Editorial / Will to govern
Caught by hard work
The Telegraph Diary
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL / WILL TO GOVERN 
 
 
 
 
There is a peculiar, if somewhat unnoticed, anomaly currently afflicting the Indian state. There is a sudden resurgence in the power and the activities of the state. This is noticeable in the reversal to a high tax regime via a calamity tax. This is not going to help the economy to get out of the slowdown that it has been experiencing. At another level, the government is deciding which country India should play in which sport. The refusal to play Pakistan at Sharjah to raise money for relief in Gujarat was not taken by the Board of Control for Cricket in India but by the prime minister, Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee. These are signs of expansion of the state’s role and activities. In an era of economic reforms, it is not the business of the government to be in business. This principle has more substance and implications than meets the eye. It has embedded in it the idea of a minimalist state which will actively reduce its role and influence in all aspects of public life. Thus the state should have no say in matters relating to sports. The Indian state seems to be moving further and further away from the goal of a minimalist state. An overactive state, by definition, requires a strong leader who knows his own mind, is capable of taking his own decisions, and is able to leave his own imprint on public policy. This appears not to be the case with Mr Vajpayee who heads a government keen to enlarge and preserve its influence but is not always driven by his own will. There will continue to be confusion about the intentions and character of the Indian state till this anomaly is removed.

There are reports that the prime minister said no to Pakistan’s proposal to play cricket in Sharjah to raise money for the earthquake victims only at the behest of a powerful ministerial colleague. This suggests that Mr Vajpayee is liable to change his mind or is not clear about his decisions. The other example is even more serious. The prime minister and the finance minister, Mr Yashwant Sinha, have made it clear that in the railway budget for 2001-02, passenger fares have to be raised. This hike is necessary to meet the budgetary deficit and to generate additional revenues. The exchequer can no longer afford to subsidize the Indian Railways. Despite this, the minister for railways, Ms Mamata Banerjee, has expressed a desire to keep passenger fares at existing levels. She took the unprecedented step of calling an all-party meeting to resolve problems relating to the railway budget. Ms Banerjee is obviously allowing her own election priorities to outweigh national needs and the declared policy of the prime minister. If Ms Banerjee is allowed her head, all the efforts of Mr Sinha and the good wishes of Mr Vajpayee to restore macroeconomic stability may well be in jeopardy.

This may not be Mr Vajpayee’s usual style of functioning but a continuation of this trend will lead to a decline in governance. Good and stable governance is one of the planks of the National Democratic Alliance. But trends in decision-making indicate that white ants are at work on this plank. The question is important even though it has nothing to do with the survival of the NDA government. It is important because it relates to leadership. Mr Vajpayee is the acknowledged leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party and the NDA. If the signals are that he is allowing major decisions affecting the foreign policy and the economy of the country to be taken by other people, then the emphasis on strong governance has obviously been withdrawn. Yet there are other signals of the enlargement of the activity of the state. It is impossible to find an intersection between these two signals. Hence, the confusion. The lack of clarity may suit Mr Vajpayee, the politician, but it will not add to the stature of Mr Vajpayee, the leader of the country. Mr Vajpayee has to decide which hat he values more.

   

 
 
CAUGHT BY HARD WORK 
 
 
BY RUDRANGSHU MUKHERJEE
 
 
In sociological and historical terms, the distance between Kumartuli and Eden Gardens is longer than the one between Barisha and Eden Gardens. The point being made is that Pankaj Roy traversed a longer distance in the late Forties and Fifties than Sourav Ganguly did in the Nineties.

Roy, when he became the first cricketer from Bengal to play consistently for his country, was something of a unique phenomenon. Cricket in Calcutta in the late Forties, when Roy began to make his mark, had just come out of white dominance. The age of Lagden and Longfield was over. Sporting Union, Kalighat and Mohun Bagan were the three major contenders for the top notch in the cricketing world of the Maidan.

Roy began outside this circuit in his own local club in Kumartuli which had its grounds virtually opposite his ancestral house. He was playing for Sporting Union in no time. This move was possible because of his obvious aptitude for the game. But Roy knew talent was not enough to satisfy his ambition and his irrepressible hunger for runs.

Roy went about it the hard way, practice, practice and more practice. He trained — gyms and weight training were not in fashion then — by running regularly and in his younger days even played soccer in the summer months. He was scrupulous about net practice and often in his heyday he would go off to bat in the nets at Kalighat club or Mohun Bagan after he had done his stint in his own club. He did not believe in flash and brilliance, and this came out in his batting. His technique was not perfect but it was solid. He had strokes all around the wicket and there were no obvious gaps in his technique.

Roy’s failures at the crease — and there were many — were invariably failures of nerve and courage, seldom of technique. Batting at 99 against Australia in 1959, he was out to a simple catch at silly mid off where Ritchie Benaud had placed himself to put pressure on the batsman. In 1952, it was the fear of Trueman’s pace that led to his dismissals. (Once in the Eighties, at some function organized by the Cricket Association of Bengal, Trueman was seen shaking hands with all the older Indian players. But he gave Roy a bear hug. Observing this, a Maidan wag remarked, “Trueman would, wouldn’t he? After all, 150 of his 300 wickets are Pankajda’s.”)

The concern with technique and hunger for runs never deserted Roy. Even in the middle and late Sixties, when he was well past his prime and had grown heavy, he was regular at the nets, batting everyday for 40-50 minutes. In club matches, he would bat at number four but as soon as one of the openers was out, he would ask him about the wicket, the bowlers, what they were doing with the ball and sometimes even shadow practise against an imaginary away swinger or whatever the bowler’s stock delivery was. Once at the crease, nothing distracted him. Even then, he could really hit hard. He immensely enjoyed his batting and scoring runs.

I commented on his fear of Trueman’s pace. But it would be unfair to leave it just at that. The two greatest innings Roy played were against a raging Roy Gilchrist, the West Indian fast bowler, who was out for his blood. It was a match between Bengal and Hyderabad (this was in 1962-3 when, under a special scheme of the Board of Control for Cricket in India, Gilchrist played for Hyderabad, Lester King for Bengal, Chester Watson for Delhi and Charlie Stayers for Bombay) and Roy got a century in each innings. If Gilchrist was driven by the demon, Roy batted like a man possessed. For him, it was a matter of prestige because M.L. Jaisimha at a party had made the most disparaging comments about Roy and the Bengal team and the comments had been conveyed to Roy. Those who saw that performance at Eden Gardens will always wonder why that same batsman had so consistently failed to get runs against Trueman and Statham in England.

Was it then the wickets of England? Even if the answer to this question is yes, one cannot take away from Roy’s diligence. To prepare for the 1959 English tour, Roy actually had special pitches prepared and got bowlers to bowl to him. Unfortunately for him, it is a universal law of nature that sincerity and hard work can take a man thus far and no further. At the same time, just sheer talent without the hard work gets a man nowhere. There is no better proof of this than Roy’s own nephew, Ambar.

Ambar had immense talent: in full flow, especially against spin bowling and medium pacers, his stroke production was breathtaking in power and execution. But he was lazy; he would absent himself from the nets or bat very casually. Above everything else, he lacked his uncle’s capacity to stay at the wicket and accumulate runs. Thus Ambar’s test match appearances were brief and passing, he remained perpetually a Ranji Trophy batsman. His uncle, with possibly half his talent, was India’s number one opener for over a decade. Despite this, Roy senior did not get from fellow Bengalis the respect and regard he deserved. Stupid people compared him to Nirmal Chatterjee. This comparison can only be put down to the Bengali’s love for ephemeral flashiness over solid achievement. Thus to Bengali cricket lovers, Mushtaq Ali had precedence over Vijay Merchant and Vijay Hazare. “No Merchant, no test” could not even be dreamed of in Calcutta.

The basis of all of Roy’s hard work was, of course, privilege. He was born into an old and wealthy family with a tradition of patronage and enthusiasm for sports. Roy used the resources to his full advantage, not everyone does. For a number of reasons, one hesitates to use the phrase “gentleman cricketer” to describe Roy but he did not have to depend on cricket for a living or livelihood. Neither was it possible then to make a living out of cricket. He showed Bengalis that one of them against odds had the capacity to stay there and get runs.

This achievement made Ganguly’s journey from Barisha to Eden Gardens shorter than it could have been. There are similarities between these two cricketers. Both were born into wealth. Both are ambitious and eager to get runs. Both work hard to improve their game. There are differences too. Ganguly’s technique is not as solid as Roy’s and his stroke production is limited. He has the advantage of protective head gear and is nowhere the killer of spin bowling that Roy was in his time.

There is also the difference of ambience. Roy played in more leisured and gracious times. Cricket was a pastime that Bengalis took up for three months every winter. It is now a profession: cricket is Ganguly’s career. Different times have different mores.

It is often lamented that between Roy’s time and Ganguly’s, Bengal cricketers did not make the test grade because they were discriminated against. Look at the list of probables, Ambar Roy, Subrata Guha, Gopal Bose and Pronab Roy: did any of them practise and train as hard as the two who made it? Both Roy and Ganguly are traitors to the class from which they came. They worked hard to get what they wanted. This attitude is not common in either Kumartuli or Barisha or in any other Bengali locality of Calcutta.

   

 
 
THE TELEGRAPH DIARY 
 
 
 
 

To set an example

The saffron pantheon is expanding and a politician of a completely different hue might soon be part of it. The Samajwadi Party chief, Mulayam Singh Yadav, has been voted the ideal politician by the BJP. Two weeks ago, before the earthquake obliterated all other memory, the Congress president, Sonia Gandhi, upset the BJP applecart by dipping into the sangam. The sangh family was livid that the Nehru-Gandhi bahu, in following the footsteps of her illustrious mother-in-law, had trodden on its territory. Lalji Tandon, a BJP minister in Uttar Pradesh, in charge of the Kumbh mela arrangements, did not mince words. He charged Sonia for playing politics with religion (over which the sangh presumably has the sole copyright) and creating problems for the common people (probably with regard to the electoral choice). Anyway, madam was asked to take the example of Mulayam Singhji, who despite being such a “big leader” had not haunted the Kumbh. Tandon seems to have got his party thinking along similar lines on Yadav. The grapevine has it that the saffron league and Yadav have reached a tacit understanding, making a clear division of their support base in UP. Power in the state will therefore remain in “safe” hands. Evidently help will also be provided by one to the other in case of a threat from a third party. Or more precisely, a third person — the pious Hindu widow, should we say?

Additions to power

Our parliamentarians want to make their lives more exciting. So they do not wish to restrict the attraction of the two houses of Parliament merely to the trappings of power. There have to be handsome remunerations to go with it as well. Salaries and perks are therefore being hiked again. Instead of the Rs 4,000 non-taxable pittance, parliamentarians are likely to get around Rs 12,000 every month from now. Which, incidentally, would also put them on the level of lesser mortals of the land like the taxpayers. Some MPs have opposed this demotion. They do not wish to be tax-netted with sweating professionals. The monthly allowance for those helping out MPs has also gone up to Rs 6,000. That, besides pleasing overworked secretaries, would bring a smile to the lips of the former Orissa chief minister, Giridhar Gomang. Out of job Gomang has enrolled himself as secretary to his wife, Hema Gomang, to add Rs 6,000 extra to the family income. Would you still doubt Indian enterprise?

Keep ahead of danger

Some Kashmiri separatists want to have nothing to do with peace in pieces or ceasefires in instalments. The mood is pretty berserk. Pakistan based groups like Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammadi are threatening to take jehadi a little further. They are allegedly planning to liberate Junagarh and Hyderabad — the two princely states which resisted acceding to the Indian republic at the time of Partition. The government has taken serious note of the underground shifts. However, before dealing with the threat from without, it is for the present more involved in dealing with the threat from within the country, or within the Lok Sabha, to be more precise. A recent indepth briefing on Kashmir prepared by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee vernment has seemingly helped it tide over the immediate difficulty. The brief is said to have succeeded in convincing the opposition about the necessity of the further extension of the Ramadan ceasefire. So the crossfire has ceased for now over the valley.

Left in the lurch

All fire and brimstone. Delhi Congress MLA Jadgish Anand, expelled from the party recently for raising a stink over the alleged corrupt dealings of the Delhi chief minister, Shiela Dixit, is cut up with the state Congress chief, Subhash Chopra, and other senior party members. Anand alleges that he had been provoked by these men to launch a campaign against the CM. It was apparently Chopra who helped our man hire a lawyer to plead the case against Dixit before the Lok Ayukt. Now Anand has been thrown out, while Chopra carries on merrily. Hasn’t Anand heard of the survival of the fittest?

From the hills with love

Northeast comes West. Gujarat quake relief and rehabilitation work is being handled by a trio all of whom belong to Assam. Bhaskar Barua, secretary, agriculture ministry is heading the crisis management team, while Purkayastha is acting as relief commissioner. Ashok Saikia, joint secretary in the PMO is coordinating the entire operation. Good luck.

Footnote / Is he speaking the truth?

Would you believe that Calcutta has a significant role to play in the fate of a neighbouring state, Uttar Pradesh? If you don’t, read on. The UP chief minister, Rajnath Singh, was in the city the other day to participate in a felicitation programme. He never expected to come across the very person he had been looking for. The man is no other than the Calcutta based astrologer who once forecast that Singh would one day become the CM of the most populous and (probably the most hotly contested) state in the country. At a crowded press conference at the Calcutta Press Club, Pandit Madhusudan Mishra was present with a whole lot of documents to prove that he was the man whose predictions had come true for Singh. Spotting him in a crowd of newspersons, a smiling Rajnath exchanged greetings with Mishra and called him aside to know more about himself. Hounded by scribes later on with the query whether Mishra had predicted that he would return to power in the forthcoming assembly elections, a coy Singh quipped, “I hope the prediction comes true this time also.” Who’s keeping his fingers crossed?    

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Killing ignorance

Sir —The news report, “AIDS bomb ticks on sex zone” (Feb 8), should serve as a warning to both the West Bengal government and to the Centre. That 55 per cent of the commercial sex workers in the Baranagar area of north Calcutta have been infected by HIV along with their clients gives us an indication of the critical state of affairs. Despite the various awareness-raising efforts not much has happened. The problem lies in the existence of entrenched misconceptions about sex that makes it impossible to conduct a healthy debate on the subject. Low levels of literacy and a complete lack of awareness on issues like personal health, coupled with political apathy have made the situation what it is today.
Yours faithfully,
Deepak Chawla, via email

A question of blame

Sir — In his article, “No leisure for temple talk” (Feb 1), S.N. Chary is right in condemning the Centre for wasting too much time on a controversial issue like the construction of the Ram temple at Ayodhya. The prime minister must share equal blame with other parties like the Congress and the left who have tried to gain political mileage out of this issue.

However, while enumerating the different failures of the government, Chary has been unable to provide any insight on how the situation can improve. Nor has he suggested any remedial measures. It is common knowledge that in our country there are people who live from hand to mouth while there are others who are rich and influential. The government’s failure to provide the people with basic amenities like food, medicine, and education is not anything new.

The appalling lack of infrastructure, coupled with political apathy and mismanagement, has led to a squandering of resources. As a result, despite a bumper harvest, millions in our country go hungry. There can be no denying that our leaders have failed us. Citizens should think of a way of making politicians fulfil the promises they make during elections.

Yours faithfully,
Kajal Chatterjee, Dhanbad

Sir — S.N. Chary’s scathing criticism of the failures of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government smacks of prejudice. He has gone overboard in his criticism of the government. Chary points out the failure of the government in providing basic health facilities to the people or in controlling the spread of AIDS. He also mentions the fact that Veerappan has been eluding the police for many years. On both accounts, Chary dwells on what can only be called a collective failure of successive governments.

Yours faithfully,
K. Roy, via email

Broken silence

Sir — It was shocking to read the news report, “Miss World’s father faces abuse case” (Jan 16). While the allegations levelled at Ashok Chopra by Shivani Saxena are yet to be proven in court, the report has raised the issue of sexual abuse. Victims of sexual abuse suffer from guilt, anger and helplessness and need the support of their family. It is time we stopped ignoring sexual abuse in our society. A change in attitude will encourage more women to speak.
Yours faithfully,
Renu Agrawal, Parlin, US

Sir —Why did Shivani Saxena wait for 24 years before coming out with the truth? Saxena’s allegations seem unconvincing. All this could be a publicity gimmick to malign Chopra’s reputation.

Yours faithfully,
Samir Chakraborty, Howrah

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