Editorial / The CM and the Commissars
Come all ye faithful
This above all/ Words that light the darkness
People/ Abdul Rashid Dostum
Letters to the Editor

The meaningless controversy over the Russian film,Taurus, contains a warning for the chief minister,Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. It is clear that stalwarts within his own party, the Com munist Party of India (Marxist), have de cided to pressurize and override him on his own turf, culture. Mr Bhattacharjee saw the film based on the life of Vladimir Illych Lenin and from all accounts did not find anything objectionable in it. But this did not deter the former chief minister, Mr Jyoti Basu, the CPI(M) politburo member, Mr Biman Bose, and other left luminaries from protesting against the screening of Taurus at the seventh Calcutta Film Fes tival. It will take an im mense effort of the imagi nation and a fair degree of persuasion to believe that the ultimate withdrawal of the film had nothing to do with the protests and was not the result of some amount of unofficial arm twisting. Whatever the facts, there can be no denying that the vic tim of the unseemly episode is the credibil ity of Mr Bhattacharjee and of his govern ment. This is not the first occasion, in re cent months, that the chief minister has been somewhat humbled by machinations within his party. He was forced by the aparatchiki to retract the proposed law to curb organized crime, Prevention of Orga nized Crime Ordinance. It is clear that Mr Bhattacharjee is yet to clinch the vital issue of who rules West Bengal: comrades in Alimuddin Street or the chief minister in the Writers. Buildings? The failure to re solve this contradiction is fast emerging as Mr Bhattacharjee’s Achilles. heel.

This weakness is being exploited by the ideological opponents of Mr Bhattacharjee within the party and by people who are stricken by envy at the accolades Mr Bhat tacharjee has received during his short tenure in office. In the second lot falls, un fortunately, Mr Basu, the former chief minister. He remains uncomfortable in re tirement and fails, occasionally, to rise above pettiness.He could not have been un aware that his condemnation of Taurus, without having seen the film, could only serve to embarrass his successor and pro vide some legitimacy to the mindless pro testors. The reactions of Mr Biman Bose may not have been completely bereft of factional and sec tarian considerations. Mr Bhattacharjee is battling against a particular men tality within his party. It is a mentality informed by hidebound ideas and dog matic attitudes. There is a refusal to accept that the world has moved beyond the shallow certainties which made communists believe that history was on their side. In this battle Mr Bhattacharjee has very few friends among the orthodox. Moreover, ac cording to the laws of human nature, suc cess inevitably produces enemies.

Against his enemies on many fronts,Mr Bhattacharjee has two allies: his own strength and good sense.He cannot surren der these in the name of loyalty to the party. He must remember that his govern ment must bear his own stamp, not that of Alimuddin Street. To do otherwise would be to reduce himself to a shadow. For too long,West Bengal had a nonfunction ing chief minister; it can ill afford, in the present conjuncture, to have half a chief minister.


P.C. Joshi, the legendary general secretary of the Communist Party of India, who, in the words of an admirer, .lit up the lives of some of us.., had a rema rkable story to tell in one of his pieces.The story was about Susobhan Chandra Sar kar, another legendary figure in the world of history teaching in Calcutta. Joshi con sidered Sarkar to be one of his .best friends.. In 1948, when Joshi was suspen ded from the party, then under the leader ship of B.T. Randive, he appealed in writ ing to the central committee and made car bon copies and sent a copy to Sarkar to for ward to the party leadership. In response, he received a oneliner from his friend: .I am with the party right or wrong..

Most people who know the history of the communist movement, especially the way the communist parties functioned under aegis of Joseph Stalin, will not be surprised at this reply of a professor who in the classroom stoked his students. first doubts. The party had replaced god, and Stalin personified the divine presence on earth.The party and Stalin were infallible. Loyalty was synonymous with blind obe dience. This mindset embraced commu nists, stretching from an eminent scientist like J.D. Bernal to an outstanding teacher of Presidency College to ordinary mortals who had sought solace in the security of a red card. In football, a red card puts a play er outside the playing arena; in commu nism, a red card puts a comrade outside the pale of reason.

If you think that such a pathetic predicament belonged only to the Forties, you only have to follow events in West Ben gal to realize how wrong you are. Take the controversy about the Russian film called Taurus, which is supposed to be based on the life of Lenin. Some very prominent people, including the former chief minis ter of West Bengal, Jyoti Basu, and the politburo member of the CPI(M), Biman Bose, protested against the screening of the film. They were against the film be cause, they said, the film had denigrated Lenin. The former chief minister and vet eran communist went to the extent of say ing that such films should not be allowed to be made. The important point in these comments is the fact they were made with out seeing the film. Most of the protesters had not seen the film either. The protests and the condemnation were all based on hearsay.

What was this hearsay? It said that Lenin, in his last years, was shown in a poor light. The film, according to the protestors, had depicted Lenin’s failing health and failing mental powers and his dependence on his nurse. Most people would think that there is nothing objectionable in all this. But then most people are not Lenin worshippers.

Within the communist tradition, Lenin has been deified. Others abide our ques tion but not Lenin. From the reactions of some West Bengal communists, it would appear that he was beyond illness and old age, let alone any kind of criticism or wrongdoing.

But the fact of the matter, no matter what some believe, is that Lenin, in the last two years of his life, was critically ill and his ailment had affected his nervous system. He was no longer the active human being he had been. He was so ill that there were times when he was barely able to speak. His wife, Krupskaya, re called in her memoirs the poignant mo ment when he failed to recall Martov’s name and pointed to the place on the book shelf where Martov’s books were kept.

Yet as the historian, Moshe Lewin, has shown in his book, Lenin’s Last Struggle, Lenin used his last energy and his lucid moments to curb the rudeness, the con centration of power and the dogmatism that Stalin was instilling into the Bolshe vik party. Further research has shown that many of these tendencies had entered the party under the aegis of Lenin himself and had been encouraged by him. But he was selfconscious enough to see, as he lay dying, the dangers inherent in the system that he had built.

All this is to underline that Lenin, far from the god that he has been made out to be, was a human being. He was driven by the political goal of changing the world but this did not make him infallible and immaculate. His condition during his ill ness, his love for his wife and his tender re lationship with Inessa Armand only em phasize his humanness and his frailties.

This point needs to be laboured be cause of the blindness and the worshipful ness of a large body of communists in West Bengal. One obvious consequence of such attitudes is an intolerance towards whatever runs against the grain of the party line or the accepted wisdom. Not so long ago, there were shows of protest against the film, City of Joy.Today, there is condemnation and protests about Taurus. The only difference is that then, Bud dhadeb Bhattacharjee led the protest, and now he says (or so his comrade Anil Biswas would have us believe), nothing is wrong in Taurus. The relevant point here is the simple injunction that a film, what ever its political or ideological content, should not require either the certificate or the disapproval of either the chief minis ter or the party. There is one other differ ence which should be noted. There was a time when on issues like this, the entire party, if not the entire communist world, would have spoken in one voice according to the diktats emanating from either Moscow or Peking. Now no such diktats are forthcoming and in West Bengal the truth of the party no longer unites.

The dogmatism that produced senti ments like the party is always right, one hopes, is on the way out. The de ifiers of Lenin and the propagators of the party’s infallibility do not know the dis service they have done to the ideology they claim to uphold. Marx himself asserted that .doubt everything. was his life’s motto. Thinkers and activists like Rosa Luxemburg refused to accept the notion of the monolithic party that Lenin imposed under the banner of Bolshevism. A scien tist like J.B.S. Haldane walked out of the party because he could not accept the line imposed by Stalin during the Lysenko con troversy.A majority of the members of the Communist Party of Great Britain re signed their membership because they could not accept the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956; among them were the fa mous Marxist historians Christopher Hill and E.P. Thompson. In India, a group of communist intellectuals protested against the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. The key figure in that protest was, ironically enough, Susobhan Sarkar.

Those who made and perpetrated the Lenin cult and advocated blind loyalty to the party have consistently mocked at this rich tradition of dissent. The tradition of selfconscious and selfcritical human ac tivity . what Jean Paul Sartre called .constituting reason. as opposed to .con stituted reason. (political goal formulated into party discipline) . remains the more enriching tradition to which even non Marxists are heirs. That some commu nists in West Bengal find it alien is only to their own and their cause’s detriment.


With Deepavali and Guru Nanak’s birth anniversary falling close to each other, even a sceptic may be forgiven for thinking that their closeness may be auspicious. Diwali is the most important Indian festi val of the year. It signifies the conquest of light over darkness.

The patron deity of the day is Laksh mi, the goddess of wealth bringing hope of prosperity to come. In his own way Guru Nanak was also regarded as the dis peller of the darkness of ignorance, su perstition and hate and the prophet of light and understanding among people. The theologian, Bhai Gurdas, described Nanak’s achievements in the following words:

The true Guru, Nanak, was then born;
Fog and mist evaporated
And light shone on the earth.
As the rising sun dispels the dark and outshines the stars,
As flee the herd of deer when a lion roars
Without pause, without turning back for assurance.
So fled evil from the world.

Nanak believed that the ideal was to achieve godliness while performing one’s worldly tasks . raaj mein jog, that is, without renouncing the world or turning into an ascetic.

Religion lieth not in the patched coat the yogi wears,
Not in the staff he bears,
Nor in the ashes on his body.
Religion lieth not in rings in the ears,
Not in a shaven head,
Nor in the blowing of conch shells.
If thou must the path of true religion see
Among the world’s impurities, be of im purities free.
And again:
The lotus in the water is not wet
Nor the waterfowl in the stream.
If a man would live, but by the world un touched,
Meditate and repeat the name of the lord Supreme.

Nanak preached a crusade against meaningless superstition. During his time (and even today) the higher castes attach exaggerated respect to the sanctity of the kitchen:who may enter it,who may cook,what kind of food is pure and what is polluted. He wrote:

Once we say: this is pure, this unclean,
See that in all things there is life unseen.
There are worms in wood and cowdung cakes,
There is life in the corn ground into bread.
There is life in the water which makes it green.
How then be clean when impu rity is over the kitchen spread?
Impurity of the heart is greed,
Of tongue, untruth, Impurity of the eye is coveting Another’s wealth, his wife, her comeliness.
Impurity of the ears is listening to calumny.

He believed in the cleansing and purg ing qualities of prayer, naam. In the morning prayer, Japji, he wrote:

As hands or feet besmirched with slime,
Water washes white;
As garments dark with grime,
Rinsed with soap are made light;
So when sin soils the soul
The Name alone shall make it whole
Words do not the saint or sinner make.
Action alone is written in the book of fate.
What we sow that alone we take;
O Nanak, be saved or forever transmigrate.

Nanak equated god with truth. Truth is not an academic concept but something that has to become a principle of living: Truth above all

Above truth, truthful conduct.

Beggary is a social evil

Two road hazards that drivers of motor vehicles have to reckon with every day everywhere are cows chewing the cud in middle of the roads and road dividers and beggars at road crossings. I have seen calves knocked dead by speeding trucks and cows maimed by cars. Sahib Singh Verma,when he was the chief minister of Delhi, promised to have them re moved in 15 days. They re mained there throughout his tenure and continue to do so to this day. So much for promises made by politi cians! Put no trust in them. Beggars are a more serious menace. They can be found at most traffic lights. Their main assets are a missing limb or eyes. Some try to camouflage beggary by car rying babies in their arms or by selling evening pa pers.

Many put the children on the job. They cross in and out of the traffic and are often injured. They are not daunted by the aircon ditioned cars with their windows closed. They tap on glass panes. I have no ticed many kindhearted but foolish people who keep a tin full of coins to throw to them. That only encour ages beggary. Foreigners find nothing more offputting than beg gars swarming round their cars at every crossing or trailing them on the streets while they go out shopping.

On their own, two judges of the Delhi high court have ordered the police and the administration to put an end to this menace.On their own, neither the police nor the administration will be able to cope with beggars. They may be driven away one day; they will be back on their beats a few days later. The public must lend a hand by refusing to give anything to any beggar. If they are charitably in clined; let them give money to beggar homes or orphanages. Or for that matter to goushalas.

There are no rules for this one

There is no egg in the eggplant, no ham in the hamburger and neither pine nor apple in the pineapple.

English muffins were not invented in England, French fries were not invented in France.

If the plural of tooth is teeth, should n.t the plural of phone booth be phone beeth?

If the teacher taught,why didn.t the preacher praught?

If a vegetarian eats vegetables,what does a humanitarian eat?

A bell is only heard once it goes!

When the stars are out they are visi ble, but when the lights are out, they are invisible.

Why is the man who invests all your money called a broker?

If people from Poland are called .Poles.,why aren.t people from Holland called .Holes.?

And why it is that when I wind up my watch it starts but when I wind up this story, it ends?

(Contributed by :A. Tuteja,Washington)

Love your enemies

You must love your enemies, as the Good Book says., thundered the priest.

.I do. Oh, I do, Father!., one of the parishioners replied. .Me worst enemies are whiskey, cigarettes, and women!.



Enter the brute

Arumour that had gained amazing currency over the five weeks since the United States began its war against terrorism in Afghanistan, was the death of Uzbek warlord and key Northern Alliance player, Abdul Rashid Dostum. Soon after the strikes began on October 7, the Moscowbased TV6 reported that “two people, one of them identified as Dostum, had been killed in an air strike.” Closer home, one evening not too long ago, the rumour resurfaced at an antiwar sitin organised at New Delhi’s V.P. House. It was, however, instantly dismissed by a correspondent from the Qatarbased AlJazeera television channel, who also happened to be present on the occasion. Not only was he alive, but was, in fact, busy kicking Taliban soldiers out of MazariSharif,which he emphatically won back on November 9.

The 46yearold general — whose forces control much of northern Afghanistan, and who lost MazariSharif to the Taliban in August 1999 — is one of the most controversial frontrunners of the Northern Alliance. Harddrinking, flamboyant and brutal, Dostum, who heads the second largest party of the Alliance, has over the years allied and fallen out with all the political options in Afghanistan, including the Taliban.

A farmer’s son, Dostum left school at the age of 15 to work for a Sovietbuilt, staterun, natural gas pipeline in northern Afghanistan. He gained prominence here as the leader of the fieldworkers’ union. At 23, he banded together a fierce force of Uzbeks, the prominent ethnic minority of the region. This force sided with the Russians when they invaded Afghanistan at the end of 1979.

The General continued with his allegiance to the Russians even after they left in 1989 and led his militia against the mujahedeen forces who were fighting to end Soviet domination in Afghanistan. But by 1992, he foresaw the end of Soviet power in the country and switched sides, helping to overthrow Moscow’s chosen ruler, President Najibullah, in Kabul. Later Dostum even befriended the Taliban when it came into power in 1996.

However, after falling out with the Taliban, the General made it clear that he would never submit to a government under which “there be no whisky and no music.” He then took refuge in Turkey and returned to Afghanistan only earlier this year when he compromised and reached an agreement with his former rival Ahmad Shah Masood to fight jointly against the Taliban.

Through all his political manoeuvrings, Dostum has accumulated much wealth and a reputation for savagery that matches that of the Taliban. By 1997, he was lording over Mazari Sharif,which has a population of approximately two million, treating it like his private fiefdom. According to a biography put together by Pakistan’s military intelligence service (which by this time was supporting the Taliban), Dostum set up his own airline, Balkh Air with two Britishmade jets that went to destinations in Central Asia and the Persian Gulf, issued his own currency and even promoted his own culture which was a far cry from the repressive Taliban diktat. The shops in his area were said “to be full of imported goods brought in from Dubai; while local cinemas show Indian movies, and Russian vodka and German beer is freely available.”

The General also surrounded himself with the sort of show that befitted his status as lord of MazariSharif. He was reported to have imported peacocks from France for his gardens. His trusted lieutenants lived an equally kingsize life. Like his Washington representative, Humayun Naderi, who was known to drive a red sports car upholstered with tiger skin seats during his visits to Afghanistan. Naderi’s uncle, Jaffar, who is an antiTaliban commander, reportedly warms up for battle with a little bit of heavy metal. Jaffar’s taste in music is not surprising, given that he was expelled from an English public school and went on to join an American Harley Davidson gang before he returned home to Afghanistan. But it was Dostum’s militia — as many as 50,000 Uzbek fighters including three infantry divisions and an armoured brigade — which really struck terror in the region. According to Human Rights Watch, a human rights organisation based in New York, “General Dostum has a particularly wretched record across the board.” Along with all the pillage and gore, he is remembered for punishing a soldier accused of stealing by crushing his body under a tank.

In May 1997, his Uzbek soldiers, as part of the Northern Alliance’s combined forces, killed around 2,000 Taliban prisoners of war at Mazari Sharif. The brutal killings were carried out by General Abdul Malik, Dostum’s secondincommand (that is until Dostum fell out with him). Some of the Taliban prisoners were thrown down wells and then blasted with grenades. At least 1,250 of them were killed in sealed containers. His forces also raped women and young girls in Kabul, mutilating their bodies grotesquely when they were finished with them.

Dostum is, of course, exceedingly proud of his militia. It helps that his band of soldiers is the besttrained and bestequipped in Afghanistan today. He is also proud of the machismo of MazariSharif,now back under his control. Before the Taliban seized it from Dostum, the dusty town of MazariSharif reflected the toughness of its leader.

The streets mirrored the spirit with its abandoned tanks (leftover from the days of Soviet occupation) and hulking pickup trucks. The market places sold everything from music to satellite phones.And the local men were, like their leader, all about brute force. According to a British reporter who visited the town before it was taken over by the Taliban, when a somewhat scrawny visitor inquired about the price of a volume of plays from a bookshop in the market, the merchant suggested he buy a set of chest expanders instead.

Dostum was always said to enjoy much popular support, with his photograph prominently displayed in shops and office buildings. At one time his supporters called him Pasha — an ancient term used for rulers of the region. In keeping with the title, the flamboyant General often regards himself as a latterday Tamerlane, the Uzbek horseman who conquered Afghanistan in the 14th century and started an empire that stretched from Baghdad to the western frontier of China.

The difference though, between that Uzbek horseman and this Uzbek General, is that this General has relatively short and chequered spells of good fortune.



Big trip, little gain

Sir . The crash of an American Airlines plane in New York could not have come at a worse time for the Indian prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Not only did it shift the focus away from his much publicized visit to Britain, with his press confer ence being interrupted by a Sky Television broad cast showing dramatic pictures of the crash, but it also denied him the opportunity to grab the headlines. The only consolation for him and India is Tony Blair’s condemnation of last month’s massacre of civilians in Srinagar.Unless India launches an ag gressive campaign to neutralize the advantage gained by Pak istan in the past few weeks, it could find itself being outmanoeu vred by its neighbour in international politics.
Yours faithfully,
Nita Bharghav, via email

Whose India?

Sir . The article, .How pic turesque is my valley. (Nov 1), by Ananya Jahanara Kabir has rightly pointed out that the most exhibited characteristic of India is nationalism. Thus a Hindispeaking Hindu belongs to the mainstream whereas it is expected that people belonging to a more peripheral culture should follow the socalled .ideal. to be a true nationalist. In order to preserve the myth of Indian nationhood, Hindi was designated the rashtriya bhasha,while the languages of Tagore, Subramaniam Bharati and others were marginalized.

The nationalist hero of Bol lywood’s films is seldom a Christian or an Oriya. Thus, popular Hindi cinema too rein forces stereotypes. Sectarian politics in the guise of national ism does not augur well for the unity of the country. The alien ation of the people of Kashmir and the Northeast makes per fect sense when analysed in this context.

Yours faithfully,
Kajal Chatterjee, Sodepur

Sir . Ananya Jahanara Kabir depicts rightly that India is only for a section of Indians. Many peoples, languages and cultures are being diminished in the name of national inte gration. I dread to think of a time when the north Indian Hindispeaking Brahmin male becomes representative of Indi an culture.

Yours faithfully,
Sujit De, Sodepur

Sir . There is no doubt that Ananya Jahanara Kabir is suf fering from a persecution com plex. India allows people of all religions, sects and culture to enjoy complete freedom. Kabir had better take a peek at what is happening in our neighbouring countries before getting so worked up.

Yours faithfully,
S. Chakraborty, Calcutta

Laid well back

Sir . The observation that the West Bengal chief minister has an insurmountably diffi cult task in hand in trying to improve the state’s work cul ture is correct (.Languid Ben gal., Nov 7). Like most Ben galis, state government employ ees are also laid back by nature, which explains their desire to escape work at every opportuni ty. While it would be wrong to blame the Left Front for the nonexistent work culture in the state, it is also true that the combine is partly responsible in encouraging this mindset.

Given that innumerable fac tories have been closed down owing to protests by trade unions,worker unions should have welcomed the idea of working six days a week. It would be a pity if Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee is forced to back track on this issue by his party.

Yours faithfully,
Mita Haldar, Calcutta

Sir . Buddhadeb Bhat tacharjee’s efforts to tighten Bengal’s sagging economy may fail given that trade unions have unanimously voiced their reservations against working six days a week. Never mind the fact that West Bengal has the second largest number of sick industrial units in the country. In a state where most govern ment officials have got used to coming late to office and leav ing early, it is hardly surprising that such a move would not be welcomed. One hopes Bhat tacharjee is allowed to improve the work culture, unlike his at tempts to introduce the law on organized crime.

Yours faithfully,
Nandita Sen, Murshidabad

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