Editorial / Messages in the media
Rooted cosmopolitans
The Telegraph Diary
Letters to the editor

General Pervez Musharraf quite obviously views himself as a forceful communicator of Pakistan’s national interest. During the Agra summit, his informal off-the-record breakfast meeting with senior Indian journalists was converted into a press conference that was broadcast over Pakistan Television. General Musharraf conveyed the impression of being not only clear about what he wanted for his country from the Agra summit, but also unwilling to compromise on any substantive issue. He has addressed yet another press conference in Islamabad, spending over two hours answering questions related to the Agra summit and India-Pakistan relations.

On the face of it, General Musharraf’s manner and some of his remarks seemed conciliatory. In the prepared text, he claimed, he was speaking not just to the people of Pakistan, but also to the people of India and Kashmir. And he made the right noises, and made some clichéd, but politically correct, points. He praised Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Mr Jaswant Singh for their open-mindedness, and the people of India and its government for the goodwill that was generated. While conceding that he had come back empty-handed, the general seemed to suggest that Agra was the beginning of the process. Unlike most Pakistani politicians, he even argued that third-party mediation was not necessary at this stage and could only become essential if India and Pakistan, despite being responsible states, were not able to find a way out.

However, beyond these superficial gestures, the real agenda of General Musharraf came through very clearly. Three issues deserve particular emphasis. First, General Musharraf quite clearly believes that Kashmir is at the centre of the India-Pakistan conflict, and peace cannot be established without a resolution of the “Kashmir dispute”. Second, he seems to be clear that the introduction of confidence- building measures in other areas, in the absence of a settlement on Kashmir, is meaningless. Finally, the general is unwilling to view India’s core concern of cross-border terrorism with any great sympathy or sensitivity. What is outrageous is that he sought to convey the impression that the Indian prime minister and foreign minister had accepted a declaration based on such a worldview, but others in the Indian delegation subverted it.

It is ironic that an army general, who usurped power and has no public mandate, is attempting to manipulate the media not just in Pakistan but also in India. But while many within India were willing to accept him initially as a plainspeaking general who was seriously interested in a breakthrough, scepticism is growing after the latest interaction with the media. What is particularly astonishing is his contempt for democracy and democratically elected leaders. He declared that past civilian leaders from Pakistan did not have the guts to raise the issue of Kashmir with India. He even rebuked Pakistani human rights activists for criticizing the country while abroad. In other words, General Musharraf may have overplayed his hand, and is in danger of losing all the goodwill that he claims was earned by him during his visit to India. If that happens, relations between India and Pakistan could well return to where they were before Mr Vajpayee’s decision to invite General Musharraf.


Back in the Seventies, a group of political scientists advanced the theory that India was a “multinational” state rather than a simple “nation-state”. It was said that like the Soviet Union, the Republic of India was an artifice of history, the product of accident rather than of willed circumstance, an unhappy state. There, the Leninists had brought together Ukranians, Latvians, Georgians and others under the control of the dominant nationality, the Russians. Here, the British and the Congress had forced the Bengalis, Andhras, Tamils and others to accept political union with, and political subjugation to, the Hindi-speaking nation.

I was reminded of that theory when in July 1995, I visited Nirad Chaudhuri at his Oxford home. For two hours we spoke — rather, Chaudhuri spoke and I listened — about English literature, English crockery, English monarchs, English wars and French wines. Just before I left, the telephone rang. The lady attending to the great little writer picked up the phone, and told him it was his son calling, from desh. Desh, not ghar; homeland, that is, not home. Other clues — for instance, his preference (a sensible one!) for machher jhol over fish and chips — led me to conclude that Niradbabu had two distinct nationalities, Bengali and English.

A columnist in this newspaper once identified a Coconut Club whose president for life was the self-same Nirad Chaudhuri. The members of this (in Calcutta, at any rate) well-subscribed club were, like the coconut and Chaudhuri, brown on the surface and white within, Bengali by birth but English by habit and taste. In truth, the brown sometimes seeped under the skin. For the bhadralok intellectual would not wholly disavow his roots. Even when he studied at Oxford or declaimed Shakespeare, a part of his soul remained pledged to Bengal. This was true of Niradbabu, and this was also true of roughly a million others. In this respect, at least, the writer who thought he stood alone was wholly representative of his time and class.

As a young man, Chaudhuri only knew the Mother Country from afar, but sons and daughters of better-heeled families were sent there to study. Once upon a time, it was not enough to take a PhD in history or chemistry from Dhaka or Calcutta; one had to obtain a second doctorate from Oxford or Cambridge. Meanwhile, the less scholarly minded bhadralok went to Oxbridge to get a BA, or qualified for the bar from the Inner Temple or Lincoln’s Inn. These journeymen effortlessly fused English words with Bengali ones, practising and promoting their dual nationality. On their return, they would appear suited and booted in the office but stay dhoti-punjabied at home. They would dance to the waltz when in the Club but tunefully sing the works of Nazrul Islam in their bari.

A significant minority of these Coconuts converted to communism while still in England. Thus they abandoned one foreign allegiance for another, Mother England for Father Russia. These turncoats included such well-known figures as Susobhan Sarkar, Hiren Mukherjee, Nikhil Chakravartty and Jyoti Basu. However, one part of their self remained unchanged. That is, the bhadralok communist adopted a new foreign master without abandoning his own language, literature, and cuisine.

Just as one did not have to cross the kaala paani to be Bengali and English, one did not have to meet Harry Pollitt or Rajni Palme Dutt to become Bengali and Russian. Some of the finest bhadralok film-makers, thinkers and writers of the post-World War II era have displayed a pathetic loyalty to the Soviet Union. A Calcutta scholar of my acquaintance, and educationist of distinction now in his late sixties, once told me of his visit to the Party headquarters during the time of Stalin’s last illness, in 1953. There he joined the ranks of his anxious comrades, all scanning the news communicated by telex and telegraph from the Kremlin, their Vatican. When the message came that Stalin had breathed his last, recalled this scholar, he felt more lonely than when his own father had died.

Three years later, Stalin’s successor announced that the father to generations of Bengalis was actually the greatest mass murderer in human history. The educationist, to his credit, left the Communist Party of India, and has retained a sturdily independent existence ever since. Numerous other bhadraloks denounced Khrushchev’s revelations — revelations known to the non-communist world for decades — as bourgeois lies. There was also a section that went in search of a substitute fatherland. The Soviet Union now stood exposed as a land of grisly gulags, but there might yet be a communist utopia someplace else. A good proportion of the renegades settled on China, whose chairman, it was suggested, was actually our chairman too. Others, who could not ignore the casualty lists of the Great Leap Forward and the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, went looking for more exotic locations. And so there are activists and artists who have been Bengali and Russian, Bengali and Chinese, Bengali and Cuban, Bengali and Vietnamese, and Bengali and Albanian.

All told, the Bengali has shown a keener and more durable interest in other cultures than, for example, the Marathi or the Tamil. The foreign nationality might change, but not the native one. Thus Satyajit Ray was at one point in his life both Bengali and British, but at another point, Bengali and French. (With the emergence of the European Union, Manikda, were he alive now, would perhaps be considered Bengali and European.) More recently, the collapse of the Berlin Wall and China’s march down the capitalist road has caused some surprising shifts of allegiance.

The United States, the Great Satan, the country so massively demised in Bengali literature, art and cinema, has become an alternate homeland for numerous bhadralok thinkers. Emblematic here is the case of the Subaltern Studies project, the movement of new historical writing which was originally inspired, back in 1981-2, by the collected works of Chairman Mao. Within a decade, however, the project had been laid to rest in the Universities of Chicago and Columbia. The very historians who were once Bengali and Chinese have now become Bengali and American.

From one point of view, this unique blending of nationalities shall be called cosmopolitanism, illustrating a rare and untypical interest in ideas and movements originating outside India or, indeed, outside Asia. Moreover, the bhadralok dual-national has embraced a foreign culture while holding steadfast to his own —he (and she) is a rooted cosmopolitan. From another point of view, however, this must be seen as a form of parochialism, as a characteristically Bengali lack of interest in other parts of this land. Thus a friend of mine who lives in Calcutta will not visit New Delhi, which he dismisses as that imperial city. However, he is happy enough to spend half the year in New York.

Perhaps one man’s internationalism is another man’s chauvinism. And perhaps the last bhadralok thinker to be both Bengali and Indian was Rabindranath Tagore.

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All in black and white

Evidently, the hawks weren’t only on the other side of the border. The Indian variety showed as much keenness in watching the moves of the Pakistani general, though they weren’t as keen to influence policy decisions. Each and every action of President Pervez Musharraf was monitored during his three-day stay in India. According to one such Pervez-watcher, a graphologist by living, the general’s handwriting is a big give away. Deducing the president’s personality from his brief note at the Rajghat on a rain-washed morning, our man concludes that Musharraf is a thinker with a strong bent of mind (that probably bends Kashmir-wards), but one who suffers from an impulsive nature (that could explain the coup). The expert also adds that the general was nervous and tense when he was visiting Gandhi’s samadhi. Now for the better half (of the story). Begum Sehba, who also penned a few words, has been judged as social and a good manager. She apparently is also capable of deflating egos, the graphologist declared. That is barring her husband’s?

How she got there

In Delhi, the summit doesn’t seem to have deflated too many egos. In fact, some ego balloons seem to have got further inflated. Both LK Advani and Jaswant Singh are being seen as men who saved India’s honour by helping the prime minister “make up his mind” on the proposal sent by the Pakistanis. There is no doubt that Sushma Swaraj’s inexperience in diplomatic affairs has proved costly. The MEA is arguing that it had made specific requests for Pramod Mahajan and Swaraj to be kept out of Agra. While Mahajan was forced to cool his heels, how did Swaraj make it? Well, we can only say that being the minister for information and broadcasting helps at times. India’s most famous policewoman had landed in Agra ostensibly to ensure that Doordarshan and AIR did a good job. Besides doing her “job”, she apparently also kept a close tab on the parleys through PMO officials, one of whom reportedly mentioned the issues India was keen to discuss with Musharraf. Lo and behold, Swaraj was next on the telly, dealing authoritatively on the summit without mentioning the “K” word. The rest is history. But will her name appear in the books?

About the outcome

A telling outcome at Agra. And it could be read from the gifts that changed hands. The general did receive an MF Husain, but it was not what it should have been. Instead of horses, it was elephants. It would have been the other way round had a breakthrough come through. But don’t ask why. You could ask the PMO and the MEA for the symbolism. Anyway, the RSS hardliners (only too happy with the outcome) are dead against AB Vajpayee crossing the border again, that is unless Pakistan sets the ground rules in advance. The outcome has also pleased the Congress no end. Natwar Singh says that at least the Congress should have been consulted. After all, “We know the business”. Truly.

A bitter PIL

A recent public interest litigation filed at the Delhi high court revealed astounding facts. The PIL challenged the basis on which VIP registration numbers for automobiles were being allotted by the Delhi government. On paper, VIP numbers from 1 to 100 were being given only to personal cars owned by Supreme Court or high court judges, senior Central and state government officials, legislators, prominent artistes and so on. The reality, as usual, was very different. The VIP numbers were invariably being allotted to those who owned the most expensive cars. But why? That is because anyone who could afford to buy a Mercedes or a BMW could also afford to spend a small fraction of their wealth buying the “exalted numbers” and thereby enriching some people down the line.

From a brotherhood

Entrapment. The powerful Jat lobby seems to be closing in on the Rajasthan CM, Ashok Gehlot. He belongs to the Mali community, but powerful Jats like K Natwar Singh, Sis Ram Ola, Ram Niwas Mirdha and Sona Ram consider chief ministership their birthright instead. But the second backward classes commission report stands in their way. While acknowledging that Jats are backwards, the commission has delineated several categories among the Jats which are likely to divide the community in future. Natwar has appealed to Sonia Gandhi that the report be shelved. But wait, it might help her do a second Mandal.

Merely filling vacant chairs?

Peace time exercises. While the CPI(M) appears all set to include Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s Man Friday, Nirupam Sen, into the politburo to fill in the gap left by the departed soul of Sailen Dasgupta, another change seems to be coming upon the party. The grapevine has it that the much-maligned transport minister, Subhas Chakraborty, might be inducted into the West Bengal state secretariat. Making amends?

A star a dime

Once upon a time, Ajay Jadeja had promised to star in a Madhuri Dixit production. But that was before Cricketgate broke and he had to bite the dust. Now Pammi Sandhu is reportedly making a film which has Jadeja and Sunil Shetty in it. The cricket star was apparently playing hard to get, but Shetty, who is cricket-crazy, seems to have personally swung the deal. Sunil is now looking for scripts that would allow him to play the lead, but let him rope in Mohinder Amarnath and Vinod Kambli in the other slots. Once a businessman, always a businessman, Shetty!

Footnote / No free dinners anymore

Even before Atal Bihari Vajpayee had tasted the defeat of his nine-course lunch diplomacy, feisty Mamata Banerjee had realized the futility of dinner diplomacy. After being accosted by a para full of followers at a private dinner at the place of one of her party leaders, didi has been steadfastly avoiding meetings over food. In a recent meeting with her MPs at her Kalighat residence to discuss the Trinamool’s possible return to the NDA, leaders who had expected Mamata would arrange for a sumptuous meal as they had done for her, were served tea in earthenware cups and some light refreshment after the marathon session. The Trinamool MP from Barasat, Ranjit Panja, acknowledges the sparse offerings as didi’s deliberate effort to “discourage extravaganza”. Quick to please Mamata, some other leaders observe that tea along with some biscuits would have sufficed, even the refreshments were unnecessary. But Mamata’s aides, fearing didi’s new attitude might trigger protests in the party, have advised her to abandon late night meetings and to hold all discussions during the day. No thought for food, then.    


Getting away with murder

Sir — The image of Salman Khan striding into court because he had been charged with poaching wild animals reminded me of the immunity our film stars have from the legal system. Other than Satish Shah, none of the other actors involved in slitting the throats of black bucks in Jodhpur was charged with the killings. No one even expects Khan to serve a term in prison for the punishable offence he committed. Whether it’s Fardeen Khan sniffing coke or Saif Ali Khan beating up Ashok Row Kavi, they never seem to pay for their crimes. It seems obvious that big money and political clout are all you need to avoid the iron hand of law.

Yours faithfully,
Monalisa Mondal, via email

Great bath

Sir — The current Liril advertisement is offensive enough without Rupali Ghosh’s attempt to romanticize the new “Liril woman” (“Soap opera”, July 15). Like many viewers I have spoken to, I find the advertisement obscene not because it depicts the daily drudgery of Rajasthani women, but because it shows these women flinging the water they have so painfully collected over the Liril girl in order to satisfy an urban bathing fantasy. The images on screen not only negate the harsh reality of scarce water resources and unequal domestic labour, they are also symptomatic of middle-class urban indifference and self-indulgence. I am shocked by Ghosh’s insensitive eulogy of the values represented by the “new woman” of this advertisement. I am sure that many people like myself will reject not only the product thus advertised (Liril soap) but also the glamorization of the worst kind of social “attitude”.

Yours faithfully,
Supriya Chaudhuri, Calcutta

Sir — It is sad that bathing in the open should come to symbolize the “spirit” of the new Indian woman. And that too at the cost of her hapless counterpart in rural and, in this case, arid India. It is also strange that T. Krishna of Lowe Lintas should consider the new Liril advertisement as any different from the previous ones. Previous ads which showed the Liril women bathing under the waterfall were also in the open. Rupali Ghosh and her ad-world prompters differentiate the previous baths as “isolated dousings under a waterfall”. But isn’t bathing in the wilderness of the desert an “isolated” bath as well? The “other people” here are women with their matkas. Perhaps Krishna doesn’t know that women in rural India still bathe together in ponds. He could also go to Varanasi, where he will find women bathing in the open and in front of numerous other men. They have been doing so for decades. And obviously they don’t use Liril, which is the privilege of a narrow section of Indian women.

Yours faithfully,
Ayesha Khanum, Calcutta

Selling point

Sir — I would like to put on record that the Steel Authority of India Limited does not have any plans to close the Alloy Steels Plant (“Alloy Steels may down shutters”, July 13),. The company has floated a global tender inviting expression of interest from potential strategic partners in management of the plant. The last date for responding is August 25. If your reporter had done his research before writing that “the company has not received any query so far”, he would have found that a number of companies have taken the information package on ASP relating to the tender. I would also like to point out that your reporter’s “source” is a “former SAIL director”. Since when have people of that status become official spokespersons for SAIL? It is surprising that the report states “SAIL has not made any attempt to revive the plant”. Your own paper has earlier carried extensive details of SAIL’s efforts to make ASP viable.

Yours faithfully,
Shoeb Ahmed, chief of corporate affairs, SAIL, New Delhi

Pallab Bhattacharya replies:

Alloy Steels Plant has already stopped production in a number of mills. Some sections have been shut down. Its survival now depends on whether it can get a “strategic partner”.

The SAIL spokesperson at its central marketing office had said on July 10, when the report was written, that there were no queries yet from companies that could be strategic partners.

The report did not say “SAIL has not made any attempt to revive the plant”. It said SAIL has decided not to make fresh investment to revive the plant. Nowhere does the report claim the former director’s words as SAIL’s official version.

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