Satire turns politically incorrect
Blockade ban in hospitals
Winner Dalmiya doesn’t take all
Calcutta Weather

Washington, Sept. 29: 
Political satire, a vibrant testament to American democracy and an effective window to let off steam here, has been dealt a severe blow by the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.

A combination of bigotry, intolerance, anger and political correctness in the wake of the September 11 attacks has raised fears of censorship of late night comedy shows on television.

These shows have millions of viewers and are so popular that rival presidential candidates compete with each other to appear on these shows.

Although late night comedies have returned to the small screen after a gap — when 24-hour news about terrorist attacks eclipsed them — the sting has been taken out of them. In the process, an Indian American is at the centre of a controversy about over-stepping the bounds of correctness in one of the most popular comedy shows which resumed a few days ago.

When Bill Maher, a liberal with a daily viewership of three million, returned as host of his ABC late night show, Politically Incorrect, he began the episode by questioning the priorities of America, where a band of terrorists could elude airport security, but not a Hollywood producer carrying “funny mushrooms”. He was referring to Aaron Sorkin, the creator of the show, West Wing, who was arrested earlier this year on drug charges at a domestic airport.

One of the panellists on the show was Dinesh D’Souza, a member of the Reagan administration and author. D’Souza interjected: “Bill, there’s another piece of political correctness I want to mention... Although I think Bush has been doing a great job, one of the themes we hear constantly is that the people who did this are cowards.”

Maher responded: “Not true.”

D’Souza continued: “Not true. Look at what they did. First of all, you have a whole bunch of guys who are willing to give their life. None of them backed out. All of them slammed themselves into pieces of concrete.”

Maher: “Exactly.”

D’Souza: “These are warriors. And we have to realise that the principles of our way of life are in conflict with people in the world. And so, I mean, I’m all for understanding the sociological causes of this, but we should not blame the victim. Americans shouldn’t blame themselves because other people want to bomb them.”

Maher: “But also, we should — we have been the cowards, lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away. That’s cowardly. Staying in the airplane when it hits the building, say what you want about it, it’s not cowardly. You’re right.”

According to a subsequent reconstruction of events, Dan Patrick, a conservative talk-show host in Houston, saw red at these remarks. Next morning, he went on the air and told his listeners to bombard Sears and Federal Express, sponsors of Politically Incorrect to demand that they stop advertising on such a “virulently un-patriotic show”.

Within 24 hours, Federal Express pulled out its advertisements on the show. A day later, Sears followed suit. One ABC-affiliate dropped Politically Incorrect altogether.

As news of Maher’s perceived outrage spread like wildfire, ABC asked him to issue a statement of regret, which he did, but not before Doug Wilson, a long time staffer and former executive producer, left the show.

Maher began a subsequent episode by extending an olive branch to his critics. “In no way was I ever intending, because I never think this way, to say that the men and women who defend our nation in uniform are anything but courageous and valiant, and I apologise,” he said.

Maher’s predicament is not an exception to the new, post-September 11 American norm. One of the best known news anchors here, Peter Jennings of ABC, received 10,000-plus angry phone calls and e-mails over his comments about president George W Bush.

“The country looks to the president on occasions like this to be reassuring to the nation. Some Presidents do it well, some Presidents don’t,” he remarked on the screen.

Other political satirists on TV, like David Letterman and Jay Leno, have been subdued on their lately resumed daily shows.

Comedy Central’s The Daily Show has been on reruns. It also pulled out its sitcom about the President, That’s My Bush!.

The Onion, a popular humour magazine, decided not to publish new material while syndicated humour columnist Dave Barry told readers: “No humour column today. I don’t want to write it, and you don’t want to read it.”


Calcutta, Sept. 29: 
The Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government today took the first step towards a blockade-free Bengal by outlawing sit-ins and gheraos in hospitals. The order came into force with immediate effect.

Two days before an all-party meeting to ban rail and road blockades, health minister Suryakanta Mishra directed principals and superintendents of hospitals to not tolerate sit-ins by student and staff unions any more.

The doctor-turned-minister met top health officials and the administrative heads during the day to set in motion reforms the government had announced to revamp the healthcare system.

“The minister has taken a firm decision and has asked the hospital administrations to remove protesters with police help,” a health department official said.

Student and staff unions will no longer be able to meet the principal or superintendent to air their grievances without an appointment. When they do meet, it will have to be restricted to half-an-hour. “Arguing an issue for hours is tantamount to a gherao,” a state official said.

Apart from cutting administrative red tape to ease Writers’ Buildings’ hold on hospitals and medical colleges, the minister took steps to beef up discipline.

Attendance will be strictly monitored from now on. Classes will begin from 7.30 in the morning and not from 10.30, as at present. This is to ensure that students can gather experience in clinics and do the rounds of wards.


Chennai, Sept. 29: 
Indian cricket’s king-maker, Jagmohan Dalmiya, today himself became king. Five-and-a-half hours into the 2001 AGM, Dalmiya unseated Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) president A.C. Muthiah by a handsome 17-13 margin. The victory wasn’t without acrimony and moments of much tension.

For the next 12 months, however, Dalmiya will have to work with a secretary from the opposition camp —- Niranjan Shah — who defeated incumbent Jaywant Lele 16-15, courtesy Muthiah’s casting vote. Otherwise, all the other Dalmiya group candidates made it, with the five vice-presidents not even having to contest.

In fact, joint-secretary Jyoti Bajpai got one vote more than Dalmiya, defeating Mohinder Pandove 18-12. Treasurer Kishore Rungta kept his post with a 16-14 win over Dhyaneshwar Chand Agashe who, in the past, has unsuccessfully contested the presidency. Agashe can easily be labelled Indian cricket’s loser No.1.

While Muthiah had former Maharashtra chief minister Sharad Pawar on his side, Dalmiya pulled off a coup by getting Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, the former Assam chief minister, to personally cast Assam’s vote.

Mahanta flew in from New Delhi this morning and his presence had a telling effect.

Had Mahanta not agreed to a Dalmiya request, made last evening, Assam’s vote would have gone to Muthiah as his camp had ‘won’ over a key Assam Cricket Association official. Next year, it’s possible Mahanta will become vice-president from East, succeeding Orissa’s P.K.Mishra.

Besides Mahanta, Dalmiya has to thank a very influential and savvy Union minister as also a high-profile former Union minister, with a passion for cricket. Both backed him to the hilt. Laloo Prasad Yadav, a Muthiah backer, didn’t turn up.

Of the three institutional (government-controlled) votes, Dalmiya is understood to have got Universities, while Railways and Services went to Muthiah. Railways, too, was to have come in Dalmiya’s bag, but the intervention of an influential former Union minister (close to Pawar) saw Muthiah being the beneficiary.

Eleven years ago, Congress stalwart Madhavrao Scindia unseated B.N.Dutt, during the AGM in Calcutta. This time, Muthiah had to suffer a big loss on home turf. Actually, thanks to his “ruling” on three units (Bihar, Goa and Baroda), even his image has taken a beating.

Not many may agree, but Muthiah did take commendable decisions during his two years as president, and it’s unfortunate he was misled by people who ought to have known better. As it turned out, the behind-the-scenes operators haven’t lost much, the loss has entirely been Muthiah’s.

Also, having already lost to Dalmiya, Muthiah ought not to have exercised the casting vote in Shah’s favour. Strangely, nobody from the Dalmiya group questioned the ethics of such an act. And, in time to come, the strategists will even regret not having proposed Bajpai for the secretaryship, specially after Lele was barred from representing Baroda.

“I don’t think the ‘umpiring’ was quite what it should have been... Yes, disputes were definitely there during that 1990 AGM (Calcutta), but certain principles were still followed by the chair...” remarked Dalmiya, in a chat with The Telegraph, moments after being declared the winner.

Significantly, despite repeated pleas, Muthiah consistently refused to put the contentious issues to vote. Now, the BCCI must seriously consider amending rules and regulations, whereby a presidential candidate doesn’t sit in judgement on matters which directly affect his own prospects.

Dalmiya apart, a lot of other delegates were just as unhappy with Muthiah’s handling of the AGM which adjourned for lunch after a shade under two hours only, as Muthiah decided to take Nalini Chidambaram’s legal opinion on the three units.

While Goa was disallowed to vote, Laloo Prasad Yadav’s Cricket Association of Bihar (not the undivided Bihar Cricket Association) was accorded the right to represent Bihar and a scion of the Baroda royal family, who had a letter of authority from association president Chirayu Amin, given preference over Lele.

Nobody questioned Ms Chidambaram’s opinion, but just about everybody in the Dalmiya group remained convinced all facts weren’t placed before her. Late this evening, there was talk the Goa Cricket Association would move court against Muthiah’s ruling.

Having battled against odds which, at times, seemed heavy, Dalmiya was clearly overwhelmed. The first call (a very emotional one at that) he made was to son Abhishek and the first call he himself received was from wife Chandralekha.

“Is this more satisfying than getting the ICC presidentship? I would say I’ve got this responsibility at a critical time... Besides colleagues in the BCCI, quite a few former cricketers had approached me... I’ve been touched by their faith and will try not to disappoint anybody,” Dalmiya observed.

Asked about priority No.1, he replied: “I think we need to properly focus on the 2003 World Cup... I’ve been pretty removed from matters for the past two years and, so, I’ll need to sit down and study things...”

Dalmiya is a past BCCI treasurer and secretary (two occasions). Incidentally, he will be back at the ICC, this time as a director on the Executive Board, by virtue of heading the BCCI. He already is chairman of the Asian Cricket Foundation.

Meanwhile, in a very late night development, the move to replace Chandu Borde (West) with Dhiraj Parsana gained ground. Borde is the selection committee chairman. Earlier, the hot favourite was Dilip Vengsarkar — only, he has now lost out because of Mumbai’s extensive support to Muthiah.

Also set to be replaced is South’s T.A. Sekar. His successor will be Shivlal Yadav who, it may be recalled, was Sekar’s predecessor. East’s Ashok Malhotra, North’s Madanlal and Central’s Sanjay Jagdale will stay on.

The formal announcement will be made tomorrow.




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