywood Sultan Salman Khan to woo the minority Muslims, after the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) his ally, deserted him last month.

The vote shows the appeal didn’t click. For this Rajapaksa must shoulder the blame because he had allowed the Northern Province to remain a garrison state, and a home to several Chinese enclaves to the dismay of Tamilians, particularly the jobless youth.

Till a week before the ballot day on January 8, Rajapaksa was seen as the winning candidate though by a slender margin. In fact, he had called the poll two years early after pushing through a constitutional amendment allowing him to stand for a third term. He had hoped to consolidate his regime and avoid the fate Indira Gandhi had met at the end of her emergency regime in 1977.

His gamble failed. The IMF-dictated austerity measures, the police-state methods, and near absence of media freedom neutralized his image as a “commoner”. His dependence on two brothers Gotabhaya (defence minister) and Basil (economic ministers) and a son besides other members of the family created a dynasty, which was despised though dynasties are not new to the Sri Lankans.

Well, Rajapaksa was not prepared for the surprise decision of Sirisena, his health minister. It can be no body’s case that Sirisena suddenly decided to close ranks with the Opposition and take him on as their common candidate. Such political traps come after weeks and weeks of careful intrigue. Former President Chandrika Kumaratunga, who has scores to settle with Rajapaksa for hijacking her family pocket borough, the SLFP, played no mean role in the behind the scenes planning.

The ‘official’ sleuths had failed to uncover the plan just as Indira Gandhi was ill-served by her intelligence in the run up to the 1977 ballot. It shows that authoritarian regimes have an inherent fault-line and they become victims of their own games.

Sections of Sri Lanka media have been speculating for a while that there is an America hand behind Rajapaksa’s troubles The United States has been targeting him with the human rights stick ignoring its own contribution to the success of the war against the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, (LTTE).

Washington is disturbed by Rajapaksa’s China fixation since President Obama has been pushing his “pivot to Asia” policy in order to checkmate China in the Pacific and Indian Ocean regions. Five years ago, the US Senate had come up with a report that concluded that the “US cannot afford to lose Sri Lanka.” Its author was John Kerry, who has since become the Secretary of State. If we are to believe the conspiracy theorists in Colombo, “The Obama administration can no longer afford the time to pressure Rajapaksa into line and decided on regime-change”.

Such theories make compelling reading but ignore the fact that Rajapaksa has suffered a self-goal. There was no need for him to advance the poll date. Yet he did.

Obviously, he was aware of the growing unrest against his rule which, according to the Opposition, was characterized by nepotism, misrule, corruption and authoritarianism. His egg-heads expected the situation to turn against the regime over the next two years and thus make him vulnerable to external onslaughts on human rights issue. The only way to silence his critics at home and abroad was an early vote that clearly and conclusively demonstrated his electoral clout. Put simply, Rajapaksa camp had hoped to appear as the only known devil before the Americans, and rest of the world.

What about India, which has a big stake in the unity and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka?

Prime Minister Modi and Rajapaksa have had a good personal equation that has helped to ease tensions over fishermen issue. It did not stand in the way of Modi tweeting congratulations to Sirisena even before the counting ended in Colombo. Also, it is public knowledge that TNA announced its support for Sirisena in a December 30 press conference upon the return of  Sampanthan from a visit to India.

(Courtesy: The Hans India, Hyderabad)

(The writer, Delhi-based senior journalist and South Asia analyst, can be reached at mramarao2008@gmail.com)

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Between Sadhvi and Didi

Curtains may appear to have come down on Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti’s tryst with the words ‘Haramzadon’ (illegitimate children) and ‘Ramzadon’ (God’s children) after her unconditional apology in Parliament but it does not mean we have heard the last word on the politics of cuss words.

We, in India, particularly in the two states of Telangana and residuary Andhra Pradesh, are familiar with cuss words which are spoken loudly in public places, mostly during street corner fights. Recourse to profanities is also a routine norm during friendly banter among some sections in the two states.  We have grown up with these words in a manner of speaking, though, by tradition, we keep the tongue under check while at home and in the presence of elders.  In fact, uttering cuss words inside homes, especially by the youngsters when their elders are around, is generally a strict ‘no, no’. Well, it is duplicity in practice but that is a reality of our society.

In the West, particularly in the El Dorado and its Big Apple, which have become the second home for our tech savvy in search of what celebrated economist John Kenneth  Galbraith once dubbed as an American nirvana, not every profanity is a taboo. Yes, at home or the work place.   The ‘F’ word has wide acceptance in the entertainment industry of Hollywood and also in the print and the electronic media alike.

Yet, oddly enough, Western politicians appear to stay clear of indecent vocabulary in public.  Not that they are not prone to tongue slips since in their day-to-day life they too are used to speaking taboo words.  Such occasions see them slip into damage control with a sheepish grin.

What saves the day for these worthies is the fact that the Western society is not easily outraged by the use of certain cuss words as we in India are.  This trait may be because the recourse to a profanity is not seen as malicious in intent, aimed at a community or class.  Of course, at times an offensive remark can lead to protests but it does not happen as a rule.

Frankly, not everything that the Western societies accept becomes kosher in a society like India’s, where everyday life is governed by dictates of ‘morality’ and ‘culture’ defined differently by various people for public consumption.  At least this is the message from L’affaire Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti.

When she used the word ‘Haramzadon’ and spoke about ‘Ramzadon’ at a street corner pre-election rally organised by the BJP in Delhi, she was clearly deprecating a minority community. Such a remark was bound to invite trouble since   religious sentiments are frequently aroused particularly during election time. And Delhi is in election mode with the assembly dissolved and stage set for a two-leg race between Moditva of BJP and Desertertva of Aam Admi Kejriwal with Sonia-Rahul Congress in also ran category, as of now.

The Sadhvi’s problem was compounded by the fact that she is Minister of State for Food Processing Industries in the Narendra Modi government. She is by all means new to national politics and the opposition found in her their Bofors gun to fire at the Modi sarkar, which is in an overdrive to deprive the Sonia –Rahul Congress of its icons and the Trinamool Congress of its talking points.

Of course, the BJP was quite embarrassed by the politics of cusswords, and it did not hide its discomfort. In no uncertain terms, the party conveyed the impression that its top brass did not approve of such words spoken by a minster; all good enough signals that the matter should head to an early closure. But it did not because the Congress, CPM and Trinamool Congress did not want to let go of their first opportunity in seven months to make the government squirm with discomfort in full public view.

Parliamentary Affairs Minister Venkaiah Naidu still managed to buy peace in the Lok Sabha but the ruling party managers messed up the issue in the Upper House. Advice to the beleaguered minister to express “Dil se Khed’ (heartfelt regret) but not seek ‘Mafi’ (apology) only complicated matters further.   However, once it realised the enormity of the issue, the BJP leadership, unlike its Congress-led UPA predecessor, displayed quick reflexes to prevent the storm from becoming a typhoon to derail Modi plans for the winter session of Parliament.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi ticked off the Sadhvi to the glee of the Opposition benches in the Rajya Sabha.  In the same breath he defended her saying “She is a new minister”, and underlined her rural moorings. His defence seemed to imply that women in villages lack the intelligence to understand the difference between a good and a bad word and therefore speak loosely. Luckily for the treasury benches, this Modi slip did not attract the attention of the Opposition, which was pre-occupied with symbolism and thus missed the woods for the trees.  The government managed to get away with some bruises in the process but missed the opportunity for a counter attack offered by mercurial Mamata “Didi”.

Close on the heels of the “Haramzadon- Ramzadon” episode, the West Bengal chief minister threatened her rivals with a bamboo that would be pushed down their backside. Such an expression is not generally heard in the ‘bhadralok’ society she belongs to. And it was certainly a more crude expression than the ‘Haramzadon’ word.  Moreover, the objectionable word spoken by the Modi Minister has a less vulgar tone to it than the phrase uttered by Mamata Bannerjee, who is a poet and painter, and is, therefore, urbane in her demeanor unlike the Sadhvi.

The Jyoti – Mamata episodes bring us face –to- face with the penchant of Indian   leaders, particularly those in positions of responsibility to speak like “country bumpkin”.  Hitherto such a tribe of ruffians is known to be confined to Bihar political landscape.   So the new trend is cause for worry. It shows falling standards in our public discourse and leaves no room for optimism about some sophistication amongst the present day Indian political class.

-By Malladi Rama Rao

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What is Nehru’s legacy…?

Celebrated Pakistani columnist Najam Sethi offers good food for thought to Indians debating Nehru’s legacy and the Congress party’s future in his latest column “Revisiting India” (The Friday Times, Nov 21, 2011).

It is a must read for every Indian not because he examines what is wrong with the Congress party today and talks about Nehru’s legacy; also not because his analysis is laced with an unmistakable regret that Pakistan went in a direction opposite to India’s after independence.

It is a must read because he tells us, Indians,  some home truths which we can ill-afford to ignore, and  so doing he hoists DC I – a warning signal that says a depression or a deep depression is expected and that ships leaving the port should be on the alert during their voyage.

Now, what does Sethi say?

He says: “Modern Indian generations take India’s democracy and economic and political independence for granted”.

Well, this is a reality of India. Year 1947 does not ring any bells in the Year 2014 for most Indians, who don’t have time to think about yesterday in order to look into the future with prayer on their lips.

Today’s Indians are in a tearing hurry to break their shackles and do something and be something guided by a torrent of aspirations; for these Indians the Congress is fast becoming an Oxymoron.

Najam Sethi shares this perception though he words it differently, more gently thus: “The Congress is not likely to cut much ice with them (Today’s Indians) by harping on Nehru’s achievements fifty years after his death….. Nehru’s Congress Party remains wedded to the Nehru dynasty. The irony is that this core strength of yesterday has become its core weakness today”.

For my generation born around the time India became independent, Jawaharlal Nehru was more than a freedom fighter and politician.  By the time we opened our eyes, he was already the Prime Minister of India. And by the time we graduated from school, he became a part of history.

So for the generation that grew up in Nehru’s India, the image of Nehru and its understanding of Nehru are something different from that of the egg heads, who are content with seeing him in a global perspective. It is, nevertheless, an enduring image created- not by the media but by his direct communication with the likes of me living in villages, which had neither electricity nor road linkages.

We heard on the radio, for instance, Nehru speak after laying the foundation for the   world’s largest masonry dam across the River Krishna at Nagarjuna Sagar in December 1955. Even today we can recollect what he said and how he said – as one amongst us, inspiring us to think big with no prejudice or pre-conceived ideas what so ever, describing the dam as a modern temple.  We were literally taken in by his insistence on scientific temper.

Like all other dams, Nagarjuna Sagar had its quota of mishaps, corruption and whatnot but it made us witness green revolution unfold before our eyes in what were the dry lands of Guntur district, and it made us quench our thirst since the dam canals helped to rejuvenate our wells. This is one facet of Nehru’s everlasting legacy that remains with us even as we have travelled long miles carving out our own place under the sun.

Another Nehruvianism, which helped us to grow, is his democratic vision – empowerment of the masses.  The election process had its flaws, some were directly contributed by Nehru himself with his practice of fielding a Muslim against a Muslim and a Brahmin against a Brahmin but it had no place for the muscle and money power like today even after the advent of electronic voting machines. EVMs are tamper-proof, says our Nirvachan Sadan; some of our netas do not think so. Surprisingly, Pakistan poll body agrees with them.

Elections in those Nehruvian days were truly festivals of democracy; people joined in the celebration voluntarily. And voted for Gandhi- Nehru’s Congress candidate! Tanguturi Prakasam Pantulu, who is better known as “Lion of Andhra”, once said, “Even if we put up an electric poll, people vote for it”. Such was the people’s mood then. As a witness to history in the making, I miss that festival mood in present day elections, which appear to have been tailored for Munshis and videographers.

There was something else that is a well deserved treasure from Nehru days. It is his development agenda, and his agenda for harmony.   These two legacies, well, nobody can take away from us; nor will they be subsumed under any phenomenon.

Notwithstanding his penchant for big dams, big plants and everything on big scale, Nehru made us aware of empowering ourselves to fight poverty, disease and illiteracy.   Self-help in the form of Shramdan, and cooperatives were a part and parcel of rural life in Nehru’s India. Today we find their echo in the Jnamabhoomi programme of Chandrababu Naidu and Swatch Bharat Abhiyan of Narendra Modi.

That Naidu has drawn his inspiration from South Korea, as his acolytes assert,  may be a commentary on today’s politics but it in no way negates or diminishes Nehru’s place as a builder of modern India. Instead, it only highlights the continued relevance of Nehru’s vision of development as a mass movement.

Both Naidu and Modi are bending backwards to reinvent the Nehruvian wheel in their own way, and this is what makes them tick with the masses with an aspirational mindset.  Congress can reinvent itself if it emerges out of air-conditioned committee rooms and the seminar circuit and begins to feel the pulse of the   people on the margins, who want to gift a beautiful tomorrow for their children.

Nehru’s vision, in essence, is of an India where people live happily with no concern for barriers of religion, ethnicity, regionalism, caste, sub-caste or language. Holy places like Varanasi or bustling metros like Mumbai or Kolkata have become melting pots enabling us to experience such an India.

My frequent train journeys across the country have made me realise that there are today more Muslims who have read Vedas than Hindus.  My well -informed guide during a visit to Badhrachalam (Telangana state) on the banks of Godavari (local folklore is that Ram and Sita lived in the area and it was from here that Ravana kidnapped Sita. The place, where Sita had dried her clothes, for instance, is a must visit) was the auto-rickshaw driver; he is a Muslim in his teens.

This digression is not to launch a love-jihad centric monologue but to point out that India has become a living example of Nehru’s legacy with secularism and unity in diversity as its core strengths.

Having said this, it is difficult to resist the temptation to remark that Nehru’s   China policy remains an enigma;  even at this distance of time it is difficult not to be rankled by the remarks  he had made before the Chinese mounted their aggression in 0ctober 1962.

“I have asked the Army to throw the Chinese out”, he told reporters at the Chennai airport while on his way to Colombo, when his attention was drawn to Chinese intrusions.  We, as students, used to debate for hours whether Nehru was unaware of India’s defence unpreparedness and China’s military might. History may be kind to him but we could not help but squarely blame him for the defeat and his Tibet policy, which even today appears half-backed.

Likewise, his Kashmir policy! So much has been written on the subject. But the most informed and interesting critique was offered by K M Munshi in his Constitutional Papers. It has n’t received the attention it deserved though.

Now to a nugget that tells us why Nehru became a part of every Indian’s life.

It was a box item in 1959.  Nehru was meeting media informally in Nagpur on the sidelines of AICC session (Jan 9-11, 1959).   Photographers were merrily clicking away – not of Nehru but of his right feet.


“What is the matter”, he asked them. And one photographer replied: “Sir, your shoe has a big hole…” Nehru was amused.  “What is so great about it? These are old shoes. Like yours”, he remarked laughing.

Another nugget, which is my favourite.  Delhi and its neighbourhood once experienced heavy floods. Nehru made an aerial survey of the flood scene. It was first such aerial survey. As his plane landed at the Safdarjung airport, journalists crowded him and asked him how the flood scene was. “What is there to see? Everywhere there was water.  Water, water everywhere”, he remarked with a broad grin.

-By  Malladi Rama Rao

( This article first appeared in Power Politics,  Nov 2014 issue)

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Election Fatigue In India

by Malladi Rama Rao

Early this month, New York Times, the high priest of democratic capitalism in the Big Apple, published an interesting op-ed article.   The authors were David Schanzer, a professor of public policy, and his student, Jay Sullivan, at Duke University in North Carolina.   Their call is essentially meant for the Capitol Hill. Nevertheless, it has some relevance for countries like India, where people are about to experience election fatigue.

Schanzer-Sullivan proposal is that mid-term American elections be abolished by passing a constitutional amendment. In essence what they want is a rejig in the term of members of the two Houses of Congress so that there would be no need to hold federal elections every two years.  The article appeared just when about 90 million Americans, accounting for less than forty percent of the electorate handed over the Senate and the House of Representatives to the Republicans and reduced President Obama “from Dame Luck to Lame Duck” in his second term as a headline put it.  

Prof Schanzer words carry some weight in American political circles. He has been associated with Democrats and Republicans in one capacity or the other over the past several years; he has earned a name as an authority on issues related to counter-terrorism and internal security.  More than that, he and his co-author have read the pulse of the electorate correctly that the mid-term election would weaken President Obama. Taking a historical perspective, they wrote: “The main impact of the mid-term election in the modern era has been to weaken the president, the only government official (other than the powerless vice president) elected by the entire nation”.  And concluded: “The two-year cycle isn’t just unnecessary; it’s harmful to American politics”.

Schanzer-Sullivan have found a justification for their call in the grotesque campaign finance system, as they brand the election funding in America.   “Our House members in competitive races have raised, on average, $2.6 million for the 2014 mid-term. That amounts to $3,600 raised a day — seven days a week, 52 weeks a year. Surveys show that members spend up to 70 percent of their time fund-raising during an election year. Two years later, they’ll have to do it all again”.  Eliminating mid-terms would, therefore, double the amount of time law makers could focus on governing and make them less dependent on their donor base, the authors argue, trying to win more converts to their views.

It is time for us in India to give a serious thought to Schanzer-Sullivan   arguments which are essentially a call to end frequent elections.  We had a ballot for the Lok Sabha in April-May. Simultaneously, we had elections for a couple of state assemblies. September-October saw elections in Maharashtra and Haryana.  We are now witnessing another election round covering   Kashmir and Jharkhand.  Delhi will have its elections in another two or three months. April next would set the clock ticking to test Mamata Didi’s TINA factor in West Bengal since the Trinamool Congress came to power on the plank of “Paribortan” in May 2011. Before the year is out Bihar will elect its new lawmakers, and this ballot may take place with elections for UP Assembly as well.  

Given the fact that Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh went to elections in Nov-Dec 2013,   we have an implosion of elections in this country and there is going to be no respite from the poll fatigue. If we take the local bodies elections that our state level political executives are forced to hold just to avoid incurring the displeasure of the judiciary, we are inching towards election saturation.  It is this reality check that makes Schanzer-Sullivan’s US centric call pop up the question: Do we need so many elections in India?   

The question demands urgent attention since every election makes the government hostage to the model code of conduct and normal governance suffers as a result. A case in point is the inability of the Modi government to formally notify the increased compensation to the victims of the anti-Sikh riots of 1984. The decision was first delayed on account of elections in Haryana and when taken finally, had to be held back because of three by-elections for Delhi assembly.

These by-elections have since been cancelled following the dissolution of the assembly but it is doubtful whether our argumentative Delhi politicians will allow the benefits of compensation hike to materialise for the Sikh victims, who have lost all hope of punishment to the guilty since material evidence needed for judicial scrutiny has been more or less lost. Leadership, Transparency, and Credibility (L.T.C) should be the USP of Nirvachan Sadan presided over by three superannuated bureaucrats.  But this LTC appears to often end up as routine bureaucratic LTC – Leave Travel Concession judging by the way poll body handles the complaints of code violation.

The BJP riding on the crest of Modi wave will not be averse to elections and more elections. Firstly, it wants to extend its footprint. Secondly, it wants to occupy the space the Congress party is vacating in its self-destructive mood while effectively checkmating the efforts of Lalus, Nitishs and Mulayams to rally the erstwhile Janata Parivar on an anti-BJP platform to deal with the saffron tide. Thirdly, and most importantly, the BJP is desperate to bolster its strength in the Rajya Sabha, and for this it needs to bring more states under its sway through more assembly elections.

The Congress faced a similar dilemma during the Indira Gandhi days. And the “Iron Lady” delinked the Lok Sabha and the Assembly elections seeking a mandate for a strong centre and for a strong state that towed her line from Delhi. Narendra Modi’s campaign these days echoes the old Indira line and he has reaped a good harvest thus far going to the town as a decisive leader with a clear vision. 

Both PV Narasimha Rao and Atal Behari Vajpayee had toyed with the idea of reverting back to the practice of simultaneous LS and Assembly elections. PV could not push ahead because of his limited turf space; AB could have undone the Indira legacy but he didn’t have the breathing space. Modi has an opportunity to break with the tradition. But the question is: will he?

One thing is clear. Whatever be the fate of the Schanzer-Sullivan proposal in the land of its origin, it is bound to find adherents in India in the days ahead with some even advancing the demand for holding all elections from Panchayat to Parliament at the same time to check money and muscle power and to keep political parties under tight leash. 

(This commentary first appeared in The Hans India, Hyderabad)

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Saints, Sadgurus, Meher Baba’s Warning

Raghuveer Singh Gaur is a familiar face to us at Delhi’s Avatar Meher Baba Centre. He used to join our centre’s anniversary celebrations and speak about Meher Baba and His message. The last time I saw him speak at our centre was some eight -nine years back. When I met him after his speech, he appeared as a person next door, friendly, jovial, and deeply interested in spirituality. That meeting did not prepare me for what I have since come across. More so after the public snub he had received from Dr G S N Moorthy, a Meher Baba lover. About the snub a little while later.

For the uninitiated, let me introduce Moorthy, a Telugu orthodox Brahmin, who had his roots in Khargpur, but lived for long years in Dehradun, which Meher Baba once described as his Brindavan. As long as his health permitted, Moorthy attended Delhi centre’s anniversary celebrated from the first to the third of December every year. Before getting drawn towards Meher Baba, Moorthy was a Vedanta scholar. After coming into Meher Baba’s fold, he became His Vivekananda, and he lived unto that epithet speaking about Baba at big and small gatherings around the world. His Vedantic roots used to trouble the likes of me because his explanations, say, for expressions like “Lehar” used to be gobbledygook. But it is a different matter altogether.

To cut to Gaur, he appears to have transformed into a Guru in his own right since I heard him speak in Delhi Centre. When the transformation came about is unclear. The website devoted to him, website ( http://www.worldspiritualfoundation.com) does not mention the time –line though it speaks about his childhood feats, gives an account of how as a seven-year-old Gaur started his spiritual training at the feet of a “god-realized” saint Pujyapad Swami Ramgiri Ji Maharaj, how at the age of 14 he wandered the Himalayas and learnt the intricacies of Tantra from the Tibetan Lamas and how he reinvigorated his spiritual energy by serving enlightened souls like Paramhans Baba Bajrangdas Mahatyagi, Samade Wale Paramhans, Om Sarkar and Mahayogini MaParamsidha.

The narrative abruptly switches to “mature” Raghuveer, and declares that he had become “an Acharya” while remaining silent on specifics. “Now he was Acharya Raghuveer Singh Gaur. But his real battlefield was neither the academics nor the day-to-day affair of a commoner. It lay somewhere else. It was in the spiritual Armageddon where he had to shape the destiny of humankind. The life defining moment in the life of Dr. Gaur was just inches ahead…” it tells the reader.

What was the life defining moment? When did it arrive? Again the time-line is absent with the narrative telling the reader that Meher Baba gave a tight hug to Gaur when he entered His Samadhi.

“On one fine occasion he found himself at the Samadhi of the present era’s incarnation of the God Avatar Meher Baba at Ahmednagar. He was standing like everyone else in the long serpentine queue with a rose in his hand to offer his regards or tribute to the feet of Avatar. Then came his turn, and he entered the tomb. But before he could offer rose to Baba, Baba emerged from his grave and gave him a tight hug. Such was the impact of the Avataric embrace of Baba that the petals of the rose were crushed to powder and this reddened the side pocket of his long Kurta. It all happened in the divine consciousness and in a timeless dimension. Nobody around the tomb knew what happened and in which way? When Acharya Gaur returned to his worldly consciousness he found that other persons in the queue were getting restless and asking him to leave the place for others. Acharya Gaur was in ecstatic delirium. When he told about this divine embrace to the fellow devotees standing hither and thither around the tomb and even inside the tomb nobody could believe it. Then he showed the crushed petals of the rose, the incarnadine smear of the sap of rose on the side pocket of his Kurta. But even then it was hard to stomach. But then much to the bewilderment of everybody the same ruddy splotch was seen on the side of the cloak of Baba’s portrait which is perched behind his grave in the tomb. Seeing this people around there went berserk and took away even the last residue of the crushed rose.”

Reading the above lines, I felt really envy of Gaur. Though I have been visiting the Samadhi Shrine, I never had such a moment that would remain etched on the mind for eternity.

My first visit to the Tomb Shrine, as we call the place that houses the Samadhi of Meher Baba, was two-days after the Avatar dropped His physical body, and Baba was lying in the crypt surrounded by ice slabs. Since then I have become a regular face at the Holy place.

In a manner of speaking I am a witness to what we may call the suomoto growth of Meherabad because though Baba has stated that the place would become the Jerusalem of the world, none of my generation, who came to Him in the late sixties while still in the college, had imagined that we could see the place milling with a few hundred people during our life time.

For the First Amartithi, I could drive up the hill in a taxi just before Silence was announced, and have Darshan within no time. Till she joined Baba in Jan 1999, my mother used to invoke her senior citizen status to have “Darshan” three times on all the three-days of Amartithi. Today, even on a normal working day, I have to stand in the line often waiting for more than an hour for my turn to reach the gate of the Samadhi.

So, it is natural for me to envy Gaur. But nobody has spoken about Gaur’s experience. Not the regulars to the Shrine, not even Saligram Sharma, whom I knew fairly well, and who, according to the Gaur web site, became the first spiritual disciple of Boy Gaur.

This Saligram Sharma, I am referring to, is from Hamirpur, which is steeped in love for Meher Baba. Since we are on Meher Baba, I presume the Sharma in the Gaur narrative and the Sharma I know are the same.

Presumptions need not necessarily be true, of course.

Now I have a serious problem with the next turn in the website’s narrative.

It says:

“The hug of Avatar Meher Baba was supposed to be his silent approval to kick-start the pivotal worldwide task of permeating the message of love and spiritual consciousness amongst us the lost and deviated souls. Acharya Gaur blasted the irrevocable and invincible bugle to conquer the world spiritually. He founded the World Spiritual Foundation with its Head Office at Shivpuri & its branches now established all over the world”.

From what I have known and heard, Gaur is not the first “Sadguru” after Meher baba dropped His body. Nor will he be the last “Sadguru” if we go by the general definition of Sadguru.

Long years ago, Babadas, who had awakened Hamirpur to Meher Baba’s Message, had tried to present himself as one. He was ticked off and told not to take His name by none other than Meher Baba himself. In the early seventies, that is a couple of years after Meher Baba dropped His physical body, Andhra Pradesh produced its own Sadguru tied to the apron of Meher Baba.

Veeraaju, better known as Chaitanya Maharaj, became a draw for a large section of Telugu speaking Meher Baba lovers, particularly from the East and West Godavari districts. The camp worshipped Meher Baba, no doubt, but it did not stop them to create a cult around “Maharaj” and his wife, Gayatri, saying that Maharaj was the Sadguru successor to the Avatar of the Age.

Frankly, the likes of me have no quarrel with them or with the puja (worship with flowers, followed by prayers and aarti) that was reportedly offered to the husband-wife. The world is full of wonders – some real and some fake. There is place for everything under the sun. You pick the wonder that your sanskaras make you get attracted.

Yet, the likes of me can neither afford to forget nor stop drawing the attention of the likes of Chaitanya Maharaj and Acharya Gaur to what Meher Baba repeatedly said namely Avatar, who is God Man doesn’t fade away after He drops His physical body. He remains with us, invisible to normal eye but more active than ever before, working through His circle till the next advent. Many members of the circle may not know Who He is and Where He is but implicitly carry out His wish. So much so He doesn’t need second-in commands when He is physically present and successors after He drops His body.

I have not read many books on Meher Baba. I purchased God Speaks in English and all the three translations in Telugu and one in Hindi. I have not read the book beyond the first few pages though Baba said, according to Mehru, a member of Baba’s women Mandali, one should read it without bothering about the meanings behind the words, secure in the knowledge that Baba Himself will make you understand the secrets of God Speaks when the Time comes.

What I read and heard, however, helped me to answer the queries – Who is the successor to Meher Baba at Meherabad? How can there be no successor to Mutt/ Petham/Trust?

Some used to be annoyed with my replies. Some used to laugh away at what they used to see as my idiocity in Meher Baba.

What was my reply? It was not a complicated Vedanta mix nor was it a quote from Meher Baba’s Discourses. It was simple every day experience.

Do you have a successor to your father? You don’t. Father is Father, whether he is with you physically or not. You cannot have different fathers for different occasions.

During my student days, I came across a play by an acclaimed Telugu writer, Advishnu. The title was: Wanted Fathers.

The story revolves round four bachelors, who donot know how to get married. The parents were opposed to the girls they are in deep love . “If we can manage to get one father like figure, our problem will be solved. If one kanyadan is performed that is enough; the new couple can perform the other two marriages”, says the hero disparate to find a father.

We are fortunately not in the same bracket as the hero of “Wanted Fathers”. We know who our divine father is. And what does He want? He wants us to hold on to His Daman, and tells us it is possible if we remember Him in our day –to-day life. He has prescribed neither a puja nor ritual worship. He has created no cult, no religion. He has left behind no one single soul who can interpret Him to the world.

Eruch Jessawala and Adi K Irani, who were with Meher Baba from their childhood, had never claimed to be Baba’s spokesmen. Both were eye witnesses to several phases in Baba’s work. And they had really deep understanding of whatever Baba said. Yet, their narrative used to begin thus: Baba used to say, Baba said and so on.

What is my point?

It is that it is not fair for any one single person to claim the status of divine anointed/God realised Sadguru for Meher Baba’s cause. Certainly out of place will be anyone promoting himself as a Sadguru using Avatar Meher Baba’s photo, flag, and “Mastery in Servitude” symbol, as a backdrop.

This is what Chaitanya Maharaj did in Andhra Pradesh. This is what Acharya Raghuveer Singh Gaur appears to be doing, going by his presence on the YouTube.

One impression his website leaves behind is that there is an effort – conscious or otherwise, to create a Gaur cult, with miracles ascribed to him. Whether it is right or wrong is for his camp to analyse.

Says a post on his website “Previously, the masters were seen doing Shaktipaat to their chosen few staunch disciples. But here in the hall of Acharya Gaur Shakitpaat is distributed like sweets in a candy shop, to all who need it, to the commoners and the rich alike. Currently, 67 very important sites on meditation all over the world are showing Acharya Gaur’s YouTube videos as the only practical example of real Shaktipaat”.

In so far Meher Baba is concerned, we know on the authority of none other than Baba himself that He doesn’t perform miracles. If anyone thinks so, it is a mistaken impression, he said once and declared that He would do only one miracle and that is waking up the world.

If this is indeed so, how the miracles are happening and how some people impressed by such miracles are getting drawn to Meherabad? During a visit to a Maruti Service Station at Yerwada, Pune, a supervisor asked me about visiting Baba Samadhi. I asked him why he was interested in Baba. He replied: “In my neighbourhood, there is a childless couple. They got a child after visiting Meher Baba Samadhi”.

Bhau Kalchuri, the last member of Meher Baba’s resident Mandali (he joined his beloved last October) solved the puzzle once during his internet chat. “Baba himself said that the miracles are performed by souls in agony to please Him hoping to complete their birth-death cycle”, he stated.

Bhauji, as we used to address him, elevated me to the Kalchuri dynasty and gave me a new name: Ramsingh Kalchuri. He used to ask me to put black colour to my hair. I could not pull the courage to do so. For over forty five years, white hair has been my trade mark. What people will think if I turn it into black in my sixties? Still I gave it a new colour one Sunday – light grey. He was not pleased. He did not speak with me that day. By the time I managed to convince myself to fulfill his wish, Baba called Bhauji. And he left leaving me with a life-long regret.

I began with a reference to GSN Moorthi. So it will be fair to reproduce what the Gaur site says about him.

“There was one towering personality named Late Dr. G.S.N Moorthi. He was a disciple of Avatar Meher Baba and Baba called him the Vivekananda of the modem Age. Once he visited Shivpuri and spent some time with Acharya Gaur. He was so moved by the deep and compassionate persona of Acharya Gaur and so hooked on with the Shaktipaat of Acharya Gaur that he could hardly resist and made a vociferous announcement before the local media men that Acharya Gaur was the first original founder of the Supra Mental Meditation”.

I have no way to cross check the above statement. To give a benefit of doubt, Moorthy might have said the remarks attributed to him. No problem. It doesn’t square with two nuggets I know. Moorthy was among the first converts to Chaitanya Maharaj.

Like Swamy Satyaprakash Udaseen, he too landed in Mandapet, the Maharaj turf near Rajahmundry. Moorthy returned to Baba’s Brindavan after a few months. Swamy became Satyaprakash Meherananda and remained at Mandapet. I stayed at Swamyji Meher Vihar (a two bed-room ground floor unit in a single story house in Hyderabad’s Himayat Nagar) in late sixties. So I wrote him a letter congratulating him on long overdue name change, and stopping my subscription to Divya Vani, a monthly edited by him till be breathed his last. He replied agreeing with me that he should have changed his name a long while ago, and voiced the hope that I would resume my subscription to Divya Vani one day. His hope remained a hope.

One more Moorthy nugget.

He found himself uncomfortable with Gaur’s interpretations of past avatars while speaking about Meher Baba, particularly juxtaposing Baba and Krishna. . So, like a headmaster, Moorthy ticked him off, made him stop his verbosity and told him bluntly “donot speak like this again…” And added such interpretations only give bad name or something to that affect. The occasion for the snub, as I said at the outset was Delhi centre’s anniversary. Moorthy was in chair. Gaur was one of the guest speakers. It was the only time I saw Murthy as a personification of anger.

The foregoing is not a case against Sadguru Gaur or his mission. It is his conviction that makes him do what he is doing, meditation including. Meher Baba is not against meditation per se but did not prescribe to everyone.

Yet, it is difficult to resist the temptation to point out that Sadguru Dr Raghuveer Singh Gaur’s clarion call, as his web site puts, doesn’t jell well what we know Meher Baba has been saying about His work.

Meher Baba says: “I have come not to teach you but to awaken you”. He also says: “I do My work. You needn’t worry how to do My work”.

On his part, Gaur, according to the website, say “ 0 man, 0 lost man, 0 bereaved man! Come on, shed your ignorance, leave your suspicions, douse your doubts and come to my world. I’m right there stretching my arms and opening my chest and welcoming you. Come on, consume in me, and let your individuality perish. I will take you to the world where the Avatar dwells with all his consciousness, bliss and ecstasy. Just come on, come on, come on!”

Needless to say for the likes of me it is difficult to go along with Gaur call. Also with the aim of his World Spiritual Foundation: “spiritual enhancement of the individual self and guiding it to the ultimate journey of communion with God Almighty”. And its assertion: “The foundation is a place where the incarnation of the God in the Modern’ Era ‘Avatar Meher baba’ resides in every heart”.

Pertinent in this context is what Meher Baba said three-years before He dropped His physical body. He said: Shun those masters, who are like multi-coloured electric signs that flash on and off, brightening the dark sky of your world and leaving you in darkness again”.

Equally pertinent is Meher Baba’s Last Warning as He called it in July 1968. It was not a warning meant for the general public. It was warning to those who love Him, who obey Him and all who would want to do so.

“It is equally important at this critical period of the Avataric Age to beware at all times of persons who lead others into believing that they are saintly and pious and profess to possess supernatural powers. However pious such persons appear to be, a Baba-lover must never mix such piety with the Divinity of the Avatar!

“His lovers and workers should never get involved with such persons and affairs, much less with perverted “helpers of humanity” who have no reverence or regard for the Perfect Masters and the Avatar of the age. Beware of them who exploit spirituality to gain their selfish ends and dupe others in the name of Sadgurus and the Avatar”, read the message.

I rest my case secure in the belief that when I have the Avatar of the Age by my side, I don’t have to search for the saints whether self-anointed or hailed as such by people in search of saints with supernatural powers.

Ram Singh Kalchuri aka Malladi Rama Rao

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By Malladi Rama Rao *
If there is one who badly deserves sympathy, the honour rightly goes to Manmohan Singh, who is under attack as he steps into his twilight years. And if there is one who is not getting any sympathy, that honour is also reserved for him proving the adage that fate can be really cruel. Even his worst critics have not reserved for him the obscurity that appears to be his destiny. Certainly, we are not prepared for the trenchant criticism of Vinod Rai, former CA&G, that Manmohan Singh has no intellectual and professional integrity. Rai is a former student of Singh at the Delhi School of Economics and during his long IAS career had occasions to work under “doctor saheb” as the former prime minister is addressed by friends and admirers alike.

In a limited sense, we are prepared to see brickbats for Manmohan Singh for quite a while, more so after Natwar Singh, the loyalist turned trenchant critic of Congress party’s First Family, wrote disparagingly about him and declared that Manmohan Singh had left no legacy. Very few take Natwar Singh seriously, and for some his book is, indeed, no more than a disgruntled rant. He is also blamed for his role in making 10,Janpath a port of call for visiting world leaders – a fact he himself had admitted in his latest book “One Life Is Not Enough” ‘ that had generated lot of heat and has reportedly a second print order.

The criticism of both Vinod Rai and Natwar is on Manmohan, the Prime Minister. Some of us, acolytes of Manmohan Singh, became his critics much earlier, and this bitterness has something to do with his brand of politics which made him ditch his “political guru” PV when the late prime minister was under pincer attack from Sonia Gandhi loyalists. Because, this school firmly believed and continues to subscribe to the theory that Singh’s one-liner that Caesar’s wife should be above suspicion virtually sealed PV’s fate in the Congress Parliamentary Party (CPP) shortly after the 1996 election.

“PV’s decision to appoint Manmohan Singh as Finance Minister in 1991 came ‘out of the blue’”, according to his daughter, Daman Singh. Her book “Strictly Personal, Manmohan and Gursharan” is a calibrated effort to put the “record straight” after Sanjay Baru with his “Accidental Prime Minister” painted a picture that was unflattering at its core. According to her, Manmohan is not a manipulative politician or a wheeler-dealer. “He is neither a misfit in politics nor is he a reluctant politician”, Daman said in several interviews after her book was released last month.

In so many words, Vinod Rai doesn’t dispute her stand; in fact, he endorses her certificate while popping up the question: Did Manmohan Singh invoke his integrity template to prop up the UPA for a decade. This question first cropped up when the likes of Sibu Soren and Lalu Prasad Yadav became his cabinet colleagues in the first UPA. And it gained more currency after the UPA had got embroiled in several scams, the most brazen being Aircel-Maxis case involving DMK’s Dayanidhi Maran, 2G scam involving A Raja, also of the DMK, and the Coalgate that features a Congress leader from Andhra Pradesh..

Vinod Rai, with the benefit of his ring side seat as the “munim” of the nation, does a performance audit of Manmohan Singh persona as the administrator. His conclusion: the revered doctor saheb had subscribed to good politics and not to good governance.

Put differently, Rai’s verdict shows that Singh’s 1996 one-liner was not an aberration, whether you like it or not. And this offers good food for thought to future historians and political economists alike in assessing the doctor saheb’s contribution to Indian political lexicon. One thing can be said at this point in time with no fear of contradiction. It is that Manmohan Singh has proved that personal integrity in financial terms is no virtue when the crying need of the day under UPA 1 &2 was intellectual and professional integrity, and the urgency was not to let the century old Congress party end up as a limpet afflicted with paraplegia.

History will be unkind to Manmohan Singh, the politician, therefore. It is doubtful whether history will be kind to Singh, the economist, though he has been hailed as the Father of India’s Second Independence, which had freed the country from the clutches of Nehruvian Fabiansm that was rooted in the Soviet Union’s October Revolution. It suited the Congress and the opposition of the day to credit Singh with the economic reforms and brand it as Manmohonomics.

A close examination of economic policy of the Congress –led United Progressive Alliance with or without the help of Vinod Rais shows that Manmohan Singh as Prime Minister had turned a blind eye to economic reforms. For Sonia Gandhi, who was the real master of the UPA, focus was not growth but socialist era doles, and freebies. For Sonia- Singh successors on the Raisina Hill, therefore, reviving growth is not an easy task. They have to make a beginning by returning to the basics and it is dismantling the structures they had erected on the PV era ruins of permits-quota raj.

Put simply, history will give credit for the economic reforms of 1991 to the forgotten revolutionary, as the US-based economist Arvind Panagariya describes P V Narasimha Rao, and points out that while Singh remained the face of the reforms throughout his tenure, PV was hardly a passive player. The now-famous New Industrial Policy of July 24, 1991, “which consigned investment licensing to the dustbin of history and opened the door to direct foreign investment thereby emancipating Indian entrepreneurs”, originated in the PM’s office, as he had held the Industry portfolio himself.

Well as PM, PV always characterised the economic reforms as an extension of Nehru-Indira- Rajiv polices and this has made Family loyalists to argue that Rajiv Gandhi, who had spoken of his dream of 21st century India, not PV, should get credit for economic reforms. They may have a point. But it will be unfair to ignore two reality checks. One PV had seen the failure of Fabiansm from close range as chief minister and union minister. Two he went beyond the Rajiv story, made a “complete U-turn without seeming to be a U-turn” in key sectors like banking, telecom and civil aviation.

Says Arvind Panagariya “Fifty years from now when historians take stock of the makers of the new India, two individuals from our times will figure prominently on their lists: Prime ministers P V Narasimha Rao and Atal Bihari Vajpayee. If justice prevails, by then, the nation would have also honoured them with Bharat Ratna”.

Difficult to disagree with the celebrated economist though PV, true to his nature, did not go to the town with his trade mark pout, and allowed his Finance Minister to hog all the limelight. More so in the light of scam-blasts from the past ten years that have come to demolish the defences a loving daughter has tried to erect for her dotting father.

(*The writer, Delhi-based senior journalist and South Asia analyst, can be reached at mramarao2008@gmail.com)

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Tamil Sai devotees ‘walkathon’ to Shirdi

Dy.EO Appasaheb Shinde and PRO Mohan Yadav welcomed the "walkathon" devotees from Chennai

Chennai/Shirdi, 29 July: A group of thirteen Sai Baba devotees from Chennai walked all the way to Shirdi with “Sai Baba’s palanquin”.

On their arrival in Shirdi on July 27, Deputy Executive officer of Shri Saibaba Sansthan Trust, Appasaheb Shinde warmly welcomed and congratulated them for their 31-day feat.

This is not for the first time for this group to make the 1650 km long walkathon from Chennai to Shirdi.

“We have been walking the distance for the past four years invoke Sai’s blessings”, V. Chandramouli, who has been leading the ‘long march’, said.

He added that every year they carry Sai Baba’s palanquin as a mark of their devotion to the deity in Shirdi.

“Next year, we wish to bring Sai Baba’s chariot”, the Sai Walkers’ leader said.

Other members of the Sai devotee group from Chennai making the long march are B. M. Gupta, Shridhar Gupta, T. D. Ashokkumar, S. Kartikeyan, S.S. Anand, A. Radhakrishnamurti, A. Suman, P. S. Parmeshwaran, M.S. Shaktidayalan, S. Mohanraj, P.V. Kadiravan, M. Lingam, R. Udaykumar, and R. Umadan.

The group used to walk fifty kilometres every day. They covered the 1650 km distance between Chennai and Shirdi in 31-days.

After leaving Chennai, they took “Sai Darshan” at Sai temple in Mailapur, and paid their obeisance at Pattipulam Sai temple.

Pattipulam is some 70 Km from their starting point. Here the Temple President K. V. Ramani felicitated every one of the Sai walkers with Tulsi garland, and wished them ‘a happy, comfortable, walk ahead’.

Ramani kept in touch the ‘walkers’ throughout their march inquiring about their health.

Chandramouli and his team of devotees visited Tirupati and Pandharpur enroute. At Tirupati, they invoked the blessings of Balaji. And at Pandharpur, the Sai Walkers had Darshan of Shri Vithhal.

On arrival in Shirdi, Chandramouli said “Saibaba is the great Saint of this era. We experience his existence and presence every day. We must pray from the depths of our heart to be heard”

Welcoming them, Appasaheb Shinde wished them a great Darshan and comfortable stay in the temple town.  He assured them of all necessary help, according to Sansthan PRO, Mohan Yadav.

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By Atul Cowshish 

The party that has taken for granted its ascent to power after the April-May Lok Sabha polls may invite more ridicule when it says that it is a ‘different’ kind of party even though many observers might insist that the striking feature of the Bharatiya Janata party is the public display of its growing internal ‘differences’—and the unstoppable trend for raising BJP ‘dynasties’. That is not being very ‘different’ from other parties. Yet, today’s BJP is indeed ‘different’—from what it had claimed itself to be all these years.

The BJP presented an unfamiliar spectacle when there was an open clash between the old guard—led by the patriarch L.K. Advani–and the new ‘youth’ brigade under the control of the ultra-nationalist, Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, who can hardly wait to be the next prime minister of India. In the run up to the Lok Sabha polls, the BJP has also exhibited a weakness for nurturing its own dynasties by distributing party tickets to family members of many BJP leaders.

When not accommodating family members of leaders, the BJP was happy to do some poaching candidates from other parties—the ones who were very vocal in criticizing the BJP and Modi in particular. With such a strong ‘wave’ in its favour why should the BJP be looking for candidates whose nomination as party candidates raised ugly storms?

The weakness for nominating family members of BJP leaders as party candidates was a complement to the dynasty generative Congress or other parties that are run like family concerns? There may be no ‘first family’ in the BJP but that is perhaps because the party is not old enough to claim a line of succession running through generations, like the more than a century old Congress.

In the previously ‘different’ BJP internal differences, if any, were resolved behind closed doors and not a whiff of it reaching outside. It is no longer so. The blame can be attributed to the modern age of communication even though it has made everyone more talkative than ever before. A ‘disciplined’ party member is not expected to yield to the temptations of media publicity.

The most glaring parallel between today’s BJP and its bête noire, the Congress, is in the matter of building a personality cult. The 2014 Lok Sabha BJP poll campaign revolves round one man, Narendra Modi. In a matter of a few months the BJP has transformed itself into a single-leader party, a throwback to the Indira era of the Congress—the ‘India is Indira and Indira is India’ days. The BJP has willingly erased from memory how it (and its predecessor, Jana Sangh) had fought against Indira Gandhi after she had taken full control of the Congress, demolishing the party’s old guard, known as the Syndicate.

Just as the Congress Syndicate failed to check the bulldozing by Indira Gandhi, the BJP old guard could do nothing to stop the Modi juggernaut from trampling upon them. The ‘new’ BJP and its leader Narendra Modi have scant respect for the perceived or real contributions of their party seniors in building up the party edifice.

The Khaki-clad sages of the Rashtriya Swyamsevak Sangh in Nagpur, the putative mentors of the saffron party, have readily acquiesced into this particular transformation of the BJP, maybe because they see it is the best way to curb dissent and indiscipline in the BJP. They are driven by a burning desire to see the demise of the Congress and install BJP in power which will realize their vision for a ‘Hindu Rashtra’ (Hindu nation).

They see Modi as committed to their policies, unlike the old guard—Atal Bihari Vajpayee, L.K. Advani et al. The RSS has had reasons to be wary of the old guard. Vajpayee as prime minister did not care too much for their counsel. Both L.K. Advani and Jaswant Singh had sung praises of the founder of Pakistan, Mohamed Ali Jinnah, a cardinal sin in the eyes of the Sangh Parivar. No regrets if such leaders have been dwarfed or eclipsed by Modi.

The motley crowd of Modi supporters who include intellectuals, including media celebrities, media houses and top corporate ‘honchos’, are dying to see Modi’s ascent because they have decided that he alone can provide the kind of ‘decisive’, pro-business leadership the country needs now after the decade-old rule by what they think were hibernating wimps. The pro-Modi chorus has drowned any noise that speaks of dangers from a party run by the whims of one man.

In the intoxicated mood for heralding Modi rule, the BJP president, Rajnath Singh, plays second fiddle to Modi on instructions from Nagpur. He ‘corrected’ his faux pas within a few minutes when he changed his Tweet on ‘Next government by BJP’ to ‘Next government by Modi’.

Replicating his Gujarat ‘model’ of governance, Modi has made sure that he has a team which does not question him. Party members with suspect loyalty to Modi or deemed to be his potential rivals within the party have been either kept out of the polls with an assurance that they would be ‘adjusted’—‘furniture-like, said Jaswant Singh—or asked to fight it out in new territories.

The Modi steamroller readily takes on odd detractors from within the party, even if they happen to be from among the ‘senior’ leadership. The leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha, Sushma Swaraj, is apparently apprehensive of the rise of Modi and some other developments in the party. All she can do is sulk, sometimes in public via Twitter. Her unsolicited support for Jaswant Singh who was denied his wish to contest from Barmer in his native Rajasthan, failed to impress anyone in her party. Instead, she was snubbed and reviled by her counterpart in the Rajya Sabha, Arun Jaitley, who is a flag bearer of the Modi brigade.

Jaitley, with his habit of reacting with lightening speed to anything and everything, may become a more important ally of Modi if he does become the prime minister. His debating skills, which would do proud to any participant in a high school declamation contest, might have to be pressed into service more frequently than he cares.

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Maldives To Vote Again Amidst Continuing Uncertainties

By Allabaksh

If all goes well and if there are no Gayoom induced hiccups, Maldives will make its third tryst with its presidential election on Saturday Nov 9. There is a question mark still on how the visible and not so visible forces react to the outcome. The possibility of rejecting the verdict does not belong to the realm of Ripley’s Believe it or not with the orchestrated campaign of Gayoom and his coterie at home and his patrons in Beijing and Islamabad- Rawalpindi to push Mohamed Nasheed the winner of the first round off the front line two months ago.

Hopes of no return to bizarre events rests solely on the international pressure and the public mood and this is not a misplaced hope is clear from the fact that Gayoom’s Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) has endorsed the voter’s list though grudgingly. Putting a melodramatic spin, PPM which hopes to see Gayoom’s half brother Abdulla Yameen Gayoom at the Presidential Palace, attributed its decision, besides pressure from international partners, to the need to ease mounting public concern over the vote and to save the county from further financial losses.

Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) was the first party to accept the new voters’ lists though it is aware that the rolls were prepared with an eye to deny whatever advantages it may have at the ballot box. Jumhoory Party (JP) and its candidate Gasim Ibrahim have also signed the voters’ lists as required under the Maldivian law to set the country on its third vote in the presidential election, which under the statute should be completed before November 11.

India which is seen having a direct stake in an orderly transition in Male, Britain and the United States, which share India’s geo-strategic perception of the Indian Ocean region, have been calling for a credible election.. The three countries in their own way have communicated the message that a failure to hold the ballot not only in a fair manner but also enabling free exercise of the franchise would damage Maldives international reputation which depends on tourism and fish for its survival.

What happened on Nov 6 at London’s Excel Convention centre where more than fifty Maldivian companies were in attendance to promote their nation of multiple islands as an idyllic holiday destination offered the taste of things in store if the lslamist zealots in Male only enacted the script given to them by their overseas friends.

To go by Daily Telegraph’s report, the event’s official Twitter hashtag was inundated with photos of the victims of alleged police brutality and tweets claiming democracy has been destroyed in the country. So instead of promoting Male bound tourism that accounts for about a third of the country’s GDP, these companies found themselves facing loaded political questions and groped for answers both short and long. For some twitter users the hashtag came in handy to call for a tourist boycott of Maldives till the country makes a course correction while some others told their visitors that the first democratically elected President Nasheed was overthrown at the behest of resort owners.

To his acute embarrassment, Gasim Ibrahim has ended up as the butt of most twitter message. It is not because he is Maldives richest businessman with several luxury holiday resorts but because of the fact he has played into Gayoom politics of somehow make Nasheed disappear from the presidential sweepstakes.

Towards that lofty goal, Ibrahim knocked at the Supreme Court, and got the first round annulled with President Mohamed Waheed Hassan’s police telling the bench that several under aged persons had cast their vote and that names of some dead also find a place in the electoral rolls. In short the police claim was that there was an inbuilt mechanism to facilitate bogus voting and therefore the September 7 first round verdict that went in favour of Nasheed should be declared null and void.

Elections Commission (EC) Chair Fuwad Thowfeek has since punctured the Police claim and showed it to be a version of Ripley’s Believe it not enterprise. At least four of the eighteen voters deemed to be dead in the Supreme Court verdict were in fact alive, the poll body found out. A house wife protested to the Chief Justice that she cannot be called a widow when her 48-year-old husband is very much alive and lives with her at their Male home. The apex court got her husband’s name deleted from the voter’s list on the basis of police report. Now the lady wants a roll back of the order.

All this only showed to what extent the anti-democratic forces are prepared to go in furtherance of an international agenda aimed at ushering in a Caliphate and of making Male the transit point of Bamboo capitalism’s odyssey into the so called Dark Continent.

To return from the digression, the poll body had earlier planned the run off on November 16. It has since advanced the date to Nov 11 with the concurrence of Nasheed, Yameen Gayoom and Gasim Ibrahim. The outgoing president Mohamed Waheed Hassan, who offers an absorbing study on politics of rank opportunism, could have been an aspirant for the new vote. But he has seen the writing on the wall at the end of stymied first round itself and has bowed out of the race. And he did not stand in the way of a rejig of the run off calendar.

Had PPM and JP signed the voter list last month itself, Maldives could have seen regime change by now since the EC had set the re-vote for Oct 19 initially. Also of course, had the police played along but they had refused to co-operate with the poll body.

From all accounts, Nasheed is the front runner this time too. And he is locked in a close contest with Gayoom’s half brother Abdulla Yameen Gayoom though the presence of business tycoon, Qasim Ibrahim makes it a three-leg race involving an estimated 239,105 voters just a few hundred short of the 239,593 registered voters at the time of first round in September.

Will the electorate reward the front runner with the mandatory 50 per cent vote to ward off a runoff on Nov 10?

The answer rests on three factors: The Gayoom and his Islamist friends who have entered the fray on a religious card, Police, and Judiciary though not necessarily in that order, and above all the extent of fairness in the voting process. PPP has been linking Islam and sovereignty. Abdulla Yameen has been telling voters that it is “obligatory” upon them “to vote for him for the sake of Islam and the nation”, and also because PPM was the only party that worked on behalf of the religion and the nation during the three-year long MDP government.

His anti-corruption pitch is no less interesting. “I could have awarded projects any way I wanted to become the richest man during the Gayoom regime, he told an election rally, adding that by the grace of God, “I am free from corruption and is able to talk about the corruption of another person in front of the people”. The dig is at MDP Nasheed; and the cases slapped against him.

The run up to the ballot has seen an atmosphere of fear with cadres and colleagues of MDP leadership coming under threats and intimidation. For instance, the 29-year –old wife and the four-year-old daughter of MDP lawmaker Hussain Waheed were stabbed in their Male apartment on Nov 5 night. A media house known to be pro-Nasheed was subjected to arson a few days back. There have been demonstrations by Islamic fundamentalists. All this points to the upper hand the hardliners appear to be gaining particularly in the remote islands.

A resolution of the impasse on the political stage is a must to put Maldives firmly on the path of democracy. And also to rescue the country from the dire straits it has been pushed into according to a report presented to Parliament early November. The political uncertainties have hit hard the tourism industry. From a robust 15.8 per cent growth in 2010, tourist trade has plunged to negative 0.1 percent now. Other sectors are in no pink of health either. While the salary bill is an estimated US $ 32 million a month, the income is just $ 19 million forcing the government to borrow from the central bank of the country.

The message is clear. The new ballot is very crucial for Maldives both politically and economically.

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Gotabaya Rajapaksa: The Man who would be President

By a Special Correspondent
New Delhi is expected to have an interesting visitor soon from Colombo. And he is non-other than Gotabaya Rajapaksa, a former army man, who had made a substantial contribution to decimating the LTTE Tigers and who has been publicly critical of India for the civil war in his country and the 13th Amendment thrust on an unwilling Sinhala majority.

The Colombo Telegraph reports that the Lankan Defence Secretary is coming to Delhi to discuss bilateral security matters and the Tamil Nadu fishermen issue.

Notwithstanding the criticism of India, the former Army Lt. Col. has often noted that friendly ties between India and Sri Lanka are the need of the hour. While his actions may seem otherwise, it is posited that Gotabaya Rajapaksa is a leader, politician and intelligence chief who believes in military order. Therefore, it is for both sides to construct a new relationship.

Gotabaya made some significant remarks at a seminar in Colombo that would have a bearing on India-Sri Lanka relations. India and Sri Lanka should retain “meaningful and close” bilateral ties despite occasional hiccups, including the issue of fishermen, he said at the seminar on “Post-conflict Sri Lanka Challenges and Regional Stability,’ held in Colombo on September 3.

“India is very sensitive to events in Sri Lanka, because of the large Tamil population in Tamil Nadu”, the Defence Secretary noted and went on to say that it was critical for both countries to retain a meaningful and close relationship despite the issues that crop up from time to time to put strain on the age old ties. Spurt in illegal fishing by Tamil Nadu fishermen in Sri Lankan waters is one such issue, he said, and added that the shadow of Sri Lanka looms large on Indian scene during election times.

Gotabaya, who is President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s younger brother, also commented on the growing China-Sri Lanka relations, saying that misperceptions about the nature of China’s influence in Sri Lanka has made the cordial relationship an issue for other countries. China’s involvement in Sri Lanka is purely diplomatic and economic, he asserted. Calling for a proper understanding of Beijing-Colombo ties in the correct perspective, he went on to say that China is one of Sri Lanka’s foremost development partners and contributed richly to many of its key projects. This engagement, according to Gotabaya, has been misinterpreted to suggest that China has undue influence over his island nation.

On immediate security challenges for Sri Lanka, the defence secretary said attempts by the extremist elements to promote Muslim extremism is a cause for concern. “It has been observed that there are some foreign groups that wish to encourage Sri Lankan Muslims to identify themselves more with the global Muslim community, thereby reducing their integration with the rest of the population.”

Rajapaksa said threat of re-emergence of terrorism is still real in Sri Lanka. Several overseas based LTTE-linked groups are being coordinated by the Global Tamils Forum. “Their intention is the division of Sri Lanka and the establishment of a separate state for Tamil Eelam. There are several strategies through which they will try to achieve their objective.” He said the visit of UN Human Rights High Commissioner Navi Pillay to Sri Lanka was another instance of the LTTE’s attracting of international attention to their cause. After a week-long visit Pillay slammed Sri Lanka as a state which was increasingly heading towards authoritarianism.

Some five months ago, in July to be precise, Gotabaya Rajapaksa stated that Sri Lanka would not listen to India over the 13th Amendment. “It is a national issue for Sri Lanka. Only Sri Lankans should address it and resolve it”, he said. He did slip in a caveat though. While Sri Lanka would not listen to India on the 13 A, it did not mean that Colombo should lose the relationship with India, said Gotabaya. And stressed that the national question should have a home-grown solution and the debate about the 13th Amendment should not affect the relations between the two countries.

Interestingly, Gotabaya Rajapaksa highlighted the fact that he didn’t believe that areas should be demarcated according to ethnicity, religion, caste or creed. He stated that Sri Lanka belonged to all Sri Lankans adding that his Government had to think in those terms.

Well, the fact of the matter is Gotabaya is today the most powerful man in Sri Lanka. Some consider him to be more powerful than President Mahinda Rajapaksa even. To this extent, realism demands that New Delhi deal more closely with this man. Like in the context of US-Pakistan relations, in the context of India-Sri Lanka relations too, Friends, not Masters needs to be the tagline. And this is the message that India needs to convey to Sri Lanka, and nurture friendly spirit though question marks still appear over Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh’s presence at CHOGM due to what Gotabaya may like to refer as the TN factor.

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