That Was the Year that Was
I’m by no means a Grinch, a replica, that is, of the main character created by Dr Seuss in his famous 1957 Christmas story How the Grinch Stole Christmas! Grinch embodied anti-holiday spirit to mull over the miseries of human existence. These, I’m afraid, have been our companions for ever and will continue, the Buddha told us, to be with us till eternity. Hence, my belief: don’t despair. Instead, be happy, especially when ‘tis the season to be jolly. Basically, I’m a votary of what the French call joie de vivre – a sort of zest for life and exultation of spirit.
Nonetheless, I do at times feel depressed mulling over the avoidable miseries and misfortunes of mankind. Then I remember the Bible: Proverbs 31:6-7: “Give . . . wine unto those that be of heavy hearts. Let him drink, and forget … his misery no more.”
So advised, after a couple of Scottish tipples I turned to the full moon on Christmas to tell me what had that celestial body been witness to during the year. Why, the full moon? You may ask. Simply because the next full Xmas moon will only be in 2034 and I’ve no plans to be around for that long.
The heavenly witness to the goings-on of the world, more especially in our country, bemusedly, corroborated my narrative, but began with the event of the day. So, the news on Xmas turned out to be the news of the dying year 2015.
News of Year
And that was when the far-from-impulsive Prime Minister Modi on the way back home from Kabul after repairing strategic ties with Russia, chose to have his Christmas lunch in Lahore with his new-found pal, Nawaz Sharif, and that too on the latter’s birthday. Both the chroniclers of our times and the analysts of world political maneuvers were taken aback by the meeting. New York Times, glossing over Nixon flying to Beijing with Kissinger in tow, dubbed this meeting “a diplomatic dance”. How did the paper’s editors overlook that it takes two to tango even on Christmas? And how did Uncle Sam’s widely respected spokesman forget the day when Dick Nixon flew in February 1972 all the way to Beijing to shake hands with aging Mao Zedong? And they should also have recalled how Henry Kissinger disappeared suddenly for two days from Pakistan on July 9, 1971 for a secret visit to Beijing to prepare the ground for America’s rapprochement with China in a bid to contain the then USSR.
I believe the Modi-Sharif meeting will pave the way for some sort of opening to resolve the continuing Indo-Pak imbroglio. My hope is based on the fact that the Pakistan Army Chief Gen. Raheel Sharif is said to be close to the new national security adviser, recently retired general Naseer Khan Janjua, who in October replaced civilian Sartaj Aziz, an ally of the prime minister. The almost secret Bangkok parleys between Ajit Doval and Naseer Khan paved the way for the Lahore dialogue to break the stalemate.
I think, therefore, the Xmas meeting between two Prime Ministers is far from a perfunctory aap ka mijaz-e-sharif drop-in. Both seem to have realized what that inveterate war veteran, Winston Churchill said “To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war.” Modi put it more tellingly, reminding his host at lunch “Jung bhi kar ke dekh li. Kya mila? Na zameen mili na jannat?”
Ever since the NSAs of India and Pakistan met in Bangkok in the first week of December – away from the prying eyes of media – much has been talked about what’s dubbed as secret diplomacy. This impression is erroneous. Secret diplomacy was the privilege of the nineteenth century. It’s irretrievably gone giving place to what came to be known, in Woodrow Wilson’s classic phrase “open covenants of peace, openly arrived at.” (Remember the American President’s Fourteen Point speech of January 8, 1918.)
Nothing much is achieved through open diplomacy other than restatements of known positions. Do you recall the 1962 Swaran Singh-Z.A. Bhutto six rounds of talks between India and Pakistan on Kashmir and other related matters? All what they achieved was a plea for renewed efforts to resolve the outstanding differences between their two countries to live together in peace and friendship.
It was to break such logjams that the second secretary general of the UN, Dag Hammarskjold advocated the use of quiet diplomacy away from the glare of cameras and prying eyes of journalists. And this is exactly what Ajit Doval and Gen Nasir Khan Janjua tried in their meeting on the quiet in Bangkok.
The Modi-Sharif Lahore talks were, therefore, a continuation of this new mode of diplomatic parleys.
Not a bad end at all to a year that had more than the normal quota of troubles. As the Bard would say, “All’s Well That Ends Well”. We can at least start writing the chronicles of the New Year on a clean slate and take the first baby steps towards a South Asian Union of some sort.
My critics who’ll pooh-pooh the idea should remember that Germany was reunited after 45 years in 1990, Vietnam was reunited in 1975 after 30 years of remaining divided. Mine may be a voice in wilderness. But don’t forget, dear readers, when Mazzini spoke of Italian unification, many people said it was a pipe dream but that dream was realized under Cavour and Garibaldi.
Overnight changes of heart occur rarely indeed. Nevertheless, human ingenuity knows no limits. Wonders do happen, even in the affairs of nations; Didn’t Berlin Wall go down? Didn’t Soviet Union implode?
The nations of the world came together in Paris to reach an agreement that may halt the march toward an overheated, unlivable planet. It offers the best chance for meaningful global action to avert catastrophic climate change, and 195 countries promised to seize it.
And now a look at the sordid goings-on of the Year 2015 as it glides it way into history. And first of all about one who wants to hog the news practically every day for survival.
Our Joe McCarthy
The whole year we watched bemusedly the bravadoes of the Indian avtar of Republican U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin. You’ve guessed it aright, I’m referring to Arvind Kejriwal aka AK-49, the Knight in Shining Armor who has resolved to take on each day a corrupt politician to win followers. Since most politicians in the country are corrupt, AK has had extraordinarily busy time.
He went that far as to fire a flurry of angry tweets calling Prime Minister Narendra Modi a ‘psychopath’ and a ‘coward’ when the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) raided the office of his own Principal Secretary, Rajender Kumar who had grave charges of corruption pending against him.
Kejriwal also has perfected the art of fabricating facts to prove his uncontrollable bouts of self-righteousness. His Principal Secretary’s office was changed into “my office” to direct his tirade against the Prime Minister whose job he’s craving for in 2019 if he politically survives till then.
In retaliation to the CBI raid on his Principal Secretary, Kejriwal has done the unthinkable: he has slapped the charge of corruption against a man who has never been accused of financial malfeasance in his long political career. Jaitley so for never had a bad press, remaining above the fray even while his party and other senior colleagues come under attack.
Jaitley is also a well respected lawyer and his defamation case could create problems for Kejriwal besides his running dispute against Lt Governor which have further helped the chief minister paint himself as a crusader.
I believe Kejriwal is doing exactly what Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy used to do. McCarthy excelled in the practice of making accusations of subversion or treason without proper regard for evidence. That gave rise to the term McCarthyism. The term is now used in the American politics to describe reckless, unsubstantiated accusations, as well as demagogic attacks on the character or patriotism of political adversaries.
Kejriwal thought of Jaitley’s corrupt practices as president of DDCA just the day after the office of his own favorite bureaucrat was raided. What inference do you draw?
Our so-called intellectuals have been busy all through the year debating if Indian society has lost its tradition of tolerance. This I’m afraid is nonsense. The Indian society rests on the granite foundations of our Vedantic legacy which had its echoes in Sufism. There is no place for intolerance in it despite occasional lapses.
My friends in the know of things tell me that actors of silver screen are – rare exceptions apart – pretty dim-witted beings. Hence, they are forced to strictly conform to the written script. And for good reasons, Should they start speaking extempore they are bound to put their foot – even both their feet – in the mouth. And that’s what Amir Khan did when he ventured to join the intolerance debate.
Listen to his profound wisdom. “When I chat with Kiran at home, she says ‘Should we move out of India?’ Why not? Both of them should take the first available flight to a country of their choice.
It has been in works over the years. In 2015, however, Delhi reached its worst pollution levels. It earned the ignominy of the world’s most polluted city. The pollution level in the national capital has reached such alarming proportions that it prompted the Delhi High Court to compare the city to a gas chamber. But while Delhi-ites choke the good old game of blame-shifting is being merrily played by the Centre and Delhi administration. Wait for the almighty mess that odd-even number game would create in the first half of the first month of the New Year.
In biology parasitism is a non-mutual symbiotic relationship between species, where one species, the parasite, benefits at the expense of the other, the host. Traditionally parasite (in biological usage) referred primarily to organisms visible to the naked eye.
We in India have a very special human species of parasites a.k.a parliamentarians. They do precious little but thrive at the cost of common man who makes the mistake of voting them to power.
According to PRS legislative research, which tracks the work of Indian Parliament, it costs Rs 29,000 per minute to run each house. That means that we, the tax payers like you and me, pay Rs 17.4 lakhs for each hour that is washed out in either house. The Rajya Sabha squandered over 55 hours in disruptions during the inglorious winter session. The nation thereby poured Rs 10 crores down the drain besides indefinitely delaying urgently needed legislation.
Both houses of the Parliament were scheduled to function for a total of 226 hours in the winter session, which lasted from November 26 until December 23 and consider 19 bills. The Lok Sabha passed 14 bills and registered 104% productivity by working overtime. But the Rajya Sabha was consistently adjourned due to protests by the opposition parties and functioned for only 50% of its scheduled time. Miraculously, the Rajya Sabha ended up passing nine bills. However, the Goods and Services Tax Bill, which was on the top of the government’s agenda, is still languishing.
Despite their best efforts, the opposition couldn’t set a record of disruptions, which was in 2013 when the Parliament could only function for about 10% of its scheduled time.
Meanwhile, our MPs they have gifted themselves 400% rise in pay and allowances since 2009. Do we have to take to streets to make them do what they were elected for, namely, debate and pass legislation necessary for the governance of the country?
Perhaps the most notable and scary development of the year was the arrival of DAESH. If you aren’t familiar with the term, it’s an acronym of some sort out of the beginning letters of the Arabic name for ISIS, which, in turn, is the latest incarnation of Wahhabism, a messianic radicalism which hopes to change the world by restoring a fantasized caliphate centered on the holy book, and two holy sites, Mecca and Medina. Its credo is to sponsor brutal death and destruction in the wake of the Syrian crisis.
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, ISIS’s secretive leader has released a rare audio statement calling for an uprising in Saudi Arabia and pledging future attacks in Israel.
From the blood spilled in the streets of Paris to the San Bernardino shootings, the world in 2015 showed its vulnerability to the brand of terror perpetrated by Islamic State jihadists. It is fairly certain that this specter will haunt us all through 2016.
One of the offshoots of terrorism we witnessed in 2015 was the refugee problem. As the Syrian crisis swelled, a human tide poured toward Western Europe. Tens of thousands of refugees found open doors and hearts in Germany and other countries. The overall global response remains far from adequate, but the Germans sent a message that rebukes nationalist bigotry, defends human rights and reminds countries like the United States how to confront a humanitarian emergency.
The real surprise of the year was the December issue of Congress Darshan, the house journal of the Maharashtra Congress. In a rare moment of truth it published two articles which reiterated what we all knew: Sonia Gandhi’s father was a fascist soldier in Mussolini’s army, she became party president just 62 days after joining as a primary member of the party.
In another article, Jawaharlal Nehru was criticized for his foreign policy-related decisions. It told us if Nehru heard his deputy prime minister and then home minister Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, India’s present-day problems over China, Nepal and Kashmir would not have arisen.
“Patel merged 562 provinces into India and Nehru was in charge of only Kashmir and it remains a problem. Patel had warned about China’s betrayal on Tibet...”
The above isn’t a statement of a BJP spokesman. It appears in the magazine edited by Sanjay Nirupam, the Maharashtra Congress chief.
Doesn’t truth find mysterious ways to surface?
So, on to 2016. Best of luck. Let’s envision an year better than 2015 a la Ghalib.
Dekhiye paate hain ushshaq buton se kya faiz
Ek barhaman ne kaha hai ki yeh saal achcha hai
(What blessings will votaries of idols get from their gods
A Brahmin has indeed predicted a good new year)