Sunday, February 17, 2002, Chandigarh, India

National Capital Region--Delhi

E D I T O R I A L   P A G E


Prabhat Kumar’s exit marks systemic putrefaction
Ram Varma
he Governor of Jharkhand, Prabhat Kumar, had to quit in disgrace. His sins of the past had caught up with him to torment and haunt him and to strip him of his gubernatorial garb.

Reviving the Punj Piara concept of collective leadership
Hardit Singh
Guru Gobind Singh Ji D
uring the last two decades the functioning of the Sikh Takhts, particularly Akal Takht and its Jathedar, has become controversial due to ignorance and lack of understanding of its history, tradition and role. People and organisations make representations to the Jathedar for his advice as if he were the supreme authority of the Sikhs. 

Examining the core of the ‘core issue’
t should not be too difficult to comprehend the compulsion behind General Musharraf’s need to keep harping on what he termed as the ‘core issue’ during the Agra summit. Kashmir is the core issue, but not in the sense that the Pakistani General has seen fit to project it.



Market ruled petro prices
February 16, 2002
Now, the long wait
February 15, 2002
Omar “held”, 19 to go!
February 14, 2002
It’s voters’ day
February 13, 2002
India does it!
February 12, 2002
CBI secures its terrorist
February 11, 2002
Presenting the picture of a timid, frightened nation
February 10, 2002
Defence deal
February 9
, 2002
Elections without issues
February 8, 2002
Middlemen to the fore
February 7, 2002
Shedding extra flab
February 6, 2002


Of two disciplined, valorous old men
David Devadas
uring the course of my research in Kashmir, I have met two amazing older men. Both were about a hundred years old when I met them and both died within months thereafter. The first was Ghulam Qadir “Ganderbali,” who had been a National Conference leader in the pre-independence years. 


Harihar Swarup
Lagaan’s success, Aamir’s unique achievement
amir Khan’s blockbuster — Lagaan — has been best summed up by one of his fans, Ketan: “You have expressed your heart exactly the way you wanted it. When it comes right from the heart each and every aspect of it comes to be simply beautiful”.


When Rajnath was more visible than PM
as Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Rajnath Singh edged past Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee in the popular ratings among the BJP candidates in Western UP? In an election where only the local factors and caste equations mattered, the Chief Minister was more visible on the posters and banners than any other BJP leader. 







Humra Quraishi
Hype over world festival of Indian literature
certain degree of hype has caught up in the literati sections as the International Festival of Indian Literature — At home in the World — gets inaugurated on February 18 by Prime Minister Vajpayee. 





Prabhat Kumar’s exit marks systemic putrefaction
Ram Varma

The Governor of Jharkhand, Prabhat Kumar, had to quit in disgrace. His sins of the past had caught up with him to torment and haunt him and to strip him of his gubernatorial garb. Although he is trying to hold his head high and maintain that he is innocent, it is unlikely that the stain of the incriminating revelations reportedly made about him by Ashok Chaturvedi, Chairman of Flex Industry, during the latter’s interrogation by CBI in a case of corruption registered against Chief Excise Commissioner of Delhi, Someshwar Mishra, would wholly wash. As has been widely reported, Ashok Chaturvedi had foot the bills of at least three parties hosted by Prabhat Kumar as Cabinet Secretary, in all paying about a lakh and a half rupees. The revelations are symptomatic of the systemic putrefaction at the head of the country’s civil services.

It is remarkable that when the story was splashed in a national newspaper, Prabhat Kumar kept mum, which heightened public suspicion, and signified its veracity in public mind. He later called on the Prime Minister and the Home Minister and seemed to dig in his heels. He had to quit ultimately, not in good grace. One is reminded of the famous line from the inimitable Ghalib: “Bade be-aabru hoke tere kooche se hum nikle.”

Prabhat Kumar is by far the biggest catch taken by the CBI. There is Laloo Yadav, no doubt; but it was not the CBI but an IAS officer, Khare of the Bihar cadre, who first unearthed the fodder scam. The investigation was later entrusted to CBI by a High Court order. There have been even Prime Ministers in its net, like Rajiv Gandhi and Narasimha Rao, but the instigation for unravelling Bofors and urea scams actually came from political executives. Prabhat Kumar came into the CBI net by a fortuitous circumstance. They were giving heat treat to Ashok Chaturvedi to know about the bribes he gave to Someshwar Mishra, when he spilled the beans about him. Chaturvedi may have done it as an exercise in name-dropping with a view to making an impression on the policemen. But it was a goldmine they stumbled upon. It tremendously gladdened the hearts of the CBI top brass, and they quietly leaked it to a contact in the fourth estate. They are generally at the receiving end from the likes of the Cabinet Secretary. Now they had him on the mat.

There is also the factor of inter-services jealousies — the IPS not savoring the domineering position of the IAS in the scheme of things, and looking for an opportunity to humble the arrogant and all-powerful IAS. Prabhat Kumar may be guilty of all that has been alleged against him, but his peccadilloes would have gone unnoticed had he belonged to the IPS. In that sense, he is perhaps a victim of what I call our own version of ISI — Inter-Services Inquisition.

Prabhat Kumar was the topper of his batch — the class of 1963. He was a product of the Allahabad University, a premier educational institution at that time. In his long innings of over 37 years in top government positions, he earned a reputation of being a straightforward, no-nonsense officer. He was Principal Secretary, Home, in UP Government when the disputed structure of the ‘Babri Masjid’ was demolished during a congregation of a frenzied mob at Ayodhya, and his official conduct also came under scrutiny of the judicial commission enquiring into the sacrilegious act. He found himself on the same side as the top political leaders governing the country today and that perhaps brought him in close contact with them. Some say, perhaps uncharitably, that this association explained his selection to the top job in the civil services. What gives some credence to the aspersion is the alacrity with which he was later elevated to the exalted position of Governor within days of his retirement.

Now the Governor unquestionably is a political post, and the incumbents have been known more for their loyalty to the ruling party of the day, although they might possess formidable personal merit. Some of them had to eat a humble pie for their blatantly partisan actions and dubious decisions. The name of the former Haryana Governor, D.C. Pavate, comes readily to mind, who in the early eighties, ignoring a clear electoral verdict in favour of Devi Lal, had crowned Bhajan Lal instead, at the behest of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, and was later subjected to the ignominy of getting his face blackened in public. The recent case of Fatima Beevi showing a wilful defiance of the constitutional provisions in installing Jayalalitha as Chief Minister, and earning in the bargain a presidential sack and a Supreme Court reprimand, is still fresh in public memory.

Uttar Pradesh Governor Romesh Bhandari too had to quit in disgrace, but Bihar Governor Vinod Pande survived a similar indiscretion, probably due to his astrological proficiency. In Prabhat Kumar’s case, it was not any gubernatorial indiscretions but indulgences as a top dog of civil bureaucracy, which proved fatal. Ghosts from his past have risen to haunt him. His old sins have caught up with him.

The Cabinet Secretary functions from the Rashtrapati Bhawan. His office is technically above all Ministries, inasmuch as all matters requiring approval or decision of the Union Cabinet have to be submitted to him. He is privy to all important decisions of the Central Government. It is easy for him to speed or scuttle any decision. The ‘Yes Prime Minister’ serial had brought home the importance of being a Cabinet Secretary in Britain. An occupant of this august office wields palpable power. A mere nod from him may bestow a fortune. His friends and relatives may benefit in unfathomable ways. That would of course be unscrupulous. Save for the most scrupulous, I understand there are several ‘official’ ways open for hosting parties at home. Then there are any number of Central PSU’s including the prestigious ‘Navratnas’, who could be asked to pick up the bill. A few lakhs is chickenfeed for them. It is indeed astonishing why he should have taken this favour from a private industrialist, unless it was his way of bestowing favour on him.

A statement or confession made by an accused before a police officer has little value in the eyes of law unless it is substantiated or supported by documentary proof. It appears in this case that the man is in possession of such incriminating evidence. Otherwise the Prime Minister would not have asked Prabhat Kumar to quit. Which makes me red in the face for having belonged to this service. And sad at heart. It shows that the ‘black list’ displayed by Chief Vigilance Commissioner, N. Vittal, on his website is only the tip of the iceberg. That there are innumerable ‘Chhupe Rustams’ who are merrily abusing their high offices without being caught. It struck me that if the Cabinet Secretary himself is not above board, why blame poor R.K. Ranga or not so poor N.K. Jain? Why corner only a Bikramjit Singh?

The tehelka investigations had exposed the greed of a few officers of the Defence Ministry, simply because it targeted only that Ministry. It should now be clear that they would not have been disappointed had they tried any other Ministry or any State government office, for that matter. The cancer of corruption seems to have spread everywhere. Even in the educational institutions and the hospitals, this dreaded disease seems to have spread its tentacles. The teacher and the healer were regarded as guru and god respectively in our society as they were renowned for their selfless service. No more, it would appear. These professions are getting unethically money centered. The percentage of childbirth by Caesarean operations in private nursing homes is many times higher than in government hospitals, as the nursing homes make much more money on Caesarean deliveries. It is common practice for doctors to ask a patient to get blood or urine tests done or X-ray taken from a particular lab at exorbitant rates as they receive fat commissions from them. Similarly, technical or professional colleges cavalierly charge hefty fees for admission. Good teachers now rarely teach in classrooms, they only do it at home and receive handsome tuitions, which remain unaccounted for in their tax calculations.

Mankind was always lured by money. Now it is lusting for it. Greed grips us all. Mammon has the world in thrall. Maybe it is something to do with the winds of globalisation and the newer means of communications shrinking the world, bringing temptations, stirring desire. Now even a sadhu, willingly tucked up in the snow caves of the Himalayas, casts a covetous eye on a Gucci leather jacket or Nike shoes or Rayban goggles that a foreign tourist flaunts.

We in Chandigarh have heard of a Vice-Chancellor who made ISD calls to his wife living in Mauritius and had the audacity to certify them as ‘official’, and made the university pay for his pleasure. Not a few occasional calls, mind you, but hundreds, over long periods, costing the university a few lakh rupees.

In my early days in the IAS, our Chief Secretary once asked me if I could take a passenger in my official car to Delhi where I was going on tour. As I was going alone, I had no problem at all, and I had the pleasure of travelling with a charming lady. On my coming back, the Chief Secretary gave me money equivalent to de-luxe bus fare to deposit in the State treasury. With such living examples in those days, it did not appear entirely unreal that in the past men like Chanakya had lived in utter austerity in a hut outside the capital city while serving as Prime Minister.

However, now with the present day species of public servants sipping Scotch at the expense of the likes of Ashok Chaturvedi, the nation has finally exorcised the uncompromising spectre of public men like Chanakya.

The writer is a former Chief Secretary of Haryana.


Reviving the Punj Piara concept of collective leadership
Hardit Singh

During the last two decades the functioning of the Sikh Takhts, particularly Akal Takht and its Jathedar, has become controversial due to ignorance and lack of understanding of its history, tradition and role. People and organisations make representations to the Jathedar for his advice as if he were the supreme authority of the Sikhs. Some even equate him with the Pope.

The Sikhs today have one Akal Takht at Amritsar and four other Takhts — one each at Anandpur Sahib, Damdama Sahib, Patna Sahib (Bihar) and Nanded Sahib (Maharashtra). Akal Takht is the foremost and this was the only Takht existing during the Gurus’ period (1469-1708) whilst the Damdama Sahib Takht was declared as such after Partition. Akal Takht was constructed by Guru Hargobind (1595-1644) in 1609 at an eight-foot high mound facing Harimandar Sahib. Initially, only the basement and the ground floor were built. Three more storeys were added during the Misl and Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s times. Its throne height was purposely kept two feet higher than the Mughal throne at Delhi. Here Guru Hargobind, aged 11, ascended the throne wearing two swords representing the spiritual power (Piri) and temporal power (Miri), instead of the traditional “Seli Topi” (woollen cord cap) worn by the earlier Gurus. He also wore a turban adorned with an aigrette and held a falcon in his hand as an emblem of royalty. The Guru sat in state, held court, discussed matters on the community and humanity at large, and issued “hukamnama” (edicts).

The Takht at Anandpur Sahib, known as Keshgarh Sahib, is the place where Guru Gobind Singh (1666-1708) created the Khalsa Panth in 1699 to uphold righteousness and extirpate tyrants. As the name of the place suggests, keeping of unshorn hair by the Sikhs was made obligatory. At Damdama Sahib Guru Gobind Singh had completed the Adi Granth by inclusion of his father Guru Teg Bahadur’s Gurbani into it and had declared this as “Guru ki Kanshi” — the centre of knowledge and learning. The Takht at Patna Sahib is the birth place of Guru Gobind Singh and the one at Nanded Sahib is the place where he shed his mortal frame. Sri Guru Granth Sahib was enthroned as the Sikhs’ eternal Guru.

The three Takhts in Punjab are under the administration of the partially government controlled SGPC, which was constituted under the Sikh Gurudwara Act of 1925 by the British government. The other two Takhts at Patna Sahib and Nanded Sahib are managed by the local boards under the supervision of the local Deputy Commissioners. The SGPC appoints Jathedars for the Takhts in Punjab whilst the appointment of the other two is made by the local boards subject to approval by the respective Deputy Commissioners.

After the martyrdom of his father, Guru Arjan Dev (1563-1606), Guru Hargobind had realised that time had come to infuse martial spirit in the Sikhs as well to defend the new faith against the Mughals, who were determined to crush them. He fought four battles against the Mughals which he won in spite of being outnumbered in strength and arms. In order to avoid the holy Harimandar Sahib complex from becoming continued arena of conflict and also to ensure development of the new Amritsar town, he shifted to Kiratpur Sahib in 1634.

As none of the successive Gurus stayed in Amritsar thereafter, the Akal Takht sovereignty (i.e. functioning of the “Miri and Piri” concept) remained with their person wherever they were until 1708 when Guru Gobind Singh shed his mortal frame. At this time the Guru had neither appointed nor conferred any glorified status like the Jathedar on anybody; he only called upon Bhai Santokh Singh to run the Guru’s langar efficiently.

“After 1708, Amritsar, with the location of the Harimandar Sahib and the Akal Takht complex, became the hub of the Sikh community and centre of resistance against the Mughals. Akal Takht then resumed its original role under the Guru Granth-Guru Panth concept enunciated by the Tenth Master. Under this concept, the personal powers of the living Guru were bifurcated. The “Piri” or “Jot” (Divine light or wisdom) was vested with Guru Granth. “Miri” or “Jugat” (Management of temporal affairs) was entrusted to the Guru Panth as decisions had to be made according to various situations in the spirit of the Gurbani.

The terms “Takht Jathedar” has no tradition in the Sikh history. During the Gurus’ times and Misl period, respected (Gurmukh) Sikhs were either called Babas or Bhais such as Baba Budhaji, Baba Banda Singh Bahadur, Baba Deep Singh, Bhai Gurdas, Bhai Kanahiya, Bhai Nand Lal, etc. The Misl heads were called Sardars such as Sardar Kapoor Singh, Sardar Baghel Singh, Sardar Jassa Singh. Only the heads of armed groups (jathas) were known as Jathedars. Similarly, the heads of unarmed jathas, which went from Akal Takht for the liberation of gurdwaras during the Akali movement of the 1920s, were called Jathedars. Thus, in the Sikh tradition the term Jathedar applies to the head of an armed or unarmed jatha only and not to any personality or office-bearer.

A general notion that Bhai Mani Singh and Akali Phulla Singh were the Jathedars of Akal Takht is not at all correct. Mata Sunderiji had appointed Bhai Mani Singh as a granthi-cum-custodian of the Harimandar Sahib complex to stabilise its affairs following Mughal repression. It was during this period that Baba Banda Singh Bahadur along with the 700 followers were executed in Delhi in 1716. Akali Phulla Singh was the head of the Nihang Dal based in Amritsar. He was the most pious, courageous and selfless leader of that time. It was in that influential position that he had confronted Maharaja Ranjit Singh for his moral lapse, and not as the Jathedar of Akal Takht. The Maharaja had not allowed any parallel authority, much less a Sikh religious one, during his regime.

The Jathedars’ appointment for the Takhts had been introduced after the enactment of the Sikh Gurdwara Act of 1925, although there was neither any provision for creating such a rank nor even the term of Jathedar is mentioned in the Act. The Takhts are graded as gurdwara and their names are included in the list of gurdwaras given in Schedule 1 of the Act. Granthis (priests) are named as ministers. Only the Harimandar Sahib and the Takhts are entitled to have head ministers. It is not clear how this nomenclature of Jathedar came into use for the Takhts and not for the Harimandar Sahib, which still has a Head Granthi. It is possible that the first appointed persons for the Takhts were addressed as Jathedars for their role of leading unarmed jathas during the Akali movement and the successive appointees assumed the same title.

Instead of individual rule or the jathedari system, Sikhism enjoins collective leadership of “Punj Piaras” based on Guru Nanak’s maxim “Panch pervan, panch pradhan” the five blessed and approved persons from the presidium. Whilst Guru Gobind Singh brought out this concept openly at the point of sword in 1699, the earlier Gurus had also practised this innovation by choosing their own Punj Piaras from among their Sikhs.

Another reason for having the Punj Piaras for collective leadership was that whilst an individual can be corrupted by wealth, power and vanity, a collective body of selected persons cannot be.

Guru Gobind Singh demonstrated the role of Punj Piaras in his life time. In the first instance he asked them to baptise him in the same manner to become a member of the Khalsa. In doing so, he elevated the Khalsa to the position of the Guru Panth and the Punj Piaras became their representatives. In the second instance, he obeyed their command to quit the Chamkaur-di-garhi against his will and thereafter he paid a fine imposed by them for bowing to Pir Dadu’s grave. When Baba Banda Singh Bahadur was dispatched to Punjab to establish the rule of law there, Punj Piaras were detailed to accompany him as his advisers. This indicated that when it becomes necessary to appoint an individual to handle a task, he is to be guided by Punj Piaras selected by the Panth.

The concept of Guru Granth-Guru Panth and the above four events clearly show that Guru Gobind Singh had indicated definite guidelines regarding the future leadership of the Sikhs. The 12 Misl Sardars successfully used the institution of Punj Piaras to co-ordinate their affairs and forge a common front against the Mughals. The Punj Piaras were selected under at Sarbat Khalsa meetings held twice a year in front of Akal Takht. This period of 1762 to 1799 is considered as the most glorious time of Sikh history.

Today the Sikhs are passing through a very critical phase. Their leadership is in disarray; there is a mushrooming growth of Akali parties under self-glorifying leaders and numerous “Sant Deras”. Our institutions are not in the hands of competent, devoted and sincere persons. Our religious centres like the Takhts and gurdwaras are not radiating the true Sikh spirit.

The main cause for our slide from the high pedestal of Sikhism is our gross disregard to the doctrine of Guru Granth-Guru Panth. There is an urgent need to convene a meeting of Sikh scholars, theologians and representatives of major Sikh institutions, including the Sikh diaspora, to discuss the present situation to draw up a concrete plan to stem the tide. The foremost requirements are to make Akal Takht an independent authority free from any institutional control, abolish the jathedari system and implement the Punj Piara concept.

It is heartening to learn that the SGPC has decided (The Tribune, January 8) to set up “an international advisory council .... to tone up the working of the highest temporal body of the Sikhs and to deal more effectively with Panthic matters.” It is hoped that the above recommendations would receive consideration by the advisory council.

The writer is a retired Brigadier.


Examining the core of the ‘core issue’

It should not be too difficult to comprehend the compulsion behind General Musharraf’s need to keep harping on what he termed as the ‘core issue’ during the Agra summit. Kashmir is the core issue, but not in the sense that the Pakistani General has seen fit to project it. After 50 years, it can no longer be the core issue for the vast majority of the people of India and Pakistan. The Security Council considers it a dead issue.

For the people of the subcontinent, the core issues cannot be other than population proliferation and the grinding poverty that engulfs the masses, a point very ably highlighted by the Indian President at his banquet on the first day of the visit. It is for this reason that the political classes of the two countries have tried to discuss this matter in a more reasonable frame of mind in the past; in order to come to grips with the core issues which they felt would help improve the lot of their people.

That was the spirit in which the Shimla and Lahore summits between the political leaders were held. It was derailed ab initio by a military which had neither the political sagacity nor the diplomatic finesse to grasp the opportunity offered at a meeting that, in his own words, could have been an historical turning point.

The military General — with his rather close links to jehadi elements in the past — had a one-point agenda. It was certainly not the resolution of the Kashmir dispute. It was to use the opportunity to trash the political classes in his country — both past and present — and justify his own coup and the subsequent self-anointment as president without any constitutional mandate to do so.

Without batting an eyelid, General Musharraf, at his second press conference, glibly stated that, “it was the people of Pakistan who did not allow the peace process to move forward after the earlier summits”. He then went on to denounce those summits. With amazing absent-mindedness he glossed over the fact that it was the military itself that had intervened to thwart the peace process.

For the people at large, the bluff-and-bluster General carried the day in the media war that he waged so ably. Some would say he won hands down. In a manner of speaking he did. Pakistan diplomacy, however, suffered a blow from which it may not recover that easily. For a long time to come every leader in the world dealing with his Pakistani counterpart would have qualms confiding anything to his opposite number, never being sure whether he did understood the cardinal principle of global diplomacy — that secret parleys, or the one to one sessions between leaders, have always remained the bedrock for the successful outcome of some of the most complex negotiations carried out between nations over the centuries. But then the good General can perhaps be forgiven his unpardonable lapse. He had made it clear that he is a stranger to diplomatic niceties — and nuances.

Perspectives differ. Kashmir can no longer be the core issue for the one billion people of India coming to grips with globalisation and the global reality of the 21st century. That it is the core issue for General Musharraf is understandable. Kashmir is the raison d’etre for the Pakistan Army and its ‘core constituency’ — the radical Islamists.

If militancy — and the terror that accompanies it — is not kept on the boil, Kashmir would cease to be the core issue. There would be no justification then for the exorbitant defence allocations that have kept the Pakistani war machine in clover — to the detriment of the development needs of the ordinary people of Pakistan. Should the Pakistan army cease to give primacy to the Kashmir issue, it would hardly be in a position to justify its frequent coups. Neither General Musharraf nor his backers can countenance with equanimity the prospect of a rapprochement with India. It undercuts the very survival imperative of the Pakistan army.

General Musharraf, in his own words, is a warrior who has fought many battles, three of them in Kashmir itself : The failed Siachen attack; the less than brilliant Kargil adventure and last, but not the least, the enormously successful punitive expedition for teaching a lesson to the people of Gilgit and Baltistan. The General is indeed a warrior. Having donned the presidential sherwani in exchange for combat fatigues he continued the war in the only manner that he knew. He successfully turned the Agra summit into a propaganda battlefield. Asia Defence News International.


Of two disciplined, valorous old men
David Devadas

During the course of my research in Kashmir, I have met two amazing older men. Both were about a hundred years old when I met them and both died within months thereafter. The first was Ghulam Qadir “Ganderbali,” who had been a National Conference leader in the pre-independence years. He was appointed Administrator of all of Ladakh in the Emergency Government that Maharaja Hari Singh appointed, with Sheikh Abdullah at its head, in October, 1947. Abdullah had appointed party activists as virtual governors of various parts of the Maharaja’s state to oversee the administration in those chaotic, war-torn days.

Our meeting took place soon after the Kargil invasion and the old man spoke of having inspected the ranges around Kargil with army officers all those years ago and pointing out then that some of the very ridges that Pakistan invaded in 1999 were vulnerable. He was a diehard Indian and wouldn’t hear a negative word about Jawaharlal Nehru.

I asked him about the reports I had heard of excesses, even atrocities, by the army. I expected him to be bitter because his teenaged grandson had been killed some years earlier by army bullets. The boy happened to be in the market when the army opened fire in response to a grenade attack. Instead of bitterness, I was treated to contemptuous anger about allegations of atrocities. He had worked with the Indian army, the old man said, and they were the most disciplined and valorous anywhere. It was impossible that they could commit excesses.

He clearly revered Sheikh Abdullah and spoke of Farooq Abdullah as of a little boy, insisting that, whatever flaws his governance might have, he was good at heart. His mind would sometimes wander as we sat in bright sunlight in his home in Nunar village near Ganderbal. He would retreat into silence as he puffed deeply on a cigarette. My friend and I, who had gone to interview him together, would wait silently.

At one point, he returned to the recollections of a meeting at which he had gone with a party delegation and met Nehru. It was at Udaipur, he said, as far as he could remember. Yes, it was Udaipur. Nehru had told them about secularism, he said, and they had been inspired. It was only later, when my friend and I had returned to my friend’s home that it dawned on us that he had been talking of the State People’s Conference in 1938. No wonder he was so committed to India, fired as he had been in the crucible of the freedom struggle.

The other centenarian was no politician but a leading light of his community nonetheless. He lived in a village beyond Anantnag and we got there after walking through picturesque forests and fording a stream. Even at that advanced age, he had his wits entirely about him and, lying bolstered in his bed, received streams of visitors. He was a respected Sufi pir (seer) and aalim (scholar) and many neighbours would come daily seeking advice or predictions.

There was a beatific serenity about him and he welcomed and blessed me warmly. In a lyrical, sometimes cryptic, style, he criticised the Kashmiri people as being eternally dissatisfied, and he criticised the gun. Violence would achieve nothing, he predicted. Although he had never been a political associate, he too had words of praise for Sheikh Abdullah and observed that it was he who first wanted independence for his people rather than accession to either India or Pakistan.

The views of neither aging man, both unfortunately now gone, is representative of common Kashmiri thinking but both had a certain centred wisdom. Both spoke with consistency, unswayed by popular currents. By contrast, most Kashmiris tend to be emotional, voluble and easily swept along by the dominant slogan of the time.

I had gone to visit the pir in connection with my research about the life of his nephew, who became a militant commander with the nom de guerre Shahid-ul Islam. He once observed that “Kashmiri bhed khata hai aur bhed chaal chalta hai” (Kashmiris eat sheep and tend to herd like sheep).

Sadly, this is one reason for their current predicament. If only the wisdom of age could seep into the young.


Lagaan’s success, Aamir’s unique achievement
Harihar Swarup

Aamir Khan’s blockbuster — Lagaan — has been best summed up by one of his fans, Ketan: “You have expressed your heart exactly the way you wanted it. When it comes right from the heart each and every aspect of it comes to be simply beautiful”. Another of Aamir’s fan, ten year old, Amreen, says in an e-mail: “I am ten-year-old. Do you know I have watched all your movies. My favourite is Lagaan”. Poornima Ganesh says in her e-mail: “My two-year-old son, Shreyas has become your fan. He has got addicted to the songs of the Lagaan and demands we constantly keep singing them”. An Afghan national, Muhammad Saleem Pashtun, too has come under spell of Aamir and wonders how the filmstar suffixes his name with “Khan”. His query is: “Normally Pashtuns add Khan to their names. Are you a Pashtun?”

No wonder why Aamir Khan has become a superstar at 37 and his hit film — Lagaan — nominated for Oscar in the Best Foreign Film category thus coming within striking range of the world’s most prestigious award. India has so far won only two best foreign film nominations — Mehboob Khan’s “Mother India” in 1957 and 31 years later, Mira Nair’s “Salaam Bombay”. “Laggan” is now pitted against four other films — France’s “Amelie”, Norway’s “Elling”, Bosnia’s “No Man’s Land” and Argentina’s “ Son of the Bride”. The question whether “Lagaan” will bag the Oscar is wide open but with the film’s nomination for the highest award, the Indian film industry has made a place in the world. Aamir feels more movies like “Lagaan” should be made because there is no dearth of talents in the country.

When Aamir was introduced in his first film “Yaadon Ki Baaraat”, he was barely eight years and the youngest child in the trio. Subsequently, he came to be known as “chocolate boy” of the big screen. He shot to fame in his first popular debut in “Qayamat se Qayamat Tak”. The song sung by him “Papa Kahtein Hai Bada Nam Karega” endeared him to the audience. Truly, later in life he has earned big name for him even though he has miles go and very best has yet to come out. Aamir’s charming personality, with his wide range of acting capabilities coupled with his ability to dance to the tunes has made him very popular indeed.

Even though Aamir was introduced to films very early in the age, he experiment with other avocations in life as he grew up. At one stage, he quit movies and went on to become the state tennis champion for Maharashtra. He also fell in love even before he legally qualified to get married. As soon as became 21, he proposed to the girl, a Hindu, he loved passionately. There was, apparently, strong opposition from his family members since they were very conservation Muslims. Aamir and Reena had no option but to elope and get married. When they returned home the frayed tempers of elders had cooled down and they accepted the matrimony. Reena also now sings “Papa Kehte Hain…”

Lagaan is set in a small Indian village called Champaner, during the late 1800s. Like thousands of villages across the country, the farmers of Champaner depend on agriculture as the main source of livelihood. However, with a lack of rain during the monsoon period, they are finding it hard to cope. On the outskirts of the village stands a British cantonment, commanded by Captain Russell (Paul Blackthorne) — an arrogant and capricious man who wields the power of life and death over the villages under his jurisdiction. He knows about the difficulties that the villagers are facing, yet cruelly announces his plans to double tax, causing even more hardship for the poor farmers.

They plead with him to change his mind, but he sets them a challenge. The village must learn to play cricket and win against the British. If they are successful he will not charge tax for three years. However, if they lose the game, he will not only double the tax, but triple it instead! Lead by Aamir Khan, the villagers reluctantly learn the game with a little help from the British ruler’s sister (Rachel Shelly) who has a soft spot for Aamir. They work as hard as they possibly can to learn the game, because their livelihood depend on its result.

Soon the big day dawns and a three-day cricket match between the rag-tag mutely crowd and Captain Russell’s team begin. It is a match with many ups and downs. Towards the close Aamir Khan hits a winner sixer putting his team’s score ahead of Russell’s. The villagers will have not to pay taxes for three years. Cricket is merely a game but winning this match meant everything to the Indians. The British contingent leaves Champaner with Captain Russell being transferred and Elizabeth packed off to England carrying memories of Aamir Khan.Top


When Rajnath was more visible than PM

Has Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Rajnath Singh edged past Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee in the popular ratings among the BJP candidates in Western UP? In an election where only the local factors and caste equations mattered, the Chief Minister was more visible on the posters and banners than any other BJP leader. Home Minister LK Advani’s appearance was rare and it was always with the Prime Minister.

The BJP, which is the ruling party both at the Centre and in UP, had the maximum choice for its candidates for campaigining. Apart from the PM, CM and Home Minister, several union ministers besides cinestars Vinod Khanna and Hema Malini were canvassing for the party candidates. (Shatrughan Sinha, who was in the USA, joined the BJP campaigning in Central and Eastern UP after an SOS from Advani and Rajnath). In Western UP, while the Samajwadi Party had the “Amitabh factor’’ on its side to take on the BJP, the Congress tried to cash in on the “Laloo charisma.’’

In the seats Maneka Gandhi’s Shakti Dal was contesting, candidates had more posters of her smiling than they had of their own. While Shakti Dal had a somewhat odd poll symbol of a ‘scissor,’ Rashtriya Kranti Party of former Chief Minister Kalyan Singh had a tantalising ‘car’ as its symbol. But no symbol was as honest about the whole exercise as that of DP Yadav’s Rashtriya Parivartan Dal. Its symbol of kursi conveyed what the whole poll effort was all about.


The exit polls are once again in the news making edgy political parties jump up. The exit polls conducted in Punjab by various organisations have been unanimous that the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal is on its way out and the Congress is all set to replace them. However, similar polls in Uttar Pradesh show that the Congress is doing poorly. SAD politicians have refused to accept the verdict saying they will do better than what has been predicted.

Congress politicians on the other hand say they are happy with what has been predicted for Punjab but have apprehensions about the possible results in Uttar Pradesh. Their stand is that while the mood in Punjab is clear, the voters in Uttar Pradesh are a different lot. The party feels exit polls is not for India as the parameters here are different from other countries, where such polls are a success. It is a clear case of believing in what suits them and rejecting what does not suit them.


Agra’s residents had to wait a day longer for Prime Minister Vajpayee to come calling, thanks to inclement weather. Initially, the PM’s trip to this historic city was scheduled for Monday, which was to be preceded by an election rally at Bareilly. However, the rallies had to be cancelled for Monday as the heaven’s opened up and PM’s flight could not take off. Journalists, who had gathered at the BJP Central Office since early in the morning to make it to Agra, were however, not disappointed as Vajpayee agreed to have an informal gupshup with scribes at his residence. Vajpayee, who was at his wittiest best, pointed out that he was apprehensive about the visit ever since it was decided that the rallies at Bareilly and Agra (both places house mental asylums) were fixed on the same day.


The argument that Valentine’s Day is a western concept and confined to the elite in India, seems to have taken a beating. What with the rush of students of MCD schools in the capital waiting to buy roses for their beloved. MCD schools, it is believed, impart education to the masses and the orientation is quite unlike the westernised public schools, which apparently take pride in anglicised education. An exuberant student of one such school said that he had skipped lunch to save money for buying a rose for his sweetheart. Perhaps, a lesson for Shiv Sena that trends are changing.


The Taliban may be down and out but its ghost is still stalking South Asia. No, it is not Pakistan. That’s an old hat. Now it is Bangladesh which seems to be on course to Talibanisation. The landslide victory of Begum Khaleda Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party in the October 1, 2001 general election had rung alarm bells for India as the persecution and repression of the minority Hindu community has become a common thing in the Begum’s regime. Significantly, the charge that Bangladesh is being Talibanised has been made by a prominent Bangladeshi journalist and film-maker Shahriar Kabir. He was picked up by Dhaka police in November on his return from Kolkata and incarcerated in Dhaka Jail for 59 days.

In a four-page open letter to fellow journalists Kabir has spoken about two main causes of his torture and harassment at the hands of Bangladeshi authorities. First, he interviewed some Hindu refugee families in India who narrated the reason for fleeing their homeland and being forced to take shelter in another country. Secondly, he spoke about torture of the minorities in Bangladesh in an interview with the BBC. Says Kabir: “What is happening in Bangladesh over the last six months can be compared with ethnic cleansing by the Nazis in Germany before the World War II. In this case it is the Hindus instead of the Jews... It is the government which has tarnished the image of the country by allowing Talibanising Bangladesh’s politics and society and being lenient with militant fundamentalist and communal groups who have been carrying out repression on the minority Hindu community”. Has the Government of India taken note of it and will it do something about it?


Remember the backlash against Arabs, Muslims and Sikhs in the USA after the September 11 terror attacks there. The Federal Bureau of Investigation, it appears, is trying its hand at giving a healing touch to these communities and win their confidence on the law and order machinery in the country. FBI Director Robert Mueller this month has met with key leaders of Arab, Muslim and Sikh organisations in the USA. Among those he met included Manjit Singh, Executive Director of the Sikh Mediawatch and Resource Task Force, a Sikh advocacy group.

Contributed by Prashant Sood, T.V. Lakshminarayan, Gaurav Choudhary, Girija Shankar Kaura and Rajeev Sharma.


Hype over world festival of Indian literature
Humra Quraishi

A certain degree of hype has caught up in the literati sections as the International Festival of Indian Literature — At home in the World — gets inaugurated on February 18 by Prime Minister Vajpayee. Nobel Laureate V S Naipaul has already reached, though together with his arrival there’s talk doing the rounds on whether his agreeing to attend the meet is in any way linked to Tehelka CEO Tarun Tejpal’s special invitation and persuasion. Anyway, it is to be seen whether Tejpal would be seen as one of the guests at the inaugural function, rubbing shoulders with the political men he pushed into a tight spot. In all probability no, for this meet has been sponsored and arranged by the ICCR and so the government’s stronghold cannot be overlooked.

Also, those murmurs of criticism cannot be completely pushed aside when many have begun asking the very purpose of this writers’ meet — for don’t overlook the fact there wouldn’t be any interaction of these writers with the public /readers or not even with the special invitees, save at tea time or when some of these writers /authors would be talking on the set topic — ‘Way in the world: Writing and belief’.

Also most of these writers aren’t very communicative. On the two occasions that I had met Naipaul at Khushwant Singh’s home, he came across as a recluse and it’s his wife Nadira who did most of the talking. For this meet, soon after the inaugural function, the writers would be in retreat at Neemrana till February 23. Heading back to their destinations, as will be the man behind this meet, Himachal Som, DG of the ICCR, who is our envoy-designate to Italy. Prior to the hype around this meet, evenings were spent attending the farewell dos being held in Som’s honour. In keeping with the latest social format here, envoys are given warm send-offs, probably because once we go globe trotting we can be certain that we will have friends to look after us.


At the Valentine’s Day party hosted by Bhai Chand Patel, one was surprised to see the former US Ambassador Richard Lundquist and spouse Jacquiline. Probably they have been missing India and Indians so much that they decided to spend a three-week vacation here. But that evening , they took care to pose for shutterbugs before hopping across to the next party. We stayed on to enjoy one of the finest Valentine’s Day parties hosted in recent years. Bhai is definitely a great host who even outlines dress code details. For this party, only two invitees broke the dress code (to be dressed only in red and black). The only two exceptions I could spot were the Sudanese Ambassador and Jacquiline Lundquist. Jacquiline walked off and the Sudanese Ambassador was seriously thinking of going home to change till of course the live band brought in the much needed distraction and livened the party. Those to be spotted were the envoys of Sweden, New Zealand, Pakistan, Bangla Desh, Belgium, Sudan and of course so many of our own desi favourites ...


What can be termed another of those spendid evenings was the performance of a Scottish adaptation of Euripedes’ ‘Medea’ hosted by the British Council at the Sri Ram Centre. An overwhelming performance by Maureen Beattie who portrayed the tormented Medea was the high point of the evening, which was followed by an elegant reception at the British Council hosted by its Director, Edmund Marsden.

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