Editorial 1/Memento Mori
Editorial 2/ Bloodline
Bill’s legal straight jacket
Letters to the Editor
Never out of reach of Law’s long arm
Burmese days/Book review
Charge of the saffron brigade/Book review
Sheer sense of belonging /Book review
Through the eyes of posterity/Book review
Editor’s choice/Book review

Japan outdid the rest of the West in denouncing India for the Pokhran nuclear tests. The then Japanese prime minister, Mr Ryutaro Hashimoto, blamed New Delhi for letting loose the nuclear genie. Tokyo promised Pakistan all the aid Japan provided India if Islamabad desisted from holding its own tests. Tokyo’s anger has subsided since then. The tone and content of the visit of the present Japanese prime minister, Mr Yoshiro Mori, are a measure of how much Tokyo has tenderized its original toughness. Mr Mori has a number of messages. First, while Tokyo still wants India to sign the comprehensive test ban treaty, it can live with India’s moratorium on further tests. Second, with Japan opting for nuclear dialogue rather than confrontation, Mr Mori announced a significant watering down of economic sanctions. The freeze on sanctioned aid projects has been lifted. More importantly, Tokyo will no longer discourage largescale Japanese private sector investment in India. Third, Tokyo has aligned its position with Washington over what needs to be done to dampen nuclear friction in south Asia. During his visit to Islamabad, Mr Mori lectured the Pakistani leader, Mr Pervez Musharraf, on the need to curb terrorism and “create an environment conducive to the resumption of dialogue with India”.

The change in Tokyo’s attitude is driven by larger geopolitical concerns. Japan’s strident anti-nuclear stance has two sources. One is the legacy of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The other is Japan’s neighbourhood. It is both volatile and chock-a-block with nuclear armed or nuclear capable states. During the Cold War, Japan hid under the United States nuclear umbrella. After the Cold War, Japan embraced the creation of a global nuclear nonproliferation regime. The CTBT was the precursor to this regime. Hence Japanese anger, both public and official, at Pokhran. Not only did the tests awaken the ghosts of Hiroshima, they threatened the nonproliferation regime Tokyo had hoped would be its security blanket for the coming century. Since 1998 the nonproliferation regime has continued to fray — most notably because of the CTBT rejection by the US senate. If a global regime fails to coalesce, the alternative is every country for itself. The US is already hedging its bets by talking of putting up theatre and national missile defence systems. Mr Mori’s visit indicates Japan is also preparing for a possible return of balance of power politics in Asia, a balance whose fulcrum would be nuclear arsenals. In such a scenario, Tokyo would be uncertain of US willingness to defend Japan. And Tokyo would need counterweights to China, such as India. Japan still dreams of a global nonproliferatiohn regime. But it is preparing for an alternative world of individual, nuclear armed actors.

Japan’s other concern is its economic stagnation. Tokyo wants to replicate the information driven productivity gains that have propelle the US economic boom. But Japan’s attempts to get a foothold in information technology have not met with success. Two reasons for this are a lack of qualified English speaking programmers and astronomical startup costs in Japan. Japan has joined the long queue of countries wooing Indian knowledge workers to its shores and planning to set up software development centres in India. The only city Mr Mori visited other than the capital was Bangalore. Differences remain, but after a two year hiatus it can be said India and Japan once again share both security and economic goals.    

The most frightening point in a conflict is reached when there seems to be no end in sight. In West Bengal, the mini warfare between two political parties in Midnapore and other districts seems to be aspiring to a point of no return. The latest violence is centred on Keshpur — where this phase of violence was inaugurated a few weeks ago — although pitched battles, road blockades, and agitation against police and other administrative officers are radiating all around. As things threaten to grow worse, it has to be asked where this violence is coming from, and who these people are, erupting from time to time in such reckless frenzy.

The Communist Party of India (Marxist) has enjoyed undisputed sway over agrarian West Bengal for close to a quarter of a century. The Trinamool Congress, its challenger, is of recent birth and yet has drawn into its fold a large number of young people and disgruntled CPI(M) supporters from among the villagers. In a way, today’s conflict is an ironic consequence of the land distribution programme that carried the CPI(M) to the peak of power in the first place. The poor peasants who were given land to cultivate bred in turn a generation which was more educated and looked outward for betterment. However successful the CPI(M)’s land programme, it could not generate more land to fulfil growing needs. And the CPI(M) had never given enough thought to the expansion of industry to draw in the new manpower. The party disappointed the expectations it had created, and disillusion began to simmer. As it did with equal intensity among the peasants the CPI(M) had unjustly deprived in its politics of patronage. Now with Ms Mamata Banerjee’s promises, the battle lines are drawn. A party grown soft with 25 years of rule no longer knows how to deal with a challenge. The organization which executed its successful rural programmes is now in tatters, eaten away by corruption, indiscipline and nepotism. It knows no other way but violence. Without a serious adminstrative effort, the violence in the districts is unlikely to abate.    

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.    


Contrary bytes

Sir — N. Chandrababu Naidu may have actually found a soulmate in Laloo Prasad Yadav, though their being at loggerheads might suggest an entirely different story (“Laloo jibe at computerwallah”, Aug 23). Like Naidu, Yadav too loves picking a fight. However, Bihar’s former chief minister is not ashamed of heading a non performing state; in fact, he is even masterminding a coming together of laggard states. Yadav may well mock computers, claiming that computers cannot provide food for the masses. But he has not been able to suggest any alternative either. One could say that the money swindled in the Rs 9 crore fodder scandal could have fed thousands. The punch, however, was provided by a small news item on the same day (“Web finds Rabri”) about the inauguration of the Bihar rural development department’s website by Rabri Devi, Yadav’s wife. Rabri Devi’s exclamation, “This is a wonder machine”, says it all. It remains to be seen how long it takes her husband to eat his words.

Yours faithfully,
Saurabh Sen Sharma,via email

No minor matter

Sir — The Telegraph ought to be congratulated for its candid depiction of atrocities against Christians. The recurring nature of these events portend a trend towards concerted action against Christians, and indeed, against all minority communities. These incidents have rendered a nasty blow to India’s secular image. Some political leaders apparently also wish to use the word Hindusthan, as opposed to Bharat, when speaking in Hindi. Frustrated by these developments, many minority communities are abstaining from exercising their franchise. But this can hardly be a solution to the problem. As citizens of India, it becomes our duty to participate in national elections and choose a government. Shying away from this, for whatever reason, is unwarranted. On the other hand, minority communities should enthusiastically participate in elections and cast their votes for only those political parties which have a good track record with respect to communal harmony.
Yours faithfully,
Jaswanth Basu, Dimapur

Sir — The Constitution of India, under articles 29 and 30, allows religious, linguistic and cultural minorities to found and manage their own educational institutions. However, the same privilege is not given to the majority community. While a Muslim educational institution can teach the Quran,even while receiving government grants, a Hindu educational institution cannot teach any sacred Hindu text. This is unjustitifed. The injustice is further compounded by the fact that minority educational institutions are founded not only for teaching religion, language or culture, but also for engineering, medicine, science and so on. These institutions have a characteristic feature. Most of the reserved seats are allotted for members of the relevant minority community and the rest are sold as “paying seats” to other students. This is a form of profiteering and misapplication of the constitutional provisions.

The members of parliament and members of the various legislatures should reconsider this dichotomy and resolve to allow the same privileges for Hindus as well as for the minority communities. Minority institutions should be exclusively reserved for the intake of students belonging to their communities. These institutions should be for the specific purpose of teaching religion, language or culture.

Yours faithfully,
K. Srinivasa Reddy, Hyderabad

Sir —Over the last few months, any atrocity against the Christians is being touted by the media as being instigated by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, Bajrang Dal,Vishwa Hindu Parishad and so on. This is often not true. It is entirely possible that the traditionally anti-Hindu leftists, the vote-courting secularists and the church are taking advantage of the ongoing violence and directing their criticism in a concerted manner against the RSS and others. These allegations should be verified before the media carries any news in this context.

Yours faithfully,
T. Satish, Hyderabad

Sir —When one reads about a priest battered to death in Lucknow or a Keralite missionary maliciously accused of being a militant and brutally murdered on the streets, one gets an idea of what the future is going to be like for minorities in India. What meaning does the word “democracy” have in a country where the government cannot ensure the security of the people, in which the individual is continuously vulnerable to fundamentalist violence?

Yours faithfully,
Christie Doloi, Calcutta

War games

Sir — What Bal Thackeray thinks today, India thinks tomorrow. This is evident from the ruling of the sports minister, Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa, to the effect that India will not participate in the Sahara Cup that is scheduled to be held between September 9 and 17, 2000. Ostensibly, this was done in view of the growing violence and killings in the Kashmir valley. This development vindicates Bal Thackeray, who had objected much earlier to India’s decision to play against Pakistan in Mumbai.
Yours faithfully,
Maitreyee Chatterjee, Calcutta

Sir — The states sponsoring terrorism are as much a pollutant of the global security environment as the colonial powers were. Fortunately, this consciousness is growing. A small contribution in hastening this process can be made by the cricketing nations of the world. India gradually cutting off cricketing ties with Pakistan and also urging other nations to do the same would be a step in the right direction. Talking about the separation of politics from cricket and improving relations among players on a personal level is futile. One cannot forget that on the eve of the India-Pakistan match at the World Cup last year, Wasim Akram had referred to the Kargil crisis and asserted that he would win the match for his country. So much for separating politics from cricket.

Yours faithfully,
Nairit Kumar Singh Deo, Shribhumi

Sick to the core

Sir — Indranil Roy Chowdhury’s article, “In sickness and in ill health”, (August 10), has represented the thoughts of many people about our health services.The flight of patients to other states for treatment shows the dismal state of our health facilities. Apart from government doctors, a few unscrupulous private practitioners with vested interests ignore the ethics of the medical profession and subject patients to a series of unnecessary diagnostic tests. This was also mentioned in an earlier article by Saheli Mitra (“Clear out the testing ground”, July 7, 2000).

Unionism in government hospitals and the private practices of some doctors needs to be tackled by the government seriously to provide good health services in the state. Doctors should be morally accountable to the public.

Yours faithfully,
N.S. Ramakrishnan, Calcutta

Sir — The health services in the country are going from bad to worse. Most private practitioners are charging exorbitant fees from hapless patients. They virtually never give any official receipt for the fees they charge and thereby evade taxes. They recommend several unnecessary pathological and other tests.

These doctors almost never allow the presence of a knowledgeable relative when the diagnosis is being conducted. Under the circumstances, the relevant authorities should devise a transparent scheme for people to get redressed against these exploitative doctors.

Yours faithfully,
A. Sharma, Guwahati

Letters to the editor should be sent to:

The Telegraph
6 Prafulla Sarkar Street
Calcutta 700 001
Email: [email protected]
Readers in the Northeast can write to:
Third Floor, Godrej Building,
G.S. Road, Ulubari, Guwahati 781007

Recent developments have exposed the dangers to which the institutional framework of the Indian polity can be subjected if those leading it do not show the necessary discretion. It is incomprehensible why the president, K.R. Narayanan, referred some allegations against the chief justice, A.S. Anand, to the Union law minister, and not to the Union home minister. For, if he wanted them to be investigated in the interest of justice, only the latter, through the Madhya Pradesh government, could do this. While it can be argued that the president felt that the matter could be sorted out between the two authorities, what happened later was surprising.

The Maharashtra government was within its constitutional rights in prosecuting the Shiv Sena leader, Balasaheb Thackeray. The Union government could discreetly caution it to consider all the consequences of that action. However, the issue did not warrant a public expression of the feelings of the Union ministers.

Moreover, those Union ministers who spoke did so in many voices. The then Union law minister, Ram Jethmalani, went the furthest when he claimed that the Centre had the authority to intervene in the matter. To his chagrin, the Supreme Court pulled up the Union government for submitting to the same court a particular affidavit to which these statements did not conform. It also questioned the Union ministers’ duty of collective responsibility. Jethmalani took it as personal affront, as he did the fact that the attorney general, Soli Sorabjee, had not defended him in an appropriate manner.

Discretion is the key

Jethmalani thereafter failed to maintain that discretion his station demanded. The attorney-general on his part felt duty bound to rebut charges levelled against him. However, these allegations and counter-allegations cannot close the issue. All these ought to be thoroughly investigated. It is useless to explain this by saying that there are two kinds of law, one applicable to common citizens and another to persons in high positions.The Central Bureau of Investigation should be the natural choice as the investigation agency, but a commission of inquiry could also be brought in. It is well known how difficult it is to keep the investigation impartial when the powerful are involved.

The government of Madhya Pradesh has made a full statement about its part in the allegations against the chief justice. One or more retired chief justice(s) of the Supreme Court can be asked to look at the statement and all other relevant material to clear the air. Also an investigation into the allegations made against the attorney-general should be made. Since Jethmalani’s outburst was creating rifts between the executive and the judiciary, the prime minister could not but intervene in the matter.

Widening fissure

Yet, it was unfair that the Union law minister was not allowed to place certain documents in Parliament. For, the same government has tabled a bill in Parliament to ensure a free flow of information to the public. It may be recalled that Jethmalani, during the 13 day long government of the Bharatiya Janata Party, was alleged to have got all the confidential records relating to the Ayodhya case photocopied for the benefit of the alleged culprits. The then government had defended him with full vigour. Much before this, Vineet Narain of Kalchakra published a book on the hawala case, in which he levelled certain grave charges against the former chief justice, J.S. Verma. Ram Jethmalani had also been accused of having less integrity than is expected in a public man. Neither Jethmalani, nor Verma felt obliged to clear their names by filing a case of defamation against Narain.

Coming back to the issue of the arrest of Balasaheb Thackeray, the Shiv Sena chief was released on the grounds that the allegations against him had become time-barred. However, since the developments of the commission’s findings fall under arrest or prosecution, therefore on an appeal to a higher court, the verdict is sure to go against Thackeray. It might also help in altering the contours of the politics of the state. The point is that no modern and civilized government can succumb to such blatant threats as those made by the Shiv sainiks. The coalition partners of the BJP in the National Democratic Alliance could still stand firm against any kind of blackmail.    

The Glass Palace
By Amitav Ghosh,
Ravi Dayal and Permanent Black, Rs 425

In the book of his travels in Burma and Cambodia which Amitav Ghosh published in 1998, the Burmese narrative begins with a personal reference, to memories kept alive in the author’s family by “an old connection”. The connection is embodied in the person of his aunt’s husband, a wealthy Bengali timber merchant settled in Burma before the war and forced to leave by the Japanese invasion in 1942. This figure, nicknamed the Prince because of his extravagant tastes, appears to have cast a shadow of some magnificence over Ghosh’s childhood. There can be little doubt that it is this Prince of the author’s early memory who is metamorphosed into the Rajkumar of Ghosh’s new novel, a remarkable family saga extending over Burma, Malaysia and India and weaving history, politics, love and war into a complex fictional structure.

The best of Ghosh’s earlier fiction, The Shadow Lines and In an Antique Land, is indebted in the same way to personal memory and social and historical research, projecting imaginary narratives upon the density and apparent intractability of fact. It is a mode of writing Ghosh has made peculiarly his own, deliberately effacing the boundaries between fiction and non-fiction, just as the works themselves cross political and geographical boundaries to trace the persistence of human attachments and the force of memory. The Glass Palace is his longest and most ambitious novel so far, a novel based on five years of travel and research, tapping the memories of not one but several lifetimes. It is a novel of great scope and power, though in the end its ambition must remain partly unfulfilled.

No single novel could achieve what Ghosh sets out to accomplish here, the history of a hundred years of kingdom, conquest, empire and exile, of nationalist struggles and military rule, of economic transformations and fortunes made and lost in teak and rubber, of one royal family and three ancillary ones, Burmese, Indian and Malacca Chinese. The attempt itself is overwhelming, and it is a measure of Ghosh’s enormous distinction as a novelist that his narrative is compulsively readable, often deeply moving in its documentation of human losses and recoveries, impressive in its command of time and space.

The novel reinscribes lost history, history known to living memory and yet deliberately effaced from public consciousness. Burma — Ghosh prefers, citing Aung San Suu Kyi in his travel book, to use the older name instead of the junta’s Myanmar —- is one of India’s immediate neighbours, sharing a border some hundreds of miles long. It is a country with which people living in India today, especially in the east, had intimate ties — of residence, trade, travel, family relationships. Calcutta is closer to Yangon and Mandalay than to Delhi and Mumbai. Yet, with the Japanese invasion of 1942 which caused hundreds of thousands of Indians to flee, many undertaking the terrible march across the northern mountains into India, and the events of post-independence Burmese politics, principally the assassination of General Aung San on July 19 1947 and the military coup by which General Ne Win seized power in 1962, Burma became for most Indians a lost world. Until the democracy movement of the late Eighties it was cut off almost wholly from international attention, a forbidden land closed to all but the most intrepid traveller. Even the current fame of Aung San Suu Kyi has not succeeded in making its internal politics important in India. Yet, as Ghosh sets out to trace the ties which bind places and people, mapping the “geographies of the human heart” — an arresting phrase used on the book’s jacket — he unfolds a narrative of immense range and complexity, suggesting the persistence of connections which public memory ignores.

The novel begins in 1886, with the British entry into Mandalay and the deposing of the king and queen. Rajkumar, the novel’s hero, is a boy of eleven, originally from Chittagong, working in a food stall. He sees the royal family and their pitiful retinue leave the Glass Palace, and exchanges a few words with one of the queen’s maids, a child called Dolly. Rajkumar goes on to make his fortune in teak, under the tutelage of a Malayan Chinese trader called Saya John. The royal family is sent into exile in India, finally taking up residence in the small coastal town of Ratnagiri, south of Bombay. Here, deliberately neglected by successive administrators, they lead a detached, unreal and yet curiously normal existence, the description of which is one of Ghosh’s triumphs.

Indeed, it is these pieces of narrative that stick in the memory: King Thebaw and his telescope, the lives of timbermen in Upper Burma, the death of an elephant, the collector’s dinner-party, fighting in the Malay peninsula, a visit to the Burmese temple in Calcutta. The novel is made concrete by these bits of thick description, by the anecdotal substratum of larger histories, personal, romantic or political. By contrast, Rajkumar’s love and pursuit of Dolly, their friendship with the collector’s wife Uma who later becomes a nationalist leader, the marriages that link later generations of their families, the fortunes of Saya John’s son and grandchildren — these stories, played out against the major political events of a century of turmoil, are sometimes only narrative pretexts. Through them Ghosh is able to treat of problems close to his heart, complexities of loyalty, trust and betrayal, as in his account of the Indian National Army and the experiences of the Allied army, largely composed of Indian soldiers, in Malaya and Burma.

Thick description, a technique proper to an anthropologist (though Clifford Geertz borrowed the term from Gilbert Ryle) is dependent as much on meticulous research as on imaginative sympathy. The novel’s strength comes from its capacity both to record and to analyse, in human terms, what events mean. There are moments, though, when the research is too clearly visible: details regarding makes of cars, aeroplanes, cameras, lovingly and patiently recorded, political events baldly summarized. Above all, the last third of the book seems to have been written much more hurriedly than the earlier sections, as though, after the magnificent sweep and density of the pre-war accounts, the writer himself had been overtaken by the confusion and haste of the disasters which followed. The Collins typesetter was clearly in a hurry too, with numerous slips on the way to making a mess of the very last line in the book. But Ravi Dayal and Permanent Black, in this first major joint venture, are to be congratulated on the Indian edition’s design and cover, emphatically superior to their foreign counterparts, and worthy of this remarkable novel.    

The Emergence of Hindu Nationalism
By John Zavos, Oxford, Rs 450

The Hindutva brigade has never had it so good. The Bharatiya Janata Party is firmly in the saddle in New Delhi. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh has emerged from the shadows, into which it had disappeared following the assassination of M.K. Gandhi, to occupy centre-stage on the national scene. In the recent past, its many front outfits — the Bajrang Dal, the Swadeshi Jagran Manch and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad among others — have been seen and heard more often than in the early years of independent India

The Indian National Congress’s repeated poll defeats at the Centre and the Bharatiya Janata Party’s victories are symptomatic of the larger picture, where Indian nationalism appears to be fighting a losing battle against Hindu nationalism. This is as good a time as any, therefore, to ask how and why the saffron ideology emerged and became integrated into the Indian political discourse.

John Zavos attempts to do precisely this in his book, The Emergence of Hindu Nationalism in India. But unlike other similar works, he does not start with 1925 — the year the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh was formed. Instead, Zavos uses this historic year as the culmination of his examination of the movements of the late 19th and early 20th century that led to the creation of the RSS.

The author argues that the colonial state had a significant role to play in the consolidation of Hinduism as a religion, which was thus far an amorphous rubric for a broad philosophy. He particularly points out the role that the census played, first by raising questions about who qualifies to be a Hindu and then by classifying a large section of the populace, mainly belonging to the lower castes, as non-Hindus because they were not allowed into Hindu temples and did not worship Hindu gods.

The dialectic between the Hindu and the Indian nationalisms comes under scrutiny, with Zavos pointing out that many of the early leaders of the RSS —including its founder, Keshav Baliram Hedgewar — were at one time or the other associated with the Congress movement. The two even came from a similar social milieu: the educated, upper caste, middle class.

The objectives were similar as well. The RSS aimed to transform the “consciousness of the Hindu society in the same way as the counter-hegemonic pretensions of the Congress aimed to transform the consciousness of the Indian people.”Often, the two movements used identical vehicles of expression”.

But though the movements merged at times, on the whole they differed violently. Zavos argues that Hindu nationalism was a political — not a religious — movement and that the RSS considered Congress’s brand of nationalism to be its biggest threat, rather than any rival religion.

“The representation of the constituency of Hindus, an idea which underpinned the Sabha movement from the outset, was directly related to struggles within the Congress over how precisely the Indian nation was to be represented,” he writes.

Zavos underscores that the RSS was formed to articulate an alternative view of nationalism. This is especially relevant in the present political context. Though the RSS’s view of nationalism lost out to that of the contending Congress nationalism, at the time of independence in 1947, it has diligently persisted in its efforts to “transform the consciousness of Hindu society”. After all these years, these efforts finally appear to be bearing fruit.

The development of Hindu nationalism is a complex phenomenon which obviously does not lend itself to any simplistic explanations. But Zavos has examined several factors that shaped the movement and has offered a valuable insight into the dynamics of Hindu nationalism.

Coming at the time it does, the book takes on enormous significance. It could easily have been a widely read book had Zavos not targeted only historians, political analysts and social scientists. The general reader might find large sections of the book tedious.    

An American in Khadi
By Asha Sharma, Penguin, Rs 395

Asha Sharma, in her schizophrenic role as biographer and granddaughter of Samuel Evans (Satyanand) Stokes succeeds commendably in introducing a man, originally American — but who subsequently turned Indian in spirit. Her love and admiration for the subject makes this biography an entirely readable and enjoyable experience. It brings Stokes out of the confines of his beloved Kotgarh ilaqa in Himachal Pradesh and makes his identity known and appreciated by an audience which until now had little knowledge of how he came to India and linked both his fortune and his future with that of his neighbours.

Samuel Evans Stokes’s wealthy Philadelphia background, his Quaker antecedents, his aborted tenure at Cornell University, and an involvement with the Young Men’s Christian Association had a considerable impact on his values. When he met Dr. Carleton, who worked in India, he was moved by the latter’s charitable impulses. Samuel, essentially humane, decided to join him in his work at the Sabathu Leper Home in the Simla Hills. His father’s discomfort with this arrangement was won over by an innate broadmindedness.

On his arrival in India, Stokes made his way to the Simla hills and settled in Kotgarh in the early years of the 20th century when life in the hills was very difficult indeed and turned out to be a complete departure from the salubrious surroundings of Philadelphia. In the beginning he lived a hard life — punctuated by poverty and renunciation. Before long, Stokes’s life became enmeshed with the travails of the diseased and the dying. When he formed his own order of the Franciscan friars it was a natural extension of his primary instincts.

In India, Stokes found himself increasingly drawn to the socio-cultural ambience and he began learning the language. He eventually married Agnes, a Christian girl from the hills. His growing love for life in India, eventually brought him into confrontation with the British authorities and sometimes, even local interests. Later, an involvement with M.K. Gandhi put his attentions squarely in the middle of the freedom movement (for which he was even imprisoned).

According to Sharma, Samuel Stokes will be chiefly remembered for two things — the introduction of the “American Delicious” variety of apples to this terrain and his stand against the practice of begar or impressed labour, which was prevalent in the hills. Stokes’s involvement with the cultivation of apples was motivated by his desire to make the people and the region self-sufficient. As the author tersely puts it, “The saga of apple cultivation in the Simla hills is the saga of one man’s determination and foresight.” Stokes’s fight against begar was a signal achievement as well. It went directly against a deep-rooted historical practice which required the labourers to carry the luggage of travellers and also carry Government dak. In return the farmers were supposed to get revenue concessions which turned out to be a mere pittance.

After initial clashes with the authorities Stokes succeeded in getting the remuneration enhanced. Unfortunately for Stokes, despite his contributions, he ultimately remained an outsider. He made an attempt to combat this by embracing Hinduism in 1932. Thus, as Stokes’s humanism triumphed over institutionalized religion, Samuel became Satyanand. An American in Khadi is a comprehensive description of Stokes’s journey through an Indian life. Even after his death in 1945, he is remembered with admiration.    

Early Muslim Perception of India and Hinduism
By M.A. Saleem Khan,
South Asian Publishers, Rs 425

Since the beginnings of recorded history, Indian frontiers appear to have attracted foreigners. Some were captivated by its geographical beauty, others plundered its wealth and went away — but still others settled down and made this vast expanse their homeland. They blended with and contributed to India’s multicultural and religious diversity.

Today, in a busy and technologically advanced society, few have the time to delve into the recesses of early history. And when someone does so, and especially if it is a competent work, the experience can be quite fascinating. This has been M. A. Saleem Khan’s achievement in Early Muslim Perception of India and Hinduism.

In this book, Khan has excavated details about how India, its people, religion and enduring traditions were looked upon by foreigners coming into the country. Khan has made a small attempt at relocating the early Muslims’ impressions about this country in general and Hinduism in particular.

The book is laudable, first, because it debunks a number of myths in Muslims about Hinduism. Khan dispels the misconceptions that Muslims, especially the early Muslims, were fundamentally intolerant and that they looked down upon the Hindu religion. For Khan, there is no question of such aversion. He even goes to the extent of finding the early Muslims somewhat sympathetic to Hindus. If the early Muslims were sometimes baffled by the complexity of the rituals of Hinduism, they tried hard to understand them and even went to the extent of writing about a religion which they did not profess.

In order to corroborate his claims, especially about a matter as controversial as religion, the author quotes extensively from Muslim travellers, geographers and historians. This technique is a resounding success primarily because it not only adds credibility to his arguments, but also makes for fascinating reading.

This book ought to be read by anyone who is even remotely interested in the subject. If the references and bibliography are anything to go by, the wealth and range of materials at the author’s disposal appear to have been enormous. But one gets the feeling that Khan has somehow not quite managed to make full use of these resources. The book holds the promise of being both comprehensive and readable but in the end it somewhat seems to lose sight of these qualities. Khan does not meander and this is a relief. The facts in the book are detailed but the reader is left a little dissatisfied with the analysis.

Khan has divided the work into three segments. He begins with mapping out the larger contexts before dealing directly with the evidence of travellers, geographers and scribes involved with the study of Indian religions. But right from the beginning, the book betrays a slipshod treatment of the subject.

The second and third parts of the book are informative. The sections on Yaqubi and Al-Masudi turn out to be interesting, and they succeed in giving the reader an idea about how these chroniclers looked upon their times. The final section disappoints again in its listing of facts.Having said that, it must also be noted that whatever the limitations of his presentation, Khan succeeds in bringing before us a vivid description of the his period of study, which concludes that the early Muslim writers responsed to Hinduism more with curiosity than with criticism.    

Love, ETC
By Julian Barnes, Cape, £ 9.20

Julian Barnes finds love endlessly fascinating and endlessly mystifying. He cannot explain it but he cannot help writing about it. He broached it enigmatically, but tellingly, in a parenthetical chapter in A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters. He comes to it again in this novel (is it a novel?) from a different route altogether.

In Talking it Over (1991), Barnes had introduced to us three characters — Gillian, Stuart and Oliver. Gillian, a picture restorer, was then married to Stuart and had been taken away by their friend Oliver, who became her second husband. Barnes returns to this trio ten years later. There is also Mme Wyatt, Gillian’s French mother and a few others who have come to be involved in the lives and routines of the three protagonists.

What is new about the book — and hence the question mark over its inclusion in the genre of novels — is the form that Barnes adopts to tell us the story. He makes the characters speak to the reader directly. The reader is forced to listen in snatches to individual feelings and retelling of incidents. The technique is well known from Akira Kurasawa’s memorable film, Roshomon. But here the versions are smaller and a mixture of reflection and reportage. The apparent chaos makes it impossible for the reader to take sides as he is buffeted from different sides. The reader is challenged all the time by the contending versions and by the different views of life and love that the characters articulate.

Ten years on and after another marriage, Stuart, grey but fitter, is now a successful businessman dealing in organic food; Oliver, down at heel, is without work and Gillian, still a picture restorer, is a mother of two. They meet in London and Stuart, generosity personified, proceeds to set Oliver up in more ways than one. He gives Oliver a job in his firm, rents them his old house, in which he and Gillian once lived, and then attempts to win (in his eyes, get back) Gillian.

The characters come out very clearly. Oliver is slightly pompous and at times witty. Stuart is plodding, calculating and conscious that he has made good in the world. Gillian, the most thoughtful of the three, conscious of life’s ambivalence, of its grey areas and of the ineffability of love.

Flitting from one character to another, Barnes tries out various styles which suit the characters and their varying moods. He dares us to disbelieve what his characters are saying about themselves, about each other, about life and about incidents that affect their lives.

Stuart in the midst of telling readers about love and about how you can learn about love only slowly shares a theory that Oliver once formulated. Oliver called the theory “love, etc”: “the world divides into people for whom love is everything and the rest of the world is a mere ‘etc’, and people who don’t value love enough and find the most exciting part of life is the ‘etc’”.

Barnes proposes no absolute answers, he is willing, like Mme Wyatt, to wait “for something to happen. Or for nothing to happen.’’    


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