Editorial / Mind of a chief minister
Washington story
People/Vladimir Kramnik
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EDITORIAL / MIND OF A CHIEF MINISTER 
 
 
 
 
In the Mahabharata, Yudhisthira, in answer to a question put to him by the disguised god, Dharma, says that the path to be followed is the one on which the great have trodden. It is possible that the new chief minister, Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, proud as he is of his own cultural sophistication, had this in mind when he announced that he would follow the path cleared by Mr Jyoti Basu. The danger lies in the misplaced ascription of greatness to Mr Basu. Indians have a natural penchant for reverence and diffidence; this stops them from saying anything unpleasant against the aged and against those in positions of leadership. Towards Mr Basu, an octogenarian who was chief minister of West Bengal for more than two decades, the tendency towards veneration reaches a new kind of high. Nobody is willing to utter the truth that Mr Basu’s tenure as chief minister was nothing to write home about. There are many reasons for this harsh judgment. The complete failure on the industrial front is one of the principal ones. But even more important than this is the complete failure of Mr Basu, as chief minister, to leave his individual mark on any given aspect of life in West Bengal. Mr Basu acted as a very good rubber stamp for policies that had been formulated in Alimuddin Street. This made him a very loyal comrade but not a good chief minister. He realized the futility of this approach only in the last three or four years of his chief ministership and he tried to reverse the government’s position on education and the economy. By then it was too late and his health left him with very little time.

Mr Bhattacharya did not clarify which Mr Basu is his model. He probably sees his predecessor’s years in office as one seamless fabric. Since this is clearly not the case, Mr Bhattacharya will have to decide whether he wants to be an effective chief minister or a loyal party man. It is true that ever since he was a college student, Mr Bhattacharya has been schooled in the strict regime of democratic centralism. But the iron of this discipline may not have entered his soul for occasionally there are flashes of a different Mr Bhattacharya. In the early Nineties, he resigned his ministership without the party’s permission. More recently, after his elevation to the chief ministership, he has invited Trinamool Congress to hold talks with him to put an end to the violence that threatens rural West Bengal. This invitation to the arch-enemy is a sign of boldness and suggestive of the fact that Mr Bhattacharya is willing to step out of the party straitjacket.

This is the main task ahead of Mr Bhattacharya. He must display the initiative to think in his own way and to break out of the beaten track that leads nowhere save to a desert where only words and rhetoric prevail. Mr Bhattacharya must have raised the hopes of most sensible people and sent thrills of apprehension among comrades when he declared his belief that no government should be in the business of running hotels and newspapers. This is not the voice of a committed communist but that of a realist who has learnt his lessons the hard way. In keeping with this attitude, Mr Bhattacharya should ensure that his government keeps its distance from Haldia Petrochemicals. It is not the business of governments, the new Mr Bhattacharya will admit, to run industries. Mr Bhattacharya may be trying to blow away the cobwebs of an outmoded ideology. The more difficult task will be to break free from the shackles imposed by the Communist Party of India (Marxist). Nobody expects Mr Bhattacharya to perform miracles in the short time he has before the assembly polls. But he can use this period to make a statement of intent and follow it up by appropriate action. This will show if he is more than a rubber stamp as a chief minister. Mr Basu took the mind out of the chief ministership. Mr Bhattacharya has a chance of restoring that vital element in the dark and dank corridors of Writers’ Buildings.    


 
 
WASHINGTON STORY 
 
 
BY SUNANDA K. DATTA-RAY
 
 
An informal show of hands at the American Centre last Wednesday, when the cliffhanging in Florida had just begun, indicated that a majority, albeit a slight one, of the entirely local audience of students, teachers, writers and others thought that George W. Bush would make a better 43rd president of the United States than Al Gore.

Of course, the big question now is whether the presidency will emerge sufficiently unscathed from this variant of our hung parliaments to command national obedience and international respect.

Now that a contrary trend has set in, and if the system continues to mature the Indian way, some of the 270 electors who were supposed to be elected this week on a party basis might decide to defect when it comes to choosing the president in December. The American presidency was based more than two centuries ago on a misinterpretation of the position of England’s George III who tried to rule as king by packing parliament with his own men and destroying all opposition.

Gridlock, a fractured congress, money power, and now the electoral stalemate, with complaints of irregularities and spoiled ballot papers, may suggest that the time has come to reconsider the selection process. Otherwise, more Americans might share the pessimism of the senate chaplain who, when asked if he prayed for members of the senate, replied, “No, I look at the senators and pray for the country.”

Be that as it may, the people who took part in Wednesday’s straw poll demonstrated an unexpected maturity in not succumbing to gratifying hyperbole. They were unlikely to be particularly interested in domestic American issues like medicare or abortion. Or even the power struggle that is implicit in US involvement in Europe. Their choice must have reflected a Calcutta perception of how India would fare at the hands of the next president. If so, it meant a willingness to reexamine the traditional image of the two contesting parties (one supposedly pro-rich, pro-white and pro-Pakistan and the other supposedly pro-poor, pro-minority and pro-India), exorcise the haunting memory of a bogey like Richard Nixon and take a practical view of the fullblown rhetoric of Bill Clinton’s second term.

The choice was especially surprising because not many in the audience were likely to have had access to details of the two platforms or been aware that the Republicans devoted a whole paragraph to this country. They would have read instead of the embarrassingly lavish compliments that Clinton showered on Atal Behari Vajpayee and which the reporters covering his American trip lapped up avidly. The press corps sounded exultant about Gore’s lunch for the prime minister and reported with a tingling sense of pride that he, like Clinton, had endorsed the concept of “natural allies”, capping a verse from one of Vajpayee’s poems with a flattering quotation about poetry and politics from John F. Kennedy.

This was vintage Nehru era diplomacy, high-sounding, lyrical and without much substance. “Indians like to be stroked,” a state department official once told me, and the Clinton-Gore team proved it in March and again in September. The Indian press purred its pleasure. Not those who gathered in the American Centre’s Lincoln Room, however.

Because the Republican platform’s reference to India did not receive the same publicity, it deserves reproducing in full. “India is now debating its future and its strategic path and the United States must pay it more attention. We should establish more trade and investment with India as it opens to the world. And we should work with the Indian government, ensuring it is a force for stability and security in Asia.” True, it went on to add, “This should not undermine our longstanding relationship with Pakistan, which remains crucial to the peace of the region.” But Bush also told Murli Deora that if elected, he would immediately lift the sanctions imposed in the wake of Pokhran II and not pressure India to sign the comprehensive test ban treaty.

Not that this means that while all Democrats fob us off with words, all Republicans deliver. What it does mean is that foreign policy is driven by issues and interests rather than principles and that Republicans are generally less squeamish about admitting this rationale. David Lange, the anti-nuclear prime minister of New Zealand, was not right when he told the American ambassador, who owned a racehorse called Lacka Reason, that he was the only ambassador in the world to own a horse named after his country’s foreign policy. US foreign policy does have a reason, but it is not the reason that its authors, especially Democratic theorists, like to advance.

The US is not monolithic. The White House, state department, Pentagon, intelligence services and business lobbies all interact in formulating policy. Many congressmen and senators see themselves as supernumerary secretaries of state. Economic and military interest has always been more important to all of them than human rights or democracy. The favours that Clinton has bestowed on China, even to asking it to police south Asia, after accusing his predecessor of mollycoddling dictators from Baghdad to Beijing, is proof enough that the head rules the American heart. Cheap Chinese manufactures sustain middle America’s lifestyle as well as about 200,000 American jobs.

There is greater bipartisan agreement (especially on the China-Taiwan and Israel-Palestine questions) than is generally acknowledged. So, too, on Pakistan, though only the Republicans candidly admit the connection. Pakistan’s services during the Cold War, present position as a conduit to the Islamic world, and the future help that it can give in transporting central Asian oil to the Arabian Sea ensure it Washington’s continuing attention, no matter who rules in Islamabad.

But there are nuances in the two positions within these parameters, just as there is space for a fruitful India-US relationship. Engagement is in India’s interest. The trade and investment that Bush mentions is one obvious reason. Security is another, for the US alone enjoys leverage with hostile neighbours who mount low-intensity wars within India’s borders. It is not in India’s interest to insist on either/or ties just when the US is rising above it.

As Bush has already indicated, a Republican administration would probably be more realistic about India’s nuclear status. That means not only sanctions and the CTBT but also the ban on cooperating with India’s civilian nuclear energy development. Russia has found ways of bypassing the Western-dominated suppliers’ group’s order, and France would like to do so. The American nuclear industry does not want to be excluded from the market, and a Bush presidency might respond to its lobbying.

Concern centres on Bush’s commitment to theatre missile defence, Star Wars as it is called. If this prompts China to borrow Russian technology and erect its own nuclear shield in the sky, India would have to rethink its own nuclear policy in terms of numbers, range and potency of missiles and warheads. The silver lining is that the Republican programme does not appear to include the huge funding that would be necessary to revive Star Wars.

India is too big to be a protégé and not yet powerful enough to be a full-fledged partner. A new relationship will have to be negotiated. What form and shape it takes will depend not on flowery speeches but on hard-headed appraisal on both sides. Going by the precedence of Ronald Reagan and George Bush, Sr., the Republicans might have a slight edge in pragmatism, but, of course, the immediate question is not what the crown will be like but whether there will be a head to wear it.

Whatever the outcome in Washington, there can be no deal with India unless India puts its own house in order. The key to a new level of cooperation, a relationship that blends mutual benefit with India’s self-respect, must lie in India — in political confidence and economic resilience.    


 
 
PEOPLE/VLADIMIR KRAMNIK 
 
 
 
 

All in mind

Garry Kasparov hesitated. He then wriggled his neck a bit and mopped his brow. And then he held out a tentative hand, the old fashioned way of letting his opponent know that the world chess champion was conceding defeat.

At the other end of the table, 25-year-old Vladimir Kramnik, — Number two in the chess world but still a relative unknown — showed his first real emotions of the match which had stretched on for more than a month at London’s Riverside Studios. He jumped up and punched the air with both fists. Kramnik is normally so calm that sports journalists call him “The Iceberg”, but this was a day that he was going to savour forever. He had just won the best of 16 game series 8.5 - 6.5, and made his mark in history as the man who had ended the tenure of Garry Kasparov, the world’s longest reigning chess champion.

Chess lovers could see the irony. For it was the pupil outhinking the tutor. Kramnik was only ten when Kasparov first won the crown 15 years ago. He reigned uninterrupted since then, the longest in 50 years, before being humbled by the boy he had first spotted as an 11-year-old and then specially trained.

The association continued all these years. It was at the ex-world champion’s bidding and backing that Kramnik got a place in the 1992 Russian squad for the chess olympics in Manila. Kramnik helped his team win the Gold Medal and picked up an individual Gold as well. He had the best overall score of 8.5/9.

The pupil had matured enough to take on the difficult and demanding role of an able second when Kasparov’s world title was challenged by Briton Nigel Short in 1993. The two worked wonders in tandem and the challenge was easily quelled in a short time. Two years later, India’s Vishwanathan Anand, carrying the expectations of over 900 million countrymen, was similarly humbled by the same invincible combination.

Since then, it was Kramnik who had steadily emerged as the main challenger to the Big Boss. Kramnik, one of the best in blitz chess and in playing blindfolded, played Kasparov in a match in 1998 in Moscow. It was a blitz — a five-minute-chess match — that ended in a 12-12 tie. By then, Kramnik had firmly established himself as the man most likely to dethrone his guru.

Yet few thought it would be so fast, and so soon. Most chess experts and grandmaster felt that the 37-year-old Ajerbaijani, now a Russian national, was still a cut above the rest and that Kramnik needed a few more years before he could really take him on. Many experts, in fact, felt that Kramnik would not win a single game. In retrospect, what many have missed out on was Kramnik’s fast flowering game. It is also beyond debate that Kramnik — calm, measured and objective — mounted a brilliant challenge. Not losing a single match out of 15 against one of the most creatively aggressive players of the world is a shining testimony to a rock-solid defence and tactical acumen. Kramnik’s success has also left many wondering whether it was his back-up which had actually made Kasparov so invincible in the challenger contests against Short and Anand.

“Kramnik is a great processor of information. One gets the impression his brain just soaks up tons of information and he organises it all smoothly and efficiently. When it comes to finding his path through the complications, he has a very clear head,’’ a chess expert writes.

He is also said to spend hundreds of hours deconstructing other games at night, like a true supernerd. “My brain works perfectly at night. If chess matches were played at that time, I would already be world champion,” he had once said, much before he became the world champion.

“I have a very stable nervous system and you could also say I have a cold brain,” he adds. Kramnik also likes to claim that he is “a Russian Orthodox Christian” and wears a silver cross at all times.

There is also a bit of Luddite in him. For years, Kramnik stubbornly refused to use the computer, now an inseparable part of every chess player’s mind accessory. Instead, he used to move his pieces on the board and note down the variations in a pad.

Chess players point out that while he has excelled in tournament play, his match record — till London — was not as good. He was eliminated from the 1993-96 PCA World Championship Cycle by Gata Kamsky in the quarter finals and by Gelfand from the FIDE version. And in the 1996 World Championship match in Gronigen, Kramnik refused to play, maintaining that Karpov had been given too big an advantage by being allowed to go directly to the final.

With Kramnik’s triumph, the crown passes on to another colourful and charismatic character. Both chesslovers and administrators will like that. Kramnik may not have the charisma of American Bobby Fischer but he is certainly not as bland as fellow citizen, Anatoly Karpov.

Kramnik stands six feet, three inches tall and has an impish smile. Fond of volleyball, Kramnik used to smoke cigarettes in times of tension, a habit that chess watchers said demonstrated his lack of will. That he has experimented with alcohol, yoga, sex and other recreational drugs is more in the tradition of a sixties’ Flower Child than a new millennium’s Chess champion. This was apparently done to combat insomniac tendencies and what he described as weird dreams.

Kramnik first learnt to play chess with his father, in the small Rusian Black Sea town of Tuapse. His father was a sculptor and artist while his mother taught music. In no time at all he could defeat every member of his family in chess. A young Kramnik was spotted by Mikhail Botvinnik, the Soviet chess patriarch who had also guided Kasparov’s career.

When he was only 11 he gained his first master norm, at 14 he was second in the under-16 World Championships and he gained the title of Grandmaster in Guarapava Brazil in 1991. There were enough indications by this time that he was a potential world champion. And, Kasparov, who had already taken him under his wings and tutoring him, thought the same. For a man who has been less than charitable to most of his opponents, Kasparov was always generous in applauding the rising Russian star. “There are many players. But they don’t play chess, they love the pieces. Kramnik plays chess,” he said way back in 1992. Even after losing in London last week, Kasparov ruefully admitted that Kramnik definitely played better than him.

That the match was going to be an interesting one was evident in the spring of this year when Kasparov addressed a press conference in London, announcing his Braingames Network (BGN) World Championship match with Kramnik. Holding that he was playing for the title of the “Best Chess Player in the World,” Kasparov said he was convinced that Kramnik was the rightful challenger. “I’m sure in my soul,” he said.

For Kramnik, the match with Kasparov was something that he had been dreaming of for several years. “It was a dream of my whole life, since my childhood, to play such a match because I was growing up during the Karpov-Kasparov matches,’’ he said in an interview before the match. “I am very, very excited.” Kramnik wasn’t just excited about the match, he seemed fairly confident, too. “I think I have a good chance. Kasparov and I have had very equal battles, and I think the match is going to be very close. I will prepare as never before and do everything I can to win...I have nothing to lose, and he has everything.”

Prophetic, as it turned out.    


 
 
THE TELEGRAPH DIARY 
 
 
 
 

Gory affair

One look at the American polls today and you’ll know the Americans were here. But the country which could have sold it the trade secret of successful mispolling is keeping its mouth tight shut. No kind words from India’s ministry of external affairs for either of the presidential candidates as they chomp on their nails. The MEA’s tactfulness however comes after the foreign minister’s obvious lack of it. Keen to make up for India’s blatant display of support for Al Gore, Jaswant Singh rang up George Bush from distant Vietnam to congratulate him on a victory that had not happened. It was the MEA which had to eat Singh’s words when America went for the recount. A conspicuous silence was the last resort. But in the consultative committee that met during the week, Singh’s faux pas came up for criticism as much as the role of the American media that had clearly gone berserk. There were some gems from the junior foreign minister, Ajit Panja, who quipped, “Oh! don’t believe the media. This time in my elections, the media defeated me thrice.” That might invite more curses for the media for raising false hopes, but the foreign office is not joining in the rancour. It is preaching caution seriously, although that does not desist jokes from doing their rounds in South Block — “One Gore in hand is worth two Bush”. No fears of being ambushed?

Name maketh the man

Running for cover. The Congress’s dissenter in chief, Jitendra Prasada, might have to do it soon. But for now others are doing the act. Bhago, bhago, Prasada aaya (Run, run, Prasada is here). Congress leaders are running scared, knowing not where the winds might ultimately blow. In Jaipur, all party MLAs left the state capital the day Prasada arrived. Before leaving, they made sure they were on “official duty” in case a probe was ordered later by the high command. There are others to dab salt on wounds. While Prasada’s campaign against 10 Janpath still goes on, his detractors are feeding the rumour mills with gusto. One story doing the rounds is about his queer last name. Why Prasada? Apparently, the name was thought of after Jitendra replaced Mahabir Prasad as the Uttar Pradesh Congress chief in 1996. To make a distinction between him and his predecessor along caste lines, the “a” was added to the Prasad. The name stands intact in its Hindi version. But it is the name in Hindi that should matter in the Hindi belt, shouldn’t it?

All alone on the island

This is a different ball game. Mohammed Azharuddin’s employer, the State Bank of India, is in a fix. The bank is under tremendous pressure to remove Azhar, now heading the bank’s public relations department. Sources have it that every day the bank is flooded with angry letters demanding the sacking of the matchfixer. The bank however is digging in its heels on the matter. It does not want to act in haste. To start with, the charges against the former Indian captain have not been proved. Moreover, honestly, Azhar has been a good employee creating minimum fuss and trouble for the SBI, which was the obvious gainer having had this famous man play matches for it for very little — by Azhar’s estimates naturally — at the end of the month. However, one thing is certain. The bank cannot have the man head its PR anymore. The option is either to ask him politely to resign or to have him transferred to some wilderness. Lakshwadeep presumably?

Heroes from three worlds

Clash of the titans? The high-falutin’ VS Naipaul, lady’s man Khushwant Singh and everybody’s man Amitabh Bachchan met recently and it turned out to be an uncomfortable and embarassing experience for all three. The suave Big B did not know how to react in the presence of the famous two and the two did not know what to do when the limelight focussed entirely on the star. From the time he alighted from his car, people from the locality came out of their houses to catch a glimpse of their KBC hero. Even journalists found it difficult to control themselves from falling over the star. They sighed and swooned while getting themselves photographed with Bachchan. While Naipaul sulked and acted in an abrasive manner, Khushwant, as is his wont, decided to take things in his stride. As Bachchan entered the meeting room, Khushwant quietly inquired, “How are Mummy and Papa?”. Big B, not knowing where to look, managed to murmur, “Fine, Sir”, and sat down. Khushwant, quite clearly, had made his mark and his evening. A generation gap, is it?

Footnote/Get over the hangover

Why does Calcutta always have to be such a disappointment to its visitors? Former prime minister and Samajwadi Janata Party leader, Chandra Shekhar, was in the city to explore possibilities of reviving the third front at the national level. And what better thing to do than discuss it with Jyoti Basu, fighting post-retirement blues. A grand press conference and lunch was immediately organized in a city hotel. An optimistic Chandra Shekhar expected a large gathering of the media where his strategy for the third front would be thrashed out and enthused scribes would take the idea to a wider audience. A thin motley turned out at the lunch meet, much to the dismay of the SJP leader. He wanted to cancel the meet and return. Party leaders, including state unit chief, Krishna Gopal Sinha, suggested the press conference be deferred so that more mediapersons could attend. However, our man from Ballia insisted on winding up his one day tour by briefing the handful of journos about his plans. So who was responsible for the flop show? The SJP leadership in the state or the state’s media still recovering from the Buddha takeover?    

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

We are not alone

Sir — When Nelson Mandela was together with his companion Michel, no one seemed to mind very much. But, it appears that there has been an unusual discomfort among Indian bureaucrats and politicians about the president of Iceland, Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, bringing along his girlfriend. (“Protocol puzzle over first fiancee”, Oct 29.) In his article, Pranay Sharma writes that it is not so much a “moral” question but one of “protocol”. One fails to understand how such a thing as to be accompanied by one’s companion should even begin to become a “moral” question. As far as “protocol” is concerned, its only purpose in the Indian context is obstruction of the normal progress of events.
Yours faithfully,
Arta Mishra, Cuttack

Growing isn’t keeping

Sir — Bhaskar Dutta, in his article (“Bulging Granaries”, Oct 27), has drawn attention to the serious problem of excess food stock. Large quantities of food grain are rotting for want of storage and the government is planning to dump them in foreign markets, even though the poor are not getting them at lower prices. However, Ghosh’s solution seems to be unrealistic. His suggestion to cut down the procurement price and thus encourage farmers to diversify to commercial crops may prove fatal in the lean years of food production.

Hence, the proper remedy would be to popularize, intensify and widely apply the food-for-work programmes through labour-intensive construction and public utility projects, especially in rural areas.

Yours faithfully,
Kishan Kumar Agarwala, Calcutta

Sir — The Centre should go on to procure the entire surplus food grain stock at a negotiated lower price. This would save the farmers in Punjab from staggering losses. These food grains could be distributed to drought prone areas in Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and West Bengal and among the poor and starving as wages for the largescale afforestation programmes in these arid areas. This will undoubtedly save these people from starvation and malnutrition and also increase the forest wealth, in our country.

Yours faithfully,
S.K. Biswas, Calcutta

Right of way

Sir — It is very heartening to know that the new mayor of Calcutta is making all the right noises. His bold decisions about the eviction of hawkers from the streets should be welcomed. Politicians who are opposing this should remember that pedestrians have got the right to walk in comfort.

Walking has almost become impossible in Calcutta because of the hawkers. Footpaths are not the property of a few local leaders. These leaders “rent out” footpath space to the shopkeepers in lieu of hafta. Why should the rest of the city put up with this illegal activity?

One hopes that the Calcutta Municipal Corporation keeps up its promise and enforces these recent announcements.

Yours faithfully,
Joyjyoti Dev, Calcutta

Sir — I am rather shocked at the way the Union minister for railways, Mamata Banerjee, has opposed the hawker eviction drive that is being undertaken by the Calcutta Municipal Corporation. The way in which the hawkers have unionized their illegal activities is infuriating. Banerjee should not support them.

Yours faithfully,
Asim Kumar Dutta, Harinavi

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