Editorial/ Songs of yesterday
Dangerous triumphs
The Telegraph/ Diary
Letters to the editor

Iconization is a part of pop culture. One thinks here immediately of Elvis Presley, Jimi Hendrix and, of course, the Beatles. Other forms of music, like jazz, have also had their stars. But nobody has seriously thought of the likes of Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and John Coltrane as icons. Jazz virtuosos drove their fans to ecstasy and even to contemplation, but never to frenzy. Mass hysteria seems to be an affliction of pop music. No other group exemplifies this generalization better than the Beatles. Through the Sixties, their lyrics and their musical style captured the imagination of the youth across the globe. Beatles fans, even today, would not like or would refuse to identify individual talent within the quartet. The Beatles performed as a group. Thus the setting up of a separate museum for John Lennon in Tokyo might appear to be a bit out of tune. Lennon, undoubtedly, wrote some of the best lyrics for some of the songs which took the Beatles to the top of the charts in the Sixties. He continued to write wonderful lyrics even after the Beatles had split but he never attained the popularity that the four Liverpool lads enjoyed during their journey from a Liverpool club called the Cavern to the recording studios on Abbey Road to becoming a global musical phenomenon.

Lennon’s lyrics were just one factor that pushed the Beatles along this journey. But songs are not just words, they are the fusion of words, music and mood. Moreover, many of the words in the early singles of the Beatles were not exactly memorable. Nobody remembers a number like “Love, Love Me Do’’ for its lyrics. It is hummed even today because of the ineffable way the words and the music came together in the hands of an extraordinarily talented group. It is only in their later songs — “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”, “With a Little Help from my Friends’’, “Day in the Life’’ and so on — that words of Beatles’ songs struck a new depth. Perhaps, in this regard, the album, Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, was a landmark. In their music, the Beatles made no major innovations. They composed and played on the traditions of rhythm and blues and rock and roll. Their musicmaking was easy and flowing; their tunes could be whistled and hummed. But the absence of innovation was made up for by a certain freshness that seemed to take Britain away from its post-war drabness. Even when they experimented, like in the hit “O bladi O blada’’ where they experimented with reggae, there was a touch of happiness and fun. The sad tunes came later. But even in the longing for yesterday there was always the hope that things would be better.

The Beatles caught a mood. Their music also marked the transition from the cosiness of the early Sixties to the protests in the second half of the same decade. From being the long-haired lovers from Liverpool, they became symbols of the flower children generation. Lennon, his music, his unforgettable lyrics and , indeed, his persona, were a part of this total ambience. He was part of it and he made it. His remarkable talent is inseparable from that moment of history whose influence spread across the world and became part of what has come under the rubric, 1968. What is even more important is the unbreakable bond that Lennon’s name and talent have with the Beatles. No music lover immediately thinks of Lennon as a soloist, which he became when the Beatles broke up. His name is inextricably linked to Paul McCartney. John and Paul is as natural a pairing as Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay. It is difficult, thus, to conceive of a museum dedicated only to Lennon. A large part of Lennon’s life and achievements will be inexplicable without the Beatles and the context in which they carried out their musicmaking. Lennon invited his listeners to imagine a world shared by all the people. This is as much an impossibility as the attempt to isol- ate Lennon from the Beatles. The Beatles, not just one of them, deserves to be celebrated in the history of modern music.    

There will be many in West Bengal who will see the initial capitulation of the Central government on the price of oil — however partial — as a gift to the common toiling people from that great giver of gifts, Mamata Banerjee. And given, appropriately enough, just before the puja festivities started, so that there will now be more vitality in the sound of the dhak, more fervour in the activities in the puja pandals, in the plays being staged, in the musical programmes being organized. All because of a gift given from Mamatadi, who is standing firm in the face of the unfeeling Central government. The revelry will consequently be more frenzied, more abandoned.

Some of the more foolish among these revellers will, no doubt, liken their didi to the goddess herself, standing forth in her awesome anger, riding her rampaging lion — no prizes for guessing who that is — and then demolishing the forces of darkness, the Central government, which as always works against the good of the people. Such foolishness is understandable, even if it cannot be forgiven; Indians are never very far from a total surrender to idolatry. We need someone to install on the throne left empty by that strange, alien system called democracy; witness the deification of M.G. Ramachandran, N.T. Rama Rao, Indira Gandhi and the rest.

There is considerable speculation on the next elections to the state assembly in West Bengal. Jyoti Basu has now said openly he will not stand for election, being too ill and too old — and, possibly fed up. There is really no one in the Left Front who has anything like his charisma and his ability to win the trust of the people; and, on the other side, is the volatile Banerjee who appears to have it all — charisma, the trust of thousands of followers and the ability to lead her riotous, turbulent party to victory. The possibility, then, of her being the next chief minister is not quite as fanciful as it was, say, five years ago.

It is this possibility that makes her present stand on oil prices not just a populist stance, but positively dangerous. The Central government had initially given in to her adamant demand that the rise in oil prices be withdrawn or else she leaves the government. As a consequence, an enormous amount of money, some Rs 3,000 or Rs 4,000 crore, perhaps more, would have had to be found, over and above what is already being paid for oil imports to offset the increase in oil prices. Where would this money have come from? Has Banerjee, the occasional cabinet minister, ever thought seriously about that?

As it is, she knows only too well, as does every minister and official in the government, that the governments, both at the Centre and in the states, are far too weak-kneed to take the hard option of cutting back on its staff.

That was the main condition attached to the recommendations of the fifth pay commission and this has been virtually ignored. It is not easy, admittedly, to take such a hard step, but it simply has to be done. If a third of the employees of all governments, Central and state, in all their thousands and thousands of offices and agencies and corporations, were to be pensioned off and the vacancies so caused not filled, it will go some way towards reducing the frightening deficit that the government faces, a deficit that is now, to all intents and purposes, out of control.

But no. All one gets is much rhetoric from such demagogues like Banerjee. Give the people food at prices they can afford, she rages shrilly, give them kerosene at cheap rates, don’t raise the price of diesel so that bus fares don’t go up. And how will the governments pay the bills for cheap food, cheap kerosene, cheap power, virtually free homes, and for more and more jobs in every government office? By increasing taxation? Certainly not.

Because then Banerjee and other leaders will organize hartals, agitations, strikes and even violence till the craven Central government gives in once again.

Where will it all end? This is what is so dangerous. Leaders like Mamata Banerjee, who may, just may, become chief minister of West Bengal, simply don’t care. They want power, they want to lead, they cannot do without the heady euphoria of seeing hundreds of thousands of people hail them as saviours, as the new idols. Had they cared, had Banerjee really cared, she would have worried about the country’s finances, and used her immense hold on the people of the state to explain why the rise in the oil prices was unavoidable. Had she really cared, she would have taken the sternest measures possible to contain violence in her party, the infiltration into it of murderous thugs. Had she really cared, she would have set about weeding out corruption from government agencies, starting with the ones her party controls, like the Calcutta Municipal Corporation.

One says this with great sadness, because she, more than anyone else, has the ability truly to develop the country, beginning with her own state.

Unlike many leaders in other states, she lives a most spartan life, is totally committed to the people of her state, and has the trust of a growing number of them. But she seems to have chosen the populist path; the way of rhetoric, of soul-stirring speeches and appeals to the emotions, rather than the admittedly more difficult way of organizing her raucous, turbulent party into a reasonably disciplined lot, with aims that are attainable and which will improve the lives of ordinary people — like trying to eliminate corruption, and improve basic services in hospitals and schools.

The rise in oil prices did indeed cause widespread anger; and in her own state, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) would not have let it pass without milking it for all the political mileage they could get out of it. But she is still a part of the government. Did it need the blatant posturing she indulged in, loading the exchequer with expenditure it just cannot bear, to counter that? Surely her political power was strong enough to give her alternatives.

It does not need a very perceptive person to point out that leadership, at any time, is not a matter of passion and rhetoric; it may need that, but it is also, and in very large measure, a matter of hard decisions to be taken for the ultimate good of the people, the good that will last and not fade away. It means not merely brave talk about tightening belts, but measures to make that happen. There seem to be very few in our states, leave alone the Centre, who have the courage to take this much harder path to true leadership. One thought Mamata Banerjee was one of this rare breed of leaders; but it seems now that one was grievously mistaken.

The author is former secretary, ministry of information and broadcasting    


Right choice baby

The four week old has just crossed the first hurdle. He has a name and the Nehru-Gandhi family has its selling point. Rehan, the name by which Priyanka Vadra’s baby is going to be called, bears a political statement of sorts. It is supposed to signify that India’s most famous family has no preference for any particular religion. The name Rehan, after all, as eager beaver Congressmen are dying to point out, is common to both Muslims and Parsis and will project the Nehru-Gandhis as protectors of India’s pluralism. Rehan had contenders in Rohan, Rohit and Jawahar. But mama Priyanka, set her heart on this one. The granny at 10 Janpath, however, continues to call the baby “Baba”. Jawahar got rejected on two counts. One, because it was seen to be too old fashioned, and two, because Congressmen wanted the name to have the letter “R”, which according to Congressi wisdom is lucky in Indian politics. All prime ministers apparently have the letter in their names. Anyway, Rehan Rajiv Gandhi Vadra, the full name, it was ensured, has enough “R”s to disprove any predictions of the child having no political future. But wait! The granny and AICC chief also has no “R”s in her name. Is the “R” theory the Congressi way of dropping broad hints before the madam about her political future?

Left standing high and dry

A babe in the woods. And all because of the wolves in the lair. Both the old men, CPI(M) gen-sec, Harkishen Singh Surjeet, and the about to be retired chief, Jyoti Basu, are upset over the unceremonious removal of Saifuddin Chowdhury from the party rolls at this evil hour. In fact, Basu had even solicited the help of Surjeet to quell the rebellion. But the quartet — Prakash Karat, Sitaram Yechuri, Biman Bose and Anil Biswas — seem to have had their way. They ensured Chowdhury was dropped like a hot potato and the rebel group was split down the middle. Brilliant execution. Subhas Chakraborty, quite evidently, has put miles between him and Sofida. The other day he disconcertedly put it that he was unaware of Chowdhury’s plans about forming a new party. The other Turk, Samir Putatunda, has also decided to wait by the fireside instead of burning his fingers. So what’ll happen to Chowdhury now? CPI(M) sources say apparently veteran Somnath Chatterjee, CPI(M) MP and leader of the parliamentary party in the Lok Sabha, has taken a personal interest in Chowdhury’s rehabilitation and possible reinstatement in the party. But there is also news both Trinamool and the Congress are eyeing this CPI(M) stray. So hurry, kindly light.

A minister’s obsession

The flipside of technology. We have the Uttar Pradesh chief minister, Ram Prakash Gupta, turned a complete IT freak. So totally is he taken in by the net that there are only three things he talks about these days — optical fibre, e-governance and IT, and his meeting with big shots like Bill Gates and other world leaders. Even when he is addressing farmers or Dalits, Gupta doesn’t change track. Last month in a meeting with some Dalits in Kanpur, Gupta said that now the state would sell optical fibre. He had sorted things out with no less than Gates. It was the same story on October 2. Addressing farmers, Gupta told the rustic crowd that he will settle their problems through e-governance and that the state will have a software park and around 10,000 IT centres. This he would work out with the visiting Russian president, Vladimir Putin. Move over cyberchief, N Chandrababu Naidu.

Who’ll fill in the blank?

UP and down. That is a distinct feeling the new UP Congress chief, Sri Prakash Jaiswal, must be getting. No one wants to work under him as it is seen to be a position “too junior”. Even second rung leaders like Jagdambika Pal and others have refused to work as subordinates to Jaiswal. Senior leaders like ND Tiwari, Satish Sharma and Ram Naresh Yadav have already declared they should not even be considered working for Jaiswal. The crestfallen UP Congress chief has complained to madam, who apparently is quite amused. “Half the time they come to me seeking party posts. Now that they are available, they do not want it...strange”, she quipped. Not so strange if you know the size of the male Indian ego.

Difficult to work out

AB Vajpayee could learn from this. V Putin burnt every bit of the calories he gained from the generous helpings of kebabs by working out for at least an hour at the hotel gymnasium. Signs that he isn’t on a weak knee?

Footnote/ No escaping this woman

Union agriculture minister, Nitish Kumar, obviously doesn’t know his Shakespeare well enough to realize the fury of a woman scorned. Otherwise he wouldn’t have risked meeting West Bengal chief minister, Jyoti Basu, at his residence before paying didi her due respects. Nitish was in the state to make an aerial survey of the flood-hit districts, and like the ministers of the former Congress governments, thought it right to pay the CM a visit at his residence. Mamata hit the ceiling on knowing this. She complained about Kumar’s behaviour to George Fernandes, who is convenor of the National Democratic Alliance and was in Calcutta recently as the prime minister’s emissary to persuade didi to withdraw her resignation over the oil price hike. Banerjee dislikes ministers of the government she supports socializing at the CM’s residence. Quite obviously, she wanted Kumar to meet Basu at Writers’ and the very thought that Kumar bypassed her upset her so much that she initially refused to meet Fernandes, who was made to wait for over two hours at her residence. So does the NDA have a resident troublemaker to cope with?    


Life was a cabaret

Sir — There was a time when Hindi cinema had a different face. There were no designer clothes, nor exotic locales. If there was anything that made Hindi movies embody a collective Indian fantasy, it was the compulsory inclusion of the song-and-dance sequences. And the “cabaret” was that component that was enjoyed by people regardless of class, age or sex. Helen was the queen of this cabaret who reigned supreme for decades. A recent concert, arranged in Mumbai (“Stars resurrect Helen magic”, Oct 3) had the likes of Aishwarya Rai and Urmila Matondkar paying tribute to her by dancing to “her” songs. This was all very well, but no artiste can ever replace Helen or win over as many hearts as she did.
Yours faithfully,
Siddhartha Bhoumik, via email

Small is useful

Sir — The package of incentives announced by the prime minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, on August 30 for the growth of small scale industries is no doubt a timely step taken by the government to tide over the imminent challenge of globalization. Globalization will adversely affect our small scale sector. This issue has been succinctly analysed by Srinjay Chakraborti in his article, “Groping for a helpline”(August 30). We know that there is always a gap between the policy decisions taken by the government and their implementation. The rapid growth of small scale industries can be of pivotal importance to our national income. With the proper boost, these can become a big stabilizing factor in a capital scarce economy like India.

According to a study by the Reserve Bank of India, the small scale entrepreneurs are “basically honest, enterprising and with far greater personal stake in their enterprises than the large scale enterprises”. Therefore, to reward these industries, credit ought to be extended without any red tape, bureaucratic delays or corrupt practices. The government should ensure that they are not exploited by large corporate houses. They should not be converted into appendages of these large businesses but allowed to have their own identity.

Another cause for concern is that many cottage industries are falling sick, mainly because of the lack of professional management. This can be tackled by the induction of management professionals who are being trained by the thousands every year in Indian management schools.

Yours faithfully,
Ranjit Kumar Guha Roy, Durgapur

Sir — The determined announcement made by the prime minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, regarding the promotion of the hitherto insignificant small scale industries is a welcome move.

Promoting this sector is the best way to strengthen the swadeshi movement. Only cottage industries can withstand the onslaught of multinational corporations under the banner of globalization. The bigger industries are being taken over by the MNCs in a phased manner. It is difficult for the MNCs to subsume small ones.

At the moment most of the small scale industries are suffering from the oppressive exploitation of several corrupt government departments. Even a single entrepreneur has to pass through a minimum of 37 inspections, 52 laws and 116 forms and registers. As if to add insult to injury, the pollution control board also stands in queue to inflict further harassment. Economic growth is being restricted by these bureaucratic obstacles.

One hopes the smallscale sector will endure these conditions and emerge the stronger.

Yours faithfully,
V.A. Gopala, Bangalore

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