Nothing in excess! Man is the measure of things!
Three Greek ideals!

SocratesThese are the lessons the momentous, historic visit once again brought home to us. A lesson I sought to learn more than half a century and yet only what I missed by chance so many years ago, in 1959-61 when I was at Oxford, I was able to fulfill only now!

Thanks to many favorable circumstances this visit, this July, was fulfilled only this time!

What once I thought, it was possible for some few pounds; say ten or fifteen bucks, as they say; now it cost a fortune! But what a historic perspective in which this opportunity came about!

So, the readers have to bear with some, preliminary reflections on what is raging inside my mind and intellect to get some momentum to come to the actual first-hand experience of our Greek encounter!

It is no exaggeration to say this. We, Indians are not known for our historic sense at all.
We have not had any such great history. All we have a certain type of Orientalist fantasies only. Even the British colonisation played role to dim our historic views. The learned classes in India believed the colonizers’ perspectives only. But the British ruling class, from the 17th century onwards, more so in the 18th and 19th centuries sought to appropriate the legacies of Greek and Roman civilizations and it is long history of learning and loot. The much sought after treasures, the incomparable sculptures, the priceless marbles, like the Elgin marbles and other such treasures had been stolen blatantly and the European museums and art galleries are full of the looted antiquities.

Along with the loot came the much sought after Grand Tours, the British ruling class appropriated for themselves in terms of education, culture and exposure to the world of high culture and the art of ruling. So, our visit from India, to classical Greece and Rome can be seen and I like to see as a historic turn to a hopefully new awakening of sorts. I invite readers to see our experience and arguments in this wider perspective.

Yes, it was a dream of more than a half century! The dream of visiting Greece and seeing the historic sites, the soil on which Socrates (469-399 BC), the first great thinker of the classical world walked! Yes, we did tread on his divine feet! The ancient Agora, the original 2,500 era market and public place where the ancient Athenians used to congragate, for both day-to-day affairs and also as a government to sit in this house. That structure had gone.”Where is the prison?”When I asked this question I noticed headquarters! The very soil is intact even now! Just the other side lies the Roman Agora, which the Romans occupied Greece and ruled as one of Roman provinces. The old Agora was the place where the first flowering of the idea of democracy originated. The very structure, a raised round platform still stands where the council of thirty, the cabinet met and deliberated. Many of the surviving structures are, we are told, functioned as governing offices, judiciary, treasure and even prison, also the portion where Socrates drank the poison and willingly died.

Why did he die? Where is the very spot? We asked the woman guide?”Yes, sir, it is here!”She replied matter of factly. She also showed a name board:”Simon’s House. Simon was Socrates’ close friend. Socrates used another person and young lady of course well-educated suiting not far from the place. I beckoned her. She came forward and told us that she is a staff of the American School of Classical Studies, funded by the Rockefeller Foundation that is carrying out the archeological investigations. There were the clay cups that were lying in the spot where other prisoners too might have been killed by serving poison in similar cups. So, the learned archeologist explained to us how the science of archeology reaches conclusions by such reasoning. Athens has had a very long history. It faced many invasions from the Persians. Modern Greece too faced many occupasions. The last was Ottoman occupation. Only in the 19th century Greece became independent. Modern Greece is a poor copy of the classical Greece, of course!

We visited Greece for a family holdiay, five members and for ten days! So we now know each nook and corner of the Athens city! I consider our visit historic! For some very historic reasons. I have to put the question in some broad and long historic context. Also when I look at the timing of the happening, from what I see from the future evolution of the India we are going to create as a great democracy and a great nation. Let us look back and also at the vision for India. By way of values of governance, institutions the values of a mass democracy, various freedoms of the citizens, the direct democracy practiced by the ancient Athenians!

The great general and statesman, Pericles (495-429 BC) said at the funeral speech at the end of the Peloponnesian War (431-404 BC) education for the world. Our government is not of the few but of the many. That speech must be taught in all our schools. Let us connect with the march of civilization. My mind wandered, far and wide as I lost in my reflections. Why? Modern India, the first seventy years of India’s freedom, brought Indians many freedoms. But in my opinion the most cherishable freedom of awakening, an awakening of the civilization values, the modern ways of thinking, the many strands of new knowledge, philosophy, science and much of the other sources of knowledge, months, astronomy and medicine, to mention just a few sources, were all  the contributions of Greece, right?

But then this awakening couldn’t come to India owing to, again in my opinion, to the sort of education that came to India much later to the British education, the contribution of Macaulay who decreed that Indians are good only for a clerical education. So, the original contributions of Greece and Rome remained confined only to the British youngsters. The cream of the ICS fraternity remained only with the British cadre. The so-called Bengal Renaissance with all its brilliance also remained in my view only confined to the British contributions. What we lost I like to get connected with the great civilization links.

Our education must incorporate the best of the Greek and the Roman contributions to mankind. Teach courage, moral strength and politics that are truly democratic and teach citizens all the practicalities of the Greek citizenship ideals. How the Greeks had that strength to raise the Parthenon (447BC) the acropolis, the giant pure white marbles? It is so staggering and so majestic. It rises on the acropolis hill and shines in such lighting overlooking the city of Athens down below!

Words fail to recreate the emotional outburst first-timers have to climb and struggle to stand up and raise our eyes! To fully describe is impossible. On a vast hill space of two and half hectare spread three temples stand for the past 2,500 years.

So, we have to initiate a big vision for India, Indian thought processes. The many names that we would narrate later and they are too many in all branches of knowledge and practical affairs, in Greek ideal, you as an individual are both a thinker and a practical man; Socrates had participated in a war! Classical Greece in all its full bloom arises before us. That is a priceless gift to mankind!

70 per cent are small and marginal farmers with less than one hectare of farm land!

arun jaitelySo, what sort of farm policies you make for these unviable farmers who easily resort to the only option to deal with mounting debe4ts?
Suicide and that is what needs to be address.

How do you do this?

Not postponing issues and only when the trickle develops into a flood you resort to only steps, use police to fire at the “unruly” crowd of farmers and also you politicise the issues to the extent that where big politicians like Digvijai Singh and Jyotiraditya Scindia sit at dharna with laughs and jokes that get wide newspaper headlines!

Farmers’s agitations and political responses! The agriculture minister is nowhere seen nor we hear any of his concerns, his statements or his deputies are whwere to be seen.

You see, there is lack of seriousness from the governments and the Opposition parties!

There are widespread farmers’s agitations in major states like Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, UP and why even in Tamil Nadu. The causes for the agitations might have been different but the outcome is the same.
Now, the very orchestration from every state has come down to one and it seems only demand, namely, farmers’s loans write-offs.

Can the states resort to this sort of large scale write-offs?

And predictably, the Union finance minister, Mr.Jaitley has openly said that the Centre can’t bear the burden, each state has to find the funds for such scale of write-ff.

Okey, fine. How long such demands can go on and also how long the governments can’t adopt such a simplistic solutions.
The PSB banks   are the ones to face the music and already the NPA issue is dogging the central government.

Now, the questions to be asked by everybody are: is this all to agriculture issues?

Agriculture, as a profession, has to be carried on. It is a life-giving activity; agriculture is like our very borthy. But who then brought the issues to this end?

The most tragic part of the story is that no one, certainly, the central government, why, like the very predecessor government, never took the agriculture sector very seriously. The general assumption is that agriculture is the least serious, it is the least politically important, farmers can be fooled to vote this or that way and so farmer don’t constitute the most sensitive vote-bank.

Also, as noted now by many observers, most recently in a new book, Superfast Primitive, Ultimate Nation, The Relentless Invention of Modern India,2017 by Adam Roberts, published in Great Britain by Profile Books, London is the latest narrative of India of the India under Modi after three years!

The book has some new insights and observations. Now, yes, the voter’s population had bulged to the extent of a billion. While in 1952 it was just 173 million. You see voters have all become non-farm persons, who are interested in urban pursuits. Agriculture is losing all its attractions, even a sense of social status, so it becomes difficult to retain farmers in the profession.

More and more villages are becoming empty as most youngsters go to the nearby or far-off towns for productive work; even construction work is the most profiting.

So, we all know that agriculture is becoming a losing activity and yet our agriculture policy making is as good as none. It was all a throwback of the Nehruvian leftist orientation.

Land reforms today means what? You retain an absentee landlord and also an absentee tenant. Both don’t work or invest a penny in the land and so both help to pauperise the farming activity.

So, what basic approach needs to be change?

In our firm view make first farming an attractive job. Give the owners the land they need. Relax the land reforms laws. Relax the tenancy laws. You own the land or you leave the land, you sell the land.

So, the whole farming scenario becomes more farm-friendly. Then only, you can retain farming as a profit-driven activity.

Once you agree to this point of view then only farming can improve.
If the governments for voters’ illusions promise the moon then, it is farmer’s doom further.

One can go on and on. Is the agri minister listening?

Press freedom a concern for the elite only?
A new head for the Broadcasting machinery appointed!
A new maturity and a new liberal approach to press freedom make India a stronger democracy!

red-inkWe saw the news item on the RedInk awards for India’s best journalists!
Media freedom is more talked about than upheld. In most countries.

In India the press fears the authority. Even the so-called mainstream press behaves in a cowardly manner. Long subjugation under foreign rule had made Indian people unwary of any assertion of freedom!

We are a god-fearing country and in effect a government fearing people, right?
Of course we have some positive news. Just now, the RedInk Awards were presented to 15 categories of journalists. Fine. There is some flicker of press freedom and assertion. But there are causes for dismay. One notable media organisation was raided, of all agencies, by the CBI! This is bad.

Recently a well-respected media organisation was raided by the CBI. Why the CBI of all agencies? Press freedom is always mentioned as the fourth pillar of democracy. Now, in most democracies, specially the British and the US ones we see media in all its diversity and also in its real assertive forms.

How many countries have jailed journalists? This is one indication. In some major countries like Russia and China journalists are routinely jailed and why in Russia major killings had taken place.

We can equate press freedom with the state of the Opposition parties. In Russia, we see the Opposition leaders is subjected to many undesirable treatments like arrest and parading in the streets etc. This is obviously too much.

Why, even in India, in a state like TN we have had so many record defamation cases! So, we see a general dullness, meekness and evasive reporting, why plain distortion of news, even fake news! Journalists are poorly paid, poor social status and perennial insecurity. So too the media owners’ own vision, if at all. It is just a business, more tabloids, less any other goal!

In India we have a long way to go! Now, the CBI raid has in fact left a bad taste.

Now, there is much to ponder over when it comes to press freedom. News is now taken very differently. News is often more fake news, they say. We don’t know.

BRICS nations have now set up a Brics media fund of I million dollars. We are not sure what this fund would achieve.

Now, press freedom is not to be fair and accurate only. Press freedom means free from fear of the authority, the ruling party and the government, right?

But then major newspapers are now big business, right? They have to sell, earn profits and so dependent upon the ruling establishment for various facilities. Now, under the present dispensation we see much fear, observers say. People in Delhi seem to say this. Recently, the senior most journalists like Kuldeep Nayar and others assembled in Delhi Press Club and criticised the government for the CBI raid on NDTV.
May be such inconveniences are to be managed.

That is the price one has to pay for one’s sense of freedom and moral responsibility. Indian press history we have to study.

Also, in the present world order we see the AlZazeera, the Qatar-based TV channel had led to problems among the Gulf countries for being a bit freer in its expression of opinion on matters of high state policy!

You see even in the best of times, in the best of democracies people are uncomfortable  with an authoritarian government.

We can have so many solutions. One, hold many press conferences. Prime Ministers are all not the same. Manmohan Singh and now Narendra Modi, as  Prime Ministers didn’t hold Press Conferences. Why?

You have to think!

Pandit Nehru was very different. He loved questions and arguments in the open space. May be such background must help Indians of this generation.

Please allow arguments. India is not known for its open arguments in the modern sense. Prof.Amartya Sen says a different sort of argumentative Indian! Today’s Indians are very fearful of the governments!

Anyway, we have to live with all the imperfections of our democracy!
So, the public perception whether we are a tolerant country is a view that people at large has to take.

Individual freedoms is the high mark of a democracy. Also, individuals must learn to love and rate high their sense of freedom.

Whether Indians love to be free citizens or obliging citizens is a matter for debate!

Democratisation vs bureaucratisation!

Individual liberty is the very soul of democracy
Some critical emerging issues

maxresdefaultHow the public perception and public opinion view the current developments.

Lately, the Indian polity is marked by certain trends. The polity, our political system is a parliamentary democracy.

Given the long history of democracy, from ancient times to the present day, the Indian political system is a sound system, proved by the working of our Constitution for 70 long uninterrupted years.

Considering the countries that came to freedom, in Asia and Africa, it is right to say that only Indian Constitution has withstood the test of time. That is a major success for India and Indians can take pride in our political institutions. Ours is a democracy and also a Parliamentary system of government.

Then, what is the concern? Does our democracy ensure the fruits of democratic government? Equality of access to government services? No, not at all. There are the new features of our polity. Elected representatives, MLAs and MPs and the ministers’ assets have gone up noticeably. Corruption is on the rise markedly. There are, as per one report, some 200 noted corruption cases pending for more than 10 years, there is no hope of their disposal in the near future.20 year old corruption cases would be thrown out, as per one report. So, we see the lack of appreciation of the emerging complex issues of governance.

No follow-up on the Lokpal and Lokayutha institutions. The number of indicted peoples’ representatives holding constitutional posts must give some thought to the style of the new government.

Then, the working of Parliament. On Parliament, Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha need certain course correct, if we can respectfully say taso. The quality of the debates needs some attention. Too many dynastic successions take place in the Rajya Sabha. Daughters and sons are routinely sent and one can imagine the working of the House of Elders! In the Lok Sabha too we see too many saffron colours. We need a different mix.

Film actors and actresses and sports persons are fine. They lend colour and fashion. Perhaps not so much needed talents to make a better representation of regions and deprived sections. In any case, we also need more discipline and not disruptions.
Somehow, the public view our representatives the ones who don’t care for any sensitivity of the public opinion.

Our MPs vote for themselves for high salaries and other privileges and not worry about the public perception. This is also damaging to our democratic norms and democratic restraints.

So, the electoral reforms are overdue and when we can expect political and constitutional reforms so that corruption-free working of democracy is within sight?
Then, bureaucracy. The PMO is filled with retired bureaucrats hired at exorbitant salaries. Is this permissible or not?

The office of the elected Prime Minister in our Constitution is a critical one and this office needs to be debated by experts, political theorists and Constitutional experts.

The lat Prof.Harold J.Laski had debated often about the US Constitution. At that time I didn’t realise why he did so. A British political theorist. Now, I recognise that in India we didn’t attend to this much more critical role played by an elected PM whose term remains undefined. Is it doing us much good or else? This question would always be in our political system and culture.

Then, the Niti Aayog. They have called for new talents, almost, through tenders!
Niti Aayog is a think-tank. Call by whatever name, Nit Aayong is a new name for the old Planning Commission, in our opinion.

Already you have recruited US-based experts in economics. Then, why you shy about other such talents, whatever is the field.

But then economic development is not just experts’ domain alone. You need political experience, men and women who have done specialised services, like Ila Bhatt in women empowerment etc. Ms.Bhatt was once member of the Planning Commission. So too the formidable late Durghabai Deshmukh.

Many others too had brought lustre to the economic planning process. Why we mention these names here is for the simple fact that you don’t advertise for talents. You identify and invite them as almost volunteers. Such persons won’t apply for such jobs, please note!

Executive and bureaucracy. Now judiciary. There is a growing anxiety in many sections. Litigation is mounting. So too vacancies in higher judiciary. The outbursts and even open confrontationist stances is no good.

We have a bad history of the Emergency excesses in the judiciary. We hope the PM is sensitive to the unpredictable consequences if we don’t take early corrective steps.
Then, there is the fourth estate, the press.

Press freedom needs a new debate.We read in the life of John Milton (1608-74), the epic poet, who, it seems, was the first great poet to face the issue of press freedom, printers’ licensing and censorship rules, in fact the many restrictions in the 17th century England that saw the civil war and also the violence that overthrow of Charles I and also the rise of republicanism and much else.

Milton printed his first few books without the printer’s name and only under his own name. Milton’s books were burned at Oxford and he faced much opposition for his views as he printed in his books and pamphlets.

Why even in the 18th century, there was the fear of the press, printing of books and many great minds, like Rousseau and Voltaire, faced much opposition and they had to flee and seek asylum in England.

In fact England was the only country, then, as also now, to protect the freedoms of the individual citizens, domestic or foreign. Karl Marx life is another example of seeking exile for expressing his views.

Thus, we have to know even now that it is the freedom of the individual citizens that is the critical test for any genuine democracy.

It is rather ironical that even now, in India we see this ignorance of what constitutes genuine democracy. Let us hope that the new rulers realise that only toleration of different freedoms, of course within the rule of law, could enhance the image of the ruling dispensation.

Also, within India itself the restriction of the press only led to the many Acts by the British rulers that led to, stage by stage, the many events, like the Punjab massacre in Amritsar and other events that fuelled the spirit of freedom by the Indian people.

It is ironic that even now, in this day and time, we are also talking about a free press that is not there for all practical purposes.

In spite of the enormous growth of the TV news channels and a somewhat robust print press, we see there are so many reasons why the Indian media feels timid.
One current concern that will surely impact the freedom of the press is the new phenomenon of the digital technology. In many countries, including China, not to mention other countries in the Arab world, journalists are put in jail and the new tools, the social media, like Google, twitter are banned. Google doesn’t operate in China. In this respect, India is doing fine. But there are anxieties over the monitoring of public opinion on the social media. Media freedom is critical for a genuine democratic polity.

The Prime Minister must give more press conferences and also create the atmosphere conducive to the intellectuals and others to express themselves more openly and more freely.

Again to Voltaire! He was invited and accommodated by great rulers of his time, like Fredrick the Great and Katherine the Great. They became great only because they had the wisdom that freedoms are important for their citizens, in spite of them being absolute rulers!

Press today feels threatened in many countries and we must all think in an open-minded manner so that we don’t have a press that is fearful of the ruling dispensation, as we see in China and even in Russia, why, in many other small or big, new or old countries.

Indian democracy must inspire our neighbours and must enthuse citizens for fulfilling lives.

That is the true test of an open society and true democratic and transparent governance.

Apple iPad has brought the whole outside world into our living room! And that is the great luck of the time we live through, it seems.

popeA little small Syrian girl falls at the feet of the great Christian father and cries, rather loudly that viewers like us are deeply moved and in fact many of us who had seen the sight might have equally cried as well. The Pope is the living Christ for the world’s 2 billion and odd Catholic believers. Not long ago when we were in Rome and went to visit the Pope it was a great experience as well for us who belong to other faiths.

The current Pope’s predecessor was then reining Pope and what a wonderful experience it was to see the Pope and his entourage in all its splendor and ceremony! We have to confess that once you are really informed and understood the great long history of Rome and the Roman empire and if you had gone to see the Pope after you had went around and seen the great and now haunted Roman Forum and had walked through every step along the Via Sacra and saw the final resting place of the great and awe-inspiring site of Julius Caesar and also touched and felt the very inspiring remaining ruins, the many triumphal arches and the remaining tall and sky-reaching historic columns and the far giant structure, the imposing Colosseum; then if you reach the Vatican as we did alighting the Metro, aptly named, Octavian Metro Station and when we went it was raining heavily and we were caught by the rains and we had to hastily get our umbrellas, they were all ready everywhere, all sold by the Bangladesh refugees, it was a real experience that would not have any parallel!

The Pope is the living God on earth for the faithful. Even for us from the Indian continent it was very moving and unbelievable! When the Pope finally entered the great hall which was over-flowing with some 5,000 and odd pilgrims, it was God in front of us. We rise unconsciously from our seats when we saw that imposing figure in its entire splendor.

A visit to Vatican takes you into a historic journey through the ages! A family of five, we were easily spotted by the charming Italian lady guide and soon she discovered that we were rather better informed of the Roman history, among the other tourists and so she would always account us, rather indulgently saying: ‘Oh, the English-speaking Indian family of five, you please, come forward and let me first finish with the other language speakers’. And then she would go into French, German and Spanish! There were couples of these languages! Then it was all in English with us, we indulging to our full satisfaction, asking all sorts of detailed questions! So, it was also in the Vatican and inside the Vatican museum as well.

Now, the sight of the Pope! It could unnerve you, even if you are a sort of non-believer! Such is the weight of history and the sort of history Rome has come to impose on the world! Now, with all this weight behind us, how can the current world see so much again weighed down by the sad plight of refugees fleeing from their own lands and seeking a place in the outside of their own dear lands!

So, we see the European countries like Germany and neighbors embracing the new comers and the rest of the world remaining just mute witnesses? Has the rest of the world no moral responsibility? The USA wants to be the leader of the world. It hasn’t spoken out in loud and clear voice! As it should have. What about the noisy and very disturbing rhetoric of the electoral candidates, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump? The rest of the world leaders, in Russia, China and also about India?

Where is man’s solidarity with fellow man? It is all very painful to see the world as it is hurtling towards more dangerous edges with Syrian war, North Korean adventures and China’s rather not the rational world view! What about India? India’s own internal contradictions, empty rhetoric and most irresponsible behaviour. Towards minorities, religious and ethnic classes.

So the sight of the small Syrian girl’s cry and the great compassion and reassuring words of the Pope Francis are the only hopes for a possible reconcilation for a new world that should receive more refugees within their national borders. The time has come for the world as a whole to realize that every human being has a moral right to seek refuge and live a life of dignity and fulfillment.