Editorial 1 / Centre does not hold
Everybody loves a king
People / Anu Malik
The Telegraph Diary
Letters to the editor

There is a desultory repetitiveness in the results of the Madhyamik examination in West Bengal. For the last few years, students of district schools have always ranked higher than their counterparts in the city schools. This could be a good indicator for it could suggest that the level of education imparted in the district schools is better than what is offered in the city schools. Or it could mean that West Bengal has undergone such a radical transformation under left rule that students in the districts have become brighter than students who go to some of Calcutta’s leading schools. Neither of these inferences bears scrutiny. There is nothing to suggest that district schools have vastly improved their teaching standards. On the contrary, empirical observations suggest that conditions in the districts have declined. There is another remarkable and observed tendency that goes against the conclusions given above. By and large, the students from the districts who are at the top of the list in the Madhyamik examination do not perform that well at the Higher Secondary level. In fact, it is rarely the case that the top boy/girl in the Madhyamik ranking also tops in the Higher Secondary rankings. Indeed, the names in the two lists seldom, if ever, match. What happens to the outstanding district students when they take the Higher Secondary examination? This is an enigma, unless one were to accept the totally cynical — and perhaps utterly wrong — speculation that ranks in the Madhyamik examination are deliberately massaged to show that the left has broken the elite bias in education. The results, in other words, are made to look like a self-fulfilling prophecy. It is difficult to accept such speculation because of the scale of the operation. Rigging elections is one thing, rigging examination results is another.

The key to the riddle might lie in the scale of the Madhyamik examination. It is estimated that about 600,000 students took the examination this year. This would mean that there were thousands of examiners. It is difficult to imagine that strict standards of examining scripts can be imposed on such a large number of examiners. Standards of evaluation would vary, as would levels of education among examiners; individual quirks and biases would not be ironed out. A script written in English would not get a fair evaluation in the hands of an examiner whose English is not up to the mark. All these factors throw a shadow of suspicion on the results. Indeed, they do more than that. They force one to conclude that a centralized examination in which 600,000 candidates appear cannot, by definition, be a fair and efficient system. It reduces examinations to a game of chance.

It is not as if this is an insoluble problem. At the heart of the problem lies power and vested interests, and the unwillingness to relinquish the one and surrendering the other. A centralized examination system is one way to cling on to power and patronage. This makes it self-perpetuating because those who run it become smug and impervious to criticism and suggestions for change. A simple solution is to decentralize the system and to form bodies which will conduct examinations for a smaller and more manageable number of candidates. A more radical solution is to do away with the idea of having one centralized school-leaving examination. Every school can hold its own examination at the end of class X. Or there could be a coexistence of the two and schools could be given the option of holding their own examination. A system of examination that is decentralized will make evaluation more efficient and relatively fairer for students. It is important to remember that students are the crucial constituent of a system of examination. It exists for them.

A flawless examination system is perhaps something too idealistic to hope for. But it is still possible to have an evaluation system which is fairer than the present one and is seen to be so. To work towards this, examinations have to be freed from the contamination of politics. This, as things stand today in West Bengal, might be the most difficult thing to do.


No matter who reigns in Kathmandu, New Delhi must deal with him as friend and partner. An understanding of his sensibilities would be useful though no one knows better than Atal Bihari Vajpayee that a ruler cannot be held to views that he expounded before coming to power. India’s task would become easier if it also identifies and strengthens those representative elements in Nepal whose legitimate interests reflect those of the nation as a whole, and need this country’s cooperation for fruition.

Much is being written about King Birendra’s goodwill for India. Personal relations with him were less abrasive than between his father, King Mahendra, and Jawaharlal Nehru or Indira Gandhi. He did not try as vigorously to stump India with the China card. But his peace zone proposal rejected India’s security strategies, while the argument that Nepal belonged to central, not south, Asia was a further attempt to distance it from India. It is no secret either that the late monarch could stand on his dignity, once declining to have breakfast with Mrs Gandhi, apparently for reasons of amour propre.

Relations began to improve only after the 1990 revolution clipped the wings of royal absolutism. Claims that the world’s only Hindu monarchy mellowed further when the Bharatiya Janata Party came to power may be attributable to the latter’s religious label. Jaswant Singh’s own durbari connections, especially in the extended Rana network, and his familiarity with the arcane intricacies of court life, undoubtedly helped. But the decisive factor was the shift in the kingdom’s internal polity. Always an astute man, King Birendra realized soon enough that a constitutional monarch who has to deal with an assertive cabinet and populist parliamentarians can only benefit from the support of the region’s most important parliamentary democracy. In aligning himself with India, he must have hoped to steal a march over his principal adversaries at home.

Paradoxically, the rebel Maoist thesis of an inevitable war against India also reflects this assessment. No wonder the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), naturally abetted by Pakistani troublemakers, is trying to blame India for the palace massacre. Comrade Prachanda and his lieutenant, Baburam Bhattarai, know that if the kingdom of Nepal, which they are committed to destroying, is cornered, it can turn only to India for its survival. The Maoists must, therefore, stoke the fires of resentment against India at all levels and in every manner, even to the extent of advancing such a fanciful and non-Marxist explanation for their country’s tragedy.

Happily, Wednesday’s arrests in Kathmandu confirmed the royal government’s awareness that it cannot afford to tolerate such dangerous mischief. India’s response must ensure the continued confidence of king and people, making clear to both that it will do everything possible to succour the political and economic institutions that make for stability. That means the throne which is of “the soil”, as Girija Prasad Koirala once put it, as well as the democratic polity that gives the monarchy contemporary weightage and reflects national aspirations, and, finally, the plans and projects to create an infrastructure that will attract desperately needed investment.

Unfortunately, the BJP lacked the confident insouciance of P.V. Narasimha Rao who told King Birendra that he would treat the king as a sovereign if the king in turn did not try to treat him as a subject. Instead, bowled over by a gush of royal graciousness and egged on by celebrities with links with the royal family, Vajpayee’s government tried to cultivate the palace at the expense of more dependable ties with politicians. The truism that everybody loves a king reinforced the calculation that one man is more easily influenced than a clutch of contrary politicians. Even now, cloying references to royal divinity — one Indian ambassador even prostrated himself at the feet of Vishnu’s supposed avatar — overlook the fact that this was always a political ploy.

Nepal’s autonomous principalities succumbed to Prithvi Narayan Shah in 1769 not because they revered him as a living god but because he chopped off the noses and lips of all the inhabitants of one defiant state and warned the people of another that they would lose their right hands as well. The Vishnu legend enhanced the new and very ungodly Shah dynasty’s prestige. Later, the Ranas cunningly promoted it to isolate the throne and concentrate all power in their own hands.

Irrespective of this charming fiction, the monarch deserves the courtesy and respect due to a head of state, and more. He has come to personify a multiethnic nation; many believe that only the throne holds it together. But by reportedly bypassing the prime minister and government to directly invite the king to be the chief guest on Republic Day, India infringed propriety. Worse, such shortsighted sycophancy can only weaken and alienate Kathmandu’s political establishment without making permanent friends in the palace.

Such stratagems are not without precedent. In Sikkim, too, for years Indian diplomats flattered and courted the Chogyal while surreptitiously encouraging Sikkimese politicians only just enough so that they could be a thorn in his side and no more. New Delhi swung over to the politicians with a deafening roll of democratic drums only when two things became clear. First, the Chogyal would not be cajoled into compromising what he saw as Sikkim’s rights. Second, Kazi Lendhup Dorji and other politicians would meekly do as they were bid.

Similar games are not possible in sovereign Nepal where India is, technically at least, only another foreign power without even the residual treaty right that it can claim in Bhutan. Touchily, Kathmandu will not allow the term “special relationship”. While Nepalese monarchs are determinedly indifferent to an Indian prime minister’s frowns and smiles, Nepal’s politicians have not forgotten the vigour with which Nehru suppressed the Nepali Congress’s armed insurrection in December 1950 because he wanted to negotiate a settlement with the Ranas.

In private conversation, Bishweshwar Prasad Koirala could be very scathing about the Indian government and its methods and objectives. The palace had many complaints against the first prime minister, but the charge of being an Indian agent was not among them. That itself warned against the simplification of assuming that even if Nepalese politicians are not exactly New Delhi’s creatures, they are better disposed towards India than the palace. They are probably less petulant and prickly, and should be India’s natural allies. But a series of protests in the kingdom over relatively minor irritants illustrates how quick every Nepalese is to take offence at the least suggestion of disparagement. Perhaps the top gives the lead but the bottom is eager enough to follow.

Unredeemed by religious affinity or kinship ties, this aspect of the big country-small country, donor-recipient syndrome presents India with its biggest challenge in the Himalayan kingdom. The rebuff to New Delhi’s offer to send a high-level condolence delegation suggests that a murky succession recalling the Nepalese tradition of liquidating all claimants from previous dynasties — the ruthless nirvangsa concept — may have compounded the complex. Rumoured links between the palace and the Maoists as well as Gurkha militants in India are, however, far less worrying than the obscurity into which Nepal’s elected prime minister and cabinet seem to have retreated in the face of what is a national and international — not just a palace — crisis. The people’s elected representatives cannot afford to surrender the lead, for the mix of feudalism and poverty is precisely what the Maoists are exploiting.

Stability demands economic growth and an equitable power balance in Kathmandu. Recalling how King Birendra changed after 1990, an effectively broad-based administration would also be in India’s interest. As King Mahendra discovered to his chagrin, India alone can help with funds, economic exchanges, expertise, trade and investment. China is not a viable alternative.

A new reign should mark a new beginning. King Gyanendra should have no cause for complaint against his country’s principal benefactor.



In Tune Last

When Moulin Rouge, Hollywood’s 50 million dollar musical extravaganza was released in the United States last week, its lush creditline read like a who’s who of the pop pantheon: Roger and Hammerstein, The Beatles, Elton John, Sting, David Bowie, U2, Madonna and many more.

Among this elite list of ‘original’ composers was a very original name: Anu Malik. Thankfully, at least the song used for this Nicole Kidman movie, Chamma Chamma from Raj Kumar Santoshi’s flop, China Gate, was actually his own composition. And, Malik, the 40-plus, fast talking composer, is on cloud nine.

Truth to tell, though, having snatches of a song included in a Hollywood film is no proof of real international success. Perhaps, the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan had far better claims to that having composed the music for the redemption classic, Dead Man Walking. Moreover, Chamma Chamma lasts less than a minute on celluloid. That too as one in a medley of songs.

But being selected for filmmaker Baz Luhrmann’s grand musical, a carnival of passion and creative inspiration in a 1900 Parisian nightclub, is great for any composer’s resume. After all, in an era of globalisation, international recognition of any kind is considered as the ultimate benchmark of success. Ask all the Indo-Anglian writers. Shekhar Kapur too. And, nothing could be a bigger stamp of credibility for Malik, often contemptuously dismissed as a lucky copycat in the past, than his gone-in-60-seconds song, referred to as Hindi Sad Diamonds in the film.

Bollywood biggies have already acknowledged his rising reputation. Top director Subhash Ghai signed him up for the first time in Yaadein. The film’s music released last week showcases a mellow and mature Malik; the compositions blending taut Western orchestration with tunes of distinct Indian feel. In Amitabh Bachchan’s forthcoming film, Aks, the music director experiments and innovates with delightful abandon. And, if he is good enough for a perfectionist like Sooraj Barjatiya (Main Prem Ki Deewani Hoon) and a visual artist like Santosh Sivan (Asoka the Great), he is good enough for anybody. No surprise, Malik now wants to win a Grammy.

Don’t laugh. Many had to eat their words when he won the National Award for Refugee earlier this year. And unlike the categories for the best film and the best actress, it didn’t raise a controversy.

Malik must have heaved a huge sigh of relief at that. Not only because he had missed out on the same award for Virasaat and Border but because controversies have constantly hounded him in the past.

He became the talk of the tabloids when pop singer Alisha Chinai alleged that the composer had tried to force himself on her. The music director denied the incident. The controversy subsided with the passage of time but not without leaving a trail of bitterness. The other allegation — about him being a copycat in the Bappi Lahiri mould — can be easily substantiated.

Malik doesn’t deny the charge. Instead, he points out that other composers do it as well. “If you hear R.D. Burman, Shankar Jaikishen, Naushad sa’ab, all great composers, they are all ‘inspired’. Salilda made Itna na mujh se tu pyaar badha. But when he does it, it means he’s inspired. Aur mere saath, copy word aa gaya,” he said in an interview sometime ago.

Perhaps, his long days of struggle made Malik a touch more desperate for success; hence the willingness to compromise. One can surmise that for him being original was far less important than being successful considering his father, the redoubtable Sardar Malik, never made it big in the Mumbai film industry. Few know that the young composer made his debut way back in 1978 in Hunterwali 77, a C-grade venture directed by the late comedian Mohan Choti with Bindu as the heroine! The film bombed at the box office and Malik had to wait for five long years before he got his next chance in Poonam and Ek Jaan Hai Hum in 1983. The latter (where the youngest Raj Kapoor son, Rajeev, made his debut) was a moderate success and Malik’s music was noticed. Songs like Bolo kuch to bolo and Yaad teri aayegi was evidence that here was a composer of promise.

In the following years, Malik signed some big films such as Manmohan Desai’s Mard, Ganga Jamuna Saraswati and Toofan but also showed signs of creative stagnation. With a few exceptions like Ek Chadar Maili Si, much of Malik’s music between 1985 and 1993 neither won commercial success nor critical acclaim. Malik tried everything — even dropping the second ‘n’ from Annu on the advice of a numerologist — but to no avail. It appeared that he was destined to fade away without really making a name for himself — with one ‘n’ or two.

But Malik proved the doubting Thomases wrong. So far his music was trapped between the traditional and the modern and his compositions lacked identity and style. But in 1993 with Abbas Mustan’s Baazigar and Mahesh Bhatt’s Phir Teri Kahani Yaad Aayee, Malik got his confidence back. His orchestration was tighter than ever before. And, it seemed, he could come up with tunes that were easier to catch than flu.

Soon, it was obvious that there was two Anu Maliks. One, who could come up with interesting and innovative compositions as in Virasaat, Border, Duplicate, Fiza, Kareeb, Refugee, Josh, etc. But one, who could sleepwalk through films such as Sapoot, Jordaar, Khauff, Krishna etc.

In some sense, Malik the composer is quite similar to Malik the man. Watching him talk, with the colourful beaded cap on his head and words pouring out in a torrent, one gets the impression of a restless, energetic artist in a hurry.

Post-1993, Malik has been able to harness this zany, nervous energy into his tunes. Now he is enjoying its rewards. Songs of Josh, Biwi No 1, even his latest hit, Mujhe Kuch Kehna Hai, carry a joie de vivre and a paisa vasool quality which finds easy resonance with the new generation. Lyricist Javed Akhtar once complimented him with the memorable line, “He is the sort of guy who can make music out of a telephone directory.”

Perhaps, like a good artist, Malik needs a good occasion to excel. He needs a good director to coax, cajole and bring out the best in him. Like J.P. Dutta did in Border and Refugee. Like Subhash Ghai has done in Yaadein.

But Malik is not resting on his laurels. And, he is not joking when he says he wants to win the Grammy. You cannot accuse Anu Malik of being afraid to dream.



Mad about the girl

Madhuri Dixit claims another Fida. The marital status of the dhak dhak girl seems to have had no effect on the potency of her charm. The latest to join the mad about Mad club — whose members range from the barefoot, maverick painter, Maqbool Fida Husain, to the foot-in-mouth, controversial cricketer, Ajay Jadeja, is Majesh Manjekar. Mad’s latest victim is the much acclaimed director of the film Astitva, which saw Tabu walk away with a critics’ award. Mahesh wants to make Astitva in English, but, unsurprisingly, Tabu has fallen into the dustbin for our Madhuri-struck man. He thinks Mad can better Tabu’s performance. Mahesh to pagal hai!

One who has stronger knees

Come another knee surgery, it is time for another round of rumours about a succession drama being staged at the Centre. According to the little birds at the Pandara Park, the old wise men of the saffron party seem to have also talked about the precise time for the change of the face of government during their famous lunch together. The season decided is apparently winter, the month November, just after the polls in Uttar Pradesh and AB Vajpayee’s proposed visit to Russia. No prizes for guessing who the successor will be. The heir quite apparently has already begun operating as the deputy prime minister. That explains his involvement in Kashmir, Assam and Manipur. Vajpayee is also said to have been telling wannabe ministers like Ajit Singh to see LK Advani if they wanted a place in the sun. Who’s on a stronger footing then?

Cut above the rest

About dinners. The Tehelka tapes have had one salutary effect. The foster family of the prime minister has reportedly become extremely careful nowadays in accepting invitations to social dos. Vajpayee’s foster son-in-law, occasionally accompanied by his wife, used to be a regular at the capital’s upper end party scene in the pre-Tehelka days. Though for the Bhattacharyas this can be presumed to have been a purely social exercise, their crafty hosts often exploited their presence to improve their talents at lobbying. Not so any more. The Bhattacharyas are now rarely seen at parties, having become cautious about where they set foot. Will that mean the footsteps are also retreating from the PMO?

Accidental discovery

Mayhem in the Rail Bhawan. One deputy chief operating manager is reported to have been transferred after doing the unthinkable. There were many red faces at a book release when the chairperson of the railway board, Ashok Kumar, realized to his horror that instead of releasing the book on how to prevent the possibility of human error in railway accidents, he had ended up uncovering a book that can be labelled easily as pornographic.

For the officer, who incidentally belongs to the weaker sections of Indian society, this was a revenge of other railway officials who were plainly casteist. His colleagues are meanwhile regaling themselves with the book released instead of the one on railway safety. Indian Railways can’t prevent accidents then?

Joy of smoking for free

A spoilsport babu in the ministry of external affairs stopped free cigarettes being delivered to mandarins in the foreign office. Back in the Fifties, burra sahibs in the MEA had mandated that each month they shall be provided at the tax-payers’ expense a carton of imported cigarettes. A well-known tobacco company, which has since diversified into the hospitality industry, was assigned the task of supplying the cartons to the babus. The freebie was recently questioned on grounds that it clashed with the Delhi government’s policy of banning smoking in public places. Smoker IFSs were plainly upset at the attempt to take away one of their longstanding perks. The presumably non-smoking officer, however, stood his ground and managed to destroy the joy of free smoking.

The MEA, as I see it

n Former minister of state for foreign affairs, Ajit Panja, has managed to size up the MEA. He is alleged to believe that the IFS is all about “alcohol and protocol”.

Footnote / Who’s mad about this girl?

No one seems to be mad about her anymore. Mamata Banerjee has been in Delhi for more than a week now, but unlike the good old days there are no VIP visitors or crazy media crew dying to meet her. Didi called a press conference last Saturday, but cancelled it on the pretext of the royal massacre in Nepal. The grapevine has it that this is because of the complete confusion in the party about what to tell the press regarding what happened in didi’s meeting with the PM. According to one version, Mamata tried to impress Vajpayee by saying she had divided the opposition and thus prevented the fall of the government. Another has it that didi apparently pleaded with Vajpayee to take back her MPs. In the absence of a Trinamool brief on the matter, imagination seems to be running wild. But didi herself seems to have cancelled the brief made out for the press. The wicked BJP unit of her homestate thinks that Mamata had intended to talk to the press about the PM being disgusted with Tapan Sikdar for his failure in the state. But she chickened out for the fear of being contradicted by the PMO. Will didi please come out of the closet?    


Money is the basic instinct

Sir — The news about the death of the sequel to Basic Instinct is sad (“Stone loses her second instinct”, June 8). Although accused of having too much sex, the film was one of the best thrillers to have been produced by Hollywood in recent times and grossed $ 400 million worldwide. A sequel would have been both challenging to make and interesting for the audience, especially given the fact that the beautiful Sharon Stone is looking older nowadays, nine years after the original release. Stone has realized that even if the plan for a sequel is revived later, she will certainly not be cast in the lead role. She has been canny enough to demand $ 14 million and a share of the gross profit, if the film is ever produced.

Yours faithfully,
Subhendu Dutta, via email

Messy state of affairs

Sir — Ashok Mitra’s article, “Look back in triumph” (May 23), is a correct assessment of the role played by certain sections of the media, both print and electronic. Some newspapers and television channels encouraged the frenzy that the Trinamool Congress and Mamata Banerjee were trying to kick up. Completely ignoring the situation on the ground, the media unnecessarily tried to project a larger-than-life image of Banerjee.

The extent of the Trinamool debacle was compounded by the rising hopes of Banerjee immediately after the party’s small victory in the Panskura Lok Sabha byelection. It generated boundless euphoria and inspired her rhetoric about “capturing” Writers’ Buildings.

Yours faithfully,
Phani Bhushan Saha, Balurghat

Sir — The article which derived its name from the famous John Osborne play, Look Back in Anger, had the angry communist from West Bengal, Ashok Mitra, fulminating against the media in a blinkered and partisan way. What is wrong if the people of West Bengal, tormented by years of Left Front misrule, long for change? Of course, Mamata Banerjee has not been able to deliver the goods in the elections. But this does not exonerate the Left Front with regard to the autocracy it had begun to perpetrate on the state.

Mitra talks about voters being brought in from other states. It is well-known that the Left Front has, in order to increase its vote bank, allowed a large number of Bangladeshi people to infiltrate across the borders.

Yours faithfully,
D.K. Chakravarti, Calcutta

Fires always smoke

Sir — On May 31, the International No Tobacco Day, I was shocked to see two small children smoking on the street. In India, 5,500 people become tobacco consumers every day. And, by the year 2020, tobacco will cause 13.3 per cent of all deaths in India. The World Health Organization has declared the following slogan this year — “Second-Hand Smoke Kills — Let’s Clear The Air.” SHS, which is also known as environmental tobacco smoke, is dangerous particularly in factories, offices and other closed areas. SHS can also cause crib deaths among infants. Children exposed to ETS are susceptible to insufficient development of the brain and infections like bronchitis or ear ailments.

The Indian Society on Tobacco and Health presented an 18-point demand on May 31 last year to the then chief minister, Jyoti Basu. But no legislation has been brought into force despite a bill having been drafted.

Yours faithfully,
D.V. Vamsee Krishna, Bhubaneswar

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