Editorial/ Loyal to disruption
Sir Geoffrey’s lives
The Telegraph/ Diary
Letters to the Editor

Politics has become the principal obstacle to governance in India. This is a dangerous situation and from the look of it a problem to which there is no apparent and immediate solution. Proceedings in both houses of Parliament were at a standstill over the last week. This was a direct fallout of the government’s attitude towards the Ayodhya issue. The opposition parties had been demanding the resignations of three ministers — Mr L.K. Advani, Mr Murli Manohar Joshi and Ms Uma Bharti — because they were implicated in the demolition of the Babri Masjid. The charged atmosphere growing out of this demand could have been defused within Parliament but for the gratuitous remarks of the prime minister, Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee, on the anniversary of the demolition. The consequence of the remark only served to aggravate the situation and further anger the opposition parties. The path of all legislations has now been blocked. Both the opposition and the prime minister are playing politics with scant regard for the responsibilities of governance.

Without absolving the opposition parties of their guilt on this score, it is important to focus on the prime minister. It is the prime minister’s chief — and perhaps, only — job to govern and to do so as smoothly and as efficiently as possible. He cannot allow any other loyalty to stand in the way of discharging this responsibility to the nation. Mr Vajpayee’s latest pronouncements on the Ram mandir issue have failed to match this ideal. Mr Vajpayee spoke not as the prime minister of India but as a loyalist of the sangh parivar. This has had a number of results. First, it has filled most people, except those who are already converted to the ideology of the parivar, with dismay. This includes people who disapprove of the parivar and all that it stands for, but have a modicum of respect for Mr Vajpayee. He has suffered a loss of credibility, more than what he realizes. Second, the minorities have been stricken by a further dose of apprehension. Third, there are rumbles of disaffection from Mr Vajpayee’s allies within the National Democratic Alliance, with Ms Mamata Banerjee, the leader of the Trinamool Congress, being the most vocal. The allies feel that Mr Vajpayee has stepped outside the common agenda. This might, if Mr Vajpayee’s firefighting is not good enough, lead to instability within his government which can only hinder its efficient functioning. Finally, there is the enraged opposition standing in the government’s way in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha.

By definition, it is the job of the opposition in a democracy to oppose the government of the day and if possible, to bring it down. One way it can attain this goal is by showing that the government is unable to govern. It stands to reason, therefore, that if governance can be brought to a standstill, the government can be shown up to be incapable of governance. This is exactly what the opposition parties are trying to do and their best friend in this matter seems to be none other than Mr Vajpayee. Nothing could be more ironic than this. Mr Vajpayee is the prime minister and inadvertently has become the leader of the opposition as well. This has happened because Mr Vajpayee, like the opposition parties, has placed politics before governance. The opposition parties, since they are not in the business of governance, are less guilty on this score than the prime minister. Also, before blaming the present opposition for the current impasse, it is worth recalling that all opposition parties in India have behaved in a similar manner. This can be seen as a weakness of Indian democracy. In a democracy, the parliament is the only forum of politics, it follows that by stalling parliament no purpose can be served — not even that of politics, however narrowly defined. What is happening in Parliament now can only be described as disruption. Unfortunately in India that passes as democracy as do forms of religious sectarianism.


Where is Geoffrey Boycott these days? Any prolonged spell of absence on the Yorkshireman’s part induces an odd kind of hunger — a hunger for Boycott, for that stream of admonishments emanating from the side of the mouth. Never has a Yorkshire accent sounded better — especially in its ability to metamorphose a limited English vocabulary into a credo. Is there a likeness, you wonder, of Boycott at Madame Tussaud’s, commemorating the blue eyes and the angle of the mouth? Those who had been missing him for too long might, if they were passing through London, stop to hover around his replica in Baker Street. But they may not find it there; Boycott, after all, is an Indian invention.

While the public, in this country, has bestowed a knighthood upon Boycott — it is not unusual to hear him referred to as “Sir Geoffrey” in India — in England he is, at the very least, unpopular, and at best a figure of fun. For Rory Bremner, the impressionist, both Geoffrey Boycott talking about cricket and Prince Charles conversing with his plants are soft targets. Doing Charles, he conjures up a faraway loquaciousness befitting an heir apparent who will seemingly never ascend the throne; doing Boycott, he invokes a scowl of earnest disdain.

We know why Charles has few friends; but why does Boycott not have more? There are reasons. For one thing, Boycott’s dogged and meticulous way of hoarding runs never endeared him to his contemporaries. There is the rumour, too, that Boycott’s best friend was his mother; in the eyes of the English, a cardinal sin. Then there is the conjecture, untrue but plausible, that he used to sleep with his bat. Indeed, there was an uncomfortable air of homoerotic concealment about him that did not quite fit in with the vigorously heterosexual and matey ethos of the team-sport he was a participant in.

Whatever doubts one might have had about his sexuality were dispelled, in a regrettably unambiguous way, with his girlfriend taking him to court for assaulting her. In response to his evident misogyny (in spite of his not very convincing protestations of innocence), the British press turned upon him with headlines that sounded like tautologies: “Ban Boycott”.

But bad behaviour has never been allowed to come between the British public and its heroes; if that were so, Botham, guilty of adultery and other deadly sins, would not be Britain’s most popular sporting icon. Both “high” art (for example, Paradise Lost) and the popular imagination are, in the Anglo-Saxon tradition, at least agreed on this: the glamour of badness and the dullness of virtue. No, Boycott’s deadly sin, which makes him such a gauche figure in British society, is his lack of irony, his fundamental seriousness.

Everyone else, though they may be from divergent social backgrounds — as are Botham and Gower — is playing the game, whether on the field or off it. In contrast, Boycott, as a commentator, is as unflinching in his pursuit of “truth” as he once was in amassing runs, as if he had some special access to it that others did not; this makes him an irritant and a source of discomfort to his colleagues.

Tom Paulin, the Irish poet and critic, a maverick who now teaches, slightly uneasily, at Oxford, told me not long ago that the way British committees deal with crises and unpleasant problems is “containment”: evade and smooth over the issue if you can, rather than confront it. Boycott, unlike his colleagues on the commentary team, is a bad committee member; his impulse is to confront an issue and hammer at it, rather than come to some implicit agreement over it, as the others do. To them, he is, one senses, an embarrassment.

Left to Britain, and to the Anglo-Saxon cricketing world, Boycott would have continued to be an embarrassment, a minor figure of ridicule in the annals of the game. Thank god for the Indian subcontinent, for it has allowed us to discover the marvellous tonic and breath of fresh air that Boycott really is. Indian cricket, and the commentary that has become an all-important part of it, would be a moribund affair were it not for Boycott.

Cricket in India, like every other walk of life here, revolves around egos, factions and politics; it is a sphere where, too familiarly, achievement is outdone by desire, perceptiveness by self-delusion. If one were to expect that the commentary team would be a disinterested observer of the scene, one would be mistaken; it brings to the scene the half-truths, evasions and factional loyalties that are already endemic to it.

The non-Indian commentators — for instance, Tony Greig, Ian Chappell, Barry Richards — are no better, and are probably worse, quick to sniff out the local rivalries and play up to them, as the colonials once did, and, with the air of foreigners plunging into a necessary and ancient ritual, join enthusiastically in the monotonous and sycophantic chorus of praise for Sachin Tendulkar. At the same time, they can be unashamedly partisan, though the white man has another name for partisanship, “objectivity”; Botham, especially, exemplifies again and again that the English are wonderful sports in victory, and ungenerous in defeat.

Gone are the days when commentaries were merely descriptive; these days, they are prescriptive — the most boring thing about them is not the way the commentators, mostly former captains, reel out statistics, but how they, both Indian and non-Indian, sit in judgement of the players, tell them how to sit, run and eat, and continually give both them and, really, us, the spectators or viewers, the benefit of their ideas on moral and physical self-improvement.

In this regard, Ian Chappell has always a homily to offer, the homily of a hardened, unappeasable committee man speaking in polite but unforgiving committee language. The Indian commentators, like Ravi Shastri, utter slightly vacuous platitudes, while offering solemn obeisance to Tendulkar — an obeisance that, like all forms of obeisance, has a violent undertone to it, suggesting implicitly that anyone who disagrees must face the consequences. Indeed, the whole tone of these discussions has the air of an eschatological meeting between established clerics.

In the midst of all this, the awkward, loud-voiced Yorkshireman, Boycott, is the one redeeming figure. He has little time for the English team; he is not shy of criticizing Tendulkar. While the others damn with faint praise, he either damns or praises. In his excessive championing of the Prince of Calcutta, he has been an embarrassment to his colleagues. It isn’t, thus, as if he doesn’t have advice or praise to give; but that he seems to give it to all the wrong people. But, for his independent-mindedness and his instinctive dislike of bullshit (“Roobish”, as he musically calls it), the Indian public has turned to him with love and gratitude; neglected and parodied in his own country, in India he has become a postcolonial hero. Without Boycott, Indian cricket would be intolerable; without India, Boycott would not be the contemporary classic he is. It is as if two singular and slightly disreputable entities had met, and succeeded in augmenting each other’s mythologies.



Cookie fortune

Jitendra Prasada, who managed to lend legitimacy to Sonia Gandhi’s recent coronation as the undisputed boss of the Congress, recently took out for dinner a journalist friend and the National Congress Party general secretary, Davendra Diwedi. The venue: a five-star restaurant. The meal: Chinese. At the end of the delightful gastronomic experience, the traditional fortune cookies were broken open. Diwedi’s fortune turned out to be the most interesting. The fairy’s prediction for him read: “A foreign woman may greatly enhance your fortune.” Diwedi was mercilessly ribbed by Prasada and their journalist companion. They suggested that the NCP spokesman dump Pawar and join the Congress since the “foreign lady” was bound to reward him with a key organizational assignment.

In Parliament House, Diwedi told P.A. Sangma about his cookie and produced the slip of paper to show the senior leader. For a moment, Sangma was a bit flummoxed. Was this Diwedi’s gentle way of announcing that he was leaving the NCP for the Congress? But never slow to perceive the flip side of a message, Sangma remarked immediately afterwards, “This cookie should have actually gone to Prasada whose fortune has been made by the foreign lady.” Prasada doesn’t need reminding, does he?

A man for all tastes

It’s all about making one’s fortune. Congress media panel member Subbi Rami Reddy is determined to get into the Congress working committee. He has prepared an elaborate booklet of 20 glossy pages which is like an album. The first five pages are devoted to Reddy with the Nehru-Gandhis to highlight that he was a close associate of Indira and Rajiv Gandhi. Leaving nothing to chance, Reddy is next seen paying respect to madame Sonia and in the company of Priyanka and Rahul Gandhi.

The next section of the picture gallery is about Reddy as a yogi. Pictured in various stages of meditation, as Vivekananda, Buddha and chairman of the Tirupathi Devasthan trust, Reddy expects all religious minded partymen to vote for him.

The yogi then changes over to philanthropy. He is running many schools, orphanages and charitable trusts. AICC delegates, please take note. The next change is more radical. The last section of the booklet highlights Reddy’s connections with Bollywood. Sridevi, Madhuri Dixit, Karisma Kapoor, Tabu, Rekha and the entire new lot of starlets are seen photographed with the one and only Subbi Rami Reddy. Impressed? Oops! many Congressmen are not.

More vice than precedent

Perhaps it isn’t the season for the Congress to be impressed. This time it’s Najma Heptullah who is in trouble. The other day she was awarded the Ojaswani award for her exemplary work for the empowerment of women. But Sonia Gandhi was not impressed. The AICC chief was wondering why Najma, a depu- ty chairperson of the Rajya Sabha, chose to receive the award from K. Sudarshan, sarsanghchalak of the RSS, and that too on December 6 when the Congress was fighting a grim battle on Ayodhya. Some say Najma was cosying up to Sudarshan with an eye on the vice-president’s post. But Sonia finds this explanation unacceptable. Najma’s candidature for the vice-president’s post has to be mooted by the Congress, after all. Neither does the left seem too appreciative of Heptullah’s moves.

But the whole episode has provided pleasure to one person. And that’s Margaret Alva, another Congress aspirant for the vice-presidentship. Alva has already pipped Najma to another post, head of the parliamentary committee on the empowerment of women. More than ojaswini, then.

Dreaming of spires, maybe

So what if there are demands for his resignation over the Ayodhya demolition? Union home minister L.K. Advani seems determined to change his image as a Hindutva hardliner and turn into an elder statesman. Last Sunday, he visited Ajmer to pay his respects to Khwaja Moin-Uddin Chisti. The local Muslims were rather curious. They were also pleasantly surprised when Advani inquired about the “Jannati-Darwaza” (gateway to heaven). Tempted, one passerby commented, “Advaniji, let us live in peace. That would be your Jannati Darwaza!”

The modern day Sardar Patel has begun a new practice. Each weekend, he goes off to some new place to offer worship or to pay his respects. So far, he has been to the Golden Temple, Somnath, Pushkar, Tirupathi, and the Sai temple.

Perhaps a visit to some old church is in the offing.

Footnote/ The pretty poetics of politics

AB Vajpayee is first a poet and then the prime minister of India. He cannot resist discussing poetry when he is in the company of another poet, never mind that the nation’s most crucial issues are on the agenda. So when the CM of West Bengal, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, met the PM to get Central assistance for his flood-ravaged state, they talked poetry. Like a normal human being, the PM is easily flattered. Compliments become even more flattering when they come from a red poet and politician like Bhattacharjee. Buddha told the PM that he had read the Bengali translation of his collection of poems, Ekyawan Kavitayen, done by UP governor Vishnu Kant Shastri. Happy, the PM inquired about Buddha’s poems: “I have heard you also write poetry.” He asked the CM whether his poems had been translated. “I don’t know Bengali unfortunately,” he demurred. Buddha had to disappoint him. Vajpayee expressed himself so eager to read the CM’s poems that he said he would request Shastri to translate his poems into Hindi from Bengali. Floods and funds are remarkably unpoetic, after all.



Visual effects

Sir — Pranay Sharma’s article, “Maqbul is fida, but Madhuri missing” (Dec 8), talks about Jaswant Singh attending the release of M.F. Husain’s film, Gajagamini. If A.B. Vajpayee and L.K. Advani’s presence, at the launches of Pukar and Mission Kashmir respectively, are anything to go by, it appears that Indian leaders have found a new way of getting into the good books of voters. For Singh, Husain — who has been attacked bitterly by the Shiv Sena — was the ideal person to be seen with. This will give a boost to his secular image. But one wonders why films should become the route to the voters’ hearts. Is it because the Indian mindset understands only the symbolism of Hindi cinema?
Yours faithfully,
Chandan Mukherjee, Calcutta

Struck dumb

Sir — It was good to see one more Indian win the Miss World title. Interestingly, everything seemed to be favouring India. Priyanka Chopra should feel lucky about this. But, what was the criterion for the selection? Strange questions like “If ignorance is bliss, then why do people seek knowledge?” were asked.

This was in sharp contrast to questions like “Which living lady do you admire the most?”. Hilariously, Priyanka Chopra’s winning answer was to the latter question, to which she naively replied, “Mother Teresa”. This was embarrassing beyond belief. If the award was predetermined to go to an Indian, then why have the contest at all? How much more shameless are these organizers going to be?

Yours faithfully,
Ayan Bhattacharya, Calcutta

Sir — The Miss World contest is a farce. Priyanka Chopra’s silly answer was ignored and she was crowned a beauty queen. Is this a joke? Why is the West trying to flatter Indian sentiments in all sorts of ways? Is it because the multinational corporations are eager to get into the good books of all Indians?

Why is the Indian intelligentsia silent about this? This incessant political correctness of the West is getting on everybody’s nerves.

Yours faithfully,
Souvik Das Gupta, Calcutta

Made to move

Sir — The decision to relocate lakhs of industrial units in the outskirts of Delhi is unjustifiable (“SC blocks Delhi pollution cave in”, Nov 22). It is not possible to relocate 1.12 lakh industries within the stipulated time-frame.

If the decision is implemented, then the workers and owners of these industrial units will be badly hit. It is a pity that in the last 16 years, there was no attempt to identify the polluting units in the capital. The present master plan has been amended as many as 58 times.Why should it not be amended once more to save 15 lakh workers from being thrown out of work?

Yours faithfully,
D.V. Vamsee Krishna, Bhubaneswar

Sir — The ruling about the relocation of industrial units in Delhi has once again exposed the double standards within the ranks of power. Sheila Dixit, the chief minister of Delhi, in true escapist fashion, held the constitutional masterplan for Delhi responsible for the setting up of the industrial units in the first place. With whom does the responsibility of amending the masterplan rest, if not with the legis-lators and the government?

Yours faithfully,
S.K. Samanta, Calcutta

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