As I Please

Date:   Wednesday , September 30, 2020

Natwar Singh served the prestigious Indian Foreign Service for over three decades and resigned from the service to contest elections. He was a member of the Indian National Congress party. Natwar Singh was a former Cabinet Minister and an exceptional writer. He attended Mayo College, Ajmer and Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. He was the Indian ambassador to Pakistan from 1980-82. In 1984, Natwar Singh received the honorable Padma Bhushan award from the Government of India.

Generations to come, it may be, will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth.
- Albert Einstein
Our country gave birth to a mighty soul and he shone like a beacon not only for India but for the whole world. Wherever he sat became a temple and wherever he trod was hallowed ground.
- Jawaharlal Nehru

These words were spoken about Mahatma Gandhi, who was some weeks ago lampooned and denigrated by MTV—“Clone High U.S.A.” It was a cheap and vulgar exhibition of trained ignorance. Gandhi was a moral giant, a mass leader of genius and a great liberator. The Indian community in the U.S. was rightly outraged and reacted with vigour and resolution. MTV after hawing and hemming for a few days, apologized.

What must an individual do to be categorized as a great man? Let me quote Isaiah Berlin (1909-1997), the British philosopher: To call someone a great man is to claim that he has intentionally taken a large step, one far beyond the capabilities of men, in satisfying, or materially affecting, central human interest. Similarly, in the realm of action, the great man seems able, almost alone and single-handed to transform one form of life into another; or…permanently and radically alters the outlook and values of a significant body of human beings.

This definition fits Gandhi like a glove. I might add that Gandhi had a robust sense of humour. During his last visit to England in 1931, a British journalist shot a question at the Mahatma—“Mr. Gandhi, what do you think of the western civilization?” The immortal answer of Gandhi, “It is a good idea.”

Some years ago, UNESCO invited P. V. Narasimha Rao to deliver a lecture on Mahatma Gandhi. Normally, the former Prime Minister does not arouse any kind of passion with his speech. Nevertheless, in his Gandhi lecture in Paris, he—for a while—abandoned his chronic emotional aridity.

He said, “The nationwide satyagraha campaigns waged by Gandhi within India ranks as the biggest popular mobilizations in the history of humankind…The demographic scale of the nationalist movement was breathtaking, since it literally mobilized ten percent of the nation which is about 40 million persons…The incredible economy of the Gandhian action; the inverse relationship between the scale of satyagraha and the demographic momentum of popular arousal, illustrate the tactical genius of the Mahatma at the same time as they testify to the vast numbers of men and women drawn into political action. Octavio Paz has called Gandhi a miracle. And miracle he indeed was.

In Memoriam
Kalpana Chawla\'s cheerful and smiling persona has already become a part of our consciousness. To be selected as an astronaut, one has to be an exceptional individual—intellectually, physically and emotionally. He or she must display “grace under pressure.” She will be a role model for generations to come, both in the country of her birth and in the country of her adoption. The city of her birth—Karnal—has been put on the map of the world. Kalpana\'s fragrant memory will not fade and she will continue to shine like a diamond in the sky.

Democracy Works!
This year eight states of the Indian Union will have elections. Four in February and four in November. I am not forecasting the outcome. What I want to emphasize is the fact that the Indian democracy works. That is a political miracle in itself. There are no precedents in history for running a democracy of one billion people. We are breaking new ground. What is right with India is definitely greater than what is wrong with India. Our democracy works because of the innate wisdom of the Indian people. The foundations of the Indian nation state were laid and consolidated by Jawaharlal Nehru. He was a secular democrat. Nehru on 15th August 1947 could have declared India a one party state. He did not.

This is not to suggest that our democratic and electoral processes are flawless. They are not. The striking fact is that we make the necessary adjustments. India\'s forte is crisis management. We are good at reconciling contradictions. This is Gandhi\'s gift. Also, our great heritage of tolerance and accommodation of a variety of religions, cultures, languages and what have you.

Every statement about India is true. So is its opposite. That is the great Indian puzzle. No civilization has the durability of ours, none its resilience. Certain religious practices have remained relevant and unchanged for five thousand years. We combine tradition with innovation. The Indian contribution to the software revolution is unique. The contributions my compatriots are making in various fields in the U.S. makes one feel proud. It took the Jewish community much longer to achieve what the Indian community has achieved in less that a quarter of a century.

I lived in New York from 1961 to 1966. The Indian community then was miniscule—not a single Indian doctor on Park Avenue. I was at the time, perhaps the only Indian reviewing books for the New York Times Book Review and Saturday Review. Today Indian doctors, authors computer geniuses all over America are earning India a great name. It is in the fitness of things that the two greatest democracies work in close collaboration, rejecting the pernicious doctrine of the “clash of civilizations.” Civilizations do not go to war—that would be a contradiction in terms. What the world needs is an enhancement of civility, ethical high mindedness. Human beings need to learn to be on good terms with themselves. That way lies hope, if not salvation.