Editorial / Trident and the hammer
Match fixers, mosque fixers
The Telegraph Diary
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL / TRIDENT AND THE HAMMER 
 
 
 
 
It is the curse of some Indian political leaders to be saddled with parties and ideologies that pull in the opposite direction from their own vision and intentions. Both the prime minister, Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee, and the chief minister of West Bengal, Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, seem to have been born under the sign of this curse. Mr Vajpayee has been trying to free his government and its policies from the clutches of Hindutva and swadeshi. He has been trying to establish the priority of governance over ideology. In his vision, the two contending labels of Indian politics — secular and communal — are both somewhat irrelevant. What is important is that India dismantles the socialist scaffoldings of the Indian economy and establishes the point within the country and to the outside world that it is being ruled by a stable and efficient government. Mr Vajpayee knows that to achieve this, under a coalition government, he cannot pursue a narrow and sectarian agenda dictated by an exclusivist ideology. A government committed to Hindutva would be insular and against the opening of India to the winds of pluralism and capital. Mr Vajpayee’s efforts to build an India free of the dogmas of socialism and religion have been handicapped by the looming shadow of the sangh parivar. To keep the home side happy, as it were, Mr Vajpayee has been forced to slow down the progress of reforms and has often said things which he did not quite mean. He has tried also not to make himself more important than the organization from whose ranks he has risen.

On a lower scale, Mr Bhattacharjee’s plight is no better. He took over the mantle from Mr Jyoti Basu who, after having presided over West Bengal’s economic ruin, tried, in the twilight of his tenure, to reverse the trend. Mr Basu attempted to make West Bengal industry-friendly and to revive work culture. Mr Bhattacharjee is trying to work within the framework laid down by Mr Basu. But he is going about it with much more zeal and commitment than was shown by his octogenarian predecessor. He moved swiftly against corrupt officials and was quick to enforce punctuality and standards of efficiency in government offices. This in West Bengal that is known for its sloth is not an easy task. Mr Bhattacharjee has also extended to investors and industrialists an extraordinarily cooperative hand. A leading company which has investments in products ranging from cosmetics to computers was pleasantly surprised to find their investment plans in the state being cleared in four days at the initiative of the new chief minister. Other potential investors and industrialists have noted the quickness with which Mr Bhattacharjee responds to their problems and requests. But this remains very much an individual effort. Mr Bhattacharjee may find the goodwill he has created evaporating if there is a return to the culture of bandhs as is threatened by the call of a general strike on December 20. There are reasons to suspect that Mr Bhattacharjee’s agenda for an industrialized West Bengal does not have the full support of the cadre who constitute the principal strength of the Communist Party of India (Marxist).

There is a lesson to be drawn from the experiences of Messrs Vajpayee and Bhattacharjee. Their problems grow out of their dual identities. Both hold the top jobs at their respective levels and both are members of two large, monolithic and cadre-based parties. They are thus often forced to face the criticism that the policies they are implementing run contrary to the “party line’’. This is not something that either of them quite deserve. Political leaders, once elected by a popular mandate and appointed to a decisionmaking post, should be freed from party obligations. Political parties should not be allowed to meddle in and influence policies. A prime minister or a chief minister owes responsibility to the people and not to the party to which he belonged. Despite their ideological disaffinity, Mr Vajpayee and Mr Bhattacharjee may have notes to compare on their experiences. They have more in common than love for poetry.

   

 
 
MATCH FIXERS, MOSQUE FIXERS 
 
 
BY MUKUL KESAVAN
 
 
Atal Behari Vajpayee’s statement recommending the construction of a temple at the site of the demolished Babri Masjid as the best possible “resolution” of the Ramjanmabhoomi dispute comes as a surprise to no one but the Bharatiya Janata Party’s allies, parties like the Trinamool Congress, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the Telugu Desam Party.

Vehemently secular in their protestations, these parties had used the prime minister’s alleged moderation as a fig leaf to cover up their nakedness even as they settled comfortably into the BJP’s harem. If Vajpayee was their fig leaf, the National Democratic Alliance’s common programme was a chastity belt which protected them from contracting anything from prolonged intimacy with the BJP. They could say with Bill Clinton that they had smoked without inhaling, or, more pertinently, that they had cohabited in a platonic way.

I haven’t clubbed George Fernandes and his Samata Party with the other allies of the BJP because being an honest and forthright man, the defence minister knows that you can’t sup with the devil even with a very long spoon without becoming a part of his design. During the political jousting that stalled parliamentary proceedings, Fernandes taunted the Congress with its role in the destruction of the Babri Masjid by declaring that “we only want to complete what the Congress had begun.” Note the first person plural: even in the cut and thrust of political debate and one-upmanship, it’s hard to believe Fernandes would use that “we” if he had been at all worried by the BJP’s plans for the site of the Babri Masjid.

I think it can be fair to say, without being polemical, that for Fernandes and the Samata Party, the demolition of the Babri Masjid and the politics it represents are tolerable: it might offend Fernandes’s individual sensibilities (though going by his recent statements that is open to question) but it falls comfortably within the realm of practical politics. It is, as the Americans would say, a “done deal”, something that pragmatic men have to make their peace with. Fernandes and his party have made that peace. Unlike Mamata Banerjee, M. Karunanidhi or N. Chandrababu Naidu, Fernandes does not protest too much; as a man of some literary culture he knows that Faustian compacts don’t come with indemnity clauses.

The point I want to make is that among the several NDA consorts of the BJP, Fernandes occupies slightly higher moral ground than, say, Mamata Banerjee. He also understands the notion of collective responsibility within a cabinet system of government rather better than she does. He has been deafeningly silent on every controversy about the BJP’s attitude towards minorities: the Gujarat government’s sectarianism, the attacks on Christians and now, on the Babri Masjid debate, he has broken his silence to offer the BJP his vocal support. I loathe his politics, but I admire his consistency: he understands that in partnerships, political or commercial, each party is unli- mitedly liable for the actions of other partners. When L.K. Advani said on November 15, that ideology had nothing to do with governance, he could have been speaking for his colleague, the defence minister.

Banerjee, Naidu and Karunanidhi don’t understand this, or they feign not to understand. Their position on the Babri Masjid issue, which the prime minister recently stoked into malevolent life, is exactly the same as the Samata Party’s. Which is that the masjid business doesn’t really matter, not enough, at any rate, to check out of the BJP’s seraglio. But unlike the admirably silent Fernandes, the dynamic Banerjee has the energy to run with the hare and hunt with the hounds. She at once gives succour to beleaguered Muslims and Christians while keeping her seat on the juggernaut that rides them down.

Her recent behaviour gives us not just clues but a roadmap to her political priorities. When government subsidies on kerosene and cooking gas were cut, she resigned her cabinet ministership and forced the government into some token relief. When the Punjab Howrah Mail had an accident in which forty-two people died, her conscience went into spasm and she offered her resignation to the prime minister again.

But when the prime minister spoke the same language on the Babri Masjid as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and reiterated his hard line on temple-building over and over again, when he described as nationalist a communal mobilization that had ended in pogroms in which thousands were killed, Banerjee merely got her Trinamool proxy, Sudip Bandopadhyay to make a few ritual noises about the common minimum programme. This time the BJP gave no ground at all except to rhetorically reiterate its commitment to the aforesaid programme. With this Banerjee had to be content.

It doesn’t seem to have upset her overly: apart from pro forma threats to quit the NDA which the BJP quite sensibly didn’t dignify with a reply, she voted for the government in Parliament and subsided. No resignation; she didn’t even threaten to resign. So, in Banerjee’s book the Babri Masjid isn’t a critical issue; it doesn’t even merit the political charade that she put on for kerosene price hike and the railway accident.

Why should the Trinamool’s acquiescence in this matter worry anyone today? After all, Banerjee along with her other “secular” allies have legitimized and propped up this government for more than a year now. The reason is simple: the NDA’s cuddly mascot, Vajpayee, has, for the first time, used the same language as Ashok Singhal and Giriraj Kishore of the VHP without apology or camouflage. This should matter to Banerjee: even the fig leaf’s gone walkabout.

Advani and Uma Bharti have brazenly tried to discredit the government’s own investigation agency, the Central Bureau of Investigation simply because the CBI has found reason to believe that Advani and Bharti were actively involved in the plan to level the Babri Masjid. Advani, in a wonderful revealing aside to Bharti, implied that the CBI’s findings in the Masjid case were reason enough for her to be sceptical about the CBI’s investigation of matchfixing in cricket! Clearly, Mohammed Azharuddin and Advani — match-fixer and mosque-fixer — need to make common cause against the CBI.

Nobody, certainly not Banerjee, will be able to accuse the BJP of not giving notice of its intentions. Vajpayee has categorically declared that he has more in common with the VHP than he does with the Trinamool or the TDP.

From now on, every day that Mamata Banerjee stays in office, she lends the BJP’s Ram mandir programme her tacit support. She becomes complicit in Advani’s stated intention to ignore any charges framed by the CBI. She pawns what is left of her credibility as a secular leader to help make the BJP’s agenda the common sense of Indian politics. Instead of Vajpayee (who, by his own admission, is miscast in the role), she becomes the secular mascot of the BJP.

[email protected]    


 
 
THE TELEGRAPH DIARY 
 
 
 
 

Know the robes

You thought the BJP reserved its sharpshooters only for Parliament? Wrong. There are snipers in its rank as well, who bring out their guns only when pressed. One such person is the star turned politician and the party’s member in the Lok Sabha from Gurdaspur, Vinod Khanna. He was provoked into action when the firebrand saffron-robed minister of sports and youth affairs, Uma Bharti, sought to trip him. Khanna had addressed her as sanyasi, rather than sanyasin and Bharti promptly reminded the former hero of the lapse. Khanna replied in a flash that for someone who has become a sanyasi, the gender is unimportant. “A monk whether male or female will still be a monk”, the star shot back. For once the usually voluble Bharti was rendered speechless and she remained so even as a senior journalist sitting with them pointed out to her that Khanna himself had, and not too long ago, embraced Rajneesh’s philosophy and worn the trademark ochre clothes to become Swami Vinod Bharati. So Bharti meets her match in Bharati?

Which side won?

The recent hullabaloo in Parliament might have given the nation nothing, but to both the BJP and the Congress, it has given them their star performers. The new president of the Congress was on the lookout for a credible face who could communicate the party’s view articulately. She found her man in Jaipal Reddy. This witty former spokesperson of the United Front was without a job, following his return to the Congress after almost two decades, till madam chose him to move the Congress motion seeking the resignation of the three cabinet ministers. His vocal performance in Parliament has served him well. Madam is reportedly planning to nominate him in the Congress working committee and even make him the party spokesperson. On the other side of the opposition benches, the discovery has been no less spectacular. In his relatively short stint in Parliament, the Union law minister, Arun Jaitley, has made his mark as a forceful speaker. So impressed was LK Advani by Jaitley’s cogently argued rebuttal of Reddy that he personally sought him out at the Parliament’s central hall to congratulate the minister. Since Advani graces this centre of gossip only sparingly, his presence made obvious the enthusiasm. As contending teams carry back their trophies, will they stop to think how much they really cost?

Gifts on offer

It’s festival time, remember? Also time for politicians to practice their game of oneupmanship. The prime minister, the biggest benefactor during these times, has shifted the venue of iftar from Hyderabad House, where it is traditionally held, to a five star hotel. The plan is to provide a luxurious ambience to poor Muslim rozedars on December 19. Incidentally, the fare was offered after Muslim organizations gave a call to boycott Vajpayee’s iftar. Madam of 10 Janpath will play host two days after the prime minister. Her iftar on December 21 will supposedly be a treat in Avadhi cuisine. Lucknow’s famous Tunde kebabs, kakori kebabs, keema samosas, rogan josh, firni, biryani and a series of Mughlai dishes have apparently been personally cleared by Sonia Gandhi. She is also said to have approved of the 700 strong guest list on the basis of which invitations have been sent to Muslim theology schools such as Nadwa, Deoband, imamat-e-sharia, Patna to Nizamuddin, Ajmer. Celebrating in style. Wonder what the return gifts will be.

Coming to his rescue

Samata Party president, Jaya Jaitly, is hopping mad. Reason not unknown. She thinks her daughter’s fiancé, Ajay Jadeja, has been unfairly blackballed by the BCCI out of the national squad. At a recent dinner party at the house of the capital’s more prominent fixers, Jaitly harangued the beautiful people with tales about the injustice done to Jadeja. She apparently wants some good samaritan to file a public interest litigation against the BCCI ban. As before, the glib talk failed. None was ready to take part in this dubious enterprise. Why doesn’t the lady believe the game’s up?

Spare the child

Baby Rehan Rajiv Gandhi Vadra was there to drop granny off at Parliament for an onerous task. As expected, Congressmen queued up for a darshan. Sensing tamasha, Priyanka ordered the driver to speed up. Shouldn’t Congresswallahs remind themselves of the words of the soothsayers — no politics for this one.

Footnote/ Colour of the man

This is about someone showing off his true colours. City mayor and Trinamool Congress leader, Subrata Mukherjee, is under observation by partymen. The mayor is becoming too “friendly” with the left, much to the embarrassment of didi. The party suspects Subrata is a true watermelon after all. Trinamool men in disguise are reported to be attending functions where Mukherjee is sharing the platform either with the chief minister, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, or the urban development minister, Ashok Bhattacharya. Mukherjee has also been caught ducking party responsibilities. A press conference was organized recently at Nizam Palace where the mayor was to address newspersons as the party spokesman. Subrata did not turn up, despite several reminders from Mamata Banerjee’s Kalighat residence. Given the situation, detractors are lobbying with didi to prevent Mukherjee’s nomination from the Chowringhee assembly seat which he won on a Congress ticket last time. Mukherjee loyalists however regard the fuss as a conspiracy to malign Subratada. Can chameleons be blamed for changing colour?    

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Reward for active inaction

Sir — Postal employees have been on strike for a week now. For their period of inaction, they will be penalized by having deductions made in their salaries, and if forced to withdraw the strike, they may earn an even greater penalty for paralysing one of the essential services of the country. On the other hand, the winter session of Parliament has nearly come to an end without bringing up most of the important issues on the agenda. The primary reason behind this is the continuous disruption of proceedings by the opposition, demanding the resignation of three Union ministers. And yet, not one penny will be deducted from the paycheques of the irresponsible parliamentarians. Isn’t this an instance of discrimination?
Yours faithfully,
Sumanta Sarkar, Calcutta

Bush fire

Sir — Sanmay Ganguly’s letter (“American precedent”, Nov 13) made certain suggestions about the Republican Party and how it will affect India-United States relations if it came into power. Now that George W. Bush has become president, one thing needs to be pointed out. Bush displayed a moderate attitude during the visit by the Indian prime minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, appearing soft on the issue of the comprehensive test ban treaty and other arms control measures. But this does not make him more suitable for the presidentship of the US. There are still many reasons to be wary about the nature of Indo-US relations.

We cannot slot this relationship under cordial, cold, correct, conflictual or any such category. It has been one long roller-coaster ride of love and hate. Henry Kissinger described it as “some kind of marriage periodically marred by suspicion, jealousy and even occasional infidelity”.

It is true that Bill Clinton’s and Vajpayee’s efforts have reduced the acute discomfort in diplomatic ties between the two countries over the last few months. But with a new Republican president, a fresh start has to be made.

Yours faithfully,
Rajesh Kumar Sharma, Kankinara

Sir — The article, “Abortive focus on morality” (Nov 7), has described the US anti-abortion movement as “pro-life”. This is a clever play on words that the media the world over has been gullible enough to adopt. They can very well use the term “anti-abortion”.

Many of the so-called “pro-lifers” are opposed to abortion even when the mother’s life is threatened — the best example among proponents of this view being Mother Teresa.

George W. Bush is another champion of the “pro-life” cause. Scores of prisoners are sent to the electric chair in the state of Texas. But this is quite all right with him. He has also consistently defended the US gun-lobby, paying little heed to the rise in crime, including the repeated massacres unleashed by American schoolchildren in the recent past.

Bush is also totally opposed to environmental protection and does not wish to impose any restrictions on the oil companies; he wants to conduct drilling in Alaska.

Bush is the classic combination of anti-abortion and hardline, rightwing views. The US would have done well without such a conservative president.

Yours faithfully,
A. Chatterjee, London

Sir — The recent allegations of the left parties that India since independence have been under the influence of US imperialism is utterly baseless. The irregularities in the recent presidential elections, which took the whole world by surprise, seem to indicate that the influence of Indians is far more powerful on the US.

Indians are very good at manipulating the electoral process. This is practised in each round of elections here. And we have actually managed to influence the Americans deeply. Therefore the left parties’ allegations are entirely baseless.

Yours faithfully,
Ave Kutty, Calcutta

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