Editorial / Aids to pleasure
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The Telegraph Diary
Profile/ Ajay Jadeja
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EDITORIAL / AIDS TO PLEASURE 
 
 
 
 
From the ramparts of the Red Fort on Independence Day this year, the prime minister spoke of the “dreaded disease”. The “grave challenge” of HIV/AIDS has to be met, he said, with awareness and with behavioural change. For the nation’s young, nothing could be more inimical to thoughts of sex than this fearful declaration in such an august setting. Yet, this is the sad paradox determining the circumstances in which young people are going to be taught about sex in six Indian states. The health ministry and the National AIDS Control Organization have convinced the four southern states, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra about the need to introduce education on HIV and sex in school between classes IX and XII, possibly from the next academic year.

An estimated 35 lakh Indians are already infected, with 80 per cent of the new infections being sexually transmitted. Caught in a public health emergency, with its own grim priorities, it would be difficult for the educating authorities to pull sex out of the dark wedge between disease and death. The language of instruction and control could easily obscure a basic fact of life, that sex is meant to be a pleasurable activity involving the responsible exercise of some valuable private liberties. When an overpopulated society grudgingly wakes up to an epidemic, sex education could easily come to mean instructions on how to, or not to, make babies and get infected. Perhaps it is, in a way, better to deal with the matter purely at the level of medical information on safe practice and hygiene. By this argument, the less the state intervenes in the ethical and psychological dimensions of sex, the better. Some would even be deeply relieved to know that this sex education programme has nothing to do with that arbiter of godmen-inspired human values, the ministry of human resources development. It is better, they would say, that the family — and not the parivar — be entrusted with the cultivation of private moralities. But the new manual for teachers and students, prepared by NACO and the health ministry, shows some interesting tendencies.

The health minister’s foreword positions sex education between “information about reproductive issues” and “influencing the minds of students”. And this is certainly a matter of concern. It brings up, at one go, the entire context of assumptions and attitudes that is bound to shape the form and content of the education being imparted. The manual also seeks to revise misconceptions and beliefs regarding sexuality. This means the clearing away of the myths around menstruation and masturbation. But how far is this taboo-breaking exercise willing to go? NACO aims at an environment without stigmatization and discrimination. But in a country where the notion of human rights remains entirely inapplicable to sexual minorities, such a vision would continue to sound ridiculously utopian, as would the sexual health programmes founded upon such concerted acts of denial. Homosexuality remains a criminal offence in India, a taboo held in place by a profoundly repressive and discriminatory sociocultural system. A mode of sex education, concerned exclusively with “reproductive” issues, would therefore fail to be at all meaningful to a large section of young students in need of a very specialized kind of help and information. Their education needs to be nonjudgmentally informed and informing, just as urgently. This is not simply a question of sexual equality, of being enlightened and civilized. It is also crucial to the epidemiology of AIDS in India, which continues to evade, dangerously, the reality of men who enjoy sex with other men.

Sex education cannot — and, perhaps, should not — be absolutely value-free. This is what makes it so challenging, particularly at its inception in a society where so many spades need to be called spades, without taking away the joy of digging.

   

 
 
NOTICE THY NEIGHBOUR 
 
 
BY SUNANDA K. DATTA-RAY
 
 
Did anyone else notice that the Bangladeshis slipped away before an excellent lunch was served on the first day of the seminar that the Centre for Research in Indo-Bangladesh Relations organized this week? The theme was “Indo-Bangladesh Relations — The New Millennium”, and Bangladesh’s industries minister, Tofayel Ahmed, set the ball rolling with an incisive dissertation on opportunities and obstacles. But it being Ramadan, he and his colleagues from Dhaka could not break bread with their hosts, something that the organizers may not have anticipated.

It is possible to exaggerate the significance of crossed signals. They matter here only because there are enough rocks already on which cooperation can run aground. The Bangladeshi high commissioner, Mostafa Faruque Mohammed, pointed out, for instance, Indian industry’s jaundiced view of a joint venture cement factory in Bangladesh which, it shortsightedly fears, might eat into Indian exports. Avoidable atmospherics need not be added to such problems, especially since suspicion on one side is more than matched by sensitivity on the other.

I recall an embarrassing occasion in Banga Bhaban when I unwittingly gave deep offence to Zia-ur Rahman by adapting George Bernard Shaw’s comment about two nations divided by a common language. “So what?” the president burst out. “So what? The English, Canadians and Americans all speak the same language! Does it mean they are all the same country?” A second occasion was a three-day international event in Dhaka where a fellow journalist from Calcutta, whose normal attire was shirt and trousers, religiously wore nothing but a dhoti and punjabi every day. He thought that he would make a favourable impression by affirming his allegiance to a shared Bengali identity, not realizing that Bangladesh had redefined that identity in terms that are not identical with ours. “If we want to achieve national development and progress, we must speak of Bangladeshi nationalism,” Zia had declared.

Sheikh Hasina Wazed and the Awami League have taken many positive steps to live down complexes and strengthen Bangladesh’s economic security by, among other things, improving ties with India. The minister, who had been a Mukti Bahini commander and then political secretary to her father, underlined some initiatives. The one-time “international basket case” has become self-sufficient in food, literacy is up and poverty down. We know that reduced fertility is reflected in a lower birth rate, the Grameen Bank has won international recognition, and a recent World Health Organization study of 191 countries ranked Bangladesh 88th in terms of public health. India stood 112th and Pakistan occupied the 122nd place.

Had she not felt secure at home, the Bangladeshi prime minister would not have signed the water-sharing treaty in 1996 and the Chittagong Hill tracts pact the following year. An agreement on riparian rights along the Muhuri river, the improved Calcutta-Dhaka bus service and renewed plans for railway links indicate the political will to mend bridges. Ahmed believes that previous governments deliberately kept the water issue alive so as to have a stick to beat India with.

But the very success of Sheikh Hasina’s reconstruction makes the challenge that much more difficult for India. Bill Clinton would not have spent longer in Dhaka than in Islamabad in March if he did not see Bangladesh as a country of strategic value. That assessment was confirmed when Sheikh Hasina became the first Bangladeshi head of government to pay an official visit to America. With oil hostage to West Asia’s turbulent politics, Washington may have its eye on the unknown trillions of cubic feet of gas on which Bangladesh is floating. But beyond that, with Pakistan awash with heroin and Kalashnikovs and in the uncertain grip of yet another military dictator, Washington might see a stable, democratic and moderate Muslim Bangladesh as potentially a useful conduit to the Islamic ummah. American investment has gone up from $ 20 million to $ 800 million since Sheikh Hasina became prime minister.

Though there is no conflict of interest between India and the United States, these overtures remind India that it must be serious in its dealings with a confident young neighbour who, even while valuing its Bengali culture, is proudly conscious of its sovereign status while West Bengal is only a state of India. Not for the new Dhaka the sentimental diplomacy of Rabindrasangeet and rosogolla. It is now in a position to demand the hard currency of economic dividend. It has argued its case for duty-free, quota-free market access for the least developed countries from Singapore to Seattle and won a market in the European Union.

Bangladesh unilaterally slashed its own tariffs from 350 per cent to 60 per cent long before the World Trade Organization was born. India’s exports have soared as a result. Now, Bangladesh wants the quid for its quo. For M. Aminul Islam, a geographer and former vice-chancellor of the Bangladesh Open University, the water treaty is not enough. Much more will have to be done to augment dry season flows. At least three other seminar speakers — the minister, high commissioner, and Syed Anwar Hussain, director-general of the Bangla Academy — reiterated that when he visited Dhaka in June 1999, Atal Behari Vajpayee had agreed “in principle” to abolish all tariffs on a non-reciprocal basis on 25 selected imports from Bangladesh. What prime ministers propose, bureaucrats dispose, and nothing has come as yet of that commitment.

This is not the only time that the civil service has thwarted a political initiative. A gleeful Hussain Mohammed Ershad told me in 1985 that Rajiv Gandhi had promised to involve Nepal in future talks on water management and flood control. It was a tremendous feather in his cap vis-à-vis the “India lobby”, his term for the Awami League. But South Block soon put an end to Rajiv’s generosity. It had all the ammunition it needed to force the prime minister to renege on his promise when Ershad told a public meeting only a little while later that China, too, should be a party to riparian talks.

Sheikh Hasina and her advisors are far too sophisticated to make tactical mistakes. Nor can a mature Bangladesh be fobbed off any longer with delaying tactics. If Vajpayee promised Sheikh Hasina, he will have to deliver. If he does not, it will gravely affect all those regional groupings that reflect future hope — the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, South Asian Preferential Trade Area, South Asian Free Trade Area, Growth Quadrangle of Nepal, Bhutan, India and Bangladesh, the Ganga-Mekong project and BIMSTEC — Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Thailand Economic Cooperation forum.

India-Bangladesh cooperation reinforces but does not need these wider arrangements — post-dated cheques on a promising bank — but the arrangements would collapse without firm bilateral ties.

A second point is that like many such events, the seminar was an occasion for believers. Apart from Awami League loyalists, Ali Aksad of the Bangladesh Peace Council described himself as a communist. The strongly opposing camp which denounced the water and Chittagong Hill tracts agreements and constantly accuse Dhaka of selling out to Delhi was not represented, though Paresh Dev, the Centre’s president, and Bimal Pramanik, its director, assured me that invitations had been sent out.

Such is their capacity for mischief that the only lasting relationship with India would be one that enjoys a broad consensus of support across the spectrum of Bangladeshi life, including elements that we might disapprove of. Whether Bangladeshis respond to the lilting tune of “Amar Sonar Bangla” or the stirring notes of “Prothom Bangladesh”, their economic and strategic interests should remain exactly the same. But the wrong cultural signals from India can play into the hands of irresponsible politicians who would not hesitate to cut their own nose to spite what they think is the Awami League government’s face. Tofayel Ahmed wisely advised circumspection in all India-Bangladeshi dialogues.

   

 
 
THE TELEGRAPH DIARY 
 
 
 
 

It’s just a red herring

Why has the prime minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, decided to open the can of worms on Ayodhya? His own image of a liberal statesman has taken a beating. Surely Uttar Pradesh assembly polls are not worth taking such a course.

According to Bharatiya Janata Party insiders, the Vajpayee regime was deeply rattled by the farmers’ agitation and the economic hardship being faced by the poorer sections of society. It had asked the RSS, BMS, VHP and other allies to give it a feedback about the “ground situation”. The government had also asked for a similar feedback from CII, FICCI and other institutions. Since the feedback presented a grim scenario, the BJP-Sangh thinktank came up with the idea of whipping up religious passion. “Our government has the blessings of Ram lalla and he will continue to back us,” one Union minister remarked.

Confused by the double track

Members of the CPI(M), known for their piousness, are not so pious as they appear to be. They can compete quite well with politicians of other parties in the matter of double standards. Anti-Mamata Banerjee postures are all very well, as long as the public is watching. It’s a different matter in private. There’s those inconvenient things called vested interests, and to look after them, the railways minister has to be kept in good humour as well. It can be done. All those CPI(M) MPs who are vociferously anti-Mamata inside Parliament manage to get quite a lot done through her.

The Bankura MP Vasudev Acharya is one such MP. The day after the rail accident in Punjab, which led Mamata to put in her resignation, Acharya led the anti-Mamata brigade in the Lok Sabha. He was among the front benchers who were demanding action against her. But the very same Vasudev Acharya calmly wrote a letter to Mamata the very next day, asking her to grant a railway tender to a private limited company in his parliamentary constituency, Bankura. So agitated was Mamata with Acharya’s behaviour that she displayed the letter to a group of West Bengal journalists. Double standards in action, they could have called it. And what does Acharya say? His answer is as neat as arithmetic: the demand for action was against the Trinamool Congress president Mamata Banerjee and the letter was addressed to the railways minister. Comrades have no problems, obviously.

We’re not pally with crooks, sorry

Not all is well with the BJP unit in West Bengal. The BJP central leadership is determined to hold its next national executive meeting in Calcutta. It wants to broadbase the organization before the assembly elections. BJP sources say a host of leaders is scheduled to arrive in the city at the month-end to assess the situation. And to try and stem the growing dissension in the Bengal unit.

A BJP leader says the Union minister of state for telecommunications, Tapan Sikdar, has been directed to set things right by roping in the dissidents. As part of this exercise, state president Asim Ghosh and vice-president Muzaffar Khan met the dissident leader, Sukumar Banerjee, the other day at the party office over high tea. “We are getting ready to host the party’s national executive in Calcutta and I hope the dissidents will cooperate with us,” said Ghosh.

However, the dissidents have planned to frustrate the proposed national executive by organizing a parallel meeting at the same time. “The BJP’s Bengal unit is a party of crooks and we are not going to adjust with them,” warned a dissident leader, preferring anonymity.

Don’t wake up, sleepyhead

Talk about childish pranks. Mamata Banerjee and Ashok Kumar, chairman, railway board, were on the same train and in the same compartment when going to visit the site of the accident in Punjab. Keen to demonstrate her concern, Mamata was anxious to reach the spot as early as possible. When the train arrived at Ambala station, the chairman was fast asleep. He just failed to wake up. And what did the railways minister do? She left him sleeping in the compartment and left for the accident spot. Ashok Kumar reached the site only when Mamata was coming back. Mamata is known for deriving great pleasure from such little deeds.

What women can do, men can too

Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal on Vajpayee’s problems with BJP minister Kariya Munda on Jharkhand: “We thought that Ataljihad problems only with kuris (ladies) — Mamata, Jayalalitha, Sushma, Uma Bharti — but now it seems he has problems with Munda (men) too!”

Footnote / Three jumps ahead and still trying

Hanan Mollah ko gussa kyon ata hai? The CPI(M) MP is hugely upset with the Congress for “bailing out Mamata Banerjee” on December 4. Hanan could not stomach the fact that there was a lack of coordination between the two parties — and never mind the rivalry in West Bengal — when there should have been rapport. The main opposition party raked up the Ayodhya issue when the left was gunning for Mamata over the rail accident in Punjab.

Actually Hannan was upset over the Congress’s breach of faith. The Congress and the left had decided to raise the Babri issue on December 6 but the Congress’s bête noire, Mulayam Singh Yadav, got wind of it. So he planned to raise the issue on December 5. The Congress, itching to get even with Mulayam, sprang a surprise and raised the issue 24 hours before Mulayam’s planned date, much to the chagrin of the left and, of course, Mulayam. Guess who’s laughing? The roars of laughter are from the treasury benches. No surprise, given the infantile show of me-tooism and one-upmanship within the opposition ranks.

   

 
 
PROFILE/ AJAY JADEJA 
 
 
 
 

Split Open

For the new nabobs of Delhi, the sign of arrival is not — contrary to popular belief — the BMW. Luxury cars, anybody will tell you, are a dime a dozen. But those who have really arrived are the lucky few with a vanity telephone number.

Ajaysinhji Daulatsinhji Jadeja’s many telephone numbers at his Uday Park and Greater Kailash homes are full of those triple 2s and triple 3s that speak of political clout. It’s another matter that the phones never lead to Jadeja. A bevy of polite voices — from brother’s office staff and his own domestic workers to unidentified sopranos — tell you that Jadeja is not at home. And no, no one knows when he will be back.

Clout — political, social and economic — is something that Jadeja is not unfamiliar with. Jadeja’s ancestors were the erstwhile rulers of Jamnagar. His father was an extremely affluent Congress MP. Jadeja, for all those who came in late, is also engaged to Samata Party president Jaya Jaitly’s daughter. And Jaitly, for those who came in later still, is a close associate of Defence minister George Fernandes.

Not surprisingly, everybody was pretty much convinced that the Indian cricketing board, the BCCI, would, finally, acquit Jadeja. Hushed whispers hinted that political pressure was being put on the board to get the 29-year-old former India captain off the hook. Jadeja himself spoke at length about his innocence. When co-accused Azharuddin loped off to quietly lick his wounds in some dark corner, Jadeja stood in the centre of town, picking holes in the CBI argument. He protested so often and so loudly that even now, days after the board banned him from playing cricket for five years, there are some who tend to believe him. “Just let the boy be,” says former Indian captain Bishen Singh Bedi.

Jadeja has his share of friends. Extremely articulate and charming, he is not just a veritable lady-killer but is popular with the men as well. Mast hai is the phrase most often used by friends describing him. So mast that even Madhuri Dixit was keen to act in a film with him. “Her P.A. was in touch with Ajay for a while. But Ajay finally decided to focus on cricket instead,’’ says a friend. But while always “a regular guy,” Jadeja’s friends admit that the half-Malayali-half-Gujarati lad has had an eye on the main chance from the beginning. “He has been, right from the start, money-minded,” says a fellow-cricketer, who watched him grow up in the lanes of Pandara Park. “Every time he was asked to play a match in a club, he would first ask how much he was going to make,” he says.

Money, in fact, has been the leitmotif in the right-hand batsman’s eventful life. When he was studying at the Sardar Patel Vidyalaya — once the Capital’s leading liberal school — he often told his friends that he was on the payrolls of Escorts, who paid him to play cricket.

No wonder Jadeja had a huge fan following in school. His then principal, NCW chairperson Vibha Parthasarathi, attributes his popularity to his warm and friendly nature. She tells a story to stress her point. Once, after the death of a popular teacher who was a sports lover as well, Jadeja went up to her, urging that something be done to keep the memory of M.L. Sharma, alive. “We all forgot about it. But then, on our annual day, Ajay suddenly came to me with a cheque in hand. “Ma’am, this is for the M.L. Sharma scholarship for the best cricketer in school.” We had all wanted to do something about Sharmaji, but hadn’t got around to it. And here was this 18-year-old boy standing in front of me, with a cheque in his hand and tears in his eyes,” remembers Parthasarathi.

Jadeja, the former principal holds, always had leadership qualities. The students, in fact, were so fond of him that a whole gaggle of class-mates would tutor him before his examinations, helping him out with their notes and lists of questions. “One day I was walking down the corridors two hours after school had closed. I heard noises from a room, and went there to find a whole group of students sitting with Jadeja and coaching him,’’ she says.

But that was when Jadeja still had stars in his eyes. Some years down the line — several endorsements, much money and a great many lost matches later — the feeling of camaraderie that Jadeja once evoked had petered out considerably.

Former team manager Sunil Dev recalls an incident in Zimbabwe. During a tour of South Africa, Jadeja had twice misplaced his tie. And then, when the team was about to leave Harare for Mumbai, Jadeja walked into the bus that was taking them to the airport without his blazer.

“Jadeja had no idea where his blazer was,’’ recalls Sunil Dev. “And when I started to collect everybody’s passports, he said: Oh, my passport was in my blazer.”

The team-members were apparently so infuriated that they were willing to leave Jadeja behind in Harare. “Everybody was dying to get back home. The boys said: Let’s leave Jadeja behind and go home. And all this while, Jadeja sat, happily singing!” The blazer was later found, alongwith the passport, thanks to room-mate Sunil Joshi’s suggestion that Jadeja’s bags be checked. “And everybody — but Jadeja — went through his clothes to find his blazer and passport,” says Dev.

That day, Jadeja was forced to pay up. As a fine, he agreed to give up his lunch allowance for the series for a party. The boys had their party, but the basic question — as always — remains unanswered.

Does the little story, as some would maintain, highlight his generosity? Or does it, as many others would believe, underline the point that he had ample money to spare?

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Web of uncertainty

Sir — The article, “Discover the new face of terror” (Nov 28), is frightening. The worldwide web, on the face of it, has enabled the collapse of time and space. But when one attempts a proper analysis of what it really means to have one’s interactions and transactions conducted on the internet, one is shocked at what one exposes oneself to. For instance, there can be havoc if one reveals one’s credit card number on the net and hackers gain access to it. Defenders of the internet will surely argue that there are safeguards. But, this defence is flimsy because there is nothing that can protect any information on the net from hackers. Why else would American defence experts woo hackers with jobs?
Yours faithfully,
Harjinder Mehrotra, via email

Showy difference

Sir — The row between the chief minister, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, and his colleague, Subhas Chakraborty, over the Hrithik Roshan stage show reminds one of a similar incident that took place years ago. Jatin Chakraborty, the then cultural affairs minister had attacked Usha Utthup, accusing her of damaging Bengali culture. His attack on Utthup did not in any way affect her popularity and she continues to occupy a special place in the hearts of most Calcuttans.

Bhattacharjee should understand that youngsters today are very fond of pop and other such forms of music. If he is really concerned about his culture, he should stop the screening of films with excessive sex and violence.

Yours faithfully,
Urmila Guha, Burnpur

Sir — The difference in attitude between Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and Subhas Chakraborty, is becoming clearer. While Bhattacharjee is against shows that go against the spirit of Bengali culture, Chakraborty feels that culture is evolving with time. The difference between culture and fashion is that the former takes hundreds of years to develop and the latter changes with time. The views of young people are influenced by what they see on television. For example, our culture teaches us to respect our elders while children abroad refer to their relatives by name. Although I am an admirer of Chakraborty, I would disagree with him on this issue.

Yours faithfully,
J.N. Singhi, Calcutta

Sir — There is only one lesson to be learnt from the difference of opinion between Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and Subhas Chakraborty. The editorial, “Culture and the commissar” (Nov 26), rightly points out that politicians should not involve themselves in matters of culture. It seems Bhattacharjee considers himself a self-appointed guardian of Bengali culture. The problem with such an attitude is that the state tries to encourage the dominance of one art form over another. That governments have done nothing to encourage a renovation of the Academy of Fine Arts is an indication of how little they actually care about the heritage of the city.

Yours faithfully,
Ananya Maitra, Calcutta

Suspicious uniform

Sir — Mukul Kesavan has missed only one point in the article, “Concern and grievances” (Dec 3). As long as ideologues like K.R. Malkani spearhead the movement for a uniform civil code, this objective will never be achieved. Their motives are suspect and no consensus will be forthcoming. Nationbuilding will remain a distant dream unless he manages to acquire the goodwill of all communities.
Yours faithfully,
Partho Datta, via email

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