Bonanza or Boondoggle: A zillion dollars?

There is a sudden surge of interest on the part of India to showcase Guru Gobind Singh's birthday. All this hoopla may appear to India’s Hindutva led political leadership as a pragmatic investment to appease Sikhs and weaken their independent identity, suggests Prof I.J. Singh

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| Opinion | 5 Oct 2016 | Asia Samachar |

 

By I.J. Singh

Guru Gobind Singh’s upcoming 350th Birth Anniversary beckons us. Sikhs worldwide are and will continue to celebrate it, probably for many months. It’s good that we do.

Functions galore all over the Sikh world promise a glittering reality. Worldwide plans are afoot for never ending programs and celebrations – keertans, lectures and katha, song and dance, lighting of gurduaras, a long, long list. A worthy list of worthwhile activities!

Many of these celebratory bashes are being held in India. That’s to be expected for that’s where more than 20 million of the 25 million or so Sikhs in the world today live.

Of course, the émigré expatriate Sikhs are not going to be left behind, but in this brief note today I aim to largely bypass them. They will do some of the same or similar things but perhaps on a smaller and saner scale.

Today, my focus is on India and how the Sikhs in that country chose to showcase this momentous and historically significant life of Guru Gobind Singh.

My attention turned to this matter because I received e-mails, some general invitations and some very specific invitations to symposia on the life and legacy of Guru Gobind Singh. I found that many other friends living in the United States also received some very generous invitations to come to India and speak at the conventions.

My thoughts went to the obvious that all this must cost a bundle and then some. I naturally wondered where all the money for this expensive activity was coming from.

Hence this brief note to jog us awake.

When I asked one of my contacts in India his answer absolutely floored me. He said his small organization had been promised quite an amount over 50 crores of Rupees to host a symposium and related functions. When similar news came from a few others located elsewhere in India. I saw that this was an India-wide phenomenon in the making.

I must admit that I have no confirmation of the accuracy of these numbers but very rapidly the amount earmarked for this series of activities seemed to climb the stratosphere to a clearly unworldly reality. I heard of well over 150 crore Rupees allotted by each of the many bodies such as the provincial governments of Punjab, Bihar and some additional states to top off a similar or larger amount from the Federal government in New Delhi. Then there are Sikh institutional structures like the venerable Sikh Gurduara Parbjandhak Committee (SGPC), the Delhi Gurduara Management Committee (DGMC), and many smaller private but rich private foundations who have opened the spigot. And don’t forget the many Sikhs with pockets deeper than the government.

What is India’s Annual Budget? What is Punjab’s annual budget?

My jaw dropped.

When the year is done and people return to their normal humdrum lives would someone make an honest accounting? I wonder but I do not hope or expect such. All this hoopla may appear to India’s Hindutva led political leadership as a pragmatic investment to appease Sikhs and weaken their independent identity.

Yes, India’s middle class is growing but it still is a poor country or if that label galls you, then a developing nation will miles to before it can meet the minimum needs of its citizens.

Many Indians go hungry every night. Far too many have no access to any medical attention. How many would be grateful for a school and access to education. Could one open vocational training centers in Punjab or offer opportunities that would open doors and improve lives for a lifetime.

In so many symposia cross the nation of India what would this money produce, more than just hot air.

Couldn’t a substantial part of this outlay produce an education and job creation programs.  Say, training in vocational careers, or even hospitals and medical care facilities. Or facilities that provide clean and minimal sanitation.

Institutions that would outlast the year, even outlive the generation of today. The benefits will be for ever. It’s like teaching a man to fish rather than giving him a free fish to eat.

Lectures across India will surely produce a lot of empty rhetoric and will last just as long as the lectures themselves do if we are lucky, and not a moment beyond. All that hot air for a brief moment of glory. I would dub it a heavy price, wouldn’t you?

India’s population is among the largest in the world. If the industrial world rushes to the poor of India and use them as cheap labor for their outsize profits from outsourcing, what does it say for the need in India and the paucity of existing initiatives.

India’s annual budget based on 2015 numbers is around US$280 billion. Punjab’s annual budget is around ₹25,536 crores (INR, Indian Rupees).

Don’t forget India’s timeless and near unrivaled record of corruption, nepotism and petty chicanery. Don’t you think that a fair amount of this money set aside for a zillion dollar hoopla of symposia and talking heads would find its way into the deep pockets of these godfathers of corruption?

Could we put it to better use? Could we get a bigger bang for the buck? Why not build institutions that will impact the lives of ordinary people in education, health, work etc. so that their lives improve for generations to come and name them for Guru Gobind Singh.

Keep in mind how lovingly Guru Gobind Singh spoke of the ordinary Sikhs when he credited them for all that he had achieved, “Inhi ki kirpa te sajay hum hae(n)….”  This would be a small idea to transform the boondoggle into a bonanza for the ordinary Sikhs

A zillion dollar bonanza or a boondoggle for the ages! What do you think this is?

IJsingh-newI.J. Singh is a New York based writer and speaker on Sikhism in the Diaspora, and a Professor of Anatomy. Email: ijsingh99@gmail.com

 

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