February 6, 2011

Last week I was invited by the Ramakrishna Mission, Belgaum, to come to Belgaum and formally inaugurate a large auditorium they had put up quite close to the place where Swami Vivekananda had stayed during his first tour of South India.


swami-vivekanandaFor this function, all trustees of the Ramakrishna Mission Trust from all over the country, including the Mission Head Quarters at Vellur Math, Calcutta, had come.


My visit to Belgaum was literally an interaction with history. Just visiting the place where Swami Vivekananda had stayed for nine days, and which today is maintained with appropriate reverence makes one feel elevated. The site is inside the Belgaum Fort, a large area within which has been given to the Ramakrishna Mission.


Swami ji came to Belgaum in 1892 and the idea that he should visit Chicago the following year 1893 for the World Parliament of Religions is believed to have germinated here.


belgaumIt was in Belgaum again that a Congress Session was held in 1924 exactly one hundred years after Rani Chennamma from Kittur, close to Belgaum, rose in revolt against British rule much before the first War of Independence of 1857. I recall my visit to Kittur to pay homage to Rani Chennamma during my Swarna Jayanti Yatra of 1997.



Mahatama Gandhi commanded extraordinary influence over the Congress all his life. But the one and only time he became President of the Party was in 1924.


Belgaum was an important centre of the Freedom movement. Lokmanya Tilak launched his Home Rule League from Belgaum in 1916. The town had the honour of hosting the All India 39th Congress session in 1924, that was the only session which was presided over by Mahatma Gandhi, and the only session held in Karnataka. ‘Veersoudha’ is a monument built in memory of this session. The well in the campus was popularly known as Congress Well which was built to meet the drinking water requirement of the session. The well was named as Pampa Sarovara and the Venue of the session was named as Vijaynagar, after the Hampi empire.


gandhiThis Session of the Indian National Congress saw the coming together of a cluster of personalities who helped steer the freedom struggle and have left a mark on our country. Besides Mahatma Gandhi, there were stalwarts like Motilal and Jawaharlal Nehru, Lala Lajpatrai and Rajagopalchari, Drs. Annie Besant and Sarojini Naidu, Chittaranjandas and Pandit Madan Mohan Malalviya, Saifuddin Kichalu and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Rajendra Prasad, Vallabhai Patel, and so many others.



The Belgaum Session of the Congress began with the Vande Mataram being sung by famous vocalist, Vishnu Digambar Paluskar. This was followed by two songs in Kannada, one of them by a small girl by name Gangubai Hangal whose soulful singing moved Gandhiji immensely. Gangubai later became one of the country’s outstanding musicians.


Those were the days when every year the Congress would have a new President. How much things have changed since!  Nowadays, Party Presidentship seems to have become a family monopoly, and that too for life!   


In my political life, I have seen many ups and downs.  But one phase that I recall as extremely agonizing was our last days in the Janata Party in early 1980. The Janata Party had lost the election badly. Jana Sangh members of the Party were being viewed as a liability by the leadership and efforts were on to throw us out in the name of dual membership. The agony ended only when in April 1980, we who earlier belonged to the Jana Sangh parted company with the Janata Party, and launched the BJP.


It was during this ‘agonizing phase’ that I once remarked: “This Janata Party seems to be in a suicidal mood !” A friend commented: “It is generally believed that committing suicide is a characteristic only of human beings, not of animals. But there is a rodent in Scandinavian countries known as “lemming” about which it is said that this species is unique: for no explicable reason, these ‘lemmings’ commit mass suicide.  In my writings I frequently used to say those days that the Janata Party was in the grips of a “lemmings complex”. Later, however, I could gather that this is just a belief, not scientifically correct.    


Last week, I saw an edit-page article in the Hindu  by one of its well known correspondents,  P. Sainath, titled “The lurch of the Lemmings”. Sainath sums up the article thus: “With 2G, Radia, illicit funds, and a stubborn CVC, the U.P.A. Government’s scams are multiplying faster than Lemmings.”  It makes one wonder if the U.P.A. Government also can be deemed to be in a suicidal mood !


In a Hindu article on the same subject of scams titled “Honesty is Indivisible”, Arun Kumar, Chairman of the Centre for Economic Studies and Planning, School of Social Studies, JNU, New Delhi, wrote in his opening paragraph:


“The Indian ruling class faced its severest crisis of credibility in 2010. Its past caught up with it and skeletons and scams were spilling out of its closets. The scams have a symbiotic relationship with the black economy. 


The number of scams is growing and so is the size of the black economy, which has reached a mind-boggling level of 50 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product, that is, it annually generates Rs.33 lakh crore in black income. While the 1980s saw eight major scams, in the period between 1991 and 1996 there were 26 and during 2005-08, there were around 150.”

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A recent book on India by Patrick French is titled “India: An intimate biography of 1.2 billion people”.  The reviews earned by the book are mixed. But I found an episode narrated by the author in his preface very interesting. It runs as follows:


An Indian man walks into a bank in New York City and asks for the loan officer. He tells the loan officer that he is going to India on business for two weeks and needs to borrow $ 5,000. The bank officer tells him that the bank will need some form of security for the loan, so the Indian man hands over the keys of a new Ferrari parked on the street in front of the bank. He produces the title and everything checks out. The loan officer agrees to accept the car as collateral for the loan.


The bank’s President and its officer all enjoy a good laugh at the Indian for using a $250,000 Ferrari as collateral against a $5000 loan.

An employee of the bank then drives the Ferrari into the bank’s underground garage and parks it there. Two weeks later, the Indian returns, repays the $5000 and the interest, which comes to $15.41.


The Loan officer says, ‘Sir, we are happy to have had your business, and this transaction has worked out very nicely, but we are a little puzzled. While you were away we checked you out and found that you are a multi millionaire. What puzzles us is, why would you bother to borrow $ 5000’.


The Indian replies: ‘Where else in New York City can I park my car for two weeks for only $15.41 and expect it to be there when I return?’

Ah, the mind of the Indian!


L.K. Advani
New Delhi
6 February, 2011



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