Sunday, October 22, 2000,
Chandigarh, India

E D I T O R I A L   P A G E


Fiasco at Sydney: Is IOA responsible?
by Prabhjot Singh
NE billion people and a mere bronze medal in the Sydney Olympics — runs the dirge of sports lovers in India, the most pessimistic of whom regard sports as dead in the country. Who is responsible for the sad state of affairs? What has gone wrong? And when, where and how? These are the questions which cry for answers that hopefully will give rise to a plan of action to make India a sporting power, at least in Asia.

Dhindsa is not happy...
HE Union Sports Minister, Mr Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa, who is surprised at the sub standard performance of some of the Indian sportspersons in the Olympic Games, says “My reaction about our performance can’t be good”.

Signals from Kashmir
October 21, 2000
Grains at cut rate prices
October 20, 2000
West Asian totem-pole
October 19, 2000
N-armed basket case
October 18, 2000
Paddy crisis and after
October 17, 2000
Vajpayee is right, but...
October 16, 2000
What’s wrong with our prisons?
October 15, 2000
A partial solution 
October 14, 2000
A status quo verdict 
October 13, 2000
No credit to policy
October 12, 2000


...but Randhir Singh is!
HE Indian Olympic Association Secretary-General, Mr Randhir Singh, says: “I am happy with the way India performed at Sydney, as we did far better than we had done in the previous Olympics.

Sports system in India has decayed, say experts
RS Nirmal Milkha Singh, a former international volleyball player and a former Secretary of the Indian Women's Hockey Federation, feels that India's performance in Sydney Olympic Games on the whole was not encouraging.


by Harihar Swarup
Nelson Mandela of Asia — Kim Dae-Jung

ANY call him the "Nelson Mandela of Asia" but the South Korean President, Kim Dae-Jung, has suffered more physical torture than Mandela, known as the longest serving political prisoner of the world. Both have shown remarkable determination in carrying forward the crusade for democracy and human rights in their respective countries — South Korea and South Africa. Both were persecuted by forces of imperialism — Kim fought Japanese colonial rule and Mandela the British subjugation.


Vajpayee has his hands full
FTER a quiet stay at the Breach Candy Hospital in Mumbai, the Prime Minister, Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee, will return to the Capital with a challenging schedule.


Hindutva in Guruvayoor
by Abu Abraham
HEN Groucho Marx’s daughter applied for membership in an “exclusive” swimming club in Hollywood, she was refused entry. This club was so exclusive that they would not admit Jews. So Marx wrote to the President of the club: “Since my daughter is only half Jewish (her mother was Christian), would you allow her to get into the pool up to her waist only?”



Fiasco at Sydney: Is IOA responsible?
by Prabhjot Singh

ONE billion people and a mere bronze medal in the Sydney Olympics — runs the dirge of sports lovers in India, the most pessimistic of whom regard sports as dead in the country. Who is responsible for the sad state of affairs? What has gone wrong? And when, where and how? These are the questions which cry for answers that hopefully will give rise to a plan of action to make India a sporting power, at least in Asia.

The people who run sports bodies and associations play a major role in nurturing talent in different disciplines to make promising youngsters into medal winners at international meets.

Are our men and women who hold the reins of power in sports bodies capable of this crucial role? Who and what they are perhaps gives a clue to what has gone wrong with Indian sports in the 50 and more years since Independence.

At the apex of the sports bodies is the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) which is mandated to look after promotion of sports in general and Olympisium in particular in the country. Those who represent IOA wield much power, pelf and influence which gives them frequent opportunities to globe-trot at tax payers'' expense.

No wonder, elections to IOA carry with them high stakes and are fiercely fought.

Now look at the composition of IOA and one starts getting a few answers to the questions raised.

The 142-member general house of the IOA is critically balanced between politicians on one side and bureaucrats on the other with some defence personnel and business executives acting as the buffer. Intriguingly, this prime sports body of the country has only a sprinkling of those men and women who have actually sweated out on playfields, both in domestic and international competitions.

The elections, by a mere coincidence, are held in the Olympic year.

In Sydney, when 70-odd Indian sportsmen and women, were vying with athletes from all over the world for honours, sports officials from the country representing various National Sports Federations (NSFs) or State Olympic Associations (SOAs), were busy partying not to enlist new sponsors for promoting sports at grassroots level or sign up good coaches for training upcoming players, but to canvass support for their candidatures for the ensuing IOA elections.

The IOA elections, until 1984, used to be a quiet and routine affair. A witness to the IOA elections in 1986, 1988, 1992 and 1996, I could safely claim that no genuine sportsperson could have even dared to enter the fray.

Return air tickets, stay in five star hotels and lavish parties on the eve of elections make IOA general house members VIPs. And naturally many anxiously wait for the election year and the election meeting to be held to have a "paid holiday".

This time, the IOA had fixed its general house meeting at Yadavindra Gardens at Pinjore. The present team, apprehending that holding of election meeting at Panchkula, home town of the Haryana Olympic Association's President, Mr Abhay Chautala, may "jeopardise" its chances of another term in office ,decided to change the venue of the meeting to Pune.... the home town of the sitting President, Mr Suresh Kalmadi, a Congress MP.

Mr Chautala went to Punjab and Haryana High Court. The IOA relented and decided to hold its annual general meeting at Jawahar Lal Nehru stadium in New Delhi on the scheduled date.

The Indian Olympic Association has a glorious history. After the formation of the IOA in 1927, Maharaja Bhupendra Singh of Patiala was elected its President in 1928 and continued to hold office till 1938 before he passed on the mantle to Maharaja Yadavindra Singh. The Patiala family continued to run the IOA until 1976 when during emergence in the country, Raja Bhalendra Singh, the last from Patiala family to head the IOA, was asked to step down and pave way for Air Marshal O.P. Mehra. And in 1980, Raja Bhalendra Singh was re-elected unanimously President of the IOA. That was the last unanimous election IOA had.

India pioneered the idea of the Western Asiatic Games which led to the holding of Asian Games in Delhi in 1951.

India made its Olympic debut in the 1920 Olympic Games at Antwerp, though it did not form an Olympic Committee until 1927. The following year in Amsterdam 1928), India competed in hockey, its national game, for the first time. Here the gold medal was the first of six consecutive gold medals the country has won in the sport.

Of the 14 medals India has won, 11 are from hockey, including eight gold. In athletics, where India has produced likes of Flying Sikh Milkha Singh, sprint queen PT Usha, it is yet to win even a single medal in 80 years. Wrestling, tennis and weightlifting have been other areas where India has won one bronze each in 80 years of Olympic participation. This is all.

Why this "pitiable" condition of Indian sports? Until 70s, Indian athletes were doing well at least in Asian Games and Commonwealth Games. India had monopolised throw events in Asia besides dominating in sprints, middle and long distance running and even jump events in men's section. Between 1951 and 1978, India boasted of athletes like Flying Sikh Milkha Singh, Ajmer Singh, Makhan Singh,Gurbachan Singh Randhawa, Shivnath Singh, Sriram Singh, Edward Sequeira, Parduman Singh, Bahadur Singh, Parveen Kumar, Gurdip Singh, Labh Singh, Mohinder Gill, T.C. Yohannan, Kamaljit Sandhu and Geeta Zutshi.

After their era came PT Usha, Shiny Wilson and K.P. Benamol. But we are no more a power in track and field. We do not have a thrower of Asian standard who could be a sure medal bet. We do not have any more Milkhas or Ajmers or Sriram Singhs.

Facilities today are much more than what they were 30 years or 40 years ago. Ethiopia, Kenya and Nigeria or even Dijibouti have performed better than us in Olympics. Some of these nations have much smaller and insignificant sports infrastructure and sports budget compared to us.

The fault lies elsewhere. As some of the experts interviewed by The Tribune point out that both the National Sports Federations and Indian Olympic Association have not been discharging responsibilities expected of them.

For example, majority of District Olympic Associations (DOAs) — the basic feeder cadre — are lying defunct. The sports base has been shrinking. Participation of schools and colleges in Inter-School and inter-College competitions has been on a sharp decline. Playfields in educational institutions, in the absence of any use, have been in shambles. The infrastructure created for holding international events remains inaccessible to players.

Take the case of Punjab or Haryana. The District Olympic Associations in the two States, by an unwritten convention have the Deputy Commissioner as its ex-officio President irrespective of his or her interest or background in sports. Similarly, General Assistant to Deputy Commissioner or Assistant Commissioner (Administration) is the ex-officio Honorary Secretary of the DOA. Overburdened with their official work and duties, these officials hardly have any time for sports.

Their interest in sports is activated as and when the State authorities want them to organise a sports meet or competition. How many of the District Olympic Associations organise their District Sports Festivals on regular basis? Perhaps none. How many of them hold their annual general meetings and conduct elections as per schedule? Perhaps none.

Same is the case with the Punjab Hockey Association, the basic feeder body of the Indian hockey Federation. By another unwritten convention, the District Police chief is the District Hockey Association President and the Director-general of Police President of the Punjab Hockey Association. Is PHA discharging its responsibilities of promoting hockey at grassroots level ? he answer is not difficult to guess.

The focus of the sports officials is only on the IOA elections. No State Olympic Association is debarred from participating in the IOA general house meeting for not holding its annual State Sports Festival.

This just gives an idea of the dismal sports administration scenario in the country.

The role of the State has been no better. Though the State is expected to provide infrastructure and training, it has extended its jurisdiction to organisation of tournaments and sports competitions. The result is that now the Sports Departments are in competition with the State Sports Associations in organisation of competitions and tournament.

The sports administration, including the functioning of the National Sports Federations and Indian Olympic Association besides those of the Sports Authority of India and the Sports Departments of the states, has to be toned up so as to ensure mass participation. Only then the country can hope for medals in Olympic Games, Commonwealth Games and Asian Games in proportion to its population.


Dhindsa is not happy...

THE Union Sports Minister, Mr Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa, who is surprised at the sub standard performance of some of the Indian sportspersons in the Olympic Games, says “My reaction about our performance can’t be good”.

"There were no great expectations from the Indian contingent when they left for the Olympics. “We had pinned hopes on certain events, and we did quite well in those events, though it was our bad luck that we fell just a little short of a few medals than the one bronze we won through weightlifter Malleshwari”.

“But I am shocked to learn that some of the athletes put up a below par performance, even failing to come anywhere near their best they had achieved at home”.

“I have asked for a report from the IOA, and representatives of the Ministry regarding the performance of the Indian contingent. We will initiate necessary steps after going through the reports”, he said.

Mr Dhindsa said the Government had met almost all the demands put forward by the sports federations for the preparation of the Olympic teams." Now we would like to know from the federations why couldn’t our sportspersons rise to the expected level in the Olympics", observed Mr Dhindsa.

He praised the boxers, shooters and weightlifters for their commendable performance, though many of them just fell short of a medal, even if it was a bronze. "The Sports University we plan to setup at Patiala will have a research wing to provide solid scientific inputs for the training of the Indian sportspersons so that we have a first hand knowledge and facilities to find out what is lacking in our sportsmen, what should be done to improve their level of performance, which sportsman is suited for what sport, and such other vital information”.

“New technique has come into sports training, and it’s time we kept in step with changing times”, Mr Dhindsa said.

"The Government would be laying down a clear-cut policy for the preparations of the Indian sportspersons for the Asian Games “so that we learn from past mistakes, and move ahead, to put up our best show, at the Asian level at least, to begin with”.

“We should come out of our cocoon and move ahead, in tune with changing times. It's no point in lamenting after every Olympics. The key to success is to learn from our mistakes, work on our weak points, and rectify them so that we do well in future Asian and Olympic Games” he concluded. — M S Unnikrishan

...but Randhir Singh is!

THE Indian Olympic Association (IOA) Secretary-General, Mr Randhir Singh, says: “I am happy with the way India performed at Sydney, as we did far better than we had done in the previous Olympics.”

Randhir Singh, who has been the Secretary-General of IOA, since 1986, says “With a little lit bit of luck, India could have picked up more medals, in shooting, boxing, hockey and tennis.

“India lost in hockey just when we were all set to enter the semi-final, and in tennis we failed due to the separation of Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi due to injury problems before the Olympics.

“They had very little time to practice together, and be in battle shape when the Olympic Games came around”, Randhir Singh pointed out.

Being a former Olympian himself, Randhir Singh has a unique distinction of participating in six Olympic Games from Tokyo (1964), Mexico (’68), Munich (’72), Montreal (’76), Moscow (’80) to Los Angeles (’84).

He won a gold medal in the 1978 Bangkok Asian Games and silver and bronze medals in the 1982 New Delhi Asian Games.

“It (the preparation of the Indian teams) was a collective effort. The IOA, the Sports Ministry, the Sports Authority of India and the sports federations all contributed their best for the preparation of the teams for the Sydney games. We put in a lot of effort in training the sportspersons, but unfortunately the gap between the Indian sportspersons and others from much more developed countries is so wide that India need to change its training methods, to bridge the gap, and attain higher standards.

Mr Randhir Singh agrees with the Indian Hockey Federation President K P S Gill, that India urgently need the services of sports psychologists to get rid of the mental blocks of its sportspersons. — MSU

Who's who of Indian sports


Archery V. K. Malhotra

Athletics Suresh Kalmadi

Cycling S. S. Dhindsa

Football P. R. Munshi

Hockey(W) Mrs Vidya Stokes

Judo Jagdish Tytler

Kabaddi J. S. Gehlot

Shooting Digvijay Singh (Rly)

Rowing K. P. Singh Deo

TableTennis V. C. Shukla

Tennis Yashwant Sinha


Basketball B. K. Saha

Badminton V. K. Verma (Air India)

Gymnastics B. S. Ojha

Hockey K.P.S. Gill

Judo T. C. Gupta

Table Tennis S. P. Bagla

Wrestling G. S. Mander


Sports system in India has decayed, say experts

MRS NIRMAL MILKHA SINGH, a former international volleyball player and a former Secretary of the Indian Women"s Hockey Federation, feels that India's performance in Sydney Olympic Games on the whole was not encouraging.

"But we had some performances from shooters Abhinav Bindra and Anjali Vedpathak and boxer Gurcharan Singh. Even hockey team played superb hockey, much better than before and did raise hopes of a medal. Looking back, this has been an improved display by India in any Olympic Games in the recent past.

"I feel that our sportsmen and women need to be mentally tough and little more faster to be among medals. There is a big question mark over the performance of those Indian athletes who even failed to equal their own best records in their respective events. How come most of them perform below their own best. As far as IOA is concerned, I do not think that it should be held responsible for this debacle. At the same time IOA must discharge its duty of widening the sports base of providing a pyramid so that sports has a wider base in the country."

Kamaljit Sandhu, the first Indian woman athlete to win an Asian Games gold in track and field events, feels that sports system in the country has "decayed". It is why, she says, neither she nor any one who knows sports, expected India on the medals tally at Sydney.

"Look at the Indian Olympic Association, sitting on a dunlop cushion, watching from a distance the performance of Indian athletes. True, there are some international sportspersons of yesteryears in IOA, but they are too busy fighting their own survival battles. The IOA mandarines have little time to monitor the progress of sports. Look at the case of thrower Ajit Bhaduria. What the AAFI (Athletics Federation) has done for his family. Where is the Sportsmen's welfare Fund ?," asks Kamaljit Sandhu.

Rupa Saini, who led Indian women's hockey team during its maiden appearance in Olympic Games in 1980 at Moscow, however, holds a clean chit for the Indian Olympic Association.

"It is indeed our sportspersons who desire no tryst for excellence. We are even far behind than other developing countries who have far less resources than us. See Ethiopia or Kenya or for that matte even Sri Lanka. Sweeping everything under the carpet for just one medal, and that too a bronze, is no consolation for a nation of one billion people. There is an urgent need to analyse our debacle. Every government since 1947 had been projecting infrastructure as priority sector. But nothing has happened.

"Nothing much was expected from our contingent at Sydney. Hats off to Karnam Malleshwari. Her medal, too, would have eluded India. Fortunately, she was sent to Sydney against wishes of many. And she had a foreign coach," adds Rupa Saini.

Olympian Rajbir Kaur, now an Officer in Punjab and Sind Bank at Jalandhar, is not surprised at the performance of Indian athletes at the first Olympic Games of the new millennium. Says she :" Indian hockey team was playing as if its hands were tied behind. The players lacked the 'killing instinct'. I feel fault was elsewhere.

"Coaches should be given more responsibility and time period to prove their skills. I wonder why M. K. Kaushik was changed inspite of the fact that he had been instrumental in enabling India win a gold in the last Asian Games. Same was the case with the goalkeeper who was replaced with an inexperienced one. The coaches should be given maximum responsibilities like team management."

Professor Gursewak Singh, a veteran sports organiser and member of the "Sports for all" Commission of the International Olympic Committee, blames the system for its inefficiency.

"The School Games Federation of India is defunct. When a player starts in college or university, he is too old to make any impression. If our sportsmen and women are incompetent, why blame the IOA. The National Sports Federations have best of the facilities, including foreign coaches, diet allowance and good training-cum-competition programme. Even the SAI cannot be faulted on this account. Inspite of a financial crunch, it provided best of the facilities to at least our national teams. If the Sydney debacle is not to be repeated, the resistance should come from within the sports fraternity, from sportspersons toiling for hours and on years to fashion a brave new world," added Professor Singh.

Pargat Singh, the only player to have led India in two consecutive Olympic Games, is deeply hurt at India's performance in the Olympics.

"All national sports federations are brimming with bureaucrats and politicians who have wittingly or unwittingly drifted the Indian sports ship towards a disaster. How many of the national sports federations are headed by sportspersons. All bodies are being run by non-technical and non-professional people, who are bereft of any knowledge. Over confidence has been the bane of the Indian sports scenario. While other countries prepare in advance for years, we keep boasting after a six months training camp that we are fully prepared. Is this the way to promote sports. We must expand our base and bring in only those to sports administration who have knowledge, time and dedication."

Sukhvir Singh Grewal, who played for India from1975 to 1990 and was the coach of Indian Olympic Hockey team to Barcelona Games (1992), says that "nothing has surprised him as he did not expect any miracles from Indian contingent. I agree we were close to a couple of more medals but that should not be a solace for a country with such a huge sports infrastructure.

"Problem lies in our sports administration. Both the State and the Sports Associations have not been discharging their duties effectively. The State is supposed to provide infrastructure and training and the Associations are supposed to organise competitions, do talent hunt and organise championships. Unfortunately while State has taken upon itself the role of organising championships and competitions, the Associations are getting into infrastructure building. Punjab, once sports arms of the country, has virtually defunct District Olympic Associations. Take the case of hockey where police rules the roost. Is Punjab Hockey Association or District Hockey Associations are discharging the responsibilities expected of them? And if your answer is also no.... you get the answer why we cannot do well. Unless we have a pyramid model of sports — huge base with fine performers getting to the top — we cannot succeed."

Gurdishpal Singh, a former international hockey player and a national hockey selector (juniors), is "disappointed with yet another dismal performance by India in the Olympic Games.

"I wonder whether we are progressing or degenerating in sports. We have improved infrastructure and training facilities but results are nowhere. Participation base is shrinking. Playfields in schools and colleges remain unutilised.There is much more money and sponsorship in sports than what it was 20 years ago. But we are no more a power in Asian Games. We have gone down in track and field, wrestling and football... I mean in all sports. The malaise is deep rooted. Unless we have a mass base and entrust sports administration to right and dedicated people, we cannot make any progress."

Is the IOA listening?


With inputs from Prabhjot Singh (Chandigarh), Varinder Singh (Jalandhar) and Ravi Dhaliwal (Patiala).


Nelson Mandela of Asia — Kim Dae-Jung
by Harihar Swarup

MANY call him the "Nelson Mandela of Asia" but the South Korean President, Kim Dae-Jung, has suffered more physical torture than Mandela, known as the longest serving political prisoner of the world. Both have shown remarkable determination in carrying forward the crusade for democracy and human rights in their respective countries — South Korea and South Africa. Both were persecuted by forces of imperialism — Kim fought Japanese colonial rule and Mandela the British subjugation.

Kim has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize 2000 for his work for democracy and human rights in South Korea and in east Asia in general, and for peace and reconciliation with North Korea in particular. In his relentless struggle against a dictatorial regime, Kim had brush with death on many occasions but, every time, a last-minute miracle saved his life. Even in the face of what looked like an imminent end, he did not deter from the course he had set before him. His challenge to Park Chung Hee's iron-fisted rule marked the beginning of nearly three decades of hardship and tribulation which saw the imposition of martial law, banning of all political activities and several attempts on his life. When President Park met the fate which befall all dictators — he was assassinated in October, 1979 — Kim was still under house arrest.

The first attempt to eliminate Kim was made when he was leading a rally in Seoul. A 14-tonne truck rammed into his car throwing the vehicle off the road and hitting another car, killing two persons. Kim was injured and left with a permanent limp from the accident. The second attack was more gruesome. In August, 1973, he was kidnapped by President Park's agents from a hotel in Japan where he had gone for treatment. He was taken out to sea in a small boat where he spent several tormenting days. As both his hands and feet were tied and he was about to be tossed into the sea, the U.S. Ambassador came to know of the abduction. A stern warning from the USA could save Kim's life. He returned to Seoul alive but battered and spent nine years in jail or under house arrest. In between, he lived in exile.

The post-Park years were more traumatic for Kim. The military rulers imposed martial law and arrested leading Opposition leaders, including Kim. There were wide-ranging protests and demonstrators and troops opened fire, killing 200 persons. Kim was charged with sedition and was about to be executed but the USA intervened for the second time to save him from the gallows. He was, however, exiled and put in an American-bound plane. The atmosphere was as hostile as before when he returned to his homeland after a few years. As he stepped out of the aircraft at Seoul, he was knocked down by Korean security officers and again put under house arrest.

In a recent interview with Time magazine, 75-year-old Kim talked of his eventful career:"Throughout my life I have faced death five times. For six years I was in prisons, and

for 10 years I was in exile or under house arrest ……. I never lost hope that someday there would be something like this". He has already earned a place in history for peace and reconciliation with North Korea. His attempt to overcome, through what has come to be known as the "sunshine policy", more than 50 years of war and hostilities between the two Koreas is an experiment worth emulating elsewhere.

The second son of a poor sharecropper for a Japanese landowner, Kim was born in a small, isolated island off the south-western tip of the peninsula. Even as a boy, he had experienced the sorrow and the pain of being under Japanese colonial rule. Out of sheer indignation he wrote a short essay criticising the Japanese and, as a punishment, was removed as monitor of his class. "The horizon of the sea and the waves that pounded the shore of the island inspired his dreams and courage", says his biographical sketch.

After graduation, Kim joined a shipping company and the employment enabled him to avoid a forced conscription into the Japanese army. When Korea was liberated at the end of World War II, he decided to try his luck in the uncertain world of politics. His political career was initially marked by patches of bad luck. He was elected to the National Assembly in a byelection in 1961 after two unsuccessful attempts but within three years the Assembly was dissolved following a military coup and his election nullified.

The pro-democracy movement in Korea gained momentum following the massive popular protest in June, 1987, and, in the following month, Kim was cleared of all pending charges and his full political rights were restored. Subsequently, the constitution was revised to restore direct elections of the President. Although Kim was defeated in the presidential elections in 1987 and 1992, he did not lose heart. Finally, in yet another presidential bid in 1997, he was elected and sworn in as the 15th President of the country. 


Vajpayee has his hands full

AFTER a quiet stay at the Breach Candy Hospital in Mumbai, the Prime Minister, Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee, will return to the Capital with a challenging schedule.

His days of recuperation after the knee surgery has seen speculation float around in the media on who could be his likely successor. Mr Vajpayee’s first task would be to scotch all such speculations and reestablish himself as a fine, fit and healthy Prime Minister. Having established this, he would have to return to the same issue on which he postponed taking a decision. The issue relates to that of having a second look at the possibility of reducing the price of petroleum products, especially diesel and petrol.

Mr Vajpayee had assured the stormy petrel of West Bengal and leader of the Trinamool Congress, Ms Mamata Banerjee, that he would reconsider the price hike in return for her withdrawing the resignation from the Cabinet. The Prime Minister’s assurance was based on the belief that oil prices would come down during his days in hospital, thanks to the offloading of stocks by the United States and increased production by OPEC countries. Alas, nothing of that sort has happened and oil prices are still ruling at more than $ 30 per barrel. Mr Vajpayee has no option but to retain the price hike. Ms Mamata Banerjee on her part is leaving no stone unturned and has already visited the Prime Minister at the Mumbai hospital with the ostensible reason of wishing him a speedy recovery.

Communications Minister Ram Vilas Paswan has also approached the Prime Minister to do something in Bihar, where there has been a spurt in violence. It is indeed going to be an explosive Divali for Mr Vajpayee.

Musical chairs
The BJP MP from Nagercoil in Tamil Nadu, Mr Pon Radhakrishnan, had to undergo a harrowing time in finding a room of his choice as a Minister of State for Sports. As Union Minister Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa’s junior, Mr Radhakrishnan was initially offered a room in Nehru Stadium far away from the corridors of power by the mandarins in the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports. Mr Radhakrishnan was livid with Sports Secretary N N Khanna for the shabby treatment meted out to him. The new Minister insisted that he wanted to sit in an office which was close to the imposing South and North Blocks in the national capital.

Mr Radhakrishnan even complained to the Prime Minister’s Principal Secretary, Mr Brajesh Mishra, that the room being offered to him was shabby and unkempt. He also rued the fact that there was no photograph of either the President or the Prime Minister in the room selected for him by the busybodies in his ministry. Subsequently, a room was found for Mr Radhakrishnan as per the Minister’s wishes in Shastri Bhavan which houses the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports. Then it took a while for Mr Dhindsa to carve out his work allocation as the senior Minister was away on tour. Well, all that seems to have been sorted out now and Mr Radhakrishnan is ready to discharge his duties and responsibilities as a Minister of State for Sports.

Chandra Shekhar has few takers
Former Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar of the Samajwadi Janata Party wants to get back in the thick of things. He organised a convention in Allahabad earlier this week and had invited virtually all the leaders from the non-NDA stock. But hardly anyone turned up except for another former Prime Minister Mr H.D. Deve Gowda, who has expressed a keen desire to join hands with Chandra Shekhar and other like-minded leaders. Let us not forget the humble farmer from Hardanahalli in Karnataka is a protege of Chandra Shekhar and was duty bound to attend the SJP convention in Allahabad. And in any case his Janata Dal (Secular) is virtually dead for all practical purposes.

The list of invitees was indeed long and included Sonia Gandhi, Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav and RJD’s Laloo Prasad Yadav. While Sonia did not even respond to Chandra Shekhar’s letter, Mulayam Singh and Laloo Prasad personally called up the SJP chief expressing their inability to come to Allahabad because of other pressing commitments.

Pandora’s box 
The Centre has opened a pandora’s box by agreeing to Punjab’s demand for relaxing the specifications in paddy procurement. No sooner had Punjab got the package, that Haryana got after the Union Food Minister, Mr Shanta Kumar and demanded similar treatment. The Minister on his part promptly assured Haryana that the State would be treated on par with Punjab as the problems faced by the farmers were similar to that faced by their neighbours.

Having pacified the nation’s two largest grain producing States, the Centre thought the buck would stop here. However, Uttar Pradesh has now joined the chorus and demanded that the relaxations be extended to the State too. Backing the UP farmer’s demand are three former Prime Ministers Mr Chandra-shekhar, Mr V.P. Singh and Mr Deve Gowda. Now that is a heavy demand.

Congress bouncer
It is given that an Opposition would not recognise the achievement of the government and where the colours of success are undeniable, claim the credit for the results. The Congress showed such finesse this time that the BJP was left groping for answers.

The main Opposition party maintained that the BJP-led government had nothing to show for its efforts in the past year except on the international front where it acknowledged success in trips of American President Bill Clinton and the Russian President, Mr Vladimir Putin.

But the success of the trips was no tribute to the BJP’s handling of foreign affairs, the Congress asserted. It was result and reaffirmation of the policies of nonalignment as espoused by Jawahar Lal Nehru, maintained party leader K Natwar Singh. The BJP clearly had not bargained for this. ‘‘It is more than mere non-alignment,’’ BJP spokesperson Jana Krishnamurthy hurriedly responded when asked to comment on the Congress claim. The Congress was also more unsparing in its comments. ‘‘The BJP does not have a foreign policy,’’ Mr Natwar Singh asserted while rejecting suggestions of giving some due to the BJP for success on the foreign front.

Contributed by TRR, T.V. Laksh-minarayan, Prashant Sood and P.N. Andley.


Hindutva in Guruvayoor
by Abu Abraham

WHEN Groucho Marx’s daughter applied for membership in an “exclusive” swimming club in Hollywood, she was refused entry. This club was so exclusive that they would not admit Jews. So Marx wrote to the President of the club: “Since my daughter is only half Jewish (her mother was Christian), would you allow her to get into the pool up to her waist only?”

I am reminded of this story by the incident in Guruvayoor where the head priest (tantri) performed a purification ceremony after the marriage of Congress leader Vayalar Ravi’s son, because Vayalar’s wife, Mercy, happened to be a Christian. The Namboodiri was not convinced of the Hinduness of the son, Unni. In Hitler’s Germany, Jews were asked to wear a badge with the star of David to distinguish them from the real Germans. Perhaps Guruvayoor should adopt this system where all mlechhas, half-castes, quarter castes, outcastes and others can be identified. It would save the poojari much trouble.

Personally I feel it may have been better if the temple had simply not given permission to the couple to get married. But here is a case where the marriage was allowed to take place (with Ravi’s wife not being permitted to attend!) and then the place is “purified” at a cost of Rs 1,500. A laughable case of adding injury to insult.

Insult is an important ingredient of caste. I wonder if the temple would accept Vayalar’s grandson as a Hindu. If the present Namboodiri is still in charge, he will wait till all traces of Christian blood have disappeared from Vayalar’s progeny.

The incident has blown itself into a national debate — as important, in my view, as any else in recent times. Though this is only related to Guruvayoor (there are many other temples where it wouldn’t have happened, Sabarimala for instance), it is healthy for our society’s well-being that the matter is seen in a larger perspective, that of human rights and of the unity of our divergent nation.

Oddly enough, K.R. Malkani, the RSS ideologue, was one of the first to publicly condemn the priest’s behaviour. He did that in a strongly worded letter to The Hindu. The reaction of a number of my Hindu friends in Thiruvananthapuram was, however, disappointing. Most wanted the rights of the poojari to be respected. The hold of temples and their rituals on the minds of the middle class is truly amazing. One friend even questioned the right of a Christian or atheist to argue about Hindu customs and rituals. My answer to him was that this was not a matter of theology, but an issue of national importance. And so it has turned out to be.

Personally I have always been a keen temple goer — not for worship, but to look at the sculpture and the murals in some of them, or to listen to the music at the time of festivals. I have even been inside some of the holiest of temples in the south. At the Padmanabhaswami temple in Thiruvananthapuram years ago I went in with a Brahmin college mate, unnoticed and unsuspected and walked through the labyrinthine display of stone carvings. An incredible sight that is denied, alas, to millions of non-Hindus eager to have a glimpse of the cultural ‘mainstream’.

In the Kaviyoor temple near Tiruvalla, the priests welcome all visitors. I have visited it numerous times. Its wooden carvings are a wonder. At the Ashramam temple in Kollam, (where I spent my school years) I was always welcomed by devotees, even with my English wife.

At the most holy Kailasanatha temple in Kanchipuram, a guide took me and my sister, Ammu, all around and inside the halls and corridors and even up to the sanctum sanctorum where the priest welcomed us. He asked our names, and made up a sloka to bless us (‘Abraham Ammuvavamscha...etc.) and gave us prasad and sandal wood paste for our foreheads.

The first time I went to Suchindram I couldn’t go into the corridors because I had to remove my pants and shirt and put on a dhoti which I didn’t have. Two or three years later I went again just to see this magnificent structure from outside, but, lo and behold, I saw with my own eyes a priest enthusiastically taking a group of American tourists in bush shirts and floral skirts all over and inside the temple.

The Guruvayoor incident has provoked some stringent comments in the Malayalam press though on the whole the reaction among Kerala intellectuals has been somewhat subdued. Some have expressed the fear that this was part of an attempt to reassert the supremacy of the Brahmin. Those with memories of the Vaikom Satyagraha of the mid-twenties should have reason to condemn the revival of casteist rituals and practices. It is said that in 1925, when Gandhiji, accompanied by C. Rajagopalachari and Mahadev Desai went to meet the Namboodiri he vehemently opposed the entry of Harijans not only into the temple but also their use of the public roads surrounding it. He argued that the Harijans were only being punished for the sins committed in their previous lives. And after the visit he performed a purification ritual!

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