Khushwant Singh, CyberNoon, Wednesday, August 16, 2006
It is time to look back on what we achieved and what we failed in achieving …This year, I pondered over the doings of many prime ministers we have had from Nehru to Manmohan Singh.
Comes yet another Independence Day. It is time to look back on what we achieved and what we failed in achieving since we came into our own heritage on August 15, 1947. This year, I pondered over the doings of many prime ministers we have had from Nehru to Manmohan Singh.
Nehru was as close to being Plato’s concept of a philosopher-king as a ruler of any country in the world. For one, he was the most popular political leader of his time: he led the country, not follow popular opinion. Being an agnostic he did not have religious prejudices nor ever made a show of religiosity by visiting temples, mosques, churches, dargahs or gurdwaras. He had low opinion of those who did. He initiated plans to make the country more prosperous, give equal rights to women, outlawed caste discriminations. However, he was also headstrong and short tempered. He had no patience with people who disagreed with him, flew into rage and hurled files at senior officers. He was prone to nepotism appointing relations and cronies to important posts in preference to the most deserving: a gross example was the patronage of Krishna Menon as high commissioner, having him elected to parliament, making him defence minister and putting him in charge of foreign affairs. Menon was principally responsible for fouling our relations with the United States, aligning us with the Soviet Union and bhai-bhaism with Communist China till the Chinese stabbed us in the back in 1962. He also gave Arab nations support against Israel without getting any support from them in return, in our confrontations with Pakistan. Despite the wrong directions given to our foreign policies, Nehru remains our greatest prime minister.
Nehru’s daughter, Indira Gandhi had long runs as prime minister. She was essentially a pragmatic politician with little vision for the future or commitment to ideals. Despite spectacular achievements like breaking up Pakistan into two and making India a nuclear power, she marred her record by allowing corruption to creep in our politics, legislatures, judiciary and bureaucracy by patronising favourites. She was vindictive towards people who fell out of her favour. In history books, she will not be highly-rated as a prime minister.
Other prime ministers came and went. Morarji Desai left his mark by trying to force prohibition down the country’s throats. And failed. Narasimha Rao had a larger run but was loath to take decisions. He believed in masterly inactivity. He will be remembered, for freeing our economy by allowing private entrepreneurs to play their role in building our economy, and breaking the stranglehold of the public sector. He did this by lending full support to his Finance Minister Manmohan Singh.
Atal Behari Vajpayee’s tenure of six years was significant in many ways. He accelerated the pace of economic reforms initiated by Manmohan Singh and gave new shape to our foreign policy by extending a hand of friendship to Pakistan, opening full diplomatic relations with Israel and closer ties with the United States. However, it was during his tenure that Hindu fundamentalist parties like the RSS. Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Shiv Sena and Bajrang Dal, all with strong anti-Muslim bias, came into the forefront and poisoned the communal atmosphere in our country.
And now, we have Manmohan Singh backed by Sonia Gandhi. Between them, they have run the country for over two years. India has never been as prosperous as it is today. Its relations with its neighbours – Pakistan, China, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka – have never been better. It is not surprising that in their frustration opportunists, both in the Congress and Opposition parties have made breaking up the Sonia-Manmohan partnership as their top priority. As long as this partnership lasts, so long the Congress Party will remain in power. The day it breaks up, Congress Raj will be over.
I wish you all a happy Gantantra Diwas.
Who designed the Taj Mahal?
The Smiths of Agra and Delhi are a remarkable family. Between them, they know more about the two Mughal capitals than anyone I know. Besides English, they know Urdu, Persian and Hindi. R.V. Smith’s articles appear in many papers and tell you about quaint places, legends attached to them, and people who lived there. His latest offering is collection of articles The Taj: Myth & Reality (Hope India). Among the articles, one is by Thomas Smith entitled Who Designed The Taj? And the other ‘The Foreign Hand In The Anatomy of The Taj’, which examines the claim of an Italian being its architect by Reverend H. Hosten. One believes that the original design was made by Ustad Isa: the other gives credit to an Italian Priest Veroneo of Venice who happened to be in Agra when it was being built. I beg to differ with both in as much as I am convinced that later writers, mostly foreigners, could not believe that Indians were capable of building as beautiful a monument as the Taj Mahal. I am sure the original concept was that of Emperor Shah Jahan himself, his role model was the mausoleum of his grandfather, Emperor Humayun in Delhi and he consulted different architects including Ustad Isa and perhaps Veroneo from time to time to consider improvements on what he had in his mind. He meant it to be the final resting place of his favourite queen Arjmand Bano Begum who died giving birth to their fourteenth child. Her tomb is in the exact centre of the small courtyard beneath the dome. There is good reason to believe he planned to build another mausoleum for himself across the Yamuna, possibly in black marble and connect the two by a bridge across the river. His son Aurangazeb dispensed with the idea and buried his father alongside Arjmand Bano.
Those interested should first take a look at Humayun’s tomb and then at the Taj. There are two striking dissimilarities, Humayun’s tomb is mixture of red and beige sandstone, the Taj is entirely built in white marble. Humayun’s tomb looks squat in comparison to Taj which is higher than the Qutab Minar – its higher stature and pure white makes it more elegant and beautiful than its role model. Whether or not this was suggested by Ustad Isa or Veroneo or Shah Jahan’s own idea, no one knows or is ever likely to find out.
Kissa Kursee Ka
Three men were killed in a car accident. When they reached Heaven, they found God sitting on his throne waiting for them. He asked the first man ‘What do you believe?’
“I believe,” the man replied, “that all men are equal. Hence, there should be no discrimination on the basis of caste, religion, birth etc. All should have equal opportunities for study, job and promotion.”
“Very good,” said God. “Come and sit on my left.” He then asked the second man “What do you believe?”
“I believe,” the second man replied, “that there should be no wars, no famines, no diseases. Everyone should live peacefully and happily together.”
“Excellent,” said God. “Come and sit on my right.” He then asked the third man “What do you believe.”
“I believe,” the third man answered, “that you are sitting in my throne.”
(Contributed by Rajeshwari Singh, New Delhi)