Remembering Gandhi

Published : Jan 31, 2003 00:00 IST



DELHI is full of people, full of motor vehicles, full of pollution, full of babudom, full of retired top brass of IAS, IFS, IPS, and the Armed Forces. And as I write this, it is foggy, bitterly cold and is just recovering from the New Year festivities. How could I forget the new toy, the Metro, which I am yet to see and use.

Preparations for Republic Day have commenced. New Delhi will be on display between January 26 and 29. The climax is Beating Retreat, arguably one of the most spectacular and enjoyable events that India offers.

Then on January 30 there will be change of mood - Gandhiji's 55th death anniversary. From time to time I ask myself - what would Gandhi do to put things right if he were alive today? For one, he would have handled the debate on secularism much more deftly and elevated the quality of our discourse on the subject. Gandhi was a deeply religious man but his Hindu dharma was inclusive, not exclusive. Ram and Rahim, Ishwar and Allah, Buddha and Nanak, Tulsi and Kabir, were never far from his heart and mind. He would have tolerated no moral backsliding. The consumerist culture would have made him miserable. I am not with him on asceticism. I am 100 per cent with him on the path of austerity. Truth, non-violence and genuine simplicity - that is what the world needs. That is what Gandhi stood for.

DOUBLE standards are not unknown in the conduct of nation-states. At the moment the world is witnessing a spectacular display of double standards. The United States wants to wage war on Iraq, even though till this day no weapons of mass destruction have been discovered in Iraq. Saddam Hussein has to be replaced, it says. Regime change is a most dangerous concept, not sanctioned by the United Nations or by any other organisation. It is an arbitrary decision by one hyper-power. What a terrible example of the misuse of power and what a precedent to set.

The other member of the "Axis of Evil" - North Korea - is being treated with kid gloves. Why? Kim has the bomb and the delivery system. How did he acquire the nuclear bomb? With the help of "a peace-loving democratic country called Pakistan". Really. China, Russia and Japan and South Korea will see to it that North Korea is not attacked. Neither will there be a regime change, unless Kim meets the fate of Allende of Chile - 30 years ago.

Why this difference in treatment? Oil is one glaring answer. North Korea does not have oil but has the bomb. Iraq has the oil but no bomb. What we are witnessing is a very grave danger. The self-appointed gamekeeper is turning poacher. The fence is eating the grass. What can India do? Really nothing much. Protest? Yes. Have demonstrations? Yes. Write learned articles? Yes. Result. Northing. Mian Musharraf must be laughing all the way to the Pentagon where his friends and admirers live. The new international order is nothing but a new and frightening disorder. And no one to challenge this 21st century version of the Doctrine of Lapse introduced in British India by Lord Dalhousie prior to the Mutiny in 1857.

I know that gloom is a useless emotion and solves nothing. Yet, how does one avoid having a sense of gloom and doom as we enter 2003?

ROY JENKINS died the other day at the age of 82. Not much notice was given to his death. He was a member of the Labour Party for many years and was Chancellor of the Exchequer and Home Secretary. Then he broke with his party and started a new one. It really did not take off and Jenkins left England for Brussels. On his return he became Chancellor of Oxford University. I had briefly met him when he was Home Secretary. He gave me an autographed copy of his book Nine Men of Power. In the late 1980s, I remember suggesting to him that Nirad C. Chaudhuri be given an Honorary Doctorate by Oxford University. It took some time but it did happen.

Roy Jenkins was a prolific writer. A few months ago, I reviewed his Churchill for Frontline. Earlier Jenkins had written a 600-page biography of Gladstone and had concluded that he was the greatest man to occupy 10 Downing Street ever. By the time he finished his Churchill, he changed his mind and gave the honour to Winston Churchill. At one time Jenkins had played with the idea of writing something on Nehru. I wish he had, for Lord Jenkins had mastered the art of biography and given it new respectability.

FINALLY cricket. We turn our mortal cricketers into idols. The pressures on these young men must be so crushing that their performance must suffer. Having said that, one cannot but feel let down by the dismal performance of our team in New Zealand, a country with a population of three-and-a-half million people.

The World Cup starts next month. Not much time for our cricketers to put their act together. At the moment there is an undeclared non-playing competition between India and Pakistan - which is the worse side? What a melancholy state of affairs!

The World Cup fever has already begun. Television will bring the matches to our homes almost round the clock. Maybe for a few weeks we will have a respite from debilitating American rhetoric. Maybe. I am not sure.

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