A few days ago, I was at the Global Communication Association’s (GCA) annual conference that was being held at Mysore. This conference was being held in partnership with the University of Mysore as part of its Centenary celebrations. Apart from delivering one of the keynote addresses, I was receiving the award representing GRAAM which was being conferred the GCA Award for Communication in the NGO category. The occasion also saw the GCA conferring the Lifetime Achievement Award on Sri S M Krishna, the former Chief Minister of Karnataka and a man who has spent more than 50 years in public life. As I walked up the stage to receive the award, he surprised me by not just remembering but also engaging me in a conversation. Though he knew me and had visited our centers thrice as the Chief Minister, little did I expect a senior and accomplished politician like him to spend time talking to me. This took me back to a couple of incidents that I would like to narrate.
More than 16 or 17 years ago, SVYM had applied for land to establish VLEAD in Mysore and the Mysore Urban Development Authority (MUDA) had sanctioned half an acre of land on a 30-year lease to us. This lease agreement had to be ratified by the Government and the file was stuck in Bangalore for an unreasonably long period of time. One could sense that the ‘system’ was expecting to be greased and we would never be able to get the land sanction approved with our principled stand of never participating in any act of corruption. Someone suggested that I meet SM Krishna, the then Chief Minister of Karnataka and ask him to intervene on our behalf. I did meet him and he politely heard me out. Instead of intervening in clearing the file, he politely asked his then Secretary, Mr S V Ranganath to ensure that we would have suitable land allotted to us in Mysore for setting up VLEAD. Within the next few months, he made sure that 2 acres of land was sanctioned to us in the KIADB Industrial area and we were given the physical possession immediately after. Though he could not ensure that corruption in the system was addressed, he did redress our grievance and ensured that we ended up with more land costing lesser money.
Another incident was of a far greater significance and showed the human side of SM Krishna. He has always been known as a person skewed towards urban development but this incident will show otherwise. We had filed a petition against the Government of Karnataka in the National Human Rights Commission on behalf of the indigenous tribals. We had won the case and the NHRC had made many recommendations. The bureaucracy of the state was not very inclined in implementing these recommendations and we were getting increasingly frustrated. It was at this time that I again met SM Krishna and drew his attention to his Government’s inability to resolve the issue. On learning that two arms of his own Government were not seeing eye to eye, he immediately suggested that we have an exclusive cabinet meeting to discuss and solve this problem. And for the first time in the history of independent India, the cabinet meeting of a state took place outside the state capital in a small tribal colony. This historic cabinet meeting (dubbed by the media as a ‘mini cabinet’) took place in the presence of his entire cabinet, the Chief Secretary and all the secretaries and 24 tribal chieftains on the 4th of April, 2001 at our tribal school in Hosahalli tribal colony. The cabinet not only approved the implementation of all the NHRC recommendations but went beyond that to have nearly 3600 houses for tribals, 100 tribal girls appointed as ANMs and many more welfare schemes for the indigenous tribals. It was here that I saw for myself the humane and softer side of SM Krishna who was very concerned that tribals get the benefits of state interventions. What touched me was this concern continued to be evident when he met me at the GCA event. He asked me if the status of the tribals had improved post the cabinet meeting and if the state machinery was responsive to their needs. This is what makes a person like S M Krishna a different kind of a politician and shows the ‘gentleman’ side of his nature.
Watch a short documentary on the Swami Vivekananda Youth Movement that was telecast on Doordarshan’s Chandana Kannada Channel on 16th January 2016. This 8 minute video captures the activities of SVYM in a nutshell
January 12th is a very special day for all of us. Apart from being the day when our icon at SVYM and the very reason for our existence was born in 1863, it is also the day when we Indians celebrate as the National Youth Day. The last many years has seen me travel around India and sharing my thoughts on how the youth of India can engage in the service of the Nation and this year too was not very different. I was invited to be a speaker at the Yuva 2016, the annual Youth festival that was held at the G B Pant University of Agriculture and Technology (GBPUAT) at Pant Nagar in Uttarakhand. Hundreds of young men and women attended the proceedings enthusiastically and listened to several young achievers talk about how their lives were making a difference. It was a joy to hear the teacher Imran Khan talk about the more than 50 apps for education that he has built and gives out free to students across the country. Whether is is Arun Krishnamurthy the passionate environmentalist or the IIT graduate Manish working with farmers in Bihar – it was indeed a joy to see how they were translating the vision of Swami Vivekananda into concrete reality. Swamiji had thundered that the National ideals of India had to be Tyaga and Seva and here was the practical demonstration from many such young people. It was here at the GBPUAT that India’s Agriculture revolution began and this changed India from a food deficit to a food surplus nation. Looking at the enthusiasm and commitment shown by the faculty and students of GBPUAT, it would be no exaggeration to say that another silent revolution is brewing here. The students and alumni are quietly working to build a resurgent India and the impact will soon begin to be felt.
As i sat there in the Terai region nestling amidst the Himalayas, my mind was drawn to over 33 years ago when I found myself privileged to have been deeply inspired by the life and message of Swamiji. I realize that I or my life would be empty and without meaning but for knowing him and his works. To me, he is not just an icon, nor a saint, not even a nationalist reformer – but all of this and something more. He is an indescribable force that gives meaning and purpose to my very existence itself. As I look back and look above towards the mighty & majestic mountains, I am reminded of the words of Romain Rolland. What power and influence would swamiji have had over people who lived with him as his contemporaries. In Swamiji’s own words – ‘Life is short, give it up to a great cause’ needs to lived and acted upon. We now need to come together, throw aside any petty differences that could exist, gear up ourselves, take the whole responsibility on our shoulders and rest not till we see our mother ‘Bharat’ as the ‘Jagadguru’ (World teacher) and the ‘Jaganmatha’ (Mother of the world)…. For it is not just India, but the entire world that needs his message of peace, harmony, universalism, practical Vedanta and global citizenship.
Let us all pledge not to rest till we realize this dream…
Find below the excerpts from an interview that i gave to WONA, the official newsmagazine of IIT, Rourkee in the month of October 2015. My book, ‘i, the citizen’ was also release locally at Rourkee on the same day.
Puttamma, a 60-year-old Kadukuruba tribal from the Bandipur forests of Karnataka was excited. She had just completed a fascinating 2-day journey to reach distant Jamshedpur in Jharkhand. This was not only the first time that she was traveling anywhere outside the district of Mysuru but was also her first time on a train. She along with 18 other indigenous tribals belonging to the Kadukuruba and Jenukuruba tribes had come here to Jamshedpur to participate in ‘Samvaad’ – a conclave of indigenous tribals from all over India. Her world began and ended in Elachikattehadi, a tribal hamlet abutting the Bandipur National Park. She and thousands like her were ousted from their forests due to the formation of the National Park and construction of large reservoirs in the area between 1960 and 1970. She belonged to a generation which was at a crossroads and had little to hold on to. All she had was the fading identity of being an indigenous Kadukuruba and this did not give her much solace. But all this changed with her experience at the Samvaad. Here she came to realize that she was not alone in this struggle for an identity and an existence. She suddenly found herself in a context where being a tribal was not about being at the receiving end of either exploitation or charity. She not only found a voice but also her esteem amidst hundreds of people like her. Samvaad to her, was not just a jamboree where thousands had come together to celebrate. It was an extraordinary 4-day event, where her identity was respected, her culture celebrated and for once, she felt important and visible.
She was beaming with joy as she beat the traditional tribal drums to which her fellow tribals danced and performed on stage watched by thousands. She was not just showcasing her tribal dance, but re-living her traditional past with a new found pride.
And watching her fellow tribals from different parts of India dance and sing was to her a live expression of a culture that needed to be preserved.
This was the second edition of Samvaad organized by Tata Steel as its effort to revive, preserve and promote tribal culture. More than a thousand indigenous tribals from 20 states of India had converged here between November 15 and 19th. The event was inaugurated on the 15th evening and saw three days of intense discussions and dialogue from the 16th to the 18th. The closing session of the tribal conclave was truly inspirational and was presided over by Mr. Cyrus Mistry, the Chairman of Tata Sons. All the senior management of Tata Steel led by its Managing Director, Mr. Narendran were present.
What impressed me was the passion and commitment that one could see from the entire team of Tata Steel and the team of Tata Steel Rural Development Society led by its chief, Mr Biren Bhuta. Just a few days ago, I had read newspaper reports of Mr Mistry showing Mr Narendra Modi, the Indian Prime Minister around the factory of Land Rover-Jaguar in the UK. And here he was, immersing himself in the joy that one can only get in the company of indigenous tribals. Watching him beat the drums and honoring tribal chieftains in a spirit of partnership and equality was an activists delight. So much can be achieved if this spirit of togetherness and camaraderie is shared by Corporate leaders with indigenous tribals.
What has begun has a cultural event lasting a few days, is now metamorphosing into a process that can bring in a new paradigm of sustainable development. The discussions and dialogue that happened both formally and informally is something to be cherished and built upon. This is possibly the first time that such large numbers of indigenous tribals from so many distinct anthropological groups had come together to share and explore what development meant to them. This is also the first time that I repeatedly heard conversations of how it was time for tribals to stop receiving aid, charity and development ‘inputs’ from either Government agencies or NGOs but to start exploring what they could offer the world in terms of their knowledge, expertise, lifestyle and traditional wisdom. If this momentum is carried forward and translated into concrete action, the world will surely be a better place.
Everyone around us today are making us believe that we are intolerant while the truth indicates otherwise. In reality, we are a very tolerant nation. How else would one be able to explain the fact that we have been tolerating mediocrity in public life for so long? Haven’t we tolerated corruption and stinking scams the last many decades? What about our tolerance of the media’s obsession with a celebrity murder or the fact that we have been tolerating being home to 1/3rd the world’s poor?
How can anyone call us intolerant when we tolerate the road rules being broken with impunity or the collapse of our civic agencies? Aren’t we tolerating our women being disrespected and sometimes publicly disrobed even? What about the fact that we tolerate the increasing number of rapes in our country?
We not only have been tolerating the increasing banality of public life but also the fact that our Government has been gifting away an average of Rs 400,000 crores each year for the last ten years to India’s rich and the mighty. And people call us intolerant while we have been tolerating the dis-respect that our honorable soldiers have been shown the last many years, all for asking their rightful due.
How can anyone label us intolerant when we have been silently tolerating the budget cuts in the social sector? Are we not tolerating the fact that millions of our children continue to be mal-nourished and many more millions of our country men are rotting in our jails as under trials? How dare people call us intolerant when we have tolerated the elite capture of our Nation’s public policies and the increasing number of crony capitalists? Are we not tolerating the last mile delivery problems of our public services or the fact that our higher education is in a mess or that the youth of today are getting increasingly restless about their future? Have we not tolerated the growing social and economic inequalities despite being told that the good effects of globalization, privatization and de-regulation will trickle down?
Our tolerance stands vindicated by the fact that we have hardly raised a whisper to the promised black money not being brought back; the fact that even today 65% of Indians in rural areas do not have access to a toilet and nearly 50% of India still struggle to access clean drinking water. Are we also not tolerating our pseudo-intellectuals and writers returning their awards with a new found sense of intolerance while they hardly noticed how tolerant we have been to all these issues over so many years? How can we be intolerant when we seem to tolerate celebrating the past deeds of an intolerant King while we are continuing to tolerate the fact that we have stopped worrying about the future of India and its countrymen?
I could go on and on for I know that you readers will tolerate me and my writing too…for after all we are a very tolerant nation. Right now, we will only have to tolerate those who continue to call us ‘intolerant’.