soniasarkar26

‘The Right wing suffers from an intellectual void’

Posted on: May 30, 2016

Karan Singh is out with a novel — a new version of an old work. But writing is just one of his passions. He tells Sonia Sarkar that he was Shakespeare’s Olivia in a school play, loves the Dire Straits and sings Dogri songs

Karan Singh sits ramrod straight on a sofa. His black labrador, Kaalu, walks up to the senior Congressman, breathing heavily into a plate that holds two cocktail samosas.

The former minister and governor picks one up and delicately bites into it. “I eat light,” he says.

But eating light is just one of the reasons why the octogenarian is so fit. “For two hours every morning I worship all the gods – Surya, Shiva and Ganesha. I also do rajyoga, the breathing exercise. This gives me energy and positivity,” he says, fiddling with a copper bracelet that has the words “Om Namah Shivaya” inscribed on it.

Singh is a Shiva devotee. His novel, Mountain of Shiva, an updated version of a previous work, has just been brought out by a new publishing house, Palimpsest. Ashok, the protagonist, follows a guru to Shiva’s abode in the Himalayas to fulfil his spiritual quest.

“In the previous edition, the quest was unfulfilled. But then I thought I must write what happened thereafter,” he explains.

The need to write the novel (his only novel so far), which he first penned 30 years ago, came from his own search for spiritual understanding. “If I were not born a yuvraj (prince), maybe I would have been Ashok,” says the son of the last ruler of the former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir, Hari Singh.

A conversation with Singh is incomplete without talk of troubled Kashmir. Singh tries to stay away from the subject, ducking questions with his stock reply – “I was mostly abroad when the conflict erupted”. You can, however, take a man out of Kashmir, but not Kashmir out of the man. When he opens up, there is no stopping him.

The recent controversy when Kashmiri and non-Kashmiri students clashed at the National Institute of Technology (NIT) in Srinagar troubles him. The clash – allegedly sparked by some anti-India slogans shouted by a section of students after India lost a cricket match in the World T20 series – led to some non-Kashmiri students leaving the campus.

“If non-Kashmiri students start leaving the campus, Kashmiri students might be targeted in other parts of the country. Kashmiri and non-Kashmiri students mean Muslim and non-Muslim students,” he says. “We must not allow a repeat of the post-Kokrajhar riots,” he says – referring to the exodus of Northeasterners from Bangalore after Bodo-Muslim riots in Assam’s Kokrajhar in 2012.

Singh blames the People’s Democratic Party (PDP)-Bharatiya Janata Party state government and chief minister Mehbooba Mufti for the crisis in NIT. “It’s the responsibility of the state government to give students adequate security. This issue blew up after she took over, which is not a good sign.”

Singh, clearly, doesn’t think very highly of Mehbooba, though he respected her father, the former chief minister of the state, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed. “Mufti Saab was a senior man. He had his own stature. Mehbooba was to Mufti Saab what Amit Shah is to (Narendra) Modi. She used to organise the cadre and meetings. Now tell me, what is Amit Shah without Modi,” he asks.

Does his criticism of the PDP go down well in the family? His son, Vikramaditya, after all is in the PDP.

“No, there is no jhagra over political differences,” he replies.

In fact, there is celebration in the family. Vikramaditya’s daughter, Mriganka, is going to be married to the grandson of former Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh. The engagement has just taken place.

Singh fishes out a glossy magazine which featured his grandchildren, Mriganka and Martand, on its cover. “She looks exactly like my wife,” he says.

Singh was 19 – and the regent in Jammu and Kashmir – when he was married to Yasho Rajya Lakshmi, the granddaughter of the last Rana Prime Minister of Nepal, Mohan Shamsher Jang Bahadur Rana. Marriages in the family have mostly taken place with erstwhile royals. Vikramaditya is married to Chitrangada Raje Scindia, daughter of Madhavrao Scindia, who was the titular Maharaja of Gwalior. Amarinder Singh is the head of the erstwhile royal family of Patiala.

Why do the former rajahs continue to use their title, long after the abolition of princely states, I ask. “I have renounced my title. After my father died, I announced that I would never use the title of Maharaja,” he says.

I point out that when I had called his office for an appointment, a staffer had instructed me to address him as His Highness in my email. (I didn’t.)

Singh looks embarrassed. “Oh, I am going to blast these guys,” he says.The former minister is 85, but his use of words – along with his carriage and looks – makes him appear decades younger. Singh, in his trademark dark grey suit and Nehru cap, puts his palms on his face like a beauty queen just awarded the crown in a pageant. “Can you imagine I turned 85 in March,” he exclaims.

We are sitting in his office in his central Delhi residence. The books lined up in the shelves include a collection of Tagore, some classical poetry and Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay’sKrishna Charitra. These days, he adds, he is reading U.R. Ananthamurthy’s Hindutva or Hind Swaraj.

So I ask him about the debate on Hinduism and nationalism. “The biggest problem is that there aren’t any Hindu intellectuals. The Right wingers say that Left intellectuals have dominated so far, now it’s their turn. But the Right wingers don’t have anyone of the stature of Left scholars such as Romila Thapar or the late Bipan Chandra. The Right wing suffers from an intellectual void,” he says.

Singh’s association with the Congress goes back to the Sixties. He was close to former Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi. He was the health minister when Gandhi imposed Emergency in 1975 and Sanjay Gandhi started his nasbandicampaign, forcibly sterilising people.

“We had our own targets for nasbandi, which we would have achieved in normal circumstances. But Sanjay Gandhi came in and forced it upon the people. I kept writing to the chief ministers of various states, saying that I was getting reports of coercion, please look into it,” he recalls. “But yes,” he admits, “I never objected to what he was doing.”

Singh, however, adds that he once wrote to Indira Gandhi, urging her to resign. “We never thought that the Emergency would go this way,” he rues.

The former governor of Jammu and Kashmir also feels that successive governments have failed Kashmir. “There is always a trust deficit among Kashmiris. I would say that whoever has come to power in Delhi has failed the Kashmiris. To put it mildly, the issue has to be handled with great courage and statesmanship.”

He believes that Prime Minister Narendra Modi – whom he calls Narendra bhai – has done “some healing” with Pakistan by inviting Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to his oath-taking ceremony, visiting Sharif in Lahore and also allowing the Pakistani investigating team to Pathankot to look into the terror attack there. “But he has not done any healing with the Kashmiris,” he says.

While we are on Kashmir, I ask him a question that is often posed by the people of the Valley. Why did Hari Singh sign the instrument of accession of Jammu and Kashmir to India? Generations of Kashmiris have held this act as the cause of the conflict in the region.

For the first time, I see a furrow on Singh’s forehead. The smile, too, has gone.

“My father signed it to save Kashmir. If he had not agreed to it, then Kashmiris would have all been killed by the invaders,” he replies.

Singh has seen the changing face of Kashmir – and of Indian politics. He talks about the increasing role of muscle and money power in today’s politics. “There is a change in the texture of politics,” he holds.

Politics, the Rajya Sabha member adds, is also more broad-based today. “Earlier, it was more about bhadraloks. Now…,” he says, his voice petering off. “I don’t want to put any label to it.”

Singh, who once chaired the ethics committee of the Rajya Sabha, sees more disruptions in Parliament than before. “These weaken the structure of democracy because the idea of Parliament is to debate. Previously, we had such amazing parliamentarians as A.K. Gopalan and Somnath Chatterjee, who used to haul the government over the coals through debates. But what people do now – such as disrupting proceedings and going to the well of the House – is a negation of democracy.”

But his own party members have been stalling Parliament repeatedly, I point out. Doesn’t he tell them to mend their ways? “I,” he asks incredulously, and laughs. Clearly, there is nothing much that he can say any more to party members.

Instead, he would rather focus his energies on music. Singh – who studied in Doon School and earned his doctorate in political science from Delhi University – is a great fan of the band, Dire Straits. And he loves to sing Dogri songs. He has even brought out an album of songs in Dogri, the language of the people of Jammu. Every Friday evening, he does riyaaz – practise music.

He loves the stage, too. “You will be amazed to know that my debut performance was when I played Olivia in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night in school,” he laughs.

On Monday, he was back on the dais, but this time for the launch of a book on Indira Gandhi. And, as always, he sat straight. Clearly, 85 is just a number.

(The story was originally published in http://www.telegraphindia.com/1160529/jsp/7days/story_88194.jsp on May 29, 2016)

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  • mamun ibne hussain: dont take it negatively but we are indian and our daughters should not follow the filthiest dirtiest horrible european and american womens the w
  • Susmita Saha: Memories truly have a special place in the treasure trove called life. And your memories shine like jewels in this piece.
  • saimi: That is a lovely one Sonia.. and I can relate to so many things that you mention ...
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