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Our failing political esteem

Principles were cast aside by all political parties to serve their ends. How low we fell in our self-esteem needs no further elucidation. So, how many marks out of 10 do I give ourselves in the test for political morality? Zero, writes Khushwant Singh.

india Updated: Aug 01, 2008 23:52 IST

A person's true character is revealed in the way he behaves in times of crises when he believes his future is at stake. If he is afraid of consequences that may follow and compromises with his principles, he becomes a lesser person in people’s eyes as well as his own: he is unable to see his face in the mirror. On the other hand, if he sticks to his avowed beliefs, he may suffer adversity but people will admire him as an example of rectitude and he can hold his head high with pride.

What is true of people is equally true of nations. Their true character is revealed when they are at war or faced with crisis of national proportions. The reason why the English are held in high esteem is that during the last two World Wars, despite the odds being against them and the initial setbacks, they fought on doggedly till the tide turned in their favour. That is why Winston Churchill has an honoured place in the hall of heroes. And no sooner his task was done, they voted him out of power.

We faced a similar crisis a few days ago when the communists withdrew support from the Congress-led Sonia Gandhi-Manmohan Singh government. How did we behave during those fateful days? The only word I can think of as appropriate is disgracefully. Principles were cast aside by all political parties to serve their ends. Communists embraced their sworn enemies of right-wing Hindu and Sikh communal parties which, in turn, had no compunction in being embraced. The Congress party welcomed the Samajwadis with open arms; not long ago, they had harsh words to say about each other.

The principal role in bringing the two together was played by Samajwadi secretary-general Amar Singh who openly admits that principles have little to do with politics. He became the great fixer of Indian politics. Small parties with five or six MPs to represent them became major players demanding their shares of the cake in terms of ministerial posts or hard cash. It became a game of satta with prices as high as Rs 100 crore on the head of some fence-sitting MP. How low we fell in our self-esteem needs no further elucidation. So, how many marks out of 10 do I give ourselves in the test for political morality? Zero.

Indo-Pak Art Exchange

The gradual increase in Indo-Pak cross-border traffic augurs well for friendlier relations between the two neighbours. We get to hear of politicians, singers, poets and film personalities who come and go but rarely do we hear of artists exhibiting their works outside their countries. MF Husain and the late FN Souza received wide acclaim in Pakistan. But few knew that a few months ago the Haryanvi historian Prem Chaudhary, who is also a painter, sold out almost all her works on the first day of her solo exhibition in Karachi. It is time we Indians got to see what Pakistani artists are up to without our having to go to Pakistan. We will have the opportunity soon. Next November, the Foundation of Museum of Modern Art (FOMMA) of Karachi will bring representative works of leading Pakistani painters and sculptors to be exhibited at the India International Centre, New Delhi. And hopefully, from New Delhi they will be taken to other Indian cities.

Pakistan had great artists like Ismat Chughtai and the calligraphist Syed Sadequain. But the arts scene in its principal city, Karachi, was a barren wasteland till two sisters Rabia and Hajra Zuberi migrated from India to Pakistan in 1968. The moving figure was the dynamic Rabia, a product of Aligarh Muslim University and the Lucknow School of Arts. Rabia started making clay dolls as a child and went on to drawing and sculpture. She won innumerable awards at exhibitions in Delhi, Calcutta and other Indian cities. Her illustrated biography Rabia Zuberi: Life & Works by Marjorie Husain (FOMMA) does not state why she and her sister migrated to Pakistan: in all likelihood to join their parents, brothers and other sisters to live together. Rabia refused offers of marriage. She and Hajra set up an arts school under Mina Trust and then expanded it to the Karachi School of Arts. Staff and students came from different parts of West and East Pakistan. It was recognised by the government. Rabia herself was commissioned to make huge statues for public buildings in Karachi and Islamabad. Though still single, she is acknowledged as the Queen Mother of Arts in Pakistan.

Final Destination

My nephew Suresh was flying to Shanghai. At the Delhi airport, he was in the queue just behind an elderly couple as they were filling the required forms at the immigration counter. The wife was asking her husband how to fill the form and he was getting somewhat irritated. Port of embarkation was no problem. She wrote: Delhi. Next was ‘Final destination’. She asked, “What should I write?” The husband said, “Just write Nigambodh Ghat. That will fox them."

(Contributed by DB Mohindra, New Delhi)