The last few weeks have brought a lot of grief to India. When Sanjaya Baru, an editor and media advisor to former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh tweeted “No Indian politician has been so universally loved as Atalji,”, one spontaneously agreed with him. It could have been argued that Gandhiji was far more loved, or Jawaharlal Nehru. But when the passing away of former Indian Prime Minister A B Vajpayee was announced, there was a real and deep feeling of loss. Whether you agreed with his political ideology or not, Vajpayee commanded your affection, admiration, respect and approval. For so many of his sterling qualities… first of which was his being a poet. Who can forget the mesmerising recital of his poem ‘Geet nahi gaata hu’, which had so many layers of deep meaning… pathos, distress and then defiance, hope and optimism. Or his oratory; remember those speeches in Parliament in 1996 and then 1999, when his governments could not complete full terms? Watch them on YouTube and marvel at the master orator — voice modulation, nuances, and lashing out at his opponents, but not through raised voice, screaming, blame game or high drama. What sums it up the best is the very earthy phrase zor ka jhatka dheere se, which roughly translates in English, without conveying the full force of the meaning, as a “forceful push, but gently done”. It was his affability, and ability to take disparate elements along with him, that makes even his harshest critics mourn his loss today.
With Vajpayee’s passing away, as also that of the DMK patriarch and five-time chief minister of Tamil Nadu M Karunanidhi and veteran CPI(M) leader and former Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee, the country is running out of leaders of stature who could walk the talk, and had the ability to retain their composure and sensibilities whether they sat in the ruling or opposition benches.
Along with these leaders who have left a political vacuum, the nation also mourns for the people of Kerala who have seen nature’s fury vis-à-vis what has been called the worst monsoon in a century. Several districts of the southern State which annually promotes ‘monsoon magic’ holiday packages, have been devastated by torrential rain, which has caused unbelievable human suffering, pain and displacement, and a colossal economic loss. But this is also a wake-up call that insensitivity and cockiness when it comes to flouting ecological norms is bound to result in sheer disaster. While some ridiculous causes are being attributed for nature’s fury in Kerala, such as eating of beef or a bid by women in their menstruating phase of life to visit Sabarimala, the real cause of the crisis is the destruction of the ecologically sensitive zones in the Western Ghats. An expert panel on these eco-sensitive ghats, headed by Madhav Gadgil, appointed by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests, had recommended in August 2011 measures for the preservation of the natural environment of the region. The panel had suggested the entire ghat region, spread over six States, including Kerala, be declared ecologically sensitive. But this would have meant curtailing of “development” activities including banning of certain types of industrial and mining activities. Finger pointing aside, the way people within Kerala and other States, including several Rotarians, have risen to help the flood affected restores your faith in humanity. A short article with an appeal appears on page 54, with details of how you can help. In natural and man-made disasters Rotarians have always given generously… of their time, skills and money. Kerala needs our help right now and there is little doubt you will measure up…