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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2734

Perceiving oratory: cock-eyed or clear

By G. S. Bhargava - Syndicate Features

In an opinion piece in the Dec.31 2007 issue of The Telegraph, Kolkata’s premier English daily, the celebrated columnist, Dr Ashok V. Desai has voiced appreciation of the oratorical skills of Nehru, Winston Churchill and Hitler to run down Narendra Modi’s gift of the gab. Indians of my generation had been hearing Nehru long before his ringing ‘Tryst with Destiny’ peroration in the Constituent Assembly at the dawn of Independence at midnight on 14 August 1947. Our earliest recollection was of vignettes of his campaigning for the 1937 elections under 1935 Government of India Act. . He was on a whirlwind tour of Madras Presidency.

A Kerala friend recalls years later of what stuck in his mind of ‘a fair handsome person with a powerful wrist flaunting a large Rollex watch striding like a colossus from end to end of South Kanara district On the lighter side, in Madras, today’s Chennai, he greets the Premier, as chief ministers were then called, saying ‘ready? ’ And the other responds ‘Reddier, sir ‘

A different picture emerges of his canvassing for V.V.Giri in Bobbili. Giri was pitted against the Raja of Bobbili, the incumbent head of the Justice Party Government in the Presidency.. No road shows and photo opportunities with measly throwing of flower garlands at rented crowds for him. It was a majestic stride through the area. And in the Bobbili town, the minions of the Raja unleashed elephants to disturb Nehru’s public meeting.

As for Winston Churchill, we would be gripped by his exhortation to Britons during the dark phase of the Battle of Britain. All India Radio would repeatedly broadcast it. Hitler, honestly, I have never heard except more recently in the TV History Channel. But after the defeat of the Conservatives in the 1945 general election, I had heard Nye (Aneurin) Bevan berating the Tories as ‘worse than vermin.’

I had also the privilege of calling on Nye Bevan at his Ebbe Vale constituency in Wales during a British Council sponsored visit to the UK in 1951. Later on behalf of a shoelace organisation called the Socialist Study Centre, I was lucky to have had Nye address an overflow meeting at 18, Windsor Place, New Delhi, which was the central office of the Socialist Party. His wife, Jennie Lee, who was a junior minister in the Attlee Government, had endeared herself to the Nehru Government with her declaration that a change in the status of Jammu and Kashmir as a constituent State of the Indian Union - no doubt safeguarded by Art.370 of the Constitution - would expose the vast Muslim minority in India to mortal danger!

Within the country, Atal Behari Vajpayee, at the height of his oratorical gift, would hold his hearers spellbound His darts at the then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, softened by sweet humour, went home without hurting. For instance, once parodying the family planning slogan, hum do hamari do, he poked fun at the then Prime Minister and her two sons, Rajiv and Sanjay, It was also a hit at the burgeoning dynasty. Prakash Vir Shastri, who was with the Congress, was no less silver tongued.

Later, in the Lok Sabha the CPI leader, Indrajit Gupta, was a matchless debater. The incumbent Lok Sabha Speaker, Somnath Chatterjee, scion of the celebrated Hindu Maha Sabha leader and a High Court judge, N.C.Chatterjee, also belongs to the same league. So is Jaipal Reddy, now with the Congress. Jaipal Reddy has since been shunted out of the high profile Information and Broadcasting Ministry to the backroom Works and Housing chore. Dr. Desai could not have missed any of them, if he did not want to.

In the United States, there was John F. Kennedy, too bright to be missed, and his elder brother, Robert Bobby Kennedy, besides Dr. Martin Luther King, their fellow martyr. For instance, JFK’s imperishable ‘ask not what American can do for you, ask what you can do for America’, – is said to be scripted by John Kenneth Galbraith. After the border conflict with China in 1962, when Nehru sought US help in beefing up our air force, while letting the US force undertake ‘operation siksha’

Kennedy dispatched a high-powered delegation headed by Averrell Harriman to persuade Nehru to ‘solve the Kashmir problem’ with Pakistan. Harriman was no common place emissary but he sent Nehru to doze. When American journalists who descended on Delhi like flies on pot of honey -- said Nehru was afflicted by a serious mental illness , which could cause cerebral thrombososis, the Prime Minister laughed it away saying ‘when people talk nonsense I fall asleep!’

Then followed several rounds of ‘negotiations’ in Delhi and Rawalpindi between Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, Pakistan external affairs minister, and his Indian counterpart, Sardar Swaran Singh. Swaran Singh had perfected the art of repeating endlessly what he said. The joke about his negotiating style of ‘South Vietnam is south of North Vietnam and North Vietnam is north of South Vietnam originated then Finally, Nobel Peace prize winner, Mikhail; Gorbachev, was among the most eloquent Soviet heads of state, although his epochal political reforms of glasnost and perestroika tolled the knell of the Soviet empire and his own political career.

- Syndicate Features -

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