Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Should a critical decision which impacts a country in the shorter or longer run be decided by a referendum?

MAYBE this will be the beginning of a new trend. Referendum on whether to have schools or not ? Whether to have grammar at schools? Whether to screen movies at colleges?  Whether to have a timetable for classes in a college? Whether to declare three day working week? and so on. Who knows? Referendum is the new fashion word!

A referendum is a form of direct democracy, whereas in a representative democracy, the government decides policy after Parliamentary debates etc. Referendums put the onus on the voter in what is essentially a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ choice. We cannot give the decision power of a referendum to the people on issues which need firm governance. I am not talking about governance at gun point. On several issues where personal discretion is involved and in issues which affect the people's life we need opinion polls to gauge the minds of the people. For example, do we make the minimum age of 18 or 21 for voting? This may be referred to public. The government cannot decide objectively on 18 or 19 or 20. These ages more or less represent same levels of maturity. 

A judicial system cannot go for public referendum about the quantum of punishment. Maybe, opinion polls on whether to implement capital punishment or not can be held, but a referendum? Certainly Not.

referendum (in some countries is synonymous with plebiscite, or a vote on a ballot question) is a direct vote in which an entire electorate is asked to either accept or reject a particular proposal.

But on matters where they need to arrive at objective decision, they can give opinions via opinion polls, but it is up to the governing body to decide after an effective debate - after all they are elected by the people and they can make law by effective debates. For passing each law, the referendum is not held but elected representatives decide after effective debates. After all, elections are held to enable governing bodies to decide on people's behalf. When people at large cannot objectively decide since many factors are to be weighed before deciding, then referendum cannot be an option. 

Now, the Brexit issue. In theory, Cameron could ignore the public and disregard a Brexit vote.  But In practice he has repeatedly promised that the result will stick – and there may be no going back on that line now.  That is his view but now more than 3 million people have petitioned for second referendum. When more than 100,000 people ask for a second referendum and the online petition has crossed this, the British parliament is obligated to look into this. The website for the online petition for second referendum is crashing in Britain with each passing day witnessing increasing traffic. The result of uninformed voting in the first phase of voting is evident by the signatories for the petition and the top trending Google search in UK post Brexit, the very telling “What is the EU?”

This incident brings in the understanding of pros and cons of referendum.

Arguments put forward in favor of referendums are:

- It is a real form of direct democracy
- They increase political participation
- Referendum can serve as a brake on “elective dictatorships” during a government’s five years span
- Referendum may provide a clear answer to a question the government might be ‘asking’
- If the government listens to the people, it is likely to be gaining public approval and support
- Referendum can unite a divided lot
-Referendum can provide a mandate for controversial policies.
-Referendum legitimizes important constitutional issues such as devolution.

Arguments put forward against the use of referendums are

- Referendums are inconsistent with the belief in parliamentary sovereignty.
- Issues might be too complex for a mere yes/no vote or for the public to understand
-The regular use of referendum could lead to apathy among the public. They may get frustrated with frequent referrals 
-There are effective low cost alternatives: opinion polls and by-elections. A referendum is an expensive undertaking and not suitable for multiple uses.
- A low turnout can distort results. Even in Brexit referendums, there is a view that the climate also played spoil sport as many booth stations were empty 
-The results of a referendum might not be decisive may in fact lead to a sharply divided constituency. 
-Funding differences can affect results as government money can pour into a referendum and the group on the other side may well be handicapped on this front
-Referendum might result in “the tyranny of the majority”. If the majority votes for it, does the government go ahead with it? What about the wishes of the minority? How are these safeguarded?
- Opinion polls can gauge the mood, but legislations based on referendums will throw away the representative democracy environment under which we currently operate. 

To end, these words of Chanakya are relevant.

A nation is NOT governed on popular opinion alone. It is built on the knowledge, wisdom and expertise of its leaders. 

If popular opinions are not in the direction of the objective legislation as derived by the elected parliament, sufficient efforts have to be spent by legislators to shape the opinion in such a way as to reach an effective alignment. A referendum may not be the best answer, but for those who need to make the tough decision, it is an easy solution.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Greek Lady Commandos! Women Empowerment in Chandragupta Times?

For Illustrative Purpose Only
VERY recently we were treated to the news that the Indian Air Force has inducted woman fighter pilots. Women in the Air Force were only allowed to pilot helicopters and transport aircraft. This step was being touted as recognition of parity between men and women in the armed forces. There have been queens and warrior princesses in Indian history. Rani of Jhansi Lakshmibai springs to the mind, but one of the earliest examples would be that of the lady commandos of Chandragupta Maurya.

In one of my earlier blogs I have already spoken about Helen daughter of the Greek regional satrap Selukos. Helen became the second wife of Chandragupta after his first wife died while giving birth to Bindusara. But Helen did not come alone! She was accompanied by her own set of guards and to everyone’s surprise they were female commandos! The journey from being personal commandos of Helen to becoming the personal commandos guarding Emperor Chandragupta and being the Royal Guards is an interesting one.

Chandragupta had a lot of enemies. His life was always in danger. Chanakya was Chandragupta’s guide, mentor and the force behind his accession to the throne and he had taken certain steps to safeguard the emperor’s life. One of the steps was that Chandragupta’s palace would have many bedrooms and all of them would be reserved for the king. At the last moment a bedroom among those available will be chosen for the night for the King to sleep in. Thus his location would be irregular and any assassination attempt would be difficult. But this arrangement created another problem for Helen. She found it demeaning and insulting that every night she would have to ask the guards for which bedroom to go in and she could never do any special arrangements! This created the need for more subtle handling of the King security keeping in mind the Queen’s emotions.

All visitors to the King were thoroughly frisked for concealed weapons. Since the Kings security was handled by men and most visitors were men this did not create any issues. Also the threat of women carrying weapons was perceived to be very low. But two instances changed this perception.

A woman astrologer came to the Emperor and said that she would read out his fortune. Since she had come recommended by some of the Queen’s acquaintances the security was a bit lax. After studying the horoscope she said that she would like to read the palm of the King as well to get a more accurate fortune reading. The King obliged and went near the astrologer and extended his palm. The lady quickly drew a short poisoned blade from her clothes to strike the King. Chandragupta was quicker and blocked her hand while the security slit the woman’s throat.

The second instance was when a party of women horse traders from the Kashmir region came down to sell fine horses to Chandragupta who was known as a connoisseur of horses. The King and three of his security team along with Chanakya went down to the stables where the horses were kept. The woman traders suddenly drew weapons and blades hidden in the straw and under the horse’s saddle and started to attack the party. While the security and Chanakya fought the women, Chandragupta leapt onto horse and rode away.

Both the security breaches were due to insufficient frisking or relaxed threat perception as women were involved. To address the dual problem of frisking lady visitors and the perceived inconvenience and embarrassment to the Queen in communicating about sleeping arrangements and bedrooms with male guards, Chandragupta came up with a solution that his closest line of defense needs to be women guards. The guards of Helen fit the bill perfectly. Thus the prominence of Helen’s commandos increased and they were assigned to be the Royal guards.

Even in Chandragupta’s time the role of Helen and her item it intentions were suspected and palace whispers were that these attempts on the Emperor’s life were designed so that she and her guards could come into prominence.

But did Helen really love Chandragupta? What was the ultimate role of the lady commandos? Was she a spy or an assassinate to kill Chandragupta at the appointed hour? Or was she the latest pawn in search of the secrets of ancient India? Secrets, that had Alexander come down to India in the first place?

To find out this and much more, read the book “The Indus Challenge”. Hitting the bookshelves soon….


DOES a film reflect the society or society follows films? There is also the classic retort that films don’t spoil society nor sermons improve them. So can freedom of expression be absolute. Certainly not. But does this mean there needs to be a big brother censor? Absolutely no and any cuts if inspired by a bias will have to be fought against. I believe that the film fraternity itself needs to defend right and wrong by themselves. Change has to come from within. Finally, any external agency appointed as guardian of sensibilities will face the classic ‘Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?’ Who will guard the guards? ‪#‎udtapunjab‬

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Bramhastra : Ancient Knowledge Lost?

For Illustrative Purpose Only
WHEN it comes to ancient India and war and weapons, two words are quite common, “astras” and “shastras”. Shastra literally referred to weapons in physical form which are to be wielded by a warrior. These include the usual suspects such as swords, mace, whips etc. “Astras” on the other hand are projected towards the enemy. They are the modern equivalent of missiles. You need to fire them towards your enemy.

Perhaps the most legendary, famous and feared astra would be the ‘Bramhastra’. The weapon was supposed to be created by ‘Bramha’ the creator himself. The weapon is supposed to be so powerful that the target would be utterly destroyed. Why would a creator create a weapon that is designed for total destruction? It was never intended to be a purely destructive weapon. Brahmastra was created for the purpose of upholding Dharma and Satya, to be used by anyone who wished to destroy an enemy who would also happen to be a part of Brahma's creation. It was not a weapon to be lightly used to settle petty enmity.

For a weapon of such legendary power, the acquisition of the knowledge to acquire and use it will naturally be very rare. One of the most accepted way of using the Bramhastra in ancient India was by invoking the Gayatri Mantra. It was said that the rhythm, the tone and specific stresses during the reciting would create such waves as could transform even a blade of grass into a feared weapon. The frequencies in the vibrations of the mantra itself would affect any material at the molecular level and free up the potential energy of each atom.

But then why would you or me today even after knowing the Gayatri Mantra are not able to invoke the Bramhastra? The answer lies in siddhi. One has to gain siddhi on a particular mantra before it works miracles for him. It may also involve the mantra being taught to him by a person who is already a ‘siddha’ in the mantra. Now what is siddhi and who is a siddha? Every mantra needs a particular no. of repetition after which it becomes 'Siddh'. Siddhi is nothing but when a sadhaka chants with full concentration a particular mantra for a particular number of times (the number varies and is either in thousands or lakhs or crores for each type), it gives him siddhi in that. Siddhi is nothing but that particular person himself becomes charged with that mighty energy.

But then how does siddhi work in actual practice? We all chant various mantras and shlokas and do pooja but never see the physically transformative effects materialize. The answer in this case lies in the nature of sound. There are two types of sound: un-struck/un-heard sound and struck/heard sound. Un-struck sound is a vibration of ether, the upper or purer air near the celestial realm. The enlightened yogis seek the unstruck sound called “Anaahata Nada”, and only they can hear it. The struck sound or “Aahata Nada”, is the vibration of air in the lower atmosphere closer to the earth. It is any sound that we hear in nature or man-made sounds, musical, and non-musical. So to release Brahmastra it's the Anahata sound which is used to chant Gayatri and not the normal Aahata sound which we use for puja. Along with siddhi, the invoker also needs to be a powerful person in his own right and a person who is in tune with the Anahata sound. The Bramhastra unleashed say by Arjun will never have the potency of the astra released by the Bramha the creator himself.

Modern science has been able to go close in terms of destructive power to the Bramhastra. We now have nuclear weapons that use the principles of physics and chemistry to unlock the potential energy locked within each and every atom. But the efficiency of this conversion is extremely low. Only 1/3000th of matter is converted into destructive energy in a nuclear bomb. The Bramhastra as the legends say was very destructive even when a single blade of grass was used.

Leave the ancient history and the theory behind the Astra. Also disregard the modern nuclear weapons. What about modern times? Why don’t we have something as efficient as Bramhastra? The most probable answer to that would be that we have simply lost the skill and the siddhi required to use the Bramhastra? Perhaps all that knowledge has been lost to the ravages of history and there have been no great gurus who passed on the knowledge to a worthy disciple in the Kaliyuga. Perhaps the invocation only is not sufficient and something else is required? 

What could that ‘something else’ be? Where would the ancient knowledge have gone? How did great kings such as Alexander and Chandragupta, and great mystic scholars such as Chanakya fare in their hunt for the Bramhastra? Was anybody close to being successful? To know more about this you will need to grab a copy of the forthcoming historical fiction, the page turner “The Indus Challenge”. Soon to hit the bookstores…

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Ashwamedh Yagna to Alexander: A Horse that connects the Ages

For Illustrative Purpose Only
THROUGHOUT history there have been many instances of exceptional animals playing the supporting or a significant role in shaping events of history. From an Indian perspective Ashwamedh Yagna is considered to be the pinnacle of the success of an Emperor and an animal plays a starring role in the entire proceedings.

The Ashwamedh Yagna was traditionally done by Kings who have supreme confidence in their military might. After religious rituals the horse was set free for a period of one year to roam around the extended kingdoms. Whenever the horse goes the Kings warriors follow and if any King or any other agent stops the horse it is considered to be a challenge to the authority of the King. The King then has to ensure that he is victorious in the battle over the challenger and thus he can establish his authority.

The Ashwamedh Yagna was done by the Pandavas after the great Mahabharata war was concluded. It is said that a more elaborate and a grander Ashwamedh Yagna had never been performed till that date. The arcane rituals included a symbolic night spent by the Queen in the company of the horse. This Yagna had a horse that had one defining characteristic. He had a white star-shaped mark on his forehead almost as if the horse was wearing a bindi.

Alexander was also known to be extremely fond of the horse his father brought for him. The details of Alexander and his horse are widely known and very heavily recorded. A renowned horse dealer named Philonicus of Thessalian had offered the horse to King Philip II. The King flatly refused as the massive beast was completely wild and did not suffer a rider on its back. Legend says that Alexander tamed the horse and thus a special bond existed between the two. The horse was named Bucephalus and he was a massive black beast.

Bucephalus and Alexander were inseparable; only Alexander could ride him, and indeed he did, into every battle from the conquest of the Greek city-states and Thebes through Gaugamela and into India. The horse and man had a strange connection almost as if they were friends. Alexander used to routinely whisper into the horse’s ear and direct him. Even the horse was more receptive to Alexanders words and his masters touch than to any whip or reins. Bucephalus was also very protective of Alexander. Once when the Alexander was injured in battle, the Bucephalus himself without any direction took Alexander back to the camp and his tent to get treatment. After the final defeat of Darius, Bucephalus was kidnapped while Alexander was away on excursion. Upon returning and learning of the theft, Alexander promised to fell every tree, lay the countryside to waste, and slaughter every inhabitant in the region. The horse was soon returned along with a plea for mercy. Such was the love between Bucephalus and Alexander.

It is said that the horse accompanied Alexander up to India and in the end he was wounded in the Battle of the Hydaspes. The horse died at the ripe age of 30, exceptionally long for a horse. Alexander was so hurt by the death that he conducted complete death rituals for Bucephalus and also founded a city in the name of the horse. The horse is supposed to be buried in what is now modern Pakistan, and is buried in Jalalpur Sharif outside of JhelumPakistan. Another account states that Bucephalus is buried in Phalia, a town in Pakistan's Mandi Bahauddin District, which is named after him. The defining characteristic of the horse was a white star-shaped mark on his forehead almost as if the horse was wearing a bindi!!!

All descriptions of the horse used by the Pandavas in the  Ashwamedh Yagna and that of Bucephalus match. Was Bucephalus the reincarnation of the Yagna horse from the Pandava times? Was there any karmic connection between the two horses? What ancient secrets has the Ashwamedh horse seen and heard from the days past? Did Alexander, who was also behind Ambrosia and Brahmastra in India get any help from his own horse? To know more about this you will need to grab a copy of the forthcoming historical fiction, the page turner “The Indus Challenge”. Soon to hit the bookstores.

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

The First Caesarian Operation

For Illustrative Purpose Only
INDIAN history and mythology is replete with instances and incidences that have a strong resemblance to modern medical miracles. The strong proponents of ancient India being a lighthouse of scientific achievements, point out Lord Ganesh, with his elephant head fitted onto a body in human form as being an ancient example of organ transplant. Modern science has just now started to transplant hands and legs. Another oft quoted example is that of Gandhari with her hundred sons and one daughter being test tube babies rather than biological full term babies conceived naturally. We also have the Mahabharata war being live telecast as an ongoing commentary by Sanjay to Dhritarashtra. Whether these are true or just symbolic, one cannot say in today’s day and age. But no one can take away the seed of the idea that was in the minds of the recorders of these great epics. The ideas of live telecast, babies being grown outside the body and organ transplants by themselves are miraculous.

Post some ancient examples; there are no famous examples of medical medicals or operations or any such scientific achievement in the recorded history for quite some time. But one example from around 30 BC is that of the birth of Bindusara. It is an example that is well recorded in history and gives the origin of the name Bindusara itself.

Emperor Chandragupta had founded his vast empire by a systematic plan by which he took over kingdom by kingdom the entire land mass of India. As a conqueror he had a vast number of enemies who would always be on the lookout of ways to assassinate the Emperor. The usual tactics in those times was through hired assassins, ambush during travels, seduction through courtesans and the most popular poison.

Fortunately Chandragupta had an able security team and the master of strategy Chanakya himself. The Emperor had an elaborate security detail that used a combination of secrecy, decoys and thorough background checks for people coming to meet the Emperor. But all of these were not sufficient to protect the Emperor from that one drop of poison that may come through known or unknown hand through his food or through a small pinprick or a dart.

Chanakya had a solution for this. Right since the time that Chanakya took over as the mentor of the Emperor when he was a small boy, he was fed minute amounts all the most common poisons as part of his food. Chandragupta’s body was now so used to the small doses of poison that his body started to become immune to the poisons. A normal dose sufficient to kill a man would have very little effect on Chandragupta by the time he became Emperor. But this arrangement was always kept a secret between Chanakya, Chandragupta and the closest of his bodyguards.

Once when Chandragupta’s wife was heavily pregnant, she walked into the room of Chandragupta and saw some food lying on the side tables. Without knowing that the food was spiked with poison she tasted some of the food. The poison started to spread through the veins of the queen and she fell unconscious. Chandragupta came in and upon seeing his wife in unconscious state straightaway asked for Chanakya to be summoned.

Chanakya immediately understood the problem. He could give the antidote to the mother and save her but by that time it would have reached the babies delicate system and it would have died inside. Or else the other option was to immediately cut open the womb of the queen and get the baby out before the mother’s blood and the poison reached the baby. Faced with this alternative, Chanakya give importance to the baby’s life rather than the mothers. He cut open the belly and accessed the womb and thus Bindusara was born. The poison had just started to reach the baby and left a small blue mark on the baby’s forehead. This bindi mark was the origin of the name Bindusara. The first recorded cesarean operation had just been performed and the baby was safe though the mother died.

How did the death of the Queen affect Chandragupta? Who replaced the queen and took away the affections of Chandragupta? How did this affect his empire and his close friends? And how did the devils choice that Chanakya made, came back to haunt him. What effect did this entire episode have on Rudra our protagonist? To know more about this you will need to grab a copy of the forthcoming historical fiction, the page turner “The Indus Challenge”. Soon to hit the bookstores.