Sunday, December 22, 2002, Chandigarh, India

National Capital Region--Delhi

E D I T O R I A L   P A G E


Mass movement needed to check criminalisation of politics
Mukut Sah
RIMINALISATION of politics and corruption in public life has become the biggest threat to India, the world’s largest democracy. The roots of corruption lie in the election expenses of the candidates.

Use of IT for effective governance
Kanwal S. Bindusar
HE International Commission on Education has said that the aim of education is to transform a person into a complete man. Thus, an educated person forms the building block of a prosperous society and peaceful world.


Indian polity at the end of 2002
T.V. Rajeswar
HE Gujarat elections are a watershed in Indian politics. That crass communalisation of politics yields results has been demonstrated by the Gujarat poll results. Now that the communal beast has tasted blood, will it remain idle?


Scam & punishment
December 21, 2002
Justice under POTA
December 20, 2002
Unfortunate lawyers’ stir
December 19, 2002
Punishing terrorists
December 18, 2002
Byelection pointers
December 17, 2002
Fooling the world, Pak style
December 16, 2002
Punjab Development Report: challenges & opportunities
December 15, 2002
Freezing MSP for wheat
December 14, 2002
Death of a titan
December 13, 2002
D-day in Gujarat
December 12, 2002


Keeping everyone happy
Khushwant Singh
N a country as vast as ours with more races, religions and ways of life, it is difficult, if not impossible, to meet demands of different groups. All of them grumble about the stepmotherly treatment they get from the Central Government. In some agitation goes beyond representation and protests to defiance of law and resort to arms.

  • Singing in the wilderness

  • Short-cut to scholarship

  • Fading Lotus


Harihar Swarup
Beautiful thoughts of poet-scientist
CIENCE and poetry is a rare combination, and rarest are the persons who are scientists as well as poets. Y.S. Rajan, a close associate and friend of the President, Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, is a well known scientist but few know that he is a poet too, having published three books containing his poems.


Amazing regard for Pirs
David Devadas
NE day I walked into the house where I was staying through the family door at the back to find a large number of the family’s relatives and friends crowded into the kitchen. Each traditional Kashmiri kitchen is, of course, also a family room, where women and children, and often men and even visiting friends, squat to chat, gossip and smoke a hookah.


Everything is possible in love and politics
HILE the Gujarat Assembly election results foxed everyone and proved practically all poll pundits wrong, there was one person who emerged unscathed: former parliamentarian Shyam Sunder Lal. A regular visitor to Parliament House, Lal had predicted on November 28 that the BJP would grab between 120 and 140 seats.

  • From red flags to red carpets

  • Kamal Nath to go?

  • Third Front again

  • Angry young cricketer


Mass movement needed to check criminalisation of politics
Mukut Sah

CRIMINALISATION of politics and corruption in public life has become the biggest threat to India, the world’s largest democracy.

The roots of corruption lie in the election expenses of the candidates. The statutory limit — Rs 15 lakh for a Lok Sabha seat (depending on the constituency and the number of voters), Rs 3 to 6 lakh for state legislatures (depending on the area), and Rs 75,000 for municipal corporators — is too less. In practice, the expenses incurred by the candidates are much more. As the candidates generally don’t have so much money to spend, the funds usually come on the basis of quid pro quo from the business world or the underworld. Once the candidate becomes an MP, MLA or a minister, he has to reciprocate to his donors in a big way. This is the root cause of corruption.

Corruption at higher levels of political leadership leads to corruption in the bureaucracy and other wings of the administration like the police or the Public Works Department. It spreads from top to bottom. It travels downwards into the entire bureaucratic apparatus and also amongst the civilians. Along with money power, muscle power has also polluted elections. Unfortunately, a large number of our MPs and legislators have criminal records against them. Uttar Pradesh and Bihar top the list.

Historic ruling: The Union Government, all political parties and several NGOs including our “Citizens for National Consensus” (CNC) have been advocating electoral reforms with a view to strengthening democracy at various levels. Sadly, despite promises, political parties have not brought about the required changes in the Representation of Peoples' Act (RPA). On May 2, 2002, the Supreme Court gave a historic ruling following a public interest litigation by an NGO. It ruled that every candidate, contesting an election to Parliament, State Legislatures or Municipal Corporation, has to declare the following along with the application for his/her candidature:

  • A candidate's criminal records (convictions, acquittals and charges etc).
  • The candidate's financial records (assets & liabilities etc).
  • The candidate's educational qualifications.

If the candidate fails to file any of the above three declarations, the Returning Officer will have the right to reject his nomination papers . The Supreme Court has ruled that all the three declarations will have to be truthful. The Election Commission had sent a notification on June 28, 2002, to all State Election Officers with a view to enforcing it.

The Supreme Court's thrust has been that the people and the voters have the right to know about the candidate's criminal record, assets and liabilities and educational qualifications. The Returning Officer has to publish these declarations for the voters’ knowledge and, surely, the people will get an opportunity to know about their candidate’s background.

As regards the financial aspect, if a candidate stated that he has assets worth Rs 500 crore or Rs 500, the Returning Officer could not disqualify him/her. If he furnished wrong details and were later detected by the Returning Officer, the latter could take a decision. If the opposing candidate brought out a convincing document to prove that the declaration of his opponent is false, then the Returning Officer was within his rights to reject the nomination. If a candidate is illiterate, it could not become a reason for rejection of his/her nomination papers.

Right to know: The right to information helps people know about their candidates and make an informed choice in the elections. The affidavit declaring the candidate's criminal, financial and educational record is a right of the voters, so that based on such information, they can decide to vote. The Supreme Court has only enunciated the people's right to know under Article 19 (1) of the Constitution. The Returning Officer has the right to reject the nomination papers of a candidate if he fails to provide such information by affidavit. Simply put, while furnishing criminal records, poor educational qualifications or vast wealth may not invite rejection, but refusing to provide details could. The idea behind the affidavit is that the candidate himself makes a voluntary disclosure.

The Supreme Court was quite clear in its May 2 judgement: “It is not possible for this court to give any directions for amending the act or statutory rules. It is for Parliament to amend the Act... However, it is equally settled that in case when the Act or rules are silent on a particular subject and the authority implementing the same has constitutional or statutory powers to implement it, the court can necessarily issue directions or orders on the said subject to fill the vacuum or void till the suitable law is enacted”.

SC intervention: Amazingly, political parties have not accepted the progressive intervention of the Supreme Court. All parliamentarians rejected the court directive. On August 16, 2002, the government brought about an Ordinance, having diluted the court directive. It says that disclosure of information about a candidate’s assets etc., can be made only after he gets elected. This deprives the people’s right to know about the candidate before the election. Secondly, the Ordinance says that after a candidate gets elected, the statement of assets and liabilities has to be given to the Presiding Officer of the two Houses and the State Legislatures. Any contravention will not come before the courts but will come before the Privileges Committee of the House. Consider how political parties are protecting the corrupt in their ranks. There is no mention about the candidate’s income either in the Supreme Court's directive or in the Ordinance though this will help people know the candidate’s degree of corruption at the end of his five-year tenure.

Criminal record: The court's directive on the disclosure of criminal record before the Returning Officer would have helped voters to know the antecedents of their candidates before making their choice. The Supreme Court wanted the following declaration by candidates:

  • Whether the candidate was convicted, acquitted or discharged in any criminal offence; if convicted, whether he/she has been sentenced, imprisoned or fined;
  • Whether the candidate was accused of any offence punishable with imprisonment for two years or more.

In the Ordinance, there is avoidable ambiguity about the extent of disclosure of criminal records. There must be clear-cut provisions to bar the entry of criminals in Parliament and State Legislatures.

Article 19 (1) (a) provides for freedom of speech and expression. The voter's freedom of expression in case of election would include casting of votes i.e. the voter speaks out or expresses by casting vote. For this purpose, information about the candidate is a must. This right of information of the voter is denied by the introduction of a new Section 33 (b) in the Ordinance which says: “Notwithstanding anything contained in any judgement, decree or order of any court or any direction, order or any other instruction issued by the Election Commission, no candidate shall be liable to disclose or furnish any such information in respect of his election, which is not required to be disclosed or furnished under this Act, or the rule, made thereunder”.

Thus, the real purpose of the Ordinance was to substantially nullify the Supreme Court's directive.

President’s querries: President A.P.J.Abdul Kalam raised certain points and sent back the Ordinance to the Union Government for reconsideration. However, the government returned it back to him the same day for his assent. The President had no choice, but to sign on the dotted line.

On August 28, 2002, the People's Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL) has filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court against the Union Government challenging the Representation of People (Amendment) Ordinance, 2002, promulgated by the President. Never before have the people reacted against an Ordinance. A large number of good leaders among the political parties must be sharing people's concerns and apprehensions. As the citizens are united against the Ordinance, they are bound to succeed.

Collective experience: With the scuttling of the Supreme Court's directive on electoral reforms, the political parties have only exposed themselves before the people. Apparently, they cannot do away with corruption and criminality in public life. Most political parties are not amendable to any appeals, protests or suggestions by citizens’ groups and NGOs. Our collective experience suggests that even appeals to voters “not to vote for the corrupt people and criminals” do not yield results, as there are hardly any honest and decent candidates in the elections. Both the options have failed to succeed.

Therefore, an independent mass movement has become necessary. The people should assert their powers. A united people's movement has to make it clear to our political leaders that they cannot ignore the people anymore; that the people can punish the criminals and the corrupt in politics. Changes will have to come through peaceful, democratic and constitutional methods. Only an independent mass movement can assert the people's power.

As a focussed effort, here is a possible success story of Mumbai city. Once Mumbai succeeds, the entire nation is bound to emulate the experiment. The mass movement for Mumbai has to aim at enlisting the support of a small ground force of about 20,000 mass workers. Mumbai elects six MPs, about 34 MLAs and about 227 municipal corporators. In a population of about 1 crore 20 lakh in Mumbai, there are about 80 lakh voters. The average voting percentage is 50 per cent, implying that there are about 40 lakh non-voters. Often voting in some areas is below 50 per cent. In Mumbai, a ground force of 20,000 can certainly influence 40 lakh non-voters to vote for good and decent candidates. Every member of this force will have to work among about 200 non-voters (40 lakh non-voters divided by 20,000 mass workers) i.e. about two or three buildings of Mumbai per individual mass worker.

The good and decent individuals will be motivated to stand for elections once they see this ground force behind them. Today, good people are reluctant to join politics. In the absence of ground support, they also face the danger of losing their security deposits. But a ground support force, which can work for their electoral success, will be able to motivate them to stand for elections. The demands of a success story are: creation of a ground force, motivating good people to stand for election, and then, making non-voters to vote. The collective mass movement can change the quality of our Parliament and state legislatures in a big way.

Independent movement: An independent mass movement will neither have big money nor big muscle power. Such a movement has to be cost effective and manageable. With determination and focussed effort, it is achievable. This is the most cost effective way to get decent people elected and eliminate corruption and criminalisation of politics.

It is possible to form a ground force of 20,000. There are well-meaning organisations among youth, students, women, senior citizens, professional organisations and NGOs. The collective strength of these organisations plus a new mass movement can organise more than 20,000 members. Unity of purpose and focus can be achieved amongst the existing organisations and new members enrolled through a mass movement.

Pressure groups: Concerned citizens of eminence and NGOs like AGNI, Citizens for National Consensus (CNC), Dignity Foundation, A Hundred Citizens, Lok Satta, Nagar, Citispace, PROUD and many such other organisations and NGOs can be involved in the mass movement. Pressure groups at the top can influence changes in the electoral laws, opinions in governance and in Parliament and state legislatures. Such protests will also embolden and motivate the masses. The next is to jointly organise a mass movement for cleaning up criminalisation and corruption in politics.

Mumbai has started many historic movements. It can once again be the torch-bearer of blazing another success story. Let us think of the enormous resources that would be released in a corruption-free India for growth and development of the entire country and for raising the quality of life to human levels for those co-citizens, who still live in sub-human conditions. Enormous resources, siphoned off in corruption, can be utilised for human resource development and for the growth and development of rural and urban India. There is need for a new beginning to make India corruption-free.

The writer is President, Citizens for National Consensus, Mumbai.


Use of IT for effective governance
Kanwal S. Bindusar

THE International Commission on Education has said that the aim of education is to transform a person into a complete man. Thus, an educated person forms the building block of a prosperous society and peaceful world.

Students working on computers at a school in Panchkula
Students working on computers at a school in Panchkula

Education is a pacesetter and mirror of society. W.L. Philip Cox and Blain E. Mercer in their book ‘Education in Democracy’ have said that to get formal education, every child is assumed to attend school. The schools admitting the children for their education differ from each other in their locations as well as the population segment served by them. These schools are expected to incorporate into the pupils, those traits that are desirable for the welfare of society. Thus, the overall development of the pupils becomes the central point of gravity of our education system.

The education system, by and large, is expected to achieve the following four primary objectives: boosting student literacy, i.e., maximising the enrollment and retention of enrolled student strength; creating awareness among the students about the social adjustment factors in terms of employment , career opportunities, social norms, etiquette and behaviour and the means for such adjustment factors; development of students on various performance parameters like academics, cultural, sports, NCC, NSS and other activities to have better social adjustments; and assessing students' performance on these performance parameters.

The governments, however, have more or less laid emphasis on boosting the student literacy and up to some extent on the quantitative analysis of the academic performance of the students. Most of the time, thrust is not given to remaining issues. For increasing enrolment and retention of enrolled students' strength, the governments have started a number of schemes like ‘Sarv Shiksha Abhiyan’', midday meal scheme, providing free uniform to the minorities, attendance prize to minorities etc.

Again, the basic aim of majority of such schemes is to provide elementary education to each child in the country. These schemes have definitely bore fruit, though to a limited extent towards the mission of he education system. Funding has always been an issue and governments are generally making statements to increase the share for education in their budget. For effective utilisation of funds and monitoring such schemes and programmes, a number of proformas and systems have been evolved, but there are hardly any standards laid out as to what performance exactly is expected from the pupils and the teachers.

The education system may be compared with an assembly line, where the raw materials are converted into finished goods by applying the process and procedures. By and large, the students can substitute as the raw material of the education system that needs to be transformed into finished goods, i.e., better citizens. Similarly, as applied in an assembly line, standards-based quality control system with adequate checks and balances should be put in place to ensure smooth and uniform development of all the students.

However, standard-led governance is still in its infancy in India. Providing standards for both enrolment and development of students and also for the development of the teachers should therefore be given prominence. Also, there has been debate as to whether the decentralised system is superior to centralised system of governance or vice cersa. Both these systems have their own merits and demerits and thus, the approach should be to combine state-mandated standards with local flexibility.

The current norm for state governments should be to focus on performance parameters together with the thrust on the increase in enrolment through setting up norms and standards, designing assessments and implementing accountability systems, while leaving the means to local authorities.

The concept of School-based Management (SBM) and Schools Network System (SNS) are growing in the west. Networked governance or e-governance is also gaining popularity across the globe. The underlying objectives of these systems is to provide the backbone system for effective governance.

The schools share their experiences and the problems across the network and look for suitable solutions. Also, the experience of one school is made available to another for improving the productivity. In the USA, the Rossier School of Education has even set up the Center on Educational Governance to regularly conduct research and development in these thrust areas. These systems also aim to bridge the gap between the actual beneficiaries, the educational service providers and also the interested parties including the parents. With effective integration of efforts of all the parties, the educational system can be improved considerably.

The performance and development systems of different schools can be shared across the network. The comprehensive school databases on all three entities i.e., the schools, students and staff can be prepared and analysed to improvise the systems. In India also, the trend of Institution Based Management (IBM) has started and the Directorate of Higher Education, Haryana, has launched a ‘Project Gyan Jyoti’ wherein the working of a college has been divided into three desktops viz. the Employee Desktop, Student Desktop and the College Desktop. All the general and performance parameters in terms of academics, cultural, sports, NCC, NSS, subject society and women-related activities of these three entities are recorded in computers at the college level for further analysis. A centralised state database of all schools and colleges will help policy makers formulate suitable policies for developing the state into an enlightened society.

The Union Government under the ‘Vidya Vahini Project’ and a number of governments like Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh etc., under their own schemes or under sponsored schemes, are also providing computers to schools and colleges, but mainly for providing computer education. It would be worthwhile for these states to use the computer infrastructure for institution-based management for monitoring the funds, enrolment, functional requirements, students’ progress and performance of the teaching and non-teaching staff on a time scale. This will help evolve standards based educational governance at the Centre and in the states.

The writer is involved in the application of information technology in the schools and colleges of the Haryana Government.


Indian polity at the end of 2002
T.V. Rajeswar

THE Gujarat elections are a watershed in Indian politics. That crass communalisation of politics yields results has been demonstrated by the Gujarat poll results. Now that the communal beast has tasted blood, will it remain idle?

Mr Narendra Modi along with his supporters showing the victory sign in Ahmedabad.
Mr Narendra Modi along with his supporters showing the victory sign in Ahmedabad.

The Gujarat story makes an important study to understand the events there during the past 12 years and how the present state of affairs has come about. On September 25, 1990, BJP President L.K. Advani commenced his Rath Yatra at the Somnath Temple after elaborate rituals. The Rath Yatra passed through the Hindi heartland, marked by a series of riots. Over 500 people were killed in the riots. The demolition of Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992, had its terrible consequences, with the serial bombings in Mumbai topping the list. The accused are still facing trial, but the principal criminals are abroad planning violent attacks in India. The criminal case registered on the mosque demolition has run into a judicial morass and none of those chargesheeted by the CBI may ever suffer the consequences of their action.

In the aftermath of Ayodhya episode came certain judicial pronouncements which had the effect of strengthening the hands of the extremist elements among the Hindus. The Supreme Court Bench headed by Mr Justice J.S. Varma held in 1995: “It is a fallacy and an error of law to proceed on the assumption that any reference to Hindutva or Hinduism in a speech makes it automatically a speech based on the Hindu religion as opposed to other religions. The use of the two words per se does not depict an attitude hostile to all persons practising any religion other than Hindu religion.”

Mr Narendra Modi and his Sangh Parivar colleagues like Dr Pravin Togadia and Mr Ashok Singhal indulged in communal propaganda with impunity. Years ago, Dr. M.Channa Reddy was held guilty of corrupt electoral practices because he appealed to the Muslim voters in the name of religion and he had to undergo political vanavas for six years. But in the aftermath of the judicial and political pronouncements cited, Dr Togadia, Mr Singhal and Mr Modi could get away with communal propaganda and much worse. There is hardly any need to reproduce their utterances, but the fact that neither the Prime Minister nor the Deputy Prime Minister, who is also the Home Minister, ever directly admonished any of them for their statements is significant.

Today even in the BJP, the politics in moderation is being driven out and success is being bracketed with communal extremism and fanaticism. Otherwise there is no meaning in Dr Togadia’s statement that in the Gujarat elections the BJP had become the VHP and the Congress had become the BJP of Mr Vajpayee. Dr Togadia’s latest comment that India will be a Hindu Rashtra in two years is alarming. The future in the BJP belongs to the VHP, which means Dr Togadia, Mr Singhal and his band of rabble-rousers. The outlook for the country is indeed depressing.

Moving away from the lessons and the consequences of the Gujarat elections, where is really the Indian polity moving to? Will the Sangh Parivar try to replicate its Gujarat experiment elsewhere in the country next year when the crucial Hindi-speaking states like Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh and Delhi go to the polls? Would there be Godhra-type incidents and would there be the action-reaction scenario which Mr Narendra Modi outlined as the cause for the communal holocaust in Ahmedabad and elsewhere? What will be the consequences and the fallout in the rest of the country such as the Southern states, the Eastern tribal region and Kashmir in the North?

Kashmir is settling down after a path-breaking election throwing up a secular and moderate coalition government whose chief minister is making genuine efforts to bring about peace and calm. In the East, Naga rebels of the NSCN are returning home with the promise of negotiating with the Centre for a peaceful settlement of the Naga problem. The southern states have minor problems to tackle such as sharing of waters, but their principal objective is to improve the economic standard of the people. The information technology in business is flourishing there, and there is a healthy competition among Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka in this field. Would this suffer in the ongoing communalisation of politics in the North?

Religious fundamentalism, with militant extremism as its companion force, is spreading all over South-East Asia. It is already there in most of West Asia. In Iran, clerics are in command and they do not permit any democratic force to raise its head. In the Arab countries absolutism in the government prevails and most governments do not permit even a whiff of democracy. Pakistan’s military dictatorship continues with its systematic and organised hostility towards India despite its promises and commitments given. In South-East Asia, Islamic fanaticism has been increasingly identified in Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Bangladesh. Osama bin Laden and his Al-Qaida are only a part of this phenomenon. But the main picture is one of Islamic fundamentalism which is spreading its tentacles increasingly.

Will India also go the same way in the sense that it will become more and more non-secular and fundamentalist? The signs are that India is on this slippery path with consequences which are difficult to imagine at present. Just one example would illustrate this point: Until a few years back, Ganesh Utsav, marked by mammoth statues being led by huge processions for immersion, was unheard of in the South. But today such functions have become a serious law and order problem even in Tamil Nadu. This situation has been brought about entirely by the political activists of the Sangh Parivar.

A lady social activist of Delhi wrote some time back deploring the mushrooming of the places of worship in the country. She asked why is it that in a middle class area like R.K. Puram in Delhi there should be six temples patronised by South Indians alone and why should there be a Kerala temple, a Tamil temple, a Bengali temple and so on? The truth is that they have become centres of group politics.

The cults are even worse, and they promote a sense of religious regression. Today we find ministers, bureaucrats and Generals under the influence of these cults. Vaastu has become a ruling passion and cult, with the whole houses being demolished with the hope of improving their fortunes. Names are being mutilated by adding the alphabet “a” for changing one’s luck. And these are the people who preside over India’s nuclear and missile programmes. They have to take India towards modernisation and progress. Will sanity and scientific temper prevail in spite of the evil winds blowing today?

The writer is a former Governor of West Bengal and Sikkim.


Keeping everyone happy
Khushwant Singh

IN a country as vast as ours with more races, religions and ways of life, it is difficult, if not impossible, to meet demands of different groups. All of them grumble about the stepmotherly treatment they get from the Central Government. In some agitation goes beyond representation and protests to defiance of law and resort to arms. When that happens, the State has to come down heavily with all its resources and put them down by force. There is loss of life on both sides and much innocent blood is spilt. We witnessed this in Punjab and Kashmir; we have been living with it with tribal unrest in Assam, Nagaland and Mizoram.

In such conflicts a journalist has a limited role: he has no authority to negotiate and can only put two sides of the case to the parties involved and plead for sympathetic understanding. Such a role was imposed on me in our dealings with the Nagas by no less a person than Jayaprakash Narayan at the time when Lal Bahadur Shastri was Prime Minister. Along with Reverend Michael Scott I met Naga leaders like Phizo who was then in exile in England.

We sifted all the material the Naga leaders gave us against the atrocities committed by our armed forces and presented it to the Prime Minister’s office. It was disdainfully brushed aside as subversive propaganda. Naga insurgency continues, so does my association with the Nagas. I have met Chief Minister Jamir a few times, my main contact is Neidino Angami who is President of the Naga Mothers Association and a social worker. Periodically, she introduces me to young Nagas associated with the agitation for a free Nagaland. Last week four of them came to see me. I told them I had failed to understand their demands because they were never explicitly spelt out and most of them non-negotiable. They talked of a Sovereign Republic of Nagaland. They are divided into over two dozen tribes that spill into neighbouring China and Myanmar (Burma) and into states like Mizoram and Manipur. They cannot draw the map of this so-called sovereign Republic of Nagaland which could also be acceptable to China and Myanmar. Even at its most expansive dimensions it will be landlocked and economically unviable.

Though they seemed to agree with me, they repeated the word “sovereignty” many times. “Why don’t you negotiate for more autonomy?” I pleaded with them. They seem to agree. “All we want at the moment from the PM’s office is a sympathetic consideration of our point of view,” they said. I am sure they will get that once guns on either side fall silent.

Singing in the wilderness

An Indian voice singing Indian classical music in the desert wastes of the Middle-East and European countries could justifiably be described as wasting her sweetness in the desert air. It will now be heard in the land of her nativity from the owner of the voice in person and release of albums of cassettes covering a vast range of musical modes from Dhrupad, Dhammar, Khayal, Thumri, Dadra, Sufiana down to folk songs and bhajans. It belongs to Zila Khan at present living in Amman with her doctor husband, Dr Khalid Anwar Sheikh and their 10-year-old son Faizan. I did not have to go very far to hear her. She came to see me with her promotor Modi and Sadia Dehlavi. She sat cross-legged on my sofa and without much fuss filled my sitting room with sweet sound.

Zila has an impressive ancestry: daughter of Ustad Vilayat Ali Khan, the greatest Sitar player of our times, grand daughter of Ustad Inayat Khan and great granddaughter of Ustad Imdad Khan. Instrumental music is in her blood. She is the first in the family to take to singing as life’s vocation.

Zila is one of the five children of Ustad Vilayat Ali Khan and spent her childhood with her parents and siblings in Kolkata. When her father rose to pre-eminence as a Sitarist, for reasons best known to him, he packed up bag and baggage and migrated to Dehra Dun. The only explanation he gave was to say, “If anyone wants to hear me play, he can come to Dehra Dun.” What makes him stand out as unique among the great artists of today is that while all others crave and canvass for official recognition and awards, Vilayat Ali Khan spurned them with contempt: bravo! That is enough for anyone to fall in love with his daughter. She is comely and sings like an angel.

Short-cut to scholarship

There are ways you can make others believe you are an erudite scholar when, in fact, you are nothing of the sort. I should know because I have indulged in this sharp practice all my life. What you need is a good memory and dictionaries of quotations compiled by established writers and know when to use them. I have both a reasonably good memory and shelf-full of books of quotations: Sanskrit, Latin, Persian, Urdu and English. I did not have one in Punjabi and whatever I quoted was from my scanty knowledge of the sacred scriptures. Now I have exactly what I needed to pass off as an authority on Guru Nanak’s writings: “Sayings of Guru Nanak—Guru Nanak Bachanawali”, compiled by Harnam Singh Shan, retired professor of Panjab University. He had first compiled and published them in 1969. A new edition with translations in English has been republished by the SGPC. It has 830 quotations from the Guru’s baanee arranged under English headings. So, if you have to speak or write on any subject from God to the devil, purity, impurity, caste, chastity, charity, cheating, need for physical and spiritual cleanliness or any other subject, you will find a relevant quote in this compilation. It would have added to its value if Hindi, Urdu and English transliterations had been printed alongside the original, because not many people can read Gurmukhi. However, if they wish to know the original, they can get somebody to read it out to them. Memorise a few and whenever you want to impress a Sikh audience with your profound learning, first greet everyone with Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa, Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh, then load your speech literally with quotations from the Gurbani and you will be rewarded with a thunderous applause: Boley So Nihal, Sat Sri Akal.

Fading Lotus

When Modi is likened to

Great Ballabhbhai Patel

When Laloo Yadav is arrested

And put in a Patna jail.

When L.K. Advani proclaims

After every second day

Government to be proactive

With regard to J and K.

When Prime Minister unfolds

Pak’s ulterior design

And warns after every militant attack

Restraint is not a weakness sign.

When BJP discovers

Its lotus is going to fade

And rushes to Ayodhya temple

To pray to Ram for aid.

(Courtesy: Dr Ram Singh, Patiala)

Note: Mr Khushwant Singh’s column will not appear next week.


Beautiful thoughts of poet-scientist
Harihar Swarup

SCIENCE and poetry is a rare combination, and rarest are the persons who are scientists as well as poets. Y.S. Rajan, a close associate and friend of the President, Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, is a well known scientist but few know that he is a poet too, having published three books containing his poems. Two volumes — “Agony and Harmony” and “Blossoms of the Heart” — have already hit the stands and the third — “Indestructible Life” — is under print. Dr Kalam too writes poetry and, besides space research, poetry has been the common bond between the two for about three decades. The close friendship continues even though Dr Kalam has become the President of India and Rajan, besides other responsibilities, has accepted a new assignment: he is now Vice-Chancellor of Punjab Technical University. Both Rajan and Dr Kalam have yet another common trait: they are great humanists.

In forward to “Agony and Harmony”, Dr Kalam describes Rajan as “a friend for more than a quarter century. Thinking is his fort that no storm can damage”.

“Rajan’s poems”, says Dr Kalam, “spring in early mornings when the earth is sleepy. This can be felt in the poems” Birthday Song, Loneliness, New Life and Nature’s Challenge. Every poem of Rajan gives a message with beauty and wisdom. When I read the poem “A Universal Mind”, on our Guru Prof Satish Dhawan, I saw a reflection of the rainbow”.

Dr Kalam, who was destined to soon become the President, quoted four lines from the verse which sums up their “Guru’s” personality.

With the lamp of truth

Firm in hand

and as the only guide

He walked mile’n miles

To modernise us!

“I greet Raja, the poet, for giving us the beautiful thoughts,” wrote Dr Kalam in the foreword.

Humanist as he is, Rajan, who accompanied President Kalam to riot-torn Gujarat, was so pained by the communal carnage that he expressed his feelings through verse. He wrote a long poem — “Gujarat” — the last stanza of which is moving indeed.

Dwarakanath, no more sleep for you!

Somnath, no more laziness for you,

Remove the hateful passions!

Destroy the traditions

Which separate (people)!

Burn the hatred

No need for religion

Which lets blood in the name of God!

Humanism will suffice!

Poetry came to Rajan first and the scientist in him was kindled later. He started writing verses in Tamil, his mother tongue, when he was barely nine. His inspiration came from legendary Tamil poet Subramanya Bharti and as he says, “Bharti got inside me”. The mythical Tamil poet wrote on such diverse subjects as Sikh Guru Gobind Singh and Lenin, says Rajan, adding “besides Bharti, my inspirations were Swami Vivekananda and Jawaharlal Nehru. I have read their works widely”. Later in life, the great Indian scientist, Vikram Sarabhai, motivated him to adopt space science as his career. Both Rajan and Kalam consider Sarabhai as their philosopher and guide in space research.

While Rajan developed the rocket or radar transponder which finds and fixes the position of a rocket, Dr Kalam’s job was the assembly of the rocket and its integration and launch from Thumba. Both worked closely, as if the development of the rocket was the only mission of their lives. When SLV-3 soared in the blue sky, it was a proud moment in their lives. “It was first demonstration of India’s strength”, says Rajan. So moved was Rajan that he wrote a poem — “The Victory Song of SLV,” — as a tribute to Dr Kalam.

Let us say “Long Live Abdul Kalam,

With our thundering voices,

All over the skies;

He who made a vehicle

To propel the Satellite Rohini

To the outer space...

Rajan is an extremely busy man, shuttling between Delhi and Chandigarh, and also finding time for the task the President assigns him. He could find time for me in his busy schedule towards late in the evening and talked for an hour about his life story and his and Dr Kalam’s new mission. “Empowering Indians with economic, business and technology strengths for the 21st century”.

Rajan has chalked out ambitious plans for Punjab Technical University and says his immediate objective is “to enable 95 per cent of fresh engineering graduates to get jobs within one year of passing out”.


Amazing regard for Pirs
David Devadas

ONE day I walked into the house where I was staying through the family door at the back to find a large number of the family’s relatives and friends crowded into the kitchen. Each traditional Kashmiri kitchen is, of course, also a family room, where women and children, and often men and even visiting friends, squat to chat, gossip and smoke a hookah. That day there was an unfamiliar buzz but, not wanting to intrude, I climbed the stairs to my room. When I came down after a while, I was astonished to see some of those gathered in the kitchen bowing low one by one before a small, not very impressive man with a gray stubble and close-cropped hair. He held up a palm in an almost dismissive blessing toward each, nodding his head appreciatively. I hurried past the kitchen door to the sitting room, where a young relative of the household followed me to say: “Aap Pir sahib se miloge? Par phir aap ko bhi sijda karna padega (Would you like to meet the sage? But, then, you will have to bow too).” I declined.

Later, I was excitedly told that he had not only commanded everyone to bow before him in the kitchen, he had earlier stripped naked and waded into the rapids of the adjacent river. Standing in the freezing water, he had demanded food. A bowl of rice was rushed from the house, I was told. If I had not seen a part of this drama, I would have found it difficult to believe. The strangest part of the story lay ahead, however. The owner of the house revealed that evening that the Pir, as they all acknowledged him, was a medical doctor. With an MBBS degree, he had practised as a paediatrician before giving it all up and disappearing into the mountain forests for several years. When he returned, he had mysterious powers.

The anecdotes villagers related sounded like Ripley’s believe-it-or-not tales. Not just an unlikely college admission here, a transfer elsewhere, they even claimed that a woman was completely cured whom doctors had declared terminal after he performed some sacrifices. Yet, I discovered that he could invoke no supernatural power to protect him when some soldiers beat him on the road. Ironically, well-to-do, educated Kashmiris appeared to have faith in him more often than the poor. From this house of a banker, he shifted to that of a doctor, and then an engineer. At each, he was treated like the royalty.

Some weeks later, this strange man strutted up to me, arms swinging in his loose gray phiran, as I sat in my car outside a shop. His eyes glittering, he declared that I was not going to succeed in whatever tricks I was planning. When I replied evenly that I had no tricks up my sleeve, he promptly made friends. Over the next few days, he summoned me often for a chat. Perhaps, he liked the fact that I gave him the respect due to any human being, without being either obsequious or cynical. A nephew of my hostess or a servant would scurry up to my room every other morning to say he was looking for me.

Gradually, I discovered a sensitive man, who couldn’t resist giving fruit or whatever else he had to any passing child. He told me one day that he could not cope with the mistakes he made as a doctor — particularly when a child did not survive — and so gave it up for the jungles. There, he coped with cold, hunger, wild animals, including bears and snakes, and a deep head wound. After that ascetic trial, God gave him the power to heal, he believed — supernatural rather than medical. He was lonely, though. He sometimes spoke of his family but clearly did not have the courage to go home, afraid they would not accept back a brother who, some at least thought of, as mad.

The deep regard that Kashmiris have for such Pirs, some of whom specialise in what a rationalist would call exorcism or even black magic, is amazing. They are to be found in just about every corner of the valley, generally treated with deference and generosity.

The foreigners who have come to Kashmir to fight a jihad over the past decade have had to grapple with their attitudes to this aspect of Kashmiri religiosity. The Jamaat influenced Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, which dominated the insurgency from 1991 to 1994, suppressed this kind of faith. No doubt, the groups inspired by the puritan Ahle-Hadis doctrine, which has dominated since then, must find it even more revolting. That they have desisted from interfering is a testimonial to the tactical planning of those who control them. They know that forbearance is necessary if the Kashmiris are not to turn against them — as they did in 1994 against the Hizb. They probably think that they will have plenty of time to purify the valley’s Islam after political control is established — as the Taliban did in Afghanistan.


Everything is possible in love and politics

WHILE the Gujarat Assembly election results foxed everyone and proved practically all poll pundits wrong, there was one person who emerged unscathed: former parliamentarian Shyam Sunder Lal. A regular visitor to Parliament House, Lal had predicted on November 28 that the BJP would grab between 120 and 140 seats.

The fortunes of the BJP and the Congress kept on fluctuating as different media institutions were changing their assessments on a daily basis, but Lal remained unnerved with his assessment. Even after the exit poll results on December 12 on the polling day, Lal did not budge. An ardent Ambedarite, the 67-year-old Lal was elected to the Lok Sabha in 1977 as a Janata Party candidate from Bayana in Rajasthan.

An interesting fact in the annals of parliamentary history is that Lal came to occupy the same house at 15 Balwant Rai Mehta Lane which he had constructed as a labourer in 1952. After the Janata government fell, Lal’s parliamentary innings also abruptly ended. Since then, Dame Luck has not smiled on this Dalit leader. He joined the Congress about a decade ago and is still nursing the hope that he will enter Parliament again as an MP. No prizes for guessing which house he would like to live in if elected!

From red flags to red carpets

Change is life. Life is changing in politics too. So are the policies. It is true that West Bengal has remained a bastion of communism as its adherents have been in power in Kolkata since 1975. Even this communist-ruled state has not been unaffected by the winds of change when it comes to the sensitive matter of economic policies. Earlier, when foreign investors used to come to West Bengal, CPM cadres showed them red flags. Now the West Bengal Government and communist cadres alike roll out red carpets for foreign visitors. The colour remains the same; only the modus operandi has changed. Imagine who said this to a group of reporters while talking informally: Somnath Chatterjee, senior leader of the CPM.

Kamal Nath to go?

AICC General Secretary Kamal Nath, in charge of Delhi and Gujarat affairs, may well be on the way out following his party’s electoral debacle in Gujarat. He was given a free hand by Mrs Sonia Gandhi to adopt and implement a suitable strategy for ensuring the party’s victory. It was Mr Kamal Nath’s strategy to follow a soft Hindutva line. It was on his instructions that not a single Muslim leader of the Congress was asked to campaign for the party in the state.

It was not incidental that the BJP too followed the same strategy in Gujarat. Mrs Sonia Gandhi followed Mr Kamal Nath’s advice and launched her campaign from a temple. Congress leaders insisted that there was nothing unusual in this as the late Indira Gandhi used to begin all her election campaigns from a temple.

Mr Nath allowed local leaders to use Sonia’s portraits on the hoardings along with the deity where she had gone to offer prayers before the start of her campaign. Now his head is on the chopping block, if the 24 Akbar Road grapevine is to be believed.

Third Front again

The drubbing of the Congress in Gujarat has again revived the talk of a Third Front, comprising non-Congress and non-BJP parties. Former Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar asked his old trusted friend Sharad Pawar, President of the Nationalist Congress Party, to organise a dinner for leaders of all the non-NDA, non-Congress political parties.

Mr Chandra Shekhar, whose Prime Ministerial ambitions are no secret, is convinced that a Third Front has a bright chance to emerge victorious in the next Lok Sabha elections. A spate of such dinners will follow and the same old faces like Mr Harkishen Singh Surjeet, Mr Somnath Chatterjee, Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav, Mr Amar Singh and company will be seen on various TV channels in the coming days and weeks.

Angry young cricketer

It was quite a few months back that an Under-19 international cricket tournament came for discussion in the corridors of the sanctum sanctorum of Indian democracy: Parliament. Dilip Vengsarkar had taken the Indian team to South Africa for the Under-19 tournament.

Temperatures rose when India played Pakistan. The Indian players were urbane and were well versed in English. The Pakistanis, on the other hand, were from the rural background and could hardly speak English. At one stage, a Pakistani player abused the Indian players.

While most Indian players kept quiet, the cherub-faced Indian Under-19 Captain Parthiv Patel, surged ahead and virtually locked horns with the troublesome Pakistani player. After some time, the Pakistani was silenced and Patel returned with triumphant looks. Vengsarkar could not help but share his wonderment with Patel. He asked the young lad how he was able to do this when everybody was convinced that he was not long out of the cradle.

Patel replied that he hails from Kalupur in Gujarat, the Muslim-dominated region which was among the worst-affected riot-hit areas post-Godhra. What Patel did tell the Pakistani is obviously unprintable but he did not forget to mention to Vengsarkar that in Kalupur everybody, irrespective of whether he is a Hindu or a Muslim, undergoes training for throwing acid bulbs and thus the Pakistani was no match for him. Now comes the most interesting part of the story. The story was recently narrated in the corridors of Parliament by a key leader of the BJP.

Contributed by Satish Misra and Rajeev Sharma.

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