Saturday, August 15, 2015

Friendship is a relationship of equality: Why APJ and his ilk matters.

His whistling gets interrupted by the sound of clearing up of throat by the lady. He looks up and finds the beautiful Soviet sitting on the sofa in the other end of the hall, the golden Hammer and Sickle prominently engraved on the Red Star batch that she is wearing proudly on the collar of her suit.

The lady asks him – a bit nervously – “Who are you?”

He thinks for a few moments. Then replies – “A friend.”

In his office abutting the hall, Robert F. Kennedy, Attorney General of the United States of America, is trying to diplomatically resolve the deadlock with Anatoly Dobrinyn, Soviet Ambassador to the USA. This is the last round of diplomacy, in the event of the failure of which the two great powers of the Cold War era lead the world to nothing less than the Third World War – that too a nuclear one.

The scene is from the movie Thirteen Days and the background is the Cuban crisis, wherein the Soviets were secretly installing their nuclear missiles in the American vicinity.

The guy who is whistling in the hall is Kenny O’Donnell, Special Assistant to the American President; and although the movie does not mention the name of the lady, given the fact that she is accompanying the Soviet ambassador on a meeting as crucial as this, it may be safely assumed that she too must be an important official of her proud nation – though probably not as important as Kenny.

It is in this dark, sinister background – when an all-devastating war is lurking just around the corner – that the Special Assistant to the American President replies to a Soviet that he is a friend of hers. The same movie portrays how the Americans and the Soviets are trying to exchange Turkey and Cuba – minnows in the game – in an attempt to resolve the nuclear deadlock.  


Can there be anything more humiliating and inglorious for a people than preparing an airstrip so that the air-planes of the invading nation can successfully land in their territory?

What the Austrian national and a respected Sergeant of the Nazi forces, Heinrich Harrer, witnessed on that bright, sunny day on the ‘Rooftop of the World’ was intriguing, to say the least. Having come from a part of the world where the Second World War had just kick started and where nations were furiously baying for the blood of each other, seeing people picking up earth worms from the pit being dug for the construction of a theatre left him completely baffled. When he put up the question to His Holiness (child) Dalai Lama, he got a glimpse into the age-old ‘wisdom’ of probably the most peace-loving race on the face of the planet. His Holiness said, “Tibetans believe all living creatures were their mothers in their past life. So we must show them respect and repay their kindness and never, never harm anything that lives.”

War is something that seems to be not really wanted by the normal people and peace – much more than even love – is what the human race, deep down in its heart, strives for. When the Hindus say Shantih, Shantih, Shantih at the end of their mantras, they are essentially praying to the Ultimate Authority for the reign of peace in all the three dimensions of their human existence – physical, divine and internal.

But then, there is nothing called free lunch in this world and there is certainly price that must be paid for maintaining peace. A prudent question to ask here would probably be, “Should a race as peaceful as the Tibetans even have a right to exist as a nation?” The answer, theoretically speaking, will be a yes. But then, in order to maintain their freedom and peaceful existence, they should have had prepared well in advance – both in terms of forging international relations and in terms of acquiring a minimum warring capability.

 After the Chinese have already invaded their northern borders in the name of national integration, an extremely sad and frightful conversation takes place in the court of His Holiness in between his Regent and the erstwhile defense minister.

-          When you were defense minister to the previous Dalai Lama, then you wanted to reorganize the army. Can we do it now?
-          The People’s Liberation Army is 1,000,000 troops strong. We have 8,000 men with 50 pieces of artillery and a few hundred mortars and machine guns. The task is hopeless.”
-                Then you refuse the appointment, do you?
-                No. I accept it with honor.”

A hopeless round of diplomacy is brought into motion. The Chinese generals visit Lhasa wherein His Holiness exerts the right of Tibet to exist as an independent nation. The war continues and Lhasa falls within a matter of a few days. A rag-tag army of barely 8,000 men with 50 pieces of artillery and a few hundred mortars and machine guns proved no match to the 1,000,000 troops strong PLA. 

At a time-period in the world history, where nations after nations were shaking off the burden of colonialism and gaining independence one after another, Tibet was lost into oblivion. It paid the price of taking the preaching of Buddha too seriously and not preparing well in advance for the impending national casualties.

(Movie: Seven Years in Tibet).


One thing that history teaches us in no ambiguous terms is that friendship is a relationship of equality. Probably the last known instance of friendship among unequal partners was the one between Krishna and Sudama. And, even this comes to us from mythology and not history, and is a relationship in which the all-benevolent Lord is more powerful than his human partner.

In the impossible situation of the human being more powerful, would it still have been the same?

In spite of the Bible preaching us the wonderful idea of ‘Love Thy Neighbor,’ we humans seem to be simply incapable of following it; and the failure is certainly not only at the individual human level, but at the level of nation states as well. Both history and the current times suggest us amply that neighboring nations are seldom – if ever – good friends – Britain, France and Germany, India and Pakistan, the two Koreas, Japan and China, Brazil and Argentina, the lesser known example like Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan and likewise. If we take Easternmost Russia and Alaska, we find that even Russia and the USA are not really far off geographically and can very comfortably considered to be neighbors for that matter.


Everything is fair in love and war’ goes the famous saying. One must travel extra miles and, if the situation demands, go unconventional while preparing for wars and attempting to secure one’s territorial and geo-political interests.

Strength can be defined in two ways. One is the power to restraint yourself. Here, you are powerful and yet you desist from using your power. You power lies in controlling yourself. The other is you are not as powerful as your adversary is, but still – instead of meekly surrendering to the aggressor – you fight with all the men and material forces that you can gather. Here, the strength lies in not surrendering, come what may.

Philosophically speaking, both these kinds of strengths must be respected. But, practically speaking, it, no doubt, is always better to accumulate as much power as you can and yet restraint from using the same by keeping diplomatic options open. The above two examples certainly point to the same.

Keeping that in mind, two dates automatically become extremely important in the national history of independent India – 18th of May, 1974 and 11th and 13th of May, 1998, both connected with the successful carrying out of nuclear tests by the country and eventually entering the prestigious club of handful of nuclear-weapon-armed nations.

And this is where APJ Abdul Kalam and his ilk become extremely important for the Indian nation, which being flanked by China to her North and Pakistan to her West, is the nation that probably (and unfortunately) has the longest running hostile international borders in the world.

True that wars must be averted for as long as possible by keeping the channels for talks open and by forming international alliances, thus trying to balance the international power equations, and this is precisely what is being attempted by the coming together of India, USA, Japan and Australia in drills such as joint naval exercises.

But then, it’s ultimately a dog’s world out there, wherein everyone needs to standup for the protection of his/her own self-interests. This is what the current occupation of Ukraine’s Crimea by the Russians and forceful, illegal Chinese construction of airstrips on Spartly Islands (claimed by Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan) suggest. In both the cases, although a lot of hue and cry has been made, no real and concrete action seems to be taken by the international community. Tibet is another perfect example that fits in this picture.  

It is in this context that a minimum deterrent warring capability needs to be built up and accumulated and it is in this attempt that the nuclear tests conducted by APJ Abdul Kalam and his team of scientists on that fateful day in the summer-baked deserts of Rajasthan gain importance. This, when coupled with the successful 'Integrated Guided Missile Development Program' (IGMDP) – which has armed the nation with missiles such as Prithvi, Akash, Trishul, Nag and Agni – gives the country a respectable military position internationally, which no doubt the nation must keep indigenizing and further investing in.

As far as matters purely international are concerned, respect flows out of fear and nothing else. And hence, it becomes important that the country has poison enough in her arsenal so that she is able take care of her strategic geo-political interests on her own.


राष्ट्रकवि श्री रामधारी सिंह 'दिनकर' की कविता 'शक्ति और क्षमा' से -

क्षमा शोभती उस भुजंग को, जिसके पास गरल हो,
उसका क्या जो दंतहीन, विषरहित, विनीत, सरल हो. 

सच पूछो तो शर में ही बसती है दीप्ति विनय की,
संधिवचन सम्पूज्य उसी का जिसमें शक्ति विजय की . 

सहनशीलता, क्षमा, दया को तभी पूजता जग है,
बल का दर्प चमकता उसके पीछे जब जगमग है. 


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