Of leaders and their changing times.
Words have power to bring change but for a ‘contributing columnist’ with no large base of readers, that power is limited. Also to be a real change agent sometimes one has to dirty their own feet. So this time when I felt that the isolated and lonely man during Covid times had opened his doors to more hate and vitriol, I decided to counter that by standing for the Toronto City council.
With no money power and being new to the neighborhood from where I filed my nomination, I needed to reach out to community leaders and make bridges. Especially in a constituency where the registered voters are upwards of seventy thousand and where it may be humanly impossible to visit everyone door to door. So I decided to connect with community leaders, introduce myself and explain my agenda.
The following is a true account of my interactions with two such guardians of the community both in the religious and the political space and has made me realize of the challenges ahead. With the human mind enslaved by its perceptions and totally irresponsive to anything that may be alien even though it may be rational or logical, the time of dictatorial leaders and blind followers has truly arrived.
Having South Asian roots I thought that it would be easier to start dialogue in the community and the best way to reach out to them was through Gurudwaras, temples and mosques. So I started my initial outreach.
I introduced myself to an official in a popular neighborhood temple and my IIT pedigree and extensive experience impressed him enough to arrange for an audience with one of the temple trustees. Here I was all excited to start my political innings and meet the men who have direct connection with their believed God.
After initial introduction which was heard calmly the first and as it turned out, the only question asked was – “What do you feel about being a Hindu and Hindu dharma or faith?” Standing for the city council and not for any religious space, I was a little taken aback by the question but then I realized that I had come to a place of religion and this one needed answer.
“Hinduism is a religion which has allowed me to develop a greater understanding of mankind and enabled me to open doors to all faiths and thoughts. Personally I feel that religion is a matter of choice and should be left at that and everyone has the right to follow their own religion in the four walls of their homes or their community so long as they do not infringe on others rights. I believe that the message of all religion is about peace. For example Indonesia where I had perhaps the best time of my life connected me with Islam and made me realize how deep understanding of its true message could make its followers as peaceful, beautiful and loving souls as the locals there. They also respected Hindu traditions and values and Rama and Sita are till date a part of their heritage and homes while they simultaneously recite Quranic verses at home. All religions are equal and all people including even an atheist should have same respect in this world. Hinduism has taught me that spirituality is the true religion and that is the Hinduism that I follow.” I replied.
“Thank you very much and I wish you the best”- His response was curt and firm and his folded hands with finality in his voice made me realize that my time was up. I thanked him and was led away by the official who had brought me to him. I knew that something had gone wrong in what I had said and the words of wisdom that followed from this official thereafter shed light on their ideology and thought.
“You are a novice Devanshu and you have too much to learn. How can you meet a temple trustee and say that all religions are equal? You should have simply said that Hinduism is superior to all and that you are proud of being a Hindu and will serve to spread it in all directions?”- The official now turned into an unofficial Guru replied.
“But Sir, I actually believe that all religions are equal and that religion is a matter of individual choice?”
“It does not matter what YOU believe in. You should speak what others WANT to hear. That is if you want to become a politician and a community leader. You need to follow the community and cannot expect otherwise. You do not really know what “they” are doing and you treat them as same!!! This is unacceptable.”- The man thundered.
The very reason I wanted to join politics was to unite people and reduce this hate and hence and hence I continued. “My friend I am sure you believe in Gita and hence I would recite its very first shloka-
“Dharmashetra Kurk-kshetra samveta yuyutsavah, Mamakah Pandavashcahiva kimkurvata Sanjaya?
Meaning the blind King Dhritarashtra asks his minister Sanjay who is reciting the events of the battle field to him- Oh Sanjay after gathering in the holy and Dharma inspired field of Kurukshetra desirous of a battle, what are my sons and that of Pandu doing?
A blind king by vision is also blind enough in his mind to not realize that the sons of Pandu are also his family and that after the death of Pandu who was his brother, he had accepted the responsibility of taking care of them as his own. The blind king cannot realize that this is a futile battle. And when the King himself is blind and divisive as this, what will follow is only destruction and death.
We all are same and equal my friend and these divisions exist only in our minds”, I replied.
“Oh you don’t know anything Devanshu. Those were old times maybe 5000 or 10,000 years ago and this is a different time. ‘Those’ people were different and ‘these’ people are different. We have different enemies to fight and protect our religion from.”- The official nay modern day Guru replied with a finality. The conversation was over.
A failed politician walked away with a new lesson learnt from a place of worship of God- the true path provider of mankind. Hate had seeped into the minds of the holy and deeply entrenched inside.
I was also guided that being apolitical would not help and while in the city council elections you cannot stand as a representative of a political party; it is always a good idea to talk to various political establishments and their followers.
So I decided to look for a political entity where I could connect and whose policies and ideas matched with mine. After analysis I found a party which most suited my views and where the leader was talking about unity and inclusiveness in Canadian society.
I was given an audience with the leader of the party and we connected instantly with our shared vision of unity amongst all and working for a greater integration of visible minority in all spheres of Canadian life including the administration.
The next day the leader invited me to join the Federal Council of the party. Also as he was highly impressed by my previous speeches, articles and views he invited me to attend a town-hall meeting in a nearby city and share my views on unity and fighting discrimination to make Canada a better world.
I was all excited to meet the leader in person, to connect with people and also to share a stage to give my first political message of unity and integration. I arrived at the place and while we were waiting got into a discussion with the leader and asked him a simple question as to when we talk to people, the common man on street, how do we differentiate us and how do we ask them to join us and not stay with any of the existing federally established political parties.
“Oh but one of them in reality opposes the flow of immigrants while the other uses us as a vote bank and has not done much for us”, he replied.
“You may be right to some extent but Canadian democracy like most others is a work in progress and while they may not be perfect, there is no denying that one of those parties has contributed immensely to enable our existence and growth in Canadian society. We need to have our USP- unique selling proposition to enable us to attract people. If that be that we are a party of immigrants to target the forces of racism, so be it. But it is important to have a clear, truthful message and may I again request you to let me know clearly what is the main reason of existence of our party and how do we ask people to vote specifically for us”, I persisted as doubts still existed.
“Of if you are so much in favor of ‘that’ party, you can leave us right away and also the opportunity that I have given you of joining the Federal Council and join “that” party where you would be a nobody”- he replied coldly hiding his anger.
Here was a man who is a leader of a political party and who is there to spread the message of unity and integration and who is not ready to accept or answer a question that does not suit his interest. That too from a person whom he is inviting to join his main council!
I told him that I could do that but had decided to join his party and also come to this meeting so that we can together bring real change. I am questioning to be able to be satisfied myself and also to be better ready to answer people with whom I interact. However I could feel his anger and detachment as for a moment the mask had come out and the raw desire of seeking power came out in open.
Perhaps it was but natural that in the event that followed, even though I was invited by him to that forum to speak as a commentator and an activist fighting discrimination and hate, I was neither introduced nor called to speak in front of the audience present.
It was clear that behind the messages was a leader who well and truly believed in the principle of- “my way or highway” and for whom democracy was an aberration to be followed only in quest for power. What he actually desired were blind followers, the kind of people who exist and thrive worldwide today.
That very evening, I thanked him for inviting me to his Federal Council and declined the invitation or the membership of ‘his’ party.
So here I am. Back to where I started this journey. Without support of any religious or political guardians of our society!
Is that good or bad? Will this journey be futile? Will the man on street be able to recognize how the power mongers are utilizing them for the benefit of “their personal growth and ambitions”? I have no answers.
All I know is a message that I learnt from Steven Covey in a lecture that I had attended two decades earlier in Indonesia. He had said-
“Change is the only constant. We have heard it for long and it is true. Times change and how! This very minute it is 9:01 am in Indonesia, 10:31 am in India and 9:01 pm in New York! Just because the place has changed, this very moment the time has changed for people living in different parts of the world.
Then one minute or one day or one year later, the time would have changed in these places itself. Times would change, environment would change and people would change.
That is how the world has evolved and will continue to reshape for decades and centuries.
But if you lift the old watches or even the mechanical watches of today below the watch is the compass. And lo! In the compass, directions don’t change- North remains North, South-South and so on. This minute if you take the watch to Indonesia, India or USA, still North will remain North. The same place, one day, one year or one century later, North will still remain North and South, South. Directions don’t change.
Directions are our true guardians. Our true values which define our spirit! And North values like truth, honesty, integrity will always remain North and South values South. It is important that we build our compass with a strong base and keep it firm. Even in changing times”.
I may gain success in politics or may just stay an activist and a truth seeker. Yet I do have a compass.
I will live by my compass and what North values I stand for in this lifetime. Amen.
Posted in Times of India on 22nd May 2022. Link below-