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We still have time to ensure that Deve Gowda does
not mount the ramparts on August 15 next year

Mani Shankar Aiyar
All our troubles-- the impending economic collapse, the Nav Nirman agitation, the Emergency, the brutal assassination of Mujib, the hanging of Bhutto -- all were in the future, hidden behind the veil of destiny. On August 15, 1972, there was cause only for celebration. And celebrate we did, the nation did, the people did. It was an anniversary to mark and to remember.

Rajiv Gandhi I was 45 when Rajiv Gandhi decided, somewhat eccentrically, to celebrate an anniversary that normally goes unnoticed -- the 40th. Working, as I was then, in his prime minister's office, I was on the fringe of some of that celebration. The national reaction to the celebration was tinged with the cynicism and boredom which has since become our national hallmark. But it was still possible ten years ago, for at least some to want to celebrate -- and for there to be something to celebrate. Mera Bharat Mahaan provoked a few snickers -- but it something of an achievement that, ten years on, the slogan remains instantly recognisable.

Now, as joint secretary (celebrations) takes charge, what in 1987 was a fashionable pose has become the national mood. True, the nation would on August 15, 1947, have rebelled if it had then been told that the light at the end of a 50-year-long tunnel would be Deve Gowda and a hydra-headed monster called the United Front -- united in name and fractured in every other respect. Alas, if that were all, rectification would still have been possible: we still have time to ensure that Deve Gowda does not mount the ramparts on August 15 next year.

Unfortunately, the malaise runs deeper. So little is it believed that there is anything to celebrate that even the Rao government, which was in office till but the other day ( how long ago it seems!), did nothing to plan a celebration. Had they done so, Deve Gowda and his team would merely have ben required to implement a carefully-prepared plan; if three months into the year they are supposed to be celebrating, the Deve Gowda government is still floundering even a concept, that, I regret to say, has much to do with the Rao government having fallen in with the national mood of wondering what to celebrate.

Not that there was any lack of suggestions emanating from the great unwashed public. Why, I myself had written to the prime minister as long ago as 1994 suggesting that we kick off the golden jubilee celebrations with a commemoration (or even retrospective) of the March 1947 Asian Relations Conference, India's first major foray into world affairs even before Independence was formally attained.

It was one of my few letters to Narasimha Rao that remained even unacknowledged. Doubtless, his personal office had sent it into the bureaucratic labyrinth and some far-seeing foreign service cynic had wondered which Asian delegate would wish to journey to the capital of a country that was going to celebrate its golden jubilee by garnering a mere 40 votes in its bid for a seat on the Security Council.

Rabindranath Tagore Not getting a response from Rao, I had then persuaded Arjun Singh, as human resource development minister, to establish an expert group to see whether his ministry could make Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore's Vishwa Bharati at Santiniketan the focal point of his ministry's celebration of the golden jubilee.

The theme we explored was that if, during the freedom struggle, Vishwa Bharati had emerged as the well-spring of the Asian Renaissance, then what could we do in the golden jubilee to establish Vishwa Bharati as the intellectual hub of the contemporary Asian Resurgence? Arjun Singh exiled himself from the Congress before our plans had quite reached fruitition -- and hawala drove his successor, Madhavrao Scindia, beyond our reach just as we dotted the final i's and crossed the last t's.

S R Bommai, the UF's HRD minister, is, doubtless, too preoccupied with C M Ibrahim upstaging him to wake up Dev e'Yawn' Gowda and ask him to stop dropping off and start persuading the ministry of finance to release the funds required for this ambitious project.