Editorial / Capital punishment
The comfort of sameness
The Telegraph Diary
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL / CAPITAL PUNISHMENT 
 
 
 
 
When the British first came to India in the 17th century, Bengal was one of the first places they came to trade and to set up their “factories’’ (warehouses in the jargon of the time). In the 18th century, Bengal became the British bridgehead. In the beginning of the 21st century, when the British prime minister, Mr Tony Blair, visits India, West Bengal and Calcutta feature nowhere in his itinerary. The first place Mr Blair chose to visit in India was Bangalore in Karnataka, the region in which the British registered their first military victories in the 1740s. The object of Mr Blair’s stop in Bangalore was to look at opportunities for investment and Indo-British economic co-operation. If out of Job Charnok’s mid-day halt grew Calcutta, the second city of the British Empire, it will not be unreasonable to read Mr Blair’s halt in Bangalore as a sign for the future. Another way of saying the same thing is that West Bengal has fallen way behind in the race. Maybe, the state is no longer in the race to win the investment cup.

This might sound a bit too pessimistic, given the new enthusiasm for capital and economic development that is being articulated by Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, the chief minister of West Bengal. Nobody doubts the sincerity of Mr Bhattacharjee’s intentions and efforts, but he must acknowledge that more than three decades of history cannot be set aside through a mere statement and show of good intentions. From the mid-Sixties, when the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the left came to prominence in the political life of West Bengal, communists have done everything possible to drive out capital and capitalists from the state. Further, they encouraged a perverse kind of trade unionism which completely eroded the work culture of West Bengal. Both the labour and the white collar sections were given the assurance that even if they neglected their duties, their rights and wages would be protected as long as they remained within the folds of the left. As a result, by the Eighties, West Bengal had become a red desert so far industries were concerned. Mr Bhattacharjee has realized the utter folly of the attitudes the left nurtured and of the economic policies successive Left Front governments followed. He is working overtime to change things and to create an atmosphere conducive to investment. But he carries the burden of fear and suspicion that investors still harbour towards a communist-ruled state.

Mr Bhattacharjee is working against the tide of history. Bengal’s time has come and gone, and Bengalis have worked to hasten the decline of their state. Job Charnok, if he were to come to India today to do business, would not sail up the Hooghly, but would take his wares, as Mr Blair’s visit suggests, up the Krishna or the Godavari. In Rudyard Kipling’s jungle lore, the animals were taught to ignore the bandarlog. In the 21st century investors’ guidebook, West Bengal carries the stigma of communism. Only when Mr Bhattacharjee’s glasnost removes that stigma, will capital turn eastward again.

   

 
 
THE COMFORT OF SAMENESS 
 
 
BY MUKUL KESAVAN
 
 
If you subtract Russia from it, Europe is a sub-continent roughly the same size as British India. If the countries of the European Community that were united by a single currency, the euro, a few days ago, were joined up to form a single country, that country would be smaller than India today. Still, the republic of Europa, whenever it comes about, will be a large, substantial country, nearly as various as India, but infinitely more prosperous.

The impulse behind this latest unification of Europe has been explicitly economic. A common market, one central bank, a single currency, these have been the solvents of national sovereignty and patriotic sentiment. Though there exists a European parliament in Brussels, the stewards of European unification have carefully downplayed the political implications of economic unification. Mindful of nationalist resentment, they have allowed people to believe that economic integration will not subvert political independence. Europa will not be a nation-state with citizens: it is to be a confederacy of rich consumers.

Since European integration is designed to make rich consumers even richer, Europa, this hypothetical super-state, won’t need to justify its existence because its reason for being is apparent to everyone. India’s unification followed a rather different trajectory. The British unified the sub-continent in an ad hoc way and subordinated it to the authority of a single colonial state. The Indian republic, one of the two successor states created by Partition, consolidated and rationalized this earlier colonial unification by abolishing princely statelets and redrawing provincial boundaries on the organizing principle of language.

While the national movement led by the Congress was based on an economic critique of colonial exploitation and sweetened by the promise of economic deliverance in the post-colonial hereafter, for the middle class that led the movement and inherited India’s share of the colonial state, national unity needed no economic justification. In the context of freedom and Partition, political unity was a taken-for-granted good, it was a virtue, like truth or faith or charity.

All nation-states want to be fetishized, none want to be audited; India was (and is) no exception. When the Dravida Munnetra Kazagham advocated secession, Mother India brought this erring, unnatural child into line by removing from the Constitution the right to legitimately campaign for secession. Similar movements in the Northeast, Kashmir and Punjab were met with an implacable will to unity and massive force. No nation-state voluntarily surrenders any part of its territory, and India is not about to start a new trend. And yet, sooner or later, the people of every state ask themselves what they get out of being its citizens.

So: if the justification for Europa is well being, what is the argument for India?

Not economic success, that’s for certain. Economically, as The Economist cruelly wrote, India is a bad advertisement for democracy. It does not feed, clothe and educate its citizens well enough to qualify as a civilized or humane state. It isn’t difficult for Naxals and their ilk to justify violence: exploitation, misery and hunger are always read to hand. The Indian state is routinely corrupt and predatory; it’s legitimacy is constantly eroded by its use of violence against marginal, vulnerable and poor people.

Its early claim, during its Nehruvian phase, that it was pioneering a new, self-sufficient path to development and growth came to nothing. Its principled sponsorship of neutrality in international affairs eventually fizzled out. Through the Nineties the Indian state abandoned even the rhetoric of the middle path, namely the mantras of the mixed economy and non-alignment. All that remained was the pluralism that its leaders had invented as a political home remedy during its anti-colonial struggle and even that nostrum was up for sale.

India’s experiments with morality, economics and international politics were its claims to originality and leadership and, to put it charitably, the country didn’t get the results it wanted. For the last ten years, India has changed tracks and it now shuffles and inches along a second-hand road map drawn up in the West. Now if India is an unsuccessful and derivative state, why should it survive the 21st century? If it is just another poor country, what will our children miss if it disintegrates into several poor countries? Why should we wish to preserve the Indian state?

My answer to that question is simple, even banal. India should endure as a united nation-state because its greatest virtue — its durable democracy — is based on bigness. Or to put it another way, India remains a broadly tolerant and liberal state because the size and diversity of the territory it governs makes pluralism a politically attractive ideology.

India got a democratic start in life partly because the British were forced to concede parliamentary institutions in the colonial period and partly because the Congress developed early in its career a pluralist nationalism to embrace the population of the far-flung raj. Together, these two processes helped nationalists write a democratic and pluralist Constitution for India. Well after that anti-colonial nationalism became a memory, independent India remained democratic and pluralist when every country in its neighbourhood succumbed to the temptation of sectarian and “cultural” chauvinism. Everywhere in south Asia, dominant communities waving the standards of language and religion took over the state. They defined those countries in terms of religion and language and proceeded to transact political business within the illiberality of those definitions.

This didn’t happen in India. India remained a liberal democracy. There are several reasons for this, but one very important reason is that India is so divided by culture that there is no one enveloping bean-bag identity into which our state can comfortably sink. Like the Sinhalas in Sri Lanka, the Jan Sangh in the early years of independence tried to fuse language and faith, Hindi and Hindus, into a single chauvinism. They failed because too many Hindus saw Hindi as a foreign language. The Bharatiya Janata Party, the Jan Sangh’s successor, has been more successful with Hindus minus Hindi, but they still lack the numbers to remake the state in their image.

But think of India as a smaller, less various state. Consider the Hindi-speaking provinces consolidated into a single nation. Can anyone doubt that this would be an illiberal Hindu state, united in its enthusiasm for a purged, Sanskritized Hindi, sullenly bonded by a memory of Muslim oppression in the past, anxiously aping a romantic, Germanic nationalism that celebrates cultural homogeneity and the orderly comfort of sameness?

There would be no contrary identities in this shrunken nation that could challenge this merger of community and state, no liberal individualism to leaven this parochial, self-pitying nationalism. Unlike western Europe, there is no cult of the individual in India or Asia that might oppose the citizen’s rights to the nation-state’s oppressive claims, to its insistence that one size fits all. In the absence of political individualism, pluralism has been the yeast that has helped keep democracy’s dough risen in India. Dissenting communities of language, religion, caste and region have created and sustained our democratic equilibrium. The expansiveness of India has given them a stage. “In Diversity, Liberty” — that might be a decent argument for India.

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THE TELEGRAPH DIARY 
 
 
 
 

Where there is no will

Even the Maoists seem to pose less of a problem. For Nepal, the SAARC summit is proving to be a nightmare. The most haunting spectre is that of India and Pakistan trying to gouge each other’s eyes out. Which meant the seating arrangement at the dinner and convention centre posed a particularly difficult problem. Since the heads of states were seated in an alphabetical order, it was friendly neighbour, Mamun Gayoom of the Maldives, who was left to serve as a buffer between the seated Indian and Pakistani leaders after Nepal’s king left to assume his role as the host. The bad vibes extended to the media teams of the two countries as well. While Indian scribes were barred from attending the briefing of the Pakistan foreign minister, the Indian delegation refused to entertain the question of a Pakistani journo who had managed to sneak in. Pakistani mediamen were especially mad since they had had to bear the high cost of travelling to Kathmandu because of the no-fly zone over India. According to them, they had to first go to the UAE, and then to Dhaka to board the Biman Bangladesh to reach their destination. Some could even be heard blaming India for causing the delay in the arrival of their president. What was the counter-charge from the Indian side? Lack of “will” power?

Change the face

Lack of will power? The “reinvention” of didi is turning out to be the most serious challenge the Trinamool Congress has faced so far. With the kursi gone, as also much of her appeal, Mamata Banerjee is being variously advised by party members and sundry on how to go about this change of image. While some have been citing her the example of Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, others are more concretely trying to give her tomes on the speeches of Churchill and Indira Gandhi for help. But to no avail. The books apparently lie in heaps in her home as another Trinamooli undergoes a swift change of stature. This is Subrata Mukherjee, who is seemingly testing greener pastures up north. Didi seems unshaken. While there is need for “reinvention”, her focus is different — to keep a tab on the state BJP, but more importantly, on the leaders, Tapan Sikdar and Muzaffar Alam. A slight change of motto here. If didi goes down, she takes down the Johnnies with her. Brilliant!

The garden house

A major disappointment. The Mughal Gardens in the Rashtrapati Bhawan may remain out of the reach of the common tourists forever now. Last year access to the gardens had been restricted to the weekend. No more of that. Security agencies have reportedly vetoed a proposal to open the gardens for general viewing on the weekends also. In another directive, senior officials working on the grounds have been debarred from inviting guests inside the premises, although earlier they were allowed to bring over guests and take them around the majestic institution. Which means the Rashtrapati Bhawan has surely lost its entertainment value.

All dressed up

The Congress is fast learning its media value. If anyone happened to come by the way of the Congress headquarters on December 28, he would have witnessed the unusual sight of festoons and flags swaying to the wind. It was the foundation day of the party and special care had been taken to felicitate the day. The Congress top brass, excluding Sonia Gandhi, who had been prevented from coming by her security, had assembled to celebrate. When a Congresswallah was asked why the headquarters was dressed to kill, he informed that the Congress was only following the media instinct. Last year, a senior journalist had decided to visit the HQ on the foundation day and had found the premises deserted, with only a few stray dogs wandering about. Visuals were taken of the dogs and the story run on prime time. If only the Congress had only known the power of the media when it was in office!

Coloured views

The Congress HQ might witness a different colour soon. The VHP, which is literally going from door to door to mobilize support for the Ram mandir, had written to Sonia Gandhi, seeking an audience with her. Madam, as usual, was in a fix, and her coterie, as usual, was short of ideas of how she could evade Ashok Singhal, Swami Chimayya and others. Anyway, it was decided that Sonia write back to the VHP, asking them to first meet Arjun Singh and S Jaipal Reddy before they could meet madam. The idea is that the saffron delegation would be so put off by the duo that they wouldn’t even pester for a meeting with Sonia. What if they were delighted?

Looking for a way out

Dara Singh, accused of murdering the missionary, Graham Staines and his two minor sons in Orissa, is apparently planning to contest elections from home state Uttar Pradesh. A group in Delhi is supposed to have formed the Dharma Rakshak Dara Sena to help him contest elections from the Oriya district of UP, a press secretary of the Sena claimed. Dara Singh is now jailed in Bhubaneswar. But for how long?

Uncommonly held

What is common between Mulayam Singh Yadav and Muammar Gaddafi? Nothing much, except for the fact that they both believe that a reunification of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh can help matters. Following the Parliament attack, Gaddafi had proposed to the Indian prime minister that the three states come together as a major bloc in world polity. “Will” it, Mr Gaddafi!

Footnote / To feel most wanted

For sometime the most wanted host of India’s Most Wanted, a serial that sought to nab the country’s hardcore criminals, Sohaib Ilyasi made waves when he was arrested for the alleged murder of his wife. But that seems to be in the past now. The TV star is now trying to make waves in politics. The coming months may see him contest the UP elections as an independent candidate. His new outfit is termed Rashtriya Yuva Sangathan. Ilyasi was reportedly once in touch with the Samajwadi Party, which dropped him like a hot potato after the news of the murder spread. Ilyasi hails from Mewat in Haryana, where his father heads the All India Imams’ Conference. Senior Ilyasi’s claim to fame was the demand for a government salary for the imams. The demand had been rejected outright by Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. PV Narasimha Rao and HD Deve Gowda had given the man a patient hearing, but refused to take action. Only Sitaram Kesri had believed in its justness, but he never got to see the end of it. Does that mean Ilyasi is going to take it up from where it was left?    

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Bigotry beyond belief

Sir — V.S. Naipaul’s derogatory, often bigoted, views have found the audience they deserve in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (“RSS hardsells Naipaul as historian”, Jan 4). An RSS mouthpiece, Parmeswaran, has delighted recently in discovering the “sensitivity” and “great responsibility” displayed by Naipaul in ambiguous comments on the Babri Masjid demolition during a television interview, and the anti-Islam rhetoric contained in Beyond Belief. One can only lament, with the nearing of the Uttar Pradesh elections and renewed tensions, that the Nobel committee chose to give the man and his comments international sanction.

Yours faithfully,
Jaya Sinha, Hyderabad

Dead bull

Sir — You are likely to receive an amount close to Rs 4,000 crore from someone. What is the least precaution you could take? At least make sure that the person who owes you the money is alive. It seems from events of the last few years the government of India was simply not interested in recovering its dues from the stockbroker, Harshad Mehta (“Harshad”, Dec 31).

Merely blaming the judicial system of the country is no excuse because the politicians wield a lot of influence on the former. Had the Indian government taken the amount offered by Mehta several years back, the money would have sufficed to feed the million starving Indians during the next ten years. Instead, they asked for the impossible sum of Rs 17,000 crore from the already bankrupt Mehta.

Yours faithfully,
Vandana Rathi, Calcutta

Sir — The death of Harshad Mehta for many would mean “justice” and for others this would be yet another doom. The period between 1991-1992, when the Big Bull played havoc with the Indian share market, witnessed the concept of “rigging” used for the first time on such a large scale. Many such as Hiten Dalal and Ketan Parikh followed the trend set by Mehta resulting in the suffering of the common people who invested their life-long savings in the share market.

The Securities and Exchange Board of India tried to counter the “criminal” strategies adopted by the scamster in all possible ways, but with little success. But this could not deter the broker from carrying on with his notorious activities. Unfortunately, the criminal cases against him will also die a premature death with Mehta’s untimely demise. But for many he had become an institution, who showed the way to raise money within a short period of time. If we think that, with the death of Harshad Mehta, there would be an end to share and security scandals, then we are definitely mistaken.

Yours faithfully,
S. Poddar, Calcutta

Parting shot

Sir — The directive of the president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India, Jagmohan Dalmiya, to the Chandu Borde-headed selection committee in order to introduce a new rotation policy for the Indian senior side in anticipation of the world cup 2003 is a laudable one (“Seniors, shape up or ship out”, Dec 24). Also the attempt made by the BCCI to review the performance of both the coach and the physio every six months can be seen as a ploy to keep the officials on their toes.

Cricket is not a one man game. But for the last few years this has come to stay in the case of India. Both the management and the team have inculcated the habit of relying too much on a single player. This results in the burning out of the particular player very early in his career. The increasing competitiveness of the game also makes it imperative for players to keep physically fit. India lags behind in this area. The other problem plaguing our current side is the inability of the captain and the bowlers to adopt the right strategy against the rival team. Unfortunately, we have failed to learn from the opposition’s example regarding the shuffling of fieldsmen or bowling change.

It is to be seen whether the adoption of Dalmiya’s plans by the Indian team would bring in a more consistent and effective performance in the near future.

Yours faithfully,
Subhasish Majumdar, Sonarpur

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