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Relevance of Mahatma Gandhi to peace, sustainable development highlighted at UN

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United Nations: Mahatma Gandhi’s undying inspiration for today’s twin priorities of international peace and sustainable development was hailed Friday as the UN observed Gandhi Jayanthi as International Day of Non-Violence.

Issuing a call to “renew our commitment to non-violence and lives of dignity for all,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, “Today, at a time of escalating conflicts, rising extremism, massive displacement and rapidly growing humanitarian need, Mahatma Gandhi’s dedication to non-violence remains an example for us all.”

“The new 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development can also point the way towards reducing violence, promoting harmony between people and planet, and making the world safer for all,” Ban said.

Ban recalled his visit to the Sabarmati Ashram and said that Gandhi’s saying he saw there, “If blood is to be shed, let it be our own,” impressed him.

“Gandhi was calling on people to refuse to kill – instead, to be willing to die to save others.”

Ban unveiled a portrait of Gandhi presented to the UN by India. The painter of the portrait, Raghubir Dayal Parikh, was present at the ceremony. The celebrations featured a program combining a video of Gandhi’s saying and key moments in his life with a live voice presentations and a performance of a cello piece specially composed by Michael Fitzpatrick.

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj had been scheduled to deliver the presidential address. But Ban said that she “had to return home owing to a family emergency.” He added, “Our thoughts are with her.”

With the just concluded world sustainable development having adopted an ambitious agenda to end poverty and protect the environment, Indian Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar spoke of Gandhi’s relevance the mission calling him “the original sustainable development guru.”

“Appropriately India chose to announce its INDC (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions or commitment on lowering greenhouse gas emissions) on Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday,” he said in his presidential address. “This was to underline our moral commitment to sustainable development.”

Jaishankar said Mahatma Gandhi’s three guiding principles – -‘ahimsa‘(non-violence), ‘satyagraha‘ (force born of truth) and ‘sarvodaya‘ (uplift of all) — – continue to provide the world with approaches to address a range of complex challenges, many of which may not have even existed during his lifetime.

“In our times, we have seen the growth of religious bigotry and intolerance,” he said. “In many cases, this has directly fueled support and sponsorship of terrorism.”

“Unfortunately, the world has often looked away when terrorists have attacked innocents, assuming that it is not their problem,” he added. “As a believer in the indivisibility of the world and the importance of moral courage, Gandhiji would ask us all to stand up and be counted.”

General Assembly President Mogen Lykketoft quoted Gandhi’s works, “Non-violence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man.”

Lykketoft said, “These words resonate with the very principles of the UN Charter; with the UN’s promotion of peaceful settlements to disputes, and the primacy of reaching solutions through diplomacy and other peaceful means.”

During the current General Assembly session there are opportunities for bringing Gandhi’s vision closer to reality, he said. The new sustainable development goals adopted a week ago and the momentum building around climate change show that the universality that Gandhi preached was happening, he added.

“Let us work together for the betterment of our planet and our people” inspired by Gandhi, he said.

Bangladesh Finance Minister Abul Maal Abdul Muhith, a self-described Gandhian, said that even though his father was a Muslim League leader, for him as a youth Gandhi had his own appeal because “he cared for everybody.”

He recalled that as a 14-year-old, he wept as he went around Sylhet conveying the news of Gandhi’s assassination and the condolence meeting for him.

Gandhi led the khilafat movement across India protesting the dismantling of the caliphate in Turkey, Muhith said. But when it turned violent and police were attacked, he called it off because it went against his principle of non-violence.

In today’s world, Gandhi may not have liked the proliferation of technology and the lifestyles, but he would have been impressed by the concern for peace, he said.

South Africa’s Permanent Representative Kinglsley Mamabolo said that Gandhi’s influence was felt in his nation’s constitution that emphasised unversality of its people. India and South Africa are working together for world peace, he said. “We continue to be connected across the ocean.”

Belarus Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Mikhnevich said that Gandhi’s message resonated around the world in the quest for peace. He noted that his president, Alexander Lukashenko, had in his address this week to the General Assembly had cited Gandhi’s saying, “An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind,” as warning to nations and as a call for peaceful resolution of disputes.

“Let us build our relationships on the basis of peace,” Mikhnevich said.

Kazakhstan’s Permanent Representative Kairat Abdrakhmanov said, “We need to start a global non-violence movement.” Non-violence is a “pillar of the future of humanity,” he added.

Japan’s permanent Representative Motohide Yoshikawa said the life and message of Gandhi should be spread among the younger people. His teachings should be spread beyond India and South Africa, he added.

From Latin America, Brazil’s Permanent Representative Antonio de Aguiar Patriota said that Gandhi was a guide to the world. And Nicaragua’s Permanent Representative Maria Rubiales de Chamorro said that Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann, a Catholic priest who was her nation’s foreign minister and a president of the General Assembly was a disciple of Gandhi.

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Beyond Bofors: An Untold Story Of India’s First Family

Yunus threatened Rajiv Gandhi, that if he did not secure the release of Adil Shahryar, Yunus would hold a press conference and blow the lid off the whole damned thing.

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Adil Shahryar, Rajiv Gandhi and Mohammad Yunus

By Tania Bhattacharya 

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Ms Tania Bhattacharya

In 1984 India experienced her Chernobyl moment, with the Bhopal Gas Disaster. The tragedy unexpectedly unfolded between the night of the second of December and the early morning of the third of December. Toxic Methyl Isocyanate fumes leaked out from the plant of the Union Carbide company, an American conglomerate, that was operating from the city of Bhopal in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh.  It is estimated that four thousand people lost their lives when asleep, while more than six hundred thousand individuals were maimed for posterity.

Union Carbide’s Chief Executive Officer Warren Anderson, was duly arraigned, and was scheduled to stand trial in India over the gargantuan mishap. It is no secret, that the ethics or the lack thereof, of Capitalism, enables it to function with considerable ease in the developing world, where industrial laws are lax. The gaping loopholes in the legal system that prevent safety measures in favour of workers from being enforced, are the very ones that lubricate the well-oiled machinery of Capitalist greed and misdoings.

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Warren Anderson was an accused in the killings of Bhopal Gas Tragedy. Wikimedia commons

In 2012, at the Tazreen Fashion factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh, a fire broke out, engulfing and killing more than hundred of the underpaid staff toiling away at their sowing machines insides. More than fifteen hundred workers, mostly women from lower middle-class backgrounds but skilled in the art they were paid for, were cramped into a nine-storey building complex which had next to no equipment for containing a devastating fire, or other accidents of the like. Six years later, the survivors and the next of kin of those dead, are yet to be paid adequate compensation by the multinational behemoths that had employed them. The names would stun most of us; J.C. Penney, Walmart, Benetton, and others. Among the traits that Bengal has been well known for down the ages, is its booming textiles and handicrafts industry, something that every conqueror during the past centuries, has tried to exploit for profit. Bengal’s muslin is the world’s oldest cotton fabric and is indigenous to the region. Garments made by the underpaid factory workers in hell holes like Tazreen, are sold all over the globe including India, where we buy and wear their products, with scant concern for the makers’ welfare. In the same vein, the suffering of Bhopal was mostly ignored by a public desensitized through their familiarity with tragedy, that is splashed over news spreads every other day. Human Rights organizations were the only ones to take up cudgels for the cause of the victims’ rights in this case.

Anderson and the Nehru-Gandhis are not related. There was nothing thus, keeping the former from facing a trial in Indian courts for the deliberate lapses he had helped introduce which were at the root of the Bhopal tragedy. However, much to the amazement of the Indian public, Anderson never had to stand trial in this country. He was whisked away to his native United States, where he spent the rest of his life, unfettered by any guilt. Never did he have to pay a single penny for what he had unleashed on the inhabitants of Bhopal that fateful night in 1984.

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Pt. J.L.Nehu and Mahatma Gandhi. Wikimedia commons

The story of how an ace criminal operating in the developing nation of India, got away with murder, has vexed two generations of Indians, especially those who have been under the impression, that the Indian courts had let Anderson get away scot free. This was hardly the case, as we shall see.

A young, and well-connected man by the name of Adil Shahryar, had been sentenced to thirty-five years of incarceration in the early 1980s, by a United States jury, for trying to set fire to his own Florida based company, with the intention of committing insurance fraud. Indians are not familiar with the name and some background information on him is forthcoming. Adil Shahryar was the son of Mohammad Yunus, an INC (Indian National Congress) party member from its earliest days, who was a confidante of India’s first family, the Nehru-Gandhis. Yunus was inducted into the IAS (Indian Administrative Services) directly, by his close friend and India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. Hailing from the NWFP (North Western Frontier Province), today KPK or Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in Pakistan, Yunus was born and raised in undivided India. Being a follower of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, fondly known as Bacha Khan and Frontier Gandhi, who had opposed the division of the Indian subcontinent along the lines of religious sectarianism, the two had stood against the formation of Pakistan. After the inevitable happened in 1947, Mohammad Yunus had relocated to India. He was an alumni of the prestigious AMU; Aligarh Muslim University, one of modern India’s celebrated institutions of higher learning.

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Mohammad Yunus at Aligarh Muslim University.

When the Congress Party assumed the reins of administration post-independence, Yunus had been made privy to the classified documents maintained inside the PMO (Prime Minister’s Office) at Teen Murti Bhavan in Delhi. Nehru’s personal communication, and the past dealings of a colonial India, were lying hidden inside carefully maintained folders, stowed away from the eyes of the Indian public, at the PMO. Nehru had entrusted his aide Yunus the responsibility of safeguarding the files and never letting them out of his sight. It can be assumed therefore, that the caretaker was meant to guard the secrets inside those files, as well, in case he had had the curiosity to peruse them. It seems Yunus served his master well, for he lied several times in front of various panels set up for investigating the unsolved disappearance of India’s greatest anti-colonial armed revolutionary, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, a name that evokes the kind of passion in Indian minds as that of Shaheed Bhagat Singh.

When the Khosla commission was looking into the matter in the 1970s, Yunus was summoned for extricating the required documents that had been hitherto classified by the state. He told members of the commission that what they were looking for had been either misplaced, or destroyed by a fire. It is difficult to ascertain the veracity of such a claim given the loyalty of Yunus to Nehru. Even after the demise of our first Prime Minister, Yunus had faithfully retained the documents the former had entrusted him with.

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Adil Shahryar, Mohammad Yunus, Rajiv Gandhi and Warren Anderson

It is not difficult to gauge then, that Mohammad Yunus, a Nehru-Gandhi lackey, was in possession of knowledge about the fate of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose; the mystery surrounding his departure from India and subsequent disappearance in East Asia, and who may have been instrumental in keeping Bose away from his motherland. It can be tentatively assumed that documents so assiduously well-guarded, may have also disclosed the name of the person, who had conspired in the possible assassination and demise of Bose. Yunus in other words, was a crucible of information on the most sought answers to the biggest mystery of post-colonial India; the fate of Netaji.

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President Reagan Nancy Reagan, 40th President of the United States, Rajiv Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi. Wikimedia commons

When the Union Carbide induced tragedy struck Bhopal on that cold December night in 1984, Yunus’ only child, Adil Shahryar had just received his thirty five year sentence and was living out his days in a United States gaol. The father saw a golden opportunity in the tragedy that had unfolded, and which involved the trial of a high profile American businessman, Warren Anderson.

Nehru’s grandson the late Rajiv Gandhi has found his name being enmeshed in a fair number of scandals that had gripped his government. There was Bofors, followed by the Shah Bano case, and most famously, the order he gave for unlocking the gates of the disputed Babri Masjid complex, with a clever eye at wooing his Hindu votebank, completely unaware of the far-reaching consequences of what he had done. Among the three, to Indian minds, the Bofors deal, tainted with kickbacks, nepotism, and perjury, rests as the one that proved to be his undoing. However, the unknown machinations of Rajiv, in tandem with those of his family friend Mohammad Yunus, pertaining to the Bhopal Gas Tragedy, is far worse than any of his other ‘misdemeanours’.

Bofors was the most controversial deal of Rajiv Gandhi government. Wikimedia commons

It seems the clever Yunus, had approached the Rajiv Gandhi administration, and had requested his old friend, in negotiating the release of his wayward and criminal offspring, Adil Shahryar, a childhood buddy of Rajiv’s dead brother Sanjay Gandhi, from his incarceration in the United States. Given the nature of Shahryar’s crimes, which included charges of felony, it was next to impossible to simply pull a few strings and get him released. Rajiv had communicated this to a heartbroken Mohammad Yunus. It was then that Mohammad Yunus, gatekeeper of Nehru’s personal secrets, had played his master card.

Yunus threatened Rajiv Gandhi, that if he did not secure the release of Adil Shahryar, Yunus would hold a press conference and blow the lid off the whole damned thing. The ‘damned thing’ in this case, being the direct involvement of India’s first Prime Minister, Mahatma Gandhi’s chosen heir, Rajiv Gandhi’s esteemed grandfather, and Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose’s bitter rival – Jawaharlal Nehru – in the disappearance and demise of the beloved Netaji.

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Subash Chandra Bose and Mahatma Gandhi. Wikimedia Commons

Rajiv’s hands were tied by this utterance. He must have seen his political career and a possible one for his two children, being torn to shreds, at the point of Yunus’ insinuations and future press conference over Nehru’s criminality in the Bose issue. It was the last straw. Rajiv had caved. The entire reputation of India’s first family had been at stake. He could do nothing, but comply with Yunus’ demands.

And so we reach the present state of things. It was the eve of the then Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s visit to the United States, to have a one-on-one with Ronald Reagan, when Adil Shahryar, after a life of crime, walked out from his US prison after being granted a presidential pardon from Reagan. The case was closed. A father welcomed his son back home. And the cloak of secrecy surrounding the disappearance of one of India’s greatest sons, remained in place.

But what is the price that India had to pay to secure Shahryar’s release? Well, the price was Warren Anderson. As Adil made his way to India, Anderson retraced his steps back to his home country, as designated by the exchange deal that Rajiv and his American counterpart Reagan, had initiated. Anderson romped free for his remaining life, safe in the knowledge, that he would not have to contribute a single penny for indemnity towards his many Indian victims. Nor would he have to mark time in an Indian prison for life.

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Adil Shahryar and his father Mohammad Yunus, are long gone. The son died from depression and living in excesses. The father passed away in 2001, after an incident of being rebuked by Sonia Gandhi, Rajiv’s Italian wife, and a co-conspirator in the Bofors scandal, an incident that had heavily compromised the efficiency of our Armed Forces.

Those who invoke history, will be heard by history, goes a famous axiom. Lovers of justice can only hope, that this is not the last of the Bhopal Tragedy Case, that we have had to confront.

Tania is a freelance writer with a Masters in Defence and Strategic Studies who has a wide range of interests.