Beware of guests
Prize and prejudice
Literature Nobel is well deserved
Every now and then along comes a writer who makes us sit up by challenging the way we see the world. While some would welcome being shaken out of their complacency, the general tendency is a disinclination to be stirred by the new and unfamiliar; to take refuge in smugness, resort to derogatory labeling or be dismissive rather than make the effort to see the reality in any other way.
No ideological lines drawn
Lahore retains its grandeur
Dr Manmohan Singh’s assertion that India will not sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is consistent with the position held by the country all along. It had come under tremendous pressure following the nuclear blasts in May 1998 but did not budge from its principled stand that the NPT was unequal and discriminatory. Its prejudices have become all the more blatant of late. India has been put through the wringer despite the fact that it has been acting responsibly and fulfilling all commitments of the treaty. In sharp contrast, Pakistan’s role in the proliferation of nuclear weapons is well documented and yet the US is wary of taking any action against it. Not only that, it has been rewarded handsomely for betraying its Taliban allies and joining the American ranks when it came to crunch. That is proof enough that the NPT is only a stick to beat those who do not fall in American line.
The Prime Minister did not mention any names but the role played by Pakistani scientists in nuclear proliferation is well known. Dr A.Q. Khan, the father of the Pakistani bomb, has exported his illegal babies to many countries like Libya. Unless such gaps are filled, it will be meaningless for India to join the NPT regime.
But that is easier said than done. Pressure has been mounted in several spheres. It is essential for New Delhi to explain the situation to the whole world, so that its firmness is not misconstrued. The UN has given a glimpse of the shape of things to come. Under Resolution 1540 passed by the Security Council recently, all states are duty bound to strengthen their domestic laws, tighten export controls and improve border monitoring against the sale, transfer and theft of weapons of mass destruction and missiles from their territories by non-state actors. Although it does not prescribe specific punitive actions, Resolution 1540 could automatically become the basis for future sanctions. It will be a test for Indian diplomacy to ensure that it does not fall victim to any witch-hunting while the real culprits go scot-free.
Beware of guests
The spate of killings by insurgents in the Northeast has brought into sharp focus the unhealthy role of Bangladesh in this ugly scenario. Leaders of the insurgent outfits operating in the Northeast have shifted to Bangladesh, particularly after the military operation against them by Bhutan. Among them are the leaders of groups like the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) and the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB). Indian intelligence agencies have photographic evidence in support of their claim that there are at least 195 training camps in Bangladesh being run by these insurgents. They get support from extremist religious organisations, some of which are believed to have links with Pakistan’s ISI. The ISI is, in fact, busy shifting terrorist training camps from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir to Bangladesh. This is definitely not in the interest of Dhaka, which wants to expand its economic relations with New Delhi.
What is, however, strange is that every time India points out the use of Bangladesh territory by the Northeast insurgents, the stock reply of Dhaka is that it has no knowledge of such elements. Bangladesh also refuses to accept the idea of joint anti-insurgency operations. India’s efforts for an extradition treaty have not been successful so far. Such an arrangement could have helped India in getting the trouble-makers arrested. Bangladesh too could have saved itself from becoming a new haven for the insurgents. These elements pose a serious threat to the socio-political stability of that country, though the rulers there do not realise the problem at this stage.
Bangladesh should cooperate with India, at least in view of the declarations adopted at various South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) meetings, calling for a joint fight against the terrorist menace. It should learn from the bad experience of the countries that chose to give shelter to the monster.
Prize and prejudice
Every now and then along comes a writer who makes us sit up by challenging the way we see the world. While some would welcome being shaken out of their complacency, the general tendency is a disinclination to be stirred by the new and unfamiliar; to take refuge in smugness, resort to derogatory labeling or be dismissive rather than make the effort to see the reality in any other way. Nothing illustrates this better than the initial reactions to the well-known Austrian novelist, poet and playwright Elfriede Jelinek being awarded this year's Nobel Prize for Literature. The Swedish Academy's commendable choice has been greeted with less than two cheers, if not a sneer as well. Only because the choice of the writer and her works do not conform to the predilections of the Anglo-American elite, that has set itself up as the arbiter of taste and values. The strength and appeal of Jelinek is precisely that — being cast in a different mould, defying categorisation and at the same time causing discomfiture to the establishment — be it literary or political.
Inevitably, but unfortunately nevertheless, the less literate - who are best acquainted with her The Piano Teacher and that too because it was an acclaimed film — have sought to smear her as a 'pornographer'. Sexuality, or in the case of Jelinek, female sexuality, being the theme of her works does not justify such a tag. Sexuality is merely a template for her searing analyses of power, violence and brutality in the prevalent order and society. True, she is controversial. So would anyone be who challenges conventional and conditioned thinking.
In selecting her, the Swedish Academy has redeemed itself. Unlike many of her peers who are feted and awarded in the Western world, Jelinik has been sharply critical of the US invasion of Iraq, which, incidentally, may explain the burst of prejudices against her.
No ideological lines drawn
WHICH has a greater bearing on the forthcoming Maharashtra Assembly elections — Mr Bal Thackeray’s beard or the Shiv Sena’s ideological baggage? By all accounts thus far, the answer is unmistakable: the former. This may sound frivolously facetious, but it is a serious comment on the character of the country’s first major political contest after the last Lok Sabha polls.
The two major alliances supposed to be locked in a titanic struggle — the Congress-NCP camp and its Shiv Sena-BJP counter — have both come out with joint manifestos. This, in theory, should have meant a drawing of clear ideological lines on identified issues. It has, in fact, meant quite the opposite. To a Martian visitor, the manifestos would make no sense at all as political statements of contending parties.
Both promise free power to farmers, both dodge the Vidarbha issue, and both speak of a Shivaji memorial. If there are differences on important issues, neither of the documents divulges them. Both are silent on issues that are supposed to divide them. The silence is eloquent, especially on the issues of so-called “Hindutva”. It is even more so on the Shiv Sena’s own issues that combine religious chauvinism with the regional variety.
The two camps are silent on these issues in different ways and for different tactical reasons. It is not as if neither of them was going to raise these issues. One of them was already raising them and going to raise them, away from its manifesto. It is the Congress-NCP alliance that has betrayed an unconcealed anxiety to keep them away from the entire election campaign, except perhaps in pockets of minority predominance. The alliance has adopted a tactical line of least resistance to what, far from elections, it denounces as fascism deserving of a mortal combat.
The “saffron” duo would seem to have two reasons for its two-track electoral diplomacy. In the first place, it wants no encounter with the Election Commission. Mr Thackeray himself has made a public promise to comply with the EC’s directive to keep religious issues out of the campaign (though he has also, in all innocence, asked: “Is Ayodhya a religious issue or not? Can someone tell me?”). The coyness about some of the Shiv Sena causes, especially regional-chauvinist ones like Mee Mumbaikar and virulent opposition to the idea of a Vidarbha State, is also the outcome of its alliance with the BJP that has to keep up its all-India appearances.
Neither of these reasons applies to the other side. The Congress and the NCP are not going to fall foul of the EC by taking up a campaign against communalism. On these issues, they have revealed no differences that should restrain such a campaign. Not after Mr Sharad Pawar’s somersaults have disposed of the once allegedly fundamental differences on the issue of “foreign origin”. What restrains the tricolour team is what restrained the Congress campaigns in the last Assembly and Lok Sabha elections in Gujarat.
What holds the alliance back is the fear of alienating communalised constituencies. Little wonder, no one from the alliance has answered Mr Thackeray’s question. No one has told him and, through him, the voters that Ayodhya is not indeed a religious issue, but one of pseudo-religious politics. The Congress is certainly not going to draft Mr Mani Shankar Aiyar, who once called it a “real-estate issue”, for the campaign. The party can only disown this as the Petroleum Minister’s “personal view” like his recent clanger of closer relevance on Veer Savarkar. The alliance, in other words, will avoid a frontal clash with the “Chhatrapati” of today’s Maharashtra as the Congress did with the “Chhote Sardar” of Gujarat.
Little wonder, again, that the rebellions in both the camps and inside all the four parties have acquired almost the same relevance as the main contest for Maharashtra. The contest between the two alliances, to look at it another way, appears not very different from the issueless conflicts between the official and rebel candidates of the same party.
The media coverage of the Mahabharata in Maharashtra, too, mirrors this situation. Because the contending camps do not talk about these issues, much of the media also does not. Reading newspaper reports and watching television coverage, you would hardly imagine that the elections involve ideological issues of the haziest import. Rebellions, caste politics, and personality factors — a combination of these would seem to hold the key in constituencies across the State. The media is not even asking the contenders for their views on subjects of larger social concern.
A striking illustration is the way the war of succession in the Shiv Sena is presented to public view. The rival claimants to Mr Thackeray’s throne — his son Uddhav Thackeray and nephew Raj Thackeray — have both faced barrages of questions from interviewers. No one, however, has asked either of them where he stood, for instance, on declaring a cut-off date for Mumbai citizenship. Or on deporting alleged Bangladeshis or beating up Bihari applicants for railway jobs. Or queering the pitch for India-Pakistan cricket or censoring out India-Pakistan films and even pure-Indian cinema of impermissible themes. And a host of similar other queries on issues closer to the Shiv Sena’s heart than free power or non-returnable loans to farmers.
The scene is distinctly reminiscent of the days of the last Lok Sabha contest. Then, too, we were told that the BJP had decided to stop campaigning on divisive issues and start doing so on “developmental” ones. Later, it came to light that, even while big leaders were talking about “bijli, pani aur sadak”, common party cadre concentrated on communal issues, like the Bhoj Shala dispute in Madhya Pradesh and the conversions scare in Chhattisgarh, for just two examples.
Even then, after the defeat of the National Democratic Alliance in the elections, Mr Thackeray went public with his opinion that the BJP’s soft-pedalling of “Hindutva” was responsible for the result. The bland Shiv Sena-BJP manifesto cannot, and does not, mean that the alliance has gone miraculously “developmental” at the grassroots.
The two parties and the rest of the “parivar”, in fact, have been on the communal offensive for quite some time in “mohallas” away from cameras of the high-profile media. Ear-to-the-ground accounts say that the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance has resolved, actually, to step up this offensive in order to win the support of North Indians alienated by the Mee Mumbaikar movement. The Bajrang Dal has chosen this time to start a Statewide campaign against cow slaughter (besides one against picture of Hindu deities and symbols on the covers of audio — and video-cassettes). The Vishwa Hindu Parishad is distributing “trishuls” (tridents) and booklets asking Hindus to give the Babri Masjid treatment to the Afzal Khan tomb. This is an indicative, not an exhaustive, list.
There is, obviously, more at stake in the Maharashtra elections than Mr. Thackeray’s beard, which he has reportedly vowed to shave off only if his alliance wins. We have not been told what will happen to it, if the results spell a hung Assembly as predicted by an opinion poll. The more important question, however, is what the verdict will be on issues the manifestos do not
I really rue the day, two years ago, on which I sold my old “Fiat” or, to be precise, Premier Padmini. Here I am in Chandigarh, where the most prized car — even among thieves — is the Padmini. The car would have fetched more as scrap than as a vehicle on the road; and to remember that I had sold it for a mere Rs 4500 to the neighbourhood mechanic in Delhi just 10 months ago, gives me sleepless nights.
To know that I could have sold it for more, or better still, left it to be stolen and claimed the insurance, is a thought that never ceases to nag me; even more than the wife. She nagged me to buy it, then to keep it after I “upgraded” to a Fiat Palio (not dictated by any loyalty to things Italian) and, finally, to sell what had become a “liability”. Pliant hubby that I am, I did as I was bid, at every stage; and, I am the one who’s expected to bring home the moolah.
The Padmini car thieves in Chandigarh are superior artists — the gang is said to have made a fine art of stealing only cars of this make. My wife — a gold medallist in fine arts — ought to have known better than to enforce a fiat about selling the car when I could have held on to it for a while longer and made a killing on the scrap. It weighed a lot more than the Dew Mobile - which can be acquired simply by guessing its weight. My Padmini was certainly worth its weight, if not in gold, certainly in scrap.
But, I am reminded, keeping the Padmini would have been a costly affair. Like the family dog that needs to be taken for a walk for staying in shape, the Padmini, unlike today’s fancy cars — needs to be taken for a drive to be in running condition. Who should do this — she or me? — was a regular weekend debate. A kindly neighbour gave us a break after his Maruti was stolen. But he soon got a new car and we were back to our weekend arguments; that she had two weekly off days and I only one, didn’t clinch the matter — she had chores enough for two days, or so she said.
So, every few weeks, when one of us decided to take the car for a drive, Padmini would grunt, snort, growl, hiss, splutter and splatter; but start or go she wouldn’t. Finally, the mechanic would be called and after he had pocketed a tidy sum, the car would start. I have paid more to fiddling mechanics in two years of keeping the scrap than I got for it eventually.
I console myself that I may have lost out in selling a 1981 Fiat for Rs 4500 but I did better in selling a 1978 motorbike for the same amount around the same time. You win some you lose some. But sleep still eludes
The theme song of the moment in Maharashtra’s assembly poll, scheduled for October 13, is the shrill notes of despair emanating from the camps of the challenger and the defender alike. The five-year stay in political wilderness has made the Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party combine lean, mean and hungry.
And it is pulling no punches. Malnutrition deaths in Maharashtra, the state’s galloping debt, farmers’ suicides and even communal riots in the past five years are proving to be good at assault and battery.
And where these don’t work, bare knuckles and broken bottles are good substitutes. The Shiv Sena unleashed its roughnecks on party veterans who stepped out of the party line to contest the elections against the wishes of Supremo Bal Thackeray. It didn’t always work, but the message is now out that the saffron siblings are pulling out all stops for a mid-month victory march.
On the defensive but riding the momentum of victory from last May’s Lok Sabha elections, the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party combine is throwing in everything to retain Maharashtra.
The alliance’s old warhorses, Indira and Rajiv Gandhi, have returned to canvass for votes. “Help us complete their dream,” scream large advertisements and banners. The government is also trying to turn electricity bills for farmers into direct mailers for the ruling alliance. Having waived electricity bills to farmers in the drought-prone areas, the government is banking on a zero bill to each family before the polling day to win over agriculturists.
It is still unclear which of the two combinations will strike it lucky when the electronic voting machines tote up the votes. The bravado normally tagged to politicians riding in for battle is missing. The pompous declamations of imminent victory have long given way to fears of defeat from self-inflicted wounds.
“There is a problem with rebels. A handful dishonest people in our ranks are causing us concern, but there are more rebels on the other side,” says Pramod Mahajan BJP General Secretary in charge of Maharashtra.
Abandoning his hi-tech campaign after the disastrous Lok Sabha poll, Mahajan has been busy burning rubber in the hinterland, working the BJP’s rural network.
Scores of activists have broken ranks with the BJP and the Shiv Sena to unfurl their independent standards of rebellion. “The Gujaratis are feeling hurt after I was denied the ticket,” says Hemendra Mehta, BJP MLA from Borivli in suburban Mumbai, who is contesting as an independent. Mehta, who is blaming former Petroleum Minister Ram Naik for denying him the ticket, has scores of party workers unofficially moonlighting for him. “Most are hedging their bets since the BJP candidate, Gopal Shetty, is also equally strong as Mehta,” says an observer here.
Even the once disciplined Shiv Sena has similar tales to tell. Ramesh Prabhoo, a former personal physician to Bal Thackeray is contesting as an independent from Vile Parle after being denied the ticket. Prabhoo enjoys considerable goodwill among hardline Hindu voters in the area since he was disqualified from contesting elections for six years after being convicted of appealing to religious sentiments in 1991.
Bhaskar Jadhav in the lush Konkan on Mumbai’s outskirts formed his own Bhaskar Sena and walked away with hundreds of party workers.
However, outgoing Shiv Sena MLA from Opera House in Central Mumbai wasn’t so lucky. He backed off when party workers attacked his office. But he is surely working to defeat the Shiv Sena candidate in his turf, say sources.
The saffron parties can take solace from the fact that the Congress-NCP-Republican Party of India alliance are facing more rebels. Reports say party leaders have identified rebels in more than 170 constituencies, giving sleepless nights to most of their contestants. Most of the rebels had contested the 1999 elections when the Congress and the NCP fought the poll separately. Rather than crack down on the rebels, the Congress-NCP publicly sacked a few and insisted that the rebellion was crushed.
A large number of the rebels are now riding the Bahujan Samaj Party’s elephant especially in the regions of Vidarbha and Marathwada. Mayawati has clearly worked out the caste equations in every constituency in choosing the party’s candidates. Flush with cash, the BSP’s latest mascots are drawn from every caste. Apart from Dalits, the powerful Marathas and even a Brahmin find representation.
“We expect each candidate to bring in 8,000 to 12,000 votes from his caste group and a similar amount through the party network,” says a BSP leader. Mayawati, is however, banking on major upsets in Vidarbha, where 23 per cent of the population is Dalit. In the May Lok Sabha elections 11 of the 12 Congress-NCP candidates lost by small margins after the BSP cut into their votes. “We hope to bag 35-40 seats in the assembly poll,” BSP Maharashtra chief Vilas Garud had said a few weeks ago.
The Congress Party, which considers Vidarbha its bastion, is now making last-ditch efforts to regain its home turf. In the first phase of her campaigning in Maharashtra Sonia Gandhi concentrated mostly on this region. Four of her five meetings were held in the tribal areas of Paoni, Gadchiroli, Dhamangoan and Amravati bordering Andhra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.
The Congress and the NCP abandoned efforts to woo Mayawati after Ramdas Athawale threatened to pull out his faction of the RPI from the alliance. Athawale has now convinced five other factions of the RPI to arrive at an understanding to prevent being trampled by the BSP.
The secular combine is now busy working the leaders of the Muslim community to ensure that the Samajwadi Party does not split the community’s vote. The SP is contesting 95 seats, all with substantial Muslim population.
With even the bookies hedging their bets on either political grouping garnering an absolute majority on its own, politicians are examining their options in the post-poll scenario. “We are open to doing business with rebels depending on their degree of rebellion,” a Congress party office-bearer was heard saying.
Lahore retains its grandeur
Recently, I got an invitation to accompany Mr O.P. Chautala, Chief Minister of Haryana, to visit Sodhara village in Gujranwala district where Bhai Kanhaiya, a disciple of Guru Gobind Singh, was born about 325 years ago.
Many have read about Florence Nightingale (1820-1910), who nursed the sick and wounded soldiers during the Crimean War in 1854-56. Bhai Kanhaiya, some 150 years ago, had served the wounded and dying soldiers with water regardless of their religion.
I got an opportunity to visit the interior of four districts — Shekhupura, Gujranwala, Sialkot and Kasur. I was mesmerised to see lush-green fields and well-maintained roads. People have forgotten the trauma of Partition and their wounds have healed. Now they sincerely desire for exchange of art and culture, reciprocation of friendship and love.
People have a deep-rooted love for the Punjabi language. The Government of Pakistan had deliberately suppressed their aspirations. There was even a ban on speaking Punjabi in Parliament or an assembly. Now the situation has changed and Punjabi is flourishing. Punjabi fiction writing is in progress. There is a separate Punjabi TV channel.
“Haryana, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Pakistan have a common heritage,” observed Mr Chautala, adding that “our boundaries might change, but not culture.”
Lahore still maintains its pristine beauty and grandeur. It has a population of about 70-80 lakh. The old city has kept itself intact with the old lanes and houses. The 200-year-old Fakir Khana, the house of Fakir Azizuddin who was the Foreign Minister of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, is still the same.
There was hardly any visible facelift. The old and solemn look of the city has been maintained. Delhi has undergone a complete metamorphosis, losing its old and magnificent features.
Hindus and Sikhs had left Pakistan half a centenary ago but they can still trace their old addresses. All the gates of the old walled city are well preserved.
The Lahore Fort has been renovated. Maharaja Ranjit Singh, during his 50-year rule, did not construct any palace for himself and he lived in the fort throughout. The Pakistan Government has established Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s Museum displaying his belongings. The mausoleum of Maharaja Ranjit Singh is situated just opposite Gurdwara Dera Sahib, which is well maintained.
Food Bazar is a place of tourist attraction in Lahore. Tables are arranged in the middle of the road. People visit the place to enjoy Punjabi cuisines. There are no over-bridges on any road. The canals are well-kept, illuminated with colourful lights and fountains. There are many gardens. Greenery is everywhere as far as the eyes can see. The Shalimar Bagh and Bagh-e-Jinnah spread their soothing fragrance all around.
I also visited the mazaar of Syed Waris Shah, the famous Punjabi Sufi poet whose “Heer” is hummed even today both in India and Pakistan. A group of singers presented the Heer in a characteristic style.
I also paid my obeisance at Nankana Sahib. About 40 Sikh families live there. The gurdwara is well maintained, but much more is required to be done to enhance the grandeur befitting its sanctity and importance. I had suggested to the Chief Minister of Punjab, Mr Pervez Elahi, to constitute an advisory committee of Sikhs to look after the gurdwaras. It is the duty of the Pakistan Government to preserve the Sikh shrines as it has been done in case of Taxila, Mohinjodaro and Harappa. It will boost tourism.
All Vedic evidence affirms the Supreme Personality of Godhead to be the final concept of the Absolute Truth. Realisation of the Supreme Person is higher than impersonal Brahman realisation or localised Supersoul realisation. — Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu Humility is the foundation of the Jain faith. The practice of self-restraint and austerity should make one humble and modest. To a person who is not humble, righteousness and austerity are of no avail. — Lord Mahavir Merit lies only in serving God. All other service, cunningness and feigned goodness are of no avail. Hold, therefore, to his name; that alone will free you from your shackles. — Guru Nanak Personal God is as much an entity for Himself as we are for ourselves, and no more. God can also be seen as a form, just as we are seen. As men we must have God; as Gods, we need none. That is why Sri Ramakrishna constantly saw the Divine Mother ever present with him, more real than any other thing around him; but in Samadhi all went but the Self. — Swami Vivekananda Fame is a vapour; popularity an accident; riches take wings; the only certainty is oblivion. — Horace Greeley
— Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu
Humility is the foundation of the Jain faith. The practice of self-restraint and austerity should make one humble and modest. To a person who is not humble, righteousness and austerity are of no avail.
— Lord Mahavir
Merit lies only in serving God. All other service, cunningness and feigned goodness are of no avail. Hold, therefore, to his name; that alone will free you from your shackles.
— Guru Nanak
Personal God is as much an entity for Himself as we are for ourselves, and no more. God can also be seen as a form, just as we are seen. As men we must have God; as Gods, we need none. That is why Sri Ramakrishna constantly saw the Divine Mother ever present with him, more real than any other thing around him; but in Samadhi all went but the Self.
— Swami Vivekananda
Fame is a vapour; popularity an accident; riches take wings; the only certainty is oblivion.
— Horace Greeley