Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Kakori Conspiracy [25th August, 1925] – A Historical Testament

A small district oblivious of its historical moorings lies 14 km. North of Lucknow. Kakori, once a flourishing town famous for Urdu poetry & literature, is the seat of Qadiria Qalandria Sufi order. Among its eminent personalities were Mohsin Kakorvi, a great poet of the ‘na’at’ genre and Noorul Hasan Nayyier, the compiler of Noorul Lughaat, among the most authentic of Urdu dictionaries. It traces back the Abbasi clan that claims lineage to Al-Abbas, an uncle of Prophet Mohammed. Nawab Ishtiaq Ahmed Abbasi, a noted lawyer from the district was married to Akhtari Faizabadi, who rose in stature as ‘Begum of Kakori’. She was none other than the legendary Begum Akhtar, who also earned the sobriquet of ‘Mallika-e-Ghazal’.

The town attained national eminence on 9th August 1925 with the ‘Kakori Conspiracy’, a well-documented testament of India’s freedom struggle, when a group of revolutionaries braved death to capture the British treasury being ferried in the Shahjahanpur-Lucknow section of the Northern Railway. These brave young men shared a common affiliation as members of the Hindustan Republican Association [HRA], later re-christened as Hindustan Socialist Republican Association [HSRA] whose sole aim was to overthrow the British rule through armed revolution. When caught, most of them were either hanged or deported for life for trials under the Birtish were generally farcical.

As the legend goes, one of its members, Pt. Ramprasad Bismil, who often traveled the Shahjahanpur-Lucknow route, observed that the British treasury was loaded and transported to Lucknow with the minimum of security measures. This is how the seed of thought to loot the treasure-chest germinated in his mind, to help fund the activities of the HRA. At the fall of dusk, when Number 8 Down was about to touch Kakori, the group of revolutionaries that had boarded the train, pulled the chain and overpowered the guard. The steel box carrying the cash was pulled out. Though, it had a hole in the middle through which cash used to be dumped in, the box was so huge that no hand could reach down below to pull out the currency notes. It required a few hefty blows by a stout Ashfaqullah Khan to break open the lock. A sum of Rs. 10,000/- of the British Treasury was taken out and transferred to gunny bags which were then carried away by the revolutionaries in batches.

For a while, no one was captured though investigations had begun in the right earnest. The HRA, however, was not a well-organised group and as expected, once the British dragnet was spread, all the revolutionaries involved in the act were rounded up. Pt. Ramprasad Bismil, Ashfaqullah Khan, Rajendra Lahiri & Roshan Singh were awarded capital punishment, which may appear undeservingly harsh, for all they did was to purloin a diminutive portion of the Government coffers. But it was not so simple. Apparently, during the hold-up, despite the warnings to the passengers not to leave their seats, one European attempted to slip out and was shot dead. That, besides the audacity of the act, was reason enough for stringent court reprisals, for in those days, killing a ‘white’ was considered the most heinous of crimes. Despite a nationwide clamour for mercy, all four were hanged in November 1927. In their poignant memory, a ‘Shaheed Smarak’ has been established just adjacent to the exact spot of the incident, which is identified by an isolated stele (1085 km./47) erected on the left side of the railway track, 02 km. beyond the Kakori station.

This heart-wrenching saga of sacrifice & valour is described somewhat aptly by these lines of Mirza Zauq, set to tune by Khaiyyam and embellished in the vocals of the erstwhile ‘Begum of Kakori’ – ‘Layee hayaat aaye, qazaa le chali chale, apni khushi na aaye, na apni khushi chale..’. Farewell to you, O brave soldiers of the revolution!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

15th August, 1947 - A Nation's Tryst With Destiny

At the stroke of the midnight hour on the on the 15th of August, 1947, India attained independence and a day before, Lord Mountbatten was at Karachi to inaugurate the Dominion of Pakistan. Thus, two new Dominions came into existence to usher in an era of communal peace & amity in the sub-continent. On the eve of the occasion, Nehru’s famous extempore on our ‘tryst with destiny’ and the arrival of a day to ‘redeem our pledge’ is now well entrenched as a voluble testament in the annals of Indian history.

Let us trace down the sequence of events from a year before the D-day –16th of May, 1946 to be precise - when the historic ‘Cabinet Mission Plan’ was drawn up after two months of deliberations, one which both the Congress and the Indian Muslim League had initially agreed to, on principle. This was perhaps, the first major step by the British to eventually hand over the reins to their subjects, with the formation of an ‘Interim Government’ comprising mainly of the Congress and the Indian Muslim League members. It was described by Gandhiji himself as ‘the best document the British could have produced in the circumstances’.

Initially, the League accepted the Plan in toto but then suddenly back-tracked as they felt that the Congress had reneged on the clause, which called for the grouping of provinces and wanted to go into the Constituent Assembly with a sense of hegemony. With the benefit of hindsight, this was perhaps, justified as the League had accepted the Plan on the basis of distribution among the Centre, the Provinces and the Groups. Nehru’s statement during the AICC meet on the 17th of July, 1946 in Mumbai, that the Congress had only accepted a participation in the Constituent Assembly and nothing else, added fuel to fire. That the Congress did not accept the Plan in its entirety, after having consented just a month earlier, sowed the seeds of doubt in the minds of their counter-parts. Jinnah’s plea for a vivisection purely on religious grounds suddenly gathered momentum, through his fragile premonition that the two communities could never live together peacefully in an Independent India.

This is where Lord Wavell might have erred in his judgment, when he invited Nehru to head the Interim Government leaving out the Muslim League - who had decided to boycott it - instead of trying further to bring the warring factions together. 16th of August, 1946, was a calumny in India’s political history when Jinnah played a final, desperate card calling for a ‘Direct Action Day’, which on principle, was ‘Pakistan Day’. Who would have realized that exactly a year before the dawn of independence, destiny would have unleashed a carnage - a 4-day terror regime that would claim close to 6000 lives.

The Interim Government was formed on the 2nd of September, 1946 and Congress adopted the resolution that India should be a Democratic Republic. Nehru, in his own capacity extended the offer to the League to join the Interim Government, which was crucial to curb the communal conflagrations that had gripped the nation, which they did after a lot of persuasion on the 15th of October, 1946. However, by this stage the feeling of suspicion, distrust & mutual antipathy had made such deep inroads in both the Congress and the League that there was no way the Interim Government was going to function smoothly. Even as the Constituent Assembly used to be in session, the League members boycotted it time and again. As the Congress and the League were at dagger’s drawn on every possible issue, ranging from Defence to Home to Finance to Communications, partition began to appear an inevitability and even as Lord Mountbatten arrived in India, the Congress had reconciled itself to Pakistan as a ‘lesser evil’.

With the mounting communal passions, the Labour Government headed by Clement Atlee took a conscious decision on the 20th of February, 1947 that power must be transferred before the 30th of June, 1948 to responsible Indian hands. Subsequently, the White Paper, based on the plan formulated by Lord Mountbatten, to partition India, was given constitutional approval by the British Parliament and finally the Royal Sanction on the 18th of July, 1947, which became a qualifying decree to the fate of 40 crore Indians, who had for centuries lived in peace and amity.

In retrospect, what would have happened if Lord Wavell had been able to convince Atlee not to make haste and hold on to the reins a little longer? What if he had not been forced to resign to be replaced by Mountbatten, who had pre-meditated every one of his moves before landing in India? What if the Congress Working Committee had agreed unanimously to have Jinnah at the helm of affairs? Could we have avoided the discomfiture of a divided nation?

Such questions shall be raised time and again without any tangible answers. It has been 62 years since we gained independence; let us savour as of now.


Saturday, July 4, 2009

Racial Attacks in Australia

Australia sadly has been on a scurrilous boil of late. So many Asians have faced the brunt of racial attacks that have been burgeoning with alarming promptitude and despite the palliatives extended by the Australian Government to somehow quell the conflagrations, sporadic incidents are coming to light almost every other day.

I on a personal level find these to be exceedingly painful as they are in direct contrast to the convivial spirit that prevailed during the two years that I happened to be in Australia, from 1995 to 1997. I happened to pursue my Master’s degree from an Institute called Charles Sturt University in NSW that accommodated a wide conglomerate of international students from the Asian sub-continent. Initially, I did face up to the onerous task of adapting to a culture that straddled between the bohemian and the hedonistic. What at first, struck me as a trait atypical of the Aussies was their brash outspokenness. And I must admit I too was at the short end of the stick a number of times. At the same time, flashes of humour would break through the hard crust of a rugged exterior. The Aussies generally never shouted, just a broad grin or a twitch of the eyebrows would communicate anger, which at worst would be articulated in hushed or muted overtones.

The Aussies generally took pride in their white bona-fides but certainly not to the extent of deriding one who was ‘coloured’, so to speak! I for one shared a cottage during my tenure with four Australians and I can say in all sobriety that there wasn’t a single instance when I felt sidelined or isolated. However, it was expected of us to exercise restraint and not to press for equality of status in the social hierarchy with the Aussies, an unwritten code that we adhered to till the very end. As such, whatever merry-making we indulged or participated in had to strike a balance – not being superfluously copious but neither being scrupulously reserved.

Australia in truth has always had a chequered history. The native Aborigines there have been carrying out a movement for equal rights for years on end, despite the fact that their cultural moorings are protected with the passing of the Aboriginal and Torrets Islander Heritage Protection Act in 1984, which is but small consolation for them. So in a sense, discrimination in some form has always been conspicuous in the Australian society. Yet it appears so very perplexing as to how a nation, otherwise so very adaptive and accommodative of eclectic cultures and diverse backgrounds, could appear so diminutive at the hands of some vindictive elements and their improprieties that nothing but sheer ignorance could have heaped upon them. Such acrimony is nothing but the manifestation of the most corruptible of influences. Having said that, the stream of time is constantly washing the dissoluble fabrics of all individuals and from that standpoint one should take this to be a passing phase, which would eventually see the Asian community emerge stronger & united out of their ordeals. Amen!!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Is This The End Of Ethnic Strife In Sri Lanka??

With the LTTE finally silencing its guns, the Sri Lankan Army has stormed what for long appeared an impregnable bastion of an armed rebellion. Every time they basked in vainglory of having wiped out the vestiges of LTTE’s armoury, there used to be another cavalcade of strikes, which used to catch the nation once again in the tentacles of fear and agony. LTTE proved as much a bete-noire as the Taliban in the N-E frontiers of Pakistan, in rising like the proverbial phoenix from an ashen wanderlust and mushrooming with such ferocious rapidity after every combat as though, just a grain had been picked from a landslide. This also was a culmination of a 3-decade chronology that has witnessed the final decimation of LTTE as a force, who, for long projected themselves as the sole benefactors of the 12% population of Sri Lankan Tamils.

More than a century ago, with the dominant Sinhalese’s ethnic control of the state system, a degree of suppression of the minority Tamil community began to take root, which further intensified due to the hardliner elements that infiltrated the national hierarchy. A fallout of the intransigent stance adopted by the majority Sinhalese towards the Tamil community was the eruption of civil and later armed conflicts. In gradual course, whether at war or during peace-talks, the Tamils espoused their cause for a community-based separate state while the Sinhalese argued for a unitary state that is multi-ethnic. Ethnicity, religion and language are important factors in the articulation of Sinhala & Tamil ideologies and one would imagine, the idealist state of Tamil Eelam was a natural offshoot of the conflict between two ideologically segregated ethnic communities.

What kind of scenario is likely to emerge now? Can LTTE’s requiem be sounded out? Not as yet, for there is a possibility that it would regroup in splinters and continue to remain an insurgency threat to the Sri Lankan Government. Whatever be it, the possibility of a structured Eelam movement by ethnic Tamils is now remote and regardless of the rights of the Tamil people for democratic self-determination, a separate Tamil state would be intangible as it would only bring about a diminution of social & economic circumstances in Sri Lanka.

The fact however, remains that the rights of all ethnic groups are to enjoy cultural, religious and linguistic rights in peace & harmony. In the current scenario, some form of ethnic reconciliation is the only means for peace to return in a strife-ridden country. Thus, a revamp of the country’s political system to ensure equitable representation of the people and making the minority Tamils more representative in all major organs of administration viz. the bureaucracy, the judiciary and the armed forces, would be the need of the hour.

The ‘Pearl In The East’ is bound to glisten again so long as the wellsprings of time & destiny do not reduce it once again to a teardrop.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

A.R. Rahman - One up on his illustrious predecessors

After sweeping a litany of awards, ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ managed a most eclectic slice of an a la carte spread at the Oscar feast - zipping off an enviable 08 trophies in a treasure chest of honorifics. Even as the nation erupted, the channels were choc-a-bloc with the images of Danny Boyle and his effusive band cavorting in style, one of whom was an unassuming character who did a quiet promenade across the red carpet to collect his ‘twin tango delights’, to the wonder of the boisterous Hollywood glitterati. Allah Rakha Rahman, as Indian cinema’s true-blue composer created history of epic proportions as he stormed the international music bastion like none before.

If one looks back at the history of Indian film composers, there have been sporadic instances of a euphonic cross-over without anyone quite managing to leave a strong imprimatur. The legendary Shanker-Jaikishan recorded the first ever English number for the film, ‘Sangam’ in 1964 that went, ‘Eich Leibdisch, I Love You’ sung by Vivin Lobo that made considerable waves. In the years ahead, the duo performed a daring feat of coming up with an album, entitled, ‘Raga Jazz Style’ where different Indian ragas were strung together, embellished in Western Orchestra to create a unique ensemble of sound, beat and rhythm. This was one of the first attempts at creating a hybrid style of the West and the East. Another credit to the duo was when one of their funk and garage rock numbers was used in a Terri Zwigoff’s film, ‘Ghost World’. Yet, in the 1960s in India, such sporadic instances just about skimmed the surface of the boundless creativity of Indian composers in an international perspective. We also had instances of Salil Chowdhury creating something out of Mozart’s G-Minor symphony or employing innovations of scale progression based on Western classical music principles. RD Burman’s rise in the 1970s was quite phenomenal and it could so easily be concluded that as a composer he was way ahead of his times. He was often compared to Dave Brubeck for his innovative methods and a penchant for breaking the traditional boundaries of composition. It was in the latter stage of his career that he did an international album called ‘Pantera’, his private collaboration with Jose Flores for an out and out heavy metal album, which sadly did not create any musical ripples back home. For all his genius, RDB never quite managed to break the chain of Bollywood fetters to go blazingly international, something he was quite capable of doing. In the 90s, we had Illaiyaraja, of the ‘Cheeni Kum’ fame, recording his first major work in Western classical music, named Symphony No.1, with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra of London under the baton of John Scott; the first Asian to do so. But again, back home, his achievement went unsung and the album is yet to be released in the Indian market.

All of these instances, make Rahman’s achievement all the more noteworthy for here is one composer who has made world critics and jury members to sit up and take note of the unbridled magic that Indian composers can weave for an international audience. The man who had his basic grounding in the Trinity College of Music, started off as a keyboard player and arranger in a band called ‘Roots’ before graduating to jingles, until Mani Ratnam and ‘Roja’ catapulted him to instant fame. As his film career galloped along, Rahman had begun to measure his strides across global frontiers, first with the film ‘Warriors of Heaven and Earth’ followed by Andrew Lloyd Webber’s neo-opera, ‘Bombay Dreams’. This was followed by ‘The Lord of the Rings’ in association with a Finnish folk-music band ‘Vartinna’ and Shekhar Kapoor’s ‘Elizabeth’ before his melismatic sounds struck a precise note in mainstream Hollywood, even as a ‘slumdog’ managed to rake in a ‘millionaire’s’ shekels, so to speak. The hallowed fortress has finally been breached and how! Rahman has succeeded where all his predecessors somehow proved unsuccessful – to become the global face of Indian cine-music.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

What exactly is ‘Ram Rajya’?

On the day of ‘Ram Navami’, respected Advani ji was omnipresent on all the news channels eulogizing the virtues of ‘Ram Rajya’, which in fact also happened to be Gandhiji’s unifying plank during the freedom movement. Apparently, ‘Ram Rajya’ extols the virtues of good governance, based on the peremptory maxim that Ram Naam forms ‘a spiritual soil in which the tree of social and political unity & harmony finds nourishment’. Advani ji’s strongly worded rhetoric surely hit me like a thunderclap and made me think! Each one of us has his or her own kind of disposition towards religion and religious beliefs tend to evolve and cannot really be forced or imposed per se. India’s socialist and secular fabric has always allowed the winds of myriad cultures to blow gently across its lands, to make it richer in spirit & thought.

I think back to the time when Queen Victoria’s proclamation in the year 1858 had brought the governance of the nation directly under the British Crown and it was to Her Majesty’s magnanimity that a clause was inserted in the royal decree regarding the non-interference in the religious and social customs of the Indian people, which as a result have continued to prosper in our country, regardless of the deep inroads that Western culture has made into our societal fabric. And here is where religious tolerance acquires a significant meaning. Prof. Max Muller, a German by birth who acquired considerable fame as a Sanskrit scholar in India, showed to the world that acknowledging the greatness of other religions, in no way lessened one’s faith on one’s own. Alongside, Swami Vivekananda was another powerful influence with his maxim of Vedantic Advaita that was to prove a watershed in bringing home to learned people of the West, the greatness of spiritual sciences that have originated in the East thousands of years ago.

So all of this made me cogitate on ‘Ram Rajya’ in its quint-essence! It was Gandhiji’s symbolic norm of ‘Divine Raj’ or the rule in the Kingdom of God, and Lord Rama was a symbol of India’s national unity and diversity. Noble thoughts no doubt, but it also taxes one’s cerebral prowess to think & think further beyond. Though intellectually that ‘further beyond’ is beyond the pale of experience and its form quite unknowable, yet its existence can be known purely by one’s intellect.

Lord Rama is quite like the Para Brahma in the Vedantas – an all-pervading entity composed of ‘sat’, ‘chit’ and ‘ananda’ or universal truth, vitality and joy that apply to the principles of evolution to society and ethics and thus welfare of humanity at large. ‘Ram Rajya’, therefore, reflects the consciousness of an actuality lying beyond physical appearance and from this consciousness results our indestructible faith in that actuality.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Black Hats or Yellow Hats – India Is A Safe Haven

Recently, the 17th Karmapa, Ugyen Trinley Dorje was in the news during his visit to Sarnath to participate in the annual Buddhist festival. My thoughts went back to the year 2000, when this young lad’s sudden emergence in the Indian side of the border made national headlines. It also made for considerable embarrassment for the Indian Government, which was flummoxed on whether to treat him as a fugitive, a renegade, an infiltrator - or just a guest. Yet, true to the sanctified norm of ‘Atithi Devo Bhavah’ (Guest is God), the Indian Government granted him refugee status a year later and His Holiness currently resides at the Gyuto Monastic University outside Dharmsala. And true to his ‘Karmapa’ bona-fides as the ‘embodiment of Buddhist activities’, His Holiness visits important Buddhist sites in India to spread the fundamentals of the religion and inculcate the Tibetan spirit of respect and affinity towards it.

When you unwind the sequence of incidents as they unfolded 09 years ago, it was so very mystifying as to how a 14-year old, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, till then in virtual captivity in the Tsurpu Monastery in Tibet, managed to undertake a perilous journey that slithered over from a jeep to a mule to a helicopter and finally a trek to reach the Indian side of the border. How was it that the belligerent Chinese armymen were caught unawares for almost 48 hours, even as the disappearing act was being staged? In a chaos of myriad possibilities, it was felt that China had stage-managed the entire episode, which was proved to be incorrect by the subsequent turn of events. Apparently, His Holiness himself explained that he had planned his escape to the minutest detail at Tsurpu, where he had announced that he would be entering into a penance and would not come out of it for some days. This ruse worked, for when he made good his escape, it prevented him and his entourage to be pursued right away. By 2002, he had taken over as the de-facto leader of the Kagyu Sect or the Order of Black Hats.

The Karmapa initially was lodged at a monastery near Dharmsala. Yet even then it was speculated that he would cross over to Sikkim, which houses the Rumtek monastery, established by the 16th Karmapa in 1966 (now the possible headquarters of the Order of Black Hats). 08 years have gone by since then and His Holiness still awaits the permission of the Indian authorities to cross over to Rumtek and take over the reins, even as the followers at the monastery await his arrival with bated breath. The Dalai Lama’s Order of Yellow Hats on its part, recognizes him now as the ‘Boddhisatva’ or the ‘Enlightened One’ and also as ‘Gyalwang Karmapa’ or the ‘Victorious One’.

Things might be peaceful, as of now yet there is no indication to the future course of events. Incidentally, this also happens to be the 50th year of the Dalai Lama’s Government-in exile at Dharmsala. In this scenario, if India grants religious asylum to Ogyen Trinley Dorje, it is likely to further imperil Indo-China relations, especially when internecine strife has afflicted the entire Mahayana cult of Buddhism in S-E Asia.

Even as India’s Tibetan Policy continues to traverse a wearisome terrain of contradictory obligations, its spirit of magnanimity is there to be seen in providing a safe haven to such Holy figureheads from across the border. The Order of the Yellow and Black Hats have both found abundant shelter beneath the spread of a nation’s opulent wings; very much in keeping with the Buddhist spirit of universal love & compassion - that did originate from India after all!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Truth & Ahimsa – Gandhiji’s Expressions of Rational Hinduism

For a major part of his life, Gandhiji fought against the evils of communal hatred towards inculcating the spirit of unity & brotherhood among his countrymen. Yet, his relentless endeavour was cut short by a Hindu fanatic who considered his gospel of Ahimsa as prejudicial and detrimental to the Hindu Community and its interests. Nothing could have been farther from truth for Gandhiji’s crusade for Hindu-Muslim unity was borne as much out of his abhorrence of the British policy of ‘Divide and Rule’ as his implicit faith in the rational Hinduistic cult, which according to him ‘enables the followers not merely to respect all other religions but to admire and assimilate whatever may be good in other faiths’. It was his fervent belief that Hinduism was not a religion in ‘exclusivity’ but is all-pervading & all -encompassing and all his actions were consistent with India’s struggle and realization of democratic national freedom.

Yes, Gandhiji’s nobility of thought and action was borne out of his empathy for mankind and not for any particular religious order or sect. His avowed belief in the Sanatani Hindu cult, which preached to everybody to worship God according to his own faith or dharma, found expression as – ‘I have found Hinduism as among the most tolerant of all religions known to me and so it lives at peace with all the religions.’ It was religious tolerance that saw his endless crusade against the dissolute practice of untouchability, which according to him was to be looked upon as an excrescence on Hinduism, not protecting religion, rather suffocating it. Likewise, he was vehemently opposed to proselytism, which the Hindu faith did not submit to.

It was Gandhiji’s modest claim that he had nothing new to teach the world as ‘truth and non-violence were as old as the hills’. His belief in non-violence also found the highest expression in Hinduism, which ‘believed in the oneness not of merely all human life but in the oneness of all that lives’, which is sacrosanct. He essentially felt that Hinduism propagated the search for truth through non-violent means and ‘a perfect vision of truth alone can follow a complete realization of Ahimsa’, which was the bedrock of all that he preached and practiced. Gandhiji felt that while Hinduism, in its incipient spirit and form, could raise one to the highest echelons, it could also bring down ignorant masses to the lowest depths. It was therefore, for every individual to see the Universal and all-pervading Spirit of Truth by loving the meanest of creations as belonging to oneself.
It was Gandhiji’s immutable faith in the capacity of Hinduism and its assimilative character to purge itself of all impurities from time to time that he reposed his full faith in it. It was his fervent belief that Hinduism has never in centuries extolled militant activities and ‘the identification with everything that lives is impossible without self-purification in all walks of life, not just of oneself but also of the surroundings, without which the law of Ahimsa shall remain a distant dream’. Today, in this world embroiled in ethnic & religious strife, Gandhiji’s teachings, which derive their essence from the power of the soul and the purity of spirit, are the most relevant to salvage one’s thoughts & actions.

Netaji's Death – Perennially Shrouded in Mystery

Even as the nation celebrated the 112th birth anniversary of Netaji on the 23rd of January, his unique personality cult continues to keeps him ‘alive’ even in ‘death’ among his passionate admirers. Even though, there has been no evidence to disclaim his demise as has been chronicled in history, there are people who surface time and again asserting that he escaped the fatal air crash and lived much longer. Despite the report of the Mukherjee Commission (set up in 1999) too having been cast aside by the Central Government after a scathing rebuttal of facts including the claim that the ashes in Renkoji temple in Japan were not of that of Netaji’s, matters have continued to perpetrate regarding the circumstances surrounding his death.

To look back at the sequence of events, the British on their part had set up two inquiry commissions, the Finnings Commission in September 1945 and the Chakroborty Inquiry in December 1945 and these were followed by the Frigg's Report in 1953, none of which corroborated the sequence of events though, the one person who could have given conclusive evidence as the only Indian to have witnessed Netaji's death, Col. Habibur Rehman, refused to depose before either of the two commissions. The first of many enquiries in India, was by Shahnawaz Khan, one of the figureheads of the Red Fort trials followed by the report by Justice G.D. Khosla, a retired Chief Justice of the Punjab High Court in 1970, both of which, gave a conclusive report that Netaji indeed, died during the air crash. However, several years later a 102-year-old Nizamuddin claiming to be Netaji’s driver-cum-bodyguard, said that the latter was not killed in an air-crash in 1945, but died a natural death in oblivion in 1985 as ' 'Bhagwan ji - Gumnami Baba' in Faizabad. There is no explanation as to why this venerable old gentleman suddenly decided to come out with this version after lying dormant for more than 40 years of Netaji’s death. This Gumnami Baba folk-lore too has remained inconclusive as such.

From details that do carry a semblance of truth, Netaji flew off from Japan to Bangkok on the 16th of August, 1945 and the next morning to Saigon from where he was to leave for Taipei (then Japanese Taihuku) and then to Dairen (in Manchuria), en route to Russia. The pilot decided to land at Tourane during the twilight hour, spend the night there and attempt the over water flight to Formosa (now Taiwan) the next day. The next day morning, the plane with its crew of four, its six Japanese passengers and two Indians, took off and headed for Taipei nearly a thousand miles away. After a flight of about seven hours, the crew refueled at Taipei and at about two thirty in the afternoon, took off again. Then at less than a hundred feet the port propeller was lost and the plane nosedived to split into two. Netaji was supposed to have suffered third degree burns and after several hours of struggle, died sometime between ten and eleven in the night. This was the evidence given by Dr. Yoshimi Tameyoshi as a first-class eye-witness account and there is no reason not to believe it, for it was a pre-cursor to Netaji’s disappearance.

While so many claims and counter-claims have surfaced, not one of them have answered a most straightforward question – ‘If Netaji did survive the crash, why didn't he made himself public at any stage’? After all, he wasn’t perceived a national threat and neither did India & Britain enter into any such treaty as would have extradited him to England to be tried as a ‘war criminal’. On the contrary, he would have been accorded a rousing welcome in India, post-independence. Strangely, while Netaji’s life has been meticulously chronicled, his death continues to baffle rational sensibilities, unearthing material & accounts, which rather than unravel the mystery tend to further shroud the incident into obscurity. What holds as incontrovertible truth is that Netaji in life as in death stood and continues to stand tall as a perennial warhead who shook the Colonial yoke from its roots.

Should Tibet Seek Autonomy as in Pre-Independent India?

Even as the battle-scarred figurehead of the Tibetan community, the Holy Dalai Lama, continues to lead his brigade against the might of their Communist rulers, as yet, there are no signs of buckle-down by either of the sides. From the wintery day in 1959 when His Holiness was forced to flee the Norbulingka, his summer palace in Tibet and take refuge across the border in the confines of Dharmsala with his followers, to escape the tyranny of the Chinese invaders, his life has been at the bleakest edge of social and political turmoil. China on its part has been offering a euphemistic rationale to its acts, alluding them to Mao Tse-tung’s rather archaic ideals of adding Tibet to the family of the People’s Republic of China and freeing its inhabitants from feudal tyranny. 58 years later, that very Dharmsala became a hot spot of congregation for Tibetans round the world to express complete faith in His Holiness’ primacy as their undisputed leader. To the Dalai Lama it is quite clear that total independence from China is not quite at hand yet he knows that groups like the Tibetan Youth Congress are steadfast in pursuing the cause.

His Holiness has all along been intransigent in following the ‘middle path’ that seeks autonomy within the region and under Chinese command. Nothing articulates this belief better than his saying – ‘The aims of the Lord Buddha and of Karl Marx are not incompatible. Both were concerned with bringing happiness to the masses, the Buddha with spiritual happiness and Marx with material happiness. Is it not reasonable then to see how the two might work together?’ Unfortunately, in the current day scenario, such an ideologue of incorporating materialism in spiritual progress is like putting an elephant on the tendril and cannot be a sacrosanct norm adopted by the Tibetans. The genesis of this could be found in the ‘cultural revolution’ in China in 1966, which has led to the systematic decimation of religious institutions in Tibet by the Communist regime. Therefore, any crusade in Tibet that uses religious sentiment as its preamble and does not stand the onslaught of reason is bound to crumble.

In 1987, His Holiness had formulated a five-point peace plan, one of which was the demilitarization of Tibet - a fore-runner for seeking provincial autonomy in the region, which eventually fell through. However, hypothetically perhaps, it wouldn’t be off the mark to suggest that Tibet could explore the possibility of adopting a structure similar to what was proposed for India under British rule in the year 1917 and ratified in the House of Commons; which was a forerunner to India’s independence three decades later. It called for the increased association of Indians in every branch of the administration and the gradual development of self-governing institutions towards progressive realization of responsible government in India as an integral part of the British empire.

To start with, Tibet’s policy should propose to extend to the domain of its provinces. This would mean, having a federal system of government at the Lhasa under China’s command and constituting a federal assembly on the basis of representation of provinces in accordance with the population. China can be persuaded to adhere to the principle of a federal government and grant full autonomy to the provincial governments run by Tibetans. Thus the central government shall administer the federal subjects while the provincial governments will have full authority in the provincial fields.

Such a system may sound quite untenable but it could be quite significant in the light of the increasing growth of social & political unrest in the Tibetan people the world over. Even if total independence isn’t quite imminent, at least some form of self-government could well be the pre-cursor towards fulfilling a long-cherished dream of Tibet’s liberation movement. Provincial autonomy for Tibet under Chinese rule could well mark the end of one epoch and the beginning of a new one.

Gandhiji’s Precious Ingersoll – Lost and Found!

The nation suddenly appeared to have been shaken out of a stupor with Gandhiji’s memorabilia being brought under a sledge-hammer blow among a cartel of pecuniary bidders. After all the clamour by the powers-that-be that failed to subvert the auction, it took a liquor baron’s ‘Gandhigiri’ to intercede and save the situation from escalating into a national opprobrium. Now one would imagine that the precious heirlooms shall be safely ensconced in the sanctified realm of Gandhiji’s memory.

Somehow providence has willed that most of Gandhiji’s items are now the safe custody of the Government, some rightfully and some providentially, one of which is a shining white, Nickel-plated Ingersoll watch that he used to tie to his waist with a string. Time was one of his chief obsessions and he treasured every moment for the service of mankind, which to him was akin to serving the Almighty. Gandhiji led a most austere life and his needs were scarce too. So that on his return from South Africa, except for the Gita, his tin utensils and some mementos of his prison days, he renounced all valuables except for the Ingersoll that was too precious for him to forsake. However, it so happened that once when he was traveling to Delhi in March 1947, he was jostled in the railway compartment and the Ingersoll was stolen by an unknown hand. Gandhiji later happened to relate this incident to Lord Mountebatten with tears in his eyes. What apparently hurt Gandhiji was that with the Ingersoll being purloined, a particle of his faith too had been plucked away. He was now on the horns of a dilemma! Had the nation really understood his creed or was it just hardening into an inflexible dogma on which life could never be regulated.

The fact however, is that the same Ingersoll happened to be tied to Gandhiji’s waist when he was struck down by the assassin’s bullets ten months later. So how and when did he retrieve the lost possession of his? It so happened that some five months after the burglary incident, when Gandhiji was staying at Birla House (now ‘Gandhi Smriti’) a stranger appeared at the gates, refusing to reveal his identity to anybody but Gandhiji himself and also refusing to go away without meeting him. After being thoroughly frisked, he was allowed in. On meeting Gandhiji, he immediately took out the same Ingersoll, admitting to the fact that it was he who had stolen it and had to come to return it and also ask for the Mahatma’s forgiveness. Gandhiji is supposed to have leapt in joy and instantly embraced him. Not only that, like a kid who couldn’t hide his giggle at having recovered a lost toy, he called all his followers and brandishing the Ingersoll, introduced the stranger as though he was his unknown benefactor. So the prized possession was back, for now.

Ironically, in the last few minutes before he was assassinated, it was the Ingersoll at which he stole a glance and realised he was late for the prayer meeting, even as he was engrossed in a heated conversation with Sardar Patel. And when Gandhiji fell to the bullets, it was Manu who stole a glance at the watch tied at Gandhiji’s waist as it stopped instantly to record that it was seventeen minutes past five. In the mayhem that followed, Gandhiji’s precious Ingersoll was thankfully taken possession of and it occupies a pride of place at the Gandhi museum in New Delhi. Sadly, this time it was not the watch but its owner who was lost and forever - to the nation, to the world and to humanity at large.

So we have two diametrically opposite conundrums surroundings Gandhiji’s belongings. Apparently, a James Otis, despite repeated entreaties, ensured that the remnants of Gandhiji’s belongings were auctioned off, there was this unknown stranger who could have made the most of his theft yet, overcome by his guilt conscience, performed a quixotically noble deed as an expiation of his self-confessed sin. Obviously we are living in a world that straddles uncomfortably between the precept and practice of Gandhiji’s faith.