Editorial / Hit back
Privy purse to politics
The Telegraph Diary
People / Dinesh D’Souza
Letters to the editor

There is a time to write and a time to act. The prime minister, Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, should recognize that the time to write polite, if pointed, letters to the president of the United States of America or the head of any other country is long past. If his government’s handling of the problem of terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir is to have any credibility, it will have to act and act decisively. Mr Vajpayee in his letter to Mr George W. Bush suggested that if the US can claim the right to fight anywhere in the world terrorists who threaten US security, India too has the right to take similar action against terrorists sponsored and harboured by foreign countries. There could be no difference, Mr Vajpayee was indicating, in the application of the principle in the sphere of international relations. The prime minister was obviously referring to the situation in Jammu and Kashmir where terrorists with bases in Pakistan continue to threaten peace and the lives of innocent people. The strength of Mr Vajpayee’s sentiments can be easily appreciated but the intensity of those sentiments do not explain Mr Vajpayee’s inactivity. There is nothing in international law and preservation of national self-interest that stops India from taking action not only against the terrorists but also against the bases in Pakistan occupied Kashmir from which they operate.

Mr Vajpayee’s home minister, Mr L.K. Advani, spoke once about the need of “hot pursuit’’ of terrorists who came in from PoK to wreak havoc in Jammu and Kashmir. But this has remained an empty rhetoric. Never have the Indian security forces struck back at the terrorists on their own terrain in PoK. This made the government appear strangely inactive and at times even irresponsible. The letter to the US president fits in with this impression. There seems to be a desperate and pathetic attempt on the part of Mr Vajpayee to make India appear to be the good boy of the class. Whatever be the virtues of such an attempt, on effectiveness it scores zero. It makes India appear effete, and, at the risk of being politically incorrect, even effeminate. In the vicious world of foreign policy and international relations which is a more sophisticated version of Hobbes’s state of nature such postures are immature, if not ridiculous.

Mr Vajpayee must acknowledge that diplomacy is only one arm of foreign policy. It is best used to persuade people and to win friends or to defuse a situation that is potentially hostile. It is of little use in a situation that has already turned hostile and one side has already taken to arms. In such a situation not diplomacy but deterrence is the antidote. It is time that India hit back and did so at every opportunity. The old code of Hammurabi, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, might appear crude in modern statecraft. But it is the only answer to an enemy who knows no decency and has no respect for either rule of law or international law and conventions. India has played this game and has played it effectively under Indira Gandhi. There is no reason why India cannot do so again. There is no need for Mr Vajpayee to follow an US precedence, he only has to act as some of his predecessors did and forget about being good.


Summoning one of Gwalior’s sirdars, Madhavrao Scindia once showed me the swathe of cloth that hung from a peak of the man’s tilted Maratha turban. The shemla, as it was called, was a unique distinction granted only to the wearer’s ancestor for standing by his prince on the stricken field of battle.

Like him, Scindia, too, wore a distinctive, if figurative, talisman in the hurly burly of politics. His shemla was his patrician birth, at once the source of his strength and the cause of his weakness. The strength lay in a total freedom from the need to strut arrogantly, treating others like prajas, which anyone of consequence in India usually does. Privileged birth and a temperament honed in palaces as well as at Winchester and New College, Oxford, had endowed him with charm, grace and the ability to mix easily with all ranks.

Those qualities also indicated immunity to the ordinary run of temptations. “If I still had my privy purse…” he would joke, but he had enough of this world’s goods not to hanker for more. His weakness was, I suspect, an inability to take the political menagerie seriously, the wheeling and dealing, and the coarse and self-serving practitioners who are hailed as saviours.

Many will dispute this suggestion of disdain. For he went through the motions of playing the game convincingly enough, interacting with other legislators, speaking their earthy language, courting supporters, rallying the masses as he planned to do that fateful Sunday. But it was my fancy that he always saw politics as a joke, the icing that only decorated in a contemporary motif the cake of real public authority that was his by right. Congress merely legitimized tradition.

When I asked him about party morale on the eve of an election, he replied, “Fighting fit to fight the opposition. When the results are out, we’ll be fighting fit to fight ourselves!” On another occasion when, thanks to Arjun Singh’s machinations, relations with Rajiv Gandhi were at a low ebb, he burst out that he had flown the Gwalior flag far longer than the Congress tricolour. The unkindest cut of all was a corruption charge in P.V. Narasimha Rao’s last days. We talked on the telephone — I lived in Singapore then — and he was bitter about political chicanery.

Radicals were never able to understand his pride in heritage. They were convinced that he was at heart a Jana Sanghite who had thrown in his lot with the then ruling party only to safeguard his vast property from the tentacles of the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act. Some also thought that his differences with his mother were contrived for public consumption. Both assumptions were simplifications born of ignorance and bias. His assets were not hidden away in numbered accounts like the loot accumulated by so many of our politicians and businessmen. The government had a full list of all that he had inherited, though his father, Jivajirao Scindia, had shrewdly tied up most of it in British trusts that could not easily be touched.

His relationship with Vijayaraje Scindia was a more complex proposition that revolved round the shadowy role of Sambhajirao Angre, a Gwalior chieftain and minor Bharatiya Janata Party politician. Angre handled the rajmata’s appointments and was obviously the most influential member of her household though he was never intrusive when visitors were around. Scindia claimed that his father had expelled Angre from Gwalior and that his widowed mother brought him back. Then studying in England, Scindia blamed Angre for delaying his return and abhishek ceremony.

The rajmata further fanned the flames of resentment by gifting valuable properties to her trusted aide long before her death. Scindia disputed the gifts and legal wrangling became inevitable. The list of immovables and movables, running into several pages, that she claimed in one of these suits ended with a tongue scraper.

Politics worsened a sad situation. True, mother and son behaved towards each other in public with the utmost decorum, and did not impinge on their respective domains within the confines of the old Gwalior state, which remained the base of their influence. But Scindia always contrasted his mother’s activism with the reticence of another opposition rajmata, Gayatri Devi of Jaipur. Apparently, Indira Gandhi released both women from jail during the Emergency on the basis of promises to eschew politics. But whereas Gayatri Devi kept her word, Vijayaraje Scindia did not. Her son saw it as betrayal.

Mrs Gandhi remained his ideal. In 1977, he declined Morarji Desai’s offer of an ambassadorship to any country he wanted save Nepal. Later, he was insulted to be counted among the bright young sparks of Rajiv’s court, claiming that the mother, not the son, had baptized him in politics. Keenly interested in defence, he was anguished to find during the Bofors controversy that army recruitment was falling off in Gwalior because the peasant lads who customarily joined the infantry feared that corruption had taken toll of Indian guns. Yet he reacted with anger and outrage to any suggestion of prime ministerial venality. “Can you see Indira Gandhi’s son betraying his country for money?”

The keynote was an old-fashioned loyalty that placed friendship above all else. Many royal noses were put out of joint at his daughter’s wedding to Karan Singh’s son when it became known that Nusli Wadia, friend and business partner, was the only guest to be put up in the Jai Vilas Palace. And that at an event where an usher told me that the first three rows of chairs at one of the ceremonies were reserved “for full highnesses only”. Many full highnesses had to be content with sharing lodgings, albeit spacious and elegant suites, with commoners like your chronicler and R.K. Karanjia. One, the former maharaja of a salute state in the hills, walked out in high dudgeon.

Scindia used to describe amusingly his first teenage encounter with liquor. It was at Winchester and his poison was cherry brandy. As he told it, he hid behind his bedside cabinet, refusing to emerge, tipsily repeating over and over again that he had disgraced Gwalior and its standard. It was Gwalior all the way. He wanted me to send my son to the Scindia School, Gwalior — where Ananda Shankar had also gone — and claimed that the only reason for not sending his own son there was that he would not be treated like any other boy.

Some of that allegiance was transferred to the railways. His ministerial office gave pride of place to a board displaying the emblems of the 36 state and princely lines that merged to form Indian Railways. Touched when the ministry gave him the board as a parting gift, he hung it in his Safdarjang Road bungalow. As part of that pride, he was disapproving when I did not show up at a South-Eastern Railway function in Calcutta. A Bengali, he said, should honour any reminder of the Bengal Nagpur Railway.

I am not sure that attachment to loyalty and tradition, sound virtues though they might be, would have helped him to ascend the highest rungs of the political ladder, or retain his foothold if ever he got there. I suspect he would have laughed off failure. Political power could not take away what he already had, nor, indeed, improve it. He was the paterfamilias of Madhya Pradesh, en rapport with a constituency that had rejected Atal Bihari Vajpayee for him.

At 56, Madhavrao Scindia could no longer be described as a promising young prime minister in waiting. But he was nevertheless the best hope for a party in which Manmohan Singh’s wisdom and expertise are totally obscured by Sonia Gandhi’s alien aloofness. Now, he will go down in our annals as one of the best leaders that the Congress party — and, possibly, the country — did not get.



Means of transport

The flight which killed our maharaja and with him four other journalists has taken the life out of others too. No politico, if he values his precious life, would henceforth fly in the smaller aircraft which has been such hot property with cabinet ministers, chief ministers, former Union ministers and ministers of the lesser order. But what became evident during the grand funeral of Madhavrao Scindia was that even the fourth estate would no longer risk brushing shoulders with their most hunted subject if he happened to board private jets of the same variety. Hours after Scindia’s cremation at Gwalior, the Chhattisgarh chief minister, Ajit Jogi, who prides himself on the possession of such an asset, had generously offered to ferry the journos back to Delhi by his plane. They refused, showing much enthusiasm to board the Shatabdi express. Jogi, on noting the reluctance, quipped, “Even my wife, Renu, refused to accompany me. She too came by train.” Not always the sacrificing lot.

Return to sender

Regretting success? Could be. Yet, Shahnawaz Hussain, who recently took charge of the civil aviation ministry had been thrilled to be sworn into office. At 32, he is the youngest minister in the country. His sidekicks reportedly say that Hussain has been able to do, and in style, what Ghulam Nabi Azad, Aslam Sher Khan, Arif Mohammad Khan, Dumpy Ahmad, Tariq Anwar have not managed to do. However, two months in the Rajiv Gandhi Bhawan seem to have wrung out all excitement from Hussain. Added to the aeroplane scare after WTC, the recent drama over the so called hijacking of a plane has rattled the minister so much that he is reported to be contemplating talking to the prime minister about a change in portfolio. Hussain, those close to him say, has lost appetite, is losing weight rapidly and sleep as well. The last because he has been apparently praying day and night for the safe landing of planes. God help him.

Of a southern ruler

What is there in a name? Everything, if elections are nearing and the place happens to be Uttar Pradesh. Salman Khurshid, Congress candidate for the polls, is affectionately called Tipu. So is Akhilesh Singh Yadav, son of Mulayam Singh Yadav. Khurshid and his wife, Louis, who were campaigning in the state, were delighted to hear Samajwadi Party leaders shouting, “Uttar Pradesh ka CM kaisa ho, Tipu jaisa ho” (What will CM of UP be like? Like Tipu), evidently oblivious of the fact that the candidate of the opponent camp was also named after the Mysore ruler. The BSP leadership was not so amused. Acerbic tongue lashing out, one of Mayavati’s followers in the party is believed to have said, “After Tipu Sultan’s death, the British named many dogs after him. Somehow, the doglike mentality is refusing to wear out”. Whose?

Light in the darkness

The feudal taliban seem to have delivered Madhya Pradesh from the dark ages. Before the Boeings hit the WTC, MP used to have a three hour mandatory power cut in Bhopal every day. There were no streetlights between 7 pm-8 pm. Suddenly after the attacks in the US, the state government seems to have changed its mind. This was, however, not for the love of the citizens or fear of the law courts. It was for Osama bin Laden. The Digvijay Singh government is alleged to have received information from its intelligence that soon after the terrorist strikes overseas, miscreants were planning to stick bin Laden posters all over town in an attempt to foment communal trouble under the cover of darkness. Diggy Raja moved swiftly. Bhopalites are still wondering whom to thank.

Away from foreign soil

Most ministers, Central and state, have their proposals for foreign visits spiked by the prime minister. The Union minister for law, justice and company affairs, Arun Jaitley, is one soul whose rare foreign trips despite being cleared by the PM is inevitably cancelled for reasons beyond anyone’s control. Jaitley was all set to visit Malaysia on a week long official tour at the invitation of the Malaysian government when the cabinet reshuffle took away from him the additional charge of the shipping ministry. The minister cancelled the trip because a large part of it dealt with his charge as a minister for shipping. The minister was scheduled to leave for Auckland, New Zealand, on October 1 to address the international law conference. The tragic death of his friend, Madhavrao Scindia, stalled the plans. The unexpected change of guard in Gujarat, from where he was elected to the Rajya Sabha, was also another reason. Looks like the heavens don’t want him to turn mleccha.

A condolence meeting

The political class came forward to express its solidarity with the four journalists killed together with Madhavrao Scindia. As is their wont, they also went overboard. In a condolence meeting for journalists at the AICC office, party general secretary, Ambika Soni, spoke eloquently about Aaj Tak correspondent, Ranjan Jha, especially on his vegetarianmism. Although that was unimportant, his friends could not help remembering that Jha was non-vegetarian.

Within unsafe distance

While shooting for Lajja, the Ilu Ilu girl, Manisha Koirala, is supposed to have checked out from her hotel, in which she had been put up along with the other stars, to one which was at least three miles away from the studio. She complained of bad room service, but the filmi duniya believes it was because she wanted to keep boyfriend, Crispin Conroy (still together then), from co-star Rekha. She can still kill?

Footnote / No stranger to star fetishes

No ajnabee to the game of staying in the news, Kareena Kapoor, pretty little sister to a didi who has long since tasted stardom, has hit another jackpot after having described co-star Bipasha Basu as a kali billi. The young thing is now supposed to be showering her love on arch-rival Amisha Patel. Kareena was allegedly heard saying that it was Hrithik Roshan who had stolen all the limelight in Kaho Na Pyar Hain, although Amisha had done her part as well. She should now take on Hrithik. Amisha, cool and level-headed, is said to have quietly thanked Kareena and ended the matter at that. Bollywood thinks this was the Kapoor babe’s deliberate attempt to turn the industry against Amisha by inciting the Gadar heroine to make an untoward comment against Hrithik, the blue-eyed boy of the boxwallahs. Amisha, by the way, is not Kareena’s only preoccupation. She is reported to have also kept herself busy with criticizing directors like Karan Johar and Sanjay Lila Bansali. The latter has committed the cardinal sin of not signing Kareena for Devdaas with Shahrukh Khan. Heaven hath no fury than a Kapoor scorned.    


Looks brown, thinks white

When Dinesh D’Souza recently referred to the terrorists who attacked New York as warriors on a late night television show, it created a furore in the USA. The reaction was swift and furious. Several sponsors, such as FedEx and Sears, withdrew from Politically Incorrect, the ABC’s popular programme. Many channels stopped telecasting it. And host Bill Maher, who had added fuel to fire with his own comments, was forced to offer an apology.

But D’Souza, 40, a research scholar with Hoover Institution in Stanford University now, and formerly a senior domestic policy analyst at the White House during the Ronald Reagan administration, doesn’t regret making the remark. In fact, he was patient and polite with the deluge of phone calls and emails that followed thereafter, all demanding an immediate explanation. “I told them that my intention was not to praise the terrorists or to say the act was honourable. What I meant was that President George Bush was underestimating them by calling them cowards. They are committed to a cause and should be thought of as formidable adversaries,” he told The Telegraph.

Whether he is making remarks that stir up a hornet’s nest or writing politically provocative books, controversy comes easy to D’Souza. Frequently on TV, fashionably dressed and media savvy, his views on racism, multiculturalism and affirmative action have aroused extreme passions. His best selling books, Illiberal Education (1991) and End of Racism (1995) have been called “revolutionary manifestos that champion free speech” as well as the products of a “bigot” with hate-filled content.

Going through Illiberal Education, the book that catapulted D’Souza to literary stardom, it is not difficult to understand why. The author takes a conservative right-wing position arguing against multicultural curriculum and affirmative action in college admissions and hiring practices. He tries to demonstrate that racism is inherent in affirmative action “quotas” and argues that “merit”, with a few exceptions, should determine which students are admitted into universities. There is no doubt that if D’Souza was a political scientist in India, he would have spoken out against the Mandal Commission recommendations.

Similarly, his paradigm in the End of Racism has left many wondering whether it offers a path to end discrimination or simply makes a brand new beginning. Racism, he argues, never was the bugbear many people thought it was. If D’Souza is to be believed, racism, while producing unfortunate consequences, originated as Europeans’ fair-minded effort to understand non-Westerners’ lack of “civilisational skills.”

Much to the consternation of those who disagree with him, D’Souza’s views have not been consigned to the dustbin of academia. Instead, he has been hailed as a right wing conservative scholar. He is a much-sought speaker in places like Harvard, Berkeley, Stanford and Duke. Just days after the politically incorrect remarks, he addressed 400 students, faculty members and administrators at the University of Virginia, discussing, “Why they hate us: America and its enemies.” The response was pretty positive.

What exactly is the secret behind the great D’Souza success story? In an age where form often takes precedence over substance, he is stylishly articulate with a gift for repartee. A good public speaker, he once gave 60 lectures in nine months, many of them without notes. Quotable quotes, which draw laughter from the audience and make television ratings go up, come easily to him. In a world where youth is viewed as energy and creativity rather than lack of experience, he has age on his side. But, most importantly, despite part of a minority community himself, D’Souza has taken an ideological position that makes liberals squirm and right-wing conservatives chuckle with glee. He says things you least expect from a first-generation brown immigrant. And because he is talented, he can defend it to a certain degree. This makes him a saleable scholar.

Perhaps, it is this positioning that the men in the White House were eager to capitalise on when they took him in. “I found out later that they had been reading what I was writing. And since they liked what they read, one day they decided, ‘let’s hire him’.” So, at the age of 26, D’Souza was advising President Reagan on crucial issues such as civil rights, constitutional questions and AIDS.

D’Souza admits he did not interact with the former President on a one-on-basis but recalls an interesting incident that gave him an insight into his mind. During a meeting, he saw most Reagan aides having an animated discussion, but the US President was silent and appeared to be detached. “He just reached out for the jellybean jar occasionally,” recalls D’Souza, who wrote a biography of Reagan in 1997. “It was only later that I understood his style of functioning. He gave everyone a chance to air his views but did what he thought was best,” he says. It was also at the White House that the author-scholar met Dixie, his American wife. They now have a six-year-old daughter.

As the son of a chemical engineer in Mumbai, D’Souza was the regular middle-class Bandra boy playing cricket and watching Hindi films, Sholay being a favourite. He was also fond of reading Western and Eastern literature. “Books give you a window into experiences that are often deeper than the ones we have in everyday life,” he once said.

His life changed at 17 when he had the opportunity to go to a high school in remote Arizona on a one-year Rotary Club exchange programme. He didn’t have any plans to stay back but ultimately did. In 1979, he journeyed to New Hampshire to major in English at Dartmouth College. His talent with words and ideas soon came to the fore as he started writing for the campus newspaper and helped start the Dartmouth Review, a conservative magazine that came into national focus for “attacking the college’s administration and taking controversial stands on minority issues.” He went on to work as managing editor of Policy Review and editor of Crisis magazine, a Catholic monthly publication of news and opinion, before the Reagan offer came.

Since then, D’Souza has divided his career between writing articles and books, and lecturing extensively on the college circuit. Right now, he is working on his fifth book, which will attempt to explain what makes the American experience distinctive from other cultures. His thesis is based on three important building blocks: science, democracy and capitalism.

For all his controversial formulations, D’Souza doesn’t want to comment on Kashmir or the after-effects of the WTC attack on India. His explanation: it is not his area of expertise. “I have never taken up a political issue pertaining to India,” says the former American Enterprise Institute scholar.

He has also largely stayed out of the NRI social circle. The academic attributes this to his chosen profession. “My world has never included too many Indians,” he says. But at a North American Konkani Sammelan sometime back, Dinesh D’Souza was felicitated as the Outstanding Konkani of the Year. At least, there was no controversy about this award.



Different strokes

Sir— The report, “Boycott blow to blockade ban meet” (Oct 1), shows that a consensus on any important issue is impossible to achieve, especially where the Trinamool Congress is involved. The recent farce had to do with the boycott by the Trinamool Congress of an all-party meeting, called by the West Bengal chief minister. This was arranged in order to discuss ways to end the trend of road and railway blockades in the state. It is true that the Left Front government has been responsible in initiating such a culture. But this does not justify the action of the party led by Mamata Banerjee. It is to be hoped that this does not defeat the project itself.

Yours faithfully,
Bashuki Chakraborty, via email

Hard facts

Sir — The articles, “Enter the sheriff”, (Sept 28) and “More people doing nothing”, (Sept 28), by Ashok Mitra and Navin Chandra Joshi respectively express a sense of despair with regard to the loss of jobs in the manufacturing sector in India because of liberalization and globalization. It is perfectly true that manufacturing sector jobs are being lost, at both the management and labour levels. But should we not also consider the hard facts leading to the this, instead of just wallowing in self-pity?

First, the manufacturing industry in India, both in the public and in the private sectors, has never concerned itself with the need to provide value to its customers after adopting the industrial policy resolution in 1956. Taking advantage of the available protection, the entire Indian industry has become slothful. It has adopted cost-plus pricing and given shoddy products to its customers for all these years.

In the meantime, industry in many parts of the world has worked hard to cut costs and improve products on a regular basis. Second, it is only in the Nineties that we have woken up under the threat of bankruptcy and abolished industrial licensing.

Ever since then, most of Indian industry, instead of trying to improve productivity and design has only been asking for protection and subsidies.

Even though ten years have passed since 1991, the pleas for continued protection remain unchanged. Third, this pitiable state of affairs persists even when it is seen that in the open and competitive markets in the world, Indians are quite often at the top. That Indians should have no reason to fear competition is quite clear from this.

Indian policymakers must therefore be encouraged to steadily increase competitive pressures from the outside world. The opening up of the economy would help the development of Indian industry. Only then will both the management and labour go hand in hand.

Although the incompetent will unavoidably be affected in this process, this is essential in the greater interests of India.

Yours faithfully,
Alok Sarkar, via email

Sir — India started the economic reforms in 1991 with the watchwords of liberalization, globalization and privatization. As pointed out by Ashok Mitra, all is not well in the private and public sectors. Although the mantra of globalization promises to bring stabilization and standardization of consumer tastes and preferences for a product, the reality seems to be different. The manufacturing sector is least bothered about cutting the cost of items for the consumers.

Meanwhile the Nineties did not witness any rapid progress in the sphere of employment expansion. More structural adjustment is required to create this space. The economic policy adopted by the government of India is definitely in favour of growth. It is urgent that the analysts of our country’s economy understand that generation of both growth and employment is the need of the hour. We hope for the implementation of a better policy by the economic experts.

Yours faithfully,
Aveek Chatterjee, New Delhi

Sir — The editorial, “A Global Manifesto” (Sept 2), has expressed correctly that the idea of globalization is rooted in the desire to set up international norms to regulate human activity. Although India in its attempt to open up its economy to the world had adopted the slogan of liberalization and globalization in the distant Nineties, this was not accepted by some political organizations. They equated these with the buzzwords of imperialism. This is a facile doctrine. Care should be taken to stop its spread.

Yours faithfully,
N. Sinha, Murshidabad

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

Maintained by Web Development Company