Sunday, February 6, 2000,
Chandigarh, India


E D I T O R I A L   P A G E


Wanted a minimum national agenda
STANDING at the doorstep of the next millennium, the question uppermost in our minds should be the one already posed by Dr Abdul Kalam, then Scientific Adviser to the Ministry of Defence, in his address on the occasion of the 117th anniversary of The Tribune.

Palkhivala lists failures, “but all is not lost”
WE started out with high hopes and dreams to fulfil our tryst with destiny more than half a century ago. Many are the reasons why we have not gone along this path and become the prosperous economy and world power, that was our potential.

Applying brakes on fundamentalism
WE are stepping into the next century and also the next millennium. It is time we took stock of our actions. Have we measured up to our ideals? Is there something we can justly be proud of? Have we chartered our course with exemplary record?


Setting Ganga on “Fire”
VERY few have seen or read Deepa Mehta’s script, which put the Ganga on fire at Varanasi, except a handful of officers concerned in the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting who cleared the script for shooting of the film “Water”.


An irony of history?
The fact that he is the first ever genuine non-Congress Prime Minister (all his predecessors had an umbilical link with the Congress or had been part of that culture at some stage) notwithstanding, Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee’s penchant for being seen in the Jawaharlal Nehru mould also has an ironical twist.


Soft to softer
SOMETIMES I think we are not only a soft state but also fast becoming a soft-headed state. Looking at the torrent of trivia that floods our television screens and our flashy magazines and Sunday supplements in full colour, I wonder what kind of new generation we are trying to bring up for the new century and the new millennium.

75 years ago

British Raj in India
IN reviewing Professor Rushbrook William’s “India in 1923-24”, the Manchester Guardian makes an observation regarding the future of British Raj in India which Britishers both in India and in England might do worse than seriously ponder over.Top


Wanted a minimum national agenda
Need to build inner strength
by P. H. Vaishnav

STANDING at the doorstep of the next millennium, the question uppermost in our minds should be the one already posed by Dr Abdul Kalam, then Scientific Adviser to the Ministry of Defence, in his address on the occasion of the 117th anniversary of The Tribune. When shall we emerge out of our status as a “developing country” (a euphemism for an under-developed country) and join the ranks of developed nations?

We were born into independence as a handicapped country. The colonial rule had told heavily on every aspect of our national life — an impoverished agriculture, undeveloped water resources, a patchy and sparse development of low technology industry, a poor infrastructure and gross neglect of all sectors of human resource development. The great depression of the thirties, followed by inflation, black market and a total lack of renewal of the war-worn economy in the forties, compounded by the burden of partition, crippled us further.

Our large, poverty-stricken population went on becoming larger as one kind of Malthusian check on its growth disappeared with improved longevity while the other Malthusian check, the wealth check, is far away even today. This poverty-stricken population has been a formidable constraint on our economic growth in two ways. A very low effective demand limits economic growth, but the mounting needs of this poor population outrun our resources. The drag of tradition creates resistance to change, while the unevolved institutions of democracy inherited from the British make a representative government difficult to operate. We thus started not only with serious socio-economic handicaps but also with weak political institutions and traditions, even as these were better than those in many other countries.

No less difficult was the global environment in the midst of a bitter and unending cold war. Obsessed with anti-communism, the American block was pressurising the newly independent countries to join their network of military alliances. Pakistan, which aligned itself militarily with them, became their frontline ally. In return for this, the Western powers kept alive the Kashmir problem against us and armed Pakistan to the teeth and yet wanted us to believe that this was not meant against us. The emergence of China was fraught with the danger of confrontation over Tibet and the territorial claims. Potentially thus, we had challenges both on our Eastern and Western flanks.

It was in this setting that Nehru adopted a policy of non-alignment so as to avoid the tensions and resource-squeeze of the cold war. Peace with Pakistan and China without yielding on Kashmir or the Chinese territorial claims ensured that till 1962, we did not allow any major diversion of resources from development to defence. Towards our smaller neighbours, Nehru’s policy was to avoid interference in their internal affairs. In his domestic policy, Nehru ruled by consent, kept the polity firmly wedded to representative government, nurtured democratic institutions and tried to write down the secular principle in the mass mind. To pull the country out of its under-development, Nehru adopted “democratic socialism”, the ingredients of which were a mixed economy, allowing scope for private enterprise but reserving the dominant role to the Government and the public sector for raising resources and directing them into investment. All this meant controls and regulations and a policy of heavy taxation. The aim was self-reliance through industrial and technological strength that would by and by provide us also with the sinews of defence.

It is easy to criticise both non-alignment and democratic socialism. Those for a strong line against China and Pakistan have called our policies weak. Those for a flexible approach to Pakistan and China have called us obdurate. With our experience of both the countries right up to Kargil, there is no scope for any illusion. The US-China-Pakistan axis explains our defence burden of the present magnitude and is an external constraint, not a sign of something “wrong with us”.

Democratic socialism too has been held responsible for black money, misdirected and wasteful investment, the burden of subsidies that favoured the rich and above all an ideology that itself was a heavy drag on development. Without denying this serious fall-out of democratic socialism, let us not forget that Pakistan, the model par excellence of free enterprise, is worse off in all respects than us.

Our leadership and its functioning up to 1966 saw us well along the way to economic development and an environment of peace that kept us out of the armament race and set us on the democratic path which in turn created widespread popular awareness and a conviction in favour of representative democracy that has stayed with us.

Where then have things gone wrong? In the post Nehru-Shastri era, it is the static nature of India’s power structure that brought us to this pass. Inevitably, with the passage of time, the highly respected leadership thrown up by the freedom struggle disappeared. Nurture of new leadership in the Congress Party was neglected even in Nehru’s time, while the growing middle class was attracted to the security and prestige of government service or the rewards of the professions. A vacuum was thus emerging perceptibly, and the pathetic incapacity of the Left for fresh and pragmatic thought marginalised them.

It is in this background that Mrs Gandhi’s long tenure saw an accentuation of the side-effects of socialism. Black money and corruption resulting from the distortions of development contributed to a distorted electoral process. A parallel economy flourished even as tax amnesties were declared. Parasitism and unaccountability increased as the power structure became entrenched and yet without being a stakeholder in the success of the system. Technological stagnation set in on account of lack of competition. The biggest tragedy was that the formidable consensus, which Mrs Gandhi developed in 1971, was dissipated. The power game climaxed into the manipulation of the Constitution and the imposition of the Emergency for sustaining personal power. This was followed by the recruitment of virtual dropouts into the Congress. Other parties forming the power structure have been no better.

No less tragic was the dissipation of the consensus, which stood behind Rajiv Gandhi. Both in 1971 and 1984, we refused to acknowledge the need for a drastic revision of our restrictive policies. In 1992, when we changed under the duress of a crisis, our measures were reactive, halting and, in any case, belated. Meanwhile, the Chinese were able to devise a pragmatic combination of tight political control and economic liberalisation, were able to deal with multinationals from a position of strength, got America on their side from 1972 and accomplished a smooth transition. It is to be hoped that the slogan of liberalisation and globalisation does not drive us to the other extreme of surrender to American domination. Here also we need to learn from the Chinese pragmatism and resoluteness.

So we again come back to the need for building up our internal strength. Self-reliance from now on is the capacity to export enough so as to be able to support the required import of goods and technology. Liberalisation must bring higher technology and quality and not merely financial capital. We know what is keeping us back in achieving this and what is necessary for leading us out. The agenda is clear; population control, fighting corruption, criminalisation and paid floor crossing, rapid development of education and health sectors, the shedding of the Sovereign’s involvement in trade and industry and excess manpower, creating a milieu in which effort and enterprise are rewarded and wealth allowed to be earned and enjoyed and putting purchasing power in the hands of the rural and urban poor so that effective demand is stimulated and acts as a spur to development. This should also be accompanied by the overdue transfer of power to local democratic institutions.

We need to keep at the back of our minds the need for fighting the respectability, and fresh lease given to caste by amoral politicians. It is too soon to attempt it but the Left, the Congress and the NDA must agree to avoid surrendering to a perverse concept of “backwardism” in perpetuity.

All this is a tall order but if the main parties agree to a Common Minimum National Programme, this agenda is achievable.

The writer, a former Chief Secretary, Government of Punjab, is a well-known thinker.Top


Palkhivala lists failures, “but all is not lost”
by N. A. Palkhivala

WE started out with high hopes and dreams to fulfil our tryst with destiny more than half a century ago. Many are the reasons why we have not gone along this path and become the prosperous economy and world power, that was our potential. To list a few:

ĜMany years of obsession with a brand of socialism which did not create wealth but only distributed poverty.

ĜA singular lack of statesmen with a broad, unbiased vision;

ĜCorruption that is all pervasive: ‘Yatha Raja, Tatha Praja’;

ĜAn exponential rise in the country’s population which has effectively negated advance;

ĜGrinding poverty of far too many millions which could be alleviated if we had the political will to take unpopular, hard decisions;

ĜA legal system which is misused in a manner that has clogged the entire machinery making justice so delayed, that it is virtually denied;

ĜConstant tinkering with laws and the Constitution to promote momentary gains of political parties;

ĜA punitive system of taxation which rewards the evader and punishes the honest tax payer;

ĜFailure to make available to the masses, the fundamental right to education;

ĜAdherence to age-old systems of discrimination and divide such as the caste system, exploitation of children and fundamentalism;

ĜThe irreversible damage we have done to our environment; we have not inherited the earth from our ancestors, we have borrowed it from our children.

But all is not bleak — we have worked the machinery of democracy (we are the world’s largest) with singular success – notwithstanding the few aberrations and attempts to undermine it. We have opened our doors to the winds of competition, economic liberalisation, and our taxation system which still needs much simplification and rationalisation, is at least at levels which are no longer expropriatory. Our laws also are slowly being reformed to meet global challenges. Gradually there is a realisation that education is not only a key factor in economic advancement, but an effective method of controlling population and the precursor to creating wealth. Witness how millions from India have migrated abroad to enrich their adopted countries.

So, let us move ahead on this path, with people of character, vision and altruism in command of our country’s destiny, whose concern for India, its millions and their advancement is the only criterion. We have so many examples to follow and not to follow – we need only to make the right choice. This alone will be our salvation for the next millennium. The time and the place always find the man – we will find ours.

The writer is a famous jurist and an eminent thinker.Top


Applying brakes on fundamentalism
Secular base has to be strengthened
by Asghar Ali Engineer

WE are stepping into the next century and also the next millennium. It is time we took stock of our actions. Have we measured up to our ideals? Is there something we can justly be proud of? Have we chartered our course with exemplary record? Can we say we have done everything possible to fulfil our aspirations? Or there is all-round failure and we have acted contrary to our ideals! Well, there are various areas of national life one can discuss. In certain areas our record may be worthwhile and in some areas it may not be so and yet in some other areas it may be something to be ashamed of.

I feel that we can justly take pride in the fact that unlike many other nations, particularly in our neighbourhood, we have had a functioning democracy in the post-independence period except the small spell of Emergency from 1975 to 1977. Many countries in Asia and Africa either could not sustain democracy or went through various periods of military dictatorship. Also, we could be justly proud that despite partitioning of our country apparently on the basis of religion, we decided to stay secular though we have often failed, and failed seriously in measuring up to the ideal of secularism in practice. A religious fanatic assassinated Mahatma Gandhi, an apostle of non-violence and secularism, soon after independence. This is a matter of great shame that will be difficult to wipe out.

We can also be justly proud of the fact that we have been a pluralist society and it has been our proud heritage. We have always believed in composite culture and it has been the very meaning of our secularism to strengthen and promote our diversity, our pluralism and our composite culture. The founding fathers of our nation like Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and Baba Saheb Ambedkar always talked of unity and diversity. They knew we had inherited a bewildering diversity and our unity was possible only in diversity and they proved very right. Our unity was imperilled whenever an attempt was made to weaken diversity. While many other nations, including those in the west, have learnt to live with pluralism and diversity, it is no new development for us as a nation. The very foundation of our nationhood has been this diversity. In fact while in the west the concept of nationhood was based on unity and homogeneity of language and religion, the foundation of our nationhood has been on diversity, both of religion and language.

But what makes us feel ashamed is the fact that in the eighties in particular a concerted attempt was made to weaken this unity in diversity by putting a question mark on our concept of secularism and dubbing it an alien western notion. It was also described as ‘pseudo secularism’ favouring only the minorities, particularly the Muslims. Such propaganda not only seriously weakened our national unity but also caused a great deal of bloodshed in the form of communal riots. The decade of the eighties has been notorious for major communal riots in which thousands of innocent citizens were killed and women were raped. The final act of shame was the demolition of the Babri Masjid on 6th December, 1992 followed by the worst communal bloodshed in Bombay which shook not only India but also the whole world. It brought shame to India.

The anti-Sikh riots of November, 1984, which followed the assassination of Mrs Indira Gandhi by her Sikh security guard has been another blot on the fair name of India. About 4000 Sikhs died in Delhi alone. Several hundred Sikhs died in U.P. and other states. The Golden Temple and its sanctum sanctorum, Har Mandir Saheb, was attacked by the Indian Army which injured the Sikh psyche. Though the attack cannot be compared with the demolition of Babri Masjid by the Sangh Parivar, it was, nevertheless, a very serious act of sacrilege of a Sikh shrine. It will be seen that even the Sikh minority came under attack.

The reversal of the Supreme Court judgement in the Shah Bano case through a parliamentary legislation depriving Muslim women of their right to maintenance was also a blot on Indian secularism. The Muslim leaders launched an aggressive movement against the Supreme Court judgement compelling the Rajiv Gandhi Government to undo the judgement by passing the Muslim Women’s Bill. The Indian secularism, which protects and promotes pluralism, also works for empowerment of women who have been suffering greatly under the patriarchal society. Muslim women have their own disabilities under the Muslim personal law as it operates today in India and the Women’s Bill further weakened their position. There is a strong case for reforming the Muslim personal law so as to remove these disabilities. The Muslim Women’s Bill proved to be a measure of counter-reformation.

Towards the end of this century now Christians have come under attack. In December, 1998, on the eve of Christmas several churches in the tribal area of Dangs were attacked by organisations like the Hindu Jagran Manch, Vishwa Hindu Parishad etc. Also , in Rajkot copies of the Bible were burnt. Not only that, an Australian missionary was set ablaze in Orissa along with his two young children while sleeping. The missionary, Fr. Graham Staines, was working among the leprosy affected tribals in a remote village of Orissa. He was accused of converting tribals to Christianity. Later investigations by journalists and other NGOs showed that he did not convert even a single tribal to Christianity. This was borne out by the Wadhwa Commission also. A whole year has passed and still attacks on Christians continue, particularly in Gujarat. This year too, on the eve of Christmas, there was tension in the Dangs area. What was shocking was that the BJP Government of Gujarat gave permission to the Hindu Jagran Manch to lay the foundation of a Ram temple in Surat district. The Christian minority is feeling very insecure today particularly in the state of Gujarat.

Ours is a secular state which guarantees all minorities protection of their religious beliefs and culture. Article 25 of the Constitution specifically guarantees all citizens of India to “profess, practise and propagate their religion”. This provision has again and again been violated in case of all minorities during the last 50 years with the exception, perhaps, of the Jains. (The Jains have been accepted as a minority by the National Minorities’ Commission). It is also being demanded by some extremists that the Constitution be amended and Article 30 be deleted as it guarantees the religious and cultural minorities to establish institutions of their own. Some Ministers of the BJP-led Government are publicly speaking of reviewing the Constitution as it had to be amended several times in the last 50 years and hence it must be reviewed.

It is true there is always some gap between ideals and practice. No one would expect perfect harmony between the professed ideals of the state and its implementation by the civil society. But one has to sit up and think if this gap assumes serious proportions. As pointed out above, the whole political discourse was sought to be changed during the eighties, particularly by the Sangh Parivar. And the Sangh Parivar did so to win political support and widen its otherwise narrow political base. The BJP contested three elections one after the other (1989, 1991 and 1996) on the basis of what came to be known as the Hindutva agenda i.e. construction of Ram temple at Ayodhya, deletion of Article 370 from the Constitution (guaranteeing special status to the Jammu and Kashmir state) and enforcing a common civil code.

In order to strengthen our national unity, the political discourse must remain strictly secular and also the state must never be seen siding with any particular religious community. There may be serious problems with the civil society but the notional and the functional aspects of the state should not vary as these have varied in the last two decades, particularly during the eighties. The demolition of the Babri Masjid became possible as the state abdicated its responsibility. Also, the administration and the police force became highly communalised and the government remained a silent spectator. The communalisation of the police force in particular is a very serious development as only a secular and professional police force can succeed in maintaining law and order in society. The riots in Meerut (1987), Bhagalpur (1989) and Bombay (1992-93) would not have assumed such serious proportions if the police force had acted impartially and professionally. The police force was deeply affected by the political discourse in the eighties. The brutal lathi-charge on demonstrators on December 6, on the 7th anniversary of the demolition of the Babri Masjid again shows how deeply the police force has been affected.

In conclusion we can say that we have to go a long way in strengthening our secular bases and in strengthening the process of nation building. In a diverse country like India it is only secular political discourse which will help. The electoral politics should not be merely concerned with getting votes on the basis of castes and communities. It would be a sure course of ultimate fragmentation of our society. If we want to remedy the situation the electoral politics should not stray away too far from the ideals on which the state is based. We have allowed in the last 50 years, for political opportunism, secular forces to weaken and religious fundamentalism to grow in all communities. We must take serious note of the fact that our secular state cannot, after all, afford to let religious fundamentalism grow unabated. This is what has gone wrong with us and this is what is keeping us back.

The writer, a distinguished scholar, specialises in Islamic studies.Top


Setting Ganga on “Fire”
by Harihar Swarup

VERY few have seen or read Deepa Mehta’s script, which put the Ganga on fire at Varanasi, except a handful of officers concerned in the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting who cleared the script for shooting of the film “Water”. Apparently, they did not find anything objectionable, in the script. According to scrappy accounts available the story revolves round the plight of widows, who were brought to Varanasi in the thirties and among them was an eight-year-old girl. Still a child, she did not know why her head was shaved and why she was not allowed to laugh. Innocently, she once posed the question: “Where is the house of men widows”? The story then depicts various facets of a widow’s miserable life in the holy city.

One does not know how authentic is the claim of “Sanskar Bharti”, an off shoot the Sangh Parivar, that it has obtained the script of “Water” and is going through it to cull out the objectionable portions. At the time of writing this column, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has cleared the revised script of “Water” after Deepa Mehta reportedly changed five lines but the VHP is firm on hindering the shooting.

Toronto based director, Deepa Mehta, it appears, has been on the hit-list of the Sangh Parivar since her film “Fire” evoked the wrath of the Shiv Sena in December, 1998, in Mumbai and Sainiks unabashedly attacked cinema halls screening the movie. Their complaint was the film, having lesbianism as its theme, was denigration of Hindu culture. While “Fire” could be completed and only its screening was obstructed, the shooting of “Water” was disrupted at the very beginning. This film too is being slandered as derogatory to Hindu culture. The two main characters in both films are the same — Shabana Azmi and Nandita Das. In Fire both played sisters-in-law seeking emotional fulfilment in each other when their marriages went sour.

Yet another film of Deepa Mehta — “Earth” — also made a mark. Premiered at the Toronto Film Festival in 1998, “Earth” is about the Partition of India and Pakistan as seen through the eyes of a young girl. With the shooting of “Water” she has hoped to complete her trilogy — Earth, Fire and Water — the three elements that can create or destroy but she met with an immovable obstacle; the Sangh Parivar and its front organisations. She is known to be a stubborn woman and adversaries in her personal life has made her strong willed. It is believed that her films often reflect her personality, her struggle in life, failure and success.

Now 47, Deepa Mehta was born in Amritsar, obtained higher education in Delhi and obtained her masters degree in philosophy from the prestigious Lady Sri Ram College. She was barely 21 when she met a TV producer Paul Saltzmann, fell in love, married him and emigrated to Canada. It was at this point that her career as a script writer and a producer began. She embarked on her film career writing scripts for children’s films and worked as an editor, producer and director.

Her marriage failed and as she said in various interviews later: “I have always considered myself a very liberal person. And when I was going through my divorce, it was everything in me. I mean, I suddenly found myself — may be it’s the racial memory or something that somehow I was being diminished as a woman, because I was — I did not want to be in a marriage. Because as an Indian woman, that is your life; you get married; you get married forever. And just those things started happening in my head, started playing within me and that’s when I started writing “fire” in fact”. It was a long road of self-discovery that led Deepa to make this film which is considered as a deeply personal screen play. Fire has been applauded and received awards internationally.

Mehta has a daughter — Devyani. She wrote her scripts at the kitchen table in her Toronto house in the company of her daughter. With the break-up of her marriage, began her quest for love and its varied forms. She was desperately in search of her roots and this brought her again and again to India, visiting parks and colonies of Delhi and the placid banks of the Ganga in Varanasi.

Her television work includes “Danger Bay”, “Inside Stores” and “The young Indian Jones Chronicles”. In 1985 she directed “Travelling Light — the photo journalism of Dilip Mehta” —, a one-hour-long television special on one of the top photo journalists in the world. The film was shot on locations in Japan, France, England, the USA, India and Canada and received an award at the 1987 New York International Film and Television Festival.

In 1987, Deepa produced and co-directed the television film “Maratha, Ruth and Edie”, which was screened at the Cannes International Film Festival and later won the best feature film award. Her other award winning television drama was “Inside Stories”. She made a debut in feature films with production of “Sam and me” in 1991 and won an award at the Cannes festival. Then followed “Earth”, “Fire”, and the latest one — “Water” — which has run into controversy.Top


An irony of history?

The fact that he is the first ever genuine non-Congress Prime Minister (all his predecessors had an umbilical link with the Congress or had been part of that culture at some stage) notwithstanding, Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee’s penchant for being seen in the Jawaharlal Nehru mould also has an ironical twist. Speculation about his health has been rife for some time and of late the capital has been agog with Stories, albeit discussed in hushed tones, about his health status. His regular visits to a private clinic in South Delhi are an open secret in political circles. Now there are stories about his “memory lapses” during meetings. This has given rise to the question — After Vajpayee who? — on the lines of a similar question being asked in the last years of the 17-year-long Nehru era.

Jawaharlal Nehru’s sudden illness in Bhubaneswar had triggered speculation. In Mr Vajpayee’s case, though no similar incident has been reported, knowledgeable circles keep talking about the concern over his health. The fragile coalition of the NDA is held together by the persona of Mr Vajpayee who was always taken as BJP’s “soft” (or “reasonable”) face. Within the BJP, the contenders for the top slot after him obviously are Mr Lal Krishan Advani and Dr Murli Manohar Joshi. Samata’s George Fernandes is also mentioned in some circles. Eyes are also rivetted on an “outsider”. Telugu Desam’s Chandrababu Naidu, who is extending outside support to the present regime at the Centre. He is said to have more than an outside chance.

Focus on Ides of March: The middle of March, which has the Shakespearean Julius Caeser-ominous connotation, may see significant cross-currents in the political scenario. Depending on the results of the State elections, the Union Council of Ministers may need a reshuffle. Mr Naveen Patnaik may be waiting for the Chief Minister’s office in Bhubaneswar, though he is said to be more comfortable as a Union Minister (son of the legendary Biju Patnaik, he has a Punjabi mother and thus Oriya not being his mother tongue, he is ill at ease with the official language of Orissa). Either Mr Ram Vilas Paswan or Mr Nitish Kumar may be the candidates for Patna, that is if the warring NDA allies manage to dethrone Laloo Yadav and his family. Yet another name being mentioned for Patna is that of Mr Yashwant Sinha (he too, left to himself, would prefer not to leave the Finance Minister’s office in New Delhi).

The changes are not slated for the ruling coalition alone. If the Congress does not perform well, even the position of Congress President may come under political pressures and counter-pressures. By one reckoning, 11 of the 22 members of the Congress Working Committee even today are critical of the way things are going on in the party (and no one dare speak out against Mrs Sonia Gandhi lest the fate of Messrs Sharad Pawar, Purno Sangma and Tariq Anwar befall them).

For Meira, Babuji is history: Being the daughter of India’s longest-ever serving Union Cabinet Minister and leader of the Scheduled Castes, Babu Jagjivan Ram, may have catapulted Meira Kumar into centrestage of politics and taken her to the higher echelons of the Congress, a party she quit on February 2. However, there is little in common between her and her father. To begin with, February 2 was the date in 1977 when Babu Jagjivan Ram led the revolt within the Emergency regime of the Congress party and broke away to form the Congress for Democracy. This act of his, in fact, was the first signal that the draconian days of the Emergency were over. Meira Kumar chose the same day to quit the Congress but did not harp back to this legacy. Perhaps she and her admirers were oblivious to it. Meira Kumar could not repeat Babu Jagjivan Ram’s electoral performance from his home constituency of Sasaram in Bihar. Instead she had to contest elections from Karol Bagh in Delhi, which she lost last year.

Popular choice: One decision of the Vajpayee government which seems to have been received well by a large cross-section is the appointment of Mr Tarlochan Singh as Vice-Chairman of the Minorities Commission. This was in evidence last weekend when in two separate functions, Punjabi organisations in the capital feted him. In the first function, personalities like Justice Kuldip Singh and Minister Arun Shourie, who are rarely seen on such occasions, too were present as were the editors of all national dailies and the press adviser to the Prime Minister. Justice Kuldip Singh traced his long association with Tarlochan, whom he had known for the past four decades, as an active public relations person. Arun Shourie summed up the sentiment: “Most people feel an affinity towards Tarlochan”. A blushing Tarlochan responded by saying that throughout his life he had been the master of ceremonies in such felicitations and for the first time he was finding what it is to be at the receiving end.

No sympathy, no tea: After a long time — in fact after 18 months — the Congress realised that as a party in the Opposition it had to resort to agitation to make its presence felt. The Congress President, Mrs Sonia Gandhi, led the party from the front as the workers, from grassroots to members of the Working Committee, took to the streets.

The Congress was protesting against the Gujarat government order withdrawing its earlier ban on its employees to participate in “shakas” of the RSS. For some it was a new experience as the last time the party chief resorted to agitation was during August, 1998, on issue affecting everyday life —onion price rise.

As is the practice on such occasions, everything was tied up with the city police. The plans for court arrest were spelt out and considering the association of highly protected VVIP like Mrs Gandhi and many former Union Ministers, the police too did not want to take a chance.

But somewhere down the line, things did not go as smoothly as planned. For just ahead of the Prime Minister’s residence, where the Congress protesters were heading, they were stopped by the police. Nothing wrong but instead of the Delhi police the iron barricades were held by a platoon of central paramilitary force and they would not take orders from the city police.

Things became a little rough for the leaders when help arrived with someone getting in touch with the top brass of the city police, who in turn activated counterparts in CPO and everything ended as per the script, court arrests without any ‘lathicharge or cannon bursts’.

Meanwhile, at the Tughlak Road police station where the leaders were ‘detained’, the Station House Officer was at his best. He offered ‘chai’ to the political detenus but senior leader, Mr Madhavrao Scindia, would have none of it. He brushed aside offers and made his point clear lest any of the workers go tempted. The plea was if the Congress accepted ‘sarkari chai’ then the government could ridicule the protest. Despite gentle persuasion by the hapless SHO his offer was turned down.

Pawar’s “ghost”: “Congress Sandesh”, is a monthly official in house magazine of the AICC which was launched by its President, Mrs Sonia Gandhi, over a year ago. It has been coming out regularly till the recent general elections. It has an editorial board headed by former Union Minister, Mr Vasant Sathe, and has some eminent party members on it. Despite that, last week the latest issue of the magazine made news for publishing what was strictly not a party matter — interview of Mr Ajit Pawar of the Nationalist Congress Party. Mr Pawar is a nephew of NCP President, Mr Sharad Pawar, who is a Minister in the Congress-NCP Government in Maharashtra.

Nobody is aware as to how the interview got published. Mr Sathe washed his hands stating that as editor he cleared the editorial written by Mrs Sonia Gandhi and the rest was handled by a former editor of an English daily. The editorial board which has two PCC chiefs rarely meet and the onus gradually shifted on to the former editor. A probe team under Mr Pranab Mukherjee, who is the Chairman of the AICC Media Department, was set up and unable to come out with anything concrete, an emergency meeting of the editorial board was called. The decision, all articles will be vetted by a three-member team under Mr Mukherjee.

Swadeshi mischief: Can you ever imagine a toothpaste multinational promoting the Indian datun? Sounds implausible, but, then this is what readers of several popular dailies were made to believe. A leading news agency fell victim to a prankster who delivered a “press release” issued by the prestigious Commonwealth Dental Association (CDA). The association release quoted leading dentists to bring out the fine qualities of the neem stick and the inefficacy of the toothpastes sold by the multinational companies in developing countries. The agency without having any clue that it was being taken for a ride issued the release in good faith.

The news item had several multinational toothpaste manufacturers hopping mad the next day as the release was issued on the letterhead of CDA-Indian Dental Congress 2000, an event organised by these very companies. The CDA and IDA expressed serious concern about the “fraud” release, saying it was an attempt to misrepresent the view of the CDA and to deceive the public. An investigation has been launched how the prankster managed to get hold of the CDA-IDA letterhead.

On the use of datun or neem sticks, the CDA conceded that it was good for teeth as they contain tannic acid which works as an antiseptic but added that this must be supplemented with the use of a toothbrush and toothpaste for an effective dental clean.

(Contributed by SB, T.V. Lakshminarayan, K.V. Prasad & P.N. Andley)Top


Soft to softer
By Abu Abraham

SOMETIMES I think we are not only a soft state but also fast becoming a soft-headed state. Looking at the torrent of trivia that floods our television screens and our flashy magazines and Sunday supplements in full colour, I wonder what kind of new generation we are trying to bring up for the new century and the new millennium. What else do these beautiful people do other than showing off their legs and bosoms, modelling clothes, taking part in beauty contests, flashing their universal smiles (common to India, Equador, Venezuela or Cuba)? Do they read anything serious, do they think about national affairs or the world’s problems? Have they any ambitions other than being in the social limelight of Delhi, Mumbai or Bangalore? Like moths, they seem to have a brief whirl around the light and then disappear into the darkness. This section of society may be only a minority but they are influential and set the living trends for the others.

We have always been a soft state, at least for the last thousand years. Whether in sensuality or spirituality, we have been self-indulgent to the point of apathy and indolence. We never cared for our fellow men, nor wanted them to intrude into our lives, except to carry out their traditional duties, be it scavenging or carrying dead bodies. We are a society of a hundred thousand communities united only in the belief of a common heaven. At least there, one hopes, there will be no racial, caste or communal discrimination.

Unless there is cohesion and unity among the people, there can only be very slow progress. Our religions sap our energies.

A soft state is not a soft-headed or kind state. It is simply an incompetent state. It is a state where workers don’t do an honest day’s work, where clerks and petty and senior officers are seldom “in their seats”, where the customer is never right but the bureaucrat always is. It is a state where the politician or the landlord or the businessman interferes in the work of the police and the income-tax officer. It is a state where the rich can get away with murder and an unspoken understanding between the law-enforcement people and the judiciary sees to it that through delay and dereliction of duty certain class interests are protected.

In a soft state, buildings collapse and bridges fall because of sub-standard materials and dishonest workmanship, and nobody gets punished. Overcrowded buses fall into ravines and rivers and no one takes responsibility. There is no discipline in a soft state. ‘Chalta hai’ is its motto.

A soft state is one where people in power and others with influence spend their energies in promoting social hatred, thus trying to divide society along racial and communal lines. It is a state in which men like Murli Manohar Joshi introduce educational textbooks written by half-wits for half-wits, presenting myths as facts and creating new and innovative ones. In such a system of education, history as seen by internationally distinguished historians is stood on its head for the greater glory of the RSS.

To make a soft state even softer it is only necessary to proclaim that “spirituality is the core of our culture” that our society must be guided by dharma, best exemplified by Manusmriti.

In a soft state there is ‘consensus’ at one end and hardcore conservatism at the other. The hardcore takes decisions first and then calls for consensus. Thus Manu becomes the patron-saint of our social policies and even our foreign policy, where we have to deal with inferior people. Manu has seen to it that after five thousand years of Bharatiya culture we have some six hundred million illiterates.

It was thought by our present rulers that exploding a few nuclear bombs would remove our soft-state status. It didn’t and it never will. Indeed, after Pokhran we have become more vulnerable to enemy attacks than before. The nuclear bomb, proclaimed as a deterrent, is proving to be nothing of the sort. If it is a deterrent for us, it is even more of a deterrent for Pakistan. It provides a shield for their marauding militants.

The bomb, like much else in India that is Bharat, has been sought as a religious symbol. Though no temple has yet been built in Pokhran as the Sangh Parivar would have liked, it was thought that it would improve the image of Hindutva, that it would remove Hindu ‘cowardice’.

A soft state is one that is driven by emotion, where sentiment overtakes reason, where religion rules over rationality. And that is what we have become.Top


75 years ago
February 6, 1925

British Raj in India

IN reviewing Professor Rushbrook William’s “India in 1923-24”, the Manchester Guardian makes an observation regarding the future of British Raj in India which Britishers both in India and in England might do worse than seriously ponder over.

“Nobody who knows India,” writes the journal, “can suppose that because we have ruled India for 150 years, therefore, we can rule her three hundred million people for ever. We rule India not by Englishmen only, but chiefly through hosts of Indian civil officers and an army of Indian soldiers. When these men transfer their allegiance from the British Raj to the idea of the Indian nation, then our Raj will be at an end.

“Among civil officers the process has already far advanced. It must go on and it must manifest itself in the army too”.

Is it not the part of wisdom and indeed, of commonsense, to anticipate the inevitable in this case and not to wait until circumstances literally force England to hand over the Government of India to Indians themselves?Top

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