Editorial / Double standards
Perfect optimism
The Telegraph Diary
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL / DOUBLE STANDARDS 
 
 
 
 
Surprising as it may sound, law and order has become a source of tension between the state and the Centre. This tension does not follow the usual pattern of state governments fighting the Central government about the allocation of resources. The bone of contention now between the state and the Centre is a little more bewildering because it has nothing to do with governments. To exemplify the point, West Bengal can be taken as representative. The new chief minister of the state, Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, after the kidnapping of a businessman in Calcutta by a gang operating out of Dubai, decided to empower the state police through the Prevention of Organized Crime Ordinance. The promulgation of this law coincided with the Central government’s decision to introduce a replacement of the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act with the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance. The left parties led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) have decided to oppose POTO. Since such an opposition would be incongruous with the left’s advocacy of POCO in West Bengal, the CPI(M) leaders in New Delhi have prevailed upon the West Bengal unit of the party and the government not to go through with the new ordinance. Thus politics at the Centre has been used to veto a decision that was considered necessary by the state government. This is a new dimension to the state-Centre relationship within political parties.

The experience of the left and the CPI(M) is by no means unique in this regard. The Congress governments in Karnataka and Maharashtra both have in place stringent anti-terrorist laws from which the POTO has heavily borrowed. But the Congress has decided to oppose POTO when it comes up for discussion in Parliament in the forthcoming session. The obvious assumption seems to be that what is acceptable in states ruled by the Congress is not acceptable at the national level. This difference between province and nation is inexplicable unless one assumes that the Congress has taken upon itself to oppose everything that Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s government does, good, bad and indifferent. The confusion within the Congress over this is evident from Ms Sonia Gandhi’s decision to constitute a special thinktank to justify the party’s opposition to the new anti-terrorism ordinance. India’s self-proclaimed national party — and the oldest political party — will have to decide what comes first: its contrariness vis-a-vis the Bharatiya Janata Party government or the nation’s interests.

Political parties, irrespective of their ideology, must accept two things. First and most important, the country’s security and law and order cannot be the subject of petty politicking and the scoring of points against an opponent. The second point follows from the first: double standards must be abandoned. The fact that the Congress and the left could conceive of draconian anti-terrorist laws in states in which they are in power is clear testimony that they think such laws are necessary and that they have no principled objection to such laws. They cannot then turn around and oppose similar laws because they are authored by the BJP. Even the murky world of Indian politics should have some room for consistency.

   

 
 
PERFECT OPTIMISM 
 
 
BY MUKUL KESAVAN
 
 
India will bat. It’s two in the afternoon and that time of the year again, that perfect virgin moment when India begins a series, batting first. Harbhajan’s not playing and that’s a blow but Pollock has put India in, so the business of bowling is in the future; right now there are two Indians in the middle with bats in their hands. It’s the first innings of the test tour, no wickets down, no matches lost, that fragile bubble of time when even middle-aged men can allow themselves to believe that anything’s possible. A hundred before lunch, 414 for no wickets at lunch on the second day, with Laxman and Tendulkar to come.

Actually Laxman’s in already because Dravid’s gone so this time round the window for perfect optimism stayed open for about ten minutes which has been par for the course for about twenty years, ever since Sunil Gavaskar and Chetan Chauhan stopped opening the batting together. The closest India ever got to experiencing the joys of bourgeois stability and development was in the middle passages of the long partnerships staged by Gavaskar and Chauhan. I look at young people who have never watched Gavaskar play and I feel for them; they’ll have to emigrate to experience the sense of calm wellbeing that he induced in us, that first-world certainty that progress was inevitable.

Tendulkar’s in now because Das has shown us once again what Gavaskar might have been without the genius: a well-organized short batsman, shaky against the short ball. Gavaskar played the short ball like the immortal he was, swaying minimally to get out of the way or up on his toes, riding the bounce, nailing the ball into the ground. Tendulkar, even with the genius, isn’t money in the bank like Gavaskar was. More like the stock market, up and down. Inevitability isn’t the hallmark of a long innings by Tendulkar. A century by him an odd mixture of calm and storm. He has just played an over by Ntini that perfectly illustrates my point: he has taken sixteen runs off it with three boundaries, the last of which was a zero percentage shot that he tipped over second slip for four.

Tendulkar’s runs come in clusters, not in a steady stream, his innings are made up of explosive episodes. His greatest innings, of course, specially his hundreds in one-day matches, are simply single long violent episodes. They have become rarer, those extended bursts of berserker brilliance, because he is too much the Bombay batsman to be recklessly prodigal. So sometimes you’ll see him curb his shot-making, mainly in the interest of the team but also because he wants to prove to himself and his audience that he can play with puritanical self-denial. The perfect example of a knock like this was his century at Chepauk during the third test against the Australians. It was a dour, unlovely innings, all Bombay rectitude, but it won us the match.

They’ve gone in for lunch now. I can’t believe the score: 127 for four in two hours. Anyone who thinks the one-day game hasn’t transformed test cricket should take a look at that statistic: four wickets down and yet faster than a run a minute throughout that opening session. Tendulkar has scored forty-three of forty five balls and I regret the interruption for lunch. Because through those forty three runs Tendulkar has continuously shown intent, an aggression unalloyed by doggedness or care.

Lunch might remind him that test cricket is a five-day game and in any case he will want to play himself in after the interval. He should go for it: sometimes you want genius to express itself unburdened by responsibility and it has been years since Tendulkar produced a truly masterful century on tour against worthy opponents.

If it’s possible to find polar opposites in the art of batsmanship, Laxman has to be the perfect foil to the Bombay school. He is tall and slender where Tendulkar and Gavaskar are short and thickset. When Laxman plays through the offside (and his cover driven boundaries off the backfoot in his cameo before lunch were the purest silk) he never gets behind the ball. He just leans into the ball, firm-footed and it speeds away. He pulls and hooks in this upright, easy way; when Tendulkar pulls he looks like an enforcer with a big cosh.

The shots played by Laxman in his thirty two runs were — and there’s no cleverer word for it — sublime. He made every shot played by the rest, even Tendulkar’s best, look mortal, functional. Of late, the trouble with Laxman has been that his innings have been wholly unmixed with base metal of defence or doggedness. He deals only in the purest gold and there only seems enough of that to fashion perfect cameos. But to be fair to him, it’s hard to see how we can blame him for the way he plays because that’s how he played throughout his majestic 281 against the Australians, the greatest innings ever played by an Indian batsman and one of the greatest in the history of test cricket.

The amazing thing about that innings was that never once did Laxman indicate by his demeanour at the wicket or his strokeplay that he was playing to save the match for India. At the other end Dravid produced an object lesson in doggedness. Laxman was, well, unearthly, producing a stream of unhurried, lovely shots, all played, it seemed, in the cause of beauty rather than the mortal object of saving or winning a test match.

Tendulkar’s just on-driven Pollock for a four to get to a wholly meaningless landmark: 7,000 runs. He’s on eighty three and Sehwag’s playing steadily. Their partnership is worth more than a hundred. One seventy six for four. I can see the score tomorrow at lunch: 450 without further loss, Tendulkar within shouting distance of his first triple century. I begin to get that feeling again: anything’s possible.

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THE TELEGRAPH DIARY 
 
 
 
 

Change of vocation

Probably it’s time to hop jobs. The chief minister of Chhattisgarh, who has already taken to writing in a big way, might ultimately find his pen the only weapon he can wield against commissions and other demons. For ever since being branded a non-tribal, nothing seems to be going right politically for Ajit Jogi. Take, for example, his efforts to make little of the ruling about his identity. Jogi had intended to have a mega-event on the first anniversary of the state. It turned out to be a flop show, possibly because he found it more important to please madam than the prime minister of the country. All non-BJP states maintain a functional relation with the PM. Ironically, Jogi not only refused to invite Atal Bihari Vajpayee, he, apparently, even went on to slight him in public. The non-tribal is said to have invited other chief ministers as well. But none showed up. Worse, on November 1, BK Nehru passed away and madam cancelled her Chhattisgarh trip. All strings were pulled to get Sonia Gandhi to Ranchi since scores of journalists had been flown from Delhi to watch the show. But no go. Jogi was left to face the crowds alone, and probably his future, too, in the Nai Sadi Ke Mor Pe .

Festival offer

Our fathers on earth. The BJP seems to be taking cultural nationalism a bit too seriously. The leadership changed the schedule for its national executive meet in Amritsar for karva chauth, a festival in north India during which married women fast for a day and pray for the longevity of their husbands. The unputdownable Union minister for information and broadcasting, Sushma Swaraj, and a lesser sister of hers, Sangeeta Singh Deo, are reported to have led the campaign to be excused from their political obligations on Sunday, which was the day on which the festival fell. Kind souls AB Vajpayee and Jana Krishnamurthy relented and Sunday will be a day when only less important issues will be discussed. And yes, without the ladies.

Age does wither

Age seems to be overtaking not only our prime minister, but his newly inducted defence minister, George Fernandes, as well. At a recent press meet, Georgie Porgie fumbled while recalling the name of one terrorist who has the Americans on the run. It was left to a scribe to remind him of the name he was trying to retrieve from the deep recesses of his mind. Osama bin Laden? Yes, of course. But it did not stop at that. George was also heard asking journalists to repeat their questions and to speak loudly into the microphone. Can he hear the war next door?

To end a sibling rivalry

Cause for worry. Although Mamata Banerjee is confident that she will make it into the government in the winter session of Parliament, the inordinate delay in reinducting didi into the cabinet has set her Trinamoolis thinking along a completely different line — her reconciliation with estranged dada, Ajit Panja. Securing the homefront just in case the winter gambit fails. On the other hand, the bad blood is also preventing AB Vajpayee from taking a decision on Panja, to whom he had promised a ministerial berth during the assembly polls in Bengal. The problem is that Mamata still hasn’t softened her stand towards her detractor. Veteran Panja is therefore depending on Trinamooli bigwigs to persuade didi to forgive and forget. The lead in the peace mission has reportedly been taken by didi’s former mentor and Calcutta mayor, Subrata Mukherjee. Shouldn’t Mukherjee stop tempting his fate?

Will he have her ear?

Advantage Congress. The sagging morale of the party has suddenly been lifted by the successful parivartan rallies in Uttar Pradesh. The face behind the miracle is the Meerut MP, Avtar Singh Bhadana, who brought in an unexpected number to his Meerut rally. Madam is supposed to be so impressed that she apparently snubbed Ghulam Nabi Azad’s moderate estimate of the crowd and put it at three lakh. She also congratulated Bhadana the next day on the telephone. Quite naturally, Bhadana now wants the moon. If he is made the UP Congress chief or a member of the CWC, the new man on the block has claimed that he could bring in 80 out of the 100 odd seats in the state and the emergence of a backward leadership to take on the saffronites. Just pray that madam goes on listening, Bhadana.

Look who’s in stockings

Dubbed famously as kali billi by her co-star, the Calcutta model making it big time in Bollywood, Bipasha Basu, is supposedly quite embarrassed by her performance in Ajnabee. Apart from the fact that she has been referred to as a “sex-bomb”, she is also very aware of her “flaws” — her make-up, hairstyle and something else. There is, apparently, a scene by the piano in which one can see her stocking line. “A stocking line is not at all sexy.” Really? The lesser mortals going to the movies would be delighted to catch a glimpse of her stockings, if not her panties. So relax, Bipasha.

Fight to the finish

Mumbai is thick with the whisper of an Oscar coming the way of India. One aspirant is Mira Nair, who has already bagged a Golden Lion. But the money is on Lagaan, which stands a good chance of making it to the foreign film category. It has the feel-good factor and right politics — desis scoring over the firangis. But Asoka might give it a tough time. The producers, after consulting numerologists, are supposed to have dropped the “h” from Ashoka in anticipation. So wait till the last reel to see who wins.

Footnote / A war very close to home

The most unlikely war victim. Thankfully, the victim is unaffected. Noam Chomsky, professor of linguistics at the Massachussetts Institute of Technology, will, eventually, manage to do what he came to India for — that is, to speak on philosophy, peer into the “abyss of the future” and rally against militarism. There is only one change made in the war situation. Instead of deliberating on militarism at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, which he was scheduled to, he will speak at the Delhi School of Economics. The war, incidentally, is not the one in Afghanistan, it is in Delhi’s academia. Two co-speakers of Chomsky are Arundhati Ray and Aruna Ray. Therein lay the problem. JNU missed the chance of hosting Chomsky because it tripped over a major controversy regarding the entry of Arundhati Ray into its portals. Why? Why not? Ray, the JNU’s commies feel, has insulted their god, EMS Namboodiripad by her insinuation directed at the leader in her Booker prize winning novel, The God of Small Things, set in the backwaters of Kerala. Left in the backwaters, JNU?    

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Cricket in the time of war

Sir — Although the English cricket team finally decided to go ahead with the tour of India, it is evident that the skipper, Nasser Hussain, will have a lot to worry about (“Caddick, Croft opt out”, Oct 31). English hopes of a possible away series win got a bad jolt with two experienced players, Andrew Caddick and Robert Croft, opting out of the coming matches in India. The pertinent question in all this is should the war in Afghanistan be considered so momentous as to endanger the lives of cricketers playing in another country? The reluctance of the players to come to India is an insult to the country, its government and its security system. One hopes security to the other players will prove the suspicion false.

Yours faithfully,
Sromona Basu, Calcutta

Sound judgment

Sir — The National Democratic Alliance government has come up with two important decisions — the promulgation of the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance (“Terror ordinance gag on freedom of expression”, Oct 26) and its ruling on the Rajya Sabha elections (“Open ballot plan to chain cross-voters”, Oct 30). Ironically, some opposition parties and human rights activists have opposed both the proposals.

Yet, in the history of Indian politics there have been times when civil liberties have been buried alive. The Emergency being one such occasion. Champions of civil liberties and human rights were then either silent or busy chanting slogans in favour of the then prime minister, Indira Gandhi. The one organization which took up the fight against the system was the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and its allies who overthrew the dictatorial regime of the Congress in 1977. Interestingly, now the sangh parivar is being blamed for its tough stand on terrorism.

The NDA decision on the Rajya Sabha elections was prompted by the fact that many members of the legislative assembly were defying the party whip in electing representatives to the upper house. Which meant they were voting for the persistence of money power. Putting an end to this will leave no room for corruption.

Yours faithfully,
V.A. Gopala, Bangalore

Sir — It is already evident that the Centre is facing difficulty in converting POTO into a law (“Centre stranded on terror law”, Oct 30). Not only is the opposition hellbent on giving a tough time to the Bharatiya Janata Party led NDA but also its allies, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam being one, seem to be in disagreement on the issue. The fear of the opposition as well as NDA allies is understandable. It was voiced by the Akali Dal rebel, Gurcharan Singh Tohra, when he said, “Is it any surprise that only organizations represented by the minorities have been dubbed terrorist and banned by the ordinance?” The past decade has witnessed the violation of human rights by the police and the army in Punjab and Kashmir. Converting POTO into a law would certainly give the government unlimited freedom to curb any activities about which it has reservations.

On another front, the Centre is having problems implementing its decision to do away with the secret ballot system during the Rajya Sabha election. This is a sensible decision. Not surprisingly, some parliamentarians are vehemently opposed to it since it would affect their vested interests.

Yours faithfully,
L. Mukherjee, Calcutta

Sir — The passing of POTO by the NDA comes at a time when the BJP national executive is meeting up in Amritsar to discuss issues related to terrorism. The Centre’s optimism that POTO would not face much opposition fell flat on its face, although it was banking on the rise in anti-terrorist sentiment. There is also the suspicion that the action might have been taken by the Centre in the wake of the coming elections in Uttar Pradesh so that POTO could be wielded against the minority voters. Whatever the fate of the bill, the government should handle anti-terrorist legislation with caution.

Yours faithfully,
S. Chakraborty, Mumbai

Parting shot

Sir — Since I am a regular reader of the internet edition of The Telegraph, I have noticed the new design that has been recently introduced. The space for the matter has reduced drastically, leaving the reader with little to read on the screen. Readers on the internet would be obliged if the design was rectified.

Yours faithfully,
Dillip Kumar, Denver, USA

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