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Aham Bhaktam: the dimensions of Bhakts on political spectrum

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Kishore Asthana

The word ‘Bhakt’ has been lately made an epithet by some on the left side of our current political divide. This is dismaying. I wish these name-callers had selected some other word to give vent to their angst. However, that they chose this ancient word reveals what is actually behind their mind-set.

In this mood, let me explain to those who wish to learn what a real Bhakt is, at least from my perspective.

Yes, I am a follower of the Dharm, an unequivocal Bhakt. Do not take ‘Dharm’ in the religious sense. My ‘Dharm’ is ‘duty’ and my bhakti is all encompassing. It includes those who agree with me and those who don’t.  It also includes all others in between. I do not get viscerally riled if someone says things against my faith, my idols, or my nation, or my environment, or my friends. I think about their motives and whether what they have said and done harms my society. When I say ‘society’ I mean my family and friends, my countrymen, my India and my Earth. If it does, I oppose them logically, with the required amount of vehemence, in the spirit of my Dharm.

I oppose even those who agree with my political leanings if they do something that is harmful to my society. I ignore dissent or negative comments if they do not result in short or long term harm to my society.

Viewing the current agitation and allegations and counter-allegations from both sides, I ask myself, “what does my Dharm dictate under the circumstances? Who is on the side of the right and who is on the side of the wrong? Who is Dharmic in this chaos and who is Adharmik?

I can find Dharmik people on both sides of the ideological spectrum. Imagine a long band. One end is white and the other black. In between, there are shades of gray. All those within my conscience are ranged along this band. Their positioning depends upon whether, in my view, they are Dharmic or Adharmic, with the real Dharmic ones aligned on the lighter side.

On the real dark side of this band, I find all terrorists, regardless of their nationality or religion. Here I see those who initiate anti-India slogans and those who engineer and lead anti-India demonstrations. I also find those ‘right-wingers’ who resort to death threats or threats of rape etc. against those who they oppose. I find everyone here who seeks to divide India, physically or metaphorically, for whatever reason.

Just a few millimeters away from them towards the darkest grey, I find those agitators who burn national and private property and stop normal lives in pursuit of their political demands – demands for reservations for example. Here are those, too, who resort to physical violence against those who voice views they are opposed to.

Just a smidgeon more towards the greyer side, but still fairly dark, I find those influential people in the media, politics and society who actively support and defend these dark forces. They do this by writing articles, giving speeches and recirculating posts on social media that further the agenda of dark ones.

These people are not ‘misguided’. They are conscious believers in the discourse of these anti-Nationals, on both sides of the political divide. Often, they resort to chicanery. They use the power of the media and the power of their social status to spread the message of darkness everywhere they can.

Yes, I consider them merely a fraction better than the ones in real darkness. These people harm the society in two ways – firstly by spreading the message of the dark and secondly by distracting the country’s attention from real issues like poverty, education, farmers, employment, health, economic development etc.

Many other Adharmic are here too, including industrialists who blatantly pollute my rivers, builders who illegally chop down forests and those who undermine society through corruption. All those who promote superstition also populate this area.

Then come the masses, mostly young people who gather and shout slogans. It does not matter who they are supporting or who they are reacting against. They are in the grey area on both sides of the ideological divide. They are easily moved and they rely on others to form their opinions. They are puppets with their puppet-masters hiding in the dark, convincing them that their views are entirely their own. I do not consider them anti-national. They are merely guided by the dialogue fed to them. They are bhakts, too, in a naïve, twisted sort of way. They pray with their faces towards the dark.

At this stage, I wonder why the authorities do not realize this difference in shades of motivation and work out a different strategy for countering each segment. Force is appropriate against some on the darkest side, regardless of whether they support or oppose the regime. Social shaming, exposure and financial pressure are better for the social supporters of the dark. A gentler approach, proper communication and understanding is more suited to those who are being manipulated puppet-like.

Problems escalate when the same strategy is used for people populating all shades of gray.  Furthermore, when this is perceived to be especially targeted only against those holding anyone mindset, it makes the situation worse. A true leader will not take sides and deal in an appropriately firm manner with all the dark ones.

As my vision moves more towards the lighter grey side, I increasingly find more and more logical people. These people, regardless of their socio-political leanings, rely on analysis of events and their real implications for our society. They may believe in a certain ideology but are not blind slaves to it to the extent of seeing everything rosy in it.

Such people react in a measured manner, addressing issues rather than personalities. There are quite a few here, too. There are some defense services officers, some corporate executives and some retired people populating the light grey. I espy a very few social activists but hardly any journalists and politicians here.

Having had my fill of the dark, I turn around and look towards the brightest side of the band. I see my ancient India here, the fount of my Bhakti. I sense sadness in her heart and tears in her eyes. I bow my head, partly in reverence and partly in shame at what past generations of my countrymen have done to her and so many in the present generation are intent, even now, on doing to her. Our propensity for divisiveness and a warped sense of what is right and what is wrong have brought her to this pass.

Through good thoughts, I try to assure her that all will be well but, knowing the resolve of foreign and domestic dark forces, the mindsets of the opinion-makers, the gullibility of the puppet majority amongst my countrymen and the cynical vote-bank politics and frequent ham-handedness of our politicians, there is not much conviction in my thoughts.

All I can do is affirm to my India that, whatever happens, I am and will remain her Bhakt. I will not take sides except against anyone who attempts to harm her. I will not react in a knee-jerk manner to any provocation. I will willingly lay down my life for her and will respect others who do so too, both at our troubled borders and inside. I will analyze issues and look below the obvious to see where they originate. I will cut the strings if anyone tries to make a puppet out of me. Then I will determine my own action.

Yes, as a true Bhakt, I will be my own man – and my India’s.

Mr. Asthana is a resident of Gurgaon. Twitter: @kishoreasthana

asthana1@yahoo.com

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US Restricts Visas for Cambodians ‘Undermining Democracy’

As a response to anti-democratic actions, Trump administration restrict VISA for Cambodians

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Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen attends a ceremony at the Angkor Wat temple to pray for peace and stability in Cambodia, Dec. 3, 2017.

The Trump administration announced Wednesday it will restrict visas for Cambodians “undermining democracy” in the Southeast Asian nation following the dissolution of the main opposition party and a crackdown on independent media.

The State Department said it was a direct response to “anti-democratic actions” by the Cambodian government but did not disclose which individuals would be affected. It said visa records are confidential under U.S. law.

Spokeswoman Heather Nauert called on the Cambodian government to reinstate the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, which was dissolved by Supreme Court order last month, and free its leader Kem Sokha, imprisoned since September. She also urged Cambodia to allow civil society and media to operate freely.

Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has held power for more than three decades, has sought to neutralize political opponents and silence critics ahead of national elections next year. Kem Sokha has been charged with trying to topple the government with U.S. support, which Washington has said is a baseless accusation.

Supporters of Kem Sokha, leader of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, stand outside the Appeal Court during a bail hearing for the jailed opposition leader in Phnom Penh, Cambodia Sept. 26, 2017.

Nauert said Cambodia’s actions run counter to the Paris Peace Agreements of 1991. The United States and 18 other governments signed the accords, which ushered in democracy after the genocidal rule of the Khmer Rouge regime in the late 1970s, then occupation by Vietnam and civil war.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will restrict entry into the United States of “those individuals involved in undermining democracy in Cambodia,” Nauert said in a statement, adding that in certain circumstances, family members of those individuals will also be subject to visa restrictions. The department cited a provision of U.S. immigration law under which individuals can be denied entry if the secretary determines it would have “adverse foreign policy consequences.”

The White House has already terminated U.S. support of Cambodia’s national election committee, saying last month that the July 2018 vote “will not be legitimate, free or fair.”

“We will continue to monitor the situation and take additional steps as necessary, while maintaining our close and enduring ties with the people of Cambodia,” Nauert said.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson delivers remarks during a press availability at NATO in Brussels, Belgium, Dec. 6, 2017.

​Monovithya Kem, an opposition spokeswoman currently in the U.S., welcomed the visa restrictions and called for targeted financial sanctions on senior officials in Hun Sen’s government. Kem, who is the daughter of Kem Sokha, urged the U.S., Japan, Australia and the European Union to coordinate responses to the “crisis” in Cambodia and help win her father’s freedom.

Like many prominent opposition figures, Kem has fled Cambodia as she fears arrest.

Hun Sen has been in office since 1985 and has held a tight grip on power since ousting a co-prime minister in a bloody 1997 coup.

In recent months, the government has intensified restrictions on civil society groups and independent media outlets. In September, it shut down the English-language Cambodia Daily. Authorities have shuttered radio stations that aired programming from U.S.-funded Radio Free Asia and Voice of America, whose reports they allege are biased.

The government also expelled the U.S. National Democratic Institute, which helped train political parties and election monitors, accusing it of colluding with its opponents.

Hun Sen has moved Cambodia closer to China in recent years and become increasingly critical of Washington. However, he’s been complimentary of President Donald Trump.

Speaking at Asian leaders’ summit attended by Trump last month, Hun Sen praised the U.S. leader for non-interference in affairs of other nations, but complained the U.S. Embassy in Cambodia was not adhering to the policy. (VOA)

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Surajpal Singh Amu: A case of Fatwa by Hindus?

BJP's Surajpal Singh Amu announced a reward roughly equivalent to $1.5 million to anyone who would behead Deepika Padukone and the film director Sanjay Leela Bhansali.

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Padmavati Banner
A man signs a banner during a signature campaign as part of a protest against the release of Bollywood movie "Padmavati" in Kolkata, India, Nov. 22, 2017. VOA

A leader of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has announced that he would pay a reward roughly equivalent to $1.5 million to anyone who would behead an Indian actress and a film director.

Surajpal Singh Amu, a member of the BJP in northern Haryana state, is apparently upset about an upcoming movie, Padmavati, starring actress Deepika Padukone as the 14th-century Hindu queen Padmini.

The movie is directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali.

Amu alleged that the movie is misleading, not based on truth and offends Hindu sentiments in the country.

FILE - Actress Deepika Padukone and director Sanjay Leela Bhansali attend the opening of the 13th annual Marrakech International Film Festival in Marrakech, Nov. 29, 2013.
FILE – Actress Deepika Padukone and director Sanjay Leela Bhansali attend the opening of the 13th annual Marrakech International Film Festival in Marrakech, Nov. 29, 2013. VOA

“We will reward the ones beheading them, with 10 crore rupees, and also take care of their family’s needs,” Amu said in an interview with India’s Asia’s Premier News (ANI) earlier this week.

Threats against movie

Amu also vowed not to allow the release of the movie and warned movie theaters to avoid playing the movie or risk being torched.

The movie was set to be released during the first week of December.

Rights activists have reacted strongly to the threats and urged the government to take action.

“This is pretty outrageous that you announce publicly and no action takes place at a time when people are being arrested for most trivial reasons in this country,” Gotum Naulakha, an Indian-based civil liberties activist, told VOA.

A security guard walks past a poster of the upcoming Bollywood movie "Padmavati" outside a theater in Mumbai, India, Nov. 21, 2017.
A security guard walks past a poster of the upcoming Bollywood movie “Padmavati” outside a theater in Mumbai, India, Nov. 21, 2017. VOA

An official complaint has been registered against Amu, but many are criticizing the stance of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party — which controls the central government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi — on the matter.

“I’ve not heard any official stance from the central government or the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting,” Vinod Sharma, an Indian-based analyst, told VOA.

Anil Jain, a local BJP spokesperson, told ANI that the law applies to everyone in the state of Haryana and no one can threaten others. The central government has yet to react, however.

Bollywood actress Padukone stood her ground and said the movie would be released despite the threats.

“Where have we reached as a nation? We have regressed. The only people we are answerable to is the censor board, and I know and I believe that nothing can stop the release of this film,” Padukone told Indo-Asian News Service (IANS) last week.

Controversy

Padmavati was controversial right from the start. Opponents of the movie stormed the filming of one scene and destroyed the film sets. They were upset that the director of the movie was distorting facts by alleging romance between the Hindu queen and the Muslim invader Alauddin Khilji.

Film director Bhansali, however, denies the allegations and maintains the story is based on a Sufi and medieval-era poem written about the Hindu queen. In the poem, the Hindu queen chooses death before the Muslim conqueror could capture her.

Some experts say the poem is centuries old and there is a possibility the Hindu queen might be purely a fictional character found only in folklore.

“There’s a lot of debate in India whether Padmavati was actually a living being many, many years ago or whether she was just an imagined person in a poem,” analyst Sharma said.

Rights activists maintain that if government fails to draw clear lines around the threat made by the politician, and discourage a growing sense of impunity for some, incidents like this will only increase and threaten the freedom of expression in the world’s biggest democracy.

“By letting loose and giving [a] sense of impunity to the goons of the ruling party or people who’re connected or close to the ruling party, we’re paving the ground for much bigger and [worse] things to happen in the near future,” Naulakha told VOA.

The movie is awaiting approval from India’s Central Board of Film Certification.

Written by Madeeha Anwar of VOA.

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Confirmed: Kamal Haasan will Launch Mobile app on his 63rd Birthday, November 7

Actor Kamal Haasan confirms the launch of a mobile software app on November 7. Look what more he has to say.

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Actor Kamal Haasan
Actor Kamal Haasan. wikimedia commons

CHENNAI: Confirming his political plunge, actor Kamal Haasan on Sunday said the first step will be the launch of a mobile software app on November 7 – his 63rd birthday – that will enable him to be in touch with the fans and as well as enable book-keeping.

At a function to mark the 39th anniversary of his fan/welfare club, he said his political plunge by starting a political party is confirmed.

Kamal Haasan said the political party launch will happen in a calm manner and the launch of the mobile app is the first step on November 7.

He said his fans would contribute funds for the political party and the mobile app will facilitate keeping proper accounts of funds collected.

According to him, there is no shame in stretching out one’s hands for the welfare of the people and if only the rich pay their taxes properly, the country would be on the right path.

Kamal said November 7 is a day not to cut a cake and celebrate but a day to cut canals, obliquely referring to the flooding of several localities in the city due to recent rains.

The actor added natural disasters do not differentiate between rich and poor and all should be ready to take preventive measures then acting after the loss of dear ones.

According to him, suppression has become part of politics and it is not important how many people are threatening you, but what is important is what you are going to do.

Kamal Haasan said he is ready to take a beating but he is not a “mridangam” (a percussion instrument) to get hit again and again.(IANS)