Posted on 1-January-2015
For the new year in A.D 2000, a newspaper in the capital in which I was India's official flag bearer asked me to express my wishes for that millennium year. I said that having grown up as I had in a cultural tradition in which the highest achievement to be striven for by mankind was to get rid of ones desires I should in fact express no wish, but being also made of flesh and bone I did indeed have earthly wishes and mine for the new year was to acquire a golf handicap so that I looked less comic in the eyes of caddies and be less of a nuisance to fellow golfers on the course. Her Britannic Majesty's flag bearer, a knight of the realm, wished for the Soccer World Cup to return to Wembley Stadium in London. Other flag bearers more solemnly wished for world peace, for harmony and prosperity for all. That year being the beginning of a new millennium, some even wished for a new dawn in the history of mankind. None was so daring as to formulate wishes for the whole millennium. I never got that golf handicap--in fact my golf has gone into slow decline. The World Cup has yet to return to Wembley Stadium and peace, harmony, and prosperity for all remain as unachieved as ever. The United Nations' millennium goals have largely been forgotten about. Yet on this day every year thousands and millions of people all over the world wish each other a happy and prosperous year. Presidents, Kings, Prime Ministers, the Pope, the Archbishop of Canterbury and other Christian Patriarchs, lower order prelates and priests pray to gods that be or to gods that never were for peace and prosperity to all year after year.
I have my wishes too for this year. Having for years thought and written about politics to earn my living, I cannot stop turning towards politics on this occasion too. My first wish concerns the Prime Minister of my country, Narendra Modi. In a marked contrast to his predecessor, he has over the last seven months busied himself speaking in public on all manner of topics, proposing this objective, that plan, that campaign or this action. While doing this he has shown an addiction to the habit of coining slogans or slick acronyms. With the novelty wearing off, he is beginning to sound like a silly bore and my wish is that he may find someone who can de-addict him from this habit. My second wish is also about Narendra Modi. He got elected last year promising development for all. He also asked for a ten year moratorium on communal clashes. But his friends, the votaries of Hindutva, have decided that his election has given them unprecedented licence to promote ill-informed nonsense about the past glories of India or to promote thoughts aimed at frightening India's religious minorities. The Bhagvad Gita was written five thousand years ago, says one. It should be declared India's national book says another. Another wishes to present a paper on Vedic aircraft at the next Indian Science Congress. Yet others have a hand in declaring Christmas Day as a Good Governance Day in an obvious yet largely futile attempt to distract attention from the celebration--more and more a-religious--of Christmas. My wish is that Narendra Modi may develop the courage to full throatedly ask all these people to shut up while his political capital is still intact. My third wish, also about Narendra Modi is that he may return to speaking in public, at home and abroad, in Hindi in which he is perfectly at home and in which he can express himself quite forcefully rather than in barely comprehensible English. He may disregard the advice of his bureaucrats and look at heads of governments of non-English speaking countries like France, Germany, Russia or China. My fourth wish is that the corrupt and venal politicians in power in India for ten years till the last year are swept aside for ever, even if we have the misfortune of being ruled for the next few years by another corrupt and venal lot.
In the world at large, it is a stretch to hope for any relaxation of tensions in the Middle East in the year to come: neither the Palestinian problem nor the situation in Syria nor the ongoing tensions between the West and the Islamic world (whether we think of the antagonism between the West and the various Islamic groups such as the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq or the Taliban in Afghanistan or between the West and Iran) look like moving towards peaceful resolutions. Tensions between the West and Russia are almost certainly going to continue, even get aggravated. Tensions between the West and North Korea or the often subterranean but now increasingly above the surface tensions between China and Japan are likewise going to last. Thus to wish for a peaceful world in 2015 is meaningless. With luck there may be an agreement between the P-6 and Iran over Iran's nuclear programme. With luck also the climate change meeting in Paris in December this year may reach some kind of general agreement. But here are some wild wishes. My wish is that the world may move towards an understanding that greenhouse gas emissions are not the only environmental problem faced by humanity. Man's assault on nature and his rape of the earth's ecology are many-pronged and when all has been said on the subject, the conclusion that the present day's economic model based on ever higher consumption, ever higher profits and ever greater accumulation to be used for promoting ever greater consumption poses the greatest danger to the environment remains unavoidable. Let us wish that this understanding gains wider acceptance during the year. I wish we find a way to make one book--Jared Diamond's Collapse--compulsory reading for all of the world's political and business leaders and for all those involved in making government policies. Either the world invents a new kind of economics or we doom the planet. I wish that we do the former and I wish that in the year to come we make some progress in that direction.
But why burden ourselves with making wishes that may never be fulfilled? In today's India where forces of Hindu nationalism are on the rise, the best may yet be to turn to the old Hindu ideal of conquering all desire and thus cease to have any wishes whatsoever. The only wish one may be allowed to have is to attain this ideal. Yet it is not given to every mortal to attain that ideal and lesser people like me may yet have ordinary wishes. One such wish that all of us could safely have this year is that our ordinary lives may be as trouble free and as easeful as possible. At least for this year we may all express such a wish on this new year's day for the next year the votaries of Hindutva may ban the celebration of the Christian new year in India as being contrary to India's cultural traditions.