Editorial / Regulating the impossible
Identity and difference
People / Subhash Ghising
The Telegraph Diary
Letters to the editor

Napster’s future still remains uncertain. The Napster programme permitted free sharing of music through internet and therefore, could have been interpreted as violation of intellectual property rights (copyright and neighbouring rights like rights of performers, phonogram producers and broadcasters). Copying of music, or other work in which copyright exists, is not illegal unless it is done for commercial purposes and there was no evidence that Napster had either encouraged commercial music swapping or was in a position to police purposes for which the Napster programme was being used through the net. Evidently, the music industry thinks otherwise and this explains the suit filed by the Recording Industry Association of America. Napster was sued not for copyright infringement, but contributory copyright infringement. That is, Napster helped copyright violation. In July 2000, a lower court passed a temporary injunction against Napster and it was this injunction that came up for hearing before a three-member panel of judges from the Ninth United States circuit of appeals in San Francisco. While the appeals court has returned the injunction to the lower court with an instruction that the injunction was too broad and needs to be narrowed, the overall thrust of the judgment is clear. “Napster knowingly encourages and assists its users to infringe the record companies’ copyrights and materially contributes to this infringing activity” and Napster has the ability to “police its system for infringing uses”. That apart, some kind of injunction is “not only warranted, but required”. It is not surprising that the music industry should regard this as a victory and anticipate an end to trade of copyrighted music through the Napster programme.

There are some issues that concern only the Napster programme. The German media giant, Bertelsmann, had planned to invest substantially in Napster. This is not significantly affected, since Bertelsmann had in any case planned to bring about rapprochement between Napster and record companies and charge users of the Napster programme through a subscription service. As the San Francisco judgment itself indicates, Napster is also likely to be sued for huge amounts in damages and some infringement suits have already been filed. However, fundamental issues go beyond Napster and concern the increasingly weak copyright protection, thanks to improvements in technology. Rather paradoxically, as patent protection becomes stronger, copyright protection tends to weaken and it is not only music, but also publishing that has been threatened. The best response ought not to be through regulations and laws, that are difficult and impossible to enforce, but through market-based responses. Napster emerged to satisfy latent demand. Record companies did not bring out hundreds of songs in which they held copyrights. Even when such CDs were brought out, unwanted albums would be forced down throats of consumers, clubbed with a few songs that consumers wanted. CD prices were also unnecessarily high. The Napster phenomenon not only offered consumers better choice, it reduced prices of CDs. Had record companies been willing to respond to consumer needs, customers would have been prepared to pay higher prices for better quality, since the relatively inferior quality of free music is not disputed.

Napster may indeed be closed down, depending on what is done to the injunction by the lower court and there is also the possibility of Napster and record companies settling out of court. But there is nothing to prevent users from switching to alternative services that are even more difficult to police. Alternative file swapping software like Gnutella and FreeNet do not even have a server that can be pinned down. (While Napster does have a server, there is no access to the computers of users.) The point thus is that regulators and judicial authorities are probably attempting to clamp down on something that is impossible to control. The answer lies in industry reacting positively and proactively to consumer needs without waiting for someone like Napster to provide an external stimulus.


If the sangh parivar’s campaign against Valentine’s day (when was the “Saint” dropped?) is doomed, so I fear is the movement to arrest the corruption of everyday German into “Denglisch”. Listening to the new-fangled words that are uttered in impeccable old-fashioned accents all round me in cloistered Oxford, and seeing the kind of subcontinental food that is on offer in pub and supermarket (a non-English word if ever there was one), is enough to banish all thought of clinging to cultural exclusiveness in the global village whose first prophet spoke of vasudaiva kutumbakam, the whole world is my family.

Of course, Valentine’s day is foreign. So are the loudspeakers that are so essential nowadays to worship of the goddess Durga. Or the human genome whose complete data scientific teams in India, Brazil, Mexico and China have reportedly downloaded from an internet site more than 300,000 times in the last two months. To take another example at random, someone should have stopped Satyen Bose from corresponding with Albert Einstein to produce the Bose-Einstein theory since the Swiss-German-Jewish-American-Israeli scientist was a foreigner so many times over. If Valentine’s day is “sick” and “immoral”, so is almost every aspect of contemporary urban life in India, including in Bal Thackeray’s city, which was a Portuguese princess’s dowry to her royal English husband.

What seems far more offensive to me than the “unIndian” origins of February 14 that militant chauvinists stress like an automaton is the crass commercialism that is taking more and more of our urban young for a ride. Thackeray is on firmer ground, in fact, in railing against a conspiracy to maximize profits, but completely wrong in seeing the wicked hand of multinationals behind it. This is small fry for global corporations, and if the Hindu Jagran Manch or some other organization were disposed to carry out a serious investigation, it would have no difficulty in tracking down the resourceful Indian entrepreneurs who are every bit as enterprising as the Chicago company that in the Fifties made two fortunes from churning out lapel pins that read “I love Elvis” and “I hate Elvis”. In India, the same firms probably print and sell Valentine, Diwali, Dussehra and other greeting cards.

A five-column photograph in The Guardian, showing a decorated heart-shaped archway over a Mumbai shop advertising cards, stationery, gifts, posters and toys said it all. So did the pink heart that kept leaping across my computer screen, begging to be bought and sent. Thackeray’s claim that Valentine’s day “espouses love for one day a year” whereas Hindu culture “teaches us to love good work, good thoughts and good people all the time” weakly echoed Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan’s alleged comment that whereas love leads to marriage in the West, marriage leads to love among Indians. But, of course, the comparison that the Shiv Sena chief sought to draw by staking a monopoly on virtue was entirely phoney, and the supposed conflict between two norms a sham.

Even if Valentine’s day does celebrate a day’s sentiment (which it does only in the sense that Id or Dusserah greetings are also exchanged only on a special day), that is no violation of India’s supposed ethic of permanent love. To love one day is not to hate the rest of the year. There is absolutely no difference either between one kind of mindless consumerism and another. Squandering money on chocolates and flowers for a Christian occasion is as wasteful as squandering money on sweets and sarees for Hindu or Muslim occasions. In fact, I find it silly of Indians to copy the Christmas card ritual for Diwali and Dusserah. Our indigenous festivals deserve to be observed in an Indian way, not in a tasteless and unthinking parody of Western celebration. No crime becomes acceptable simply because it pretends to a swadeshi provenance.

Valentine’s day commercialization was underlined in England on Wednesday when some former stalwarts of Mills & Boon, the 92-year-old publishers of romantic fiction, launched a rival firm, Heartline. It gave away free copies of its first book, tellingly titled Love is Forever. Thackeray is not the only person to try to rationalize a hobby-horse. The new company’s founder also tried to find a justification for her particular brand of fiction, promising novels on such currently talked-about themes as single parenthood, love between divorced people and relationships across racial divides. If commercialization means making the most of popular taste or interest, this is of its essence.

The German campaign is slightly better founded for it seeks to protect a definable national asset by urging people to defend their linguistic heritage. The Association for the Defence of the German Language lists ten rather drab English words as having passed into common usage. The words (statement, dressing, walking, event, counter, sale, shopping, cancel, happy and relax) are so ordinary that specialist meaning or nuances cannot be pleaded to explain their absorption. But the only really commendable feature of the campaign is that the Germans deny any intention of following the French with restrictive legislation.

“We don’t need a language protection law, nor a language police,” says Julian Nida-Ruemelin, state minister for culture in Gerhard Schroeder’s chancellery. “The state should not interfere in a process to which a living language is always subject.” Yet, some people recall with a shudder that the last time German was cleansed was under Hitler when Latin, French and English loan words were banished. It may be relevant, too, that while West Germany has borrowed heavily from American, East Germany has taken only a very few words from Russian.

The message is that language, like life itself, follows political power. Or entertainment. These are the two universal influences that respect no national boundaries. Even the heir-but-one to the British throne, Prince William, speaks what is nowadays called “Estuary English” with its Cockney and American inflexions instead of the standard public school English favoured by his father and grandfather. Vocabularies have also changed. My “Hullo” usually elicits a “Hi!” if the other person is below 50. “Chaps” have been reborn as “guys”, and instead of a slightly common drinking salutation, “Cheers!” has become an omnipurpose word of greeting. His haircut over, an Oxford student murmured “Cheers!” in casual farewell as he stepped out of the barber’s saloon.

The great strength of English is that it can absorb, and benefit from, all such imports, including many more from India since Hobson-Jobson was printed. Quite apart from the Teutonic vocabulary of disciplines like philosophy, psychology and the natural sciences, many everyday words like kindergarten, rucksack and waltz are German in origin. They do not stand out because they have never been resented or resisted. The Indian languages have pulled off a similar trick. The Bengali “ishkool” or the humble workman’s “plus” and “pudding”, for instance, need neither explanation nor apology. There are many others that no jack-in-the-box linguistic purist dare challenge or tamper with.

Similarly with German. It is already studded with Latin, Dutch, Russian, Slav and Czech words so that a few more from English would do no harm. What Germany should ensure is that young Germans take pride in their language, however international its composition. Similarly, patriotic sangh parivaris should persuade — not force — Indian youth to waste less time and money on entertainment, whether the festivals are foreign or indigenous. Isolationism is pointless. Scientists tell us that the human species has only 30,000 genes, and in the genome world we are all extraordinarily similar, with more differences within a race than between one race and another.

When read and interpreted properly, the Book of Man may demolish the pretensions of all self-styled defenders of narrow identities. Since the Mahabakya Upanishad knew at least five hundred years before Christ what Western scientists have only now discovered, India, more than any other country, can afford a universalistic point of view.



Man straw

Till November, the man who is widely believed to be behind the attempted assassination of GNLF chief Subhash Ghising, was earning a livelihood supplying drinking water in a couple of old jeeps to the residents of Kalimpong. In Raushey Bazaar, on the outskirts of Dungra district, Chhattray Subba is known more as a social worker than a militant leader, soft-spoken and courteous, often to a fault. The only indulgence in an otherwise spartan lifestyle being his penchant for British army hats and good quality boots and pullovers. The stocky frame with its trademark beard and tilted hat was a sight familiar to all Kalimpong residents. Somewhat of a recluse, the fifty-four-year-old Gorkha leader has few friends and prefers to keep to himself. A man of few words unless, of course, the conversation veers around to his passion — Gorkhaland.

It needed a Subhash Ghising to stoke the fire of a homeland for Gorkhas in the heart of this militant hill maverick, who belongs to the Mongolian stock of the Limboo community. Like Ghising, Subba is a former army man. Born in Kalimpong’s Dungra basti, Subba joined the army in 1961 at the age of 16 and rose to be a Naik with the 11 Gorkha Rifles. After retirement, he was content to live off his pension in Kalimpong until he fell under the spell of Ghising in April 1986. The two retired army men bonded instantly. The GNLF chief gave Subba the crucial task of training recruits for the militant wing. Subba went on to head the wing, the Gorkhaland Volunteers’ Cell (GVC), Kalimpong division, and later the entire GVC. A strict task master and a stickler for discipline, Subba turned his rag-tag recruits into a force to be reckoned with, despite having limited resources at his disposal. The ingenious fighter once allegedly tried to assemble a ‘gorkha cannon’ from a hollow telephone post. The contraption literally backfired, with cannon and shot taking off together.

Subba and the GVC were at the forefront of the Gorkhaland agitation. At the peak of the Gorkhaland agitation, the GVC had about 10,000 members. His cadres rampaged about the hills silencing Ghising’s opponents and challenging the administration with their acts of sabotage. It was the might of the GVC which forced the state government to reach a settlement with Ghising. But Subba never made the headlines as he preferred to keep a low profile, letting other militant leaders like Ghising hog the limelight. This was Subba’s finest moment.

The relationship between Subba and his mentor became strained towards the end of the Gorkhaland agitation. The GVC’s alleged atrocities had become more of a liability than an asset to Ghising and he was forced to disband it. Matters came to a head when Ghising settled for the tripartite Darjeeling Hill Accord in August 1988. Subba called Ghising a traitor to the cause of Gorkhaland. “Ghising made Gorkhas dream of a Gorkhaland yet went on to betray them,” he told The Telegraph last November. “The supreme sacrifice of thousands of Gorkhas during the GNLF agitation went in vain. Our youths were felled by security bullets houses burnt, women raped and widowed, yet Ghising went on to sign the Darjeeling Accord. He has to pay dearly for this betrayal of his own people.”

Ghising, on his part, branded Subba a ‘sarkari stooge’. An embittered Subba contested the first DGHC election as an independent from the Bong-Dungra seat in Kalimpong, ostensibly to bring about “peace in Darjeeling.” In an interview to a weekly magazine, he said: “If my dream of Gorkhaland becomes a reality, I will not be there to hanker for any position of power.” He never got a chance to prove that. The DGHC swept the polls.

Subba went into oblivion for a year. He surfaced in 1990 by launching his very own Gorkhaland Liberation Organisation (GLO) “to launch a fresh agitation for a separate Gorkhaland”. Most of his followers were erstwhile GVC cadres. And it is even said that in a bid to clip Subhash Ghising’s wings, the state government had secretly propped up the former militant. But Subba failed to use it for larger political goals as his influence was confined to Kalimpong.

The time could not have been more opportune. A number of political leaders, disillusioned by Ghising and his hill council, throw in their weight behind the GLO. But it soon became all too apparent that Subba was no Ghising. The GLO supremo was quite unable to mobilise what a movement needs in its nascent stages: adequate funds and proper organisation. Subba went into wilderness but would emerge from time to time to make token gestures of resistance.

But disgruntled pro-statehood Gorkha leaders resurrected Chhattray Subba. He was back in the limelight early last year when former GNLF leader from the Dooars, N.T. Moktan, and a host of other disgruntled leaders met him in Kalimpong. Among them was C.K. Pradhan, second-in-command in the DGHC. And the Tinkatharia shoot-out between alleged Naga ultras and Kalimpong police in November last year seemed to signal the birth of yet another militant outfit and yet another rabid hardliner.

Subba insisted, “The so-called Naga militants killed by the police at Tinkatharia were innocent supporters of the GLO. The police are falsely accusing the GLO of having links with militants in the northeast.” Subba’s links with the northeast is of a gentler variety. After leaving the army in 1983, Subba settled in Dimapur, where he met his first wife. Tamangni was a Nepali woman employed with the Nagaland government. She still lives in Dimapur with their 26 year-old son, Goray. Chhattray also has a married daughter living in Nagaland. His second wife, Monika, whom he married in 1996, lives at his Dungra basti residence with two minor children.

Subhash Ghising though, has accused Subba of having close links with underground Nagas and of running camps on the Indo-Nepal border. May be that is why he was charged with sedition and a warrant was issued against the GLO leader after the Tinkatharia incident. Subba went into hiding and subsequently issued an ultimatum to Ghising and his DGHC councillors to disband the Hill Council and join his renewed call for an armed struggle for a separate statehood. Subba set a December 31 deadline for the GNLF leaders to resign or “face dire consequences”.

Subba may or may not have lived up to his words more than a month after the deadline. What is certain is that Subba on the run and with little political base or acumen will not be able to marshal forces to be a real challenge to his bete noire, Subhash Ghising. His favourite posture has always been sitting all by himself in a meditative trance on rocks near the jungles bordering his village. He could be doing just that in Nepal.



No relief in clothes

Even if you escape the hand of god, it is unlikely you will escape the handiwork of the BJP-led government. The message is not for the people of Gujarat. It is for the people of West Bengal and Orissa to whom the point will be made more piquantly by the opposition parties this summer as five states in the country go to the assembly polls. The parties believe that the discrimination shown by the NDA between loosening purse strings to help the supercyclone victims of Orissa and the flood victims of West Bengal on the one hand and the outpouring for the Gujarat earthquake survivors on the other is quite stark. Left parties, along with the Congress, have decided to raise a storm in Parliament over it, also to make the most of it in their election campaign in West Bengal, where they hope a little rubbing in of the message might land Mamata Banerjee in the dock. Surprisingly, an NDA ally also wants to make a lot of noise over it. The Biju Janata Dal is in fact planning to move the court against the Centre. What has particularly irked it is the way the government is trying to sell its programme in Gujarat, where the saffronites are in power. For example, contributors to the relief operations have apparently been asked by one senior BJP leader not to give old and used clothes or other similar material as the people in Gujarat are not poor like the people of Orissa. But didn’t we always know some were more equal than the others?

Smooth operator

Hand of the lady. The Congress president, Sonia Gandhi, has finally reconstituted the Congress working committee, leaving everyone confused about the messages conveyed. She has dropped Vijaya Bhaskara Reddy to induct one Sarojini Pulla Reddy from Andhra Pradesh. Pulla’s English is definitely better and so is her wardrobe, which can any day match that of Jayalalitha and Jayaprada (probably they get their capes from the same retailer). Sarojini’s wicked detractors claim that the lady spends at least Rs 500 a day on her make-up. That’s nothing compared to what her more famous sisters in the party might be spending. The evergreen bachelor in the party, Mukul Wasnik, has been given charge of the Mahila Congress. That’s surely kind of madam. Now Wasnik has a wider choice and a level playing field. A select band of partymen, quite obviously, has been handpicked by Sonia. A bulk of them belongs to the A-team, meaning they owe loyalty to Arjun Singh and Ambika Soni. Sonia’s private secretary, Vincent George, too has succeeded in pushing through some of his favourites. So its a bevy at her majesty’s service.

Beyond the budget

It’s showtime folks! End February will see the most significant document in the nation’s life being presented before Parliament. Like every year, the presentation of the annual budget will be a special event on television to be watched by a record viewership. A high profile TV anchor, who does a low-brow inquisitorial show on a private TV channel, was keen to bag the contract from the national broadcaster for presenting the show. He almost got the multi-million rupee deal when some spoilsport questioned the information and broadcasting ministry about the credentials of this particular anchor which would allow him to comment on this highly complex subject. This formerly minor scribe, who switched on to television a few years ago, has absolutely no grounding in financial journalism, but had plenty of names to drop before the Doordarshan bosses. That almost saw him through till the bosses were shaken up by someone higher up. It isn’t a cakewalk when it comes to a saffron budget.

Fashionable statement

Love lost. There were red faces in the Congress when its students’ wing, the National Students Union of India, in Jaipur joined the sangh parivar’s cultural police in opposing Valentine’s Day celebrations and breaking the hearts of young lovers. AICC spokesperson Anand Sharma condemned the protest march of the younger fold. To make his point, Sharma went on to defend Fashion Television and declared that the Congress would oppose any move to block out the channel. Will that get the party votes from the fashion-conscious?

A weighty issue

A bit of a jam. Renuka Chowdhury wants to learn riding. But no club in Hyderabad is willing to make her a member. It’s not a gender bias. Clubs are just not keen on risking the lives of their horses on the idea. Chowdhury is reputed to have crossed the 100 kg mark, and we are not talking about her political weight.

Footnote / Stalling an arrangement

Dreams shattered, but you cannot expect anything less vicious from this disappointed man. Sidelined in the party, he barely succeeded in finding a roof over his head only the other day. Now he has West Bengal’s BJP leaders up in arms against him — the party’s once powerful now shy general secretary and ideologue, KN Govindacharya. Govindji has apparently made a strict no-no to the proposal for a mahajot with the state Congress.The other day, on a day’s visit to Asansol, he observed that the BJP-Trinamool Congress combine should not enter into an alliance with the Congress for the forthcoming assembly elections. Upset by the comment, state BJP leaders have petitioned the central leadership against Govindacharya’s move to frustrate the coming together of anti-CPI(M) forces. Some enthusiastic BJP supporters have even decided to greet Govindji with angry protests if he ever decides to land in Calcutta. Fearing a demonstration, Govindacharya had to cancel his proposed stop-over in the city and return to the capital the same day. Another major disappointment?    


On a verbal offensive

Sir — Sourav Ganguly has shown rare guts for an Indian captain, if news reports are to be believed (“Steel Sourav versus Sting Steve”, Feb 12). But Ganguly’s response to the comments of the Australian captain, Steve Waugh, is being made too much of by the media, starved as it is nowadays of “colourful” cricketers who rush fearlessly into controversies. These are hardly the days of the bodyline series, when half the test match was won or lost off the field. This mood lingered even in the Sixties and the Seventies, with cricketers like Dennis Lillee and Ian Botham. What will be interesting to watch is whether or not Ganguly’s pride remains intact after the Australian tour.
Yours faithfully,
Sujata Sharma, Calcutta

Seamy truths

Sir — Some seams of the Bagdigi mine, in one of which the ill-fated coal miners died in the accident on February 2 (“38 battle for life inside flooded coal mine”, Feb 3), had become dangerous because of the adjacent Jairampur colliery, condemned since 1962. It is at a much higher level than the Bagdigi mine, yet its abandoned pits are full of water. To prevent a rush of water from it into Bagdigi, a coal-wall of at least 50-60 metres should have been spared from mining as per mining safety norms.

But the 150 metre thick coal-wall gradually thinned out to hardly 20-30 metres by the fateful day, owing to mining from the Bagdigi side. For the last few days, the miners, the manager and the assistant manager had expressed concern about safety as there was a warning water seepage through the thin coal-wall between the Jairampur and the Bagdigi mines. But as the office of the directorate general of mine safety had reportedly given a safety certificate, the management of Bharat Coking Coal Limited apparently felt that it was safe for the workers to go in for mining. The tragedy could have been averted if the management had decided to be more careful as well as caring.

Yours faithfully,
Satya Bairagi, via email

Sir — It is shocking that for a week no one seemed to bother to look into complaints of water seeping in from a wall separating the Bagdigi mine from the abandoned Jairampur colliery. And how typically bureaucratic to say that when pumps were badly needed, only one was found to be working!

How is it that no lessons have been learnt from earlier accidents? If the wall between the two mines was becoming thinner, why was nothing done about it?

Yours faithfully,
D.V. Vamsee Krishna, Bhubaneswar

Note of dissent

Sir — Many countries honour eminent personages by printing their images on currency notes. The dollar has images of Abraham Lincoln, George Washington and others, while the Deutschmark honours, among others, Karl Friedrich Gauss. It is usually monarchies and dictatorships that have the image of one particular person on the notes. But India, in spite of being a democracy, continues to print the image of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi on all currency notes. To an outsider innocent of India’s history, would this not imply that Gandhi is the only man of eminence to have emerged from the country? His image could have been preserved on the 1000-rupee note, while other denominations could have borne the images of such leaders as Subhas Chandra Bose, Jawaharlal Nehru and Vallabhbhai Patel.

Yours truly,
Santanu Ganguly, Calcutta

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