Editorial / Upholding the constitution
All that prefatory gush
This Above all / Lines with which to rest in peace
People / Carleton Fiorina
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL / UPHOLDING THE CONSTITUTION 
 
 
 
 
The Constitution of India is sovereign. This allows for no ambiguity in the relationship between the Constitution and the people’s will. The people of India made the Constitution and also have the power, through their elected representatives, to amend the Constitution. But as long as the Constitution is in force it remains supreme. The Supreme Court in its very strong judgment in the Jayalalitha case has merely reiterated this rather self-evident point. The point, however, needed to be reiterated in the prevailing climate in which many legislators, because they see themselves as embodiments of the “people”, will see themselves as being above the law. They tend to ignore the fact that the various clauses and amendments of the Constitution apply as much to them as to every other citizen of India. As long as the present Constitution and Section 8 (3) of the Representation of the People’s Act holds, a convicted person cannot be eligible for election. This clearly debars Ms J. Jayalalitha from seeking election. She and her supporters will have to accept this situation till they have the clout required to amend the Constitution to suit their convenience.

The controversy surrounding Ms Jayalalitha’s elevation to chief ministership and subsequent legal wrangles could have all been avoided with a simple legislation. According to the present rules, any person elected by the ruling party as its leader in the legislature can be sworn in as chief minister so long as he gets himself elected within six months of his appointment. Ms Jayalalitha has been the chief minister of Tamil Nadu under this clause. There is a good case for changing this rule and making it mandatory for a chief minister to be a sitting legislator of the lower house. The same condition could apply to the prime minister. There are good reasons for making such a change. It eliminates controversy and the possibility of someone like Ms Jayalalitha utilizing the clause to her own advantage.

The Constitution of India was inspired by the Westminster model. There are elements in the laws and conventions of Westminster which hark back to the uneasy balance that existed in the late 17th and 18th centuries between democratic practices and the power of the monarch. Parliament had to take special precaution to protect their privileges against royal infringement. This context never existed in India in the Forties and Fifties when the Constitution was drawn up and the codes of parliamentary conduct established. Yet, for reasons of deference to the English lineage, many of the oddities of the Westminster model were retained. The clause allowing a chief minister to get himself elected after six months is one such carry over. There is an ethical condition to consider. In England, any politician under the shadow of the suspicion of misconduct — leave alone an actual conviction in a corruption case — would himself resign from public office and not dream of seeking a popular mandate. This level of ethics does not prevail in Indian politics. Ms Jayalalitha is the epitome of this ethical vacuum. She deserves every word of the reprimand that the Supreme Court has meted out to her. If legislators and politicians cannot uphold the dignity of the Constitution, they will have to be taught to do so by the judiciary.

   

 
 
ALL THAT PREFATORY GUSH 
 
 
BY RUKUN ADVANI
 
 
Fiction writers usually thank friends, relatives and publishers in small type at the end of their books, inviting readers to move straight into the story. This is sensible, because one wants to get to the meat of a novel as fast as possible and the preliminary pages seem like a waste of paper. When expressions of gratitude do feature within the first few pages, there is at least a considerate minimalism about them: a simple listing of people who have helped the author is the convention.

More and more, however, the preliminary pages of fiction are filled instead with hype-tripe which, like saturation advertising, seeks to awe readers into buying a book. We are now at a point where we look sceptically at a book which is not prefaced with huge blasts of hot air about the author, who is always “fluent in several languages” (we are not expected to ask if this has hindered the one in which his book is written) and who always “divides his time” between New York, London, and a few other towns which are only a little less exalted than New York and London (we are expected to marvel at how he manages to write books in between).

This practice is almost always reversed in books of non-fiction, where the preface and acknowledgements pages are by tradition at the beginning and represent an expansive terrain over which the author has freedom to strut and name-drop on his own behalf. “Earlier versions of the chapters that comprise this book”, we could hypothetically be told (and quite unselfconsciously), “were delivered as keynote addresses at Harvard University and Princeton University, as conference papers at Cambridge University and the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin, and on a barge for special invitees on the lake near the Bellagio Conference Centre in Italy”, this being followed by a full-scale parade of the names of well-known intellectuals who have nourished the author during the course of his research.

This throat-clearing lets the writer point out that the rest of us are not in the same league as he is, he’s already been to all the important places and talked to all the great people we only wish we had.

Looking as an editor at academic prefaces and acknowledgements, where such thinly disguised self-congratulation is sometimes nakedly on display, is a difficult business. Though it is certainly an editor’s job to offer suggestions on the main body of a book — ask for fuller documentation, reorganize the narrative for greater impact, remove fat, and so on — interfering editorially in the preface and acknowledgements seems like butting in while the author is busy picking his nose.

Can an editor chummily say to an author, “I say, old fruit, you’re being a bit gooey here, how about cutting out this crap?” Many editors are tempted to say something Bertie Woosterian like this, but desist. Apart from the restraint dictated by common politeness, and the fear of annoying an author, there is the temptation of leaving the fellow free to make an ass of himself if he seems hell-bent on it, or if he is vain and pretentious — which, among jet-setting academics, he often is.

At other times one can be more simply embarrassed into editorial silence. One academic concludes his list of acknowledgements by thanking his personal physician, who, he says, cured him of piles, which, apart from giving him general relief, allowed him to write his book sitting down instead of lying. It was apparent in the unedited version of this author’s acknowledgements that there had been two impediments to the completion of his book: his over-active children, and the problem in his backside. The first had been removed by him — he packed them off to their grandparents — while the second was alleviated by certain applications administered by his doctor.

The editor who was handling this book raised the issue of editorial policy in relation to this sort of an acknowledgements page: the material was engagingly naïve of course, but it was also plainly idiotic — so should she advise the author to delete references to the specific posture in which his book was written and restrict his thanks to naming the Florence Nightingale of his posterior? Everyone who discussed the issue agreed in the end that discretion was the better part of advice, that this particular gem was too rare to be thrown out.

We remembered a drily witty acknowledgements page in a famous academic book by Berger and Luckmann, The Social Construction of Reality, in which the authors said that but for their wives, their book would have been finished much sooner. The artlessness of our own author seemed inspired in comparison with this merely succinct cleverness.

Some years ago The Economist published an essay titled “Gratitude that Grates” which began, “One of the easier ways to study the twin vices, fawning and vanity, is to leaf through authors’ acknowledgements”, and went on to list several authors who had worked themselves up into a frenzy of admiration for their editors. Often, this prefatorial enthusiasm can be heartfelt, but academics who also aspire to be well-published and well-edited know better than most that flattery will get them a long way and tend to lay it on thick.

Book-editing has been described as an “invisible art”, and editorial good sense in such cases ought to mean gently asking the author to cool his ardour, but the temptation among editors of being made visible to the public as the writer’s handmaiden is always rather delicious, and so the gushing author is seldom curtailed. According to The Economist, “Academics routinely praise their patrons in terms which would have made medieval courtiers blush.”

Devious self-promotion sometimes takes the form of a writer informing the reading public in his preface that the royalties from his book are being donated to charity. Such advertised altruism is avowedly to gain more book-buyers, but it is usually obvious from the start that the number of extra buyers gained through such proclamations is not worth bothering about. People buy books if the author is worth reading or if they want to buy them, not because they perceive virtue in authors who are flagrantly selfless.

The opposite of this posturing approach is the one reported to have been adopted by Edward Ingram, the author of The Great Game in Asia, who bluntly says at the start of his book: “Writers often thank their typists. I thank mine. Mrs George Cook is not a particularly good typist...the responsibility for any mistakes is mine but the fault is hers.” His anti-gush reaches oracular sublimity when he adds: “Writers often thank their colleagues for their help. Mine have given none.” It is not known if Ingram was teaching in an Indian university campus when he wrote this.

   

 
 
THIS ABOVE ALL / LINES WITH WHICH TO REST IN PEACE 
 
 
BY KHUSHWANT SINGH
 
 
Raja Ram Mehrotra is professor of English at the Benares Hindu University. He specializes in the use and misuse of English by Indians. In the latest issue of English Today, he has focussed on obituary columns appearing in Indian newspapers. The language used is usually literal translations of Hindi. Thus swargvaas becomes “heavenly abode” unknown to the Brits, who do not treat death with the solemnity we do. They are coarse enough to make fun of it. To wit expressions like “give up the ghost”, “peg out”, “bite the dust”, “pop off”, “kick the bucket”, “cash in one’s chips” and so on.

The word, “abode”, is archaic and no longer in use elsewhere in the English speaking world. With us it has several variations: “eternal abode”, “entered the portals of the Lord’s abode”, “rested on the Lord’s lotus feet” and suchlike. At times, instead of “abode”, our obits have “eternal home”.

Some Victorianisms persist in obits sent in by Indian Christians. Amongst the most popular is “safe in the arms of Jesus”.

Often, blame is cast on god for taking away one’s relation: “The cruel hands of fate snatched him away”, “He was stolen away by fate for ever…”, “The wind of fate blew, making her lifeless”, “Cruel fate grabbed him”, “Destiny whisked him away”, “We were robbed of our most precious possession” “Destiny took your benign presence and our breath away in an aircrash” “Nature recalled him to his fold”, “God took you away from us”, “God snatched my father”, “God took away his precious gift from us”, “He was plucked from God as he was the best flower on earth”, and so it goes on.

The Hindi family of religions subscribe to the belief that with death, a person merges his or her identity with god. Jyoti Jote miley — as light mingles with light eternal. Here are a few instances:

“He left us all to abide forever with the Almighty”, “He attained the lotus feet of the Almighty/ Lord Mahavir”, “We handed God’s gift back to him”, “He passed on to the eternal glory”, “She attained eternity”, “He became more dear to God than to us all”, “My precious gift flew away from my own lap to the Heavenly Father”, “God withdrew him to light up a world elsewhere”, “The greatest of the great called him”, “He became one with parmatman”.

Life on earth is regarded as temporary halt in a continuous journey:

“He left his earthly sojourn”, “She travelled on a voyage of no return”, “He made his journey to heaven”, “She took departure from this world”, “He left for his ultimate journey”, “He left us for that journey to the unknown”, “She departed from the ethereal to the celestial”, “He left for an unknown destination never to return”, “He completed his earthly journey”, “He crossed over…He slipped into the other world”, “He glided away in a silvery flash”, “His river of life reached its final destination on this day”, “He entered the realm of immortal bliss”, “His soul migrated from the ephemeral world”, “He left this mortal world with Hari Om Namo on his lips”.

Everyone who falls in battle becomes a “martyr”, with slight variations such as these: “He attained martyrdom”, “He laid down his life”, “He embraced death for the honour of his country”, “He went away to God while in uniform”.

Professor Mehrotra holds that “one of the basic tenets of Indian thought is to consider the whole world as a family (vasudhaiva kutumbakam) and hence a mourner prays not for the peace of his relative alone, but also of the others who are no longer alive:

“On this day we also bow our heads to other departed souls and pray to God to keep them in peace.”

Unsung and unhonoured

There are people who do what they think is their duty (karma) to the best of their ability without caring whether or not they get recognition or monetary compensation for it: they are true examples of the exhortation in the Gita: Karmanyev adhikarstey ma phaleshu kadah chana — perform your duty without consideration of the fruits thereof.

One such person who came into my life for nine long years was RGK. He was on the staff of The Illustrated Weekly of India when I took over as editor. He stayed on after I was sacked. The management ignored my recommendation that he take over from me. Without the slightest concern he continued to do the job under a succession of editors; Kamath, Khanna, Pritish Nandi till he ret- ired. He died a couple of weeks ago, unhonoured and unsung.

Despite daily contact with him for almost a decade, I knew very little about him besides that the “G” in his initials RGK stood for Gopal, the name we called him by. He wrote more for the weekly than any other member of the staff, but did not want any credit or byline besides his initials. He was the one man we relied on to write on different aspects of Hinduism because he knewall the sacred texts in their Sanskrit originals.

All the years he worked for the journal, he sat on a corner table of the large hall which also accommodated the staff of Dharmyug, Femina and Filmfare. Behind him were urinals and toilets. Newcomers and visitors who wanted to use the facility often interrupted RGK in his work to ask “Where is the loo?” He put a placard on his table saying “Toilets straight ahead”. He did not have agreat sense of humour. I never heard him laugh and rarely saw a smile on his face.

We knew he was South Indian but not sure whether he was from Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu or Kerala. Once Bikram Vohra asked him “RGK, are you Malayalu?” RGK replied, “How would you like if I asked you, ‘Are you Punjaboo?’” And that was that.

Not many people fromThe Times of India group knew of RGK’s existence. He could not care less if no one in the world knew about him. Gray’s verse applied to him:

Full many a gem of purest ray serene

Dark, unfathomed caves of the ocean

bear;

Full many a flower is born to blush

unseen

And waste its sweetness in the desert air.

Without a stitch on the victory stand

The story about the advantages some gain in the Olympics through the use of technology suggests that a return to the original standards of the games is in order. The Greeks competed in the nude. People forget that the origin of the words “gymnasium”, “gymnast” and “gymnastics” derive from the Greek word, gymnos, meaning “naked”.

For the Greeks, competing in the nude kept females from participating. But today it would ensure that no athlete would get an undue advantage from new technology, be it special swimwear or running shoes. And perhaps such a change would greatly increase viewership of the games.

(Chris Thompson in Washington Post)

   

 
 
PEOPLE / CARLETON FIORINA 
 
 
 
 

Wired To Win

Even as a thousand flashbulbs popped to capture the gorilla of a merger between Hewlett-Packard and Compaq Computer Corp earlier this week, one frame captured — rather uncannily — the essence of Carleton Fiorina. The photograph showed a beaming Fiorina, who now becomes the chairman and chief executive of the combined company, power-dressing complete with pearl ear-tops and royal purple blouse, with an arm around Michael Capellas, chairman of Compaq. What really says it all is Fiorina’s tough little grip on his shoulder.

Carly, as Fiorina is better known, is, according to Fortune magazine, one of only three women CEOs of the 100 best companies in the United States and the only one to feature at the top of the list. She has also, over the years, carved out a reputation for herself as a tough, ambitious, imperious boss. The sort of adjectives that also filter in the general resentment against an outsider who makes it big in a closed world.

When Fiorina, born Cara Carleton Sneed, joined HP two years ago, a Boston-based analyst described her as “really wanting to foster an aggressive start-up mentality at Hewlett-Packard.” Until then, she was unheard of in the 62-year-old company that had its legendary origins in a garage near Stanford University before it went on to become the third-largest maker of personal computers.

What Fiorina’s mentality came up against was the “HP way” — the almost sacrosanct culture of the company’s founders David Packard and Bill Hewlett. She later described the culture as “ a gentle bureaucracy of entitlement and consensus.” HP employees, at the receiving end of Fiorina’s aggressive start-up mentality, quite happily vouch for her cut-throat style of functioning.

Her style — bold, ambitious and with a flair for the grand gesture — was mirrored last year in June, when she was invited to speak at MIT’s commencement. Then president and chief executive of HP, Fiorina went about the task in a unique way — she sent emails to every graduating MIT student, 2,139 in all, asking them all for an input on what she should say.

“It was clear she was willing to do whatever it took to make her speech memorable, not boring,” said Hugo Barra, president of the MIT Class of 2000. “I know she received hundreds of replies and she said she read every single one of them,” he added.

It is a style that has propelled her high-profile career in the computer and telecommunications industries, capped by her appointment, in July 1999, to the top position at Hewlett-Packard. Now as CEO of the combined company, Fiorina bears the largest share of the burden for making the merger work. It is a task which more than a few analysts are doubtful she will achieve. “Carly Fiorina is very good at selling a broad visionary concept,” said a Boston-based analyst, “but she’s not a nuts and bolts person.”

In her first year at HP, Fiorina was seen as new-economy zeal at its flashiest. In fact many thought she would revitalise the dodgy old company resting on its historic laurels. But that didn’t quite happen. Instead, along with establishing some very large expectations for Hewlett-Packard (which she failed to meet), her style of functioning took on mythical proportions in HP.

An HP newsletter compiled last year listed the top five rumours about Fiorina — with her responses. The best of these included “Fiorina ordered the installation of a private, pink-marble executive washroom, including a shower.” The response from her: False. She uses the standard-issue women’s room closest to her office — no marble, no shower. Another rumour went: “Fiorina travels at company expense with a personal Beverly Hills hairdresser who wears cowboy boots.” Her response: “One of the pilots (she added three planes to the company fleet, given her intense travel schedule) wears cowboy boots but he doesn’t do my hair.” An even bigger rumour swirled soon after Fiorina joined HP as chief executive in July 1999, when she made a quick trip to Paris to meet customers and employees. Because of a tight schedule and heavy traffic, she took a helicopter to an HP sales office outside Paris, where a local crew had to provide a hurried landing spot by chopping down some trees — six saplings said the official count.

The story winged its way through HP offices picking up all sorts of salacious details, doing perfect justice to the general perception of Fiorina — flashy, imperious, fiercely determined. “People didn’t know me ... of course there were rumours. I was unexpected. I came from outside. I wasn’t an engineer,” said Fiorina defensively in an interview to the San Jose Mercury News.

The outsider was born in Austin, Texas, to a law professor father and an artist mother. Her parents travelled extensively and Fiorina’s basic schooling was spread across three countries — Ghana, England and the US — before the family settled down in Palo Alto, California.

Fiorina studied very non-engineering subjects in Stanford University, from where she got her Bachelor’s degree in medieval history and philosophy in 1976. During those college years she stopped by fleetingly at HP where she worked as a secretary in the shipping department. A chance job, among a whole listless string of them, in a brokerage firm awakened Fiorina’s interest in business and led to an MBA from the University of Maryland.

It took Fiorina years to make her way to the top ranks of the computer industry. Fresh out of Maryland, she joined AT&T where she gelled easily with the company’s hard-charging sales culture. Her big success at AT&T was the Lucent Technologies spin-off and the subsequent initial public offering. It was this success that led to her being hand-picked for HP by Lew Platt, then chief executive of the company.

Whatever her defences, the general perception of Fiorina was finely honed at HP. where she found it difficult to win over many of the company’s 93,000 employees with her aggressive way of functioning. Though of course, Fiorina was taken on by HP only to give the ‘sleepy’ company a ‘new-economy zeal’.

Disgruntled employees say that her glamourous, even regal demeanour made it more difficult for them to relate to her. As one employee put it: “Previous HP CEOs were regular guys. Platt for example, would stand outside buildings chatting with colleagues while he indulged in a cigarette break.”

Fiorina made her mistakes on the decision-making front. The most damaging being an $18 billion bid last September to buy the consulting arm of Pricewaterhouse Coopers that fizzled out badly. For employees, she also represented a tougher review process somewhat alien in HP’s quiet world of real meritocracy. Last year, Fiorina’s new system got rid of under-performers and several more job cuts have already been announced (HP’s India offices might see a 30 per cent job cut as well).

Even as some employees complained that the new system had created an environment of fear in the company, Fiorina denied it saying: “There are some people whose anxiety increases when you put emphasis on performance... I like this future. Let’s get on with it.”

A great quote in true Fiorina spirit. But the future, according to the naysayers (who are in a depressing majority) of the gorilla merger, isn’t all that rosy. And with the whole world closely watching the $20.52 billion merger, Fiorina will need a lot more than tough-speak to see her through the next couple of months.

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

What is history?

Sir — The report, “Mayor in heritage demolition” (Sept 3), only shows the apathy of the mayor towards Calcutta’s heritage structures. His remark dismissing the importance of preserving the old structures leads one to suspect the real motive behind it. One should agree that a city’s identity is reflected through its architectural objects. It is indeed strange that the Trinamool Congress, which is otherwise so vocal about preserving Indian “culture”, is keeping strangely silent in this case. The recent hullabaloo with regard to a promoter’s involvement in the removal of the plaques from Bishop Heber’s house only adds to our fear that similar interests might have prompted the mayorspeak.

Yours faithfully,
Sharaju Bhattacharya, Calcutta

Acts of oppression

Sir — The recent statement made by the home minister, L.K. Advani, on amnesty for the security forces reflects the essence of the problem with democracy in India. The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act of 1958, has been one of the most draconian pieces of legislation that Parliament has passed in the last five decades. Under this act, all security forces are given unrestricted powers to carry out their operations, once an area is declared disturbed.

Even a non-commissioned officer is granted the right to kill on mere suspicion. The AFSPA gives the armed forces wide powers to shoot, arrest and search, all in the name of “aiding civil power”.

Once the act went into operation in the Northeast, there were innumerable incidents of arbitrary detention, torture, rape and looting by security personnel. This legislation is justified by the government of India on the pretext that it is required to stop the Nagas from achieving their aspirations to an independent homeland.

The question arises then as to whether the Indian democracy can be sustained through the free and informed consent of its people, or whether a manipulated form of democracy can exist in order to justify the misrule of the Indian state with regard to the minorities and other peoples?

The other important aspect of the situation is the national human rights commission’s bold assertion of the possibility of legal intervention. J.S. Verma, who is heading the NHRC, has passed the ruling on upholding the constitutional validity of the AFSPA in 1997. The democratic framework of the Indian state cannot sustain itself in an environment of coercion and threats .

It is high time the Indian state prove itself to the people of India and to the world that the largest democracy in the world is seen not as mere rhetoric but as a living reality. The recent Tadubi firing incident is the likely sequel to events that will follow if the Indian government stands by what Advani has uttered.

Yours faithfully,
Ngusanii Vimedo, Kohima

Sir — This is concerning the news of police officers in Punjab allegedly violating human rights during the militancy era (“Top cops take fight to Delhi”, Aug 14). On the one hand we see the government giving in to the demands of the militants, and on the other we find that the people who dedicated their lives for the protection of the integrity of India are being unjustly punished in the name of human rights violations.

Since this issue concerns the nation it should be addressed at an all-India level. It is a shame that our country and its media have failed to redress the grievances of the three police officers, who are going to return their medals awarded by the president, as a mark of protest against the betrayal and humiliation being meted out to them by the government.

Yours faithfully,
Prashant Kumar, via email

Parting shot

Sir-— The Metro railway authorities have recently installed a few signboards at the Esplanade station for the benefit of commuters. These boards indicate the directions to the escalator, Bidhan Market, Grand Hotel, the tram terminus and so on. All the signs are either in Hindi or in English.

It seems that the Metro authorities believe its passengers are proficient in either English or the “national” language, if not both. It is preposterous that although located in Calcutta, the Metro has ignored the local language, Bengali.

Yours faithfully,
Kajal Chatterjee, Sodepur

Letters to the editor should be sent to:

The Telegraph
6 Prafulla Sarkar Street
Calcutta 700 001
Email: [email protected]
Readers in the Northeast can write to:
Third Floor, Godrej Building,
G.S. Road, Ulubari, Guwahati 781007
   
 

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