Editorial/ Yankee doodle goes to town
Enigmas of departure
The Telegraph Diary
Letters to the Editor

 
 
EDITORIAL/ YANKEE DOODLE GOES TO TOWN 
 
 
 
 
Nothing raises more mirth than the sight of someone deemed to be powerful making a hash of things. This is exactly what has happened to the United States. In the eyes of the world it is now clear that the US is incapable of handling, without a major gaffe, as important an event as the presidential election. Such is the unholy mess in the state of Florida, that no one is certain when exactly the name of the next US president will be known. For a few minutes last week, the name of Mr George W. Bush had been announced. But the Republican euphoria evaporated because the announcement had to be withdrawn. The only parallel that readily comes to mind is the announcement in the Lok Sabha of the death of Jayaprakash Narayan when, in fact, he was alive. The reasons for the withdrawal are more than just technical. Mr Bush’s lead is so slender that demands for a recount and a count of the postal ballots are completely legitimate. In the meantime, there are reports trickling in of various kinds of “irregularities”: confusion over ballot papers, of black voters being sent away from the polling booth and so on. Lawyers all over the US are brushing up their constitutional law to look at the existence of possible loopholes that might exist in the way the election has been conducted so far.

Nothing in this scale has ever taken place in the history of US presidential elections. This is not to say that the US electoral process is faultless. The fact of the matter is that very few presidential elections have been as close a run thing as the present one. It is because of this that certain irregularities which are otherwise ignored, as they do not affect the overall results, are being noticed this time. In most elections, the postal ballots have not been of any consequence. But in the battle between Mr Bush and Mr Al Gore they may be the decisive voice. In which case, in one of the ironies of history, the army might decide the fate of the leader of the US democracy. But there is more to the confusion. The confusion that prevails over the battle between Mr Gore and Mr Bush allows the US democracy an opportunity to review some of the systemic lacunae. The US electoral system has much to recommend it. For one thing, the president, or the executive head of the government, is directly elected by the electoral colleges. In the Whitehall system, the executive head of the government is derived from the legislature. The US system preserves a better balance between the legislature and the executive. This endows it with a greater degree of maturity and puts on the shoulders of the US political establishment the responsibility of weeding out the weaknesses and the abuses.

The disarray in the coun- ting of votes in Florida and its impact on the overall results have made the US political process appear somewhat ridiculous. Commentators all over the world, including India, have had a good laugh in the last few days at the plight of the world’s most powerful country. This is only to be expected given the fact that power invariably engenders envy. On some prima facie considerations, the Indian electoral system would appear to be more robust and its administration more efficient. For one thing, the size of the electorate in India is much bigger than the one in the US. Despite the pressure of numbers, elections, especially in the Nineties, have been free of major gaffes and largescale violence. But the strength of the US system grows from its stronger theoretical grounding. It makes democracy more representative and is perhaps a shade closer than its Whitehall counterpart, from which the Indian system is derived, in approximating to direct democracy, the original model of the government of the people, by the people and for the people. Uncle Sam currently looks like the proverbial country hick who is a newcomer in the city of democracy. It would be simplistic to read this as a lack of Uncle Sam’s maturity in matters that affect democracy.    


 
 
ENIGMAS OF DEPARTURE 
 
 
BY BHASKAR GHOSE
 
 
We have grown up on a diet of stories about the way in which politicians have clung frantically to the seats of power, seats they fought for and got in the most sordid, unprincipled of ways. Recently, we have had yet another example in Goa, of a government being pulled down because one man — who can have little to recommend him for office except avarice — wanted to be chief minister. The wrangling over who will be chief minister of Jharkhand continues, and gets to be more and more sordid by the day.

Not so many years ago Uttar Pradesh and its clutch of cold-blooded politicians, in whom the cancer of ambition is now in its terminal stage, brought that state, themselves and the office of chief minister to a level of degradation which was astonishing even in the shameless political ambience of that state when they decided to share the chief ministership between two contending factions of politicians. And Laloo Yadav succeeded in making the office an object of amusement when he got his surprised wife, whose world was her household and her brood of children, to become chief minister, only so that he could continue his hold on power. Even when he stood accused of criminal offences he would not — could not — give up power.

If, consequently, some eyebrows were raised quizzically and eyes narrowed with disbelief when it became known that Jyoti Basu was going to resign, one need not be too surprised. We have seen, time and again, that a politician acts only in his self-interest, and then clothes his action with sanctimonious professions of his concern for the nation, whose humble servant he has always been.

Sharad Pawar said a great deal on these lines when he left the Congress, even though everyone knew his real reason was to become the leader of the party and then, with some more manoeuvring, prime minister. He never stopped to ask whether he had the competence to be prime minister, but that is usually taken to be an irrelevant matter.

So when a serving chief minister — who is politically as powerful now as he was when he first took office, perhaps even more — says he is going because he is too old and not too well, many tried to look beyond his declared decision. What is he actually up to, many asked. Is this a precursor to the third front for which he’s cleverly clearing the decks, some others wondered. There must be something behind all this, the more cynical said, why has the Communist Party of India (Marxist) decided to accept his leaving office just now, a few months before the elections?

It’s not too different from the manner in which, many many years ago, one was initiated into the mysteries of analysing a poem. A particularly earnest teacher read deep meanings into every phrase, saw alliteration echoing actual sounds. One wondered, as a young student, whether the poet had really thought of all that when he wrote, and concluded that he obviously didn’t. If he had, he’d have produced some convoluted nonsense which faithfully fulfilled every critic’s thesis and justified his erudite comments. Not that Basu’s decision to quit is a piece of literary creation; the reaction to it is, however, not too different from that of critics and scholars to a new poem by a master poet. The reasons for the flutter and comment are, of course, quite different.

In politics there is no place for creative genius, though there might be for imaginative tactics. There is, instead, a great deal of expediency, of cunning, lies and half-truths, of rumours deliberately generated for a particular end. It is this which has led to the speculation about Basu’s departure.

Many gifted scholars and commentators will no doubt assess his tenure and its position in the history of the country as it evolves and, undeniably, his departure is a historic moment not just for West Bengal. In this essay, however, one is not venturing to assess or comment; one is merely looking at the nature of his departure and that of other exits by other politicians from high office.

Very very few have left on their own, when they were still unquestioned leaders of their party, if not of the people. Just a few weeks ago Ram Prakash Gupta — if that is the right name — resigned as chief minister of UP, but only because he was peremptorily asked to do so by the Bharatiya Janata Party high command. He appeared on television the day he had been asked to quit, furtive and uncertain, unable to conceal his reluctance to give up the post and all the perks that go with it — the fawning group of favour seekers, the lavishly appointed house, the cars, the policemen’s salutes… oh yes, the salutes. He spoke in craven terms about party discipline, of being a loyal partyman, of serving the nation. But one could see from his haggard expression that he was already looking at a dark future shorn of servitors, of flatterers, and — terrible to contemplate -— of policemen’s salutes.

And there is our own Laloo Yadav, who, as we said earlier on, and as we all know, plonked in the chief minister’s chair his petrified wife, a comfortably conventional lady who existed only in her world of home and children, and who venerated her i>pati devata as a truly conventional wife should. Did he do it because of his burning concern and anxiety for the welfare of Bihar and its unfortunate people?

The answer to this is what makes analysts read more into Basu’s going than he himself was obviously aware of. Laloo wanted the power, because he wanted to use it for his personal advancement, for security, and for all kinds of reasons which have to do with his well-being and that of his coterie.

The amazing, and finally amusing, thing is that he’s got away with it. The quintessential jester in Indian politics, he cocked a snook at the emerging democratic institutions in the country — perhaps added a dimension to them which they lacked, a kind of absurdity that puts a perspective on them which is necessary. Consequently, he made a great show of giving up the office of chief minister, said all the things expected of a man like him, and then proceeded to retain the powers of office without the responsibility.

This is what made Basu’s departure so very different, and for many, so difficult to comprehend. But whatever the motives of the CPI(M) in acceding to his request just now, the fact is he had been asking to be relieved for a long time. The way that he left, and for the reasons for which he did, have given the office of chief minister in his state and to parliamentary democracy in India a dignity and a strength that many have worked hard to destroy in other states, mostly successfully. The fact that this should have been done by a communist is the perfect, and final, irony.

The author is former secretary, ministry of information and broadcasting    


 
 
THE TELEGRAPH DIARY 
 
 
 
 

Up, up and away

All maya, is it? Even the much sought after cabinet berth? Firebrand sanyasin and the brand new minister for sports and youth affairs, Uma Bharti, is probably not too sure any more. That could be the reason she took off for Kedarnath immediately after her induction into the ministry last week. No doubting the effect of the mountains on her thought process. Bharti has pulled through the crisis around revelations of her fireside outpourings about her love life with resounding success. Her threats of withdrawing from the campaign in Uttar Pradesh in fact couldn’t have been timed better. At a time Lodh-baiter Kalyan Singh is on the rampage, the party couldn’t let go of its Lodh politician. Hence the cabinet cake. Bharti however has decided to eat it later. When a typically curious scribe asked the new minister for sports at her swearing in ceremony what she was going to do about the matchfixers named in the CBI report, she retorted, “What fixers? I am off to Kedarnath and will return to the capital only after six days...let the law ministry handle the matter”. Why bother to be in the government then, mumbled the journo under his breath, as Bharti swayed away to embrace another well wisher. Whoever told him she was there to fix the fixers?

Doing a mother’s job

Another smooth operator. But this bit doesn’t go down smoothly. Politics is the end game and the moves have to add up to that. No matter how “politically correct” our self-appointed environmental guardian, Maneka Gandhi, may sound, she remains a politician to the core. The Hamdard Public School, set up by the Hamdard Foundation, recently invited our animal lover to visit the school and interact with the children, who come largely from Muslim families. The idea was to expose the children to a celebrity with a strong social commitment who could enlighten them about their world. The school wasn’t prepared for the surprise that followed. Maneka turned down the invitation, and that too in part. She would come but her condition was that the gathering would have to be turned into a public meeting. Why is the Nehru-Gandhi bahu , an independent minister for social welfare in the saffron government, suddenly on a vote-seeking spree? Is it for herself, or the newly arrived “real waris” of the family’s legacy, Feroze Varun Gandhi?

Exchange offer

The red carpet at the Writers’ has been rolled back, the new chief minister is in his new chair, the assembly elections are just round the corner and Mamata Banerjee is leaving nothing to chance. Her party has invited the new imam of the Jama Masjid, Ahmad Bukhari, to the Netaji Indoor Stadium to attend the minorities convention in mid-November. The Kashmir chief minister, Farooq Abdullah, is another guest of honour. The imam apparently is keen on his visit to Calcutta and plans to bless the Union railways minister with a fatwa on Bengal’s Muslims to vote for Trinamool. It is the imam’s way of thanking Mamata for attending his dastarbandi or anointment in October at the Jama Masjid when the other heavyweights like J Jayalalitha and Sonia Gandhi failed to turn up. Mamata was the lone star on the big day. The convention is said to be the brainchild of Sultan Ahmad, the Trinamool MLA who was part of the AICC’s minority cell till he decided to switch boats. Smart thinking, didi’s brother!

Changing homes

No house for Mr Jogi. We are talking about the chief minister of the new state of Chhattisgarh. After Rs 64 lakh was spent on a palatial house for the chief, Jogi refused to step into it. This is not so much because of the reputation of the house as being a “bhoot bungalow”, but because the great believer in astrology and vastushashtra that he is, Jogi considers the bungalow inauspicious.He is convinced because on the very first day, when Jogi was elected as Congress leader, there were fistfights. Jogi is eyeing the house of the collector of Raipur where he stayed decades ago. But the problem is that the present inhabitant of the house likes it as much. The collector, even if he knows that he is risking the ire of the chief minister, is refusing to oblige Jogi. The CM has currently put up in room number two of Raipur’s circuit house. Even if home affairs get sorted in Raipur, there will still be Jogi’s residence in Delhi to think about. He is planning to shift to Madhyavat, a house maintained by the Madhya Pradesh government, from his present residence at 1, Talkatora Road. No astrology and vastushastra this time. It is his son who is keen to stay on in Lutyen’s Delhi. Jogi probably needs a home secretary to sort out his home front.

Footnote/ Close for comfort

After ABA Ghani Khan Chowdhury, do you know who is the most sought after man in the West Bengal state Congress unit? The Congress chief whip in the Lok Sabha and MP, Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, who incidentally happens to be a close friend of the new chief minister of the state since their university days in the Sixties. Das Munshi recounts nostalgically, “Gone are the days when I and Buddha together used to control student politics in the College Street campus of the university. Though we were poles apart politically, we were good friends all the time.” Das Munshi is alleged to be busy wooing Pranab Mukherjee loyalists to his camp by cashing in on his proximity to Buddhadeb. Observers feel he might even train his guns on Somen Mitra and might yet replace Mukherjee in the near future. Many Congress leaders, particularly from the districts, are said to be making a beeline for Das Munshi’s south Calcutta residence with myriad problems. Are they for Das Munshi to solve? No. “Priyada is helping us get an appointment with Bhattacharjee,” says a Congress leader. So Priya’s a watermelon actually?    


 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

One trouble too many

Sir — Perhaps to maintain the law of conservation, if one man is ailing, another somewhere must be prospering. Nothing can explain better the resurgence of L.K. Advani in the Bharatiya Janata Party, while A.B. Vajpayee was ailing (“Advani makes himself count”, Nov 9). Advani was always important as the sangh parivar’s man in the BJP. But when the party was intent on putting its secular side up — note the election of Bangaru Laxman as the party president — Advani’s show had received a temporary setback. But he is at it again, put- ting Uma Bharti and Rajnath Singh in positions that count. All this justifies the rumour that next to his knee, the biggest bother for Vajpayee at the moment is his home minister.
Yours faithfully,
Shalini Kumar, via email

National warblings

Sir — Suresh Chandvankar’s well-documented article on “Vande Mataram” (“A historic song and its many settings”, Nov 6) came at a time when hardly any bit of our self-esteem is left for being Indian. “Vande Mataram” is officially recognized as our national song for the last five decades; but, as a matter of fact, it holds little or no importance in our national life. Apart from the ceremonial recitation, every morning it is played over the radio when the transmission begins.

The irony is that the magic of “Vande Mataram” is lost forever. It used to be compared to “La Marseilles” because of the mass appeal that it generated as it became synonymous with courage and conviction. Unfortunately, a synthetic version is making the rounds nowadays.

However, “Vande Mataram” was not confined to the pages of Anandamath, as Chandvankar has written, till Rabindranath Tagore sang it in the second session of the Indian National Congress in 1886. M. K. Gandhi was in favour of “Vande Mataram” becoming a national anthem. B.C. Roy campaigned for it too. Krishna Rao set it to a band tune to suit the purpose.

How “Janaganamana” became our national anthem and “Vande Mataram” had to be satisfied with the ornamental status of being a national song has all the makings of a political thriller.

Yours faithfully,
Anshuman Bhowmick, Calcutta

Sir — Why all the fuss about “Vande Mataram” all of a sudden? It is, after all, a rather dull, irrelevant song in the present context. Surely, the patriotism this country needed during the days of the British Raj has become redundant. It is a knowledge that we grow up with and ignore in our daily lives. The hullabaloo over this song is a waste of time.

Yours faithfully,
Ranjan Banerjee, Calcutta

New neighbours

Sir — In the article, “Courting animosities” (Nov 8), Ashok Mitra suspected foul play in foreign policy by the Centre with the “Hindutva card”. He should have remembered that this year India has become more important in the world forum.

With renewed relationships with developed countries, India has been able to subvert the post-Pokhran situation to her advantage. A communist might be happy with the status quo in foreign policy with the notion that once a friend always a friend and a foe is a foe forever. This is not a wise idea.

With the balance of power changing globally, India must rise to the occasion. The Nehruvian era of foreign policy is dead.We must judge the current scenario with caution because a slight tilt may cause enormous loss.

Yours faithfully,
Dhrubajyoti De, Calcutta

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