Editorial 1
Editorial 2
An affair of state
Letters to the editor
This above all

 
 
EDITORIAL 1 
 
 
 
 

Real figures

On more than one occasion in the recent past, the finance minister has promised a “hard” budget, asserting that the time for options is past. Such statements from finance ministers in the month of February are not very common. At any rate, these statements certainly make the corporate sector extremely unhappy. However, something rather unusual seems to be happening this year with the Bombay Sensitive Index having just crossed the magic figure of 6,000. This is probably a very good indicator of the kind of budget that we can expect come February 29. There are likely to be very few harsh measures of taxation as far as most industries are concerned. This would be consistent with the view that the Indian industry is poised for growth, and that a heavier burden of taxation will make the transition of the economy to a higher growth path that much harder. The finance minister may also feel that government revenues will go up in any case — even at existing rates of taxation — provided Indian industry can actually exploit the current favourable conditions for growth.

There are at least two factors which provide some cushioning effect as far as government revenues are concerned. First, Mr Yashwant Sinha is fortunate to have access to a rather unexpected source of additional revenue. This comes through the stipulation imposed by the World Trade Organization agreement on quantitative restrictions on imports. Over the next couple of years, the government will have to remove the QRs and replace them with suitable tariffs. Provided that the tariffs are not set at prohibitively high levels, some imports will trickle in, thus providing the government with additional customs revenues. Second, the government at last seems to be serious about selling off its holdings in public sector enterprises, and that too will fetch much-needed revenues.

That brings up the question of why the finance minister has been talking of a “harsh” budget. It seems very likely that he will cut down on subsidies to various sectors. In fact, some of this may take place even before the budget — there are reports that kerosene and liquid petroleum gas prices may be raised substantially in the next few days. It remains to be seen whether he will have the political courage to tackle the really contentious issues, such as a reduction in the size of the public distribution system and an increase in fertilizer prices so as to bring down the subsidy on fertilizers. As far as the first issue is concerned, a relatively safe option would be for the government to decide to stop supplying sugar through the PDS. At any rate, it is extremely unlikely that government expenditure in any area other than defence and possibly infrastructure will go up in real terms. One casualty of the cost cutting exercise may even be a cut in expenditure on the social sectors, despite the consensus that this is one area which should witness greater government involvement. There is also likely to be very little increase in plan expenditure, part of this being due to the fact that the low rate of inflation has kept a curb on cost overruns on plan projects. Above all, it is hoped that Mr Sinha will present figures which are realistic — something that very few finance ministers can be accused of in India.    


 
 
EDITORIAL 2 
 
 
 
 

Death polls

The violence that accompanied the first phase of Bihar’s assembly elections has proven grimly true to the general sense of foreboding. About 21 persons have been killed and 50 injured. Only a little more than half the electorate across 108 constituencies have voted. Widespread irregularities — booth capturing, rigging, disruptive conflicts between parties — have always been part of Bihar’s heavily criminalized electoral tradition. But the situation in the state has acquired another dimension since the 1998 Lok Sabha elections, with the increasingly violent enforcement of the poll boycott called by the extremist Naxalite groups, the Maoist Communist Centre and the People’s War Group. The number of deaths has been steadily rising: 44 in the 1998 and 64 in the 1999 Lok Sabha elections. The only reason behind the fewer casualties this year is the heavy rain that prevented some of the Naxalites’ landmines from going off. The terror caused by these groups, particularly in their strongholds in south and central Bihar, has succeeded in preventing more than 65 per cent of the people in these areas from coming out to vote.

Two aspects of the Naxalites’ mode of operation this time are significant. First, their main targets seem to be the police, security personnel and poll workers. In spite of the police department’s assurance of being “fully equipped and prepared” to ensure “free and fair polling” and the Election Commission’s satisfaction with these preparations, the security arrangements remained inadequate. The Naxalites have, by now, become experts with landmines, trained by their comrades in Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal. Bihar’s landmine detection squads came nowhere near to matching this expertise. Even after offering lucrative insurance and assured jobs, the state government found it difficult to rope in the terrified Home Guards for election duty. Second, the extremists seem to have extended their stronghold, striking beyond their usual terrain. In Rohtas, an entire patrol vehicle was blown up, killing eight people. Quite obviously, what ought to be a normal process within a functioning democracy has become, in Bihar, nothing less than a major armed battle, the management of which is beyond the capacity of its law and order enforcing institutions. The EC can only distance itself in despair from such a concerted failure of everything that democratic governance ought to stand for.    


 
 
AN AFFAIR OF STATE 
 
 
BY S.J.D. GREEN
 
 
It is incredible to recall that it all happened just a year ago. It seems like an age has passed since. Even at the time, it all seemed scarcely believable. The senate, or upper chamber, of congress, specifically constituting itself for the duration as a judicial body, staged a trial of the president of the United States. The president, formally charged with perjury and obstruction of justice by a vote in the house of representatives — impeachment — was forced to defend himself against the prospect of removal from office and a lifelong ban of future public service.

For three weeks, lawyers argued on both sides. Witnesses appeared. Evidence was taken, conclusions drawn. And then the senators voted, one by one. They acquitted the president on both charges. His administration continued. Congress reconstituted itself as the legislative branch of government. Finally, the chief justice, William Rehnquist, returned to his day job at the supreme court. Within a few weeks, all seemed eerily back to normal.

But was it? How could it have been? What had the president done to precipitate so dramatic a constitutional crisis? Why had the most advanced society in the world resorted to a moribund English parliamentary institution to solve its contemporary political problem? How much had the events of the previous months undermined the authority of the presidency, the separation of powers and the rule of law in America? Many Americans freely confessed not to know the answers to these, pressing, questions. Most foreigners were content to acknowledge that they were simply bemused. They need remain so no longer. For Richard A. Posner, chief judge, US court of appeals for the seventh circuit and professor at the University of Chicago Law School, has now written the definitive account for this bizarre episode in An Affair of State: The Investigation, Impeachment and Trial of President Clinton.

He has brought an unusual, may be a unique, combination of intellectual and practical qualities to the task. Thereby, he has wrought a miracle of persuasive peace, a work at once deeply learned and yet limpidly clear at the same time theoretically sophisticated and yet infused with good common sense. The result is a riveting read, capturing in full the high drama of the case. And yet it is informed by a sober-minded decency which will convince all but the most hopelessly partisan.

Which is not to say that it will be uncontroversial. For Posner pulls no legal punches in his narrative. He holds Bill Clinton to be, essentially, guilty as charged; his acquittal is explained only by politics. He dismisses the notion that the charges against him were trivial and would never have been brought against a private citizen; on the contrary, they were grave, are frequently the subject of prosecution and would normally have been expected to have secured their perpetrator between thirty months and three years in a federal penitentiary. And he exposes in full the sheer extent of the procrastination, deceit and outright thuggery which the president and his entourage deployed in their efforts to avert — for him and them — the all too deserved consequences of his frequent and sordid actions.

But Posner is no Clinton-hater. Indeed, he remains ambivalent about whether the president should have been impeached at all. He is quite unconvinced that Clinton’s survival has done the country any permanent harm. And he is more than happy to argue that the principal instrument of his ordeal — the independent counsel law — should be cast for ever into the legal nether regions. For his point is altogether more subtle. Moreover, it will please few contemporary partisans, liberal or conservative, in American politics. It is that American politics is being systematically undermined by legalism. Paradoxically, the role of law has become a positively bad thing in America. It now intrudes into areas of life where it has no business. It renders public what should remain private. Worst of all, it forges clear-cut solutions to what is best left in the realm of subtle problems.

In this respect, it is worth remembering that there would have been no constitutional crisis at all but for the ham-fisted intervention of the supreme court into President Clinton’s colourful private life. For it was the court — alone — which determined that a president might be subject to a civil suit during the term of his presidency; and then even if the cause — in this case Paula Jones’s complaint that Clinton had exposed himself to her — had taken place long before the assumption of office.

As Posner emphasizes, its reasoning in this matter was extraordinary; it held both that the matter need not seriously interfere with the performance of presidential duties (sic); and that the lack of previous submissions (there had only been three recorded similar attempts in the previous century) did not suggest that success in this instance would lead to a deluge of like-motivated cases in the future.

Only a politically naive court could have come to such a view. But only a politically craven congress would rely on the independent counsel law to pursue its proper job of checking excesses in the executive. And, even with the Jones complaint let loose, there would have been no Monica Lewinsky scandal but for the independent counsel. Appointed originally to investigate the altogether murkier matter of President Clinton’s (again, much earlier) dubious financial involvement in a failed real estate deal known as Whitewater, Kenneth Starr found himself outwitted, outmanoeuvred and simply impeded by an ever more defensive and duplicitous White House at each turn. Frustrated in the real object of his investigation — financial corruption — he suddenly found new life in the illicitly taped conversations of one Monica Lewinsky, a former White House intern, with Linda Tripp, a disillusioned government employee, recording Clinton’s strained affair with the young woman less than half his age. The ethics of this sting need not concern us. The fact of the matter is that there could have been no such investigation, carried out over so long a period of time and at such expense to such limited purposes but for the existence of an extraordinary institution — the independent counsel.

First forged by an enraged Democratic Congress to counter the presumed enormities of Nixon’s Republican administration, the independent counsel has become, in effect, the unchecked instrument by which the legislative branch terrorizes the executive branch in the US system of government. Of course, few congressmen put it quite like that.

They argue that since the justice department is largely appointed from the executive branch, it cannot investigate major illegalities in government without an obvious conflict of interest. Perhaps so. But congress could do the necessary investigating itself. Instead, it has chosen to abdicate such responsibility through the mechanism of a freelance judicial appointment, limited by neither term nor budget. The resulting temptation to pursue trivial matters at huge expense has proved all too irresistible. It is not as if Starr was the first to go down that road since 1974.

But the wider effect has been altogether more serious still. For it has effectively replaced partisan politics — a good thing, ordinarily — with RIP; or “Revelation”, “Investigation” and “Prosecution”. This is a system of substitute politics; and a dangerous one at that. For it extends partisanship beyond its proper bounds — the pursuit of contested, elective, office — to the illegitimate end of criminalizing one’s opponents.

This is all too easy to do in an American context. Not because American politics is corrupt; by global standards, it is relatively clean. But because the American political process is formally regulated by a truly arcane system of law. Few politicians, even the most honest, remain wholly within that law, all the time. Informal regulation, effectively a code of mutual tolerance, sustains the political equilibrium. Or did. Judicial activism and political senescence have done for the old customs. They have made for a system of political contest that is governed less by ideology, mass mobilization and electoral success; more by denunciation, pseudo-criminal investigation and possible incarceration.

Hence the supreme irony of the crisis of the American regime in 1999. It was not, in truth, a deep crisis. As Posner pithily puts it, in such peace and prosperity, it was “a good year to have a scandal”. More importantly, by virtue of its wealth, stability and diversity, America “does not rely on the virtue of one man”. But it was something more than an inconvenience. And if much of the world is cursed by the intrusion of politics into law, in America — the most advanced society on earth — it is the other way around. By a strange trick of fate, the Americans seem temporarily to have forgotten the lesson which Tocqueville believed they, above all others, had understood: that in a democracy, politics (in its place) is a good thing.

The author is fellow of All Souls College, Oxford    


 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Party to a decline

Sir — Votes have just been cast in the assembly elections in the four states. Results are yet to be declared and already Congressmen are in a ferment apprehending, rightly perhaps, a severe drubbing (“Pawar shepherds anti-Sonia flock”, Feb 9). Meira Kumar has left the party, the old guard is restive, the young Turks are disillusioned and Sharad Pawar is sniffing around waiting to reap the fruits of Congressmen’s discontent with their president. One can’t help but feel sorry for Sonia Gandhi. Less than two years ago she was queen bee, Congressmen droned about her and she could do nothing wrong. They were even ready to swallow her pious injunctions at the Pachmarhi convention wholesale. Then the party won in Delhi and Rajasthan and retained Madhya Pradesh and Congressmen were ready to lay their life at her feet. And yet, just a few months later, they are baying for her blood. It is time Sonia realized no one can save the Congressmen from themselves, that the party will disintegrate not because, but in spite, of her.

Yours faithfully,
G. Ramanathan,
Jamshedpur

Team dispirited

Sir — The coach of the Indian cricket team, Kapil Dev, should be held responsible for the miserable performance of the team in Australia. He expressed his lack of faith in Mohammed Azharuddin by saying that the former Indian captain was not popular among players. How could Kapil Dev dictate terms in choosing or ignoring particular players when there are four other members on the selection committee?

The coach must concentrate on guiding the players to better performance. Politics in such poor taste was the last thing people expected when Kapil Dev was appointed coach.

Yours faithfully,
Anand Jha,
Calcutta

Sir — Selection is no longer a simple matter of the best man getting in. The Indians’ performance in Australia should teach Indians that politics and sport are uneasy bedfellows.

Yours faithfully,
Ronit Sinha,
Calcutta

Sir — The selection of players for the Challenger Trophy, a series of one day international cricket matches among the India seniors, India A and India B teams, was rather strange. Mohammed Azharuddin was denied a position in the India senior team, though Vinod Kambli and Jacob Martin are part of it.

There are often noticeable omissions. Mohammad Kaif, the captain of the under-19 India team which won the world cup, was selected for the quadrangular series in Kenya last year. But he was not given the nod for an international debut match. Wasim Jaffer has been neglected by the selectors in spite of his unbeaten 173 in the finals of the last Duleep Trophy. Zahid Khan, Iqbal Siddiqui, Tariqur Rehman have all been subject to similar neglect. One would not like to feel that the fate of Muslim players here is bleak.

Yours faithfully,
Reyaz Ahmad,
Bhagalpur

Sir — Kapil Dev’s statement that Mohammed Azharuddin is not popular among his team mates has brought the conflict between the two to the fore (“Kapil:Azhar not popular with players”, Jan 30). Sadly, it is the team which is losing because of this.

Yours faithfully,
Arif Kamal Khan,
Rourkela

Sir — The triumph of the Indian cricket team in the under-19 world cup in Colombo should inspire their senior counterparts (“Boys show the men how to do it”, Jan 29). The brilliant performance of Reetinder Singh Sodhi will certainly gain him much adulation. The senior team needs to make long term plans by encouraging youngsters like Sodhi instead of falling back on players like Mohammed Azharuddin. Also it is in the best interest of the team that a dynamic player like Ajay Jadeja or a classy allrounder like Sourav Ganguly should be allowed to lead the team. Till then, the “boys” should teach the “men” how to achieve a goal if only they care enough to set up one.

Yours faithfully,
Hrishikesh Chakrabarti,
Agartala

Moment of suspense

Sir — The news report, “Officer removed” (Nov 28), regarding my alleged suspension as special relief commissioner, Orissa, is malicious and baseless. The report maligns me publicly and amounts to defamation.

The fact of the matter is that I have never been placed under suspension as the report alleges. There was no official order or notification of the general administration department, the legally competent authority, to this effect. Therefore the question of withdrawal of the suspension order does not arise. Even the former chief minister, Giridhar Gamang, mentioned in a press conference at the state secretariat on November 29, 1999, that I had not been placed under suspension.

Yours faithfully,
D.N. Padhi,
principal secretary, department of steel and mines, Bhubaneshwar

Our special correspondent replies: It is intriguing that D.N. Padhi should criticize the report regarding his suspension as special relief commissioner as “malicious and baseless” after turning down The Telegraph’s repeated requests for his side of the story as long as Giridhar Gamang was in power. On November 27, Padhi refused to take calls from the media seeking his version after the chief minister broke the news. The report clearly states that the official “was not available for comment”.

An affidavit was submitted to the Orissa high court in connection with a public interest litigation on alleged irregularities in polythene procurement during Padhi’s tenure. The affidavit, dated December 12, 1999, and signed by the additional relief commissioner, Mayadhar Panigrahi, said, “It is a fact that the instruction of the chief minister to place Padhi under suspension was communicated to the chief secretary on the evening of November 27, 1999. By the time the chief secretary received this communication, the chief minister had already left for New Delhi. This matter was, however, discussed by the then chief secretary on the telephone with the chief minister the same evening. The chief minister had agreed that the suspension of Padhi should not be given effect to until he returned from New Delhi and discussed the matter with the chief secretary.”

In the same affidavit, S.B. Agnihotri, special secretary to the general administration department which has the authority to issue the suspension order, stated that Gamang had ordered the suspension, which was not carried out because he changed his mind.

It is not clear why The Telegraph is being blamed. It reported what the chief minister ordered. Besides, The Telegraph is not the only newspaper to have carried the news item. All papers published from Bhubaneshwar carried it prominently.

Letters to the editor could be sent to:
The Telegraph
6, Prafulla Sarkar Street
Calcutta - 700 001
Email: the_telegraph_india
@newscom.com
Fax: 225 3240/41
   

 
 
THIS ABOVE ALL 
 
 
BY KHUSHWANT SINGH
 
 

Portrait of the artist as an old man

I often think that painters are like daily newspapers: some paint pictures that are like photographs appearing on front pages of papers which illustrate the important events of the previous day and are easy on the eye. Others who are regarded as modernists are like the back pages of newspapers which have items like the crossword puzzle, chess and bridge.

They demand close attention: you have to see them straight, sideways and upside down to understand what the painter is trying to say. These modernists have been in vogue since the Twenties and get huge prices for their works.

The traditionalists, on the other hand, have been put on the shelf with dismissive remarks such as “theek hai” — they are okay. They get comparatively less attention and money for their works. Bhabesh Sanyal belongs to this later category. Nevertheless, he is a superb painter and sculptor. Art critics and art collectors have not been fair to him.

At long last, the Gallery of Modern Art has made amends by producing two illustrated volumes of his works, along with Bhabesh telling the story of his own life : The Vertical Woman — Reminiscences of B.C. Sanyal. The volumes have come in good time because Bhabesh will soon be a hundred years old.

I have known Bhabesh for over 60 years. When I set up legal practice in Lahore in 1940, he was already a much talked about young man. He had been head of the arts department at the Mayo School of Arts which had been started by Lockwood Kipling (Rudyard’s father).

When Bhabesh joined it, the principal was another Bengali, Samarendra Gupta. The Guptas had three children of whom the eldest, Kalyani, was the toast of Lahore. The small Bengali community of the city had introduced Rabindrasangeet, Kali puja, maacher jhol, rosogullahs and sandesh to the Punjabis.

Gupta, though a mediocre artist, was a social climber and hoped to find a rich husband for his pretty daughter. When he discovered that she had fallen in love with his handsome assistant, Bhabesh was unceremoniously booted out of his job. He set up his own studio which soon attracted the sons and daughters from the eminent families of Lahore who had artistic aspirations.

Bhabesh first came to Lahore on a commission to make a bust of Lala Lajpat Rai. He got other assignments, amongst them a life size statue of the Jat leader and member of Punjab’s unionist government, Sir Chotu Ram. During his years in Lahore there were quite a few celebrated artists in the city.

These included Abdur Rehman Chughtai; Svetoslav Roerich, Bevan Patman and Amrita Shergil. They had exhibitions of their works. Amrita, who had married her cousin Egan, decided to settle there. She died a year later at the age of 31. There were also Roop Krishna and his English wife, Mary, and a few other lesser known artists.

Bhabesh came out of his short-lived affair with Kalyani Gupta and fell in love with a Punjabi girl, Sneh. During his romance he spent a few days with me in Shimla. After dinner he would go out to the moonlit hillside and play on his flute.

Sneh’s upper-middle class parents, however, proved difficult to convince. They were not ready to give their daughter to a Bengali babu about whose background they knew nothing and who made a meagre living out of painting and sculpting. Ultimately it was the strong willed Sneh who prevailed and married Bhabesh. They had one child, a daughter named Amba.

The Sanyals left Lahore after Partition and settled in Delhi. They built a home for themselves close to the Nizamuddin railway station. Once Bhabesh visited Lahore at the invitation of his old students. He was given a hero’s welcome. Back in Delhi, he sculpted his famous masterpiece, Vertical Woman, after which his memoirs is named.

Bhabesh has grown from a handsome young man into a handsomer old man. He sports a long beard. At times he looks like a Russian tsar; at others very much like Augustus John’s portrait of George Bernard Shaw — imperious and arrogant. He remains as modest and loveable a man as ever. It is hard to believe that his sculptures and paintings can be seen in the most prestigious art galleries and private collections over the world.

My father, the soldier

Some years ago I wrote about a novel, The Revised Kama Sutra, by Richard Crasta. I praised it wholeheartedly: it was beautifully written, witty, and above all, had dollops of sex and erotica. I wrote then, and believe to this day, that Crasta had the makings of a great novelist who would do India proud. However, Crasta did not produce anything of to equal the merit of his first novel.

The Revised Kama Sutra was set in Mangalore and most of its characters were devout Roman Catholics. I recall showing it to Margaret Alva who was then a Cabinet minister and happened to be sitting beside me on a flight from Bangalore to Delhi. Margaret is a Catholic from Mangalore. A faint blush covered her face as she remarked, “We are not all like Richard Crasta’s characters.” She had evidently read it but wasn’t willing to admit she had enjoyed it.

Crasta has migrated to the United States and visits his native village, Kinnigoli, not far from Mangalore about once a year. During one of his visits he found that his father, a retired Subedar Major of the Indian army who had spent three and half years as a prisoner of war with the Japanese, had scribbled notes about his experience with his captors and the Indian National Army under the command of the incredible wind- bag, “Captain” Mohan Singh. Richard edited his father, John Baptist Crasta’s notes and turned them into a coherent story.

Most of it is about his captivity in Singapore. Being one of the many who refused to be disloyal to the British, he was treated like a slave. It is a tale of unmitigated horror, savage beatings, starvation, malaria and dysentery, as they were shifted from one camp to another in over-crowded ships which were often sunk by Allied submarines. At many camps the soldiers lived on a starvation diet of a handful of rice and dry coconut or tapioca without any salt.

They died like flies and their bodies were left to rot in the jungles or tossed into the sea. In contrast, their Japanese captors lived and ate well. When they ran short of rations, they killed Indian prisoners and ate them. The situation worsened when the tide of the battle started to turn against the Japanese.

Richard Crasta felt the story had to be told so that the world would know of the inhuman behaviour of the Japanese during World War II. So we have Eaten by the Japanese: The Memoir of an Unknown Indian Prisoner of War by John Baptist Crasta.

Richard has added a short preface and an eulogy to his simple-minded, honest father who rode a bicycle till the age of 80 when he became too frail to do so. Richard has paid a handsome tribute to a man of courage and rectitude.

The price of the bride

Two families were settling terms and conditions of a matrimonial alliance. The bridegroom’s uncle replied: “We possess the latest brand.” “Microwave oven?” “We already have one.”

“Television?” “We have theatre size.” “What about an airconditioner?” “Do not worry. By god’s grace, we have all electrical gadgets.”

“The what should we give with our daughter?”, asked the worried father. The bridegroom’s father replied, “Just give us a generator to run all these items.”

(Contributed by Madan Gupta, Spatu, Chandigarh)    

 

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