A VIEW FROM THE RAISINA HILL

A VIEW FROM THE RAISINA HILL - EXTREMELY WELL - WRITTEN BOOK

 

On July 6, the country observed Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerji’s Birth Anniversary.

That evening I released a book at the National Museum Auditorium titled “Jammu-Kashmir ki Ankahi Kahani.” The author of the book is Dr. Kuldeep Chand Agnihotri.

Tens of thousands of party activists like me justifiably feel proud that we belong to a party whose first national movement was for the cause of national unity, and that the founder-president of our Party laid down his life at the altar of National Integration. But not many may be aware that the struggle we waged all over India had been initiated in Jammu-Kashmir itself even before the Jana Sangh was born in 1951. It was a regional party, the Praja Parishad, which under the leadership of Pandit Premnath Dogra had commenced it. I commend the author’s decision to bring to the notice of the country this untold story of the Praja Parishad’s struggle and sacrifices.

It is noteworthy that shortly after the martyrdom of Dr. Mookerji, the Praja Parishad decided to merge into the Jana Sangh. A little later, Pandit Dogra was elected President of the Jana Sangh.

On July 7, at an impressive function organised in Keshavpuram, Delhi, to mark the Sixth Death Anniversary of Dr. Saheb Singh Verma, former Chief Minister of Delhi, I unveiled a statue of the departed leader, and also released a book on his life and achievements, written by his daughter Rachna Sindhu.

Delhi was the first place in the country which gave Jana Sangh its initial boost. But it also gave the party a lopsided image – that it was essentially an urban party. To Saheb Singh ji goes the credit of not only correcting this image, but during his tenure as Chief Minister, consciously contributing to the development and welfare of rural Delhi. At this well attended function organised by his son Pravesh Verma, rich encomiums were lavished on Saheb Singh, whom several speakers described as “not just an individual, but an institution.”

Two days back, on July 12, I released a book written by a veteran journalist, P.P. Balachandran, titled “A view from the Raisina Hill.” This is the third book I have released in this first fortnight of the month.

At Book-Release functions I generally recall my 19-month incarceration at the Bangalore Central Jail during the 1975-77 Emergency. In prison those days, a word that spontaneously brought relief and joy to all colleagues used to be the word ‘release’. Since then, whenever anyone comes to me with a request that I ‘release’ some book, I rarely say No to him.

Bala, as the author is popularly known, describes himself in the Introduction as “a reluctant writer”, which only reminds me of a recently produced film by our well known U.S. based film-maker Mira Nair. The film is based on a book written by Pakistan’s Mohsin Hamid, The Reluctant Fundamentalist. Mira Nair’s film also bears the same title, and has earned many complimentary reviews. A review I saw in the National Post, a Canadian newspaper, opens with the comment “It’s rare for a movie to improve the book on which it is based, but Mira Nair’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist does just that.”

The synopsis of the film as given in this review reads: a Pakistani man named Changez comes to America to make his fortune on Wall Street – but after 9/11, he begins to feel that he doesn’t really fit in.

Bala has been a journalist for over 40 years. As he rightly says in his introduction: “I am perhaps the only one or among the very few journalists who worked across the whole media rainbow – newspaper, magazine, wire service, radio and television, and the web, both as a dependable staffer and as an undependable freelancer. Add to this the two magazines I started up and edited. One was a trade magazine in the early seventies (it could have been India’s first trade and trade fair journal if allowed to last) and the other a fortnightly magazine for NRIs, also a first in its genre. Both died infantile deaths for want of financial nourishment.”

Bala’s first stint as a foreign correspondent was with Asiaweek, the Hong Kong based news weekly. He became this important journal’s first staff correspondent in India. Bala says that this assignment lasted almost three years. He adds: “This was followed by several other international biggies. Among them were Radio Australia, Washington Post, Gulf News and Reuters. Besides British tabloids like Daily Mail, Today, as also USA Today.”

The author’s own comment on the book wrapper seems very correct. He says that he only writes when he is ‘unsettlingly stirred’. He goes on to observe “when people half my experience occupy acres of shelf space I have only been able to manage a measly collection of what could at best be described as editorial writings or essays.”

But I entirely agree with the publishers of the book when they say that a writer is to be judged not by the bulk of his output, but by the quality of his writing. I have read only this short 163-page book of his. I may not agree with all the views he has expressed, but so far as the quality of his writings goes, I must say it is brilliant. Sample these few paragraphs he writes about himself at the very commencement of his INTRODUCTION. He says:

Every attempt to write is a raid on the mind; and every writer a plunderer of his own inner thoughts; thoughts he brings out from the depths of his mind and sets into words and images before he can offer them to the world.

It’s an act of extreme torment, no doubt, where all the pain is of the writer only.

Some do it with the panache of a serial killer; others serve it as a sentence they failed to escape. In either case, it’s an act of sacrifice, a cleansing of the soul and, therefore, a cathartic experience.

I came to the world of letters through journalism which only shares a coarse kinship with the ornate domain of writing. I must admit, though, that my entry into journalism was not without a secret desire to become a writer in some distant future.  I thought, somehow, that journalism was the road paved with promises for an aspiring author.

Fortunately or otherwise, not every journalist becomes a writer. But then not every courtesan becomes a consort. All journalists are courtesans aspiring to be queens; but the threshold is so wide that the chances of the former progressing to the latter have always been blissfully low.”

***

Today’s blog is about a book I have released two days back and which in the caption I have described as ‘extremely well – written’. But the blog till now speaks only about the author. Let me give my readers a glimpse of the contents of the book also. I propose to include in this part of the blog a couple of excerpts from the book which tell us how Bala views from his vantage position at Raisina Hill three of India’s prime Ministers ― Pandit Nehru, Smt. Indira Gandhi and Shri A.B. Vajpayee ― and a couple of issues like Corruption and Nuclear Power.

The first excerpt is from a Chapter titled “OUR TRYST WITH NEHRU’S LAMP POSTS”. It says:

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru has been many things to many people. He was a brilliant barrister, who could have been a prized lawyer if only he had not got his first brief from Gandhi.

He would have been defending corrupt judges in Parliament or assassins of prime ministers, or even those who bribe the prime minister with trunk loads of currency notes.

He was a dreamer who fell into a slumber till his best friend Chou En Lai woke him up, rather rudely.

And, of course, he was a superb actor who played Hamlet all his life and yet pretended he was playing Julius Caesar.

But most of all, and this is what is not recognized in any measure, he has been our greatest and most successful fixer, who got us the much sought after appointment with our own destiny.

However, while fixing up the tryst with our destiny, Nehru, the builder of this country, had also offered to erect a few lamp posts across the countryside – not to get us electricity but to hang the corrupt, the blackmarketeer and the hawala trader on.

Hang them, that is, if we could find any. Because, Nehru thought it would be a needle in the haystack kind of job, so difficult and so unlikely. Because, he thought that a freedom so hard fought for and so harder won, is not likely to be destroyed or defiled by the same people who made it happen.

And yet, in 50 years, the haystack has undergone a metamorphosis to become a porcupine growing in terms of both its size and viciousness, attacking a nation’s sense and sensibilities. In 50 years, the lamp posts seem to have been short – changed by the same politicians who were supposed to hang on them.

Fifty years later, now, when we are celebrating that first great midnight meeting with our future, I am tempted to quote none other than Nehru himself, but in another context and in reference to somebody else – the Englishman from whom we got what Nehru himself called in his eloquent style the fine flower of freedom.

“I know why the sun never set over the British empire,” Nehru said in one of his lethal moments “because God never trusted an Englishman in the dark.”

It is just a harmless thought : Did not we trust somebody too much when we went for that midnight meeting? Perhaps, we should have had the meeting under a lamp post with the lights switched on.

***

Equally important are Bala’s comments on India as a nuclear power. The sub-heading for this piece is: “When a Giant Wakes up: India as a Nuclear Power”. In this, the author says :

 

Why should India’s five nuclear explosions cause more global tremors and diplomatic radioactivity than America’s 1500 or Russia’s 700 or even China’s 45 explosions? The answer, perhaps, lies not so much in the prejudices and discriminatory mind-set of the so-called super powers as in our own civilizational DNA and in the racial timidity of our people and their leaders – the political, the social and even the religious ones.

This misinterpretation of Hinduism as a defeatist or a pacifist way of living has done more damage to our nation state than to Hinduism itself.

That explains why there are tectonic tremors across the globe when this nation, perceived for centuries to be slow in body and weak in spirit, decides to stand up and be counted as a worthy defender of its life and property – like it happened during India’s first nuclear explosion in 1974.

What Mrs. Indira Gandhi did was not just standing up to those few of nations who appropriated, as it were, the wholesale right to nuclear weapons and world dominance. Her’s was an attempt, a valiant one indeed, to bring about an attitudinal change in the country’s pacifist tradition. Unfortunately, though, her Pokhran blast 24 years ago could not bring about that attitudinal change in any substantive measure, primarily because she herself was not convinced about the nation’s inherent strength to stand up to its challengers.

The fact that Mrs. Gandhi’s insistence that the 1974 experiment was a peaceful explosion and not a bomb only showed that it was a mere marketing posture, devoid of substance.

In the 24 years that followed, the first Pokhran blast was reduced to an archival inventory; and like ‘good’ forgiving Hindus, we went back to our national pastime of self-pity and flagellation.

What Atal Bihari Vajpayee did in May 1998 was to shake us up from this defeatist slumber and re-assert our national pride. Naturally, the guards of the nuclear garrison were not amused.

No doubt, everybody likes a nice guy; but everybody respects a tough guy. Still better, everybody loves and respects a nice, tough guy. A gentle giant is not just a child’s romantic idea of a hero, but of the adult world’s as well.

Twenty-four years later, Atal Bihari Vajpayee has now transformed that into a talismanic weapon that should protect the nation against all its enemies, real and perceived. Too bad, Bill Clinton and Nawaz Sharif do not like it.

Vajpayee could have pleased these gentlemen by being a ‘nice’ guy. But the fact is that a nice guy often gets burnt out in the scorching reality of geo-politics. And Vajpayee knows it just as any body else in his position. If Israel still survives, it is because the Jewish state, right from the begining, decided not to be a nice guy.

TAILPIECE

The last chapter in this book is one on “Art, Culture and Media”. The author devotes three full pages to a cartoonist who is no more in this world but whom I had known very closely when I also was a journalist.

These three pages have the sub-heading “Why We Miss Ranga Today”. Bala writes: “If Ranga earned a niche in Indian journalism’s ‘Hall of Fame’, it’s neither due to his genius as a caricaturist nor in spite of his modest talent as a political cartoonist. He passed muster mainly thanks to the qualities of his heart rather than the qualifications of his head”.

Two months back some prominent cricketers earned front page headlines because of the wealth they were amassing by match-fixing or spot fixing. It had made cricket lovers like me feel very sad. I had written a blog with the caption “One’s last shirt has no pocket.” It would be quite in place to quote what Bala has written about Ranganath, better known as Ranga. He writes: “Ranga’s true legacy to Indian journalism is his priceless collection of over 2000 caricatures of global celebrities that range from Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela to Yasser Arafat and Mohammed Ali; from Mother Teresa and Margaret Thatcher to Mikhail Gorbachev and Bill Clinton. I called the collection priceless not for nothing. If Ranga had ever thought of selling them to the highest bidder, he would have died a millionaire in dollar terms. Evidently, he never sold a single piece, despite the most tantalizing of offers.”

In India today, not only in the field of journalism and politics, but in any field, a person like Ranga, unconcerned about amassing wealth has become a rarity. Ranga fully deserves the rich praise showered on him in the book.

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