Editorial 1/ Smother India
Editorial 2/ Party wage
A bear and bull story
Fifth Column/ And peace is again the casualty
This above all/ The price of being earnest and upright
Letters to the editor

The Congress in Maharashtra is in deep Oedipal trauma. It seems that its mater familias could have had, and enjoyed, quite a bit of romance and sex outside wedlock. Not only was this allegedly the case, but a foreigner has also written about it at length in a book for all the world to know, and — most shamefully — an Indian news magazine has recently carried an article on this book. Of course, the only way to deal with such unspeakable calumny is to promptly and hysterically ban the magazine, and begin lobbying for the banning of the book. Being a female national leader and being dead place Indira Gandhi, in the eyes of Congressmen, in a realm far above this too too sullied flesh. And this passionate national sentiment is a valid premise on which to assume the falsity of every claim made by the book and to bring about the most blatant infringement of the right to freedom of expression. What is disgusting and shameful must be a pack of lies, and should therefore be suppressed.

The pathology of such a reaction is dangerously, even if somewhat comically, far-reaching. First, the apotheosis of national leaders beyond human taint (if sex is a taint) speaks of a society and a democracy in a state of lamentable immaturity. The habit of virulent worship and the dreadful earnestness informing Indian partisanship can only perpetuate a political culture deeply at odds with critical liberty. From the tricolour to womanhood, the establishment attitude to the sacrosanct remains little better than primitive. The banning of a play dramatizing Nathuram Godse’s perception of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi — also in Maharashtra, then ruled by the Congress’s opponents — is one among many instances of the neuroticism the Indian state is capable of when confronted with unofficial points of view. Second, the imposing of such bans at the drop of a hat shows up the automatic paternalism of a state that must, indeed, have a very low opinion of the reading or viewing public’s capacity to make its own moral decisions. And this unthinking assumption of the right to police what the adult Indian is exposed to cuts across the entire political gamut — from the ultra-left in West Bengal and Kerala, through the relatively liberal Congress, to more blatant right-wing bigotry. The areas of insecurity are also significant — political heterodoxy and sexual morality. In this latest case of national revulsion, what is ultimately most disturbing is the extent to which attitudes to gender and sexuality continue to energize political and bureaucratic action in India. The manner in which these energies operate within the state machinery, and the language in which they are publicly articulated, are disconcertingly reminiscent of domestic tyranny and discrimination. Paternal injunctions within the family and political decrees in the state often tend to sound similar. In India, politics and patriarchy go very well together.


Wisdom has a propensity to arrive after the event. Thus the West Bengal unit of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) woke up to the lavish retirement package being given to Mr Jyoti Basu by the government of West Bengal after the state cabinet had approved of the decision. Following largescale and unfavourable publicity in the media, the state unit of the CPI(M) has decided that the party will look after Mr Basu’s needs except for the security arrangements. There can be no argument over this. How the CPI(M) looks after its senior members and what perquisites it allows them to enjoy is the party’s internal matter. In the jargon of the communist movement, Mr Basu is a “wholetimer” of the party. This means that Mr Basu is a party worker for which he receives a wage, the amount of which is decided by the party. One can only assume that the elaborate list of perquisites that the state government drew up for Mr Basu will now be part of the wage to which he is entitled from his party. It remains a fact that no other communist leader in India has ever been given such benefits. It is nice, indeed, of a party dedicated to the poor and the oppressed to agree to spend a large amount on one individual.

For observers of politics in West Bengal, what is more important is the context that has led the CPI(M) to reject the offer of the West Bengal cabinet and decide to bear the cost of Mr Basu’s upkeep and welfare. The original offer made by the government of West Bengal was shocking in content and silly in its timing. It played directly into the hands of all the critics of left rule in the state. It provided ammunition for all those who, over two decades, have maintained that the Left Front, especially the CPI(M), misused state power for its own ends and that Mr Basu had been the principal abuser. The CPI(M) made no mistake in reading the signs that at this juncture it would be a mistake to allow Mr Basu to accept the retirement package. The words, “this juncture”, are crucial. The CPI(M) faces in a few weeks’ time not just another election but one which might decide whether it will continue to rule West Bengal or not. The state party leadership knows this. It cannot afford to gift new ammunition to the opposition, especially to Ms Mamata Banerjee, who is preparing herself for the kill. At any other time, the CPI(M) might have considered riding roughshod over public sentiments and ignoring public outcry. It has not hesitated to do so in the past. But the present political climate and the forthcoming elections do not warrant such a step. West Bengal can no longer be treated as a fief of the left. Fear often engenders wisdom.


Yashwant Sinha must consider himself distinctly unlucky. He has not had a very happy relationship with the corporate sector. When he took over as finance minister this time around, he inherited a whole host of problems, including a sharp drop in the overall growth rate of the economy from 7.5 per cent in 1996-97 to only 5 per cent in 1997-98, a rising fiscal deficit reflecting the penurious state of government finances, crucial infrastructural bottlenecks and falling exports. His own government proceeded to make matters much worse by conducting nuclear tests which acted as a severe drain on the country’s resources. Unfortunately, the corporate sector expected him to be a superman and solve all their problems with a magic wave of his wand.

In the past, he has proved himself to be a very ordinary mortal. However, on Budget Day 2001, he transformed himself completely, and presented a budget which was compared to the “dream budget” of P. Chidambaram. He laid down a blueprint for second generation reforms, including some very daring labour-market reforms. Specific sops to the corporate sector included a drastic reduction in the surcharge and a much lower dividend tax.

Not surprisingly, he earned accolades from almost every industrialist. The stock market also responded positively, with the Bombay sensitive index soaring by more than 200 points in a couple of days. Sinha must have expected a prolonged period of relatively trouble-free existence.

Unfortunately, his troubles started that same week. The stock market went into a tizzy, prices fell alarmingly and the Sensex crashed to a point below the pre-budget level. The immediate cause of the crisis in Dalal Street and other share markets in the country was probably the much-talked about recession in the United States economy. Indeed, the Nasdaq also fell around that time, and this was accompanied by a fall in information, communication and entertainment stocks in Indian markets. But, though these levelled off, the Sensex simply refused to respond to the budget.

Worse was to follow. Newspapers started zooming in on a series of incidents and rumours which made the Sensex extremely volatile. There was first the rumour that several big players were colluding through short sales to hammer down prices. The Securities and Exchange Board of India got into the act and imposed measures to make life difficult for these bear operators. Then, NIIT issued a profit warning, strengthening the apprehensions of nervous investors about the fate of ICE stocks. This was soon followed by news that a few brokers may have payment difficulties in the Calcutta stock exchange. Accusations have also been levelled at some officials of the Bombay stock exchange that they have used information gathered in their official capacity to conduct trades in their personal capacity as brokers. Finally, just when the markets seemed to be looking up, the Tehelka exposé and the resulting threat of political instability caused a steep fall in share prices all over again.

Indian regulatory authorities have a habit of knee-jerk reactions to crises. This may often be caused by criticism of inaction in the media. To some extent, this behaviour has also been witnessed during the current crisis. Sebi and the finance ministry officials seemed to have had several rounds of consultations, and the former is said to be examining whether there have indeed been concerted efforts by a leading broker — Ketan Parekh — along with others to manipulate share prices. The media has also got into the act, and it is difficult to open a magazine which does not carry some article on Parekh and his practices.

It is important for Sebi and the finance ministry to realize that all these incidents do not fall into the same category. In particular, what seems to have captured most attention is the attempt by Parekh and his henchmen to manipulate share prices. But, before any action is taken against the so-called price manipulators, the market regulator must first decide the nature of the “crime”.

Clearly, buying up a lot of shares of a particular company today increases the market demand for that particular share. If this leads other investors to believe that the share will appreciate in the future, then they may well want to buy shares of the same company. The second round of buying will cause a further price appreciation, and now the original investor may well want to exit the market by selling off the shares at a profit. The operations of bulls and their enemies — the bears — are certainly speculative in nature. These market operators certainly “manipulate” prices. But, the bulls and bears exist in stock markets all over the world. Nowhere else is there much talk about banning them, so long as they operate within the rules of the game.

The problem is that Indian brokers often seem to get away with murder. Consider, for instance, the allegations that some brokers in the Calcutta stock exchange have run into payment difficulties. This means that they contracted to buy huge quantities of shares in the expectation that their buying spree would cause prices to rise. The rules of the game allow them to buy shares without money actually changing hands for some time. So, they were hoping to balance their books by selling off the shares at the higher price. But, once their price expectations proved wrong, they had to cough up huge sums of money. Unfortunately, they do not seem to have the required amount of money.

“Payment difficulties” are euphemisms for the inability of these brokers to settle their bills. In other words, they have failed to honour a contract that they entered into voluntarily. This is indeed a crime which can well disrupt the entire working of a stock exchange. Stringent action should be taken against the guilty brokers. The punishment should be severe enough so as to act as a deterrent against future “payment difficulties”.

The allegations of “insider trading” against the Bombay stock exchange are also extremely serious. Information which they may have acquired in their official capacity was not available to other brokers. So, this clearly gives them an unfair advantage. More importantly, the repeated use of such inside information enables them to mislead the rest of the brokers. In the long run, this could lead to a loss of confidence in the stock market as an institution.

Sebi has now rightly placed restrictions on the trading activities of the directors of stock exchanges. But many will argue that this is a classic case of locking the stable door after the horse has bolted. These incidents also bring out into the open the feeling that Sebi acts rather erratically — it seems to be more or less somnolent when major scandals break out. For instance, at least one leading business magazine had argued convincingly that the CRB Capital Markets fiasco should have been prevented by the regulatory authority. On the other hand, Sebi acts over- zealously on what are essentially non- issues, flexing its muscles when the markets should be left to their own devices. Actions against price manipulators, provided they operate within the rules of the game, falls into the second category.

The author is an economist at the Indian Statistical Institute, New Delhi


Ethnic peace has withstood more than a week of shooting around the Macedonian city of Tetovo, despite the efforts of ethnic-Albanian guerrillas based in neighbouring Kosovo to topple the small Balkan republic into civil war. Another week of fighting would probably do the trick, however. So it would help if the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which has occupied Kosovo for the past 20 months, could work its nerve up enough to stop the guerrillas crossing into Macedonia.

It is almost entirely Nato’s fault. The alliance has 37,000 troops in Kosovo, quite enough to seal its borders against the extremist minority who want to destabilize their neighbours. But Nato governments have such an acute fear of casualties that they are unwilling to police the borders seriously.

It is American troops who control (or rather, fail to control) Kosovo’s most sensitive borders with the south-west corner of Serbia and with Macedonia. In both cases, the bulk of the population just across the frontier is identical to the Albanian majority in Kosovo, and in both cases, extremist elements in Kosovo want to bring them into the fold.

Yet the United States forces let Kosovo extremists infiltrate freely across the Serbian border into the three mile buffer zone from which Serbian forces were excluded, rather than risk clashes in which American soldiers might get hurt. After 30-odd Serbians had been killed there, they invited the Serbian army to move back into the buffer zone last month rather than take the responsibility of policing the border themselves.

Exclusion zone

The border with Macedonia was the same story: the US forces unilaterally created their own one-mile deep “exclusion zone” inside Kosovo — a zone which American troops did not enter, but the ethnic-Albanian guerrillas now attacking Macedonia certainly did. A month ago, as the guerrillas massed on this border, Macedonian prime minister, Ljubco Georgievski, complained about Nato’s “indolent treatment of the crisis”.

Macedonia is the one former Yugoslav republic that has escaped war in the 10 years since the old federation broke up and the Serbian leader, Slobodan Milosevic, set the epidemic of ethnic cleansing in motion. Its 2.3 million population is mixed: about two-thirds Christian Slavs who speak Macedonian and one-third Albanian-speaking Muslims, with small Turkish, Serbian and Roma minorities. But it has had sane and adroit political leaders who managed to keep the peace.

Traditionally, Macedonia’s Albanians have been poorer and politically disadvantaged. Moreover, the Slav majority is nervous about their loyalty, particularly as there are seven or eight million more Albanians nearby in Kosovo and Albania proper. But responsible leaders from both groups have worked to eradicate the anti-Albanian biases in the system gradually, without panicking the Slav majority.

The border is a line

What prompted the Kosovo-based extremists to launch their attack now was probably the ratification of a treaty defining the border between Serbia and Macedonia on March 1.

Much of that border is really Kosovo’s, but Kosovo is still legally part of Serbia despite the Nato occupation. The Macedonian prime minister was careful to say that if Kosovo’s status changed, “the border is just a line that could be looked at and agreed again,” but the hard men in Kosovo are worried that they are not going to get full independence.

Now that Milosevic has been overthrown in Belgrade and Nato is getting friendly with the new democratic government in Serbia, they fear that Kosovo could end up as merely an autonomous province of Serbia. To stop that, they are trying to get the shooting going again in the Balkans. Since they lack the strength to take on Nato directly in Kosovo, they are instead trying to drive the two ethnic communities in Macedonia into a civil war that will make Nato throw up its hands in despair and leave.

If Nato had the political will, it could impose either solution: an independent Kosovo, or an autonomous Kosovo within a democratic Serbia. By refusing to discuss either, it is guaranteeing more trouble there in the long term. But it might at least have the courage to patrol Kosovo’s borders properly and save Macedonia from a similar fate.


A matter, which should have aroused public protest but did not do so and with which the administration was able to get away as a “routine” affair, was the transfer of Justice Ajit Bharihoke, Central Bureau of Investigation special judge, to another post by the Delhi high court.

The law minister, Arun Jaitley, in whom I repose a lot of faith has washed his hands of the affair saying, “the government doesn’t come into the picture.” Perhaps it does not. But I have little doubt he could have told the chief justice that Bharihoke’s transfer at this stage would create a lot of misgivings in the public mind. Many eminent jurists have expressed their unhappiness over it.

Although it has to be conceded that Bharihoke has already done two years more than the usual tenure for a judge in the same post, there are good reasons to have overlooked this meaningless convention, and let him finish the cases pending before him rather than let them be handled by a new judge.

It might be recalled that Bharihoke sentenced the former prime minister, P.V. Narasimha Rao, and the former cabinet minister, Buta Singh, to imprisonment for their role in the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha bribery case. He also refused permission to the Hinduja brothers to leave the country till they had cleared their names in the Bofors gun deal. Other matters still to be disposed of by Bharihoke include Lakhubhai Pathak’s cheating case, the St Kitts forgery case, the housing allocation case involving ex-minister Sheila Kaul, the unaccounted wealth case of ex-cabinet minister, Pandit Sukh Ram, the cases of Ashok Aggarwal (enforcement director) and Abhishek Verma, son of a former MP.

In some of these cases trial judges were transferred before they could finish with them. At those times too, there were muted protests that some hanky-panky was afoot because the parties involved are not common citizens, but men and women who at one time wielded immense political clout with vast sums of money at their disposal.

As it is, most people suspect that such people are above the law. They can manoeuvre the levers of our judicial system, buy or bully their way out of any trouble. Bharihoke’s transfer lends credence to these suspicions. He has earned a lot of respect for the courageous way he handled cases against super VIPs. It would be a great pity if the people felt he is being made to pay the price for being upright.

My dancing queen

There are times when I am at a loss for words to describe a beautiful scenery, great music or dance performances. I found myself in that predicament watching Indian classical dancing. I do not pretend to know any of its finer points and am not impressed by them dropping names of their famous gurus nor by eulogies paid to them by dance-critics. I try to form my own ill-informed judgment.

I used to put them in different categories: OK or so-so, passable, good to very good. I was able to accommodate most of them in one or the other. Bharatnatyam, which is our oldest classical dance, baffled, me more than other schools of dancing. I don’t understand Tamil, so I cannot follow the meaning of the song accompaniment. At times, the singing sounds unmelodious to my ears attuned to Hindustani music. Despite these handicaps there are Bharatnatyam dancers I try my best not to miss.

On top of my list is Malavika Sarukkai. I saw her first performance last year. On the basis of having known her mother, Saroja, in Bombay, I took the liberty of inviting mother and daughter to my home. They were back in Delhi in the end of February for two performances. The first was a new one choreographed by herself on the theme of longing for love: in this case of a tree pining for freedom. She told me later that the idea had come to her when she heard of a woman in Karnataka who when told she would never have children, instead of adopting one, started planting banyan trees and started looking after them as if they were born out of her womb.

Malavika named this ballet, Utkantha — longing. Just as a barren woman longs to have a child, a tree longs to live its full life without having humans cutting off its branches to use as fuel. Malavika struck on a bright idea of first demonstrating her theme with dance movements with a simultaneous commentary in English followed by its elaboration in Bharatnatyam style with the accompaniment of song, violin and mridangam.

Having savoured Utkantha one evening, I could not miss out on her second performance two days later. It was shuddha (pure) Bharatnatyam. Believe it or not, I even followed some of the song accompaniment in Tamil. For an hour-and-a-half I sat in my chair spellbound, watching this human apsara with her beautiful hands and arms weaving out messages of love, longing, adoration and her feet keeping time to the staccato beats of the mridangam.

I could not think of another word to describe the spectacle except “superb”. Malavika Sarukkai is indeed the queen of Bharatnatyam dancers. If you have not seen her dance you have missed the most thrilling experience of your life.

Ode to a cricketing legend

Ideal cricketer of all time,
Of perfect grace and batting skill,
The matchless Don is
off the crease.
Death has claimed
the best wicket
At ninety two,
denying him another eight
To complete a
memorable century
Of glorious life, so
Sport-lovers sadly
How the most prolific
In the last innings of
his great career,
Stunned the crowd,
falling for a duck.
Unique indeed even
in bad luck!
Then the mighty
Don’s average score
Stood at ninety nine point nine four;
Had he then struck just another four,
The magic figure he would have touched,
The highest average of one hundred.
Strangest slip between the cup and the lip!
Having played eighty innings of Test
Smashing bowlers with effortless ease
And scoring his highest total of three three
A rare achievement yet unsurpassed,
Bradman climbed cricket’s Mt Everest!
Cricket lovers the world over
Admire the performance of the great
What is more, his amiable, inspiring

Look who’s talking

Young Sarju was milking his cow tethered outside his home when a man approached him and asked for his vote in the forthcoming elections to the Vidhan Sabha. His father heard him talking to a stranger and shouted from inside: “Sarju, who are you talking to? Get on with the milking.”

“Baba, he says he is a politician and wants us to vote for him in the elections.”

“In that case don’t leave the cow out, bring her indoors with you,” replied his father.



Dollar sweet dreams

Sir — The Council of the Great City Schools, a Washington consulting organization, has recently reported in their newsletter that the Cleveland, Ohio, school district has decided that they will recruit Indian teachers to teach schoolchildren mathematics and science (“US scouts for India teachers”, March 22). This is good news for Indian teachers. It will provide them with an opportunity similar to all those who are leaving the country under the guise of being software experts. More and more Indians should make a beeline for the United States. It is, after all, the land of infinite opportunities. It can be mentioned here that the recent film, Dollar Dreams, ultimately has a defeatist worldview — deeply stuck in middle-class values. It is wellknown that the US, despite its abundance in virtually every sector of the economy, is intellectually bankrupt. Indian information technology experts, scientists, doctors, and now even teachers can offer them their services and secure for themselves a decent quality of life. This is great.
Yours faithfully,
Vivek Tamania, via email

Mixed victory

Sir — India’s triumph over Australia at the Eden Gardens was one of the most memorable matches played at this historic venue (“Aussies down under at the Eden,” Mar 16). An Indian victory would have remained an impossible dream without a scintillating performance by V.V.S. Laxman. By attacking Australian bowlers like Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne, Laxman gave his teammates a few pointers on how to play the Australian bowling. His confident stroke play helped teammates like Rahul Dravid gain confidence.

Credit should also go to Harbhajan Singh, Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar. However, it was Laxman’s performance that changed the attitude of the Indian team. Every player seemed to be on fire. The match referee, Cammie Smith, made the right decision in choosing Laxman as man of the match.

However, some of the remarks made by cricket commentators like Ian Chappell were extremely disturbing. Cricket is a game of “glorious uncertainty” and it is unfair to criticize the captain for the team’s failure. When Ganguly decided to make Sachin Tendulkar bowl in the Mumbai test, his decision backfired. However, Tendulkar bowled magnificently at the Eden Gardens and claimed three crucial wickets.

Yours faithfully
Rajarshi Ghosh, Calcutta

Sir — The psychological warfare that the Australians indulged in after arriving in India did not pay off as the hosts successfully wrapped up the three-match series 2-1. While there can be no denying that the Australian team has an outstanding record of having won 16 consecutive test matches in a row, many of these matches were played against mediocre teams and on home grounds.

Moreover, the Australians did not have a gameplan against players like Rahul Dravid who were dismissed as ordinary as opposed to the likes of Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly. Unfortunately for the Australians, after both Tendulkar and Ganguly were dismissed cheaply, Laxman and Dravid came to India’s rescue.

Yours faithfully,
Shubhodip Pal Chowdhary, Calcutta

Sir — V.V.S. Laxman’s brilliant innings of 281 at the Eden Gardens, succeeded in turning the tables on the current world champions. Not only was it a match-saving knock, it turned out to be a match winning one as well.

However, it was the individual performances of three players that won us the match, namely Laxman, Harbhajan Singh and Rahul Dravid. Veteran players like Venkatapathy Raju and Venkatesh Prasad probably bowled more than a hundred overs in the test match and took only two wickets.

It is high time that our selectors started choosing players after judging their performances and not on the basis of experience alone. It was indeed disappointing to see young promising players like Hemang Badani and Sarandeep Singh carrying towels and drinks onto the field. Despite being relatively inexperienced, Harbhajan Singh performed much better than his more experienced teammates.

Even though it was a fantastic victory for the Indian team in the Calcutta test match, the performance of the local icon, Sourav Ganguly, was disappointing and not up to the mark. His inexperience as a test captain was clearly reflected in some of the decisions he made on the field. Ganguly’s field placements for Steve Waugh in the first session of the second day were defensive.

This boosted Waugh’s confidence and led him to score a century. Ganguly has also failed as a batsman in this series. In order to be a good and successful captain, Ganguly will have to perform consistently and lead from the front.

Yours faithfully,
Rahul Dutt, Calcutta.

Sir — The noted cricket commentator, Ian Chappell, has rightly pointed out that V.V.S. Laxman has proved beyond doubt that the current Australian side is by no means unbeatable. After coming in to bat at one down, Laxman played his natural game with concentration and did not lose his cool. He thus inspired his teammates and instilled confidence in a side that had almost given up. The hallmark of a great cricketer is the ability to deliver when the pressure is on and when the chips are down. Laxman has demonstrated that he has this ability.

Yours faithfully,
Shantanu Bhattacharyya, via email

Sir — V.V.S. Laxman’s innings of 281 at the Eden Gardens has brought back confidence among the Indian batsmen. However, this feat has eclipsed the brilliant bowling spells of Harbhajan Singh. Though Laxman’s innings ensured that India did not lose the test, it was Singh’s magic which transformed a draw into a victory. Without Singh, chasing a target of 380 would not have been an impossible task for the Australian team.

Yours faithfully,
Debdas Mukherjee, Calcutta

Sir — As critics and former cricketers as well as millions of fans celebrate India’s victory over Australia, I find myself asking a question. What next? India’s hard-earned victory over Australia was no doubt a well-deserved one, but one must also remember that it was on home grounds with the support of thousands of people. Unless India can win more tests abroad, it will never be able to establish itself as one of the best teams in the world.

Yours faithfully,
Sharmistha Sinha, via email

Sir —Very few of us had imagined that Eden Gardens would become a witness to a historic contest which would ultimately be won by India. Not very long ago, Eden Gardens had come very close to being black-listed as a venue owing to the rowdy behaviour of crowds on more than one occasion.

During the recent test between Australia and India it was heartening to see the crowd control its emotions even when India was down and out. The thrilling contest between India and Australia reminded us that a test match can be as exciting as a one-day contest. Laxman and Harbhajan Singh have proved that there is no dearth of talented players in our country.

Yours faithfully,
Santanu Ganguly, Calcutta.

Sir —The second test between Australia and India will be remembered for a long time by cricket fans all over the world. This win will go a long way in restoring the image of Indian cricket which had suffered a severe beating after the match-fixing controversy. This victory has also provided a much needed diversion at a time when the shocking revelations made by Tehelka had demoralized us.

Yours faithfully,
Manoranjan Das, Jamshedpur

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