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Samvaad: A Conversation


Speak Your Voice! We'd love to hear your thoughts. Click on the "Comments" link at the end of each posting to make your voice heard!

Saturday, January 30, 2010

 

Missing the Mahatma

Friends,

Just a few minutes ago 62 years ago Mahatma Gandhi spoke his last words remembering God as he succumbed to three bullets from an assassin. The assassination raises many questions. First, the irony of the most ardent practitioner of nonviolence being murdered. Second, the glorification of the assassin in some quarters. Third, those glorifying the assassin occupying important positions of power till quite recently. These ironies point to how misunderstood Gandhi is even today.

While the Mahatma's historical role is paid homage philosophically he has been relegated to seminars and stamps. But, thankfully, not by all. There still are the nonviolent transformers out there fighting for things like rehabilitation of the displaced (read Narmada Bachao Andolan), the Right to Information (read all those fearless activists trying to bring transparency to Indian governance), the Rural Employment Guarantee Act (read those who inspire unpaid and exploited workers to demand full wages), and millions other throughout the world who are fighting against injustice but don't let their struggle don't color their view with violence towards those denying people justice.

As important as it is to promote Gandhian thought it is far more important to realize Gandhian action. And this pursuit to ensure our collective journey is inclusive, which the Mahatma himself claimed to be his dream, can be made in various domains - the political, the social, the economic and even the personal. Fundamental to this pursuit is lending others the dignity they deserve. It may sound pretty basic but beyond etiquette it is a realization of our and everyone else's basic rights. And if we're denied then have the capacity to demand them.

This struggle for justice and peace is what drove Gandhi. Even though today reminds us of our immense loss yet it should serve as a reminder that Gandhi's work is far from finished. His legacy beckons. Continue the march.

Peace.
Rohit.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

 

First Anniversary of the Mumbai massacre

A really sad anniversary it is. Mindless and brutal violence shook us all. We were unable to respond to such a ghastly act. I am not talking from a mere law enforcement perspective but emotionally, politically and culturally the crudeness of this act left us loud in rage but speechless on comprehension. As we tearfully remember those we utterly unfairly lost a year ago the path ahead for our collective healing seems unclear.

There are many who prescribe violence in response to violence. Whereas there are those such as honorable Rabbi's and Imam's currently paying homage to the fallen who passionately argue that we need to fight madness with compassion and love. To some this may smack as yet another call to passivity but beyond the law enforcement task to disrupt those bent upon bringing humanity to its knees a deeper spiritual and cultural response must be probed. We need to take away the cultural, moral and spiritual shelter from under which such plots are planned and supported.

But we must acknowledge our pain and anger. However, we must channel it away from paltry revenge and towards creating the energy needed to painstakingly work with our friends from Pakistan to uproot the plotters not merely in the physical sense but also in the socio-political one. Religious extremism is an anethma to democratic evolution. Be it of the Muslim or the Hindu kind. Let's beware of predators who are ever ready to use the weapon of hate to incite ever greater oppression, marginalization and violence.

On this 26/11 the world could yet again commit to the overall empowerment of all peoples so that devious minds can never find any fertile ground to breed suicidal hate. This may sound like a very open-ended goal but its execution is decentralized and affords each one of us a chance to make an impact in our own locale and not wait for edicts from capitols. Please do join us once again in paying heartfelt homage to ones we lost and share our solidarity with loved ones left behind.

Peace.

Monday, November 23, 2009

 

Rendezvous of Democracies: Obama-Singh Summit

Indo-US relations have taken a peculiar route throughout history to arrive at this point. Both nations with great cultural diversity and strong democratic traditions should have been the most natural of allies and friends. But that didn't quite materialized. Instead the ideological fault lines of the Cold War came to define their relationship.

Sure the two nations have moved quite a bit from the days of the Soviet Union but mistrust, hyper-sensitivity to protocol and on India’s part a feeling that the United States still does not value India as a friend continues to linger in the psyche and headlines. The latest instance of Indian officials reading way more than that was said (sure the Indo-Pak public reference during the President’s recent China visit could have been avoided) is yet another example that the post-Bush era has brought an all-too-well known discomfort for Indian officialdom. The administration too has been a little careless in understanding this sensitivity. For the sake of numerous global and regional challenges that are calling out for joint leadership the hope is that both bureaucracies can sort things out so that crucial progress can be made so that the aspirations of their common citizens not special interests on both sides can be responded to.

CLIMATE CHANGE

On Climate Change, the clock has almost run out. With little chance of the Boxer-Kerry Bill that sets emissions targets for the US getting through before the Copenhagen climate summit India is not going to feel any additional pressure to oblige with the same – binding targets. But Copenhagen should not be made the totality of the global climate effort. Thus, this visit of India’s Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh’s holds increased importance in formulating actionable policies that clearly invest joint resources in assisting new renewable technologies and the business models needed to sustain them. Best practices on the regulatory side too should be a target of such policies. With the US Smart Grid program soon to reach a launch date it is highly desirable that details be exchanged with India so that similar efficiencies could be achieved in India as well – another leader in green house gas emissions.

AFGHANISTAN and SOUTH ASIA

India’s familiarity with the cultural and political landscape of Afghanistan should be leveraged in helping formulate US policy towards Afghanistan. Not to mention the security related convergence for both nations. If the United States can delink its AfPak policy from India (let Pakistan focus on Afghanistan and not Kashmir) and find more effective ways of bringing India and Pakistan together then that would create a conducive environment for progress for peace. It’s not Indian hegemonic visions for South Asia that get hurt when the US brings up Kashmir it is a frustration about the US misinterpreting the issues in Kashmir and those between India and Pakistan. American leadership can play a constructive role but it will have to be asked for by all parties. This is in no way challenging the sentiments of the Obama administration to pursue peace but a mere suggestion on the strategy to achieve it.


If South Asian peace is indeed a goal then the President must impress upon his message of complete nuclear disarmament to the next level by pursuing a serious policy initiative with India on this. Many analysts believe that the Nuclear Deal was a step back on this front. It is time re-address this issue. Of course, India’s nuclear arsenal is significantly smaller than that of the United States but American leadership could make reciprocating steps possible. It is time to put these thoughts into commitments and then action. Nations that produced Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. must do this.

ENGAGEMENT PARADIGM

Fundamentally, two democracies must engage in such a way that empowers their people. More generally, beyond trade, educational, cultural and scientific collaboration aimed at larger sections of both societies needs to be accelerated. So far we’ve got the big guys on both sides talking and getting business done. Now is the time for a major expansion in education not just at the higher education level but also at the primary and secondary levels. Similarly, health care at the primary level and small business development aimed at employment generation should be a focus area. With the climate change crisis staring at us making renewable technology commerce a key part of bilateral engagement would be a big step in the right direction.

The great intellectual thread that ties the two nations started from Thoreau. It helped Gandhi weave an unprecedented movement for human freedom and dignity that inspired a great chapter of the American Revolution under Martin Luther King. The hope is once the statecraft and gallantry subside the millions of lives President Obama and Prime Minister Singh can impact could be more just a little more hopeful.

Peace.

Friday, October 02, 2009

 

Remembering Gandhi on Religion

Friends,

As we celebrate Mahatma Gandhi's 140th birth anniversary today I am reminded of the centrality of religion in his worldview. Many on the left and even some progressives have been critical of Gandhi bringing religion into the realm of social and economic justice and thereby muddying the waters. Their contention is that religion blunts the sharp attack one must make against oppression - social, economic or political. Thus, I believe today may be a good day to share my reading of the Mahatma's approach.

First, Gandhi's religion was not bound to ritual instead it existed entirely in the spiritual realm where worship included people from all faiths and exploration of the Truth an intense inward journey. The quote that I remember the most is:
Our goal should not be to convert [proselytize] but to make others a better follower of their own faith.
A fundamental requirement of peace is the ability to coexist. The above quote talks not of a passive coexistence but one that is activist and inspiring. It also reaffirms Gandhi's faith in the oneness of things, the eventual confluence of great religions and the ultimate destination for all spiritual seekers. So, what Gandhi did, and beautifully so, brought this inner pursuit in alignment with that of the outer world which was plagued by injustice. He added yet another dimension to spiritual seeking - the seeking of justice through nonviolence. Of course, Dr. Martin Luther King perfected the method as part of the Civil Rights Movement.

The moral imperative that drives policy is often ridiculed as emotionalism and utopian. For those committed to preserving the status quo that may well be an easy, dismissive way of approaching the ones working for transformation. Yet, it is the moral imperative that must give the transformers the courage to persevere. Be it health policy, financial regulation, foreign policy or any other policy matter the "still voice within" should be a guiding force over the vociferous sounds of "reason". This is not an appeal to do away with logic but, as the Mahatma did so often, present reality in such a way that change and its moral urgency become inescapable.

Hence, let us pray for the Mahatma's soul rest in peace and for the same strength that he had, which even today inspires millions to help their fellow human.

Peace.
Rohit.

Friday, September 18, 2009

 

Reflections on a great life

Friends,

Three years ago on this a day I informed you of the passing away of my grandfather, Shri Hardas Sharma. He was the instrumental figure in my life who drew me towards social justice and the meaningful role of politics in achieving that ideal. He was a vociferous advocate for policies that lent rural India the dignity and attention it deserves.

Today, when I see the success of India's National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) I remember him. A former Gram Sabha leader himself, he would be delighted to see that this policy is providing a real building block for Mahatma Gandhi's dream of "Gram Swaraj" (Rural Self-Sufficiency). Also, the Right to Information Act would have been something that he would have used to fight for the rights of the poor and exploited. Were he alive he would have been hopeful for India. Sure, there are huge challenges ahead. Even the NREGA has numerous open issues surrounding transparency and real rural asset development but overall the spotlight now shining on rural India can only do good.

Even though my grandfather left the Congress party post-independence in response to Mahatma Gandhi's message that Congress workers should become "constructive" workers his emotional attachment to the party never really waned. Of course, till this day it remains my greatest regret that my joint appearance with him at his native district Congress headquarters happened to be scheduled for just a few days after his unexpected death. Yet, I believe he would have been delighted by the most recent election results where policy, to a good degree, overrode identity - a cause he fought for all his life.

So, on this day we can report back to him and the rest of that greatest Indian generation that the work to build a nation for all goes on. We have challenges ahead but so do we have courage and determination. For, I believe, that is the ultimate tribute to these departed great souls of India. May they rest in peace.

Rohit Tripathi.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

 

More Details about India's Climate Report

The Government of India seems more aggressive than ever to challenge the target lobby at Copenhagen. By sending three high profile members of the government to the release of the reports the signal is clear - we are moving forward with no change in our strategy. What is needed is a real internal debate to codify sustainable development. Not just mere national missions with no real sense of accountability. What is needed is a Right to a Sustainable Environment campaign not merely to save the flora and fauna but livelihoods that are tied to the survival, hopes and aspirations of millions who are far removed from this debate.

Peace.
Rohit.

 

Ominous Signs for Copenhagen

From our Twitter page at www.twitter.com/yidream

Ominous signs for Copenhagen. India to use this report to bolster its case against any mandated target on emissions. http://twurl.nl/2u0tio

Jury is still out on this line of thinking - as long as we are better than the worst we are good enough. The industrialized nations too carry little moral authority on the issue as their per capita emissions are indeed many fold that of India's. So, who gives? The planet?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

 

Small Business movement gets active in India

From our Twitter page at http://www.twitter.com/yidream

Heartening movement on the Small Biz front in India. Some time ago Young India had done a series of state of affairs reports in the process to build a suite of policies to promote small business entrepreneurship. We haven't formally shared our recommendations publicly but quite a few are now being championed by representative associations in the Small Biz space in India. More here... http://is.gd/2ydI4

Peace.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

 

NREGA Analysis

From our Twitter feed at www.twitter.com/yidream :

Comprehensive analysis of NREGA by Aruna Roy and Nikhil Dey, the authors of the Act. http://is.gd/2qSNH

Friday, August 14, 2009

 

India's March Continues...

Friends,

It's a special day for every Indian. The freedom that Indians cherish today was finally achieved on this day in 1947. After a long and divisive battle India's spirit got its voice among the community of nations. Millions like my grandfather endured insult and injury to see posterity breathe in a land where people were not subjects but citizens.

It is an emotive moment as well. The Indian independence movement shaped an entire generation and their families. I have been a direct beneficiary of that legacy and feel privileged to carry the responsibility to further it.

It goes without saying that the dream of India's founders is still a work in progress. India may have made quantitative leaps in the macroeconomic sense yet qualitative challenges to basic needs like education, health and employment remain. There must be an urgency to meet these challenges. The class divide cannot be allowed to grow beyond a certain point of inflection of social tension.

In the end India is an optimistic nation. The hope is that it maintains a cohesion and inclusion in its national march towards a more democratic state. Its leadership is needed on critical issues such as Climate Change and global security. Now is the time for India to stand up and partner with other visionaries to take us all forward in this young century.

Long live the Indian nation and may peace be with its people.

Peace.
Rohit.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

 

Civil Disobedience in Pakistan

Really... who would have thunk it? But the remarkable turn of events in Lahore, now falling under the umbrella of the "Long March", breathe hope into an increasingly desperate situation. Mahatma Gandhi would indeed be proud to see his methodology bearing such wonderful fruits as the restoration of an independent judiciary. What is truly heartening is that the rule of law embodied by the Judiciary took center stage in this spontaneous, nonviolent (more or less) movement. It gives us all great hope that an institution other than the Army has a great role to play in Pakistan's future. And, finally there is an institution that the people of Pakistan can wholeheartedly support without inflicting damage on their own democratic evolution. Praise is truly due to the people of Pakistan.

Peace.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

 

Salt

Every year on this day, the 12th of March, I imagine the scene in the early hours at Mahatma Gandhi's Sabarmati Ashram in 1930. He and a band of followers were getting ready to undertake a journey to the sea to make Salt. The long, arduous 206 mile stretch that lay ahead would become an eternal symbol of the path one must tread to the Truth. The Truth for the Mahatma was India's independence and the rights of its people to live with dignity. So, he chose to dramatize this struggle by opposing an unjust Salt Tax levied by the British. He could have protested in numerous ways but he chose to go back to Henry David Thoreau's Civil Disobedience to wage this battle for India's soul.

I had the privilege to walk the last leg of this historic march to the sea on its 75th anniversary. And as the sea was visible in the distance to us marchers we could feel the weight of history once again. It reminded me not only the original march but numerous marches that punctuated the Civil Rights Movement led by Martin Luther King. The sheer act of fearlessly walking into the den of those who intimidate you, subjugate you and despise you with a moral strength that overpowers any army they could assemble is by far the most powerful force known.

Mahatma Gandhi was a blessing for India and also one of its greatest gifts. Today, we remember him and millions more, like my own grandfather, who marched along. Even now, in moments of solitude when we seek guidance to serve others we can hear those footsteps in the distance urging us to continue marching.

Peace.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

 

Fondly remembering a Great One

Friends,

Today is President Abraham Lincoln's bicentennial. Young India is delighted to share its best wishes with all Americans and everyone else who believes in sustaining a progressive democracy. President Lincoln, while in the midst of upheaval, never truly lost his view of the future and brilliantly waged a battle that brought America back from a moral abyss. His leadership and dedication to the democratic ideal, which to him was the same as the ideal of human equality, still inspires us today. His life, his writings and his martyrdom will forever be with us in all those moments of doubt when the dark shadow of the present blinds us to the future. Because not only did Lincoln pierce through the darkness of the present he did so to ensure the future was well lit for generations to come.

It is fitting that on this day the President who signed the Emancipation Proclamation is remembered by the first African American President in history - Barack Obama. America has given the 16th President a memorable gift.

Peace.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

 

Remembering a martyr

Statistically it's only been 61 years since Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated but it seems like many already see him as a relic from the ancient past. Not us at Young India. His core message of peace through nonviolence and its strategic execution continue to drive us and our initiatives.

As we look back to pay homage to a great soul we once again realize the transcendental nature of his message and method. We may have quoted Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the past but it may be worth repeating his words:

Jesus gave me the message. Gandhi gave me the method.

The Gandhian method places the process of achieving peace at the same pedestal as its attainment. For him the process and its attainment were inseparable. We do not tire of sharing with you our interpretation of this process at: http://www.yidream.org/nvda.shtml

What has aroused our great interest more recently has been how, knowingly or unknowingly, President Obama has approached different policy matters using the same Gandhian method for transformation. Overall, we feel that he sees government's role as an agent of nonviolent transformation through active civic participation - an essential element of the Gandhian method.

In our next few posts we will analyze some of President Obama's initiatives and see them in light of the Gandhian method. But today we pause to commit to peace within ourselves and the world we live in. That is what Gandhi ji did all his life and our commitment would be the ultimate and most fitting homage.

Peace.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

 

A message we need to hear

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke on All India Radio 50 years ago when he visited India to probe deeper into Gandhi's message of nonviolence and India's freedom movement that exemplified its success.

It has been Young India's persistent endeavor to project the Gandhi-King view of nonviolence as much more than the romanticism it invokes as a relic of the past: it is an active, dynamic and essential force for transformation. The moral supremacy inherent in nonviolence is often rejected as naive idealism. Not much different could be expected since the strategic understanding of this most potent transformative tool has barely been passed down from the generations that perfected it. And where it has its relevance debated and then ignored. But today the time to enshrine nonviolence as the guiding light for policy that places empowerment at its epicenter has arrived. And as Dr. King once said, "Peace is not the absence of violence but the presence of justice." To this I dare add forgiveness and reconciliation. I hope Dr. King's words inspire you as they have inspired me.

We will soon start laying out our ideas on how the nonviolent ethic can be weaved into the policymaking fabric of our democracies.

Peace.
Rohit.

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