Editorial / That deadly puff
Looking beyond the boundary
People / Late Rajmata Vijayaraje Scindia
The Telegraph Diary
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL / THAT DEADLY PUFF 
 
 
 
 
For non-smokers, this is very good news. The tobacco products (prohibition of advertisement and regulation) bill that will be placed in Parliament promises to have more bite than the Cigarettes (Regulation of Production, Supply and Distribution) Act, 1975. Matched with similar legislations in the states, such as the bill being proposed in West Bengal, the drive against cigarette smoking in India seems set to get somewhere. The producers of cigarettes get the heavier punishment. The ban, once legalized, will stop the advertisement of tobacco products and cigarette producing companies will not be allowed to sponsor cultural or sporting events. The smoker will be penalized for smoking in public places, like hospitals, restaurants, parks and public offices, in airports, railway stations or in an auditorium. The limiting of smoking space is undoubtedly a good thing for the passive smoker and for children. It will mean a positive step for public health if passive smoking is reduced.

Public health being the principle on display, the question is, though, what this envisaged public is. The passive smokers certainly, and they have their rights. But a ban by law brings with it a baggage that has to be looked at closely. The smoker, also included in the “public”, has chosen to smoke his brand of damnation freely. He, or she, can read the statutory warning on every packet — the letters will be enlarged henceforth. The worldwide anti-smoking movement has made available plenty of scientific and polemical material to discourage smoking. But a government ban invokes an almost criminal aura around an act. A law against smoking sticks itself into what is part of personal conduct and private choice. In effect, it gives the non-smoker’s voice precedence over the smoker’s under the pretext of health on the one hand, and says that the smoker is a benighted fool who does not know what is good for him on the other. Neither is acceptable. To prevent smoking in public spaces, the building up of social opinion about civic conduct through a determined awareness-raising programme could be as effective, if not more so, in the long run. If public health is the issue, then there is likely to be more smoking in permitted spaces, including the home. Besides, Indian women who smoke cigarettes seldom do so in public spaces anyway.

Very few countries in the world with anti-smoking laws have registered any remarkable success in reducing the number of smokers. Of these, one of the most determined is Singapore, where a smoker can be fined up to $ 600 for lighting up while waiting for a taxi or a bus. After 28 years of increasingly stringent laws, 18 per cent of the population still smokes. That is not the end of the story. In Singapore, as in numerous other places, bans on tobacco smoking have simply hiked up the number of drug users. Addiction is a very human attribute, intricately tied in with pleasure-and-reward cycles in the brain. Even the United States, one of the most passionate witch-hunters in the anti-smoking campaign, is beginning to realize that the battle against drugs is almost lost. Throughout the US and Europe, the emphasis is beginning to shift from legislations, bans and penalties to rehabilitation.

In India, a Western-style anti-smoking legislation is rather out of place. In an effort to punish the producers, the proposed law will simply undermine minority activities in the spheres of culture and sports. The impact of ITC’s withdrawal from the sponsorship of sporting events is just beginning to sink in. This, together with the fact that the anti-tobacco move in effect targets cigarette smokers only, rather blunts the larger point. The economic class at the receiving end excludes the bidi smoker. Or the chewer of tobacco leaves. And many other travellers down the same primrose way. Any intervention into an area of free choice is bound to breed these anomalies. And if it is a Western model that must be followed for the sake of political correctness, India had better learn the bitter lessons of the West too. In the interests of public health, it must know how to beat the whole phenomenon of addiction, whether the kick comes from sniffing industrial glue or from a shot of cocaine.

   

 
 
LOOKING BEYOND THE BOUNDARY 
 
 
BY J.N. DIXIT
 
 
Li Peng, chairman of the standing committee of the National People’s Congress of China (the Chinese parliament) visited India in the first half of January accompanied by a large delegation of Chinese officials, businessmen and political aides. The significance of the visit has to be assessed in terms of his personal contributions to Sino-Indian relations over the last decade, his current significance in the Chinese political system and the regional environment in which he undertook this visit to India.

Li Peng has a certain external image of having been the architect of the suppression of the Tiananmen Square democratic movement in 1989. Singling him out as the sole leader responsible for the decision would be unfair. It was a collective decision by the orthodox and authoritarian segment of the leadership of the Communist Party led by Deng Xiaoping. The twin motives which Li Peng manifested at that point of time were to focus on China’s economic modernization and reforms and to ensure the necessary political stability of the Chinese state. It must be remembered that Li Peng and the senior leadership of China had the disintegration of the Soviet Union very much in mind when facing the upsurge of democratic impulses questioning the authorities in China.

In moral terms, Li Peng emerges as a negative and authoritarian persona, but in terms of realpolitik Deng Xiaoping and Li Peng ensured the continuation of China’s journey down the path of modernization and world-power status. Of greater relevance is the role that Li Peng played in Sino-Indian relations during his tenure as the prime minister of China till 1996-1997 and thereafter. It was during Li Peng’s premiership that high level visits between India and China were revived after Rajiv Gandhi’s path-breaking visit to Beijing in December 1988. Li Peng’s visit to New Delhi and discussions with the then prime minister, P.V. Narasimha Rao, translated the decision taken during Rajiv Gandhi’s meetings with Deng Xiaoping into operational policies. Substantial negotiations were undertaken by the Sino-Indian joint working group on the boundary question which led to the signing of the Sino-Indian agreement on the maintenance of peace on the line of actual control in September 1993.

The former president, R. Venkataraman, visited Beijing in May 1992, before Rao’s visit in September 1993. The present prime minister, Zhu Rongji, the Chinese president, Jiang Zemin, and the Chinese chief of the army staff visited India in the second half of the last decade. It would not be an exaggeration to point out that Li Peng’s assessment of India and his advice were an influential factor in these interactions. The substantive orientations in Sino-Indian relations these contacts signified were the following.

Both India and China decided to move away from the negative historical memories affecting their relations from 1960 to the Nineties. This, however, did not mean that China or India decided to bypass critical perceptions about each other or to reduce the importance of resolving specific critical issues, like the boundary dispute. In fact, a conscious decision was taken that since the boundary dispute is not likely to be resolved quickly, India and China should create and expand relations in all spheres where there is mutual complementarity and benefit. The prognostication being that the normalization and expansion of bilateral relations would create the necessary atmosphere of mutual trust, confidence and an inclination towards compromise which would resolve the boundary question.

Given this complementarity in each other’s needs in certain economic and technological spheres, bilateral relations stand acknowledged together with a decision to enhance cooperation in these fields. There are also certain multilateral issues like the management of environment, stipulation of external standards of human rights, World Trade Organization trading arrangements, on which there is a parallelism in Indian and Chinese approaches. Though there are fundamental differences between India and China on the issue of non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and related issues, China has adopted a realistic approach towards India on this matter, after the initial critical reactions because of India’s mentioning China as a specific factor leading to its nuclear weaponization. China’s defence supplies and defence cooperation relationship with Pakistan and its supplying materials and technology for Pakistan’s nuclear weaponization and missile weapons capacities have been a matter of concern to India which has been conveyed to China.

Li Peng’s visit to India was informed with an awareness of these trends. The significant characteristics of its politico-strategic environment should be noted. The critical and hostile fall-out of India’s nuclear weaponization has been overcome to some extent by the exchanges between the president, K.R. Narayanan and the external affairs minister, Jaswant Singh, and their Chinese counterparts over the last two years.

China’s security concerns are focused on the United States’ moving forward on programmes of theatre missile defence in the western Pacific and the development of national missile defence. The renewal of US-Japanese security arrangements is another security concern of China. China also faces centrifugal and fissiparous movements in Xinjiang and in Tibet. Though China has a record of economic achievements, it is still likely to face problems of unemployment, uncontrollable migration from rural to urban areas and the problem of food security.

China takes note of India’s nuclear weaponization and missile capacities as a factor affecting its security environment to some extent. India overcoming its political, economic and strategic isolation resulting from its nuclear tests of 1998, the qualitative improvement in India’s relations with the US and west Europe, India’s incremental acceptability in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and its participation in the ASEAN security forum are factors which have impinged on China’s India policy. Similarity in Chinese and Indian concerns about terrorism and narco-terrorism, about separatist and secessionist movements are also factors influencing Indian and Chinese attitudes towards each other. It is also pertinent to mention that Li Peng has been a consistent advocate of the normalization of Sino-Indian relations.

What then are the concrete results of Li Peng’s visit to India? Li Peng repeatedly articulated the objective that China wants a better relationship with India and that China is willing to have exchanges at high political levels with India on a continuous basis to resolve differences and to enhance cooperation.

During his exchanges with the Indian leaders, he acknowledged that the boundary dispute is an important issue. It was agreed between the two sides that the joint working group on the boundary question has not made sufficient progress in resolving the residual problems affecting the delineation of the line of actual control, which is a pre-requisite to resolving the boundary question. Li Peng conveyed to the prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, that China would like to complete work related to the line of actual control expeditiously so that the provisions of the 1993 agreement can be fully implemented, after which the substantive issue of the boundary may taken up by the joint working group.

Li Peng indicated China’s willingness to get Sino-Indian relations back on track by affirming that while the importance of the boundary issue could not be denied, China and India should focus on expanding economic and technological cooperation. Li Peng’s being in India for nine days and visiting Hyderabad and Bangalore underlines China’s interest not only in expanding economic relations but specifically expanding technological cooperation in the sphere of information technology.

Li Peng’s visit can be considered as one more important step in the normalization of relations between China and India since the contretemps of the Pokhran tests of 1998. There are, however, a number of important Indian concerns to which a more substantial and positive response from China is necessary, if bilateral relations are to reach the requisite levels of mutual trust and cooperation. There has to be a significant move forward for delineating the line of actual control and the Chinese side should agree to initiate discussions on the boundary question.

While India does not expect China to scale down its relations with Pakistan, China should reconsider the implications of the defence supplies and technological cooperation with Pakistan. While China has taken a neutral stand on the Kashmir issue, compared to its previous pro-Pakistani stance, it needs to be more forthright in acknowledging the parallel threats that India and China face in terms of cross-border terrorism, religious extremism and separatist movements. China must consider being more active in the processes of cooperative security in the south Asian and the southeast Asian regions, bilaterally as well as through multilateral mechanisms like the Asian Regional Forum.

While Li Peng’s visit has advanced Sino-Indian relations, India must be conscious of two factors in its China policies. First, that China still remains an uncertain competitive factor in regional strategic equations; second, that there are still a number of issues to be resolved and a long way to go before Sino-Indian relations are fully normalized.

The author is former foreign secretary of India    


 
 
PEOPLE / LATE RAJMATA VIJAYARAJE SCINDIA 
 
 
 
 

Angre man

Sardar Sambhaji Rao Angre, dressed in classic English tweeds, sits out the warm February afternoon on the front lawn of his Sainik Farms residence. “I have been in politics since the days of the British... You people are full of praise for them, but they were the biggest crooks,” he says, signalling to a male servant hovering respectfully in the distance. The man returns within seconds with a black deerstalker, which Angre places rakishly on his mostly bald pate. The irony of sartorially aping “the biggest crooks” down to their favourite weekend headgear is, of course, perfectly lost on Angre.

At 81, the man who is famously known for his proximity to the late Rajmata Vijayaraje Scindia, is where he loves to be best: at the epicentre of a Scindia family feud. This one was actually ignited by Angre, who on Wednesday, exactly 13 days after the Rajmata’s death, produced her “hand-written” will (with him as one of the executors) to a packed press conference in New Delhi. The will, which goes on to write Madhavrao Scindia and his three sisters out of much of the Rs 30,000 crore Gwalior inheritance, makes Angre one of the major beneficiaries.

Much insinuation invariably slips into any description of Angre’s relationship with the late Rajmata. His sweepingly patriotic reply to the relationship they shared must owe something to his over seven decade-long intimacy with the RSS: “Our relationship is nine generations old... we have been conquering the North with the Scindias for over nine generations.” After the royal plural, Angre, a descendant of the 18th century Maratha admiral Kanhoji Angre, gets down to the specifics: “The Rajmata’s husband and I were first cousins... our mothers were sisters.” Just before that hint of insinuation crops up again, he adds: “My wife and I would often live at the home in the palace [at Gwalior] that the Rajmata had given us. She was very fond of both of us.”

An old-time Gwalior watcher vouches for Angre’s hold over the Rajmata: “He might have been private secretary to the Rajmata but over the years he became more of an extremely close personal assistant and was a crafty manager of her political manoeuvrings.”

He was the one to carefully plot her political graph. It was Angre’s idea to launch the Rajmata as the public face of the BJP in Madhya Pradesh. More recently, Angre acting on behalf of the ailing Rajmata, took on Mishra’s son, principal secretary to the PM and national security adviser Brajesh Mishra, in what he termed “a pernicious conspiracy to grab the prime Scindia Villa property in the heart of New Delhi.” He talks of the stir his strongly-worded letter to the PM, on the subject, had caused. “There was a big crowd at that press conference, much bigger than what you saw the other day [when he distributed photocopies of the Rajmata’s will],” he says happily.

Angre, began his political career with the Hindu Mahasabha and the Jan Sangh when he was 15, but is best known for his role as the Rajmata’s private secretary. “We (the Angres) have always been either prime ministers or commanders-in-chief of the Scindias,” he says with obvious pride.

After the Rajmata surrendered during the Emergency, Angre was incarcerated in Jabalpur for 19 months — “and I served the first half of my term in solitary confinement,” he says. He explains the need for solitary confinement because of his “fearsome” reputation. “Even when they came to arrest me the collector asked whether I was armed,” he remembers proudly. What created the reputation? “I was a great hunter. I loved to shoot and people just saw me as that kind of a strong person. And then there was the reputation of my family, we don’t stand nonsense from anyone.” An old-timer laughs, “Yes Angre is a pretty tough man. One of his idols has always been Hitler. He even has a photograph of the German dictator in one of his homes.”

It was during the Emergency that the seeds for the bitter life-long estrangement between the Rajmata and her son, Madhavrao, were sown. The mother-son discord was reportedly fanned more than a little by Angre. “Madhavrao ran away at that time, he was smuggled out of Bombay to Calcutta and then he went to England. From there he apologised to Indira Gandhi and Sanjay Gandhi,” recounts Angre contemptuously. “But no, I was not involved in the rift between Her Highness and her son, because I was in jail at that time, so how could I have done anything?,” he asks.

However, when writing on the Emergency and subsequent break with her son in her autobiography Rajpath Se Lokpath Par, Vijayaraje Scindia wrote that while she was moved by her son’s concern for her well-being her conscience did not allow her to leave the country. She also noted that close friend Sardar Angre wanted Madhavrao to return to India. “At least, the people of Gwalior would have felt reassured that their Maharaja behaved in accordance with his family’s glorious tradition, that he stayed put in the battlefield and didn’t run away like a coward,” was Angre’s message to Madhavrao according to the autobiography.

Angre took his role as the Rajmata’s political and personal adviser very seriously, and the casualties were not limited to Madhavrao. In 1998, when Vijayaraje Scindia’s daughter Yashodhara, back from a long stint in the US, filed her nomination papers from the Shivpuri constituency, and was rejected on “technical” grounds. At the time Angre had admitted that he was against her nomination. “She would have lost and in a year when we are talking of making Vajpayee Prime Minister, we cannot afford to take chances,” he had said. Instead, Vijayaraje despite being unwell, filed her nomination papers from Guna-Shivpuri. Subsequently the campaign was run by Angre and Yashodhara, since Vijayaraje herself was too unwell to campaign actively.

“Anyone interested in the royal family intrigues could easily see that the Rajmata was very influenced by Angre. And of course as her relationship with her son worsened Madhavrao made Angre a target, accusing the BJP politician and former Rajya Sabha member of misguiding his mother,” says the Gwalior watcher. Angre made capital of the alleged attacks by Madhavrao. Even now sitting out on his lawn, he talks, though very fleetingly of those attacks. “His men robbed my house in Gwalior, they even shot my two Rottweilers. The dogs were chained. Can you imagine the sort of people who would kill animals that were unable to defend themselves?” he asks.

Ask him about a possibility of the will being contested and he laughs: “Every will is contested, what difference does it make?” And in the meantime, Angre can bask in the importance of being man of the moment again.

   

 
 
THE TELEGRAPH DIARY 
 
 
 
 

A nation of dynasts

Politicians like to keep both power and their secrets within the family, although the latter has the bad habit of defying the confines at times. The rancour between mother and son of the illustrious Scindias was no secret however. What wasn’t known is the intensity of this bitterness. The s much publicized will brought this out in the open. Yet the bad blood did not prevent the two from drawing on the same sources of power. If Vijayaraje Scindia chose not to contest from Guna in Madhya Pradesh, the seat went to no other but her contrary son, Madhavrao. Nor are the Scindias and the Nehru-Gandhis alone in making politics a family heirloom.

Om Prakash Chautala for one never shies from admitting that power should stay in the family. Mulayam Yadav, never mind his antipathy towards the Nehru-Gandhis, feels the same way. One family which has acquired the status of royalty is the Abdullahs, for whom ruling Jammu and Kashmir has almost become a birthright. Following close in their footsteps is the Mufti family. Asked why dynastic rule had become prevalent in the valley, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, who had his daughter, Mehbooba, with him at a recent press conference, shot back, “It is not a Kashmiri or an Indian phenomenon. It is a global phenomenon. Just see, first it was the father and now it is Bush Jr who is the president of America!”

Taming of the shrewds

If god-fearing rebels no longer bother her, allies do. Sonia Gandhi reportedly confided in her close aides recently of her difficulty in dealing with the mood swings and recalcitrance of both J Jayalalitha and Laloo Yadav. Bihar’s de facto chief has apparently refused to acknowledge the three commissions that were supposed to kick off industrial development in the state and enforce fiscal discipline. The problem down South looks even more severe. The recent addition of Pattali Makkal Katchi to the AIADMK strength seems to have inflated the ego of the lady of Poes Garden by massive proportions. Sonia is so livid that she has reportedly refused to even make phone calls to this political heavyweight. The prospects are pretty bleak in the South and the Congress, the grapevine has it, is thinking of a third front with the left parties, the Muslim League and the Tamil Maanila Congress, to take on the AIADMK and the DMK. A part of the Congress wants madam to warm up to M Karunanidhi to teach the other lady a lesson. But having brought down the IK Gujral government on the LTTE issue, Sonia is playing coy on that matter. It will probably take a few more years, or elections, to forgive and forget.

What’s in a number?

While his illustrious colleague, Uma Bharti, makes headlines daily, nothing seems to be working for the once powerful chief organizer and ideologue of the BJP, KN Govindacharya. After having been evicted from his niche in the BJP headquarters on Ashoka Road, Govindji got shelter in the Vithal Bhai Patel house as a guest of party MP R Prasad. The latter is the brother-in-law of Rajiv Shukla. But trust the poor man’s fate, he was allotted a room numbered 420. Image conscious Govindacharya had the room immediately changed to 419A. Wonder why a simple soul like him should be bothered about a flat number that is identical with a section of the criminal procedure code on cheating? It’s all in the mind then?

Nonsentimental organizations

Another shattering experience. Babus in Gujarat, entrusted with the task of overseeing relief work after the earthquake, are not too happy with the presence of several NGOs. Apparently, some NGOs are trying to divert food and shelter materials handled by the official agencies so that these could be distributed under their aegis. A harried senior official supervising the operations in Bhuj, says, “These NGOs come with meagre bags of food, make a great show of distributing them, and then, instead of packing up and going back, they seek food in bulk from the government so that they could take credit for its distribution.” Must self-promotion always be the flipside of altruism?

The quake recedes

Remember a birthday bash that was converted into an impromptu fund-raiser? A fly on the wall tells us that several beautiful people who announced lakhs in donations are dragging their feet. Gujarat is fading from public memory then?

Footnote / Some riproaring commando action

Last week, the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee chief, Jagdev Singh Talwandi, was scheduled to call on the prime minister at 7, Race Course Road. While the Congress team on Jammu and Kashmir was having its meeting with the PM, Talwandi’s cavalcade duly arrived, comprising of several VIP cars and a posse of hefty Punjab police commandos. However, the special protection guards on duty at the PM’s residence were unimpressed. They would allow only Talwandi’s car to enter the premises. But where was the chief’s car? The securitymen immediately got out of their cars and started looking for the VIP. There was absolute panic as the commandos peeped into each car “VIP kithe, VIP kithe (Where is the VIP)?” and blamed one another, “Twade naal si (he was with you)”. Apparently, the cavalcade had left Talwandi and his car at Punjab Bhavan. While the commandos beat a retreat, Talwandi left Punjab Bhavan without security. He finished his meeting with the PM when his commandos came back looking for him again. Was there anybody among this harassed lot who found all this screamingly funny?    

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

To live a true lie

Sir — After Hugh Grant and Liz Hurley, it is the turn of another celebrity couple to grab the headlines (“Eyes wide open, Kidman and Cruise break up”, Feb 7). But the “pressures of divergent careers” is one excuse that doesn’t hold much water. The problem lies in the couples being such high profile people. The stars have had to live their relationships under the public eye. Any and every slip has been blown out of proportion and their secrets leaked out of their bedrooms. Take for example the unrelenting press coverage given to the Cruises’ difficulty in having children. Did it have to be made so bitter for them while it lasted?
Yours faithfully,
S. Sen, Calcutta
Unholy wishes

Sir — “Double message in Sonia dip” (Jan 25), brings to light the hypocrisy of the Congress president. This is not the first time Sonia Gandhi has tried to establish her “Hindu-ness” as the bahu of the Nehru-Gandhi family. But, being a part of that illustrious family, she should have been aware of the ideas and beliefs held by the former prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. In his An Autobiography, Nehru writes, “I was not at all interested in this question as I did not propose to acquire merit by bathing in the river on the auspicious days.”

One will never know if Sonia Gandhi’s much hyped dip in the river was her response to a call from within or merely an election stunt. What she should keep in mind is that Hinduism cannot be proved by a bath at the Prayag.

Yours faithfully,
Bachchau Prasad, Gaya

Sir — Sonia Gandhi needs to be congratulated for taking a dip during the Kumbh mela. As a national leader, it was very fitting that she should join one of the biggest ever gatherings not only in India, but perhaps in the world. She showed her respect for Hindu sentiments by performing puja and taking the symbolic dip in the sangam. Her bitter opponents, particularly in the Bharatiya Janata Party, forget that they politicize religion no less by holding iftar parties to show that they are “secular”. The Hindu right should feel happy that Hindu congregations like the Mahakumbh was given importance by non-Hindu national leaders like Sonia Gandhi.

Yours faithfully,
Madhu Agrawal, Dariba

Sir — Had a symbolic dip been taken by a top BJP leader instead of Sonia Gandhi, the media would have made a big noise about it. It is pretty obvious that the opposition leader undertook this entirely avoidable exercise with an eye on the forthcoming assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh and other states. But the Congress might be the loser in the end. Media glare has associated the Hindu cause completely with the BJP. By participating in the Kumbh, Sonia Gandhi seems to have inaugurated the saffron election propaganda well in advance.

The Telugu Desam Party leader, N. Chandrababu Naidu, has warned the BJP not to revive the Ayodhya issue to pamper its Hindu vote bank. He should have directed his anger at the Congress president also for doing the same in a more effective way.

Yours faithfully,
V.A. Gopala, Bangalore

Sir — It is difficult for a person of one religion to perform the rites of another. Sonia Gandhi’s dip in the river was a slap on the face of Hindu leaders who consider the Mahakumbh their personal bastion. I was pained to see that instead of welcoming her act, the saffron parties have tried to politicize it.

Yours faithfully,
G.D. Dujari, Calcutta

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