When you see a little a discrete blue badge with its distinctive cogged wheel and gold bands, you know that you are meeting a representative or an organisation that has as its moto Service above Self.
Rotary International, with more than 32,000 clubs and over 1.2 million members world-wide, needs no introduction and when Man Mohan Singh, the hotelier and a Past President of the Rotary Club of Chandigarh, invited me to meet his fellow Rotarians and talk about Jaswant Singh’s book and the controversy surrounding it, I responded positively with delight.
Rotary Club of Chandigarh, India, RI District 3080, has the distinction of being the home club of Rajendra K. Saboo, who is the second Indian to rise to the high echelons of Rotary International, as President for the year 1991-92. Raja Saboo had joined Rotary in 1961. He also heads a foundation that gives the Tara Chand Saboo Excellence Awards In School Teaching, with which I have been involved since its inception.
Monday August 31st, was my first visit to the Sector 18 Rotary House. I met G.S. Lakhmana, the club President and others, including Neena Singh, who is doing great work as Director, Vocational Service (she has corrected me, that was last year, now she is Director Community Service). My talk presented me with an opportunity to present my point of view to this audience of opinion-makers.
Jinnah — India, Partition, Independence is the shorter version of the original title: “Structure of Freedom: Mohammad Ali Jinnah from ambassador to Hindu-Muslim unity to Qayadism of Partition.”
The message of Jaswant Singh’s book is hardly earth-shattering, and what it says something that has been said earlier, by many other authors and historians—Jinnah was certainly not the only person who was responsible for the partition of India. There were many currents—British post-imperial strategic interests, role of Jawaharlal Nehru, Vallabhai Patel many of the other political players of the time. Also, we must remember that often a sequence of events generates its own momentum such that even those who believe that they are shaping events are left as bystanders.
By censoring the book, the Gujarat government virtually granted it huge national sales—over 40,000 copies sold and more going by the day. The Constitution of India guarantees freedom of speech but places “reasonable restrictions”, “in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India or public order or morality.” This provision was grossly misused by the Gujarat government, and thus the order banning the book was struck down by the Gujarat High Court.
India has often been quick off the mark in banning books. It was the second country in the world (after Singapore) to ban Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses. In 1989, I wrote about how I found it difficult and tedious to read the book, and after the talk some people walked up to me and said they too could not finish the tome.
It is extremely worrying that we are losing our tolerance to debate. Holding a dissenting opinion is taken as a revolt, and attacked vociferously. I have always been attracted by the philosophical triad: thesis—antithesis—synthesis, often attributed to Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, though he credited Immanuel Kant, by favourite German philosopher.
We Indians, along with the Greeks, share a rich tradition of literary and philosophical dialogue as the very foundation of enriching and distilling knowledge. Today we have become ignorant to discourse, a very worrying state of affairs indeed.
The Rotarians stood out because of their eagerness to expose themselves to various points of view, and the questions they asked showed interest and inquisitiveness.
As a journalist, I have often been the person through whose eyes people see event. This time, the role was reversed and I am posting a report on the event by Rotary Open Hand magazine. I really don’t know if what I said warranted them saying: “It was a very interesting and enlightening talk put very aptly, which only a seasoned and knowledgeable journalist could handle and that too with such finesse.”
On a personal note, I have known from others for a long time that my friend Mukul Khanna’s father had a prominent role in the club. Perusing the club history, I found that he the late KJ Khosla, then member of Rotary Club of Patiala, was the Governor’s Special Representative, who helped organise the club during its inception. Yesterday, Mukul’s mother called me to say that she had found out that I spoke well at the club. While I am thankful for the complements that I had received, this call was really special!