Editorial / Queering the pitch
The first and last empress
People/ Govind Sarda
The Telegraph Diary
Letters to the editor

Politicians assume, as a matter of course, that they know about everything and therefore can manage any institution. Thus the trend in India of politicians lobbying and campaigning to head sports associations. The unseemly battle between the former Indian cricket captain, Ajit Wadekar, and the politician, Mr Sharad Pawar, to be the president of the Mumbai Cricket Association is not without precedent. Other politicians before Mr Pawar have jockeyed and assumed positions of power in bodies like the Indian Football Association. The Congress leader, Mr Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, is the president of the All India Football Federation. It is difficult to explain this thirst for position on the part of politicians. Mr Pawar is not particularly well-known as a lover of cricket, nor is his knowledge of and enthusiasm for the game on record. For Mr Pawar, the Mumbai Cricket Association is no more than a pawn in a bigger political strategy. It would not be unfair to say that his interest in the Mumbai Cricket Association grows out of political rivalry: the association has as its president, Mr Manohar Joshi, the union heavy industry minister and senior Shiv Sena leader. Mr Pawar is in the fray because he wants to replace his political enemy. The fact that both, Mr Pawar and Mr Joshi, have little or nothing to do with the world of cricket is not brought into consideration.

The involvement of politicians with the running of sports bodies is not always beneficial for sports. For one thing, political leaders seldom have time to devote to the running of the concerned associations. They become ornamental figureheads and run the association through their lackeys and retainers. With politicians come politics. Politicians tend to use the association as a centre for patronage distribution. This makes the associations the focus of intrigue, nepotism and even of corruption. Through these processes, sports associations move further and further away from sports. Politicians, because they enjoy the power that they exercise, are notorious for their interference in matters far removed from their expertise. Thus, it will not occur to a politician who is the president of a sports administration that he should not intervene in matters like the selection of a team. In innumerable ways, the entry of politicians into the world of sports is not a healthy thing and should in principle be opposed. It is too much to expect that Indian politicians, given their nature and their propensity to squeeze out all advantages from their positions, will of their own accord abandon their greed to dominate sports bodies. The associations themselves, through their members, will have to bolster their own courage and resources, and work towards keeping politicians away from sports.

It would be wrong, of course, to convey the impression that Mr Pawar is alone in bringing politics into the Mumbai Cricket Association. Politics and politicians are already very much entrenched in the association. The very presence of Mr Joshi is proof of this. Also, Mr Pawar’s contender for the post of president, Ajit Wadekar, has called to his support the enormous influence of Mr Bal Thackeray. Wadekar cannot blame observers for suspecting that he is actually Mr Thackeray’s candidate by proxy. Wadekar’s statement that Mr Thackeray has more claims on the Mumbai Cricket Association than Mr Pawar because the former used to come to the Dadar grounds with tiffin boxes to watch cricket is appalling. The statement is also an indication of how sycophantic some players can be towards politicians. Indeed, it is this failure and feeling of insecurity on the part of players which initially permitted the entry of politicians into the world of sports. Players have no reason to feel diffident on their own turf. The Mumbai Cricket Association or any other well-known sports body is famous and important because of the players that have come out of it. It is thus fit and proper that the sportsmen themselves should man and run the associations which, in a sense, they themselves have made. Politicians already enjoy too much power and influence in India. Players should not add to politicians’ sense of self-importance.


With the 100th anniversary of the death of the first empress of India (saving Raziya) falling on Monday, it is apposite to recall that the self-created title’s last holder is alive and well enough for her 100 years, albeit with a broken collar bone and an unsteady step that almost brought her down as she left church last Sunday. Between Victoria, the first Kaiser-i-Hind, and Queen Elizabeth, the queen-mother, widow of the last, India faded from Britain’s consciousness though Indians loomed large and vibrant.

The shift is not noticeable here at Oxford where the only Indians I have seen are a few working women in salwar-kameez pushing trolleys in the supermarket. But dreaming spires do not so easily forget the historic connection with five thousand years of cultural continuity. Though no one can tell me about the lectureship that a Pundit Shymamaji Krishnavarma founded at Oxford in 1904, Corpus Christi is bidding for the proposed chair in Indian studies. It would be nice meanwhile to learn something about the pundit who wrote letters to The Times from Paris, contributed to a London publication, The Indian Sociologist, and whom the Edwardian establishment regarded as seditious.

Time stands still in some respects at Corpus Christi, like the high table isolated in its pool of conviviality, but races ahead in others. I had to hunt down a classicist for the precise meaning and spelling of “Benedictus benedicat!” the grace that resonates among the rafters of the vaulted hall. The new president is Oxford’s strongest link with India. Fresh from the School of Oriental and African Studies, Sir Tim Lankester, the picture of tousled informality, is a modern man as befits an economist and civil servant, the first non-academic head in five centuries. Having served such diverse political bosses as James Callaghan and Margaret Thatcher, worked for the World Bank and been posted in New Delhi, he will undoubtedly ensure that learning is geared to development.

India means only immigrants beyond the gray stone and skeletal winter trees, still waters and Christ Church’s frosted Meadow. I am told that a British Bengali civil servant, Suman Chakravarti, is slated to become HMG’s first ethnic Asian permanent secretary. Victoria would have been pleased. For did she not plead with Lord Salisbury to appoint Rafiuddin Ahmed, a friend of her beloved Munshi, Abdul Karim, to the British embassy in Constantinople? Prescient beyond her times, she was acting on the same sound cultural principle that recently sent Sikkim’s Karma Topden as India’s ambassador to Mongolia.

Drawing a blank, the canny Kaiser-i-Hind tried to persuade her government to use Rafiuddin to collect intelligence from Muslims worldwide. He had studied at Gray’s Inn, wrote for a periodical called The Nineteenth Century, and Balliol’s great Professor Benjamin Jowett had recommended him to Arthur Godley, permanent under-secretary of state at the India Office. These were formidable qualifications for a high-flying intelligence agent, a 19th-century Kim Philby.

But, in a disparaging comment that echoes down the years, Victoria’s courtiers dismissed Rafiuddin as “a journalist and a meddler”. Worse, they accused him of selling state secrets to the Afghans. “These Injuns” was how Sir Henry Ponsonby, the queen’s secretary, referred to Abdul Karim and his circle.

Today’s “Injuns” have wiped out the intervening decades to become the true inheritors of the Munshi of whom they have never heard. Every country has a core culture to which newcomers try to adjust. Past generations of foreigners, whether French Huguenots, Flemish weavers, Jewish tradespeople and others, sought merger in the mainstream so that the children of W.C. Bonnerjee’s son, Shelley, who dropped the family surname, or Michael Madhusudan Dutt’s Dutton descendants are as lost to their origins as any Dutch Bentinck or French Santer. Not for them a new-fangled multicultural British identity.

Now, however, the insistence on halal meat, the demand for Friday holiday, investment in temples, the ebullience with which Holi, Diwali and Dussehra are celebrated, and organized pilgrimages to the Kumbh mela speak of a determination to stand out. Prince Charles’s suggestion that the monarch’s Defender of the Faith title should be revised to Defender of Faiths indicated the heir to the throne’s support for the concept of a Britain that boasts more than one religious pole.

Afro-Caribbeans probably began it all, subcontinentals joining them in assertive multiculturalism to comprise the “New British” whose dialect and demeanour some English commentators find distasteful. The Munshi may have been a charlatan, but the cultural dignity on which he stood even as he used his English connections to speculate in property in Uttar Pradesh proclaimed him the father of successful modern multiculturalism. Another trend he set: Victoria’s doctor found a different tongue each time he examined “Mrs Karim”. But it was his influence that prompted the queen to write, spelling and punctuation eccentric as always, “I agree with the Mohammedans that duty towards ones Parents — goes before every other but that is not taught as part of religion in Europe.”

Many strands link the Munshi’s England with Chakravarti’s — an undying addiction to pagan ritual, a sturdy sense of justice that middle-class Indians who have done well here are strangely reluctant to acknowledge, and, of course, royalty’s central role. Each bears elaboration.

A hubbub down the road at All Souls on Sunday night resolved itself into a torchlight throng following a wooden decoy duck held aloft on a pole while a learned don in a sedan chair sang bizarre and sometimes lewd lyrics as he urged the crowd “hunting the mallard” to run ever faster. Celebrated only once a century, it was originally a “debauched and raucous” event to commemorate the wild duck that was surprised in a ditch when All Souls was being built in 1438, and in 1801 the roistering Fellows hunted and killed a live mallard and laced their wine with its blood. The tragic death in north London of an eight-year-old Nigerian girl at the hands of an Ivory Coast adherent of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God who believed she was driving demons out of the child was also a piece of tribalism but from which the savagery had not been exorcised.

Second, Victoria’s sense of social justice transcended the exotic appeal of her Munshi or Duleepsinghji. She complained that there were not enough Indians in the 1898 birthday honours, and ensured that Salisbury apologized for calling Dadabhoy Naoroji “a black man”. But she did more, constantly holding up as an example the butcher’s son who became archbishop, bestowing medals on Indian women who worked to reduce maternity deaths and demanding more honours for humbly-born self-made men in Britain. Disregard of race was a detail of her overriding belief in merit.

Someone wrote the other day that while Victoria’s voice can be heard loud and clear, no one knows what the queen-mother or her reigning daughter thinks. That is not quite correct. Friends in Marlborough House used to recount during the Thatcher years how hard Queen Elizabeth battled her prime minister to keep the commonwealth secretariat in her grandmother’s palace. That commitment gives the monarchy a sympathetic international dimension.

India is overlooked among the reasons for its fading aura. But on the train to Caernarvon to cover the Prince of Wales’s investiture 32 years ago, an Englishwoman lamented perspicaciously that “royal occasions hadn’t been the same since those dear maharajas stopped coming!” Even in the Sixties, people said it was a shame that George VI, whom Krishna Menon called a friend of India and for whom Clement Attlee sought a title “from India’s heroic age”, “didn’t get his durbar”. If Victoria’s assumption of the Kaiser-i-Hind title was to establish parity with the German and Russian emperors, as The Statesman commented, it may not be surprising that the disappearance of those magic words, Ind Imp, diminishes the otherwise fondly regarded last empress, even in loyal British eyes.




The last time the Sarda family was in the public eye, it was for an entirely different reason. It was not too long ago, last November to be precise. Govind Sarda’s son Aditya was getting married. Instead of the sangeet, which is part and parcel of a Marwari wedding, they decided to have a musical function based on The Sound of Music. The Sarda children had just been to Austria for a vacation and had picked up some folk dancing steps. This family event was such a big hit that it was soon the talk of Calcutta social circles. It even made it to the gossip columns of newspapers and magazines. Govind Sarda did not mind.

This time round the publicity has come his way for the ghastly incident at the Baranagar Jute Mill last Saturday and, understandably enough, the 43-year-old reluctant jute baron wants no part of that. “I am media shy and I don’t want any publicity,” he says in his Theatre Road office. .

The nondescript office is that of Colmac Chemicals, one of the many companies owned by the Sardas of which Govind Sarda is the head. Inside, past the row of cramped cubicles and desks, is a swank little room. Much of the room is taken up by a huge marble top table. There are some crystal knick-knacks on the table. There are no visible signs of jute anywhere. No jute fabric curtain the windows where pink plastic blinds hang; there is not a hint of jute in Govind Sarda’s charcoal grey suit or the shirt and sweater of his youngest brother, Jagdish. But the carpet must have had a jute backing..

That is exactly how the Sardas would prefer to keep their relationship with the dying jute industry. Everyone may say so, but Govind Sarda certainly does not fancy himself as the owner of the Baranagar Jute Mill where the managers and workers were involved in a bloody conflict last week. “I organise funds for the sick mills in jute industry. There are over 20 such mills which I have financed the way I have given money to the Baranagar Jute Mill. But that doesn’t mean I am the owner of all these mills. If lending is a criterion to become owner, then all the banks and financial institutions are owners of the units they have funded,” he protests vehemently..

The ownership pattern of the jute mills today is something that would stop even the Biggest Bull in his tracks. Very often the workers don’t know whom to turn to for the opening of a ‘locked out’ mill or even for the payment of their long-outstanding statutory dues..

Govind Sarda is quick to distance himself from that breed. “Some newspapers called me a fly-by-night operator. What they don’t know is that my family has been dealing with raw jute for more than a 100 years,” he fumes. “I can tell you, no dues are pending in two of my units, Eastern Jute Mill and Empire Jute Mill,” he claims. And, unlike most other jute mill owners, he says he does not even speculate on the stock market. The state of affairs makes him very sad. “My efforts to revive sick units should have been praised But unfortunately I have been portrayed as the villain for no fault of mine,” he laments..

Even though jute was already a sunset industry by then, Govind Sarda cut his milk teeth in a jute mill. “I put in thousands of hours of work with the workers in a jute mill in Kashipur because my father wanted me to learn the hard way,” he claims..

Brother Jagdish can no longer contain himself. “Stupidity and basic Indian sentimentality — these are the reasons why we have stuck to jute. It is more a hobby than a business. But we have learnt a big lesson. We are never going to invest in labour-intensive industries again,” he bursts out. “Already, jute accounts for only 10-12% of our total business. Rest comes from exports, which has a turnover of Rs 300 crore, and other business like tea, chemicals, food processing and software,” he points out..

The moment jute goes out of the conversation, the air becomes more relaxed. The elder Sarda recounts with pride the number of sick units he has made viable: “We took over Colmac Chemical from IOL and made it profitable. Then there is the Raichak food processing centre which we took over from the West Bengal government.” .

What really makes Govind Sarda beam is talk of his son, Aditya, the one who got married in November. Aditya has just come back from America after majoring in management info systems at Boston university and is already giving new shape to his father’s business. A software company which specialises in solution providing was started last year in Calcutta and has already broken even, a proud father reels off..

Govind Sarda himself is steeped in the old ways. “Every time my brothers have given me a credit card, I have given it back. I’m not made for such things,” he says. “I don’t smoke, drink or even touch Pan Parag,” he adds for good measure. This is followed by a list of charities and homoeopathic hospitals that he runs. “Belief in astrology and homoeopathy is like believing in God,” he says reverently. Astrology has helped him overcome many obstacles in business, he says. .

What the stars foretell for him right now he will not say. He does spell out his plans to set up a jute mill in Haryana where work culture is much more “industry friendly” than the state the Sardas have made home for 130 years now. It will also help him to be closer to the market because Haryana and Punjab are the two most prolific crop producing states. Since foodstuff has to be packaged in jute bags according to the mandatory jute packaging order, it will help to have a jute mill in the area..

Jute is in his blood. It’s not so easy to give it up. That is why, try as he might, he cannot brush the Baranagar incident under the carpet. Even Govind Sarda knows by now that he will be identified with jute and Baranagar for a long time to come.



Man for all purposes

This is a man with several missions. All ye who thought that the president of the West Bengal unit of the Congress was Pranab Mukherjee in his last avatar, please pummel your brains again. Besides this menial duty in the state, Mukherjee has to perform as chairman of the AICC panel on Kashmir, he has been asked to head the party’s drafting committee for the Bangalore plenary and now he has direct orders from the madam of 10, Janpath herself to bell a famous cat who seems to have more than nine lives. Pranabda will be dutifully leaving for Chennai soon to hold negotiations with the heavyweight AIADMK chief, J Jayalalitha. Sonia-Jaya are not on the best of terms, one indication that tea party friendships don’t last very long. But a holy alliance with the AIADMK is a must for Congress fortunes to look up in Tamil Nadu. Sonia has sent enough feelers to Jayalalitha through her previous emissaries like Manmohan Singh, Arjun Singh and RK Dhawan. They have all failed to impress her. In fact Jayalalitha even refused to have any dealings with the AICC general secretary in charge, Ghulam Nabi Azad, on grounds that she never considered him a “leader”. So is it now up to Mukherjee to lead the lady up the Poes Garden path?

Wild oats of youth

One obviously doesn’t want to recall everything one did in the flush of youth. Certainly not the chief minister of West Bengal. The problem is in having friends and party colleagues who spill the beans in public. Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee was recently reminded of one such “sordid” event in the Sixties by Anil Biswas at a function organized by the members of the party’s youth wing, the Democratic Youth Federation of India, to felicitate their “beloved founder general secretary”. The CM was visibly embarrassed when colleague Biswas told the gathering that Bhattacharjee as a DYFI leader had pulled down the US flag from the American Centre in Calcutta while leading an anti-imperialist demonstration years ago. Biswas also added that when Buddha as state home (police) minister wanted to arrest some DYFI activists for organizing a violent demonstration at the same site, he discouraged the minister, reminding him of his own activism. When the function ended, scribes ran to Bhattacharjee to hear more about his colourful past. Buddha didn’t oblige and left, suppressing a smile. Just as well. What if leftist youths tried to emulate their “model” leader by pulling down the US consulate itself?

Love’s labours lost...and won?

Return of the prodigal. Former Congresswallah and Olympian, Aslam Sher Khan, is trying to come back to the parent organization. Khan had definitely wandered. First with the BJP and then with the NCP, Khan nevertheless is confident he will find doors open. He is in fact planning to return home with a bang. Aslam intends to bring back as gifts all those who left the Congress during the Sitaram Kesri era and then “unite” breakaways like the Trinamool Congress and the Tamil Maanila Congress. That’s a tall order. But according to the wristy half-back, there are plenty of ex-ConA new state has been bad news for the Madhya Pradesh chief minister, Digvijay Singh. Diggy Raja had to forsake his private jet for a more mundane airline first. Then he found that the flights between New Delhi and Bhopal did not suit him at all. So he has started taking the Tamil Nadu Express instead. Singh has handed over his uran khatola to his Chattisgarhi counterpart, Ajit Jogi, who happily shuttles between Raipur and New Delhi quite frequently. For Digvijay, its the more plebeian night train that is serving as the link with the capital. That’s what it is to fall on hard times.

The secret of power

At a recent seminar on power organized by the Delhi government, speakers waxed eloquent on the need for better power generation and distribution...and the power went off. A speaker questioned Delhi’s immense consumption of power since it failed to produce even a quarter of the requirements. Its the seat of power, remember?

Footnote / Chiefly of stardust and tinsel

Star attraction. And the Bihar chief minister, Rabri Devi, is not immune to it. She will soon be meeting Hollywood star, Steven Seagal, and Bollywood gems like Shah Rukh Khan, Hrithik Roshan, Amir Khan and others. Rabri apparently has been bothering her husband over her failure to meet Bill Clinton on the latter’s visit to India last year. Laloo has convinced her that Seagal is no less a celebrity than the president of America and good wife that Rabri is, she has accepted the word of her sahib. The couple is supposed to be in Mumbai in connection with the wedding of Bihar’s minister for power and energy, Shyam Rajat, to the sister of one Vikas Verma, who provides security cover for Bollywood bigwigs and for Hollywood stars whenever they visit India. Rabri is reported to be particularly excited about meeting Shah Rukh. The CM has not missed any of the star’s blockbusters, be it Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, Dil Se or Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. The CM is said to have enjoyed watching Mohabbatein as well, although she is a bit worried about heroines not wearing enough. Was she thinking of Bihar’s belles or her own daughters?    


Babies always out

Sir — So babies have also entered the global market as commodities that can be bought by the click of the mouse (“Transatlantic tug-of-love over Internet babies”, Jan 18)? Next we’ll have people placing orders for babies yet to be born, or worse, yet to be conceived. This particular instance of child sale shows how gross the entire process is. While the mother has few qualms about selling and then re-selling her babies through an adoption agency for a higher price, adopting couples have little reservation about haggling over the greenbacks they have had to shell out for the two bundles. Will the children, when they grow up, ever forgive their mother for being bought and then sold again?
Yours faithfully
J. Sen, Calcutta

Painted black

Sir — Ashok Mitra’s article, “Dwindling Bounty” (Jan 3), exposes a strong communist bias. He must understand that non-resident Indian wealth is not all remitted black money channelled back into the economy, although it is true that the ill-gotten wealth of mafia dons in Dubai and Pakistan is pumped into the Bombay film industry. There are genuine NRI investments, albeit small in amount. This is likely to shrink further if attitudes like Mitra’s persist.

Mitra’s disgust for NRIs is unjustified. Every Indian in fact should take pride in the fact that their countrymen have created enormous wealth by their excellence in the United States, Australia and Europe. Their leaving India, contrary to Mitra’s argument, does not make them non-Indians. That these people have left the country is not because they lack patriotism but because they do not have the work environment and their merit is not valued.

Brain drain is not just about high salaries and perquisites, all of which are now available in India. Political corruption is the root of all evil. The present political system should be replaced with a presidential form of government in which professionals can be inducted for effecting real progress.

Yours faithfully,
S. Ramakrishnan, via email

Sir — Ashok Mitra rightly comments on the condescending attitude of NRIs and hints at their being wrongly treated as saviours of the open economy of our country. NRIs need to be given a better platform for conducting business in this country. But it is unbecoming of India to exploit them on sentimental grounds.

The mantra for turning around the economy lies in the hands of the government. It can adopt firm policies on taxes, investments, shares and holdings and quality management. Sick public enterprises can be handed over to the private sector. The government may also consider steps for increasing foreign direct investment. The state governments could endeavour for more NRI investment in their respective states.

Yours faithfully,
Dhrubajyoti De, via email

Wrong version

Sir — The caption for the photograph on page 8 of the January 15 Orissa edition of The Telegraph (which read, “Reader’s delight”) is misleading.The picture shows the Oriya version of a book being released by the archbishop at a function in Soochana Bhavan in Bhubaneswar. The book however is not Bharat Alive, as printed, but Burnt Alive or Jeevanta Dagdha. It portrays the tragic death of Graham Staines and his two minor sons. They were torched while in a van by a party of Hindu fanatics.

Yours faithfully
Ramesh Pradhan and two others, Bhubaneswar

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