Editorial/ Fundamentalist danger
For the right reason
The Telegraph/ Diary
Letters to theEditor

 
 
EDITORIAL/ FUNDAMENTALIST DANGER 
 
 
 
 
It is a measure of the desperation being perceived by the sangh parivar in Uttar Pradesh that it has chosen to rake up the Ayodhya issue in the run-up to the assembly polls. The sangh parivar knows from past experience that in UP there is nothing better than religious passion to canvass votes in India’s biggest province. At the forefront of the act of trespass in the Babri Masjid-Ramjanmabhoomi compound was the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. A first information report has been filed against some of the VHP leaders. But the wording of the VHP is striking in its inadequacy. The report charges the accused of “obstructing government officials while on public duty”. It thus glosses over the simple fact that the accused were also violating a Supreme Court order. The court had ordered that status quo ante should be maintained on the site. But the VHP leaders made it clear that they did not care too much about niceties of the law. They were exercising, what they claimed, was their right of worship. The very fact that the VHP leaders chose this particular site, already riven with controversy, to exercise the right to worship is enough to cast suspicion on their motives.

The VHP’s action puts the prime minister, Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, in a somewhat ticklish position. Mr Vajpayee has been trying since he assumed office to distance his government from the policies and actions of the more extreme Hindutva elements like the VHP, the Bajrang Dal and even the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. Distance has not yet led to a confrontation between a Bharatiya Janata Party-led government and a member of the extended Hindutva family. The act of trespass perpetrated by the VHP pushes Mr Vajpayee’s government close to the brink of such a confrontation. The government, especially as it is a coalition one, can ill afford to sit idle while a Supreme Court order is violated. Mr Vajpayee cannot risk earning a reprimand from the apex court. Neither can he risk the disapproval of his coalition partners. This is one side of the tricky equation that Mr Vajpayee will have to solve. On the other side, he cannot ignore that he is the BJP’s principal leader and he has an election to win in UP. He and his party have no cards to play. Under the circumstances, the VHP’s attempts to whip up majority religious passions, at a time when the most gross anti-Muslim sentiments are already in the air, might appear to the BJP as a kind of godsend. Between Mr Vajpayee, the prime minister of India, and Mr Vajpayee, the BJP leader, falls the shadow of the challenge thrown out by the VHP. It will need all of Mr Vajpayee’s legendary political skills and more to balance both sides of the equation.

Beyond the world of electoral politics and the cynical manipulation of religious feelings, there are other issues that the action of the VHP highlights. The world’s opinion and intense condemnation has been directed towards terrorism driven by religious fundamentalism. It cannot be overlooked that the VHP and the Bajrang Dal also represent religious fundamentalism and are not averse to using violence to secure their ends. When Mr Vajpayee and Mr L.K. Advani speak against terrorism in international fora, they should not forget their own backyard.

   

 
 
FOR THE RIGHT REASON 
 
 
BY MUKUL KESAVAN
 
 
The acres of critical writing about September 11 seems to have produced an anti-alliance stance that is actually the welding together of two separate arguments. I think the two arguments need to be prised apart because one makes sense and the other doesn’t. Keeping the two together also circumscribes the effort against the war because many people who agree with the first argument are put off by the second one.

The first argument opposes the bullying free world rhetoric of the allies and the assault on Afghanistan that this rhetoric is designed to legitimize. Anti-war intellectuals argue that intensive bombardment will kill the non-combatant Afghan as surely as it will damage the taliban. They point to American policies that helped kill innocent civilians in Japan, Vietnam, Chile, Cambodia and Iraq and argue that America’s warlike self-righteousness is born of hypocrisy and a selective amnesia. They warn that prolonged bombardment is dangerous because it will tip Afghanistan further into famine, as the war destroys an already rudimentary infrastructure and makes organized aid impossible.

The American response has understandably been more about that country’s own grief and anger and suffering than the fate of Afghans in a bombed-out country. Seven thousand lives in an hour is death on a truly industrial scale, but Americans need to be reminded that in the event of a famine, the Afghan body count would make September 11 seem like a peacetime accident.

This is a good, consistent position. To those who would challenge it by asking, “What would you do if you were in Bush’s position?” the short answer is that America’s critics are not in Bush’s position. Bush’s vigilante idiom, his daft posturing about “smoking them out of their holes”, of getting bin Laden “dead or alive” is designed to conjure up a sheriff administering frontier justice at the head of a posse. It generally doesn’t come out right; he ends up sounding like a bounty hunter at the head of a lynch mob.

Even if you believe that the coalition is right to do what it does, a writer’s business is to anticipate how things might go tragically wrong, to be sceptical of mass-produced rhetoric (and here Bush and his cabinet are in a class of their own) and to challenge it by citing duplicity and inconsistency. Most of all, any sane person is entitled to ask what the human cost in Afghan lives will be, and how much “collateral damage” is “acceptable”.

The editor of a national daily, The Pioneer, said during a discussion on Star News, that civilian casualties were inevitable in the course of any bombardment, and that collateral damage was the price we had to pay to extinguish terrorism. He declared, solemnly, that we had to be willing to pay this price. He made it sound like a sacrifice which was odd, given that the tab was being picked up by the Afghans, and not by him in particular or the studio audience in general. It was like a call to grit our teeth and duck each time a bomb fell on Afghanistan.

But he raised an important question: if the Americans bombed Afghanistan flat before sending their soldiers in (to avoid military casualties), was that morally acceptable? How many dead Afghan civilians, to rephrase Arundhati Roy’s brutal comparison, equalled one dead G.I.? It’s worth remembering that the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was justified on the grounds that it hastened Japan’s surrender, shortened the war and saved American men in uniform from dying.

The second argument that seems to be a necessary part of the anti-coalition, anti-war stance goes like this: the events of September 11 are a consequence of American policy in west Asia in particular and the Arab world in general. This is a very dodgy argument and it weighs down the peace movement with baggage that it doesn’t need. When the anti-war intellectual turns historian and tries to explain September 11 (as distinct from opposing its military consequences), the argument becomes too eagerly accusatory and too reflexively anti-American. The quick causal connection between American skulduggery and greed in the Muslim world and the murdering psychopaths who drove planes into the World Trade Center comes much too easily.

How many of us looked for social/political/historical explanations when the taliban shelled the two Bamiyan Buddhas into rubble? None of us. We just said to ourselves, “It’s the work of madmen or fanatics.” Why then, do we look for historicizing explanations when murderers of the same stripe, knock down the twin towers of the WTC? Perhaps this inconsistency has something to do with our need to tell Americans, “Look, you had it coming.” Maybe they did but that isn’t why those suicidal hijackers killed themselves and thousands of others.

I don’t think those eager martyrs drove into the WTC because they cared about babies dying in Iraq, or Palestine not being independent. I think those hijackers were paid-up members of the cult of Arab victimhood and they used legitimate Arab and Muslim grievances like athletes use adrenalin. If those grievances hadn’t existed, they would have invented them.

It is wholly legitimate to use America’s sponsorship of Israel to explain, even to mitigate, the callousness of those Palestinians who rejoiced when September 11 happened. And it is reasonable for critics of American policy in west Asia or the Arab world, to list policies that provoke people to loathe America. It’s quite another thing to say that those policies are why September 11 happened. That isn’t why those towers full of people were destroyed. To believe that is to believe that the kar sevaks who felled the Babri Masjid did it because they were driven by the wounds inflicted by medieval Muslim vandalism. It is a dangerous, double-edged argument and one that we should refuse. The allied bombardment of Afghanistan can be eloquently and honorably opposed without pretending that the murderers of September 11 were messengers from the Muslim world.

[email protected]

   

 
 
THE TELEGRAPH/ DIARY 
 
 
 
 

Shooting his mouth

Star attraction. But that wasn’t what brought the two deshwali bhais — Shatrughan Sinha and the invincible Laloo Prasad Yadav — together. Shotgun, evidently crestfallen at his non-inclusion in the Union council of ministers, seems to be sending out long feelers to the raja of Bihar. The other day, on meeting the RJD chief, Shatrughan gave a clean chit to the much-maligned Laloo. His argument was, if George Fernandes could go back to the raksha mantralay, Laloo could become the mukhya mantri too. In other words, Shotgun apparently explained, “What is right for Peter should also be right for Paul.” Laloo, who couldn’t hide how pleased he was with Shatru, invited the Bihari babu for a sumptuous meal of fish and rice. Lunch over, the two discussed a wide range of issues till Laloo reportedly came up with an earnest query. “Sinha babu, George ka naam Peter hai yeh humko maloom nahin tha. Lekin yeh Paul kaun hai? Hum to Laloo hain. Laloo ko hi chief minister banna hai” ( I didn’t know that George was also known as Peter. But who is this Paul? I am Laloo. It is Laloo who should be the CM). Sound reasoning. Only, Shotgun couldn’t speak.

Return of a mantri

Speaking out. The return of the raksha mantri has created quite a stir among the BJP wallahs. The prime minister is said to be getting anonymous letters everyday from ordinary workers, asking him not to make the same mistake again by recalling Bangaru Laxman as the party president. Even in the cabinet, Georgie Porgie is apparently being treated as an intruder. The US secretary of state, Colin Powell, met all those who mattered in the Indian establishment, barring the second time defence minister, who was reinducted in great haste on the eve of the American’s visit. The grapevine has it that he is being kept out of all important decisions relating to Afghanistan or security matters. Neither has he been inducted into the recently formed India-Russia working group on Afghanistan although anyone who matters in the government has been included. Probably, the government intends to use his skills some other time — in the future purchase of arms maybe.

The heart of the matter

One skilled politician, biding his time in forced retirement and expending his bile on fellow and much younger politicians is Sikandar Bakht, friend of the prime minister and the writer of a recent letter to him. In this missive, Bakht, once the lone Muslim face in the Jan Sangh, is supposed to have warned the PM of the aviation minister, Shahnawaz Hussain and his tall claims. Bakht seems to be convinced that Hussain is going to prove to be a liability for the party in future. Party members, meanwhile, have been poring over what could have made Bakht so livid. The answer seems to be in AB Vajpayee’s failure to make him the governor of Tamil Nadu after Fathima Beevi was recalled. Now the Andhra Pradesh governor, C Rangarajan, is holding dual charge. When someone pointed that out to Bakht, he reportedly said, “Why can’t there be a vacancy in Hyderabad?” Right. Hyderabad, too, is a city of biriyani and ghazals. But for that Bakht has to do more than just writing angry letters.

Age will never bar

The Congress working committee was discussing the post-taliban scenario in Afghanistan when a wise soul pointed out that the Afghan king, Zaheer Shah, was an octogenarian. There were pious doubts on whether he would be able to deliver. A young Turk, however, put an end to the worries, “We in the Congress have no consideration for age.” Everyone, including madam, burst out laughing except the old guards who were, evidently, quite uneasy. The CWC is packed with septuagenarians nearing their eighties. Take for example Motilal Vora, Natwar Singh, Arjun Singh, ND Tiwari, K Karunakaran, Mahabir Prasad... Need we go on?

In order to secure a zone

The metal birds crashing into the WTC has scared everyone out of their wits, quite literally. The VHP is now exerting pressure on the government to declare Ayodhya and Faizabad as a no-fly zone. The organization and its allies do not discount the threat on the makeshift Ram temple. Bureaucrats laughed it off till Ashok Singhal told the aviation minister to take the matter seriously. Shahnawaz Hussain, for reasons best known to him and a few others, has apparently passed on the message to the PMO and home ministry. He can’t trust another hijacking.

A forgotten maiden

She was there, seen, but not written about. Probably, the death of the maharaja was more profound. Devyani, Scindia scion, the epicentre of the events that rocked Nepal only a few months ago, was present for all the 13 days till the funeral of Madhavrao Scindia. So was Paras, son of Nepal’s King Gyanendra. But if newshounds are to be believed, there was no communication between the two who occupied Scindia’s family quarters. Close encounter of the worst kind?

To make a model film

Our film censor board has its own inexplicable set of scruples. So, naturally, Jim Morrison does not figure in its idea of a good role model. First time director, Anurag Kashyap, is therefore ready to move court against the board’s rejection of Paanch, his film about five junkies who live from fix to fix in a Morrison-induced haze and end up with a rock band of their own and some serious violence. The board thinks the film is sick, “glorifies violence” and lacks a moral message. Kashyap, unerringly, thinks otherwise. He is convinced that the film will add to Indian cinema a healthy dose of film noir. And any similarity between his film and Trainspotting, another film about five junkies, is purely coincidental, says Kashyap. Really?

Footnote/ They’re on his side

Cricket politics has divided the capital’s media. Precisely because Prabhu Chawla, the fiesty editor of India Today, has thrown his weight behind AC Muthiah in the recent election for the post of the president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India, some other mediapersons have claimed the controversial Jagmohan Dalmiya as their own. Chawla had actively campaigned for Muthiah in his capacity as an office bearer of the Punjab Cricket Association. The surprise defeat of Muthiah has thus given handle to Chawla’s rivals, many of whom have latched on to Dalmiya and at least one going on to tell Muthiah himself that the reason he lost was because he had drafted Chawla as his campaign manager. There was also malicious glee at Chawla’s discomfiture when the TV host, Rajat Sharma, virtually hijacked the dinner party thrown by the Delhi District Cricket Association at a five-star hotel in the capital by inviting a host of his friends and acquaintances. Sharma allegedly told all those who cared to listen that “Dalmiya’s real strength is Prabhu Chawla”. But only by default, that is.    

 
 
LETTERS TO THEEDITOR 
 
 
 
 

The children of war

Sir — In his desperate bid to win back some lost popularity, the United States president, George W. Bush, is raising funds for the children of Afghanistan (“Bush fund for children”, Oct 13). It is a good gesture but ultimately it is of little help to the Afghan children, since the air strikes by the US planes in the night undoes all this effort. Footage from news coverage showing the misery of the Afghan children proves that the worst victims of this ongoing conflict are the children. Bush should bear it in mind that mere raising of funds from the safety of his comfortable home is not enough to make amends for the kind of physical and psychological harm this war has caused to the youngsters.
Yours faithfully,
Juthika Ray, Calcutta

Rally out of place

Sir — The editorial, “Wrong cause” (Oct 15), exposes the double standards of the Left Front government in West Bengal. With the state administration’s much-hyped new stand on public rallies and demonstrations, the mahamichhil organized on a Sunday by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) was a kind of self-debunking. Would the state have allowed any other political party to do the same? The Left Front has enough of a partisan attitude to try and thwart any such demonstration undertaken by an opposition party.

This massive rally by the CPI(M) also caused much inconvenience to the puja shoppers, although the police claimed that it was a “peaceful rally”. Traffic was also affected by the chaos resulting from the protest march.

It was a happy moment for the people of Calcutta when the state government decided to put a stop to rallies and other forms of public protest, with the welfare of the people in mind. Unfortunately the public rally of the CPI (M) shows again that the Marxist rhetoric is hollow.

Yours faithfully,
Shiuli Mukherjee, via email

Sir — The effort of the chief minister of West Bengal, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, to ban blockades of roads and railways would have been supported by the majority of the public, had he not flagged off the mahamichhil last Sunday. This was unacceptable. In any case, the people of West Bengal should have the democratic freedom to adopt any strategy of their preference to express their anger. Merely declaring public demonstrations illegal is not justified. More so because the tradition was first introduced by the Left Front and it takes some time to give up an old habit. Doesn’t the chief minister know old habits die hard?

Yours faithfully,
Ruma Chakravarty, South 24 Parganas

Sir — The Left Front’s mahamichhil to protest against the American attack on Afghanistan is a good gesture. But it caused great hardship to customers and shop owners, since the Durga Puja is just around the corner. Most shoppers had to shelve their plans in anticipation of the traffic disruption the rally would cause. This was truly unfortunate.

Yours faithfully,
Kaustav Paul, via email

Sir — By suggesting to candidates appearing for the school service commission examination that they do not leave their venues between twelve and one because of of the mahamichhil, the CPI (M) has just ignored realities. The party comrades are obviously in no mood to follow the government’s directives.

Yours faithfully,
Arunava B. Chowdhury, Barrackpore

Off the wrong bat

Sir — The humiliating defeat of the Indian cricket team at the hands of the less experienced Kenya shows what complacency has done to our players (“India lose”, Oct 18). This is not to minimize the credit of the winning team, whose determined performance pulled off this victory. The dismal batting performance should be a warning to the Indian side not to take the so-called “weak” sides casually.
Yours faithfully,
Kankana Mitra, Calcutta

Sir — The emphatic victory of the Kenyan cricket side over India in the on-going tri-series in South Africa indicates that some serious introspection by the Indian cricket authorities is needed. The batting debacle is the result of depending on specific players to deliver the goods.

Yours faithfully,
B. RoyChowdhury, Calcutta

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