Sunday, February 3, 2002, Chandigarh, India

National Capital Region--Delhi


E D I T O R I A L   P A G E


After the Euro, why not a ‘global’ currency?
Satya Prakash Singh
ROM January 1, 2002, the Euro has become a three-dimensional physical reality in time and space. It is a tremendous step towards breaking national boundaries, towards a Europe without border. The world looks around anxiously. Is it a step towards world without border?

SAD carves out a niche for itself in national panorama
S. S. Dhanoa
HE Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal) government is completing five years in office, a record in itself and something happening for the first time in Punjab for the Akalis despite the splits and tensions associated with the organisation.

Time to change the military face
David Devadas
OW that violence finally shows signs of abating in this valley, tortured by violence for 12 years and more, the government must think quickly of changing the face of India that common people here get to see.



Bush on the hunt
February 2, 2002
Hall of ill-fame
February 1
, 2002
Pervez’s diplomatic offensive
January 31, 2002
Serla Grewal
January 30, 2002
Sangh Parivar’s poll games
January 29, 2002
President pleads for dalit uplift
January 28, 2002
Agni pariksha
January 26, 2002
Another milestone
January 25, 2002
Meet the challenge head-on
January 24, 2002
Timely judicial intervention
January 23, 2002

Harihar Swarup
Padma Bhushan, an affront to Sitara Devi
HE Kathak legend, Sitara Devi, might not have been considered for the Bharat Ratna award but the belated attempt to offer her Padma Bhushan, a comparatively lower honour, in the evening of her life is truly an affront to her talents. Those who decide these coveted awards, perhaps, do not understand the sensitivity of an artist.


Astrologers give Cong the edge in Punjab
ONGRESSMEN may not approve of the UGC allowing courses in astrology but that does not stop them from having faith in astrologers, specially if the predictions are in favour of their party. Some Congress leaders were recently taking delight in predictions of a few astrologers who had predicted a sweeping victory for the party in the coming assembly polls in Punjab.

  • Punjab's surprise

  • Filmi style

  • Plain talk

  • Passport blues

  • Cricket chaos


Humra Quraishi
World Book Fair leaves a mark of changing times

Y the time you would get to reading this column, the World Book Fair would be at its concluding leg, leaving a mark of the changing times. Though entry is free with various discounts, there were few genuine buyers. Many stress that this poor turnout is not just a result of the changing priorities but because of the clash of timings of the Fair with examinations.

  • Serla Grewal
  • Valentine's day
  • Metro rail


After the Euro, why not a ‘global’ currency?
Satya Prakash Singh

FROM January 1, 2002, the Euro has become a three-dimensional physical reality in time and space. It is a tremendous step towards breaking national boundaries, towards a Europe without border. The world looks around anxiously. Is it a step towards world without border?

Japanese tourists travelling to Europe show bills of the new European currency, Euro, prior to their departure at Kansai International Airport in Izumisano, western Japan.
Japanese tourists travelling to Europe show bills of the new European currency, Euro, prior to their departure at Kansai International Airport in Izumisano, western Japan. — Reuters photo

It was a dream come true for a large number (about 300 million) of the Europeans. The history is well remembered. The Treaty of Rome underlined the concept of a common European market in 1957. In each conflict of ideology that naturally arose since then concerning ‘nationalism of individual nation’s versus ‘Europe’s economical interests as a region’, the latter has been winning, dissents of a few nations notwithstanding.

The Single European Act of 1986 and the Treaty of European Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) 1992 were milestones in the journey towards a single European currency. The exchange rate turbulence that followed the 1992 treaty, that at times even threatened the European economics unity, is well recorded and need not be repeated here. But the problems were surmounted. The Euro came into existence in January 1, 1999. Eleven countries of Europe, namely Belgium, Germany, France, Spain, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Austria, Portugal and Finland formed the Euro area or Euroland. The Euro was introduced as the common legal currency (with one Ecu put equal to one Euro). The exchange rates of the currencies of the member countries were determined and irrevocably fixed. These countries decided to have a common monetary policy as well. It was also decided that the European Central Bank will issue hard cash — notes and coins — from January 1, 2002 and the national currencies of the member countries will cease to be legal currency by the middle of 2002. Greece joined the group in January 2001 as the 12th country.

On January 1, 2002, the European Central Bank introduced Euro banknote and coins as planned. And the people in the Euro area woke up in the morning eager to use the Euro (the currency with the symbol Epsilon, the Greek letter of the alphabet E, crossed with two parallel line segments) physically as a medium of exchange and store of value. The new symbol Epsilon now represents the second most dominant currency next to the mighty US dollar. As the Europeans touch and feel the object that symbolises European pride, they must be dreaming: will the Euro become numero uno?

Experts anticipate a tough competition, if not a fight for supremacy, between the US dollar and the Euro in the economic arena. The far-reaching economic and non-economic implications for the Euroland and the world outside have been discussed in academia and the media. The European dream notwithstanding, the US dollar will continue to be the distinct number one. What is economically and politically important, nevertheless, is that the currency that took birth on January 1, has acquired the second position in the international market and a good dozen currencies, mighty in their own right, will become a matter of history by the middle of 2002.

Experts estimate that the member countries will gain from Euro around five per cent in terms of economic growth. No doubt, some will suffer at least in the short-run. David Miles, a British expert, wrote in an article in 1997, “Recognising the primacy of economic forces in driving the EMU process is liberating. Rather than seeing the whole thing as being driven by idealistic, and possibly misguided, politicians one is instead led to focus on the underlying and fundamental economic forces at work”.

When economic fundamentals are so strong that even politicians appreciate them, economic rationality prevails over political ideology or political expediency. That has happened in the case of the twelve nations of Europe; others, which incidentally include British also, will hopefully follow suit.

Experience after the introduction of the Euro indicates that the transition will be smooth, contrary to the fears expressed in some quarters. As per the media reports, the Euroland was in the grip of euphoria. Nothing significantly negative was observed in the international financial markets. For example, the Euro/dollar rates from January 7 to January 11 as reported in the Financial Express a week after the introduction of the Euro were 0.8892, 0.8892, 0.8920, 0.8923 and 0.8919. This was well within normal range of the trend. The position of Euro vis-a-vis the Re was again normal. The Re/Euro rates were (Buying/Selling) 43.09/43.60,42.79/43.30, 42.91/43.42, 42.88/43.42, and 42.97/43.48 on the same dates as compared to the respective Re/US dollar rates of 48.12/48.53, 48.11/48.52,48.13/48.54, 48.21/48.62 and 48.23/48.64.

There is a general impression that the immediate effect of the Euro is not going to be much on the Indian companies engaged in international business. Presently more than 85 per cent of the invoicing of Indian exports and imports is done in terms of the US dollars and a meagre three per cent in terms of the Euro. However, the moment the other countries of Europe enter the Euro area as is widely expected, this percentage may increase to about eight or so. It is well known that exposure to a single currency increases the possibility of foreign exchange risk and diversification reduces it. Thus, once the Euro is available as a rival powerful currency, some people might reduce their dependence on the US dollar and diversify or switch over to the Euro to reduce the exposure risk, as well as avail themselves of the benefits of direct trade deals with the Euroland countries in their own single currency.

The Euro will surely simplify transactions with the European countries. Instead of dealing in (greater than or equal to 12) currencies, the exporters and importers will deal only in one currency. The currency conversion and thereby the transactions costs will thus reduce significantly giving a fillip to trade between India and the Euroland. When you plan your visit to Europe next time you will need to keep only Euro notes in your pockets instead of 12 different currency notes. In spite of all the monetary ingenuity of the modern age of information and communications technology, hard cash has its own importance. With Euro, life as a tourist in Europe has become a lot more easy. So has the life of importers and exporters.

Further, the Euro will impact the US dollar significantly and thus indirectly affect the Re-US dollar exchange rate. The long-run implications of the Euro must be studied carefully with a view to having an appropriate management of foreign exchange exposure.

The changes in the value of the INR (Indian Na-tional Re) have been seen only in terms of the US dollars, at least by the common man who is not a financial expert/professional but thinks about changes in the value of Re in the international market. This is because of the dominant position of the US dollar. Most of the computers have symbol ‘$’ in their keyboards. The future computers should create a place for the symbol Epsilon there. This symbol could be like the alphabet E crossed with two parallel lines as the illustration in the introductory paragraph of this article suggests.

India, as indeed the world, must formulate her trade strategies and organise her foreign exchange market on the assumption that the Euro will be the long-term sustainable second dominant currency of the world. (I say ‘assumption’ because strategies and restructuring have got to be based on assumptions, as future is never known with certainty).

Trading with a strong partner is advantageous as well as disadvantageous. You expect to get better quality products. You may get them cheaper because of the lower cost of production. At the same time, you have a competitive disadvantage. Your relative bargaining position weakens. The Euroland will have those advantages, which have led to the formation of the union, a single currency and a single monetary policy. India should look towards the benefits of trading with a healthier side. But, in a world of ‘shape up or ship out!’ she will have to shape up by improving the quality of its manufacturers and services and better marketing strategies to ship (her goods and services to Europe) rather than to be shipped out!

Finally, the optimists who dream of a single economic order for the world should take what happened on January 1, 2002 as an indication for the mankind moving towards the realisation of that dream. Should the world, have a single world currency? That could be named ‘global’.

The writer is Professor, University Business School, Panjab University, Chandigarh.


SAD carves out a niche for itself in national panorama
S. S. Dhanoa

THE Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal) government is completing five years in office, a record in itself and something happening for the first time in Punjab for the Akalis despite the splits and tensions associated with the organisation. The most positive result of the present tenure of the SAD-led government is the almost complete repair of the breach that had come about between the Hindus and Sikhs of Punjab. Even the traditional Centre-bashing of the Akalis got muted a great deal.

Mr Badal has been a maverick in Punjab politics. He inspired trust among Punjab's large sections of Hindus. Despite this background, he spearheaded the agitation of burning the Constitution of India. During the period when terrorism was at its peak in Punjab, he attended bhog ceremonies of the terrorists killed in encounters with the police. One strong point with him that I noticed is that he has his ear to the ground. He as a leader may not be successful in moulding public opinion but he has his finger on the pulse of the Punjabis. His policies of providing free power and other facilities to the rural population may give him dividends despite allegations of corruption in his government, not sparing even his family.

The SAD came into being during British rule as an adjunct of the SGPC in 1920 to mobilise volunteers of the gurdwara reform movement. The strategy and practices adopted by the SAD were strongly influenced by Mahatma Gandhi. This factor was used as a taunt by Bhindranwale against Sant Longowal. The completely non-violent SAD agitation for gurdwara liberation attracted world-wide attention and placed the Sikh community in the vanguard of the national movement despite its sizeable representation in the British Indian Army. However, there were a few negative trends that crept into the Akali movement which were to play havoc with the Sikh interests the SAD was supposed to uphold and project.

All Sikh movements and struggles, from Guru Gobind Singh onwards, were national and humanistic in nature, for the general good of all, particularly the weak and the oppressed. The last such development in that tradition was the "Ghadr" movement, mostly centered in the West Coast of Canada and the USA. The Ghadarites met in gurdwaras that were open to all the Indian communities. They were addressed there by revolutionaries like Rashbihari Bose, Hardyal and others. They talked of only the liberation of their motherland. It was taken for granted that the Sikhs will spearhead this struggle. There was nothing in the writings or speeches of the Ghadarities that could spell danger to the Sikhs as a community in a free India for which they were fighting. This movement got suppressed by 1920.

The Singh Sabha movement had sown the seeds of making the Sikh community conscious of its unique and separate identity, though early in the 19th century Sikh literature and general practices among the community identified itself with the Hindus. This is evident from books like Gur Bilas, Suraj Prakash and Panth Prakash of Ratan Singh Bhangu. There is a discernible anti-Muslim strain though. The Arya Samaj may have been targeted as inimical to the Sikh heritage, but Hindus as a community started being perceived as hostile to the Sikh interests only after 1947. This, to a large extent, was due to the Akali frustration in achieving their political objective of capturing political power in the post-Partition Indian Punjab. One can assume that this sad phase in the public life and politics in Punjab has come to an end.

Though for a century the Sikhs dominated almost the whole of the present Pakistan minus Baluchistan and Sindh where their population was less than 10 per cent, it was easy to fan anti-Muslim sentiment among the Sikhs for historical reasons. The anti-Muslim bias that got created for political reasons made the Sikh community and the Akali leadership impervious to the aspirations of the Muslims who were the majority community of Punjab. The Akali leadership continued to look to the British for a dispensation that could save them from what they saw as the return of Muslim rule.

The Akalis were in the forefront for the demand of partition of Punjab, much of it carved out by Sikh blood and sacrifices. In less then 50 years we have the situation where some of the Sikh radicals claiming to be projecting the true Sikh aspiration find nothing wrong in seeking shelter and support from Pakistan whose birth took place over the rivers of blood of the Sikhs. If there is anything that comes out of the 200th anniversary of coronation of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, it is that if the Sikh community had remained steadfast and true to its heritage, the Muslim problem of India could not have proved to be so intractable as to lead to Partition.

Luckily, Mr Badal has made us return from the brink so far as the Hindus are concerned. The manner in which it has come about is such that even dissident Akali factions dare not raise a Hindu bogey to frighten the Sikh community.

The Hindus and the Sikhs are so close to each other that to create a gulf between the two one has to create myths and phantoms. Some post-Independence historians and intellectuals worked overtime to prove how Brahmins were conspiring to erase and destroy the Sikh identity when in Punjab, the Brahmins were being reduced to penury. All over India it were the Brahmins who were being ousted from positions of eminence which they had come to occupy due to their early lead in education and professions.

Since the political objective of the SAD continued to elude, new issues had to be discovered and projected to keep the pot boiling. It could be the alleged but unverified shaving and cutting of hair of a Sikh truck driver in Bihar or later the Nirankaris. There were frequent allegations of disrespect to Guru Granth Sahib or desecration of gurdwara sarovars, etc. There is no discernible letup in this trend among the radical intellectuals and writers. Some of them are going hammer and tongs after Mr Badal and brand him as a traitor to the Sikh cause. Mr Badal has so far adopted for them the policy of let sleeping dogs lie.

The SGPC has played the role of a subordinate to further the objectives of the SAD. If it was so required for the political ends of the SAD at a particular time, the SGPC would pass a resolution declaring that the Sikhs were a separate nation. The worst was that the SGPC projected granthis of various gurdwaras as Jathedars and allowed the SAD to use them for settling scores among different leaders or factions or for objectives other than religious or spiritual through “hukamnamas”, an apparent misuse of the term and its tradition. I think by taking action against the SGPC chiefs and Jathedars Mr Badal has done a service in freeing the Sikh community from the fear of these self-created phantoms, which will surely lead to a healthier public environment in Punjab.

Another step in the right direction that he has taken is to open membership of the SAD to Hindus and others. The situation that now prevails is such that one can say that the SAD has come of age and has carved out a niche for itself in the national panorama.

The writer is a retired IAS officer.


Time to change the military face
David Devadas

NOW that violence finally shows signs of abating in this valley, tortured by violence for 12 years and more, the government must think quickly of changing the face of India that common people here get to see. It has been a military face for too long a time, more so in the last nine years, and it has left its scars, some of them as painful as the ones militants have wantonly carved.

Some years ago, I watched as a jawan contemptuously slapped a Kashmiri boy to send him on his way after a scrutiny of his identity card on the road. The young officer in charge called the jawan and told him: “Yeh jo tamacha tumne us ladke ko mara hai, woh India ko aa ke lagega (That slap will come round to hit India).” That was a wise officer — but unfortunately not all his colleagues have been as sensible.

Some Kashmiris have disgusting stories of security forces behaviour — Dr Abdur Rashid, for instance. Hailing from Serj village in Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah’s constituency, he spent 18 years in Saudi Arabia, practicing medicine. When militancy first erupted, he says he used to roundly condemn it among his associates there. He changed his mind, however, after a visit to the valley on vacation with his family in the early 1990s.

A group of army men, led by an officer who liked to use the name Badshah Khan, came to his brother-in-law’s house opposite his a little before midnight, he says, looking for him. His brother-in-law insisted he was not the doctor but the officer would have none of it. Insisting that he was lying, that officer beat him so badly that he fled to Srinagar and hasn’t dared to return.

Dr Rashid says he has no idea why the officer was looking for him but indicates that it could have to do with extortion. The officer he speaks of had an unsavoury reputation for taking ransom for releasing those he picked up, and sold illegal timber as well — which, given the ecology of the valley, is almost the bigger crime for one to pay anyone an illegal paisa. “I have to die when I have to die”, says he philosophically. When a militant group called him to a neighbour’s house one day and demanded that he contribute Rs 50,000 to their cause, he refused point blank.

However, the piece de resistance of Dr Rashid’s unhappy experiences occurred soon after he returned to the valley permanently three years ago. The army conducted a cordon and search operation in the area one day, during which someone came running to say the officer in charge wanted to see the doctor. There are two other doctors among his neighbours and Dr Rashid persuaded one of them to go. He returned soon to say the officer wanted Rashid. When he went, he says the officer instructed him to sit in the stream that runs close to his house. Rashid refused.

Rashid’s version of what transpired thereafter suggests that the officer’s purpose was to terrorise him. The officer brandished a fan belt he had in his hand. He asked the doctor if he drove a car and then what brand he had. He then asked if he knew what “this” was, indicating the fan belt, and proceeded to thrash a boy with it while looking at the doctor. He then approached him menacingly. Rashid says he caught the belt in his hand and wrenched it. The officer backed off after a few moments of the unexpected struggle.

He changed tack then and asked the doctor what watch he was wearing. It has a transmitter in it, the officer held. Rashid says he took it off his wrist and threw it at the officer to check. The officer then argued on, that Rashid was channeling funding for militancy and that militants used the telephone in his house. Rashid flatly denied all that, telling the officer he should have the phone tapped.

He was finally allowed to return home after about three hours. There, he found that the entire house had been ransacked. For good measure, the jawans had got his wife to sign a note attesting that nothing had been removed. Clearly, the officer was acting on the suspicion that Rashid might have brought funding, but his methods were anything but sophisticated.

Rashid says he has stopped condemning militancy now and developed reservations about the legimitacy of Indian governance. That sort of reaction is only to be expected if Rashid’s description of his travails are to be believed. Too many of the forces do not realise how much damage they do to India’s standing in Kashmir by their ill-conceived methods of questioning and search. They tend to forget Heisenberg’s Principle: The instruments through which a process is monitored influence the process.


Restoring the lost ground in higher education

This has reference to Dr Bhim S. Dahiya's article "UGC and State Govts: Conflicts of concurrence" (The Sunday Tribune, January 6). What is to be deplored is the illusion created by the UGC that the Central Government has created an agency for effectively discharging its constitutional responsibility for determining and co-ordinating standards of higher education in the country.

Unfortunately, our standards have been falling in the last quarter century. But this would not exonerate the UGC which has a direct responsibility “for the determination and maintenance of standards of teaching, examination and research in universities”. How many universities has the UGC pulled up for not maintaining standards?

A similar condition is inherent in the affiliation of colleges to universities. How many colleges that fell below the minimum norms have lost their affiliation? On the contrary, colleges with substandard equipment and personnel are being granted affiliation. There are no statutory substitutes for the will to insist on the right standards, either in the new universities or colleges and the UGC has been a silent spectator.

Much to the chagrin of teachers, several private colleges have been functioning without validly constituted statutory governing bodies, and the Vice-Chancellors/DPIs are silent spectators in this regard. Several colleges are violating the university rules with impunity and the authorities concerned have failed to take action.

In respect of higher education, the state government's rights are not absolute. The States could run the universities, and the Centre could perform watchdog functions or those equivalent to accreditation. Universities live by self-regulation. The state's function is to frame the basic law relating to universities, find the money, and make the self-regulation effective. However, if any State fancies that it can make a university better than its VC and the faculty, it evidently has no idea as to how a university functions. Sadly, our universities have failed not because of some individuals but a whole system due to failure of character, intelligence and strategy.

The UGC needs to drop the word “grants” from its name. It should develop into an authority like the judiciary and the Election Commission. The sanctions for enforcing its decisions and counsel will have to be more drastic than withholding of grants. They should include derecognition. Without such an authority, the lost ground in our higher education cannot be retrieved.



Dr Dahiya has rightly highlighted the sorry state of affairs of the UGC. The UGC is the supreme body to take 'proper care' of higher education as also to provide grants-in-aid for achieving academic excellence. But its directions issued from time to time are not being followed sincerely by the universities and state governments.

The major area of conflict is, of course, the recruitment of teachers in the universities and colleges. Obviously, the States have evolved their own mechanisms for various reasons. Consequently, there has been a lack of uniformity in the qualifications and procedure for recruitment of teachers from State to State and even between a university and aided private colleges within the same State.

For example, in Haryana, sometime back, a person eligible for appointment as lecturer in the university teaching department on the campus for teaching postgraduate classes, was not eligible as such in the government-aided private college since the eligibility conditions differ in both the cases — the university following the UGC norms and the State Government its own qualifications. This led to legal complications and a good number of cases are still pending in courts, some of them for over a decade.

One cannot understand as to why the UGC is failing in its duty to punish, according to rules, such institutions by imposing a total ban on grants-in-aid besides other sanctions. It is time the UGC made its stand clear and acted firmly against the erring institutions to safeguard the academic standards which are on the donwhill slide.

D.C. MIGLANI, Kurukshetra


Dr Dahiya's article was not only interesting but also thought-provoking. In UP, college lecturers for private/aided colleges are selected by the UP Higher Education Commission at Allahabad whereas government college lecturers are appointed by the UP Public Service Commission, also at Allahabad. Successive chairmen of the UP Higher Education Commission have been under cloud. One chairman got the job after serving as a vice-chancellor of a hill university in Uttaranchal and director of an observatory in Nainital. He was more interested in making money than doing a fair selection. Moreover, UGC rules are not totally followed in UP also.

I agree with Dr Dahiya's view that the UGC should approve the appointment of Principals by promotion but I do not see any fault in this. Promoted principals have a teaching experience of over 25 years, which is above the UGC stipulated limit of 15 years.

Since a principal’s post is more of an administrator and less of a teacher (he has to teach six periods a week as per UGC norms), the appointment of seniormost teachers as Principal seems to be appropriate. As for the requirement of Ph.D degree for Principal's post, obtaining a Ph.D degree is easier than doing matriculation.

What is the relevance of the State Council of Higher Education? The All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), which deals with polytechnics and engineering colleges, considers itself above the UGC. Conflicts between the UGC and AICTE have been reported in the Press on engineering seats/ approval of new subjects etc.

As for degree subjects the UGC should have the final say, but it is being made toothless by the AICTE. This agency has given UGC grade to polytechnic teachers who teach diploma classes with a mere 50 per cent in master's degree whereas a college teacher needs 55 per cent with a good academic record and should have passed the NET.


It takes a different breed to stand up and be counted

I have read the letters of Mr Rajiv Ahuja and Mr R.P. Chauhan (January 20), on my article “From democracy to a system of creeping kleptocracy” (January 6). I only hope Mr Ahuja's remarks that “there is no alternative to kleptocracy and we have to live with it, whatever our position may be” is made out of sheer despair and not out of any conviction. If such a mindset had prevailed during the pre-Independence struggle and later during the Emergency days, India would not have been a free nation today. It is easy to throw in the towel, but takes a different breed to stand up and be counted.

Encouragingly, Mr Chauhan belongs to this ‘different breed’. His suggestion that “to rebuff this challenging situation, the time has come for a group of like-minded citizens to come together and effective steps to give the requisite leadership so that the bells which are tolling loud and harsh are checked and the doomsday which is approaching fast is deferred” is timely and appropriate. People like Mr Chauhan and those who share his views would be glad to know that a lot of churning on this issue is already taking place across the country and soon an alternative agenda called “Governance is for the people” would be brought forth followed by mass mobilisation to see that this ancient nation does not degenerate into a frightening ‘kleptocracy’. The ongoing centenary year of Jayaprakash Narayan could be a harbinger for this initiative.

It was Dr Martin Luther King who said very prophetically: “The greatest tragedy of humankind is not the brutality of the Bad, but the silence of the Good”. Lest this silence continues only to perpetrate brutality in the form of kleptocracy, let us heed one of England's greatest statesmen, Edmund Burke: “When Bad men combine, the Good must associate. Lest they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle”.

As suggested by Dr Chauhan, the time has come for the Good to associate “lest they fall one by one” as is happening now before our very eyes.

M. G. DEVASAHAYAM, d[email protected]



Padma Bhushan, an affront to Sitara Devi
Harihar Swarup

THE Kathak legend, Sitara Devi, might not have been considered for the Bharat Ratna award but the belated attempt to offer her Padma Bhushan, a comparatively lower honour, in the evening of her life is truly an affront to her talents. Those who decide these coveted awards, perhaps, do not understand the sensitivity of an artist. She could have been bestowed Padma Bhushan years back along with her contemporaries like Pandit Kishan Maharaj and Kishori Amonkar but choosing her now for the award, which peers of her time received much earlier, amounts to hurting an artist’s pride. This should have never been done because ego is an in-built trait in a real maestro’s personality.

Sitara Devi is no ordinary artist. When she was barely 16, Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore was so impressed by her talents that he called her Nritya Samragini (empress of dance). This was, perhaps, the highest award she could have got and which she must be cherishing in her late seventies.

Few know the life of tribulation she had led. On a Diwali day, in a year no one correctly remembers, a little girl was born in Calcutta to legendary Kathak maestro Acharya Sukhdev Maharaj and his wife. She was named Dhan Lakshmi but affectionately called Dhanno at home. She was not a good-looking child having a somewhat twisted mouth and her parents virtually rejected her, entrusting the task of looking after her to a midwife. Dhanno was nurtured by the midwife, who was issue-less, for eight years.

When Dhanno was returned to her parents, her mouth had become normal and an early marriage was, possibly, her only future but she spurned matrimony and insisted on going to school. She used to stealthily watch her sister, Alaknanda, 20 years senior to her, being taught dance by maestros like Bindadin-Kalka Maharaj brothers. While watching the footsteps of her sister, she learnt the basic lessons of Kathak. Time soon came for Dhanno’s test as she was asked to produce a Satyavan-Savitri ballet for her school concert. The ballet was a roaring success and Dhanno came in for praise in local newspapers. Her father, Acharya Sukhdev Maharaj, was impressed by her child’s talent and a new life began for Dhanno, paving the way for her to become Sitara Devi.

A Vaishnav Brahmin from Varanasi, Sukhdev Maharaj, was a singer and Sanskrit scholar too and travelled around the country, teaching and performing dance and eking out a living from the fine art. It was in Nepal that his tryst with ‘kathak’ began having come in contact with Binadin Maharaj, pioneer of the Lucknow gharana, at a dance concert in the Royal court. Sukhdev Maharaj, having returned to Varanasi, initiated his children into classical dance, particularly ‘kathak’ but the orthodoxy in the holy city would not accept a man who taught dance to his daughters and made them ‘naachanewali’. In those days it was not considered respectable for girls from good families to dance and Sukhdev Maharaj belonged to a family of Banaras Brahmins. His contention was that he would not like such a fine art to die within the temples, courts and Kothas of “Tawaifs”. His wish was that this fine art should reach the people of his country and remain alive for centuries. Acharya Sukhdev was ostracised, beaten up by the elders of his community and had no option but to shift from Varanasi to Calcutta.

Finally, Sitara Devi fulfilled his father’s dream; brought down Kathak from the Kothas and raised this wonderful art in the esteem of the people. Daughters from respectable families now vie with each other to get into dance schools and ‘kathak’ is their first preference. By performing in villages, in films and on stage in countries like Germany, the USA and Russia, she brought ‘kathak’ to world stage. As a matter of fact, Sitara Devi and her family danced all their lives with just one objective in mind; to keep alive the tradition of kathak and ensure that it reaches the common man. Such renowned names as Taradevi, Nandadevi, Gopal Krishna, Acchan Maharaj, Shambhu Maharaj, Birju Maharaj and Lachchu Maharaj are all members of Sitara Devi’s family and dedicated their lives to Indian dance.

Sitara Devi is now a living legend, known the world over as Kathak Queen and, as a matter of fact, no award, howsoever prestigious, can raise her stature higher than what she has achieved in her 79-year long life.

It is worth writing a word about evolution of the Kathak School of Dance. Kathaks were originally story tellers who used to dance to illustrate ‘Kathas’ on stage. They were attached to temples in North India. With the advent of Muslim rule, Kathaks (story tellers) went from temple to court. Kathak, therefore, flowered in Hindu courts of Rajasthan and Muslim courts of Agra, Delhi and Lucknow. Court patronage evolved kathak into a highly technical and stylish art with emphasis on the solo performance.


Astrologers give Cong the edge in Punjab

CONGRESSMEN may not approve of the UGC allowing courses in astrology but that does not stop them from having faith in astrologers, specially if the predictions are in favour of their party. Some Congress leaders were recently taking delight in predictions of a few astrologers who had predicted a sweeping victory for the party in the coming assembly polls in Punjab. In his letter to a senior Congress leader, Pandit Murildhar Chaturvedi has predicted that Congress would get a landslide victory in the Punjab polls. The planetary positions, he calculates, are such that Congress would have nothing but a huge victory.

Congress leaders, apparently, have received no such predictions about Uttaranchal, Manipur and Uttar Pradesh — the other three states going to polls. But even if astrologers’ predictions about Punjab come true, what would the Congress claim credit for? Its rivals could always say that it was nothing but bad luck that drove them out of power.

Punjab's surprise

The Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), the breakaway group of the Congress which is contesting 49 of the 117 seats in Punjab in the forthcoming Assembly elections, is confident of giving “some surprises and a good show”. Aware of his charisma, party general secretary and former Lok Sabha Speaker P A Sangma has ruled out participation of film stars or celebrities in the election campaign. He prefers instead to count on media support and strongly believes that it can work wonders and effectively substitute celebrity campaigning. Unfazed by his linguistic handicap, Mr Sangma says that the electorate in Punjab understands Hindi. Having toured almost all the district headquarters in the State in the last two years, he does not anticipate any linguistic problems or impediments. Known for his quips, Sangma could not help remarking that he likes Punjabi women and finds them beautiful. The party is also counting on its membership in the State and claims that it exceeds one lakh.

The two-and-a-half-year-old party has the advantage of getting the experience of former Congress MP from Sangrur, Gurcharan Singh Dadhahoor who enjoys immense popularity in the State. The senior Congress leader has been appointed to the Working Committee of the NCP. Like many other quintessential Congressmen, the amiable and soft spoken Mr Dadhahoor believes that the party high command has simply shut the door on loyalists because of the new power centres that have emerged in the PPCC. The NCP was quick to rope in Mr Dadhahoor and utilise his services in Punjab.

Filmi style

It is election time and heroes and heroines from the cine world are in great demand with politicians. It was the Samajwadi Party of Mulayam Singh Yadav which started the trend by roping in apolitical evergreen superstar Amitabh Bachchan and his charming wife Jaya Bachchan. Though Amitabh Bachchan claims that he has nothing to do with politics, he has been indirectly campaigning for the SP by inaugurating blood donation camps or attending other noble functions organised by the party. The Congress has not taken kindly to this, especially considering the fact that the superstar was and is a family friend of the Gandhi family. The Congress has written to the Election Commission to prevent Amitabh Bachchan from doing surrogate campaigning for SP.

Its objections to the presence of Amitabh Bachchan notwithstanding, the Congress too is looking for some presentable faces to spearhead its campaign. They have closed in on Rajesh Khanna and Sunil Dutt to woo the masses. The BJP already has Shatrughan Sinha, Vinod Khanna and Hema Malini on their side and they plan to use them effectively.

Plain talk

US Ambassador to India Robert Blackwill believes in some plain talking to convey his message across. At a luncheon with captains of industry here last week, the polished diplomat demonstrated this trait very effectively. The focus of his talk was that India and the USA needed to do more on the economic front to solidify their relations. For this he wanted India to take several steps to instill investor confidence. He lamented about how India has high tariff walls, non-tariff barriers coupled with the need for tariff rationalisation and protection of intellectual property rights. For a moment it looked both India and the USA have a common grouse against each other.

To drive home his point more effectively, he spoke about stagnant US export to India saying the trend in these numbers is as flat as a “chapati”. He went on to add that from American experience he could testify that it takes more than policy pronouncements and good intentions to produce government actions. Borrowing a concept from the leaders of the Indian Government, the diplomat said words are fine but implementation is what really counts. “True in India-Pakistan relations. True in Indian economic reform”.

Passport blues

Government offices in the country are known for their mindless gaffes and the Regional Passport Office in the national capital is no exception. Some functionaries of this office have been using, or rather misusing, their authority when it comes to deciding whether a passport applicant is entitled to Emigration Check Not Required (ECNR) status or not. As per well-defined rules, if a person is a graduate, he or she is entitled to ECNR status.

But recently a shocking case has come to light where this rule has been flouted blatantly. While signing on the passport of a Delhi University Reader, who happens to have done her doctorate in Plasma Physics, one Bibianus Toppo, Superintendent of Regional Passport Office, New Delhi (25) made it a point to write in hand ECR, that is Emigration Check Required. The same fate was recently meted to a young working woman who had done her graduation from a premier college of commerce. To heap insult on injury, the young lady’s passport was valid for five years only. As if this were not enough, the wife of a top Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) official, who is a teacher, also got ECR stamped on her passport. Are these mere coincidental mistakes or is there something more to it?

Cricket chaos

The flak that the Delhi Police received for the utter mismanagament at the Ferozeshah Kotla grounds during the India-England one day cricket match on Thursday had the senior officers of the force coming out with several explanations the next day. They maintained that there was no mismanagement from their side and it was the Delhi and District Cricket Association which was to be blamed for doling out free passes.

The police claims notwithstanding, an onlooker present at the DDCA a day before the match recalled hearing a lower ranking police officer send out a strong message to a DDCA official that if he was not given adequate number of passes, he would ensure that there was chaos outside the gates the next day. It would be interesting to find out whether this was one of the factors responsible for the chaos outside the Ferozeshah Kotla ground which left hundreds of genuine ticket holders in the cold.

Contributed by Prashant Sood, Tripti Nath, T.V. Lakshminarayan, Rajeev Sharma and Girija Shankar Kaura.


World Book Fair leaves a mark of changing times
Humra Quraishi

BY the time you would get to reading this column, the World Book Fair would be at its concluding leg, leaving a mark of the changing times. Though entry is free with various discounts, there were few genuine buyers. Many stress that this poor turnout is not just a result of the changing priorities but because of the clash of timings of the Fair with examinations.

For some strange reason, these dates remain unchanged year after year. The poor turnout hasn’t really discouraged writers at our end. If last week, Kathak maestro Sitara Devi left a bad taste all around ( what with her turning down one award and asking for another, a supposedly more prestigious one), this coming week Birju Maharaj is all set towards making us feel better. Come February 5, he will release his book “Ang Kavya” ( Har Anand). The book launch will herald a four-day festival of dance. On the opening day, Birju Maharaj will indulge in that heady combination, called by a headier name — ‘jugalbandi’ .What with he dancing /kathaking to the beat of Ustad Zakir Hussain on the tabla.

There’s another one who is all set with his book launch. Adman and theatre personality, Suhel Seth’s ‘In Your Face’ will be launched on February 7. It will be accompanied by a discussion on the ever debatable theme ‘Does India deserve her politicians’ with Arun Jaitley, Shekhar Gupta, Tarun Tejpal and Rajdeep Sardesai on the panel. With just one politician on the panel (Arun Jaitley), it definitely wouldn’t turn out to be a political platform...And though the card does not specify whether Suhel will indulge in any of those readings from his book, it will be good if hedoes. For he does an excellent job. On two or three occasions that I have heard him read out passages, there has been nothing but praise...

Another two books (it might take a month for them to hit the stands) will be journalist Kanika Gehlaut’s and columnist Devi Cherian’s books on the so-called hi-society life and lifestyles in New Delhi. I am sure that if they have been blatant, they’d provide fun reading.

Serla Grewal

Whilst reading the news of Serla Grewal’s passing away, that image I had of her loomed large — she walking ever so briskly in New Delhi’s Lodhi Gardens. I think last time I saw her walking in those gardens was about four years back, and there didn’t seem much change in her — the same healthy look, the same seriousness on her pleasant face. On most occasions, she was accompanied by her husband. (In fact, she was one of those few walkers who walked with their spouses, unlike others who chose to walk either alone or with anybody and everybody but the spouse). And though totally engrossed in walking, she would make it a point to say hello and exchange pleasantries with a lovely smile spreading on her face.

Serla Grewal’s colleagues tell me that she was not just the finest of officers but those who hated publicity and stuck to those principled do’s and don’ts. We have lost another from that old school, who wouldn’t get bullied by the political masters but worked with utmost righteousness.

Valentine's day

Though Valentine’s Day is a fortnight away, activity has already begun here. Yesterday, I received an invite (the first one so far, for this year) for the Valentine’s Day party. Coming from friend and party enthusiast Bhaichand Patel, it wasn’t a surprise. Patel of Trinidad & Tobago origin and a one time director of the UN Information Centre is one of the warmest of hosts. He takes care not to miss out on the simplest of details, with a party emanating from his end for every occasion.

Metro rail

Thankfully, I’m no economist to go into the cost of the laying of the Metro rail line, but what really perturbs many is that once the digging starts, the telephone lines get destroyed and it takes days for them to get restored. In my locality this has been happening for the last week, with many phones lying dead or plagued with cross-connections.

A metro line is meant to connect rather than disconnect and cause so much of inconvenience. Will the top brass of the Metro rail ensure that telephone lines are spared, whilst that enthusiastic digging goes on?

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