Indian democracy must inspire South East Asian countries!
Is India doing enough?
Are we waking up to our Asian fraternity?

Blog-Angkor-Wat-CambodiaInside India, we have our own problems, yes. But outside India, the world looks at us as a great democracy.Are we,Indians doing enough to realise our own past contributions to the rise of Asia in the remote past and in later years when Indians migrated as labour to the various countries,from Singapore to Malaysia to even other South East Asian neighbours,Burma and even Vietnam and Cambodia.

Rubber plantations,tin mines,why,even coffee and rice and other plantation crops all absorbed so much of migrant labour.At the Bangkok airport we met an Indian entrepreneur,a youngman from Kerala who said,he was on his way to an interior rural area to explore setting up a rubber factory!That was nice to hear.There is now a new resurgence of new investments in these countries.

In Cambodia,China had become the largest investor with one billion dollar aid pledge.In Cambodia foreign aid becomes a big part of its budget.So too others,other donors,South Koreans are now a big presence in Cambodia,as investors and tourists.
Indians?Hardly,they had seen Indian visitors in either the city, Phnom Penh or in Siem Reap,the name of the town adjacent to historic AngkorWat.

Anyway, we were the only Indians without traditional dress and outlook. So too we could easily relate to the traditional reception with an Indian namaskar from the people wherever we went and also we appreciated many of the Indian style habits and practices in Cambodia.

We also saw how much the Cambodians like to retain their traditions.They display their traditional dances,the dances of apsaras,as they all,in every hotel and restaurant to showcase their traditional culture. They played their traditional musical instruments in our hotel lobby and also in the royal palace yard. They played their traditional musical drums and other instruments.Why,even in the city’s central “night markets”the traditional musical drums were played for the delight of the visitors.
Cambodia,culturally rich and inspiring country and society!

Cambodia, a great country with a great past!

Today’s Cambodia has enough energy and dynamism that could inspire people in the rest of South East Asia, may be even in the outside world.We seem to be living in a very dynamic world scenario. Whereever we travel we see this upsurge of peoples’ hopes and aspirations and dreams for their future.If there was a time when the thoughts of one world were so vibrant it was never yesterday.It is today!

When we travelled recently to Cambodia,what struck us so starkly everywhere, first in Thailand and then in Cambodia was the tumult and tension and the uncertainty and the fears and  hopes for a better future.There were protests inThailand and we were not sure how our travel plans would turn out.So too in Phnom Penh,the capital of Cambodia where there was already some tension and unspoken uncertainty in the air.

We left Bangalore by 1am and by the early morning by 6 we were in Bangkok.At the next flight bound for Phnom Penh. We arrived by 9 am and once in the town; we found there was some tension already in the environment.Once we drove through the streets of Phnom Penh,we saw the riot police,they call it military police amassed at the centre of the town and then only we realised that there were protests here too!

Thailand faces trouble from protestors,led by a former Deputy Prime Minister to the rule of the current Prime Minister,the youthful lady, Yinglak Shinawatra.However,the lady PM seems determined to hold on as she was duly elected.Thailand,as everyone knows,is a monarchy and the monarch is much revered.So,the prosperous 11,000 million strong Bangokians and also the military and the prosperous middle class seem to be opposed to the ruling party which is supported by the rural and poor voters.

In Cambodia, it is a case of a different order.

There is the long-serving Prime Minister Hun Sen, who is there for some 25 or 28 years!Of course he is elected but his rule has a long history.

Just when we were in Phnom Penh,there was this news item.The ruling party is called Cambodian People’s Party which won the elections in July and yet the government didn’t declare the results!The Opposition party,called National Rescue Party led by leadersSam Rainsy and Kem Sukha were called to the court and they were to appear in the court that day.

There is the election commission,there is the election watchdog,and there is UN envoy for human rights in Cambodia etc.There is press freedom and also agitation,in fact two agitations were going on.One by teachers and another by garment workers.
Cambodia exports 4 billion worth of garments to the USA and other countries, very much like Bangladesh. There are day to day politics and agitations on one side and on the other side, Cambodia inspires by its history,culture and the day to day encounters with people and places.

Oh,what politeness,the average Cambodian citizens,the youngmen and women display!

For Indians in particular,it is an enduring source of pride and fulfilment that the Cambodian people are deeply affected by India’s age-old history and culture,the ancient Indian epics,the language,Sanskrit that you see the Hinduism and Buddhist imprint in the way they bow and fold their hands and greet you with a namaskar everywhere! At the hotel reception desk,at the airport at the street corners, offices, there is always a smile and a namaskar with folded arms and an invariable bow that captivates you and deeply moves you.

This was the best part of our journey,the excellent public face of Cambodia and its imprint in steep traditions.Of course,I have much to say on the incomparable historic Angkor Wat,the world archeological heritage site, the UNESCO designated site and for visiting of which only we undertook this journey.In fact,this was ahistoric journey for us.

As for me in particular,there were times when I used to wonder where the Angkor Wat lay and whether it was human and is it possible one day to visit the site.I never imagined this opportunity would come my way.

Thanks to the family’sdecision,we undertook this journey of pilgrimage,yes,it was a pilgrimage and it is not given to everyone to have such historic site visited so suddenly and so easily too!

Thanks to modern transportation revolution,the civil aviation industry is so developed now, that it is possible to travel to any remote places these days.
But then,Angkor Wat is some 300 kms away from the capital of Cambodia!So,you have to undertake a separate land journey from Phnom Penh.We hired an exclusive vehicle, a luxury van to drive us all the way through the country roads of Cambodia.It took us three hoursone way and so we stayed for two nights at Angkor Wat,the temple town is called as Siem Reap;the temple proper is called Angkor Wat.About the temple and the nearby temple town we would write separately.

So,we can say in a sense that we had almost toured the whole country of Cambodia and we almost travelled from one end of the country on the Western side where Thailand liesand to the eastern end beyond which lies Vietnam.On the north lies Laos.We found out very soon that it is possible that you can in fact travel overland from one country to another either by land,by cars and buses or on boats through the mighty Mekong River that flows through the entire South East Asiancountries.Now some statistics and abrief history,very briefly!

There are some 10 countries in this geography.The biggest economy is of course Indonesia.The most developed stock market is of course located in Singapore.Economically and industrially developed seems to be Thailand and also the most developed airport.Bangkok airport ranks along with Hong Kong and Heathrow, say observes.

The ten countries are Burma,Thailand,Cambodia,Vietnam,Hong Kong, Laos, Philippines and Malaysia and Singapore and Brunei.

The richest absolute monarch is the Sultan of Brunei,of course.He owns 7000 automobiles,so many Rolls and other good things of life.The richest common man,common citizen in South East Asia is Dhanin, worth 14 US billion from Thailand. There are other VIPs from the region listed in the Forbes, ASEAN:Association of South East Asian nations.This is exclusive to develop the region economically.The big countries like China and India are not members.So too the USA.But as strategic partners these countries have some form of association. The recently held Asian summit in Bali,Indonesia, saw Indian Prime Minister and Chinese leaders and Americans participating.

There have been lots of activities,new investments etc. There are vast building projects.Our own Cambodian National Highway that led us from the capital to Angkor Wat was being expanded,there were diggings almost the whole stretch and though we experienced much discomfort, it was great joy to see that the poor and impoverished rural Cambodian people,the villagers and peasant all through the region would stand to benefit and stand up in a brave new world in the near future!So, we could see that the whole of South East Asian nations are engaged in this new endeavour of uniting to grow,grow into a war-less,peace striving environment and there are so many indicators to raise the expectations and targets like per capita incomes,school enrolments,health and other HDI points.

Everywhere we could see by our own eyes the schools are all neatly built and maintained very cleanly.The high schools are so neat and so too the primary schools.
Another phenomenon that caught my eyes was the sight of young boys and more girls on the cycles.May be there is free cycle distribution subsidy in operation in Cambodia. It is welcome. If not, please introduce the same very soon,expand it.Midday meals and free cycles had enabled Indian schools to enroll more girl children.This girl child-centric revolution is on in Cambodia.We could see the small girls on the cycles at almost all time of the day!

Politics in the region
Yes,in economics and trade,there are some positive developments.
These countries are becoming low-cost manufacturing hubs for low-tech garment making to new markets for low cost other products and services. China’s labour costs,wages are rising and so there are opportunities for people from these countries to get jobs by new investments that are flowing now from even China.For instance we are told that Intel,the US IT giant had built a one-billion factory.So too others.But the political side is not so rosy.

First the South China Sea waters is now emerging a new disputed topic.190 trillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves estimate in the disputed South China sea.And countries such as Malaysia,Philippines, Vietnam and even Brunei have territorial claims!

So,this would be the underlying disputes and tensions in the region in the years to come. And then,there is the Cambodian political history itself is a very tragic one, if we see the long reign of the late,much-loved king,Prince Norodom Sihanouk who was the helm of Cambodian politics,both on the throne and off the throne,installed and deposed,kept a prisoner himself within his palace when the Hitler-like Pol Pot held sway.

If you ask in Cambodia what to see as tourist spots one word invariably crop up. That is the infamous “Killing Fields”.This word had become so notorious,thanks to a film also in that name.

So,one of the first things we did in Phnom Penh were the two torture chambers.One within the city itself and the other,the main center is some 15 kms away outside the city.I avoid describing the spots any further.May be some other time.

The really worrisome political aspect of the Cambodia country is that it never had had a really admirable leader as in other countries.Of course,the leaders of some of the countries have become idols and icons like in Myanmar,Hoh Chi Min,as in Indonesia or Singapore.

Even in Thailand we have dynamic figures.In spite of so much influence Prince Norodom Sihanouk did so much for his country,his long career earned him so much goodwill and very influential friends all over the world,if we look at his long career,we are left with a sense of sadness and much disappointment. How can he lead a life of great ease and comforts?I don’t want to hurt the sentiments of the ordinary Cambodians who seem to be all innocent of these big questions or simply unconcerned.

But the fact remains what politics,political culture of total grip of the ruling party which has over the entire society and society,the ruling party,namely,the Cambodian People’s Party is so entrenched,it is said that the party leaders have strengthened their grip by marrying within their own close-knit families so that the power remains within a narrow circle of party fanatics.Very much like the dynastic politics we see in the Indian parties,the Congress and other regional parties today have done this dynastic politics so blatantly,so too in the relatively backward society of Cambodia it is not democratic politics as we want or as it prevails even in neighbouring Thailand where with all its protests and demands for undemocratic rule,there is a well-established ruling party and opposition parties.

In Cambodia,the Opposition party leaderSam Rainsy had been in exile to avoid prosecution!He had been slapped with defamation.Again very much in some Indian states?

Also, there is some left-over legacy from the Pol Pot years and also very longer legacy of the old royal rule under the redoubtable Prince Norodom Sihanouk.The present king is also playing a role.In the Constitution,it is a constitutional monarchy but the legacy of the Norodom Sihanoukis so heavy and it is this legacy that led to Cambodia losing its otherwise unique cultural and diplomatic relations so long cultivated by the late King.

We very much appreciated his legacy as we went through his royal palace and saw his glorious years.But somehow the disappointing feeling lingers after seeing the great glory of Cambodia,the ever-lasting,ever-glorious AngkorWat!About which in the next issue!

South East Asia is home to 620 million people ie.8% of the world’s population.The four biggest economies are:Indonesia,Malaysia,Thailand and Singapore.China is the biggest trading partner.

A superficial celebrity culture doesn’t make a country great!
And imitating the Yankee celebrity culture would be the folly of all!

At the Roman Forum, Rome Destroyed by the Barbarians!

At the Roman Forum, Rome
Destroyed by the Barbarians!

A false celebrity culture that tries to hide the more serious side of individuals and the country. Media plays a more and more central role in the affairs of a country. More so in a democracy like India where there is a thriving media culture today. The print media is very optimistic and there is a vigorous print media industry in India. This is in contrast to the developed countries, USA and UK, the two leading developed countries with a more open society and the culture of press freedom is very vigorous.

In India there is still scope for developing a much more open and active and activist media culture.

Outside UK, the print media culture is very vigorous in India. The Guardian of UK, one of the most admired and more legacy-linked media culture as represented by its famous newspaper which had set its own traditions of unfettered press freedom is an inspiration for the Indian people.

The Indian British educated class, besides other sections, must be only too fully sensitive to this press freedom as a foundation for our open and very argumentative democratic culture.

Only recently, we are also aware that in the wake of the Edward Snowdon’s wiki Leaks revelations the whole world is now fully sensitised by the US-UK surveillance of almost every major government of the world. For India it is really shocking that the US and UK indulged in this snooping activities of every government department even.

Anyway, we, in India, are becoming aware of the need for more open and more transparent media culture in the country.

As for the TV news channels, India now has about some 150 news channels and by the next 5 years or so, says Mr.Prannoy Roy of NDTV there will be at least some 500 news channels more. So this is a welcome development and Indian democracy and the freedoms of the individual citizens would only get a boost for further benefits. Democracy and citizen freedoms are the two basic foundations of any genuine democracy.

As for Indian democracy we are yet to go a long way. As for the quality of jo9urnalism, the media in India is yet to reach levels of excellence. As we have mentioned it is Guardian in UK, it is Lemonde in France and to some extent it as Washington Post till it was sold to eBay.

As for India it is, we can say with some confidence, it is The Hindu. This is testified by a recent remark by none other than the great leader from our neighbouring Afghanistan who said it so. The Hindu has its strengths and also certain limitations. The strengths are many. Its news selection is authentic and its interpretation, though conservative, has largely been in the interest of disinterested readers.

As for the TV news channels, there are here also many channels, the most prominent among them are a few. NDTV is now 25 years old; it celebrated its 25th year with a list of 25″legends”as the TV channel termed its selection of distinguished persons who represent India is a significant manner.

There are other channels, like Times Now, CNN-IBN, Newsx and some others. It is the English language channels that stand out in India. Ironically, the local language channels, despite their popularity, they verge on the tabloidization of the news media. The two languages, Malayalam and Bengali, are too well developed in print journalism but they seem to be poor imitation of what they do on the TV screen.

As for other languages, the Tamil TV news channels are a curse. They are neither tabloidization more of poor quality. They are verging on blatant vulgarity in language and presentation.

Again, it is an irony, the two news channel s that are supposed to be popular are controlled by two main political parties and the news we hear are nest as manufactured by the party leaders and the presentation verges on brain washing in an undignified manner.

The latest attempts to launch a quality channels hasn’t progressed much beyond what it did in the first few months. The Telugu news channels are also of low quality. There are special channels for religious discourses; there are channels for astrology, godmen etc.

Now as for the top end, the NDTV promises to be the top end channel. But here are some observations. The channel presented not long ago the 25th anniversary present of the 25 “legends”.

It is not here we are concerned with the particular names, all are really distinguished. But how the particular list was made.

There are as we see casually, threes actors and one actress. The three actors are all very popular heroes. They represent what is called the Bollywood film culture. As for quality cinema, certainly they don’t represent the genre. The art cinema in India is a powerful force; Satyajit Ray is only one obvious name that comes to mind. There are others of that rank. In Malayalam there is quite a bunch of them. Door Gopalakrishnan is only too well-known. Equally well-known are some names in Kannada cinema.

But why then these internationally known names didn’t make up the Indian film legends? They didn’t for the simple reason they didn’t make it on the box office? What other distinguishing marks they must have had. If we go by the selection made here, even the late legend Satyajit Ray might have been left out?

Then, among those so selected as legends, there are very well-known industry captains, fine. But then, the public would associate such names with some recent scandals, criminal cases and some other such undesirable acts and mistakes, perhaps. The point is we, Indians, seem to be driven by the American celebrity culture?

It looks like that. Then, it is a fake celebrity culture we have to better avoid, rather than imitate. And imitating the Yankee celebrity culture would be the worst folly of all!

What do we know of Russia either?
We in India seem to know much about the West, about UK and Europe and the USA.
But we don’t seem to know, or don’t care to know about other big nations?
I am sure we know pretty little about what life is like inside China. Much more so in the same way we seem to know very little inside Russia.

chairman1The world media, the TV channels, the BBC or other US channels like CNN are broadcasting in China. When we were there in China recently we were using the international channels in our hotel rooms. But we were not sure how much it was a free broadcast and how much it was censored. There was no way to know those details.

But there was no press freedom. That much can be said with certainty. There was one broadsheet, that too very thin and obviously censored as distributed in our rooms and only rarely we saw a big broad sheet.

The English language newspapers were not at all sold in any newsstands.
The biggest bookshop, we were told and we were directed to by many bystanders was a big disappointment.  The sever storey building as really massive. But what was the merchandise?

All in Chinese language. Books were all almost reminding us of the old Soviet Russian day’s bookshops in Moscow. The top floor where we saw some English language books, they were simply old fashioned English classics, not even they were up today. The English magazine section was very thin and very poor. The one-week old The Economist was displayed. Also, the American Time magazine that when we were there displayed on the cover Manmohan Singh as a weak Prime Minister!

But this was ain great contrast in Hong Kong where it was like being in London.
All the latest British magazines, The Economist, The New Statesman and even the English edition of Le Monde, of course, the The International Herald Tribune were all there in full display. Why, even in the streets of Hong Kong in the Bay Area, there were newsstands that displayed the latest Financial Times.

The local newspaper, the South China Post was a free journal, it seemed, the news were fresh and critical of politics on the mainland China and  it looked we lived in a free and separate country. Hong Kong might not go back to the mainland style censorship and freedom of the press is sure to survive.

So, in China it was a great deal of contrast to see people enjoy a high standard of living; Shanghai was a modern city with all luxury goods on display. Almost all the latest Pairs brands were on display! Why, all the latest luxurious cars, car brands, Rolls Royce, Poirsche and other Italian designed car brands had show rooms. These show rooms every day we passed through and even had a look into some of them!

There was much freedom in the ordinary peoples’ movements and their conversations. We could interact with ordinary Chinese young men and women; there was much spontaneity in the conduct of the people. In fact, we could disregard the official Chinese tourist information map and search for the great leader’s residences, Sun Yat Sen, Chiang Kei shek, Madam Sun Yat sen’s own residence, why, even Mao’s own Shanghia’s residence-all these places we were free to go and do what we wanted to do.

In fact, we came back with the satisfaction that we were free to visit all the places in China n we were able to report that there is freedom of the citizens in the cities. In fact, every evening we looked forward eagerly to visit the favourite Nanjing Road which was banned for traffic, all the pavements were made into marble floors so that people, pedestrians can walk past the street faced shops easily and in a leisurely way. People thronged the streets, in fact, people joined there in dances, there were ball dancing on the pavements, street centres, much music shows and what not. This, I took it as a sign of peoples’ free live styles!

There is much room for fast growth for the ordinary citizens in today’s China.
So, the latest news about the third plenum, the 376 members of the Communist Party of China met for four days, behind the closed doors, in a military-run hotel in west Beijing etc read like a bizarre old style secretive Communist conspiracy!

This is unfortunate. For we believe that the new China under Xi Jinping gives all indications of a new, open-minded (if not open-society reforms. But the way the meet is reported in the foreign media reads like a true old fashioned oppressive state and party machine. May be we have to wait for foreign media and foreign experts to know more about what the new market-based economic reforms would amount to.

The two or three new features revealed by the current CPI meet are1.private land ownership by farmers. At present farmers cant own land and not sell. The new reform is to confer property rights to farmers so that they can buy and sell land and therefore there will be incentives for more production of food etc.2.The state-owned enterprises, (like our PSUs? The Indian media correspondent doesn’t explain for the benefit of Indian readers) would loosen their party control. They party bosses now control such enterprises. What does this mean in practice? No one has specified.3.The party-controlled courts would be reformed. Again, what does this mean? The judiciary would become independent? No one has specified.

The point is that these reforms, after all, might only lead to practices in free market economies? What other alternative is there for such reforms?

So, the current economic reforms are one thing. Any other political reforms? Unless there is some freedom to choose party affiliation, then, it becomes a one-party state.
At least in Russia, there are some party reforms. There are other parties in Russia that oppose Putin, the President who otherwise remains a dictator for all practical purposes.
In Russia, on the other hand there are political reforms, there is a contest and there is democracy, there is an elected parliament.

In China, the whole system remains classical party dictatorship. But in Russia too there are some bizarre situations. At the moment there is the famous (infamous trial?) going on in Moscow. That is the trial Mikhail Khodorkovsky, at one time, Russia’s richest man. He as close to Yeltsin, the first elected president o Russia.

Khodorskovsky was once the most famous face outside Russia and he was a welcome visitor to the White House and a frequent face at the World Economic Forum at Davos. Jailed on fabricated charges to serve an eight year term, he was banished to Siberia. So, he is called the famous prisoner of the once infamous Gulag!

How to explain the Russian government, its economic management, its famed Oligarchs!
So, we find that both in China and Russia the system of government looks very primitive, if we apply the standards of the West, Western democracies. The two countries don’t have any Constitution or conventions of any constitutional political conduct.

Their talk of ideology, be it Communism r Russian style ideology, all seem very backward, if not plain police state. We in India, remain friendly with both China and Russia.
Russia for a longer time, China from the 1949 Revolution.

Our friendship with these countries date back to the Nehru years. Today the world has changed, for the better, hopefully. The democracies have come in most countries, big and small. There are constitutions in most democracies.

So, what is the future for China and Russia, both in the short term and in the long term?
India has a big role to play in the evolution of democratic culture. But then India must practice its democracy much more seriously than what we have today.

This is the one aspect about which lot of thinking elite in the country has to become more sensitive. At least in this area the Indian elite, the intellectuals and the media must speak out and become a force to the outside world.

Rehabilitation and Development
Create a new post of Cabinet Minister! Station him or her in Dehradun!

This is a national disaster! The Uttarkhand Speaker, Govind Singh Kunjwal, had put the loss of lives at 10,000 while the Union home minister puts it at 900.

Whose figures the public would believe?

Surely, the local man would only be trusted. Whatever is the real loss it is too much and it is too much for a state and for a routine job.

The existing National Disaster Development Agency (NDMA) can’t handle the enormity of the disaster. The NDMA is not known as of now and its credibility is yet to be assessed. What work it had done? What is it?

The usual media hype that the NDMA’s chairman is the Prime Minister is no consolation. The PM lends his name as a matter of routine.There are many such agencies, including the Gandhi Smiriti whose chairman is also the PM. But we know from experience that the next person in charge of the Gandhi Smiriti she can’t even meet the PM!

So, any decorative name is no consolation.Let us at least know now what the NDMA has done so far. In the last fortnight or so. What we need to focus here is the enormity of the tragedy.
The news that some 2,400 villages have been completely washed out is enough to indicate that the rehabilitation and resurrection of the lives of the devasted people is no easy task.

Also, there is the very critical reality that Uttarkhand falls under the 544-km central sector of the 4,057 km Sino-Indian Line of Actual Control (LAC).In fact the state faces the Tibetan Autonomous Region, where the Chinese Liberation Army has the capability to move its troops, 30 divisions of 15,000 men by using its own very strong 58,000 long road network swiftly. This dimension of the reality makes it much more strategic to think radically and in an unorthodox manner.
Our government doesn’t enjoy the confidence of the people, nor the elite as for its boldness of decision-making and action.
So, this special alert.

Already we start getting bits of news about the CAG report’s finding. One news item says that the very data collecting machinery is not yet in place. The National Database for Emergency Management (NEDM) has by now been completed. The date is 2011. Till June 2012 Rs.6.34 crores spent. Bu the project is non-operational!

This typical of the government activeness. So, let us not get bogged down in disputes on any of these issues. The whole country is shocked beyond any limits at what had hit the mountainous beautiful region that met with such a disaster?
Words fail to describe things. The very visual pictures are really overwhelming. The barren print media coverage itself is heart-breaking.

So much devastation in our living memories is beyond our tolerance limits.There is need for serious action. What is the enormity of the loss?

We have to quickly assess the damages.

Who would do this?
Not the home ministry, right?
Then by whom?

There is no word from anybody. Not even there seems to be wide sympathy across the corporate spectrum. Only one corporate house, the Himalayan Institute of Hospital Trust runs a 1,000 bed hospital and it has adopted 50 villages for rehabilitation, fine.  But what about the rest of the 2,400 villages that are named in the first count?

Where are the initiatives from our corporates? The big and the not so big names. This is not an honourable topic for discussion and criticism.We need some really bold, unorthodox initiatives. What are some new ideas?

We have to create a new authority. Create a new Cabinet Minister in charge of Uttarkhand disaster management portfolio. Allot funds separately. A full-time, high profile person must be names to this task.

Not the usual routine low. Competency would do. The trouble with the present governance system is that we go by the quota system. First we, select the alliance partners. Then, they name their own favourites? Then the usual suspects, the social quota have its own compulsions. So, finally one gets selected, utterly unsuited, unqualified and totally corrupt, or corruption-prone.

Sorry for these harsh words. Are these words too harsh to the enormity of the tragedy that really calls for herculean efforts?

As for funds, we have to come out with some national sharing.
Since this is a national disaster, the states may be asked to share their responsibility, a certain percentage of the state revenues, spread out on a five-year term basis.

That way, the states would also feel part of this national rehabilitation effort. Then, there is the need for a new articulation of a Grand National task, very much on the lines how the Japanese people shared in their tsunami disaster.
The Minister can be even a total outsider to the party system. He or she can be a new face that can inspire confidence and credibility.

Even a technocrat or an NGO face. Any person who volunteers to undertake this gigantic task. This is a lifetime’s great task. The country can openly call for the volunteers who can come forward to undertake this great national building task.
The point is that such an effort must be beyond partisan interests. It must a national consensus based effort.
Let us see whether we say a nation, has the will and the nerve to rise up to this challenge.

The situation might not improve very soon. It would linger on with us, with those faces, the great many tragic faces, the lives lost, the lives saved and the lives that are yet to be put on a permanent basis.

There are people who are hit by a trauma and those within Uttarkhand itself are to be attended. Besides, every state has its quota of people hit hard, lost their dear and near, their kith and kin and every one, to the last one needs to be soothed and held out our hands of friendship and sympathy.
The subject is too much to write in a normal manner. So, we rest with these words.

The three-year old girl child, without her parents left alone, would haunt the nation forever!

Some days in Rome and Italy
Why we should study Roman history?
What lessons for the Indian people?
There are lessons even now!

Roman history, the rise and evolution of the Roman Empire, some 2,000 years of continuous success story, so to say, is because of the Romans’ victory over their rival empire, Carthage in 264 B.C. The first and second Punic wars refer to this success. The second Punoic wars were fought in 2o2 B.C.

This victory gave the Romans enormous self-confidence in them.

That is why every building and every victory led the Romans to build so many buildings, each in itself, from Clossuem to Roman Forum and many such buildings, public baths all over the Roman world around much the ancient Roman empire geography  such massive scale and enormous genius for Roman empire’s governance uniqueness.

The rise of the Republic in 509 B.C. onwards. The Senate and the courts of justice and many other modern time administration from courts of justice to treasury, prisons etc.
The Roman governance, more than their buildings amazes us.

A people must have such self-confidence, if they want to achieve anything in history.
Indians went through just an opposite course in their history! Let us not forget this truth!
This is the lesson from Roman Empire.

This is what I learnt from my visit to the Roman Forum and what I saw there.
Why Roman Empire is so unlike of others that came afterwards?

Indians have a special reason and an obligation to study Roman history.
Simply because, so far, as far as I know, that Indians are always caught up in a narrow world of self-absorption and self-salvation, so to say!

Our Indian history is a history of foreign invasion, foreign occupation and foreign domination and exploitation only.

From the 10th century onwards it was a series of foreign invaders coming here and destroying our symbols of independent existence, temples or forts and wealth and carrying out the destroyed wealth. Very much as the Romans were doing all the years of their rise and occupation of the Mediterranean world. The extent of the Roman empire, as we saw in the various maps displayed prominently on the  ancient Roman Forum’s majestic walls, the walls even in their ruins astounds us, so big and so tall and so commanding our attention in their  ruined majesty  even today

The various periods of the Roman history and the various geographical periods depicting the empire extent, are so gripping and so unbelievable.

As the various current descriptions inform us, the empire at its peak comprised something like today’s 30-40 countries distributed around the Mediterranean Sea. From Spain to France and Britain to the  whole of Europe till the borders of the Germanic lands(in those days the Germany lands were occupied by various tribes like Goths, Huns and Vandals-it was these tribes, then called by the Romans as “barbarians”(as the Greeks too called the non-Greeks at their time as barbarians, including their tormentors, the Persians, though Persia was also an ancient civilisation and an empire it was and it was the Persians who often came to occupy Greeks and eventually the very Greek countries were absorbed in the Roman empire!

The Roman Empire of course occupied fully the Italian peninsula (we travelled almost the whole of the southern Italy upto Naples, Naples was once an independent kingdom and also the historic city of Pompeii that had now been almost fully dug out and restored.
The islands of Sicily and Sardinia and Corsica were all once independent and they were once Greek islands till Italy, that is Rome occupied the whole of the Italian seas and the whole of Greek islands.

Of course, Egypt was part of the Roman Empire, under Cleopatra, as every film buff knows, from the films of Cleopatra and Shakespeare’s plays on Julius Caesar and Mark Antony and other plays on the Roman history; you can imagine the heady height to which the Roman achievements went.

The Romans had one enemy kingdom.
That is the old Carthage, today’s Tunisia on the northern edge of the North Africa. Carthege was a great Phoenician empire.

Carthage was the single most reason why Romans developed so much haltered and they were very determined to defeat and almost destroy completely the Carthagian Empire. After defeating Carthage, I believe, acquired enormous self-confidence and they went about building their “basilicas” (a word you hear very often in Rome, a foundation for any building, religious, royal or other buildings, on which the actual buildings are raised)

Before we embarked on our Roman holiday we read whatever we had accumulated in our home library the books and heavy volumes. And Carthege made a deep impression on our mind.

Cato, the Roman senator, would always end his speech at the Senate telling: Carthege must be destroyed”. And Catherge had some outstanding military generals and strategists. Hannibal was the most famous Cathegian general and he invaded Italy many times and once he stayed back in Italy for some 14 years with so many elephants in his army and it was only after a long and bitter battle Hannibal was defeated, as we have already noted above.

And Carthege was totally annihilated and the earth, it is told, was ploughed out and salt was sprayed and the Roman Empire from then onwards took on an unprecedented heights of fame.

What struck us on our first visit to the Roman Forum, the ancient site of the Roman empire’s administrative hub, today it is just a site of ruined monuments, it is something like a hundred or two hundred feet in length and the one road that runs from east and west uptill the Capitoline hills, it is just a hillock and it doesn’t measure up more than, say 50-70 feet in height, the road inside the Roman forum is called via sacra, sacred road.
Walking through the small site and the via sacra uplifted me to a new height of consciousness. I forgot myself when it was all happening.

Julius Caesar
His full name is Caius Julius Caesar.
His story is so awe-inspiring. No man in history, perhaps with the sole exception of Jesus Christ, had had such an enormous impact on the course of world history. Some people are born and they change the course of world history. These two names are such great impact-makers. Caesar’s each and every act is historic events and the following generations to treat Caesar so.

The site where I spotted a name that completely left me doumb-founded.
It was the name of Caesar and it was in Latin and I found out it was the spot on which Caesar’s body that was brought from the nearby another spot where he was assassinated in 44 B.C. and cremated here in the  spot where I was just standing and left me speechless!

It was Julius Caesar who conquered the vast extent of the lands that came to be identified as the heart of the Roman Empire. Gaul, today’s France, Britain, south of Scotland, the whole of it and also Spain and much of northern Italy. Of course, it was Caesar who occupied Egypt and almost the whole of the old Jewish settlement, Jerusalam, Syria and much of Damascus etc.

Before the birth of Jesus Christ, Julius Caesar laid the foundations of the Roman Empire.
It was Caesar’s nephew and successor, adopted heir, Octavian Caesar, later called Augustan Caesar who was ruling when Christ was born in Jerusalem! It was Octavian Augustus who initiated a long period of peace and political stability, his age is called the “golden age” of Octavian Augustus.

After 8 years of rule, in 27 BC Octavian Augustus assigned himself the title of Emperor. In 1`2 BC, he was honoured with the title of Pontifex Maximus (Highest Priest), later taken over by no less than the Popes themselves!

Augustus laid down the form of government, it was the age of kings first, then Republic and under Caesar it became the empire.

It was under Augustus, great Roman poet Virgil, Horace, Ovid and Livy were the leading literary exponents of the Augustan age. Augustus died in 14 A.D.

The Roman Forum has so many sites of great historic significance and we saw the three victory arches, arches built to commemorate the victories of the Roman generals and the army in their conquests.

The one arch that stands outside the Forum proper is the Constantine arch. That stands intact even after all these years, some 2,000 years! Just near the famous monument, the giant amphitheatre, Coliseum! There is much to write and say about this very monument. It simply defies our sense of reason and proportion.

How, the ancient Romans brought the giant granite stones and raised the height to so high a level?

Once we enter the Forum from the east, we first come across and encounter the arch, the Titus victory arch.

Emperor Titus who went to Jerusalem and destroyed the temple and also seized the wealth of Jerusalem and the arch depicts the victorious army, along with the slaves and also the captured Jewish prisoners who are seen carrying with their religious symbol of worshiping candlebra!

Once we go further down towards the last stretch, we see the last arch, this one is also intact and this arch is called that of Septimiu Severus!

Around this last stretch is the oldest prison, the treasury, the Senate building is also intact and also other courts of justice.

We should know that the Romans were the ones who gave the world the concept of law. Our laws are all called strictly as Roman Laws!

The concept of Republic, Senate, the other terms tribute, tribune and so many others, including, Roman calendar, Julian Calendar and also the alphabet, ours is Roman alphabet, right?

Of course, what astounds us is the fact that Roman history gave the world view, literally!
Even in Greek, why even before in the Egyptian times and other  ancient civilizations, there were many civilizations and many different achievements, be it art or maths or architects or the discovery of farming, as in Mesopotamia and invention of  wheels as in Mesopotamia and Assyrians and others who, including India, giving to the world new tools and new discoveries.

But it as in Rome and nowhere else, a world empire emerged and united the world for the first time, with roads and other modern-day communication tools.

The Roman roads were uniquely a Roman invention. We passed through the world’s first Roman highway, called Via Appiah! Such big granite stones were laid to enable the Roman army to march to long distances.

Romans were the first to build aqueducts, bring water to the city from long distances.
Ancient Rome, we are informed, had eleven aqueducts, brining water through channels up to a long distance 59 miles! And do you know or can you visualise that the aqueducts were built on raised levels on arches upto 100 feet high! Some o the aqueducts, you should also not be surprised, are in use still today!

And there are so many other wonders in Rome. Each and every ancient building in Rome, we saw were built to giant scale. Even in total ruins, some of the columns at the Roman Forum, the left out columns that are still standing in their majestic height are so tall that we have to stretch our heads looking in the sky to fully visualise their tallness! So tall and so commanding if not intimidating us, these columns.

There are still some columns that are telling their old glories of the temples that were built to celebrate and worship after so many gods, Saturn, There is one great monument that we saw on the last day of our stay in Rome. That is the Pantheon. The Pantheon was built in the year, in fact rebuilt by Hadrian emperor in 118 A.D.

This is a wonder of the world indeed. So intact, after all these years and also so awe-some dimensions!

Its massive columns would simply deter your common sense. They, the sixteen of the massive columns that form the portico of the Pantheon are monoliths that are they are single stone columns, they are 46 feet high, they were laboriously extracted from a quarry high up in the east desert of Egypt. Man handled down to the Nile river stream and brought hundreds of miles through the sea alter to the empire capital, Rome.

Just have a look at the world map, if you have and see the long distances these columns must have travelled. Egypt is at the one end of the Mediterranean Sea. From the eastern end of the sea the distance to Rome is all the way through sea journey only.

How this was managed?
How this was made possible?

If only you see the world map, see the historic map of the ancient Roman Empire, the Rome city location and visualise the immense, almost humanly impossible feat, you will realise and really appreciate the Roman Empire’s architectural heights. You have to admit, it was the Romans who gave us architecture on this vast scale. Of course, they built vast cities throughout the Roman world. In many of the old Roman colonies we can see these massive-scale architectural buildings, these amphitheatres, these public squares; the Roman baths are another great achievement.

The Roman citizens were a new class of citizens, invented by the Roman Empire.
It was the aspiration of everyone in the Roman times to acquire Roman citizenship!
It is like getting a US visa today!

The Roman administration is of course, the greatest contribution to Roman civilisation and great contribution to the world civilisation and global evolution as a civilised people, as we are all imagining!

We have to write separately and that too in great many details why Roman government, Roman army, Roman governance system laid the foundations of our modern day world.
First, their government emerged as one king-ruled entity. One the king’s rule ended came the Republic. There was a Senate and always the pro-consuls were nominated, often too. The threesome rule was called the first Triumvirate, second Triumvirate. First consisted of Caesar, Pompey and Crassus (71 B.C.). Second, Octavian, March Antony and Lepidus.

The second attempted to write a constitution. This paved the way for not one-man dictatorship. Some sort of consensus or rule by consultation.

Of course Roman army was very important state instrument. It was the army that conquered territories and brought stability.

Then came Julius Caesar who came from a noble family, the story is very interesting and it was he who gave some substance to the idea that rule by one man, dictatorship was good for the strength and growth of the empire.

But then his assassination in B.C 44 turned history’ course of events.

In fact, from Caesar we learn many things, for the first time in history, some lessons in history!

Once some system of governance by consensus, rule by pro-consuls comes along there comes the differences of opinion in the minds of the Senators, citizens. This topic needs a detailed write-up. From one man, one king to two pro consuls to triumvirate and then, through Senate and other processes, the Roman government by law evolved into a great achievement that today no nation, nay, the world can’t live except through an elaborate process of rule of law, due process of law, why even without a written Constitution, be it for a country or for the UN!

There were classes of citizens. At the top were the aristocrats, the patricians, then the ordinary people were called plebeians. There were also the slaves.

At the top there was the sanctity of the government. The Senators sued to wear togas, a sort of suit and pant of the British days in India!

It is also said that the upper class, the patricians maintained certain gravitas. The Roman Senator, the aristocrat used to maintain certain restraint, certain decorum and there was much civilised behavior in the Roman society.

Of course, with all the evolution of governance by consent and Senate and courts of justice etc. there was this much brutality.

The succession of the kings and rulers was often by brutal killings and assassinations!
This is the one blot for which I don’t find any explanation.

As for sanctity of ruling by Senate, there was this temple worship; there was a class of virgin vestas, from patrician class. We saw the Vestal virgins quarters, they are all in ruins of course, as other monuments, but still the class of virgin vestas intrigued me and we had to seek more information and explanation, how the sanctity of the temples and worship were all conducted.

Of course, in the beginning of the Roman rule, in Rome and elsewhere, there was this pagan religion only. Many gods and many worship practices.

It was in the 4th century, Emperor Constantine who was converted to Roman Catholicism started another big world religion and the story of the Roman Catholic Church has to be told separately.

In fact, there is so much to say about the course of the Roman history. That lasted some 1,500 years.

Also, in Italy there arose in the 14th and 15th centuries the Italian Renaissance. That also impacted the modern world. That is for another day!

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