Editorial / Bowing to disregard
French connection
The Telegraph/ Diary
Letters to the Editor

There is a proliferation of holy cows in Indian politics. Each ideological hue has its own unassailable icon. For the Congress, it is Mohandas Karam- chand Gandhi; for the communists it is Vladimir Illych Lenin; for the Bharatiya Janata Party it is the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh; for the Janata Party, immediately after the Emergency it was Jayaprakash Narayan. Other names for other parties can be added to the list. The significant point about these icons is their increasing irrelevance to those who worshipped at the various altars. Jawaharlal Nehru bowed to Gandhi’s memory every October 2 and January 30 but carried out polices which Gandhi considered “satanic”. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) swears by Lenin but is in its praxis like any other social democratic party. Similarly, the BJP pays obeisance to Nagpur, the headquarters of the RSS, while the BJP-led government in New Delhi pursues policies which are distinctly anti-swadeshi and pro-globalization. The appearance of the Union home minister, Mr L.K. Advani, in the RSS camp held at Agra is perhaps best seen in this wider context. Mr Advani himself invoked this context when he defended his presence in the Agra camp. It is worth probing in detail this context and Mr Advani’s invocation of it.

Mr Advani is much too shrewd a politician to point directly to the increasing irrelevance of the RSS to the BJP government’s policies and the growing distance between the BJP and the RSS. What he did was to suggest these things through a masterly piece of doublespeak. He drew a historical analogy. He said that the relationship of the BJP government to the RSS was analogous to the one that existed between Gandhi and the Congress government. Both relationships were rooted in mutual respect; like Gandhi, the RSS, is a moral influence. What is left unsaid in this comparison is more significant than what was said. Gandhi had no influence, whatever, on the substantive policies that were formulated under Nehru. Nehru wanted to make India a strong industrialized nation. Gandhi considered industrialization to be a thoroughly immoral influence from which sprang all the problems of the modern world. If Nehru wanted India to become modern, Gandhi wanted India to go back to the villages. Since Mr Advani has drawn the analogy the unstated part of it may be further elaborated. The RSS is a cultural organization committed to the idea of Indianness. It believes that the real virtues lie in ancient India and not in the modern world where Western ideas are dominant and pervasive. The BJP government has shown through the enthusiasm it has displayed for liberalization that it has very little in common with the preoccupations of the RSS. Mr Advani has done pranam to his god but he has left enough clues to suggest he is no longer a believer or that this particular god is dead.

This analysis says nothing about the leverage Mr Advani may be getting from positioning himself thus. For one thing, Mr Advani is suddenly in the limelight; he has asserted his existence, as it were. For another, he has been all things to all people. He has acknowledged the RSS and also at the same time suggested, quite cleverly, its irrelevance. This will please the RSS and also men like Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee who are struggling to take the BJP beyond the clutches of the puppeteers of Nagpur. Mr Advani through a disingenuous piece of verbal jugglery has earned for himself the blessings of Mr K.S. Sudarshan, the head of the RSS, and the prime minister, Mr Vajpayee. In the cynical world of politics, this is no mean achievement. In one stroke, Mr Advani has put himself yards ahead in a post-Vajpayee prime ministerial race. Conventional wisdom posits a spurious conflict between Mr Advani and Mr Vajpayee. Mr Advani is too experienced a campaigner to get involved in a battle which he can never win. He is thus looking ahead into the future and has placed himself in an advantageous position. The RSS has become a pawn in a gambit. Puppet and puppeteer have reversed roles.    

The block of flats in which I live comprises two kinds of construction: homes with rooms at two levels, and homes with rooms all at the same level. When the block was built the architect described the split-level flats as “Dupleix”. He pronounced it “do-play”, following the way in which educated Indians were taught in school to pronounce the French imperialist’s name. The other flats, he said, were “Simplex” or “non-Dupleix”. The historian, Shahid Amin, whose flat is just below mine, said that as a chronicler of India he objected to this nomenclature. “You mean, quite sim-play, Clive”, he said. “In India the opposite of Dupleix can only be Clive.” Everyone laughed. It was a weak joke, to which most professional middle class Indians — brought up on Anglo-Indian history textbooks by Joseph Vernon Furtado and Vincent Smith, in Anglo-Indian schools like Bishop Cotton School and Lawrence School — would have responded; and a lot of professional middle class India now lives in apartment blocks such as mine.

The humour comes in handy. Our vistas are made of cement, and it is some consolation that suburban owners of flat-flats are nabobishly Clive and those with undulating flats Dupleix. We seem connected to grand colonial history, never mind how humdrum our houses. The block of flats, as a whole, recalls the West too. It is called Oxford Apartments, which is not as good as Mayfair Gardens or Manhattan Maidan or Malibu Towne, but nearly. It links us to distant learning and casts a phonetic aura of benediction upon our stone. Our property prices are inflated by the anglicization and the owners of the native-sounding Deepa Apartments next door are mulling over alternatives by examining a monopoly board and the London phone directory.

The late M.N. Srinivas, doyen of Indian social anthropology, who was thinking of rural India when he coined the term “Sanskritization” to summarize upper caste aspirations by those lower down, is not likely to have used the same term for urban yearnings to upper class status. So deeply implicated, imbricated, and complicit are India’s metropolitan middle class flat-owners with the bungalows, foliage and pastoral idyll of the beckoning West that there certainly seems room for a new sociological term to describe this desire to own the world elsewhere. “Occidentalization” sounds too unwieldy, “anglicization” too commonplace, “latinization” too ultramontane. Phonetically and lexically, “Saxonization” fits the bill.

Now, more than ever, the colonial connection has become a visible artery in the educated Indian’s make-up. In fits and starts the West is coming into India and allowing educated India to trickle into it. Thanks to the IT revolution, the literate Indian’s passport is less stamped upon than stamped with — with visas. The visas lead on to vistas green in place of grey. Marxist historians frowned for years at the colonial diasporization of Indian labour and then at the “Gulf Rush” from Kerala. Now even the Marxist historians think nothing of living a double life, six months grey, six months green. Everyone who can get a visa to the West wants a piece of the West — preferably lots of pieces, and most preferably the pieces that mix asphalt and mortar with grass. The India of apartment blocks and choking traffic is tolerable six months in the year, October to March. For the rest of the year the kaala pani is awash with trans-Atlantic lifelines. Those lacking one foot outside the country continue to name their possessions after the world beyond. We live in Dupleix-city.

Like our architect, those with an education in our housing society call our houses “do-play”. As Saxonizing Indians we know Do-play spelt his name Dupleix and that, to be properly French in India, you have to make the second half of French names hang unspoken in the air. Ironically, the French themselves pronounce their general’s name wrong. There is a statue of Dupleix on the promenade at Pondicherry where I heard a certified Tamilian Frenchman, who draws his pension from Paris, pronounce Clive’s French counterpart “Duplex”, making him sound like a flat with a staircase. I thought the man’s Tamilness had got the better of his Frenchness, but his crassly Indian pronunciation was confirmed by a full-blooded Frenchman who said Dupleix was indeed pronounced Duplex in France. After years of having had one ear cocked to catch the music of the West, this sounded to me like a species of duplicity.

The contemporary Indian’s textbook link with France via Dupleix, with Britain via the Anglo-Indian school, and with all of the West via his desire to own the West can be of an uncertain, casual, nebulous variety. But for the Indian who has been through public school there is a more concrete connection.

The elite Indian’s education is not so much tainted by the West as sainted by it — St Paul’s, St Xavier’s, St Michael’s, St Edmund’s, St Francis’s, St Mary’s and St Bede’s all end sublimely in St Stephen’s College. School and college ties flutter loyally and unwaveringly, at least in name, to offshore deities. The professional middle classes who crowd metropolitan India’s apartment blocks extend into their middle years the names they were shaped by in such schools and colleges, even as they do all they can to leave these local names behind for pastures in which such names scarcely exist outside cloisters and ecclesiastical history.

Colonialism of this kind is a thing of the past in the countries of its origin. It lives on in pockets of India, eccentrically, amusingly and precariously in bungalows, hill-stations and clubs, more visibly and firmly in the private sector of upper class Indian education. A few weeks ago, about a dozen Frenchmen and women arrived in India, headed for a colonial school in Lucknow. They had come to pay respects to their ancestor, a Frenchman who died precisely 200 years ago in the capital city of Awadh. When he died in 1800, Claude Martin, the founder of four schools in India, was reputed to be the second-richest man in Awadh — after the nawab.

Martin never thought of himself as one of the founding saints of colonial education. In actual fact he was for nawabi Lucknow roughly what Corbusier was for Chandigarh two centuries later: he practically built the city singlehanded. Stray Frenchmen and women — Antoine Polier, Colonel Mordaunt, and “The Mother” of Pondicherry — are vestigially remembered for cultural contributions to India: Claude Martin is about the only Frenchman who remains alive as a monumental presence in India to this day.

As colonial memorials go, as a bit of the West that survives in the East, Martin and his magnificent buildings have arguably weathered better than anything European in urban India. His schools, two in Lucknow and two in Calcutta (there is a fifth in Lyon), make him literally the most substantial European traveller ever to have blundered into the subcontinent. Every few days, schoolchildren at the Martiniere establishments sing a song in his memory: “All his martial deeds may die/ Lasting still his charity./ Thus his laurel blooms, for aye,/ Dead he lives in us today.”

But does he really? The Biharization of Lucknow and Calcutta is proceeding at a rapid pace and Martin’s colonial schools, though not forgotten, are crumbling. The inheritors of power in contemporary Awadh and Bengal want to knock down the architecture of the past and fill up every available space with highrise apartments. Fortunately, building work in the shape of books keeps Martin alive. The finest of these are by the historian, Rosie Llewellyn-Jones, including her brilliant biography of Martin titled A Very Ingenious Man. Allan Sealy’s Trotter-Nama is hugely entertaining about Martin too.

Like Delhi and Calcutta, Lucknow will soon be reduced to a city of concrete apartment blocks. Our history books and our apartment architecture will make us remember Dupleix more than Martin. But the only worthwhile bit of France in north India today is architecturally La Martiniere. It is the only surviving corner of an Indian field that is forever France.    


Action replay

Time for action and the way the brothers in the parivarare going about things, AB Vajpayee had better start now, with knees in plaster if possible. There is one plan of action already decided on — Operation Uttar Pradesh — and here the stunts will be necessary given the mess the BJP is in prior to the assembly polls next year. Vajpayee had to get the cast ready so the chief minister, Ram Prakash Gupta, was summoned to the Breach Candy hospital to discuss matters. Of Gupta’s three major contenders, Kalraj Mishra has been made the state BJP chief. That leaves two stalkers in tow — Rajnath Singh and Lalji Tandon — who still haven’t given up hopes of upstaging Gupta. But Gupta is confident of staying in number one position and our flop star has proved detractors wrong at least twice before. However, the Vajpayee camp has set its teeth on changing the player in the lead role in a state which is crucial to its fortunes. A Vajpayee aide was heard saying, “Is baar pradhan mantri ghutne nahin tekengay” (this time the prime minister will not bend his knees). But won’t it be easier this time with a more flexible post-operative knee?

Look who’s talking

Some friendly advice from wellwishers to help the former Uttar Pradesh Congress chief, banished as AICC’s new head for policy, planning and coordination get back on his feet. Salman Khurshid has been advised by all and sundry — from Ambika Soni to Jairam Ramesh, from Bhoopinder Singh Hooda to Captain Amrinder Singh — to keep his wife away from meddling in his work. Salman was lucky to get rehabilitated, they warn, but next time, things might be worse. The former St Stephen’s-Oxford scholar is far from impressed. He in fact has Madhavrao Scindia ruing the day he recommended Salman for the high profile job he now holds. Khurshid’s first public statement on the conviction of PV Narasimha Rao got Scindia’s goat. The royal’s sympathizers hold that Salman, as head of the party’s policy division, was unwise to have backed a tainted man like Rao who stands convicted in a bribery charge. There is another, perhaps more pertinent, reason. Rao was Scindia’s tormentor-in-chief, who almost destroyed his political career through the hawala episode. How could you do this to a friend in deed, Salman? But then Scindia shouldn’t be the person talking about gratitude, right?

Fine time to leave me

Another deluge of sorts awaits West Bengal if the former Congress state unit president, ABA Ghani Khan Chowdhury, refuses to renew his membership of the party before the organizational elections, which will be coming up in a short while. Party members say that, stung by the unceremonious removal from his post, Barkatda has stopped attending party programmes these days. He was not there when madam came visiting recently in an aerial survey of floodhit West Bengal. He was also conspicuous by his absence when the state Congress held a 24 hour dharna at Esplanade East the other day. A crestfallen Chowdhury prefers to lick his wounds in the less hostile environs of his home town. Given the heartbreak, speculations are running wild about Barkatda’s possible alignment with ,didi of Trinamool Congress fame. News has reached New Delhi and has got 10, Janpath worried. There are reports that an emissary from the madam will be here within a day or two to have a quiet word with the former PCC chief. Will there be lollipops as well?

Judges on the fast track

Ever since the honourable judges of the Delhi high court helped themselves to brand new Balenos, there have been attempts by other courts, including the highest in the land, to go for the sleeker and flashier automobiles rather than the drab, ramshackle Ambassadors. The Patna high court recently sought to buy Lancers for its lordships. The move however fell through for the want of adequate funds. Judges of the Supreme Court who had also thought about saying goodbye to their good old cars have also backed out, but for a curious reason. They do not want to be seen following the lead of the Delhi high court judges. So for the time being, judges of the apex court are making do with their noisy Ambys, while their counterparts in the lesser courts speed around in the most expensive variety in the Maruti stable. Does that mean the high courts will move faster?

Footnote/ Fairness of things

Politics evidently is a strange theatre and calls for swift changes of roles. Shortly after retiring to the wings after Bangaru Laxman took over as the all India president of the BJP, Kushabhau Thakre has had to come back. His present incarnation is that of a mediator and he, as is quite obvious from the response from the gallery, is playing it well. As part of his countrywide mission to broker peace with party dissidents, Thakre was here in Calcutta a few days back to meet a number of rebels. Much to the embarrassment of the leadership, these men, sidelined in the organization over the years, have floated a new party named after Shyama-prasad Mookerjee. Thakre reportedly had a hour long meeting with rebel leader Rahul Sinha, at the party office. And Thakre’s magic worked. “The rebels will shortly rejoin the party following Thakre’s intervention” is how a party member put it. He also added, “We are determined to stem growing dissension within the party.” The rebels have apparently promised to wind up their platform after they are suitably rehabilitated in the party. That’s a neat deal.    


Just doing her job

Sir — Anand Soondas’s article, “Tall Lakshmi cuts Romeos to size” (Oct 15), describes this young woman police officer who is reputed to have instilled such a fear among eve teasers in Lucknow University that they have all stopped teasing girls in the campus. What is a bit unsettling about the news report is that it made an effort to create a larger-than-life image of an honest, committed police officer. It is a bit crude to say that the physical traits of a person or the fact that she is committed to her work should become “news”. It is like saying that all of this is somehow unusual when actually most of this would be taken as a matter of course anywhere else.
Yours faithfully,
Pradip Bhattacharya, Calcutta

Clueless in Gaza

Sir — The recent outbreak of violence in the West Bank and Gaza has once again stalled the tenuous peace process in west Asia. The bone of contention is the indivisibility of Jerusalem whose East and West parts had been united after the 1967 war and the establishment of Israel’s sovereignty over it.

The violence apparently has been triggered off by a very trivial issue. The visit of Ariel Sharon, chairman of the Likud Party to the Holy Wall and the Al-Aksa compound. The mosque is allegedly built on the ruins of a Jewish temple, the Wailing Wall, bordering the mosque, being its only remnant.

Palestinians hold that Sharon’s visit is impermissible. Why? Before 1967, Jews were prevented by the Arabs from visiting their holy places in East Jerusalem. It was only after the unification that all places of worship, Christian, Islamic and Jewish, were made free by Israel for visits by all.

The Palestine Liberation Organization is claiming sovereignty over East Jerusalem. If this is conceded, Jews will once again be debarred from visiting their holy places there. The world should understand the exclusivist aims and practices of Islam, the PLO being its evidence.

Yours faithfully,
S. Krishnaveni, Secunderabad

Sir — “West Asia warriors at Delhi door” (Oct 14) speaks of a responsibility thrust on India, although it has no axe to grind in the region. If India succeeds, it will be its greatest diplomatic victory. Both Israel and the PLO need to realize that they should roll back a part of their demands, put aside their egos and be prepared to take hard decisions.

Yours faithfully,
Sush Kocher, Calcutta

Doing their bit

Sir — Taru Bahl’s “They also serve and more” (Oct 13) in the “Etc” section of The Telegraph was innovative and lucidly written. The various examples of how cameo performances tend to leave their own impact were also attractively presented. Bahl probably could have also included the instance of Sunny Deol in Damini, although this was not strictly a “two-bit role”. Deol’s character in that film had lent a different dimension in the second half of the movie. All the same, Bahl needs to be congratulated for comprehensively assessing the subject even as recent Hindi film releases have leading actors extending “friendly support” to the main stars .

Yours faithfully,
K.N. Kumar, Mathura

Sir — There was one error in “They also serve and more”. In the film Border, the actor playing the valiant soldier wanting to go to his native village after the war was not Avtar Gill, but Punit Issar.

Yours faithfully
Satyajit Kumar, Jamshedpur

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