Editorial / Sticky wicket
Return of the prince of Awadh
The Telegraph Diary
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL / STICKY WICKET 
 
 
 
 
The miasma surrounding the game of cricket refuses to go away. The report of the anti-corruption unit of the International Cricket Council headed by Mr Paul Condon, former head of Scotland Yard, only confirms the general suspicion that there is much more going on than meets the eye. Despite the subterranean flow of nefarious activities which has vitiated cricket, one thing is clear. The ICC and the various national boards have been too too slow to react to the allegations of matchfixing, bribery and betting which have been around in the world of cricket for some time. This slow-footedness has cost the game dear and the ICC has lost an enormous amount of goodwill and credibility in the process. The very fact that it chose to take cognizance of such allegations only after Hansie Cronje’s confessions and the revelations of the Central Bureau of Investigation in India speaks volumes of the ICC’s lackadaisical attitude to the whole affair and of its smugness. Some would say that behind the apparent indifference lurks a network of vested interests. Mr Condon’s report has hopefully ended the era when cricket administrators refused to look at reality outside the Long Room in Lord’s. Mr Condon has pointed to the widespread prevalence of the evil of betting and matchfixing and has suggested steps to counteract its spread.

One immediate step almost suggests itself and the Board of Control for Cricket in India has already implemented it. This consists of exemplary punishments to players suspected of being involved. The operative word here is “suspected’’. Cricket boards, if they are at all concerned about the future of the game, cannot afford to get involved in legal niceties like “innocent till proven guilty’’. Leniency and cover-ups are bound to be seen as pampering. There are good reasons to believe that things would not have come to such a pass if the Australian Cricket Board had imposed life bans on Mark Waugh and Shane Warne for passing on information to bookies in return for payments. It is amazing that Alec Stewart, who is to be questioned by the anti-corruption unit, is allowed to captain the English team even before he has completely cleared his name. There seems to be a remarkable absence of awareness among administrators that the game is more important than individual players and the performances of national teams. There are signs that this attitude is changing. To hasten the process, the barrier that obviously exists between players and administrators has to be broken down. Players must be made part of decisions that affect their careers. This will make players more accountable and more responsible to themselves and to their peers.

The BCCI has special reasons to be concerned about the findings of Mr Condon. He has described the Indian betting industry as the “engine room which has powered and driven cricket corruption’’. The muck from this engine room has now spread all over the cricketing world. But it is also true that the BCCI has not hesitated in taking stern action against the accused, including a former captain. It should follow this up by pressurizing the ICC to strip all the accused of their records and honours. There is one area to which sufficient attention is not being directed. This is the increasing commercialization of cricket following the tremendous popularity of its one day version. No cricket lover will object to cricketers making money from the game to which they give everything. But to ensure that they give everything there should be stricter regulations and better administration. To ensure this, wheeler-dealers and those who see cricket administration as nothing more than a ladder for social climbing should be kept at arm’s length. Other sports which allow players to earn more are better regulated. Cricket has harboured for too long the delusion that it is a gentleman’s game and so a lot of things can be left unsaid and taken as not done. Matchfixing has blown this myth for good. There exists an opportunity now to refashion the game and to bring it face to face with its own real identity.

   

 
 
RETURN OF THE PRINCE OF AWADH 
 
 
BY RUKUN ADVANI
 
 
In the course of writing history, historians and biographers often pass judgment on the dead. These judgments, as often as not, are detrimental to the reputation of those who are written about, and since a lot of history and biography is still focussed on kings and rulers, it is very much a part of the ethos of intellectual freedom for practitioners of these genres to be able to assert that so and so was actually quite a swine, this other fellow was a bit of a bum, this third was a rapist who should have been hanged before he ever got to the throne.

It is, in fact, an axiom of law in India, Britain and most “liberal” countries that the dead cannot be defamed, they cannot be made sub judice. The dead, apart from being dead, have absolute legal immunity by virtue of finally having found a little peace, and, in a country like India, entry into the Happy Hunting Grounds seems a low price to pay for the achievement of eternal prophylaxis from the law courts. In Islamic monarchies, such as Saudi Arabia, an area renowned for just deserts, the immunity of the dead from defamation by the living is a trickier matter. You can try calling the dim ancestors of Prince Fahd a bunch of bad smells, but only if your tongue has failed to understand that its movements have consequences for the subsequent condition of your upper spinal cord.

It must have been with the legal contexts of modern India and contemporary Britain in mind that the British historian of the Indian “mutiny” of 1857, P.J.O. Taylor, in collaboration with a dozen Indian and British scholars (including, coincidentally, the biographer of Indira Gandhi, Katherine Frank), compiled his excellent encyclopaedic work, titled A Companion to the Indian Mutiny of 1857 (Oxford University Press, 1996).

There is no other single-volume reference work on 1857 which can equal the dip-and-devour pleasures within this book. If, for example, you have seen Awadh’s last nawab, Wajid Ali Shah, immortalized on film by Satyajit Ray and Amjad Khan in Shatranj ke Khiladi, and so wish to find out what happened to this nawab and his family, P.J.O.Taylor is your best companion.

A curious and harmless question, one would suppose: what happened to the deposed Wajid Ali Shah, his most famous wife, Begum Hazrat Mahal, and the best known of the nawab’s progeny, the allegedly illegitimate Birjis Qadr? Did their line, like Tipu Sultan’s, fade into the gutter and cause the occasional rickshaw-puller to pop up now and again as the claimant of Awadh’s privy purse? Not so simple to answer this question, as Peter Taylor found to the cost of his book.

Soon after the appearance of his Companion, a man claiming to be the Prince of Awadh appeared to file a defamation suit against Taylor and his book in the Bombay high court. This Prince of Awadh, now a resident of London who wished to reinscribe the Empire and reclaim his share of it, said he was the legitimate descendant of Wajid Ali Shah’s legitimate son, Birjis Qadr, and that he had been indirectly defamed by Taylor’s answer to our supposedly curious and harmless question. His accusing finger pointed in the direction of four entries in the book: Wajid Ali Shah, Begum Hazrat Mahal, Birjis Qadr and Mammoo Khan.

Wajid Ali Shah, there is little doubt, was systematically defamed by the British in a desperate effort to give their take-over of Awadh the colour of legitimacy. In Sir John Kaye’s three-volume colonial history of what he charmingly called “The Sepoy War”, the last nawab is depicted as a sort of latter-day Nero, fiddling while Lucknow burned, or more precisely, “a harmless and lachrymose individual...an appalling fool, a practical joker, a profligate, and a self-styled musician who liked to show off in the streets of Lucknow, beating on a tom-tom.”

If there had been functioning law courts in mid-19th-century Lucknow (we’re still waiting for them), Wajid Ali Shah could certainly have put Sir John Kaye in the dock on the charge of infamy and sued him down to his stockings. In our own time, Maneka Gandhi has for the past several years been advantaged by the dilatory process of Indian law in preventing the publication of Khushwant Singh’s autobiography on the grounds of slander. If this stalemate continues, we can only pray that Khushwant Singh outlives Maneka Gandhi so that his libel is able to live while she is safely immunized from it by death.

The question is, however, whether a living putative descendant of Wajid Ali Shah can put P.J.O. Taylor in the dock for supposedly giving support to a British view of the Awadh nawab merely by reiterating (and thus “seeking to perpetuate”) Kaye’s prejudiced opinion.

The legal answer is that this is not reason enough for Taylor to be arraigned. This is not only because Taylor is a scrupulous historian who takes exceptional pains to point out that Wajid Ali Shah had plenty of support within the subject populace (who refrained from looting his palaces during the mutiny in the hope that he would reclaim the throne). The point is not Taylor’s scrupulousness, though that would go in his favour within a courtroom: it is quite simply that Taylor is a historian discussing a dead ruler and can say what he likes about his man. For the same reason, Murli Manohar Joshi and his cohorts can say what they like about Aurangzeb.

But as we would expect of the law, the law is a tricky customer and has a card up its sleeve. Both the British and the Indian laws make provision for consequential or indirect defamation of the dead which could legitimately be seen to rub off on the living. This means you can say what you like about Wajid Ali Shah, but if you accuse him of having spawned a bastard progeny — the nawab is reckoned by the British to have had 60 concubines and 72 children — and one of the descendants of these 72 shows up to argue that his pedigree is legitimate all the way down from Birjis to himself, you could be on your way to court.

Wajid Ali Shah’s chief spouse, Begum Hazrat Mahal, was said to have begotten Birjis Qadr not by her husband but by an alleged lover called Mammoo Khan (whom she later disowned; he was hanged by the British). “Says who?”, asked the man claiming to be the current Prince of Awadh. To which the unsatisfactory answer could only be, “Say the Brits”.

Taylor and his publishers were therefore issued a summons and the Companion was withdrawn from the market for several months. The current Prince of Awadh claimed his ancestor’s illegitimacy was a part of the British fabrication of Indian history to suit their imperial ends. The Companion cast a slur upon him indirectly by supporting the idea that he was illegitimate. The Indian courts admitted his plea on the grounds that, legally, a charge of indirect defamation could be sustained. Fortunately the matter seems to have been settled out of court and the book is back in the market.

If you look the book up, you will discover what happened to Wajid Ali Shah, his Begum, some of his offspring, and a whole mine of other curiosities. The nawab was imprisoned in Fort William, Calcutta, where even the British admitted his demeanour was regal and his behaviour dignified. His Begum ended her days as an exile in Nepal. Birjis Qadr was ten when the mutineers crowned him king. On account of his tender years, he survived the mutiny and accompanied his mother on her exile. P.J.O. Taylor, who is perhaps the ultimate fund of information on the mutiny, now lives in exile in Britain. His heart is in Awadh, and in the most real sense, he alone is its true crown prince.

   

 
 
THE TELEGRAPH DIARY 
 
 
 
 

Who wrote to the general?

Too many doves in the air. Now that the invitation letter to the general of Pakistan has reached its destination, there are innumerable voices claiming to have dispatched it. There is, of course, the indomitable Jaswant Singh, the defence portfolio under his arm, who is said to be responsible for the diplomatic coup. The Advani camp has it that the thaw in relations is a translation of the vision of their modern day Sardar Patel. On a parallel front, followers of Syed Ahmad Bukhari, believe that it is their dear imam of the Jama Masjid who finally convinced the government of the futility of the unilateral ceasefire. Naturally, the young Bukhari had to be in Lahore, on track-II diplomacy, to meet the governor of Punjab and the religious heads of Pakistan. To answer his fervent call, Maulana Fazal-ur-Rahman, head of the Jamiat-e-ulema, will reportedly arrive in New Delhi soon. Fair enough. But what’s the news from our masked ruler? Raisina Hills has it that AB Vajpayee was trying to buy peace with the Pakistani dictator since the Ramadan ceasefire. A former foreign secretary of the Indira Gandhi era was allegedly also sent to Islamabad to do the spade work. The spade seems to have worked well. The imminent visit of the general has brought in a whiff of fresh air. The mood apparently is also upbeat next door where Pervez Musharraf has allegedly been telling friends that Vajpayee is his best bet to resolve Kashmir. Wait! If Vajpayee goes in for his knee operation, it might be Advani that Musharraf will be seeing. What then?

Its all in the game

More doves of peace, but these are amongst the taliban. The mullahs have hit on a novel method to make up for the bad media the Bamiyan Buddhas created. The taliban wants to play cricket. They recently sent an all-Pathan team to Peshawar to play club-level cricket with all those who failed to become Shoaib Akhtars. The International Cricket Council is alleged to be taking the mullahs seriously. An ICC team will apparently arrive in Kabul soon. Looks like more sleepless nights are in store for Bal Thackeray and Uma Bharti. How will they deal with the taliban bouncer?

Not ice, ice lady

The leader of the Indian opposition is going places. So it did not really surprise anyone that the lady of 10, Janpath was about to visit the UK and the US of A. What however was a little odd was her proposed four day holiday in Reykjavik, Iceland. Was madam trying to get over the Indian heat by spending a while in Iceland? Or did she intend to refreeze her thawing exterior? Wrong. The Sonia camp has come up with a very different explanation. The president of Iceland, Olasur Ragnar Grimsson, is an old friend of the Nehru-Gandhis. He is supposed to have majorly supported Rajiv Gandhi’s initiative for global peace and disarmament, even though it may have fallen flat on its face. The president is also a member of the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation, headed by Sonia Gandhi. So it would be walking the memory lane in Iceland. Point taken?

Bad day for a party

Memory fails at times. It betrayed Subbirami Reddy recently. The media man of the Congress, who is in the habit of doing things in style, forgot that the day he had decided to throw a lavish party fell on Rajiv Gandhi’s death anniversary. He realized what a terrible mistake he had made, but only at the eleventh hour. Since he was in no position to call off the bash, he did the next best thing. He called up each and every scribe invited to the party and claimed that it had been called off. If only he had known the media’s strong nose for such tidbits!

What the party has for you

Where do class enemies meet? The obvious answer is, as most people in Calcutta now know, in the CPI(M) party office. But that, the cogniscenti will tell you, says nothing. When the industrialists went acourting to Alimuddin Street, they were met, according to an eyewitness, in a room “the size of a match box” which was next to the loo. Why this room? It was the only one without pictures of the deities, Marx and Lenin. Not quite the red carpet then?

In the meanwhile, Nirupam Sen, the industry minister in the left cabinet, seems to have taken over the chief minister, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. Alimuddin Street has apparently directed all ministers to submit detailed plans of their departments for one year to Sen, who, the party wishes, will act as a “link” between the government and the organization for effective running of the administration. That’s what they call the Alimuddin plant in the Writers’ to keep Buddha on a leash?

Footnote / Questions which have no answers

Incredulous questions are doing the rounds in the Trinamool. Is Mamata rejoining the Congress? Is she dismantling the three-year-old outfit to merge it with the parent body? The other day, Trinamoolis got together at didi’s Harish Chatterjee Street residence to discuss the issues threadbare. Most of them resented the shameless way senior leaders of the Congress were wooing their leader back to the partyfold. “We are stunned to hear from Mamata that she was offered the plum post of the Bengal Congress president if she rejoined the party,” alleged the party MP, Ranjit Panja. Others say didi was even offered a membership in the Congress working committee if she returned. “This is in bad taste and interferes with our organizational matter”, says a Trinamooli. Obviously, if there are chances of the party disappearing. Mamata, reportedly, has had several rounds of discussion after the elections with the Congresswallah in charge of Bengal affairs, Kamal Nath, on this very matter. Asked about the matter, Sudip Bandopadhyay answered, “I don’t reply to such questions. You better ask Mamata”. If only she would oblige.    

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Back to front

Sir — It was a volte face unlike any other. After reiterating that talks cannot be held with Islamabad unless it is willing to rein in the different terrorist groups, the Indian prime minster, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, has invited General Pervez Musharraf to New Delhi. New Delhi’s sudden change of heart with regard to its arch-enemy and pet hate is disturbing. The editorial, “Valley of fear” (May 25), has rightly pointed out that the decision to call off the six month-long unilateral ceasefire may backfire without the cooperation of the local population. By renewing the ceasefire, Vajpayee would have been able to demonstrate his sincerity to the Kashmiri people and silence his critics in the West at the same time.

Yours faithfully,
Prakash Singh, via email

Three in one go

Sir — The national commission for women has expressed concern over the practice of triple talaq in Muslim society.

The practice of triple talaq in one sitting is prohibited by Islam. The Quran prescribes a period of three months, only after the expiry of which can a divorce become final. Islam should not be blamed for the misuse of its tenets. If and when problems do arise in a marriage, both parties are advised to seek an amicable solution before taking the drastic step of divorce. Mohammad is believed to have said, “Of all the things in the world there is nothing more displeasing to Allah than divorce.”

Further, Islam has prescribed certain conditions for divorce with a view to protecting the rights of women. A divorce cannot and should not be given without a valid reason. The husband can reconcile his differences with his wife during the mandatory three month period. He forfeits this right if he divorces his wife for the third time.

Yours faithfully,
G. Hasnain Kaif, Bhandara

Sir — A petition by a Muslim woman seeking a ban on the system of triple talaq has raised a number of interesting questions (“Shah Bano case revisited”, May 12). Her lawyer has said that since the Hindus are a majority in the country and are governed by the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, which prohibits polygamy, the usage of extra-judicial divorce among Muslims is in fact a denial of the rights guaranteed to all Indian citizens by the Constitution.

But Muslims are governed by Muslim personal law. Therein lies the difficulty. Moreover, the maintenance that a Muslim woman is entitled to after the divorce is not adequate. Unless women’s organizations are willing to play a more active role, the plight of Muslim women might remain the same.

Yours faithfully,
Anjana Saha, Calcutta

Gentle brilliance

Sir — The world of Indian writing in English will never be the same without the charismatic presence of R.K. Narayan (“Man who weaved Malgudi magic passes away”, May 14). The absence of this prolific writer who experimented successfully with almost all genres — including travelogues, essays, short stories and translations — will be felt in the Indian literary scene. Narayan was responsible for putting India on the global literary map. It was through his unforgettable characters that one got a glimpse of Indian life — full of chaos and inconsistency. Despite his extraordinary fame and the status he enjoyed as an icon, Narayan remained modest till the end. It is a pity that no work of his was made into film except The Guide.

Yours faithfully,
Ahtesham Ahmed, Andal

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