Editorial1/ Ad nauseam
Editorial 2/ Promising land
Fiscal xenophobia
Fifth column/ Microsoft has only itself to blame
Letters to the editor
Mani talk/ No ground beneath his feet

 
 
EDITORIAL1/ AD NAUSEAM 
 
 
 
 
The exchange of massacres in central Bihar has taken on the symmetry of a game of tennis. The inevitability of the next carnage in the vicious circle of caste revenge, and the partisan responses that follow — just as predictably — can only inspire a numbing fatalism regarding the state. A grim sense of déjà vu makes every proposed solution appear terminally absurd. Perhaps the most telling detail in the latest episode on June 17 is a police patrol arriving at the remote hamlet of Yadavs and Paswans half an hour before the massacre. It gave a cryptic warning to the people to “stay on alert”, and then disappeared. What followed has now become part of the macabre history of Aurangabad district. The isolation of Mianpur’s inhabitants — mostly women and children at that time of the evening — from every element of the state machinery is total. With no motorable roads within six kilometres, no police protection and medical facilities, this is a picture of utter political dereliction, preyed over by a protracted history of violent caste conflict, taken up into endlessly widening circles of vested interests. Bhumihars versus the Yadavs, Kurmis or Dalits, Ranbir Sena versus Maoist Communist Centre, Rashtriya Janata Dal versus National Democratic Alliance, Congress versus Bharatiya Janata Party and, of course, Bihar versus New Delhi. This, in turn, generates its babel of political reactions and solutions: prime ministerial wait-and-watch, the NDA’s demand for the chief minister’s resignation and for president’s rule, the Congress’s lyings low and the Left Front’s grassroots visions. There are also the usual messianic appearances, ex gratia payments, projected law and order reinforcements and the routine hawking of the communal conspiracy theory by Mr Laloo Prasad Yadav. All this till the next massacre, which is usually a laterally inverted version of the last one (in terms of the caste equation), but with a higher death toll.

The immediate imposition of president’s rule and a proposed amendment of Article 355, transferring “police” and “public order” from state to concurrent list, are two ideas doing the rounds rather more seriously this time. But what will the president “rule” over? What law and order machinery will the Centre supervise, reinforce and intervene in? This is a state where most of the police remain viciously implicated in the caste conflict, the education system has collapsed, there is no functioning concept of development, the bureaucracy is grounded in corruption, the rule of the gun determines the allegiances of the wretched, and where, finally, this vast structure of inequity, backwardness and violence is shamelessly politicized. Article 356, even when imposed, will have to be implemented through and upon this impossible organism. The solution, if any, can only come from within the dynamics of its grisly vitality.    


 
 
EDITORIAL 2/ PROMISING LAND 
 
 
 
 
It says something about the continuing diffidence of India towards Israel that the visit of the Union home minister, Mr L.K. Advani, is the first by a cabinet minister of the Atal Behari Vajpayee regime to that country. This is remarkable given that the Bharatiya Janata Party carries no negative baggage regarding Zionism or the Israeli-Arab conflict. If anything, the creation of the Jewish state, its ability to forge a single culture from a fragmented diaspora was seen as a model by many Hindutva advocates. Yet, since the 1992 normalization of relations between the two countries, almost no high level Indians have visited Israel. Tel Aviv is still waiting for India to reciprocate the 1996 visit of the Israeli president. Shyness over Israel exists at lower levels as well. Over the years the West Bengal chief minister, Mr Jyoti Basu, has repeatedly scheduled and then cancelled visits to Israel. He has reportedly recently overcome opposition from his party and is expected to go to Israel soon. Mr Basu’s visit is long overdue. Maharashtra has signed umpteen agreements with Israel, especially in agriculture, since its then chief minister visited the country four years ago. There have been two reasons Indian leaders have preferred to keep a bargepole between themselves and Israel. One has been the belief this would anger Muslim sentiment. The other has been the antagonism of the Indian left. Much of the former’s opposition has melted away since the Oslo accord and the Palestinian renunciation of violence. It is the left, unreconciled to a new world order, who remain obdurately opposed to Israel.

India had a habit of turning to Israel for military help when it was in trouble. In 1962, 1965 and 1971 New Delhi surreptitiously asked Israel for weapons. It asked for advice on security following Indira Gandhi’s assassination. As soon as the security threat was over, Israel reverted to pariah status. The question is whether New Delhi has gathered the courage to do things differently today. Tel Aviv has done more than its fair share. During Kargil, Israel had over a dozen technical teams in India trying to fill the gaping holes in India’s arsenal and intelligence capabilities. Israeli technicians are upgrading India’s MiG fleet, modernizing India’s artillery and supplying remotely piloted vehicles to monitor the line of control. Since 1992, civilian bilateral trade between the two countries has tripled. Israel’s greatest contribution in the long run may be the biotechnology and irrigation knowhow it is passing on to India. New Delhi’s mandarins fret India is risking its oil lifeline with the Arab world — even as those same countries import Israeli farm equipment and hire Israeli bodyguards for their leaders. Mr Advani’s trip is welcome, but it still falls short of the uninhibited embrace Israel expected of a more confident India.    


 
 
FISCAL XENOPHOBIA 
 
 
BY BHASKAR DUTTA
 
 
All coalition governments suffer from a lack of purpose and cohesiveness. The larger the number in the coalition and the greater the ideological differences amongst the parties, the more likely are they to fight amongst each other. After all, each party in the ruling coalition has its own vote banks and hence its own political compulsions. It is also tempting to argue that the smaller parties have shorter time horizons because they are easily dispensable, and so are likely to remain in power for a smaller period of time.

So, any political patronage has to be distributed quickly. In other words, these are the parties that are more likely to indulge in populism. In contrast, the bigger parties dig themselves in for the long haul, and are more likely to initiate policies which will bear fruit only in the long run.

This characterization certainly seems borne out by the NDA government. For several months now, there has been an open tussle between the leading and overwhelmingly largest party — the Bharatiya Janata Party— and its other smaller allies. Despite some opposition from within its own party, the BJP ministers have more or less tried to push through reforms. A striking contrast is provided by its smaller allies which have bitterly opposed measures such as increases in administered prices.

The contradictions within the present government were very evident in some of the recent actions undertaken by the Central government. Despite staunch opposition from the finance ministry, the populist faction won the first round when one of its leaders, Ram Vilas Paswan, succeeded in implementing his crazy plan of handing out free telephones to telecom employees. There are conflicting reports about how much this bonanza is going to cost the taxpayer.

However, no one in his right mind can defend this measure even if its cost is small, simply because it is not going to bring any benefit at all. Unfortunately, the smaller allies of the BJP may be practising some sort of implicit collusion (to keep Big Brother at bay?), and so hardly anyone from the smaller parties has criticized Paswan for his blatant populism.

Big Brother stormed back a few days later with a significant liberalization and relaxation of rules related to foreign direct investment. The stage for this initiative was set during the recent visit of the finance minister to the United States. He spoke of the government’s determination to speed up the reform process, and in particular open up more sectors to foreign investment.

He pointed out that despite being the second largest producer of fruits and vegetables and the largest producer of milk in the world, the food-processing and dairy industries are insignificantly small. The absence of these industries means that Indian farmers are often denied lucrative prices for their products. There is also a huge scope for infusion of foreign capital into infrastructure sectors. Yashwant Sinha himself mentioned the government’s intention of building national highways, greenfield airports, upgrading existing airports and developing the power sector.

The list is endless. Nevertheless, Sinha and other reformers will not have an easy time. They may have won the first skirmish, but may still be ambushed by their allies. The entry of foreign capital into the Indian economy has always been a contentious issue, and friends and foes may combine to defeat the pro-reformers.

Despite the intensity of the opposition, it is difficult to find a rational explanation for this distrust to inflows of foreign capital. The popular argument that increased capital inflows would enable foreigners to hold the economy to ransom simply does not hang together. The sheer size of the Indian economy makes it virtually impossible for foreign capitalists to come over and capture the commanding heights of the economy.

Given the deep distrust of foreign direct investment amongst Indians, it is not surprising that India has not been a particularly popular destination in so far as FDI is concerned. Despite the huge absolute size of the Indian economy, we rank only 11th among developing countries in terms of FDI inflows.

There was actually a significant increase in the volume of inflows during the early and mid-Nineties, as some of the barriers erected during the Nehruvian years were slowly dismantled. However, the gradual but marked deceleration in the pace of reforms, the political uncertainty, the Pokhran blast and subsequent hostility of Western governments were all instrumental in slowing down the inflow of foreign capital in the last couple of years.

One can only hope that the latest set of measures will facilitate an increase in FDI in the Indian economy because there is scarcely any rationale for the widespread distrust of foreign capital, especially when the domestic economy is starved of capital. Certainly, there is no possibility of domestic entrepreneurs being able to garner enough resources to make the necessary investments.

The government is an even less likely candidate since it is even unable to make ends meet at existing levels of expenditure. It is important for the government to practise economy (which probably implies asking the Ram Vilas Paswans to go home). But no amount of government economy will enable it to save enough money to finance even a fraction of the infrastructure investments necessary today.

This inevitably means that we have to look for funds abroad. During an earlier generation, some of our foreign capital requirements were obtained from friendly governments and multilateral aid agencies. However, these sources have more or less dried up as far as the Indian economy is concerned, partly because the richer European countries now prefer to divert aid flows to Eastern Europe. There is also an increase in the number of developing countries seeking aid from the multilateral agencies. More claimants for the same cake mean a smaller share for everyone.

So, we have only two options. We can either go in for higher levels of foreign debt or seek greater volumes of foreign direct investment. Contrary to popular perception, our overall level of foreign debt is well within the levels of prudence. Foreign debt servicing does not constitute a threat to our overall balance of payments.

Nevertheless, foreign debt remains an inferior source of capital compared to FDI. Perhaps the most important reason for this is that the interest outflow on foreign debts is a commitment that has to be met, irrespective of whether the project in which the foreign debt is utilized makes a profit or not. In other words, none of the risk associated with the project is borne by the foreign lender. In contrast, there is an outflow of foreign exchange in the form of dividends only if the FDI is in projects which earn profits. So, there is some sharing of risk.

Opponents of FDI claim that average dividends are higher than the rate of interest on foreign debt, so that there is a greater outflow of foreign exchange associated with FDI. However, this is an empirical issue which is yet to be rigorously proved.

There is also the fact that FDI is often associated with projects whose products are partially exported, so that the export earnings partly compensate for the dividend outflow. Given these considerations, one hopes that the recent initiatives to relax the constraints on FDI will translate into higher flows. Perhaps Paswan will be too busy doling out telephones to intervene in this matter.

The author is an economist at the Indian Statistical Institute, New Delhi    


 
 
FIFTH COLUMN/ MICROSOFT HAS ONLY ITSELF TO BLAME 
 
 
BY DIPANKAR DAS
 
 
When the United States judge, T.P. Jackson, sentenced Microsoft to being broken up into two companies, he overturned many shibboleths. When the trial began, it centred around issues which seemed incomprehensible to many. Web browsers and operating systems are not things a lay person discusses over breakfast. Many thought a sexagenarian judge should not have presided over the trial. But as the trial unfolded it was realized it was not about arcane technology, rather it was about corporate conduct and breach of faith.

There was a grey area. Who is to say Microsoft behaved badly or forced people to buy browsers along with the Windows operating system? Microsoft, after all, is a mega corporation. Owners’ pride and rivals’ envy — the accusations levelled against it were logical, coming from vanquished rivals.

Ultimately, according to Jackson, it wasn’t what Microsoft did with its browser or to its competitors that brought the company to its present pass. Jackson makes it clear: it was the company’s behaviour during the trial itself that persuaded the judge that “conduct remedies” could not stop Microsoft from breaking antitrust laws, that only the more radical “structural remedy” of a breakup could work.

Defiance personified

The order puts it clearly. “Microsoft has proved untrustworthy in the past ... Microsoft’s profession of surprise [at the speed of the trial’s final phase] is not credible...Microsoft as it is presently organized and led is unwilling to accept the notion that it broke the law...Microsoft, convinced of its innocence, continues to do business as it has in the past, and may yet do to other markets what it has already done in the personal computer operating system and browser markets...”

If there is anybody to blame for the verdict, it is perhaps Microsoft. Throughout the trial its attitude was one of tutored insouciance. Bill Gates pretended not to understand plain English. Its lawyers claimed to be taken by surprise that the judge was closing down any further hearings, yet they had prepared detailed briefs for that eventuality. The attitude throughout seemed to be, “We’re smarter than you. We’re richer than you. We’re right and everyone else is wrong. So stay out of our way.”

In the end, the collective weight of Microsoft’s record of evasions, half truths and outright lies seem to have led Jackson to conclude Microsoft had not only broken antitrust laws, but was a rogue company that could not be trusted.

Microsoft’s unshakeable arrogance turned the company into its own worst enemy during the trial. But stubbornly it refuses to change. It carries on in the same vein. Gates is betting on an appeals court reversal. That — or rescue by the US supreme court — is not impossible, but the company still refuses to heed the message in the verdict.

Creeping obsolescence

Every time Microsoft opened its collective mouth it reinforced the judge’s conclusion that the whole company was in denial. Microsoft insists, “We’ll win someday.” But the prospect of an actual breakup becomes increasingly likely.

In a way Microsoft shaped some of the technology revolution that is underway today. But times are changing rapidly and it refuses to read the signs, that like the internet, technology too is going the democratic way. The open source movement is gradually ensuring that the days of proprietary technology, unless in the very high end, are numbered. One of the rivals to Microsoft’s Windows operating system, the Linux computer operating system, can be downloaded free from the internet, while Windows would cost you anywhere from Rs 10,000 onwards.

Those who have have dealt with Microsoft will know it is brilliant at marketing its products. That’s not easy since some of its bread and butter products such as office suites and operating systems are relatively more expensive than its nearest rival’s products, but it manages to sell them all the same. Not only products, it has packaged the company’s public image and Gates as the icon of the age. It’s one thing to sell the image of being the most decisive tech company in the world when you are riding the wave of a technological revolution. But sticking to it when a federal court has just ruled that you have broken the law is another thing altogether.

If Microsoft does come apart, the list of those responsible will begin with that of Bill Gates.    


 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

As they like it

Sir — What could be the reason for the particular liking for crossdressing displayed by American filmgoers (“Men as women tickle US most”, June 15)? It would, however, be grossly oversimplifying the situation to think, as the Time magazine film critic does, that the trend is an indirect validation of what used to be “transgressive”. For, in films like Tootsie and Mrs. Doubtfire, crossdressing is only a means to a comic end, and neither Dustin Hoffman in the former, nor Robin Williams in the latter are transvestites in the “transgressive” sense of the term. Crossdressing is a stock comic device, used in plays and fiction since before Shakespeare. It would be a completely different story if the United States audience had expressed its liking for films on transvestites like Priscilla, Queen of the Desert or The Crying Game. But such films don’t happen to feature among the 100 best comedies. Perhaps it would be correct to read the results of the survey this way: the end is the thing, and the more ribtickling ways to it, the better.

Yours faithfully,
Sukalyan Hazra, Calcutta

Great poll vault

Sir — How could the octogenarian chief minister of West Bengal, Jyoti Basu, declare that the people of West Bengal had erred by not electing the left-nominated candidate. Such a comment is an insult to democracy in which the public has the last word. Why can’t the Left Front government be honest enough to admit that its 23-year-long misrule has ruined the state’s infrastructure and work culture? The people of Panskura have broken their long silence against the atrocities of the cadres of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and of the police.

Inner feuds within the Left Front were also responsible for the Panskura debacle in a big way. Why else was an upright and seasoned parliamentarian like Gurudas Dasgupta denied a Rajya Sabha ticket?

The Panskura result should act as a wake up call for the Left Front. However, Mamata Banerjee cannot expect to cure the maladies of the state until her associates execute their duties in right earnest instead of simply trying to gain political mileage out of the erosion of the traditional CPI(M) votebank.

Yours faithfully,
Sankar Lal Singh, Calcutta

Sir — Of the main conspiracy theories against Gurudas Dasgupta, the first two seem to have been conceived to save the face of the party in power: the fear that a victorious Dasgupta would spoil Somnath Chatterjee’s clout in Parliament and that an industrial house pulled the strings to prevent him from going to the Parliament (“Lost in speculation”, June 12). But these do not hold water. The Panskura byelections had provided a golden opportunity to the communists to finish Mamata Banerjee politically. Instead, they let it slip out of their hands. An ailing V.P. Singh was brought into the scene to make things look brighter though the ageing leader was himself looking rather pale. The third speculation attributing the left’s loss to the use of electronic voting machines and photo identity cards, which prevented rigging, seems to be somewhat correct, since the seat had all along been a left bastion.

Winner Bikram Sarkar’s observation that the electorate expected a better future under Trinamool Congress leadership merits more consideration than the idle speculations from the left camps.

Yours faithfully,
Omprakash Mehta, Calcutta

Sir — The recent humiliating loss of the Left Front in Panskura is ominous for the forthcoming assembly elections and for the Calcutta Municipal Corporation elections. Mamata Banerjee’s dynamic strategy of campaigning has displaced a long Left Front hegemony in Panskura. Banerjee’s physical presence in Panskura was largely responsible for this reversal of fortunes.

Yours faithfully, Tarun Kumar Sarkhel, Adra

Sir — The Panskura byelections took a toll of several lives. At least 30 persons were injured in a CPI(M)-Trinamool Congress clash in Hooghly when some people took out a procession to celebrate the Panskura victory.

Such clashes and the possibility of more of these in future could have been avoided, had the CPI(M) won. Perhaps Jyoti Basu was right in saying that the people of Panskura had made a mistake by casting their votes for the Trinamool Congress.

Yours faithfully,
Biren Saha, Titagarh

Sir — The arrogant old man of the Writers’ Buildings might claim that it was not a people’s victory. Anil Biswas might put the blame on rigging. But the fact remains that a veritable who’s who of the Left Front, not to mention the veteran Janata Dal leader, V.P. Singh, were present at Panskura to defeat Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress. And yet they lost.

It is true that the land reforms implemented by the CPI(M) has done a lot of good for the people of the area. But it is impossible to keep winning elections on the land reforms ticket, while the rest of the state machinery is crumbling to bits.

People’s aspirations have increased over the years. The issue of anti-communalism is secondary to them. They want a comfortable life for themselves and meaningless jargon cannot achieve this. There is no alternative before the Left Front but to recognize the ground realities and become modern in its outlook.

Yours faithfully,
Arjun Bharat, Mumbai

Sir — That Mamata Banerjee’s presence among the people can work wonders for the party’s votebank has been proved beyond doubt by the Panskura byelections. Compare this to the Trinamool Congress’s dismal performance in the civic elections, where Banerjee could not campaign extensively and her influence becomes even clearer. The “Mamata wave” which fashioned her party’s win in Panskura was not there during the civic polls.

It is possible that the Left Front had secretly manoeuvred to help the Congress get more seats in the municipal elections than expected, so that the party might then seek to fight independently in the coming assembly polls and get a share of the anti-left votes. But as the editorial, “Left out” (June 9) rightly points out, Panskura has become a political metonym for what could well emerge as a comprehensive trend in the state.

Yours faithfully,
B.C. Dutta, Calcutta

Sir — The outcome of the Panskura byelections is extremely significant in so far as it has proved conclusively that the practice of irregularities cannot be a permanent path towards victory in the polls. However, the anti-left forces must utilize this opportune moment to bring together the proposed mahajot, or it will again be back to square one.

Yours faithfully,
Dhaneswar Banerjee, Bolpur

Letters to the editor should be sent to:

The Telegraph
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Calcutta 700 001
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Readers in the Northeast can write to:
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MANI TALK/ NO GROUND BENEATH HIS FEET 
 
 
BY MANI SHANKAR AIYAR
 
 
Salman Rushdie has had published last week in The Times of London extracts from his diary of his return to India last April after an absence of several years, some of it enforced owing to the trouble he caused himself with his notorious The Satanic Verses.

Rushdie, as ever, has an extraordinarily high opinion of himself. And no remorse. Nor even any understanding, apparently, of the circumstances that delayed his homecoming by something over a decade. All he really cares about is being mushed over, poor, poor victim of a horrible conspiracy to deprive him of his right to be nasty about anything he wishes to be nasty about, especially if that will swell his already rather over-swollen bank account.

I am not competent to comment on his literary abilities. I am content to accept the judgment of the literati that he is among the most outstanding novelists produced by independent India. I have read only one of his novels, Shame. I hated it.

I had just returned from Pakistan after serving three years in Karachi during the worst of General Zia ul-Haq’s dictatorship. What I hated was the callous cruelty of Rushdie’s portrayal of Zia’s young daughter as a physically deformed monster. She is a spastic. And Zia, whatever his other barbarisms (and they were legion), never had any hesitation, even on formal, public, protocol occasions, in gathering up the child in his arms and showing her that he was not ashamed of her having been born different from other children. To mock Zia, Rushdie chose to mock his innocent disabled daughter. That turned my stomach.

So, I decided in my private mind to not read any more Rushdie. Which means I have not read Midnight’s Children. I am told by all I trust that Midnight’s Children is brilliant and I harm only myself by not doing what everyone else has long ago done: read it. But, then, I have my principles. Just, doubtless, as Rushdie has his.

The difference is I am willing to take the consequences of my actions. The great author, however, can only crib about the consequences to himself of his blasphemy. For there can be no doubt about it, The Satanic Verses is blasphemous. Intentionally so. And the blasphemer was proud as a cock over his blasphemy, until those he insulted decided to wreak their vengeance on him.

That is when Rushdie began running scared. Now that he is off the Ayatollah’s hook, he still refuses to see that there is more to life than literary liberty.

Personally, as an agnostic tending to atheism, I am much more offended by what is trotted out in the name of religion than I am by blasphemy. One of the books I most enjoyed as a young undergraduate was the savaging of the Christian church and biblical dogma by the 19th century Russian anarchist, Mikhail Bakunin. He took the consequences of his writings on the jaw. He spent much of his life in exile in Siberia. If memory serves right, he was eventually executed for his convictions.

Spiritual tradition may mean little or nothing to me, but it does mean a great deal to most people. It is intimately tied to questions of identity. And the fundamental existential question for the religious minorities in India is the question of their identity. It is continuously under assault from those who reject our composite heritage and assert majoritarianism as the basis for nationbuilding.

The critical rift valley in our polity is the divide between those who believe India is a Hindu country which can be developed only on the basis of its Hindu identity, and those like me who do not accept that India is a Hindu country (except in the purely arithmetical sense that some 85 per cent Indians espouse the sanatana dharma in one of its many versions).

I believe in a secular India, and the first tenet of secularism must surely be that the identity of those espousing minority faiths must at all times be protected. Indian Muslims are Indian — but cannot remain Indian unless they can also be Muslim. This applies to all groups. I cannot be Indian unless my identity as an Indian Tamil is safeguarded. My wife cannot remain an Indian unless she has an unfettered right to be an Indian Sikh, nor my sisters-in-law to be an Indian Parsi and an Indian Christian respectively.

The problem of identity, however, is the most acute for the Muslim of this country. The cause of this is Pakistan. If eelam were to come and Tamil Nadu were to merge with it, I should certainly have to face up to my compatriots’ questioning eyes. That is a contingency which has neither come upon me, nor is likely to come. But, tragically, it has been visited upon that vast majority of Indian Muslims who voted with their feet to remain in India when a minority of their elite voted with their hands for Pakistan. They need to be reassured. Just as my fellow Tamils needed to be reassured in 1965 that the expiry of the constitutional time limit for English as an official language and medium of instruction did not mean their being compelled to learn Hindi.

It is little remembered, but nonetheless true, that the constitutional provisions in respect of the educational rights of the minorities were primarily designed at the time not so much to protect Muslim madrasas and missionary colleges as to preserve the right of Bengali residents of Bihar to have their children taught their mother tongue and to enable Bihari residents of Bengal to study Urdu and Hindi. See the records of the debates on the subject in the constituent assembly.

When, therefore, Salman Rushdie decided in the mid-Eighties that nothing would better boost the sales of his books in the English speaking world than a satire discrediting the prophet and his works, India became the first country to ban the sale of the book. We needed no instruction from anyone.

One quick glance through its offensive passages and the lieutenant governor of Delhi determined that he would only be inviting communal fracas if he were to wait for the Imam Bukhari to read it (presumably in some bowdlerized Urdu version) for the city to go up in flames. Rushdie claims this was no more than the bending at the knees of a “weak” Rajiv Gandhi intent on cultivating the “Muslim vote bank”.

This was, and is, rubbish. To read Rushdie in The Times today is to be caught in a time warp. For his is the same argument as was put out then by L.K. Advani and his ilk, the same lot who now seek to establish their secular credentials by issuing visas to a British Muslim who makes a living out of insulting Islam.

Revealingly, not one of those who contested the Rajiv Gandhi government on its ban — be it the V.P. Singh government, the Chandra Shekhar interregnum, H.D. Deve Gowda’s dispensation, I.K. Gujral’s little bow, or Atal Behari Vajpayee’s twice born incarnation — has had the guts to lift the ban on The Satanic Verses. Or repeal the Muslim Women’s (Compensation on Divorce) Act, 1986, which annulled the Shah Bano judgment.

Why? Is it not because there is a higher reality than is dreamt of in Rushdie’s fiction? Let him do a send up of the Bharatiya Janata Party on the Babri Masjid — and then let us see how many visas Jaswant Singh solicitously delivers him. Rushdie does not know but he is merely a propaganda tool of the sangh parivar. Give me Arundhati Roy any day. She writes a damn sight better than he does, anyway.    

 

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