Mr. Yardley of the New York Times – Who is the Man in this huge Portrait?

Mr. Jim Yardley of the New York Times wrote an article last week titled Obama Invokes Gandhi, Whose Ideal Eludes India . The article begins by discussing President Obama’s “fascination with Gandhi” as Mr. Yardley put it. A little later in his discussion on moral force and political realities, Mr. Yardley quotes President Obama, “But as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation,…I cannot be guided by their examples alone.”

In between these two quotes, Mr. Yardley describes Gandhi’s role in today’s India as “Gandhi remains India’s patriarch, the founding father whose face is printed on the currency, but modern India is hardly a Gandhian nation,if it ever was one.” He adds later, “Gandhi is still revered here, and credited with shaping India’s political identity as a tolerant, secular democracy. But he can sometimes seem to hover over modern India like a parent whose expectations are rarely met.”

First things first. Mahatma Gandhi is not just “still” revered. He has been revered, is revered and will be revered for a very very long time.

We remind Mr. Yardley that Buddha was an Indian, born in India, educated in India and is still revered in India after 2,300 plus years later. Personally, we think Gandhi was the greatest human being of the 20th century. He was the living example of the good, the noble side of humanity just as Adolf Hitler, the worst human being of the 20th century, was the living example of the heinous, the evil side of humanity.

But it really grates to read people like Yardley write glibly about Gandhi as India’s founding father and to read the lazy accolades heaped on him simply to make a point. Here is why we feel so. Look at the photograph by Doug Mills of the New York Times below:

             (Doug Mills/NYT photograph in a Sheryl Gay Stolberg article* in NYT on November 8)

Notice the huge portrait that dwarfs President Obama. Does Mr. Yardley know who this man is? Notice now the smaller portrait of Gandhi to the right of this large portrait. Clearly, this man must be a somebody to rate a larger and more prominent portrait than Gandhi in India’s parliament. President Obama was accompanied by a large throng of American reporters. How many of them know of this man’s achievements or even recognize him? Our guess? Virtually no one in the European-American media.

This is why we used the adjective “lazy” for Mr. Jim Yardley of the New York Times. That adjective applies to the vast majority of American journalists, we think. They do virtually no work at all to learn about even recent history of the countries they visit. They simply wing it. They use the tired cliches they have heard as a foundation of their analysis.

The man in the portrait seems to be Bal Gangadhar Tilak or better known as Lokmanya (accepted by the people as their leader) Tilak. He proclaimed “Swaraj (independence/self-rule) is my birthright, and I shall have it”. The British called him the “Father of the Indian Unrest” and Gandhi called him “The Maker of Modern India”. When Gandhi returned to India from South Africa, he found an environment ripe for his movement and a party, Indian National Congress, that was ready to be his vehicle for the next journey on the path to India’s freedom. That was Tilak’s gift to India and to Gandhi. This is why the portrait of Lokmanya Tilak is placed so prominently in the Indian Parliament.

Come to think of it, was President Obama briefed on the man in the huge portrait behind him as he addressed the Indian Parliament? We doubt it. We feel that the ignorance of American Journalists is matched and mirrored by the ignorance of the American Foreign Policy establishment. For another example, look at the photograph below.

                     (NYT photo in the Sheryl Gay Stolberg & Jim Yardley article on November 8)

Notice the emblem of Three Lions on the podium and notice the Chakra (the wheel with spokes) in the center of the Indian Flag behind the podium. These symbols are so ubiquitous that no visiting American Journalist could have missed them.  But we have never read or heard a single comment or question about these symbols from any American Journalist either during this trip or before this trip.

This is why we used the adjective “lazy” to describe Yardley’s article. These are not just ordinary symbols. Had Mr. Yardley knew what these were, he would never have written such a “lazy” article.

These are symbols of the Great Ashok , one of history’s greatest emperors, who left a lasting mark on the world. It was Ashok who converted to Buddhism and spread the message of Buddha’s non-violence to the known world from Greece to Far East Asia. So when we attribute the gospel of non-violence to Gandhi, let us not forget Buddha.  And when we remember Buddha, let us not forget Ashok.

This is not just “lazy” history, of real interest for “India hands” and some passing interest to most Americans. It is relevant to geo-politics today.

Why? Read the articles of Jim Yardley and his colleagues Sheryl Gay Stolberg, Lydia Polgreen in the New York Times. These three reporters carried the underlying theme of China in their coverage of President Obama’s trip to India. Don’t they see the China linkage staring at them in the photograph above? But why blame them? We doubt whether President Obama himself was briefed about the symbolism of the Lions and Chakra of Ashok. His advisors and the European-American Journalists come from the same cohort.

Today, the Dalai Lama is the world’s most respected Buddhist leader. Think about it. The reason the Dalai Lama is a Buddhist, the reason Tibet has been a Buddhist center for centuries, is Ashok. The symbol of Ashok was right on President Obama’s podium. Had he known, he could referred to it as a symbol of the origin of Buddhism in India,  its spread by Ashok and he could have linked it to the refuge given by India to the Dalai Lama.

In a simple human tribute to two great sons of India named Buddha & Ashok and their heritage borne today by the Dalai Lama, President Obama could have reached the entire South Eastern and Far Eastern Asia as well as the Buddhists in China. And that too without ever mentioning today’s authoritarian regime in China.

This would have been a natural thing to do. After all, President Obama was in India where ancient history is alive today and where the past meets the present in a flowing stream of human consciousness. President Obama missed this opportunity because his advisors never briefed him and because the American media was too “lazy” to do basic research.

We feel we should point the finger at Jim Yardley because he knew just enough. Read his own quote of Shekhar Gupta, the editor of Indian Express “The impression on the
Indian side is every time you meet him, he talks about Gandhi,”
said Shekhar Gupta, editor of The Indian Express, a leading English-language newspaper, adding that the repeated references struck some officials as platitudinous.””

We wish Jim Yardley had taken the words of Shekhar Gupta to heart in his own article. But that would be asking too much, wouldn’t it?

* This photo was in the original article by Sheryl Gay Stolberg in the NYT on November 8. It has disappeared from and has been replaced by another article of Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Jim Yardley. Strange, we think!

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