Editorial 1 / ’twas a famous victory
The reinvention of empire
People / Aniruddha Bahal
The Telegraph Diary
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1 / ’TWAS A FAMOUS VICTORY 
 
 
 
 
This is the time for celebration. This is the time for uttering all the clichés about the glorious uncertainty of cricket. India’s win over Australia at Eden Gardens on Thursday is like the horse that refused to start romping home to win the Derby. The surprise element is matched only by India’s triumph over Clive Lloyd’s eleven at Lord’s in the 1983 World Cup final. But that was in a one- day match, a form of cricket in which fortune, unless she has been bought over previously by the bookies, is known to fluctuate dramatically. The real measure of India’s achievement is the fact that similar victories — wins by sides following on — have occurred only twice before, once in 1894-95 and another time in 1981. The first occasion was in Sydney where, on a pitch drying fast after overnight rain, Johnny Briggs and Bob Peel ripped through the Australian batting. The second occasion at Headingley, Leeds, has become inextricably linked with the performances of Ian Botham and Bob Willis. In much the same way, the match at Eden Gardens will be remembered for the batting of V.V.S. Laxman and Rahul Dravid, and the bowling of Harbhajan Singh. The skills and the dedication of these three cricketers, especially the batting of Laxman, made a winner out of a team written off as a rank outsider.

The unpredictability of the game of cricket is highlighted by the fact that at Eden Gardens on every day, except the fourth day, more than five wickets fell after tea. The demon that possessed the pitch after tea every day decided to sleep on the fourth day. Thus, faced with a batting juggernaut, the Australian bowling attack, otherwise accurate and penetrative, looked ragged and ordinary. On the fourth day, the dominance of the bat over the ball was complete. Steve Waugh and his team did hardly anything wrong, but Laxman and Dravid were invincible. They did not give a single chance. It was batting of an extraordinary order and that turned the match around. When play began on the fourth day, not even the most ardent supporter of the Indian team — and Eden Gardens was full of such fans — gave India much of a chance to win. But within half an hour after tea on the fifth day, it was clear that an Indian victory was the most likely result. The biggest winner, of course, was the game of cricket because the match showed how dramatic and attractive test cricket can really be.

Once the celebrations are over, the unnaturalness of the Indian win will sink in, at least among the Indian players. Nobody knows better than they how much against the run of play their win has been. Before the test at Chennai, with the morale high, the team will have to sit down to locate their deficiencies and think out ways to plug them. The Indian players will realize that the Australians will also be desperate to win and clinch the series and therefore they will be planning to fully exploit the drawbacks of the Indian side. Let there be no illusion about the presence of many such drawbacks in the Indian team. Fielding and fitness are far below par; despite winning the second test match, the team dropped a few catches; running between the wickets is also something that should cause concern. Bowling lacks penetration: hat-tricks cannot happen in every match and you need another bowler to support Harbhajan. With Dravid’s return to form and the emergence of Laxman, the pressure on Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly should be removed, but the shadow of fragility still lingers over the batting line up. A remarkable win should raise awareness about all these aspects. But in one crucial sphere, the Indian team has scored a significant hit. This is the sphere of the mind. In its own mind and in the mind of the opposition, the Indian team has made the point that it is capable of fighting and it has players to take on the guile of the Aussie attack. The team should say yes to a challenge and a firm no to complacency.

   

 
 
THE REINVENTION OF EMPIRE 
 
 
BY SUNANDA K. DATTA-RAY
 
 
Inaugurating the East India lecture series with which Haileybury set about two years ago to rediscover its Anglo-Indian roots, I told schoolboys of how Bijoy Banerjee, the West Bengal assembly speaker, had cited Charles I’s infamous invasion of the House of Commons in 1642 to foil Dharma Vira’s gubernatorial coup.

“I wonder whether the same parallel would be drawn in the assemblies of, say, Manitoba or Queensland,” I asked. “I wonder whether Newt Gingrich has even heard of it.” One reason for recalling the episode was to rebut Patrick French’s contention that “all that remains of the Indian empire half a century on is a handful of fine buildings, a stagnant legal system and bureaucracy and a mutated language.” Another was to argue that India’s synthesis is less discordant than Malcolm Muggeridge implied in writing of “poor, impoverished, half-baked Bengal, with one foot in the Oxford Book of English Verse and the other in a bad translation of the Upanishads.”

To drive home the point, I recalled that Siddhartha Shankar Ray was glimpsed in the melee in the West Bengal assembly with a volume of Erskine May’s Parliamentary Practice tucked under his arm. “It might have been useful as a missile, but there was not a cat in hell’s chance of referring to it as the governor was bundled out, his glasses knocked off and smashed.” All the same, Erskine May was — and is — the gospel for legislators wherever legislatures endure.

There are two reasons for recalling the East India lecture this week. First, I was back in Haileybury’s classical splendour only two days ago. Second, Commonwealth Day was observed on Tuesday. If that anniversary means anything, it stands for a reiteration of the positive legacies of the old connection, foremost among which are what K.R. Narayanan called “the flexible and spacious provisions of our Constitution.” It has given us the political plurality from which flow the rule of law, judicial independence, a structured civil service, press freedom and, indeed, the stability by consent that India has enjoyed for 50 years. The fruits of Britain’s evolution from the Magna Carta to the reinvention of empire as the Commonwealth were ours for the asking, and the leaders of India’s independence wisely took them. They are not to be tinkered about now by the puny puppets of a Constitution review commission.

It is fashionable to sneer at this heritage of which the Commonwealth is as much a manifestation as India’s Constitution. But no government wants to leave the club. Not a member of the review commission who does not grab his invitation to a Commonwealth function. Pakistan’s Pervez Musharraf regarded frozen membership as an affront, and Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe would interpret eviction as a white conspiracy. Membership is Mugabe’s figleaf of respectability just as the review commission is only the figleaf for the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s “Constitution of Bharat”.

The arch-Tory politician, Enoch Powell, was probably the Commonwealth’s only honest critic. When I talked to him in the late Sixties, he dismissed it as a sham, but that was because he hankered for the imperial substance. He was sufficiently uninterested in Asian, African and Caribbean societies to consider that what he saw as the shadow of empire could acquire a healthy life of its own for emerging countries that need the Commonwealth’s stable precedents.

The 54 countries that rejected empire would not otherwise be preparing now for the full-dress summit in Brisbane. The Commonwealth is home to more than 30 per cent of the world’s population and accounts for 23 per cent of the global trade, its share being valued at $ 2 trillion. Thanks to shared norms and institutions, intra-Commonwealth trade boasts a 15 per cent cost advantage over other trading relationships.

Yet, this cannot be all. Nor is the prospect of a group photograph with Queen Elizabeth sufficient attraction. Nor do heads of state and government — kings, presidents and prime ministers — flock to the bi-annual meetings because of the potential which is huge. They go because they recognize that their own political dynamics derive from Britain’s. Many have overthrown the Westminster system but it remains the yardstick by which innovations are assessed.

One day, a Commonwealth trading bloc might negotiate collectively with the European Union, the North American Free Trade Area or the Organization of African Unity. It can sponsor an umbrella organization for services like disaster relief, health and cultural programmes, and invest in schools, hospitals and housing. Algy Cluff, chairman of the commission on the Commonwealth, suggests a solution for the chronic shortage of nurses in many countries by training young women in Britain, revived Commonwealth scholarships and, most imaginatively, a Commonwealth university in the under-used buildings of the Commonwealth Institute in London to “pick its lecturers from an international stable of minds in the leading universities in Britain and the Commonwealth.” Indian students and academics would jump at the idea. Meanwhile, the Commonwealth provides the democratic norms, values and objectives of governance.

A dispensation based on the RSS blueprint would be a negation of this vision of life after independence that inspired the struggle against colonialism. As far as I can make out, the plan is for an oligarchic dictatorship by a “Guru Sabha” that “will decide the policies of the state” and, horror of horrors, “will never be dissolved”. The Lok Sabha’s only function will be “monitoring the implementation of the policies decided by the Guru Sabha”. Neither it nor the Guru Sabha will be able to discuss defence which will be the exclusive responsibility of the Raksha Sabha.

Two aspects of this amateurish jab at fascist manipulation and control particularly intrigue me. First, the dictatorship of “the educated and enlightened”, quoting the document, will at one stroke disenfranchise 50 per cent of the population, for the poor and the illiterate will not be able to vote for the Guru Sabha. Second, the provision for weighted votes (30 for professors and 100 each for award-winners) borrows and adapts the device by which Singapore controls institutions like banks and the media. I would have expected a man of Soli Sorabjee’s eminence to reject with contempt this dangerous nonsense. He should have realized that, as his co-religionist Foli Nariman put it, “inviting suggestions as to what parts of the Constitution should be reviewed without even defining those parts is an invitation to anarchy.”

But as is clear from the way in which the media wind blows, and from the review commission’s composition, there is no level to which those who crave position and prestige will not stoop. When people in Britain ask about the impact of Bharatiya Janata Party rule, I reply that the main and saddening effect for me has been to reveal the power of patronage in reshaping the views of so many of my friends and colleagues. From defunct Swatantra to revitalized BJP is only a short trip, but so many people I know and like have shed their proudly worn pink for deep saffron. As an apolitical observer, I had no affection for the pink: what dismays me is how the lust for office can make quick-change artistes of the leaders of society.

Given this predilection to turn sunflower-like with the sun of political power, India’s opinion-makers may have little hesitation in setting their imprimatur on whatever the BJP-RSS might demand. Whether or not the president is entitled to speak out against this travesty is a different matter. What concerns me is that someone must if the heritage of past responsibility, which alone can guarantee future stability, is to be saved. I am reminded in this week that the Commonwealth’s divisions, to adapt Stalin, are the strength of its constitutional, judicial and administrative traditions which India should be proud to sustain but seems bent instead on destroying.

   

 
 
PEOPLE / ANIRUDDHA BAHAL 
 
 
 
 

Man who much

The mobile phone rings. A text message flashing on its small green screen brings a smile to Aniruddha Bahal’s lips. A fawning admirer gushes, “I never looked up to a journalist before. Now I do.” Ever since the elaborate undercover sting operation on sordid defence deals, mounted jointly by Bahal and fellow journalist Mathew Samuel was made public knowledge earlier this week, the joint owner-cum-reporter of tehelka.com has been flooded with an avalanche of such effusive messages.

He deserves them. Only 34, Bahal is already a past master at coming up with stunning journalistic scoops. With any means and methods his mind can conjure.

But Bahal, who spent the first 10 years of his life in Calcutta and studied in St Mary’s Orphanage and Auxilium Convent, is unwilling to rejoice aloud. At least on record. “We pushed a certain amount of information in public space. What happens with that information is beyond our control. We should not be associated with what happens with it because that would implicate us with a motive,” he says.

Somehow, the man and his stories don’t fit. Bahal looks too ordinary for his work. What is clear though is that Bahal is hands-on and high on adrenaline. “But I was never afraid, only cautious,” he maintains.

The secret operation could have received a jolt but for a close shave by Mathew, the co-author of the endeavour. “We would meet these people in Maruti Esteems. We would behave as if we had lots of money. But once Mathew was on his way to office in an autorickshaw and a guy we were working on came alongside in a Mercedes. He only had a brief glimpse before Mathew raised his jacket to cover his own face.”

On his part, Bahal made a late appearance on the scene as Alvin D’Souza, the boss of the fictitious London-based company, West End International. He gave himself Goan parentage and put on an accent. To complete the charade, he wore a Givo suit and put on spectacles. “I came on the scene towards the end of the investigation. Before that I was like a puppeteer telling the puppets what to do,” says Bahal.

Sitting in his six feet by ten feet office cabin in New Delhi’s Soami Nagar and dressed in a blue checked shirt, Bahal appears unfazed by the wild speculations that the tapes have sparked off. “Since yesterday, I have heard six or seven versions (of who are behind the story). They include the Congress, the Hindujas and L.K. Advani. The story is also supposed to have some connection with the stock market crash. One version is that the ISI is behind this. We take all this with a pinch of salt.”

Undercover journalism has its share of stern critics. But Bahal feels there is nothing wrong with the means and methods. His response is non-intellectual and direct: “Do we let those who are making crores in commissions go scot free? This is the only way you can get these people.” He points at the three thick dossiers lying by the side of his table. Together they would run into thousands of pages. “There is so much information which has not gone into the public domain. There are dozens of inferences to deals. We had to make a judgement whether this is serious or non-serious,” he says.

Old friends believe that taking risks and a desire to make it big were always part of Bahal’s mental make-up. The Allahabad University graduate’s professional career also reflects a certain restlessness, a strong desire to make a big impact with a big story. During the 1996 World Cup, one of his reports said that Brian Lara had made certain racist remarks after the West Indies had lost to Kenya. The master batsman later denied this. Others insisted that the remarks had been made, though off the record. But Bahal was unfazed.

In 1997, Bahal, who hadn’t done any sports reporting before, hit the spotlight with a hard-hitting cover story on cricket betting for Outlook. “I went on the South Africa cricket tour that year. It sparked off a lot of things. If you sat in the press box, you saw everything.What we saw and wrote later became hard to digest for many cricket lovers, not to forget the regular cricket correspondents.”

But Bahal wouldn’t have won a popularity contest in his former organisation. Colleagues in Outlook recall him as being “cocky and abrasive” but Bahal differs. “The fact that I was the most travelled reporter in Outlook made me unpopular.” He wasn’t everybody’s favourite in the press box either. But Bahal attributes this more to him working alone than in a pack as many reporters do.

Bahal’s critics also point out that he was always soft on WorldTel boss Mark Mascarenhas. They would like to link that with him taking up a job in Cricket Talk which Mascarenhas owned. But the journalist disagrees. He claims that he was hunting for a story on Mascarenhas but ultimately got nothing.

In any case, Bahal’s brief association with Cricket Talk ended when he jointly set up Tehelka with senior journalist Tarun Tejpal.

Bahal had first met Tejpal during his first job in India Today (“I got it after doing a copy test for three days”). They later worked together in Financial Express and moved together to Outlook.

Bahal believes that his later scoops could only have been done in a dotcom company. “Traditional media doesn’t have the time, the talent or the budget to spare for this kind of thing. There are too many hierarchies involved to okay a budget for an investigative story,” he says.

Reading his articles it is obvious that Bahal has little flair for the language. It comes as a surprise then that he has written a novel, A Crack in the Mirror, published by Rupa way back in 1991. But it is even more surprising that amidst all the investigations he has written another one. “Actually it was written sometime back,” he corrects. “It is about what happens to a person during a single night. The final draft is ready now.” You can bet any publisher will lap it up now.

It is time to leave. He has given 60 interviews in the past three days but more journalists are waiting. You cannot help asking how would this scoop compare with that of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, the two reporters who had unearthed the Watergate scandal and caused the fall of US President Richard Nixon. Bahal is blunt. “I think we did much more. They had only one source: Deep Throat. If you compare the scale of work, they would be inferior.” That’s Aniruddha Bahal. A little cocky, a little brash. But as some politicians, army officers and cricketers would insist: always on the ball.

   

 
 
THE TELEGRAPH DIARY 
 
 
 
 

Miss Clean has another go

Back to the dissection table. If a post-Tehelka, sparkling clean Mamata Banerjee decides that the saffronites in West Bengal are just as smelly as their brothers in New Delhi, Trinamoolis may have to watch didi sit with the knife again. Which might be nothing short of a disaster, especially if the best slices continue to go to the late entrants to the party. As it is, most Trinamoolis are rather upset in the manner party tickets for the assembly polls have been distributed. Refugees from the Congress have bagged the prime Trinamool constituencies. Party members also feel that weak candidates have been put up against the chief minister and other ministers of the ruling party. Many party members apparently have never even set eyes on their constituencies. One such candidate, Nirmal Majhi, who has been given a ticket from Ookhra, was totally bewildered as he did not know where his constituency was situated. Majhi poured his heart out to the mayor, Subrata Mukherjee, telling him of his difficulty. How was he supposed to contest from a place he did not even know existed?Subratada’s response was crisp. “Ticket peyechish, bechechish. Ja ekta West Bengalar map ken ar giye election lar” (If you’ve got a ticket, you’ve been saved. Go, get yourself a map of the state and contest the election). Quite stimulating. In case Mamata decides to go it alone in the state, there might be a rush for West Bengal maps. Publishers watch out!

Three men in a report

Constituencies are worrying the ruling left in West Bengal no less. Convinced that the party may not fare well in some seats in Calcutta and the districts, the CPI(M) leadership has reportedly carried out a confidential survey on the prospects of three key ministers, including the chief minister, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. The two others are Asim Dasgupta and Subhas Chakraborty. The report suspects that although Bhattacharjee may sail through in Jadavpur, both Dasgupta and Chakraborty might have hitches in contesting from Khardah and Belgachia (east) respectively. Also, despite Bhattacharjee’s clout in the area, Madhabi Mukherjee’s star attraction might lead to a tough battle in Jadavpur. Dasgupta has been found losing contact with the people of his constituency while Chakraborty’s controversial statements about his party is alleged to have sent out negative vibes to his electorate. Chakraborty’s case is particularly dicey as he will be locking horns with his one time loyalist, Sujit Bose, who is now a Trinamool backed independent candidate from Belgachia (east). Which could only mean that Subhasda should have taken the plunge after all.

Do poetic justice

About another regime. The Pervez Musharraf government in Pakistan is trying hard to put on a human face. The general has apparently decided to set up a chair at the Lahore University in the name of Josh Malihabadi, a diehard opponent of military dictators. He has also lifted the informal ban on broadcasting the poetry of Josh and Faiz Ahmad Faiz in the state-run Pakistan Radio and television. A magnanimous Musharraf is also reported to have decided to set up a Sir Syed University near Islamabad. The Pakistani authorities have written a letter to the Indian Aligarh Muslim University seeking cooperation to fulfil the dreams of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan. The development has placed in a spot the AMU vice-chancellor, Hamid Ansari, who is a career diplomat. Ansari is said to have sent out feelers to New Delhi to gauge the mood of the human resources development ministry before saying yes to the Pakis. Will the biggies see in it the hint of a Pak peace initiative?

Seating them

Troubles closer home. A piquant situation developed recently in the Delhi assembly when the husband of an MLA objected to his wife being seated between two men. In another case, an MLA asked the speaker to change his seat as he did not wish to be seated within spittle-throwing distance of a gutka eater. In the first case, former Congress MLA, Jai Kishan, took offence when Sushila Devi found herself seated amid men. Kishan has an explanation. He says his wife is “pure dehaat ki mahila” and practices purdah. “Both she and I would like her to sit among women MLAs”. Husband still does the talking for MLA wife. In the second case, the speaker had no option but to change MLA Roop Chand’s seat when he refused to sit beside Meira Bhardwaj, who chews gutka inside the house. If the government banned the use of tobacco products in public places, the speaker could concentrate on more urgent matters than on the seating arrangement of MLAs.

Footnote / House of learning

Parliament is not just the place to talk about the country. It is also from where skills can be picked up and mastered. At least that is what a journalist turned Rajya Sabha MP found out recently. When important discussions go on inside the house, if they are allowed to that is, most MPs except for the speakers stay out. Our greenhorn observed the trend and stayed out in the central hall when a debate on Balco was going on. While chatting with others, he also saw on television the Bahujan Samaj Party leader, Mayavati, holding forth against privatization and blaming the recent government drive as anti-Dalit. Discussion over, our man in Parliament decided to try out what he had seen his peers doing. When Mayavati stepped out in the hall, our MP immediately called out, “Behnji” and went into a trance describing how brilliant the speech had been. Mayavati was so flattered that she immediately invited the journalist MP for tea and agreed to grant him an interview. She also told him how for a very long time she had been wanting to see him. A skill learnt and put into practice. If you haven’t guessed it already, it’s sycophancy.    

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Holocaust à la Hollywood

Sir — A strange thing has happened. Kevin Costner thinks people are not taking the threat of a nuclear holocaust seriously enough. (“Thirteen days to Costner fear”, March 13.) How can he make a statement insinuating that people (including Tony Blair) should see his new film and immediately start thinking more seriously about the nuclear problem? His film, Thirteen Days, is about the Cuban missile crisis, the legendary face-off between John F. Kennedy and Nikita Krushchev. But it is well-known that the whole episode has been mythicized. Besides, even if art does imitate life, saying that an “apocalyptic” Hollywood film should be the ultimate indicator of the seriousness of the issue is, at best, ludicrous.
Yours faithfully,
M. Pande, via email

Taliban deal

Sir — The Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid in New Delhi, Syed Ahmed Bukhari, has claimed that the taliban would listen to his advice and not destroy the statues of Buddha at Bamiyan in Afghanistan. (“Imam sets Babri price for mission to save Buddhas”, March 7.) But he will do this if the National Democratic Alliance government declares December 6, 1992, the day on which the Babri Masjid was demolished, a black day. In making this statement, he has acted more as an Islamic leader and less as an Indian who is interested in preserving the beautiful structures. Comparing the Babri incident with that of the demolition of the Buddha statues in Afghanistan is questionable.
Yours faithfully,
V.A. Gopala, Bangalore

Sir —The recent statement from the Shahi Imam proves that he has no real regrets about the demolition. He is only interested in gaining advantage from this situation. One wonders why such an anti-national statement was taken lightly. The Imam’s attitude to taliban vandalism seems to be rather ambivalent, and should be seen as such by the government.

Yours faithfully,
Vikram Surana, Calcutta

Sir — The taliban are ruling out any compromise, even on the request of the Organization of Islamic Conference. The nations which recognize the taliban should condemn this and take severe action against them. It is time the Western world intervened. Globalization is not only about economics, but also about collective security.

Yours faithfully,
A. Jain, Calcutta

Globalized inequality

Sir — It is now more or less an established fact that globalization is an inevitable process and that no country could possibly afford to keep out of it. This is simply because trading rules and economic survival in this world depend on whether or not one obeys the norms of globalization. The lofty ideals of internationalism and universal brotherhood may have some scope of fulfilment now in the economic field, provided the economies of different countries become truly interdependent in a harmonious process of globalization.

Globalization is, however, impeded by the uneven placement of the participating countries. And the massive demonstrations at Seattle, Washington D.C. and Davos only point out an awakening among people all over the world to the systematic inequalities in the global trading regime. All the national governments of the developing world should come together now and take upon themselves a proactive role in checking this inequality.

Yours faithfully,
P.N. Pal, Calcutta

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