Editorial / Not a crusade
Riding to hounds
The Telegraph Diary
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL / NOT A CRUSADE 
 
 
 
 
It is all over bar the shouting. Yet, can the United States of America claim anything more than a Pyrrhic victory in Afghanistan? In this case, the adjective Pyrrhic can be taken to refer not just to the costs of the war, but also to the elusive nature of the targets that had originally been set. The taliban regime has fallen, and the fall of Kandahar has rendered a coup de grace to a languishing resistance. But the promise of Mr George W. Bush to the people of the US to “smoke out’’ Mr Osama bin Laden remains unfulfilled. Neither has Mr Mohammad Omar been captured. It was first suggested that Mr Osama bin Laden was holed up in the Tora Bora mountains of eastern Afghanistan. But he was not found there when the region fell to the anti-taliban forces. There are no clues, at least in the public domain, about the whereabouts of these two principal taliban leaders. As long as they are alive and free, the US cannot, with any justification, claim that they have won the war in Afghanistan. From the beginning, the aim of the war was not the mere destruction of the taliban in Afghanistan, but the arrest of the person suspected of masterminding the September 11 attacks.

From the moment the US decided to open hostilities against Afghanistan, Mr Bush and his team of advisors had taken care to spell out the specific nature of the campaign. It was to be a war against terrorists and fundamentalists, and not a campaign against Islam. For the success of the global coalition against terrorism, this was an important and a very significant differentiation. Mr Bush and his principal ally, the British prime minister, Mr Tony Blair, went out of their way to show the world that they and their respective governments were not party to the demonization of Islam. Mr Blair made it a point to inform the world that he was reading the Quran on his numerous flights across the world. And Mr Bush, taking a cue from Indian politicians, perhaps, organized an iftar party. In terms of the West’s perceptions of and attitude towards Islam, these gestures were somewhat unique. From the time of the crusades, Islam has been projected by large sections of Western opinion makers as the great scourge of Western/Christian civilization. This image was complemented by the fundamentalist trends within Islam that emphasized the role of jihad in the elimination of non-Muslims. This discourse of hostility received a new urgency and new stamp of legitimacy from the writings of Mr Samuel Huntington. The latter saw an impending clash between Islam and the West and he saw the clash as a civilizational one.

The events of September 11 and the subsequent war against the taliban would apparently tend to confirm Mr Huntington’s dire thesis. Yet the very fact that Western leaders have bent over backwards to show their empathy with Islam suggests that the clash is not between Islamic and Western civilizations. Rather, the struggle is between civilization and terrorism driven by religious fundamentalism. The taliban is one particular articulation of this trend. The message of the war in Afghanistan warns against accepting any kind of monolithic understanding of culture. To do otherwise would be to revert to Mr Bin Laden’s way of thinking, and to gift to him the ultimate palm of victory.

   

 
 
RIDING TO HOUNDS 
 
 
BY MUKUL KESAVAN
 
 
It’s the hunting season again. Ganguly’s the fox and the hacks who follow the touring cricketers about are riding to hounds. It’s becoming a habit. When Waugh’s Australians visited earlier this year, print and broadcast journalists in the touring party, notably Ian Chappell and Malcolm Conn, became fixated on Ganguly and his wickedness. This time round Nasser Hussain has been cast in the role Steve Waugh essayed earlier: Leader of Men. You have to have someone playing the archetypal Leader of Men if Ganguly’s inadequacies are to be properly highlighted.

One English journalist wrote that given Ganguly’s record of indiscipline, he was qualified to lead a brat pack, not men. Another, Michael Henderson of the Telegraph, cited Ganguly’s seven punishments and asked with ponderous irony: “Some leader of men, eh?” The first thing to notice is how grown men go on about “leaders of men” without self-consciousness or embarrassment. The English are peculiarly susceptible to this Boys Own Paper idiom because the English in general and English cricket journalists in particular have a head-boy view of hierarchy.

Nasser Hussain by general acclamation is a Leader of Men. The reason he makes a good head boy while Ganguly doesn’t is because Hussain understands that authority is handed down from above. Speaking to Derek Pringle about the Denness affair, Hussain said: “The way the world works is that you have your bosses and your guv’nors who run things and the ICC runs cricket. The sooner everyone realizes that the ICC runs the game as it should be run, the better. The two gentlemen who are running the ICC are doing a fine job. Everyone must understand who is running the show and everyone should adhere to what the governing body says.” Lord Maclaurin couldn’t have put the case for the headmaster better. And if Hussain tugged his forelock any harder, he’d yank his hair out.

Within this sad, twilit, deferential world, populated by guv’nors (!), bosses, headboys and fags, obedience is a kind of religion. The decisions of constituted authority demand complete submission. The thing to remember is that this cult of obedience isn’t characteristic of English journalism in general; it’s only cricket writers that worship in this Victorian way at the altar of authority. Theirs not to reason why.

A week ago, Stephen Brenkley of the Independent defended the ICC rule that disallowed appeals against the match referee’s decisions because the right to appeal might let lawyers into the game. (His piece is such a perfect instance of the English cricket hack leaping to uphold the sacred right of the powers-that-be to cock-up unchallenged, that it needs to be quoted at length.)

“The case of Arjuna Ranatunga,” he writes, “taught cricket that harsh lesson. Ranatunga infamously led his players to the edge of the pitch after Muttiah Mura-litharan was called (wrongly) for throwing in a one-day international between Sri Lanka and England in Adelaide in 1999. The match was eventually restarted but was played in a spirit of outright acrimony. When the match referee, Peter van der Merwe, tried to impose punishments the Sri Lankans brought in the lawyers. The upshot was that only superficial penalties were imposed. That was a bad day for the game.”

For Brenkley, the fact that Muralitharan was wrongly called for throwing by an umpire (which would have unfairly ended a great career) isn’t infamous; it is the Sri Lankan captain’s spirited defence of his bowler that is. Brenkley is disappointed that the Sri Lankan players couldn’t be punished by the match referee for protesting against a dreadful piece of umpiring.

Neither in this passage nor in the rest of his article does Brenkley address the real issue, which is, how do you deal with bad or incompetent umpiring? And he forgets to mention that the umpire who called Muralitharan for throwing on that occasion had been temporarily suspended from his day job because his employers thought that he was too stressed-out to cope. Brenkley isn’t calling for the head of the person who appointed an unfit umpire or demanding that professional umpires be penalized for incompetence; no, he’s worried that Ranatunga and his men got off without being caned. It should come as no surprise that his piece is called, “At long last the game gets a governor!” It would be funny if it weren’t so sad.

It’s important not to mistake hacks like Henderson and Brenkley for reporters. They’re a low form of ideologue, leader writers who never made it to the edit pages. Reporters base their opinions on what they’ve seen; ideologues guard secondhand opinions against the corruption of experience or evidence. Henderson, for example, was eloquent about the manifest guilt of the punished Indian players at Port Elizabeth when the controversy first broke.

Then, just before the first test began in Mohali, he wrote, “India lost in South Africa and, in losing, and no matter what people have said here on their behalf, their players behaved poorly.” How would he know? In between his condemnations of Indian conduct, he appeared on a television show on Star News, and blithely announced that he hadn’t actually seen the match in question or even video clips of the incidents that provoked Denness ‘s punishments. Days after the controversy broke, a controversy that threatened to split the cricket-playing world, the Daily Telegraph’s cricket correspondent turns up on prime time, taking sides on the issue without taking the trouble to look at what actually happened on the playing field.

In a remarkable article written on the eve of the first test, Henderson resumed his role as Master of the Hunt. Ganguly was his quarry and the whole article read like an obscure ritual of denunciation. He told his readers that Ganguly was known to Australian cricketers as the Bengali Boor and also Lord Snooty. Then Henderson warmed to his task and had an anonymous Australian player say that Ganguly was “the biggest shit I’ve ever come across in the game”.

Then, really getting into his stride, Henderson attributes to several players collectively the bizarre view that “Ganguly is really a ‘tart’”. These are clearly the words that Henderson would himself use to describe Ganguly though he’s careful to fire his guns off the shoulders of anonymous informants. Craven is a word Henderson uses for Ganguly in one of his many denunciations — putting abuse into inverted commas seems a pretty craven thing to do. What should worry Henderson’s readers is not the rudeness of “tart” or “shit”, but the hysteria that they symptomize. To join a cult is to purge yourself of individual sense to share in collective hysteria. So it is with the Cult of Obedience and Deference of which the Brenkleys and Hendersons are paid-up life members.

[email protected]

   

 
 
THE TELEGRAPH DIARY 
 
 
 
 

Some solid effort

Love’s labour lost? Congresswallahs in Bengal and beyond, and former Congresswallahs in the Trinamool, think it is not so much affection as self-promotion that has prompted the political couple Samir and Krishna Chakraborty to take up the cudgels on behalf of their respective masters, Somen Mitra and Mamata Banerjee. But the two seem to be convinced that the country’s political future desperately needs them to bring the leaders together again, one of whom is eternally waiting for a cabinet post, and the other impatiently waiting to get out of the hospital. So when didi went to visit her convalescing rival, Krishna, who is anyway a close friend of hers, diligently posted herself at the gate of the hospital. While wife accompanied Mamata, husband apparently decided to do his bit of the act. When Jyoti Basu, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, Biman Bose and Anil Biswas came calling, Samir tried to give a conducted tour and was promptly snubbed. Undeterred, husband followed Mitra to the Delhi hospital for his bypass surgery and gave a repeat performance when Sonia Gandhi, Pranab Mukherjee and other Congress bigshots came to visit Somen. Repeat reaction. Sonia is said to have put Samir in his place and went about talking to Amar Das, Pradip Bhattacharjee and Kanak Debnath, Congress leaders from Bengal who were finding themselves overshadowed by Samir. Mitra got the message finally and ticked off his Man Friday. But is Somen quite sure that he need not lend a ear to Samir and his Krishna?

Who’s talking?

So nobody listened to Sheila Dixit? The Delhi CM seems deeply unhappy with the baggage she has now, in which is Deep Chand Bandhu, her known detractor. Besides, she also has to worry about the lokayukta report about her government, which could even lead to her removal, as it had once caused the dismissal of Yoganand Shastri. But there are others as angry as Dixit with the cabinet reshuffle in Delhi. Parvez Hashmi for one. He asked Dixit and AICC gen-sec Kamal Nath, point-blank, why he had been sacked despite doing everything he could for the party, from raising funds to arranging cars for UP Congressmen. Nath replied that no one could count on personal loyalties in the Congress. Why then, pray, was Nath trying his utmost to get Kiran Choudhury in?

How to keep the dynasty going

Land of the rising sons. Which means Jyotiraditya Scindia is not the only one on the horizon. The other peeking out close behind is Amit Jogi, son of the Chhattisgarh CM. All of Congress and Chhattisgarh seems to have got the message. Amit now reportedly works as de facto CM from the Chhattisgarh Bhawan in Delhi. Bureaucrats allegedly pay obeisance to him, industrialists seek dates with him, and MLAs find it necessary to follow his dictates. But that’s quite natural in dynastic rule.

The exit of a busybody

Another very natural consequence. Now that Jagmohan is out, the urban development ministry has come back to square one. The minister had come down heavily on illegal construction and misuse of residential buildings. He had, in particular, bulldozed illegal banquet halls built on agricultural land in South Delhi which were let out for marriage parties and birthday bashes. Since most of them were near busy roads, these halls invariably held up traffic. Within days of Jagmohan’s exit, the banquet halls in Mehrauli were back in business. Since this is the marriage season, there are accidents every day which are a result of traffic jams and drunken driving. Probably Jagmohan needs to be reinstated if people value their lives.

Exchanging places

Things are moving fast in Uttar Pradesh, the scene of action. Kalyan Singh is supposed to be in touch with Maneka Gandhi for some kind of electoral understanding. Maneka is game, given that she still can’t get over her abrupt shifting from the culture ministry from where she was trying to teach Sonia a lesson or true. The Congress is also reported to be scouting for like-minded fellows and Obaid Ullah Azmi, an RJD MP from Bihar is slowly flowing with the tune. When it comes to oratory skills, the firebrand Azmi is said to be a match for Uma Bharati and Sadhvi Rithambara. But the Brahmin component in the Congress is seemingly opposed to the orator. Anyway, there is still time to change minds.

To return an invitation

One political change that seems to be really bothering Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee is the one across the eastern border, that is in Bangladesh. The previous government of Hasina Wajed had invited him over when he was in charge of the West Bengal government as caretaker CM. He had promised he would visit after the assembly elections were over here. After becoming the CM, Buddha declined Wajed’s offer yet again on the plea that his presence in Bangladesh would inconvenience the leader who was then just about to face elections herself. The change of government and the Hindu infiltration into Bengal from Bangladesh has further compounded the problem. In any future meeting, there is no way Buddha can evade the question of the influx with the Bangladesh government, and the latter would in no way have Buddha raise the question. So it is status quo ante for now. But unfortunately not for very long.

Footnote / Same place, same people, same words

It was a rare occasion. A college function attended by the PM. He couldn’t just refuse to be present for the platinum jubilee celebration of the Sri Ram College of Commerce because two of his best men, Arun Jaitley and Vijay Goel, who belong to the alumni of the college, sat on his back for an affirmation. Vajpayee went there, spoke wittily as usual. So did Jaitley. But the one who stole the show was Goel, who hit it off with the young generation from the word go. He began complaining about the “unfairness” of the college administration. He attended a boys’ college, now it was co-educational. Another gem from him caused prolonged applause: “The other day I went to my college...found the same iron gate, same old room, same old benches.” Then he sauntered to the college hostel and met the same spectacle, a boy and girl sitting together. When the couple saw him, the girl shrank away and the boy spoke out hesitatingly, “Yeh meri cousin hain (This is my cousin).” Goel added, “Abhi tak bahana bhi nahi badla (Even the excuse hasn’t changed).” Well said, Goel.    

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Women never wear the pants

Sir — The state home department’s decision to set up a special committee under deputy secretary, Jharna Ganguly, is the right move towards tackling the sexual harassment of female employees in government offices (“Writer’ cell to probe sex-abuse complaints”, Dec 5). Unlike the West where adequate support systems enable women to go public with their traumatic experiences, Indian women are compelled to suffer in silence. The problem is aggravated by Indian men justifying their behaviour on grounds of provocation by their female colleagues. The Indian judicial system should introduce measures to prevent any more suffering for women in their work environment.

Yours faithfully,
Vaishali Chatterjee, Calcutta

Troubled house

Sir — The editorial, “Scenes by the well” (Nov 27), about the enforcing of parliamentary and legislatorial discipline is timely. The members of parliament as well as those of the state assemblies should get acquainted with parliamentary procedures and practices, so as to set a good example to future legislators. In this connection, the legislators should read Thomas Erskine May’s celebrated book on parliamentary practice. If necessary, this book should be translated into various Indian languages. The efforts of the speaker, G.M.C. Balayogi, are laudable. The only hitch lies in whether the directive will be followed by the MPs and MLAs. It should be kept in mind that they are elected by the people to be involved in constructive political activity.

The “yuba parliament competition” launched by the West Bengal government is praiseworthy. This would help train students from the school to the university levels to conduct themselves in both houses. Adequate coverage given to this matter by the media also helps.

Yours faithfully,
Prabha Ranjan Biswas, Krishnagar

Sir — The initiative of the speaker, G.M.C. Balayogi, to introduce a code of conduct for MPs and MLAs is a positive step. The Indian legislators should learn from their Western counterparts with regard to this vital matter. Not that the Western countries present a perfect picture of decorum in the house, but a few things could be learnt from them. It is unfortunate that ill-mannered legislators are alloted election tickets by their parties. There is also a tendency in irresponsible legislators to flout all rules in order to be in the limelight. Here the election commissioner must play an important role by not granting tickets to unruly legislators. This would make Balayogi’s task much easier. Yours faithfully, Govinda Bakshi, Budge Budge

Two sides of ethics

Sir — The recent controversy on the banning of human cloning should be considered a big blow to the progress of biotechnology (“Human embryo cloning unleashes ethics storm”, Nov 27). Instead of banning it, an international council should formulate strict rules for its useful application within a framework. People should realize that science cannot survive on prejudices and dogmas. Where were the ethics groups when nuclear power was used for human devastation by the superpowers?

Yours faithfully,
Samrat Ray, Bangalore

Sir — The cloning of human embryos by Advanced Cell Technology has raised questions about medical ethics and procedural norms. Although the researchers justified their action on grounds of creating stem-cells which might turns the clock back on ageing and prevents diseases, the venture goes against medical ethics and moral norms. The setting up of a bioethics council by the White House is definitely the right step. It would be heartening to see the passing of a bill in the United States of America banning cloning of any life form in the future.

Yours faithfully,
Satya Pandey, Lucknow

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