Across the Bridge – Chapter 39
Continued from “Shifting Sands”
The students had learned early on that the Big College was no Big College at all; it was affiliated with Agra University, a university of quite low reputation. This made building a good career or transferring to some more reputed university in later years so much more difficult. It did not matter much to those who did not aspire to have better careers, academic or otherwise, but to the others, although a rather small minority, it was a setback. Some of them reflected back on how they ended up there while their performance during their earlier years could get them into about any other university.
The area where Bhuvan and his peers were born and grew up in was in the Western Uttar Pradesh (UP). Bordering it to the south was the Centrally Governed Region (CGR) administered from Delhi, which ended at the boundary of the city of Delhi to the north while it included quite large areas in the other directions. Services of all types were considerably better in CGR compared to very poor ones in UP. On top of that, residents of UP had to go to the provincial capital Lucknow for the services, which was quite far from the Western UP while Delhi was close by. To exclude Western UP from CGR did not stand to reason from administrative point of view because of its vicinity to Delhi. Also, UP was a very large province and remains so to this date. Including its western part in CGR would have reduced its size somewhat.
In addition to the administrative considerations, there were cultural reasons why inclusion of Western UP in CGR made more sense than making it part of UP. The dialect of Hindi spoken, dressing norms, eating habits, folk music, and various other elements defining the prevailing culture in Delhi and the Western UP were the same or very close to each other, which differed significantly from the other parts of UP. Historically, Delhi was established as Indraprastha by the Pandavas in the area, which was part of the Bharat Kingdom ruled from Hasthinapur, a city some distance north of Meerut. Quarrel between the cousins, Kauravas and Pandavas, for the control of the Kingdom that consumed their lifetimes, ended with the devastating Great War of Mahabharat fought in Kurukshetra, west of Delhi, now in the province of Haryana.
Thus, there were hardly any sensible reasons to justify the exclusion of this region from CGR. It was just that a powerful politician, Govind Vallabh Pant, was the Chief Minister of UP and he was not going to lose relatively more developed and economically stronger Western UP, which was subsidizing the eastern parts. Later on Pant went on to be the Home Minister in the central government but these boundaries continued to exist for various reasons. Political situations had impacted upon the lives of people forever in almost every way and this continues to be the case.
For the aspiring students, although the administrative and bureaucratic issues were not completely unimportant, academic reasons were more bothersome. In UP, the students had to complete twelve grades before going to university but in Delhi, they had to complete only eleven grades, although the number of years of schooling was the same in UP and Delhi by the time a student received one’s bachelor’s degree. However, this blocked entry of the students from UP to Delhi University, which enjoyed a high reputation. Also, Delhi University preferred students educated in the Delhi High Schools. Elitism pervaded the mentality and Delhi people as well as the establishment did not hold the things outside it in high esteem to say the least. There were other universities in UP and other parts of the country, which enjoyed higher reputation but the distance coupled with the transportation problems, lack of information and bureaucratic hurdles like lack of cooperation from the university administrative bodies, made it difficult for the students to enroll in them. While the difficulties encountered in enrolling in them could be surmounted, not knowing that going to the Big College and in one of those universities could make such a big difference for their future was the major reason. For most people in the region, who were mostly uneducated or had little education, Big College was a very high level academic institution. Except for some students who made wiser choices for availability of information due to their family backgrounds and other sources and help mainly in the cities, most students enrolled in the institutions close to their parental places and this college enjoyed better reputation among what was available around. By the time the students in the Big College discovered the difference, it was too late. They were trapped.
Whatever the reasons, they were here; they had to make the best of it. Besides, there had been graduates of this college who went on to do about as well as from other academic institutions but the label made it just so much harder. The situation was not all that hopeless but it required a little extra effort and adequate information, which was not easy to come by. For now, their focus had to be to do as well as they could. So the academic drill together with the process of learning continued and so did their gathering on the lawns for debates, chats, jokes and some gossip as well. Hot political topic these days was Nehru’s emphasis on policies of peace, which he formalized in the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence. India’s northern neighbor China, was a major focus for working out the arrangements within the framework of these principles. In addition to working out the arrangements with China to be able to live as good friendly neighbors, he was championing the cause of inclusion of China as a respectable member of the World community through his activities in the United Nation. In his zeal to support China, he had alienated the western countries and although he maintained a non-aligned position, he was seen to have a tilt towards the Russian Camp. His left of the center domestic policies enhanced this view further. China got a seat on the Security Council with its veto power. China was also becoming militarily strong with the help of Russia but India remained weak, militarily and economically. China worked on its Maoist doctrine that “Power flows out of the barrel of gun” and India continued striving for a utopian World order incorporating the Gandhian principles.
Yet again, there were differing views about the country’s foreign policy and the related matters in the lawn gatherings as at the Bridge:
“Nehru’s talk of peace is hollow talk. This kind of talk makes sense from the position of strength; for someone weak, this only reveals one’s weakness and fear.”
“Mahatma Gandhi said that non-violence is the weapon of the strong, not of weak.”
“If one is strong.” commented another student, which drew some chuckles.
“Gandhi could not answer General Cariappa’s question: How do I motivate my soldiers to fight the enemy with your doctrine of complete nonviolence in the way?”
“He died soon after the question was posed to him, he did not have enough time to reflect on it.”
Some students laughed at this sarcastic comment, others were displeased at fun being poked at Mahatma Gandhi and making light of his assassination. Another student diverted the attention before it could degenerate into a heated exchange.
“Gandhi admitted to have grappled with this question whole his life without finding the answer.”
“This is a legitimate question brothers, which likely has no answer except to include violence as an element in one’s considerations. Adherence to non-violent means in the arena Gandhi worked was fine, Cariappa worked in a different arena.”
“Imagine what a beautiful World this would be if it can be made violence-free, inhabited by the likes of Buddha, Ramakrishna Paramhamsa; Jesus Christ.”
“That is utopian thinking brother, a dream, far removed from the reality.”
“You have to dream; you have to think in utopian terms in order to make the World a better place to live.”
“At this time, we have to pay attention to learning and building our careers, lives.”
“And what the government’s activities do have a profound impact on it.” …..
Bhuvan was still at the college when the Indo-China war took place. Severe lack of preparedness of the Indian defense system was revealed in a profound way. Soldiers did not have even enough handguns and clothes, let alone matching the modern weapons of a well-equipped Chinese military. British had used India to provide the soldiers and the like but the instruments of military remained in their hands as did the other levers of power. Arms and the like were produced in India to a limited extent and the Indians were trained neither in the related technology nor in administration. In addition, Nehru’s policies of peace had about the same impact on the Indian defense system as did Ashoka’s adopting Buddhism had on the Mauryan Empire few hundred BCE. The empire started getting weak and a few generations after Ashoka, Greeks from the West and the Chinese from North had captured parts of India. The Mauryan dynasty was overthrown and the lost land recovered later by Pushyamitra Shunga but it did have its damaging impact. History appeared to be repeating itself albeit in a minor way.
Debates in the United Nations always take place but they are rather irrelevant to what the nations do. In such situations, adversaries indulge in propaganda trying to vilify the opponent. Chinese had a habit of labelling any adversary, a capitalist of one kind or the other; India was labelled ‘Cultural Imperialist.’ India, after years of defending China on various fronts and acts of ‘friendship’ found it difficult to shift gear, leaving the Indian populace confused. The discussions on the lawns continued with some citing this as an example of the bankruptcy of the Gandhi-Nehruvian doctrine of using completely peaceful means in all situations and others still advocating it.
Back in Kesari Nagar, Hookah Walla Uncle had developed a theory that Zhou Enlai had sworn to bathe in the Holy Ganges on the upcoming annual auspicious occasion to wash away his sins: You see, nobody except us has the Holi River Ganges in one’s country. Khatku was seen to pace back and forth muttering something regularly. Bhuvan visited his village for a couple of days during that time. He found out that Khatku was restless as he wanted to go to the front to fight, “I foughtt for the firranggis for merre Dall-Rotti; neverr gott to joinn the Azadd Hindd Faujj, now I couldd fightt forr my countrry, and my luckk, I cannott be allowedd to!”
Patriotic fever was felt around. Even the Wrestler Boy had come out of his cocoon somewhat commenting on the political affairs of the country. On the other hand, Ghanto and Suddal carried on with their regular activities oblivious to it all. They knew it alright; it is just that they had no concern. “Let the government look after the affairs of the country and let me take care of mine,” Ghanto would comment with a puff on her hookah. Suddal would exhibit about the same attitude while puffing on his marijuana pipe with his buddies. By now, Ghanto’s children had grown up somewhat and the older one had started considering his mother’s activities his affair but was still a helpless spectator. Marva and Marvun had gotten a daughter and a son, and had started feeling the impact of economic hardship quite severely: I can’t run even my life, cannot feed even a few grains to my kids, how can I pay attention to country’s problems?
Krishna Menon, the defense minister, was a highly regarded politician-statesman cited for his great oratory, speaking for several hours in the United Nations at one time. He was also known for his stubborn megalomaniacal attitude exhibiting itself in his refusal to replace the commanding general in the middle of war, which might have made a minor difference. Some did narrate the stories circulating around that he owed his rise from the High Commissioner in UK to the Defense Minister for the service he provided to Nehru who visited Edwina Mountbatten once a year and Krishna Menon facilitated the visits. All in all, India was humiliated in that war, Krishna Menon was sacked due to the public pressure and Nehru never recovered from the setback, which he appeared to interpret backstabbing by a friend. However, there were diehard Gandhian politicians who criticized Nehru Government for being not Gandhian enough. An example is a speech by Jai Prakash Narayan who had been eliminated by Nehru from the active politics for becoming a threat. In his speech after the war, he criticized the Nehru Government for assassinating the Gandhian principle of complete adherence to the principle of nonviolence by sending the armed forces to defend the country against the Chinese. In his view, India should have sent the Peace Army, which was to be completely unarmed. His argument was: Would the World have idly sat by and see the innocent Peace Soldiers being slaughtered?
“Hmmm, the power of non-violence lies in the power of violent means!” Bhuvan mentioned to a staunch Gandhian friend.
Continued to “Touch and Go”