Dialogue  October-December, 2010, Volume 12 No. 2

Editorial Perspective

Election Verdict of Bihar          

The massive verdict in favour of the Janata Dal (United) and the Bharatiya Janata Party alliance under the leadership of Nitish Kumar has sent a positive signal that the people reward the performers. Nitish inherited power from a non-performing government in Bihar. People tasted development after a gap of more than a decade; they got roads; were not afraid of moving out even during night time, as there was visible improvement in law and order. Nitish freed bureaucrats from the dictates of politicians, empowering them to act freely. Bureaucratic inefficiency and intra-bureaucratic malfunctioning, however, continued; corruption also increased considerably.

There was a time when Bihar was a better administered State. Professor Paul Appleby, the great authority on public administration, adjudged it to be one of the best in India. I once asked late K. Abraham, a retired member of the Board of Revenue, Bihar, the reason of system’s collapse in Bihar. He highlighted the same in a brief paper, published in a journal, The Thinker (February-May 1979; Kohima), edited by me. He wrote: “… however, there has been a steady deterioration in the administration. Both officials and non-officials are to blame. As the years went by, it became more and more difficult for officers to carry out their duties honestly and fearlessly. It was indeed a tragedy that many an honest officer was penalised for doing the right thing and that quite a few dishonest officers were shielded and indeed rewarded for pandering to the dictates of ministers and other influential non-officials. The extent of corruption among higher ranking officers was not as bad as alleged by many. However, corruption and misdeeds committed by some responsible and highly-placed officers were not only a canker in the administration, but also greatly demoralising, particularly when such misconduct was not punished and sometimes even rewarded. I was shocked when a young IAS officer told me shortly before I retired, that he and some of his colleagues had decided that it would be foolish on their part to refuse to do improper acts at the dictates of ministers.

Fortunately for the NDA, Nitish has a clean image and there is a lot of goodwill among the people for him. People understood his limitations and are hoping better performance from him in future. He was able to break the monopoly of dominant castes among the OBCs and Dalits. The empowerment of women gave dividend. This, however, does not mean that the BJP was a burden for him. Nitish should remember the fact that the performance ratio of the BJP (ratio of winning candidates as against the candidates fighting election) was better than that of the JD(U); better performing ministries – PWD and Health –, apart from Home under Chief Minister were under BJP ministers; and, the BJP has considerably more organised cadre. And the JD(U) was also equal beneficiary.

Length has meaning only if two lines are compared. It loses meaning if the very line is placed before a dot. The Nitish government has done the same as we expect from any performing government. His credentials lie in breaking the inertia of the Lalu raj. Again, contrary to what many mediapersons are projecting, the politics of vote-bank has not vanished from Bihar due to Nitish; rather, it was massively neutralised. How else can one explain Nitish’s dismal performance in Kishanganj and Araria? As for the Congress, it fielded the rejected ones and anti-socials from other parties and believed the myths and propaganda of the sycophants and was, therefore, doomed.

Rebirth of Nalanda

Nalanda University, as we know, was one of the greatest educational institutions of all time. Not only the students, but even the scholars, used to come here for further studies. The university had the arrangement for the study of all religions, philosophies, languages and all other branches of knowledge, which included not only the studies of Pali, Buddhist philosophy and religion, but also Sanskrit and the Vedic literature. Of course, the Universities of Vikramshila, Odantapuri and Jagaddal were no less important. The period of Takshashila University stretches beyond the period of Lord Buddha. Jivaka, the famous vaidya who once treated Lord Buddha, studied medicine in Takshashila. It needs mention that during pre-Islamic period, there were other institutions of learning of the Nalanda pattern in Afghanistan and Central Asia.

Chinese pilgrim Itsing visited Nava Vihar, an important centre of learning at Balkh. He met there 56 such Buddhist bhikshus, who had earlier visited India. Balkh continued to be an important centre of learning at least till the visit of Huen-tsiang in 610 AD. It was then known as ‘Little Rajagrih’. Nava Vihar, which used to receive the revenue of 1500 sq. km area, was finally destroyed in 715 AD due to Arab aggression. The vihara and the great centre of learning of Fondukistan, as Professor C.A. Upasak has written in his book History of Buddhism in Afghanistan, were destroyed by the Arabs during 10th or 11th century AD by the Arabs after 300-400 years of its existence. Bukhara was one of the greatest centres of learning in Central Asia. The word ‘Bukhara’ is a Turkic form of Sanskrit word ‘vihara’. It was also destroyed by the Arabs.

Nalanda and other great centres of learning in India were destroyed during the Turk aggression of India. Vincent Smith has vividly described the destruction of Nalanda and other Indian centres of learning in 1197 AD. When Bakhtiyar Khilji was burning the third and the biggest library of Nalanda, called ‘Ratnagar’ (meaning treasure house of gems), some bhikshus came and prayed him to spare that library. Bakhtiyar, rather than conceding their requests, got them thrown in the fire. Buddhism, as an organised vihara-based religion vanished from the Indian soil after Turk aggression due to the destruction of its institutional base. Exactly the same thing happened in Central Asia, including Chinese Turkistan. In this case, it needs mention that Buddhism and powerful Buddhist Centres of learning continued to function for many centuries after the death of Shankaracharya, who is often blamed for the disappearance of Buddhism from India.

Of late, the idea of the revival of Nalanda University gained momentum. The project of the revival of the university was decided at Second East Asia Summit held at Cebu in the Philippines on January 15, 2007, and then at Fourth East Asia Summit held at Hua Hin in Thailand on October 25, 2009. As a follow up action, the Nalanda University Bill, 2010, was introduced in the Rajya Sabha recently by the External Affairs Ministry, and not by Human Resource Ministry, as is usually done. A mentor group consisting of its chairman Noble laureate economist Professor Amartya Sen, Lord Meghnad Desai, Sugata Bose, Wang Banwei of Beijing University, Ikuo Hirayama, George Yeo, Professor Tansen Sen (having his MA degree from Beijing University) and Nand Kishore Singh is entrusted the task of developing the concept and the roadmap of the project. As reported, a reader in Sociology from Delhi University, Dr. Gopa Sabharwal, has been designated as the Vice-Chancellor. It needs mention that she has only two publications to her credit. While Section 7 of the University Bill specifies qualifications for the membership of the Governing Body — nominees of HRD and MEA of not below the rank of Additional Secretary; three other nominees of the Union government to be renowned academicians — the choice of the VC creates doubts about the future of the university. Anyway, MEA should ensure that the Nalanda University, like many other central universities, should not become grazing ground of the Left-wing job-seekers. Some uncomfortable facts at this initial stage of the establishment of the university cause apprehensions about its future. These are:

i.  The scholars with deep knowledge of the tradition and spirit of Nalanda, as well as that of the Hindu-Buddhist religious, traditional and cultural continuum were the most suitable persons to be associated at this initial formative stage of the project. Keeping this fact in view the most suitable persons to be associated should have been Professors Lokesh Chandra, Govinda Chandra Pandey and Samdong Rimpoche. The NRIs included in the team are hardly suitable for the job.

ii.  While the membership of the mentor group from few Asian Buddhist countries is a welcome step, non-representation from many others is a serious lapse.

iii.    While collaboration of the new university with Oxford, Cambridge and even Al-Azhar University of Cairo is being proposed, established institutions of Buddhist and Tibetan studies are being sidelined. In this case, it may be mentioned that Nava Nalanda Mahavihara, a deemed University, Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies of Sarnath, Leh’s Central Institute of Buddhist Studies and Gangtok’s Institute of Tibetan Studies have done tremendous work in the field of study and research in the tradition of Nalanda University. All these institutes and the scholars related to them have been ignored.

iv.    Amartya Sen, an economist and atheist, uses economic terminology when he talks of a lot of collaboration with China and that the university would be ‘marketed’ there. He is incapable of perceiving the role of religion and spirituality, which is necessary in this case.

v. Although the role of Nalanda in the development of Buddhist traditions of Tibet and China has been equally pronounced, its links with Tibet have been more pronounced and deep. The founders of all the four schools of Tibetan Buddhism — Nyigma, Kagyu, Sakyapa and Galukpa — were Padmasambhava, Virupa, Naropa and Atisha respectively; who had intimate links with Nalanda. The link to China was through Kashmir and Central Asia. Thus ignoring Tibetan links in the revival plan of the university is a short-sighted act. It needs mention that even Vedas were also studied in Nalanda and the statues of Hindu deities were also excavated in Nalanda.

vi. Some five thousand Sanskrit books were translated in Tibetan and about three thousand in Chinese. About eighty percent of the same have been lost in India due to destruction of our libraries and educational institutions during medieval period. Even our books of Sanskrit, such as Ashwaghosha’s books were discovered from the deserts of Eastern Central Asia. While we owe to the Tibet and China for preserving our literary treasure, we need Tibetan and Chinese studies for retrieving the same.

Finally, a word of caution! The nation was assured while establishing the Jawaharlal Nehru University that it would establish standard in the field of social sciences and humanities. Rather than doing so, it started producing activists by brain-washing. An university where the then Prime Minister of the country, Indira Gandhi, was prevented from speaking, army officers returning from Kargil War were beaten up because they objected when aggressor Pakistan and aggrieved India being treated equally, where massacre of CRPF jawans by Naxalites led to jubilant celebrations and torchlight procession, an university churning out India-haters like ‘Prachand’ out of the foreign students studying there. The HRD ministry has opened an International Hindi University at Wardha in the name of Mahatma Gandhi. Both Chancellor and Vice-Chancellor of that university belong to the ideology group which continued to denounce Gandhi. The only academic achievement of the Vice-Chancellor is that he has written a novel highlighting anti-Muslim character of the UP police. It is our fond hope that MEA will neither allow the university to become a tool of diplomacy, nor a happy hunting ground of Left-wing academics and that internationally competent scholars will find a place in the same.                  

Why Gandhi?

Politics during independence struggle was not divorced from the spiritual tradition of the country. Unfortunately, everything, including the values in the public life, the very concept of the nation, and the meaning of swarajya, has gradually changed after independence. Although the old slogans and shibboleths persist, they no more connote the same. The very meaning of politics has also changed due to the decline, rather collapse, of the values. The degeneration in today’s Indian politics, rather public life in general, hurts, and it hurts badly. The more it hurts, the more intensely and nostalgically we remember Mahatma Gandhi. 

The value system was firmed up during Gandhi’s leadership. Corruption, according to him, was one of the causes of the backwardness of the country. He, therefore, firmly dealt with the same. When T. Prakasam, who became chief minister of Madras in 1946, appropriated to himself a purse of Rs 30,000 given to him by the people of Andhra Pradesh, Gandhi opposed it. He was of the view that the money was given to him in his capacity as a public man and, therefore, not for his personal use, but for the party.  Prakasam ultimately offered to hand over the sum to the party, Gandhi pertinently enquired as to how he proposed to do it, as it was easier for him to get the fund from any one of his rich friends and to return the favour on becoming the chief minister, and the same amounted to corruption in Gandhi’s view. Here, it may be mentioned that Prakasam, before joining the freedom movement, had roaring practice at the bar; he gave it up and joined national struggle for independence. He had also given away his entire property to the party. Prakasam episode, judged in the light of present day naked and vulgar display of plundered wealth by top-level public men, is the index of our shocking post-Gandhi-era down-hill slide. 

Corruption entered the Congress after its ministries were formed in 1937 and Gandhi was aware of the same. As early as in May 1939, he said: “I would go to the length of giving the whole Congress organisation a decent burial, rather than put up with the corruption that is rampant.” Nehru, in a letter to Gandhi on April 28, 1938, wrote: “What is far worse is that we are losing the high position that we have built up with so much labour in the hearts of the people. We are sinking to the level of ordinary politicians who have no principles to stand by and where work is governed by a day-to-day opportunism.” That trend was not arrested. Rather the downhill slide accelerated leading to massive plunder of public resources. The huge black money, created by pilferage of public/development funds, corrupt practices, bribery and other criminal activities, was siphoned out of the country and deposited in the Swiss Banks. As per the information released by Swiss Bank Association, it amounted to Rs 65,223 billion. The loss of funds to India due to its illegal transaction to the foreign countries as per Washington-based Global Financial Integrity (GFI) from Independence to the year 2008 amounted to about Rs 21,000 billion.

On one hand, India has half the poor people of the world; has 42.1 crore poor people in only eight states which is more than total number of the poor in entire Africa; the country is placed 119 in the UN Human Development Report out of 169 countries; on the other hand, there was revenue loss of approximately Rs 1.76 crore in a single 2G Spectrum Scam. Labelling charges against Cabinet Minister A. Raja and DoT, the Comptroller and Auditor General’s (CAG) Report says: “Brushing aside concerns and advice (of PM and finance ministry), Department of Telecommunication in 2008 proceeded to issue 122 new licenses for 2G spectrum at 2001 prices, flouting every canon of financial propriety, rules and procedures.” Furthermore, they did not follow due diligence in examination of applications, which led to the grant of 85 of the 122 licenses to “ineligible applicants”; these firms did not have stipulated paid-up capital at the time of application. Although, Raja had to resign, the hero’s welcome accorded by Karunanidhi to him, as if he is a martyr; the Supreme Court asking embarrassing questions on the lengthy delay on the part of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in taking a decision on the plea for sanction of his prosecution, and many other scams reported recently continue to trouble every conscientious Indian. In spite of the goodwill enjoyed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for his simplicity and personal honesty, the gravity of the question asked by the Supreme Court, as to why he was sitting silently when a member of his cabinet was plundering the wealth of the country, cannot be under-estimated. Simplicity and personal honesty of Mamata Banerjee do not make a difference if she fails to attend her job at the Rail Bhawan in order to facilitate her entry into the Writers Building. The Railways, on the plea of resource crunch, are leaving thousands of road-crossings unmanned, where hundreds of people die every year in accidents. On the other hand, Mamata spends Railways money on the programmes/schemes supposed to be looked after by different ministries/departments.

The DMK government is in the midst of a gigantic land scam. The land sanctioned by Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi for landless labourers has predictably gone to the undeserving and powerful. BJP Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa has allotted land to his offsprings by subverting norms. The beneficiaries of the Adarsh Housing Society, Mumbai, established for providing housing for Kargil martyrs, have been politicians, including the relatives of the chief minister of Maharashtra, who was served quit order, along with the offsprings and spouses of the bureaucrats and various defence officials. The scale of corruption, mismanagement and plunder of the public fund was unbelievable. The action initiated against two officials of the Commonwealth Games Organising Committee by the CBI does not seem to be credible in the light of the CAG’s request to the Cabinet Secretary to ensure the safety of the CGOC documents. That is not enough; they should be punished severely if we want the restoration of honesty, responsibility and transparency in public life. Better sensitisation towards the needs and sufferings of the people at the grassroots level, developing the control mechanism for unlimited greed, restoration of the Gandhian values and the sense of shame for misdeeds in society, especially among the people occupying the higher seats of power, are necessary. It needs mention that the value system and the sense of shame were the control mechanisms which prevented deviant public behaviour in Indian society. We need to ponder whether politics should mean nation/society building or merely winning elections and gaining power, privileges and wealth through the same. The hedonistic consumerism, Western lifestyle and imitating the western models of development, contrary to what Gandhi advised, are at the root of our difficulties.

Gandhi emphasised social work/service and simple living. He stood for poor and weak. He was of the opinion: “If they have power or office, it must be by virtue of service, not by manipulation of the vote.” Love for the country and its citizens is a pre-requisite for developing right attitude of service. Unfortunately, such an attitude is lacking in today’s India. Again, India, for those who sacrificed everything during freedom struggle, as Ram Swarup said, “was not merely a geographic entity, merely a clod of earth, or merely mountains, rivers and valleys. To them, she was a spiritual idea, a mantra, a soul, a power and even a deity.” But now, this holds no more. Everything, including the country, is for the self and the family or at best for the party. ‘Purity of means and the end’, contrary to what Gandhi dogmatically held, is merely a cliché. Politics “no longer means making a nation — it now means capturing power, peaceably and fairly if possible, forcibly and fraudulently if necessary. Nation-making has become equated with politics, politics with power, power with elections, elections with caste and communal appeal. Foul is fair in this game.”

Gandhian values leading to simple living are also essential. Gandhi talked about 11 vows (Ekadas vratas), which include five cardinal restraints, i.e., yamas of Yogic dimension — Satya, truth; Ahimsa, non-violence; Asteya, non-stealing; Brahmacharya, celibacy; Asangrah, non-possession. Others include Abhay, fearlessness; Sarvadharma-samabhaw, equal treatment to all religions; Sharir-shram, bread-labour; Swadeshi, etc. In reality, non-stealing, non-possession, bread-labour and Swadeshi formed the backbone of the economic aspect of the philosophy of Gandhi. Selflessness based on self-control (Atma-niyantran) was the core element in Gandhi’s thinking. He always felt the need of self-controlling, self-sacrificing selfless individuals for running the society at every level. His “swa” in swarajya  — either in Gram Swarajya or that at national level was never perceived without the same.

Swadeshi was an important plank of Gandhian thinking. It means belonging to or made in one’s own country. While discussing the need of swadeshi, which Gandhi called “the acme of universal service”, it implied preference of the nearest and the immediate. The doctrine permeates the whole of Gandhi’s philosophy — his views on culture, his metaphysical and ethical ideas, his social and political theories, his views on education and his economic outlook. Gandhi’s insistence that the country and the neighbourhood have the first claim on our service should not be confused with narrow aggressive nationalism which thrives on the ruin of others. Gandhi said: “My patriotism is both exclusive and inclusive. It is exclusive in the sense that in all humility I confine my attention to the land of my birth, but it is inclusive in the sense that my service is not of a competitive or antagonistic nature… I want India’s rise so that the whole world may benefit, I do not want India to rise on the ruin of other nations.”

Liberty and equality, the living truths during freedom struggle, became harmless clichés in Nehruvian India, and mere slogans and palpable falsities for present-day politicians, who use them for opiating and deceiving people. Ironically, the political parties of India today have developed vested interests in perpetuating poverty. The gap between rich and poor is widening every day. Compelled by competitive populism, they lure voters by promising free or cheap rations. They forget that the poor people really needed self-supporting family economy, rather than doles.           

Hind Swaraj

Hind Swaraj, Gandhi’s seminal work, the seed from which the tree of his thought has grown to its present stature, was written in Gujarati during November 13-22, 1909 aboard the Kildonan Castle during his journey from England to South Africa. The English translation of the book by Gandhi himself was published a hundred years ago in 1910. Thus, 2010 is the centenary year of its publication. Hind Swaraj, as the papers published in this special number of the journal, reveal, is the civilisational discourse, which will continue to have its relevance and freshness.  Some recent publications on Hind Swaraj, lying before me, are welcome addition in the Gandhian literature. M.K. Gandhi’s Hind Swaraj: A Critical Edition (annotated, translated and edited by Suresh Sharma and Tridip Suhrud; Orient Blackswan, New Delhi, 2010) “intended as a renewal of a deeper engagement with the text and the discourse around it”. Yet another book, M.K. Gandhi: Hind Swaraj and Other Writings (edited by Anthony J. Parel, Cambridge University Press, New Delhi, 1997) has the text of Hind Swaraj sandwitched between introductory chapters and appendices. The introductory chapters include ‘A note on the history of the text’, ‘Principal events in Gandhi’s life’, ‘Biographical synopses’, ‘Guide to further reading’ and Glossary and list of abbreviations’. The appendices, along with bibliography and index, contain ‘Gandhi’s ‘Quit India’ speech, 1942’, ‘Gandhi’s message to the nation issued before his arrest on August 9, 1942’, Gandhi’s political vision: the Pyramid vs the Oceanic Circle (1946) and ‘Draft Constitution of Congress, 1948’. These additions have highly enhanced its value and importance.

The Aryan Path published a special number on Hind Swaraj in 1938, in which the views of many Western scholars were published. The journal republished those papers in the form of a book titled Reflections on Gandhi’s Hind Swaraj. The book was translated in Hindi by Professor Nand Kishore Acharya, a Gandhian scholar and Hindi writer. The book, Hind Swaraj: Paschimi Drishti men (Prakrit Bharati Akademy, Jaipur; 2009), is a valuable addition in the Gandhian literature in Hindi. It is heartening that many books on Hind Swaraj have come out within last few years. Hind Swaraj ki Prasangikata (Amit Kumar Sharma; Hindi, Kautilya Prakashan, New Delhi, 2005) is one such book in Hindi. Dastawej, a Hindi journal published from Gorakhpur, has published a special issue on Hind Swaraj.

— B.B. Kumar


Dialogue (A quarterly journal of Astha Bharati)                                                Astha Bharati