Searching for the next Chandragupta
Photo : Mahatma Gandhi
Mahatma Gandhi did not only smile, pray and clean drains but also launched a nationwide campaign that ended British rule in India. The British rule in India was racist and exploitative. His pledge was to bring an end to this oppression. This is unlike so many of our good people who collaborate with an oppressive government, not uttering one single word of protest against its lack of policies and programmes to address the plight of the poor and dispossessed in society.
It is not enough for many of our social organisations to engage in flood reliefs after tropical storm Bret. They also need to address seriously the cancer of economic inequalities in the society in a meaningful way. However one may choose to look at it, something is fundamentally wrong in a society in which 1% of the population controls 60% of the economy. And what is even worse is that when one section of the population is drowning in flood water, there is a non-response from this most powerful group to reach out to them with a helping hand despite its boast of being in control.
Glenn Ramadharsingh, Chairman of the Siparia Regional Corporation, speaking at Woodland where Courts made donations of appliances, made an appeal for the powerful interest groups to show some mercy to south Trinidad and challenge them to come and see where Woodland, San Francique and Debe are located. These areas have been submerged in flood water for several days with many families losing their homes and most, if not all, of their possessions.
The efforts of the Maha Sabha and other community-based organizations are most commendable. Through its radio and television (Jagriti) network the Maha Sabha received donations-cash and kind- from the generous public and made available to the regional corporations in the flood-affected areas. But more than that is the courage of the Secretary General of the Maha Sabha, Sat Maharaj, to critique the performance of the PNM Government. An octogenarian, Sat Maharaj has demonstrated over the years that he is a leader.
This imbalance in the distribution of wealth is a recipe for social chaos. Such imbalance is not natural but is fuelled by some inbuilt flaw or man-made interference in the system to skew the results in favour of a few. This favoured imbalance must be addressed. It is not enough for some prominent citizens to call on corporate citizens to provide hampers to the victims of tropical storm Bret. More fundamentally, the parliament and government must ensure that there is a level playing field for all to compete freely. This provides adequate reasons why campaign financing legislations are so necessary.
Liberation theology was developed in Latin America to address the plight of the poor. Instead of supporting the effort of the “renegade” priests the Vatican distanced itself. Many priests were killed by right-wing military dictators for standing in struggle with the landless. Father Oscar Romero of San Salvador was one such priest that was assassinated in 1980 while conducting mass. His death brought the plight of the landless to the attention of the world and the collaboration of the rich with right wing military dictators to exploit the poor.
In Russia the Church is still labelled as a collaborator with the capitalist world. Acknowledging this fact, the Russian government has recently enacted legislations to restrict the Church from evangelising. Evangelists are now to restrict their religious activities to the confines of their Church. Should they wish to evangelize outside the Church they would now have to get a permit from the State to do so.
The connivance of Church with the excesses of the State was revealed by author John Cornwell in his book “Hitler’s Pope.” Cornwell made strong allegations that in Germany the Roman Catholic Church collaborated with the Nazis because the revenue offices collected the tithes from the devout and passed it on to the Vatican. Many charged that the then Pope Pius X11 was anti-Jewish and supported the extermination of the German Jews.
This corruption of the State by the Church is not confined to the West. During the Buddhist reign in north India several kingdoms were patrons of Buddhist monasteries. Because of this arrangement, much of the evils of those rulers were overlooked. With corrupt leaders having no one to account to, anyone who was critical of a ruler was either banished or imprisoned. This led to the weakening of the administration, thus opening the country to invasions by foreigners of every hue and shade.
Citizens need to speak out against rulers. This is much emphasised in the story of Hirankashipu, a demonic king that declared himself to be God and worthy of worship. The king was successful in getting his courtiers, pandits and subjects to believe him. However, his young son, Prahalad, challenged his claim and defied his authority. Such is the moral courage of a mere child that adults should emulate.
Pope John Paul played a major role in bringing the evils of Communism to a close. Polish by birth, Pope John Paul became the point man for the Catholic Church and the west’s struggles against the Soviet Union. His determination and one-pointedness contributed to the fall of the Soviet empire.
The role of the Church is not simply social services and praying. It has a duty to wield the danda (staff of correction) when the ruler is in breach of dharma. When the Greeks invaded India in 300BC, it was not the Kshatriyas (Princes) that organised the resistance but a Brahmin by the name of Chanakya. He took a goat herder, Chandragupta, and developed him into a warrior and led a resistance that resulted in the defeat and retreat of Alexander. Such is the role and duty of a Brahmin.
Our leaders need to stop retreating into their shells and step out and lead. It is not enough to distribute mattresses and bottled waters and leave the 1% to reduce this nation to fetes, eating chicken and chips and drinking beers. We are much more than that. It is time for us to unleash the Chanakya spirit in us and take control of this country in a meaningful way.
T&T is not only crying out for handouts. It also needs leadership. It is time that some of our young professionals to recognise this need and step forward to become the next Chadragupta.