Romantic Peregrinations Searching Peace Activism

TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 1 Jul 2019

Vithal Rajan – TRANSCEND Media Service

‘Ho! Ho! Ho – Chi – Minh!
‘We Know Who’s Gonna Win!’

1 Jul 2019 – In the 1960s it was most heartening for me to see a small ragged group of young Canadians standing outside the US embassy in Ottawa chanting this slogan, much hated by the American military.

Brought up by idealistic parents, I had emigrated to Canada to enter what I thought was ‘the modern world,’ away from feudalistic practices, caste oppression, and gross insensitivity towards women. However, I was shocked to see on TV every evening American war planes bombing the life out of helpless Vietnamese peasants 30,000 feet below. Most Canadians were equally horrified. I inevitably joined the Anti-War movement, swelled by many American youth, disrespectfully termed ‘draft dodgers.’

Canadians strung along a five-thousand mile border north of the United States were very different culturally from their American brethren. Apart from the French-Canadians, several had come from Scandinavia, all had grown up in kindly helpful communities, and none accepted Dulles’s domino theory of communist infiltration. Montreal was a cultured cosmopolitan city where one could hobnob in any sidewalk cafe with scientists, artists, and sportspeople, flavoured with old-world Marxists and Unionists. The air was of disdain for the barbaric war. As a naive youth I wrote a letter to Lester Pearson requesting him to keep Canada out of an unjust war and I got a prompt reply from the Prime Minister that he would do just that. My employers, Imperial Chemical Industries, Canada, were equally indulgent, and looked the other way when any top executive walked past my desk covered with anti-war literature, petitions, and posters. In fact, I was asked to develop a policy of social consciousness for the company, which supported my later initiative to organise a continent-wide corporate conference on poverty in America – held to my discomfort at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York! The privations suffered by Africans during the Biafran war had also energised many Canadians to do something to help them. I had joined Oxfam as a volunteer and our chapter was the first in the world to organise a ‘Miles for Millions Walk.’ We even got Lester Pearson to walk the first 30 yards of a 30 mile circuit in Ottawa which collected thousands of dollars for relief.

The 1960s were easy generous times with full employment, with memories of the last great world war buried deep in everyone’s consciousness. Few of the liberal youth agreed with the beltway crowd in Washington that another war was necessary. The anti-war sentiment flashed across the West, from Berkeley to Paris. It strengthened the Civil Rights movement of African-Americans. It gave birth to ‘flower power,’ to experimental communes, to ‘make love not war,’ and campus protests against authority and convention. A reaction to America’s war was the posting of Che Guevara’s poster in every campus corridor. Young people also turned to Buddhism, or Hindu gurus. Vegetarian restaurants opened, and also classes in Yoga. Millions listened to Joan Baez, Bob Dylan and the Beatles in mega concerts, and not to their political leaders. No corporate giant was immune to this sense of millennial challenge.  I was embraced by a sense of gentle universal fellowship, unforgettable even after sixty years. The Vietnam War educated millions about the realities of real-politick, imperialism, class struggle. The war showed idealist youth that there could be no peace without justice, or without an end to imperialism. The war had still years to play out. Few imagined that within two decades the military-industrial complex and a pliant American administration would force back millions into poverty, joblessness, and fear.

A memory that lasts is of a spontaneous coming together of thousands of protesters in Washington after the shooting of students at Kent State University. Nixon barricaded himself in the White House with buses, in ‘circling the wagons’ style, but there was no need for such defence as it was a peaceful protest in keeping with the philosophy of the times. Many took off their clothes and swam in the warm sun. Everybody cleaned up all the garbage before returning home. However, I was torn by discomfort at working for a transnational corporation, even one that indulged me as an oddball favourite, and I decided to take up a doctoral programme at the London School of Economics since an academic position in Europe would better fit peace activism.

The LSE was moving away from its vaunted left position towards centrism, though a group of professors, Burton, Lord Northedge, among others, continued commendable rearguard action. However, the Marlborough Arms was where the action was. At lunchtime I could meet revolutionaries from all over the world, from Timor to Bolivia, and receive news of peoples’ struggles even before the CIA, I imagine. It was a heady time of international solidarity. The young hope of many rested on China, not only born out of a romantic fascination with the ‘Orient,’ but also because the Cultural Revolution had sparked new ideas in the West. Even the establishment was touched by this romanticism. Sir Charles, grandson of Alfred Tennyson, told me over tea one day that the two greatest men of our times were his grandfather poet and Chairman Mao!

The Strategic Arms Limitation Talks held in the summer of 1971 in Helsinki brought me in touch with Johan Galtung, Dieter Senghaas, Kinhide Mushakogi, and many others who had formed the International Peace Research Association. Johan, an admirer of Mahatma Gandhi from the days of his teens, is rightly called the father of peace research. Over the last 50 years I have never heard him mince his condemnation of imperialism or western exploitation of the third world, disregarding completely the implications his statements would have for securing academic security. However, even in the heat of debate he never displayed anything but affection for the person whose opinions he was opposing, whether it was a Western militarist or a Soviet apparatchik. Despite his prodigious academic output of over a 150 books, he has always found warm personal time for distant friends like me. A rare and true Gandhian! It is a commentary on the times that repeated nominations of Johan Galtung for the Nobel Peace Prize have been ignored, while the committee has rushed to honour diehard hawks like Kissinger, and even Obama, who presided over the destruction of Libya and the wanton attack on Syria.

Civil rights movements sprang up all round. In London we marched against Apartheid, and we marched for women’s right for abortion on demand. Ireland, England’s oldest colony, had faced brutal repression over centuries. At the end of the exhausting First World War, faced with labour challenges at home, the imperial government of Lloyd George had agreed to Irish independence, but partitioned the island with the skilful strategy displayed later by Mountbatten in India. Catholics in Ulster started a civil rights movement of their own and were gunned down in 1972 by the British Army in what was known as the Bloody Sunday massacre. The dormant Irish Republican Army found immediate recruits and a full-fledged armed civil conflict started with Belfast as the hub. The violence was painted as between two benighted Irish religious groups, but really it was caused by political exploitation. The World Council of Churches, a Protestant body, and its Catholic counterpart, the Pontifical Commission for Justice and Peace, set up a special Committee for Society Development and Peace, and asked me to be their low-level mediator in Belfast. I readily agreed for here was a chance to be involved at the grassroots for objectives which I saw were all inter-related.

My first impression was that it was like being home in India, for people were so friendly. In fact I don’t think I was ever permitted to pay for my drink in any pub. The Irish remembered the old connection between ‘Dev’ De Valera and Pandit Nehru. The island was not only beautifully green, but normal society was without any sense of threat or fear. Most people were poor or rubbing along on very little. Amazingly, girls at school could safely thumb lifts right across Ireland over weekends! Everyone was disarmingly informal. When I was invited to meet Cardinal Conway at his home, I found his scarlet hat hanging negligently on the hat-rack! At yet, here in paradise, violence was tearing society apart. Battle lines were drawn and neither working class protestants nor catholics could enter each other’s areas. Many had steel plating on their walls to prevent express rifle bullets from passing through. Night fights would break out between the IRA, the British Army and some of the Ulster paramilitaries. I came to recognize the sounds made by the different makes of guns. I was later to see people killed.

Ulster had given England many great generals, from Wellington to Montgomery. A major part of the army’s NGOs were Ulster protestants. Many in the army considered catholics as disloyal militants and by offensive actions kept violence on the boil. I witnessed the strength of Irish women who boldly faced the soldiers, warned the community by banging on garbage cans when the army attacked, and protected their kith and kin. The discrimination faced by the catholic minority was the obvious reason for disaffection. The great shipping yards of Harland & Wolff, which once had launched The Titanic, employed around 8000 protestants but only 500 catholics. The worst farm lands belonged to the catholics, and the worst housing. The protestants had been taught to see themselves as a threatened minority if the Republic of Ireland took over the whole island and that their only security lay with loyalty to the Crown.

My job was to work with both the churches to slowly dissolve the antipathy between the communities and dispel their fear and ignorance of each other. Corrymeela was a beautiful centre in Antrim, where I could take protestant and catholic children who had never met reach other for a weekend retreat. Holland, France and Italy offered similar places for adults to meet in an atmosphere managed by the leaders of both churches. Diehard attitudes, however, turned to be a great handicap. Bishop Pilbeam of Belfast, for example, steadfastly refused his consent for a catholic to marry a protestant. I remember a fraught meeting in the salubrious ambience of Montpelier in southern France. My counterpart was a great prince of the church, who loved good food, and fast cars. He told me in confidence that the concept of ‘celibacy’ was really meant only for working class priests who could not understand the higher ideals of ‘love.’ I believe he was later sent to Nicaragua as Papal Nuncio, perhaps to reconsider his beliefs. Many churchmen from Europe tried to convince Irish priests that they welcomed marriage between Catholics and protestants. Canon Murphy, a highly respected priest from West Belfast, who had always been very respectful to the Monseigneur from Rome, once burst out: ‘You are liberal because your European churches are empty! When I celebrate Mass my church is full and the rest are standing in the street!’ Monseigneur leaned his jewelled hand towards my ear and whispered none too softly: ‘Barbarian!’ I was later informed that Rome had to be very careful when dealing with the Irish for they formed a bulk of the church’s priests and missionaries. I must add, though, that such firmly held beliefs were not just an Irish prerogative. I once took a group of Irish to the ecumenical centre on the island of Iona. The Scottish organiser was Mary McLeod, descended from a famous clerical family that had once given a chaplain to Queen Victoria. When I suggested the name of an American scholar as discussant, she grew as red as her hair and snapped back: ‘I won’t have a black Campbell darken my threshold!’ Apparently the Campbells had helped the English against the western Scottish clans during the battle of Culloden in 1745.

The violence that engulfed in Northern Ireland in the 1970s was the surface result of a complex of contradictions, reaching back into medieval history and spanning inter-religious mistrust, social deprivation, and political oppression of Ireland by the British Empire. While the church made worthwhile efforts to dissolve communal misunderstanding, mediation was insufficient. It was clear to me that a path to the solution of the conflict lay in the future, when the European Union would act with financial help and decisive political leverage. And so it proved, though even now the embers are alive. My role in Ireland came to an end as simply as it had begun. I was known to everyone, and treated with affection. Questions arose in the minds of a few shadowy gun-toting youths why I would not take sides. My role was ended on the advice of senior players, even of those in the IRA. I had worked closely with Frere Christoph of Taize, my immediate contact with the church, and Archbishop Meeking at the Centre for Christian unity in the Vatican, and I continue to cherish memories of our friendship.

Ann Rossiter, a renowned feminist and a confirmed supporter of Sein Fein, was the secretary of the Society for Anglo-Chinese Understanding. She had undertaken the arduous journey by rail from Liverpool Station to Peking by way of the Trans-Siberian Railway during the height of the Cultural Revolution. She organized a study tour of China in 1973, and Meghnad Desai, then lecturer at the LSE and supporter of the Labour Party, and I were the two Indians included. The flight to Hong Kong was hazardous for it was right through the Yom Kippur war, and all Middle East airports were blacked out and shut. Our 2000-mile through China showed us a poor country, but all little children even in remote villages seemed well-fed and well looked after. I found it interesting that good students had to help educate bad students, and that the whole class had to pass together or none passed. I was astonished to hear elderly professors at the renowned Fudan University, in Shanghai, tell me earnestly that their enforced rural sojourn had really helped them be better educators! At that famous port, once a den of vice, I was told by a disgruntled Italian sailor that he was bored since no women were available. It was a conducted tour, but our hosts did their best to take us wherever we wanted to go and organized meetings with doctors, professors, farmers, factory managers and even with politburo members. Prof. Hilary Rose was keen to meet a village women’s group and this was organized one very warm night in Fujian province. We had two sets of interpreters for the village women could not speak Mandarin. At about 11 PM when I was about to close the meeting, Hilary leaned across and asked the Chinese woman leader if they taught their children to enjoy sex ‘naturally.’ An astonishing question to pose in any society, but the Chinese took everything too seriously and a heated discussion ensued among the Chinese for well over twenty minutes. When silence was restored, the chief interpreter turned a deadpan face towards us and said: ‘Yes. Next question.’ In one of our train journeys we travelled for several hours with Vietnamese men and women soldiers returning from Russia, who made much fun of the straitlaced Chinese. At the end of a three-week exhausting trip I returned fit and healthy having dined on crisp-cooked vegetables and drunk gallons of green tea.

By happenstance, the Quakers had at that time decided to fund The School of Peace Studies at the University of Bradford, in West Yorkshire, whose Chancellor was Harold Wilson, then Labour Prime Minister, and Vice-Chancellor, Ted Edwards, a confirmed Marxist who had left the Communist Party of Great Britain after the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956. I was asked to join the founding faculty with Adam Curle as professor and head of department. Adam was a wonderful rare soul, a Quaker by conviction, a Commando during World War II, an anthropologist by training, whose aristocratic ancestry stretched back to a grandfather who had been tutor to Edward VII, and which included the famous historian H.A.L Fisher and the renowned composer Ralph Vaughan Williams as uncles. He was a great host and conversationalist and he and his wife Anne kindly allowed me to treat their home as my own. However, he had once been an advisor on education to the Pakistan government, and retained kindly reservations about Indian politicians. Anne, who had once been a wife to a Jordanian sheik, was the archetypical multiculturist for which England was famous a hundred years ago.

Unfortunately, few of the faculty had their old-worldly aristocratic vision of sympathetic dialogue. I knew it was no place for me. Indeed, Adam himself relinquished his chair within a few years. Two events stand out in my memory of my short period there. Responding to Enoch Powell’s warning of ‘rivers of blood’ if immigration of non-whites continued, the National Front started threatening South Asians in  ‘black Bradford,’ so known because of a paltry 15% immigrant population. I am reminded today how easily under political patronage hooligan mobs start to terrorize minorities! I wanted to organize a joint march of Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis to City Hall in protest of the growing menace. Many simple Pakistani workers said they were ‘not political,’ and it took me some time to convince them to come out onto the streets, men and women together. We received warm support from various English groups, though one burly gay gentleman with heavy mascara makeup astonished me by saying grandly that with two machine guns we could hold Maningham Lane, a locality of immigrants. Luckily, nothing more was needed than my car to block the road from any incursion, and the march was a complete success.

The other event was a chance for me to lecture at a summer institute set up by Johan Galtung in Dubrovnik, called rather grandly Inter-University Centre for Post-Graduate Studies. The real purpose was to offer an academic centre for Western scholars to meet their eastern counterparts, the beginning of a process that ended with perestroika and the dissolution of the Soviet Union. At such seminars I could sense the strong dislike East Europeans had for their so-called Russian friends. I even ran into the former husband of Svetlana, Stalin’s daughter. When one Russian professor attacked Chinese aggrandisement, a Roumanian enthusiastically supported him saying, ‘They even want Hong Kong!’ Several Yugoslavs told me proudly that they had named their daughter ‘Indira.’ Croats, Serbs and Bosnians would assure me that they were the most cosmopolitan people in the world. Vlaho, the Mayor of Dubrovnik, became a very good friend and at our last meeting warned me that they were all sleeping with machine guns under their beds, and that once the ‘old man,’ Tito, was dead all hell would break out. I put it down to a drunken moment, naively unaware of the scale of tragedy that would follow within a few years.

Indira Gandhi imposed the state of Internal Emergency and parliament was suspended. I heard of atrocities being committed by the police and paramilitary forces in India. I felt uncomfortable about my staying on in England, and took a trip home. By God-sent chance I met ‘Potla’ N.P. Sen, Principal of the Administrative Staff College of India [ASCI] over tea at Hyderabad, and within ten minutes he told me to resign, come back, and join ASCI till I found my feet back again in India.  Potla was the best manager of men I ever met. He gave everybody easy freedom to do what they wished to do, but none could dare to extend it to license, for such was the force of his kindly personality.

I met K. Lalita at ASCI, sheltered like many others by Potla, and she became my guiding light towards supporting feminism, which had first been taught me by my own mother. lalita had been the student president of the Progressive Organisation of Women, the first Indian feminist body, and it became my proud learning privilege to support her to greater committed heights, including the establishment of Anveshi, a research centre for women’s studies, in Hyderabad, which enjoys international recognition. With a few like-minded friends, including the unforgettable late V.R. Reddy, the selfless aristocrat of Hyderabad, I formed the Deccan Development Society [DDS] to follow Gandhiji’s principle of helping the ‘last person’ we knew, which we interpreted as meaning Dalit, woman, and agricultural labourer.

As a lonely youth living in the depths of the forests of Madhya Pradesh, I had been much impressed by seeing pictures of the elderly Bertrand Russel being dragged away by the police during the anti-nuclear Aldermaston marches in the 1950s. I also wished to help drag the world back from Dulles’ brinkmanship. My later journeys around the world had shown me that peace demanded several factors, the essential being, as Johan Galtung has emphasized several times, equity, empathy, and dissolution of trauma. The ending of conflict alone was not enough, in fact, that could be a prescription for renewed conflict if it was mediated by powerful oppressive forces. In my simple understanding, all this meant the building up of society from the bottom upwards, with democratic structures, through friendly consultations within communities, supported by knowledge and social space offered by fellows like me. Robert Chambers was a fellow traveller, who converted his experience as an officer in the British Colonial Service in Africa into the academic tool of participative rural appraisal. This was readily accepted as the new mantra by the Indian bureaucracy for it fell within their practice as Collectors. I was never an admirer of the IAS since I remembered my poor father’s tragic life within the ICS, hated by the Brits as a nationalist and socialist, and later insulted by corrupt politicians. At the splendid moment of Independence the freedom movement had brought forth a dedicated leadership with un-corrupt nationalist practices. Soon the steel frame had turned to rubber bent under party political compulsions, while its imperial base still oppressed the poor. But I must add that despite this general dislike for the Indian bureaucracy my life continued to be enriched and guided by working with near-saints like the late S.R. Sankaran, who devoted his life to the cause of the poor, and the late Smarajit Ray, an exemplary model of a visionary civil servant, and Dr Y.V. Reddy, the most clear-headed economist to become Governor of the Reserve Bank.

Unfortunately, over seventy years of independence the Indian political system has rotted like a fish from the top, and this corruption has seeped like poison into every sphere of activity in governmental, industrial, military, educational, religious, and civil society organizations. Perhaps because of the disenchantment caused by this corruption, most Indian bodies, including NGOs remain, in Marx’s terms, nothing better than camps around their present ‘emperor’. My spirits, however, have been buoyed up by the example set by genuine leaders of the poor, and I cherish my friendships with Ela Bhatt, Swami Agnivesh, Medha Patkar, and Bezwada Wilson. Authoritarianism lives off caste and communal cleavages, and grassroots democratic development is a rarity, though again I am heartened by the continued excellence of Rishi Valley’s Rural Schools, of Rajnikant Arole’s community health programme at Jamkhed, and the burgeoning power of women-run Kudumbashree in Kerala. Very early on, DDS had been one of the early civil society organisations to help organize village women sangams. The women found strength in unity and discussed all issues of interest to them from domestic violence, police atrocities, babu bungling, to education for children, affordable housing, and public health. Of course access to credit was a key issue. The women’s solidarity and their own ideas built up a sound base for sustainable grassroots development. The success of such sangams woke up Chandrababu Naidu, then CM of AP, to the possibility of securing a women’s vote-bank by creating lakhs of small self-help groups under a World Bank scheme. The government had no interest in women’s solidarity or their self-managed development. Large sums of cash were made easily available on demand, swamping our civil society initiative, but the ploy did not work, and Naidu lost power.

In the following period I received two offers to join international nongovernment organisations. I remain an internationalist, having found kindly homes in many countries and cultures. While opposing the globalization imposed by transnationals, I dream of a humanistic globalization of nations with vision to share the riches of their common humanity. The best thing I ever did was help Jakob von Uexküll establish his vision of the Right Livelihood Award on a firm footing as its first executive director. The Award soon came to be known as the Alternative Nobel Prize, not only in its Swedish home, but throughout Europe.  Meeting the award’s many laureates has been an unparalleled experience for me, rejuvenating my faith in humanity and the spring-like energies and visions of ordinary people, despite all the capitalist tsunamis that regularly drive people to despair. I was able to visit Cuba soon after the breakup of the Soviet Union. Under the draconian American blockade, the people were at near starvation levels with not even a cup of coffee to be had. It is part of the remarkable story of their courage and determination that within a few years they reached self-sufficiency in food with everybody and institution pitching in to grow food wherever possible in ecologically sustainable ways. I was very happy when the Cuban Grupo Agricultura Organica was given the Award. I once had an opportunity to wrest a substantial compensation for the Bhopal Gas victims, but the ground was mired by several political interests, and I could be no use. Later, I was more successful as an intermediary, really as a post-boy, for an informal group called ‘the Russian Generals and Admirals for Peace’ who wished to be assured by their NATO counterparts that no untoward incident would take place during the momentous breakup of the Soviet Union.

My experience as Director Education for the World-Wide Fund for Nature International was not a happy one. I had agreed to join on condition that we could work towards empowering tribal communities to become the ‘first guardians of the environment.’ Paid a salary I could never dream off, and stationed in Switzerland which UN bureaucrats consider achieving paradise before death, I was nothing more than a presentable non-white at fund-raising meetings to milk the very rich, who were concerned about the fate of their playgrounds. I remembered Dr. Anna Mani’s warning about staying away from ‘environmental carpetbaggers.’ My only happiness was meeting great men like David Attenborough and Edmund Hilary whose names like mine were used by the institution. I must add, though, that unlike many others I found the President, Prince Philip a very affable man, easy to get along with, with a school boy sense of humour, unfortunately missing in these days.

A connection with The Palace led me to make friends with Alec Peterson, a founder of the United World Colleges and the International Baccalaureate educational system. The UWC is an excellent system of international schools across the world, in which students selected from all over the world on merit are given free education at the Plus Two level. All the costs are met through private donations, without placing any burden on host countries. It was promoted to establish international friendship among youth, and Prince Charles was its President. Peterson’s grandfather had set up Ferguson’s College in Poona, and since then his family had been devoted educators in India. Peterson was more Indian than British. In fact during the days when the British Home office sought to differentiate between the ‘real British,’ and others with British passports, under the ‘patrial system,’ Alec had to stand in queue at immigration at Heathrow with the rest of us non-whites, because for three generations the Petersons had been born in India! He was passionate about establishing a UWC college in India before he died. He and I agreed that the Indian UWC students should study Gandhian non-violence as part of their ‘theory of knowledge’ module. It was still Cold War days, and we decided that the school would have American and Russian students working together with Indian farmers as part of their social service duties. However, Anil Bordia, secretary for education, had a visceral dislike of the British, especially their Royalty. He once boasted to me that Indira Gandhi had told him that Mountbatten had wanted a UWC in India, and he would see to it that it did not happen. So the UWC representative was curtly dismissed, and Peterson died, his wish unfulfilled. The college came up later during the times of liberalization, but not with Alec’s visionary ideas.

My return to India was a relief. Hyderabad had continued to be the centre of politically engineered communal riots, with hired Hindu goondas from Bombay and Muslim goondas from Gulbarga wreaking havoc in ballet-like tandem attacks on helpless communities. A key reason, of course, was to drive the poor away from their habitations, so that the areas could be seized by savvy politicians and ‘developed’ for high profit. Deepa Dhanraj, a gifted documentary maker, at my request had made a film, Kya Hua Is Shahar Ko? [What has happened to this city?] which exposed the nexus between politicians, rioters and land grabbers. The film was later shown on BBC and viewed at the Berlin Film festival to acclaim. During the worst riots of 1990, I chaired the formation of the Confederation of Voluntary Associations, a coming together of mohalla-level citizens groups to combat communalism. During several weeks of 24-hour curfew, volunteers worked at night in darkened streets supplying grain donated by merchants to riot-hit poor communities. The army tried to dissuade them from entering the Old City, but that did not deter them, even the young women. We learned how poor people had saved the lives of innocent people of other communities. COVA published their stories as a pamphlet entitled ‘Saviours of the City’. Later, Pandit Jasraj gave a free concert in honour of these humble saviours, and Krishan Kant, then governor, invited them to tea at the Raj Bhavan. A moving moment was meeting Bashiruddin Babu Khan, an Old Hyderabadi aristocrat, who thanked me with tears in his eyes.

COVA established several community-based peace committees under the able leadership of Mazher Hussain. COVA celebrated 50 years of independence in 1997 with artist groups invited from Pakistan and Bangladesh. While corporate help was mostly tardy and stingy, small businessmen and street traders were extraordinarily generous in a cause the whole city believed in. COVA has today won all-India recognition and I can only hope that several other similar bodies will join together to make the country a safe place for everyone.

Admiral Ramdas, former chief of the Indian Navy, has the foresight and compassion found in few military men, to know that the path of friendship could win the peace that armed conflict could not. He presided over the Indian half of the Pakistan-India Peoples Forum for Peace and Democracy, and COVA gave the movement committed involvement. I was honoured to have Karamat Ali Saheb, head of the Pakistan chapter, stay at my place, and many of us met our Pakistani civil society friends in many heart-warming seminars. Many Indian friends spoke of the warm welcome they received during visits to Pakistan, and we cherished high hopes, despite the Kargil conflict, for which I find it difficult to forgive Musharraf. But Track Two initiatives can only work under unspoken but benign permission from political leadership. Unfortunately, short-sighted short-term domestic political compulsions for playing up to the galleries have set back civil society initiatives. I realize to my horror that armchair media anchors today are trying to create a mass hysteria for war similar to what existed in Europe early in the 20th century, precipitating the calamitous Great War of 1914.

Old age has forced me to withdraw physically to the quiet of the Nilgiris hills, where I devote myself to writing fiction, hopefully with some social meaning. I have learnt through experience that social equity, grassroots democracy, perhaps by strengthening panchayat raj institutions as called for under the 73rd amendment to the Constitution, support for tribal, dalit, and minority rights, and listening to women’s leadership, are all necessary conditions to be secured on the path to social peace. But they are not sufficient to ensure a peaceful transformation of society. Many years ago, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi had sent word to me to see him at Courchevel, a resort in the French Alps, and sent a small plane to Geneva to fetch me. The interview was brief, but he advised me to first realise the beauty of the world God had created, and to look into myself. It took years to sink in, but  I  realize now that to be effective in society one must change, and integrate one’s own way of life, spiritual and private life with public work. I understand now what Mahatma Gandhi meant when he said his life was his message. I have personally seen Johan Galtung mean and do the same in a different way. In Gandhiji’s 150th birth anniversary year I pray that the youth of India will not need the several years it took me to realise and act on his ultimate message.

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Vithal Rajan, Ph.D. [L.S.E.], worked as a mediator for the church in Belfast; as faculty at The School of Peace Studies, University of Bradford, and as Executive Director, the Right Livelihood Award Foundation. He has founded several Indian NGOs, is an Officer of the Order of Canada, and a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace Development Environment. vithal.rajan@gmail.com

 

An edited version of this article is published in Seminar, July 2019, New Delhi.


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This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 1 Jul 2019.

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