Editorial/ Unity of problems
The fact of the hyphen
This above all/ When some deadly sins combine
People/ Purnendu Chatterjee
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL/ UNITY OF PROBLEMS 
 
 
 
 
The irrepressible George Bernard Shaw once described England and the United States of America as two countries separated by a common language. Borrowing from that, one could say that India and Pakistan are two countries divided by similar problems. The president of Pakistan, Mr Pervez Musharraf, drew attention to these problems — hunger, poverty, illiteracy and intolerance — in his address to the nation on Saturday, January 12. These problems, Mr Musharraf was frank enough to admit, were Pakistan’s real enemies which had to be fought if Pakistan was to become a modern state. Nobody in his right mind will deny that the same problems are the principal obstacles in India’s journey to modernity. This remarkable similarity between the two countries is often forgotten in the jingoism and the high-level rhetoric that dominates the relationship between India and Pakistan. Communication between the leaders of the two countries crackles with contentious issues: violence, infiltration, disputed frontiers and so on. And all of these combine in the crescendo of war hysteria. In India, perceptions of politicians and perceptions of the common people are coloured by an almost primeval hostility towards Pakistan. The problems that the two countries share and the benefits that might accrue if the governments of both countries addressed problems together are lost in the heady brew of suspicion, mistrust and juvenile oneupmanship.

This immaturity was on display again in the reactions of the various political parties to Mr Musharraf’s remarkable speech. The government of India decided to wait and see if the Pakistan president matched his words with deeds. The opposition parties, more or less, marched to the same tune. In sum, the verdict of politicians was that the invitation to a dialogue was welcome but could be acted upon only when the Pakistan government took the necessary steps to change the ground reality. The Indian leadership has thus found it cosy to remain within the paradigm that dominates the Indian attitude towards Pakistan. It has totally ignored the possibilities inherent in Mr Musharraf’s emphasis on the problems of poverty, illiteracy and intolerance.

This attitude and the well-meaning but empty reactions to Mr Musharraf’s speech suggest a certain complacency and absence of introspection. Underlying this is the assumption that India is in some way superior to Pakistan. The sense of superiority is rooted in the strength of India’s democracy. But this cannot take away from the fact that the fundamental problems afflicting India are the same as those that plague Pakistan. This is where the opportunities of real cooperation lie. An over-emphasis on Kashmir runs the risk of foreclosing these opportunities and of ignoring the benefits that can result from a joint attack against the forces that perpetuate poverty and ignorance in south Asia. Time has come perhaps to set aside cynicism to give development a chance.

   

 
 
THE FACT OF THE HYPHEN 
 
 
BY SUNANDA K. DATTA-RAY
 
 
When Afghanistan was last in the news, the military ruler of Pakistan said one thing and did another, explaining to his American mentor that “Muslims have the right to lie in a good cause.” That was Zia-ul-Haq to Ronald Reagan after Mikhail Gorbachev had announced a Soviet withdrawal on the understanding that the Americans and Pakistanis would stop supporting the mujahedin which Zia had no intention of doing.

History may not repeat itself exactly, but precedence cannot be ignored in assessing Pervez Musharraf’s intentions on which hang wider questions of security and foreign relations. They in turn will determine economic policy which is the point of all national endeavour though this may be lost sight of amidst the excitement of mobilization, diplomatic démarches and a succession of high-powered visits. India needs peace, not power. It needs American investment and expertise as well as the American market and American influence with multilateral institutions for exactly the same reasons that China does.

P.V. Narasimha Rao acknowledged that far from serving some sinister capitalist-colonialist conspiracy, economic reforms would release domestic funds for essential social welfare spending. The economy has maintained a steady growth rate of about six per cent with minimal foreign investment, but education, housing, medical care and all the other services that can be called the people’s agenda are still woefully neglected. Nor — witness Calcutta’s monstrous power cuts — is there the money to develop a reliable and adequate infrastructure, which alone can attract enough investors to boost production.

As Vladimir Putin also discovered, there is no alternative to the United States of America in coping with these challenges. But the case of the Israeli Arrow-2 anti-tactical ballistic missile system and the Phalcon airborne warning and control system has underlined again that US help will be contingent on India’s relations with Pakistan. Washington may not object to the sale but misgivings about its timing have everything to do with concern for Pakistan. Presumably, the US would not have been so worried if Indian troops had been massed at Nathu-la or Sumdorong Chu instead of in Rajasthan, Punjab and Kashmir.

Terror Tuesday arrested the shift towards India that was discernible after George W. Bush became president, and restored Pakistan’s primacy in US calculations. The Americans will vigorously deny this, and claim to be acting on the advice of Ashley J. Tellis, the US ambassador’s Bombay-born senior adviser, whose policy paper recommended that the Bush administration should “systematically decouple India and Pakistan”. They will point to any number of statements by Colin Powell and state department officials about doing away with the “hyphen” between the two countries so that bilateral relations are strictly merit-based, which is about as convincing as India insisting that facilitation is not mediation.

Of course, the US is not an arms shop where every customer has the right of purchase. Nor is a military supply relationship the sum total of ties. Having said that, the new American sales policy of “presumption of approval” can turn out to be little different in practice from “presumption of denial” if the missile technology control regime (which has been mentioned in the context of the pending Israeli deal) or the nuclear nonproliferation treaty or other international agreements or domestic laws are again cited to turn down Indian requests for sophisticated arms and high-technology equipment.

In 1986, when Caspar Weinberger became the first American defence secretary to visit India, he was shown round all our aeronautics, electronics and other dual-use technology establishments and treated to two long presentations, one on how military assistance for Pakistan affects India’s security, and the other emphasizing India’s capability to absorb sophisticated technology. He also spent 90 minutes alone with Rajiv Gandhi. While India gained nothing from that elaborate attempt to impress, Weinberger flew on to Islamabad and immediately announced the transfer of Boeing 707 advanced warning aircraft control systems. The decision had been taken before Weinberger ever left Washington, and certainly without the Pakistanis having to go to the lengths that Rajiv Gandhi had done.

The reason for recalling that episode is to point out that political understanding and confidence matter more than pious theories. George Bush Sr. needed no “presumption of approval” to sell Pakistan F-16 fighters. It is only because Washington is not sure of India’s objectives, especially in relation to Pakistan, that it has devised a construct that leaves it with escape routes that will not (Americans hope!) give offence. George Fernandes’s visit might reveal more about how this formula operates.

Even if the Americans were genuine about dropping the hyphen, India could not afford to let them do so. For, as these columns have pointed out before, a truly de-hyphenated policy would entitle the US — even quite innocently — to shower money, sophisticated arms and technology on Pakistan without a thought for the consequences.

Every American utterance on India or Pakistan has an instant resonance in the other country. When Bush describes the Lashkar-e-Toiba as “a stateless sponsor of terrorism” or Powell claims that Pakistan is as much a victim of terrorism as India, and that the two countries should mount a joint operation against “their common enemy”, Indians cannot but be astounded by their artlessness. Pakistan remains as central to America’s south Asia policy as it was during the Cold War.

This is something India will have to live with. Euphoria about L.K. Advani’s reception in Washington which has replaced euphoria over Jaswant Singh’s chat with Bush that replaced the euphoria over his dialogue with Strobe Talbott cannot wish away this hard fact of India-US relations. However, if Enduring Freedom reinstated Pakistan as the favoured son, subsequent events have ensured that India is no longer the favourite whipping boy. Thanks to Republican realism about projecting power, India can for the first time deal with a friendly Pentagon. The White House is supportive, and even the state department better disposed than before.

Things might change further in India’s favour depending on how Musharraf copes with a belligerent clergy, disloyal Inter-Services Intelligence officers and the political setback he has suffered in post-war Afghanistan. But his January 12 speech must be treated with caution, notwithstanding Powell’s simplistic effusiveness. In 1988, Pakistan promised at Geneva to “prevent within its territory the training, equipping, financing and recruiting of mercenaries from whatever origin for the purpose of hostile activities” against Najibullah’s Afghanistan. It continued to do exactly that until the taliban captured Kabul and tortured and murdered Najibullah eight years later.

Given America’s commitment to Pakistan, its current dialogue with India can fulfil Bush’s hope of “a fundamentally different relationship” only if India continues to develop all its other options. Closer ties with Russia which accounts for the bulk of military supplies on terms that would not be available anywhere else, increased strategic cooperation with Israel, which probably boasts the world’s best intelligence and covert operations agencies, and the prospect of deeper economic exchanges with both China and the Association of South-East Asian Nations must accompany a serious effort to ensure that the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation is not permanently hostage to Pakistani obstructiveness. SAARC must finalize the draft treaty for a free trade zone by the end of the year. It should also explore with much greater determination the quadrilateral growth initiative comprising Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal that was decided on at the 1997 Male summit.

It is a truism to say that economic growth sustains defence, and defence supports foreign policy. So much the better if the loop can be completed so that foreign policy — meaning the much talked-of partnership with the US — promotes growth. If the US holds off because of its concern for Pakistan, the process will be slower, but the end would still be the same if economic opportunities in India are promising enough to engage the businessmen who make Republican policy.

   

 
 
THIS ABOVE ALL/ WHEN SOME DEADLY SINS COMBINE 
 
 
BY KHUSHWANT SINGH
 
 
There are many items on the credit side of ageing that can offset debits like physical debility and the ailments which afflict us as the years go on: reduced vision, deafness, loss of teeth, sluggish liver and bowel movements, arthritis and the near-extinction of our appetite for sex. Top of the list on the credit side is the diminishing of ambition and the desire for fame. Although many aspirations of youth remain unfulfilled, you reconcile yourself with the fact that there is not much time left to try and fulfil them. So why not simply forget them?

George Herbert wisely remarked: “He that is not handsome at twenty, nor strong at thirty, nor rich at forty, nor wise at fifty, will never be handsome, strong, rich or wise.” Goethe was all for giving up the struggle to gain eminence at a much younger age. “Whoever is not famous at 28 must give up any dreams of glory.”

And, therefore, if you failed to become a millionaire, member of parliament, minister of cabinet, win the Nobel prize for science or literature, as you had aspired to in your younger years, there is no likelihood whatsoever of your achieving any of these now. And to think of it, none of them were really worth striving for.

In my old age my only regrets are not having made love to the women I wanted to in my adolescent years and middle age. Now, even the regret for having failed myself in my amorous escapades has faded into misty nothingness. Schopenhauer, when only sixty, asserted that “the strongest impulse, the love of women’s society has little or no effect, it is the sexless condition of old age, which lays the foundations of a certain self-sufficiency, and that gradually absorbs all desire for others company.” As far as I am concerned, the German savant was only partly correct. I no longer rely on human company to pass my days, but I continue to prefer female to male company to cheer me up.

Freeing myself of ambition, though it lightens the burden of life to a great extent, leaves a certain sense of regret for failing to have achieved my ambitions and envy of those who have done better. Envy is insidious and can ruin one’s peace of mind. You owe it to yourself to get the better of it because the mere passage of time does not lessen it. Running down people who have done well only adds fuel to the fire.

It is strange that we do not envy the success of people we do not know, but find it difficult to stomach the success of people close to us — our brothers, cousins and friends.

We may go to their homes to congratulate them with bouquets of flowers and embrace them, but inside we feel all burnt up. It is much easier to love and sympathize with people who have suffered setbacks in life — so perverse is human nature.

I do not know how exactly one can eradicate envy, but I do know prayer and religion do not help one bit. The more effective way is to ponder over it in silence and ask yourself: “Why does that fellow’s success hurt me?” The answer you will give yourself is “because I am a small man. I will try to be a bigger man and can become one if I get envy out of my system.”

All for your country

Seven years ago I received an invitation to deliver a series of lectures in certain Norwegian universities. I knew no one in Norway. I reached the Oslo airport on a mid-winter evening, with snow piled high along the runways. The first people to greet me were a group of sardars and a fat sardarni holding placards which read, “Go home, traitor.” This was at the height of the Khalistani agitation.

Two men, a Norwegian professor and an Indian who introduced himself as Harcharan Chawla, rescued me from the demonstrators and drove me to my hotel. The government even posted a security guard in the hotel lobby.

I completed my rounds of lectures in distant snow-bound university towns and was left with four days to spend in Oslo. Harcharan Chawla arranged a few meetings with local Indians, Pakistanis and the press. The ambassador was kind enough to arrange a small party for me. Although, I forget his name, Chawla’s name remains etched in my memory. Although he and his wife, Purnima, had made their home in Oslo and taken Norwegian citizenship, they remained as Indian as if they had never left India. Both were writers.

Chawla’s first language was Urdu. He continued writing novels, poems, memoirs and travelogues in Urdu, and then Hindi and Punjabi as well. He went on to translate Scandinavian classics, such as Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales and Nobel laureate Knut Hamsun’s Viktoria in both Urdu and Hindi. He won several awards from literary bodies of different countries.

Chawla and his wife visited India as often as they could manage, and after their visit they would proceed to Australia where their daughters lived. On their visit to Delhi two years ago, Purnima was taken ill and died. She had wanted to die in her homeland. Last December, Harcharan died in Oslo.

In every country I have visited, I have met one or two Indians dedicated to spreading India’s message to the people of the country of their domicile. Ambassadors appointed by the government do their term of three years and are soon forgotten. These men and women, though they carry foreign passports, always remain conscious of their roots and spread the aroma of Indian ittar wherever they are.

Leave it to the children

They may not know economics,
politics, diplomacy
They may not be able to rewrite history
They may not know how to pit street
against street
They may not be able to rend the sky
with a war cry,
They may not plan and execute a sly
ambush,
They may not be able to make millions
out of the UTI
They may not have perfected demagogy
yet,
They may not be able to generate
sufficient hatred
They may ask for love and equality
instead,
They may think of happiness, laughter,
playgrounds,
They might commit the sin of
innocence, idealism, honesty
They might lisp, be playful and offend
our ponderousness
They might banish prejudice,
prudery, even hypocrisy
They might outlaw war and
harm the arms industry
And in this world, at home with
anxiety
Like birds, they might sing and
dance —
These risks are certainly there, but I
think
They should be given a chance.

(Contributed by: Kuldip Salil, Delhi)

Slip of tongue

The teacher of a primary school in Punjab advised his class in the best traditions of Punjabi English: “When you are empty meet me behind the class.” Another time he told them if they had any question to ask, they should “stand your hand”.When he had a slight eye irritation, his leave application to the principal said: “Sir, I cannot come to school because my eyes have come. I will report for duty when they go.”

(Contributed by: J.P. Singh Kaka, Bhopal)

   

 
 
PEOPLE/ PURNENDU CHATTERJEE 
 
 
 
 

Never say quit

He should have been worrying, not celebrating his 52nd birthday at his home in Mumbai’s Malabar Hills. But he let his four-year-old daughter Keya have her way and throw the party, playing the doting father and downplaying his worries. Three days later, on January 12, Purnendu Chatterjee had to clinch a make-or-break deal in Calcutta. The battle over Haldia Petrochemicals Limited (HPL), in which he not only invested Rs 433 crore but staked a lot more in terms of business fortune and reputation, had dragged on for too long. Those who attended the birthday bash were later surprised that the man was so cool and relaxed.

When, on the morning of January 12, he took a meeting of HPL’s corporate executive committee at the company’s Auckland Place office in Calcutta, the members found him just as relaxed. “We didn’t have a clue that such a big thing was going to happen in a few hours,” recalls a senior HPL manager. “In fact, when he met some of us in the corridor, he wished us and asked us how things are with our families.”

This meeting was followed by another in the afternoon at the office of the West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation, in which the state’s commerce and industry minister Nirupam Sen, his department secretary Jawhar Sircar and HPL chairman Tarun Das were present. A little after five pm, the agreement to hand over HPL’s management control to Purnendu Chatterjee was signed, thus ending yet another tortuous phase of West Bengal’s most ambitious –– and easily the most chequered –– industrial project in decades. The good news was quickly despatched to chief minister Buddhadev Bhattacharjee who was anxious to see the end of the mess.

When Purnendu returned to the office of The Chatterjee Group (TCG) on Wood Street around 5.45 pm, his elder brother Amalendu caught a gleam in his eyes, which seem to sparkle most of the time anyway. “I’m so happy. But it is a great responsibility. We’ll have to prove we are up to it,” Purnendu, whose worldwide investments total $2.5 billion, told colleagues. Next evening, he flew back on his way home to New York.

It was a hard-won battle that saw Purnendu flitting between New York and India frequently over the past three months. He was on his way from Calcutta to Mumbai when the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre, not far from his Manhattan office, took place. “I was trying desperately to reach him on his mobile,” recalls Amalendu who had by then spoken to Purnendu’s wife, Amita, in New York. “I had little else than Haldia on my mind even on that day,” Purnendu now says.

But he used the terrible events of the day later to parry questions on the battle for Haldia. Back in Calcutta towards the end of September, he was queried by reporters as he approached a lift at the Taj Bengal hotel. “Think about Osama bin Laden. What has he done to a country like the USA,” he laughed and walked into the lift. He pitched tent in Calcutta in the third week of December and stayed on till the final push. The only diversions were visits to the family’s Calcutta home on Rashbehari Avenue, where he could relish his machher jhol, especially in the company of his elder sister, who had raised Purnendu when he lost his father at 10.

“In the last three months, he had worked really hard,” says an official of the Industrial Development Bank of India, HPL’s chief financial institution. “Whenever we called him to Mumbai, he would come and meet us. He tried his best to convince us to restructure the debt. His commitment to the project seemed total.”

Yet, there have been many non-believers who have doubted his commitment to HPL ever since he joined the on-again-off-again project for which the West Bengal government was desperate to get partners. Purnendu, said the sceptics, is a fund manager who will make a quick buck and go away. Can he really manage the funds, others increasingly asked, as he delayed paying part of his equity dues. Even WBIDC chairman Somnath Chatterjee admits that he too had begun thinking that HPL’s management control would eventually go to the Indian Oil Corporation. But Purnendu was clear about his objectives. “I am committed to the project and to the people of West Bengal,” he says. “I have no plans to quit it, come what may.”

Purnendu made things come his way, fighting doomsayers patiently and astutely. Those who have known him for years attribute his success to two traits in him. “Purnendu is catty, exceptionally catty,” quipped an old associate of former chief minister Jyoti Basu. “At the same time, the man is nothing if not gritty.”

His associates say he learnt the virtue of patience and quiet determination in school at Ramakrishna Mission, Narendrapur, while his years at the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, and then at University of California, Berkeley, honed his cerebral grit.

In India, however, he found his task often harder than in America. “He had to deal with politicians and bureaucrats, which was a new experience for him,” says brother Amalendu. “Also, nobody seems to value time here.”

For Purnendu, time and timing are essential elements to all his moves. It was his sense of timing that prompted him in 1986 to leave McKinsey where he became a principal, start his own investment business and eventually oversee George Soros’s billions for the Soros Fund Management, of which TCG became an affiliate.

His impatience with bad time management is no fad. The time differences in various parts of the world where he has to travel constantly make it absolutely necessary for him to maintain a tight schedule. It is on flights that he tries to catch up on lost sleep or some unread Robert Ludlum or John Grisham, his favourite light readings.

All this, though, does not interfere with his self-effacing style or compassionate crusades. TCG employees everywhere have one story to tell which illustrates his commitment to colleagues.

When his 40-year-old chief executive officer Swapan Bhattacharjee met with an accident in Mumbai two years ago, Purnendu had him transferred immediately to a New York hospital in a private jetliner. Swapan can no longer walk, but goes around attending meetings all over the world in his wheel chair .

Purnendu loves to call himself a “problem-solver” but knows that one problem solved could only be the beginning of the next. He has solved the problem of HPL’s management control but has almost immediately taken off for other shores to look for strategic partners to solve problems of capital and debt restructuring. He will be back in Calcutta next Tuesday. A fund manager’s firefighting never seems to end, especially in these depressed times.

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

That’s no way to treat them

Sir — The United States of America’s treatment of al Qaida prisoners, both in Afghanistan and Cuba, is appalling (“Briton lurks behind Taliban hood”, Jan 14). By calling them “non-lawful combatants”, the US has been able to bypass the Geneva convention on human rights of prisoners of war. But television pictures of manacled prisoners in cells, cringing with the fear of justice being meted out “American style”, are chilling. For any nation with a clear conscience, this is an occasion to wake up and take the moral high-ground. Even the European Union has expressed concern — India however has remained eerily silent.
Yours faithfully,
Radhamohan Das, Jamshedpur

Lessons in secularism

Sir — Secular political parties in India should learn from Pakistan’s president, Pervez Musharraf, and take appropriate steps to reign in Islamic fundamentalism sustained in madrassahs and mosques (“Madarsa debate spills across border”, Jan 13). Politicians should take a more mature and nationalistic approach in this regard and formulate stringent laws to discourage anti-national elements.

This approach should also include reigning in Hindu fundamentalists. Besides, damaging reports like the one about madrassahs being built along the India-Nepal border should be unequivocally repudiated. The Indian government should be fair and rational, and not allow fundamentalism of any kind to create a situation similar to the one that now exists in Pakistan.

Yours faithfully,
Rajesh Sengupta, Calcutta

Sir — As the two articles, “Madarsa debate spills across border” and “Mulayam wants ban rerun for Sangh” (Jan 13), rightly point out, Pervez Musharraf’s speech is important not merely because it points the way to a new diplomatic relationship between India and Pakistan. His words on the dangers of unregulated madrassahs being the breeding grounds of fundamentalism apply equally to India. As the Samajwadi Party president, Mulayam Singh Yadav, pointed out, groups like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal are as much a threat to India’s unity. Surely if Musharraf can take the dramatic step of banning the Jaish-e-Mohammad and Lashkar-e-Toiba, the Indian government can walk A.B. Vajpayee’s “extra mile” and deal with fundamentalism here. As Kamel Farooqui, member of the all India Muslim personal law board, desired, there should be an investigation into the workings and financing of Indian madrassahs — as also Hindu organizations. Further, to avoid stigmatization of India’s Muslim population and stymie charges of communalism, the government’s investigations should be free of any religious bias.

Yours faithfully,
Manidipa Chawdhuri, Calcutta

Starry eyed

Sir — I was shocked to read of the Indian netas’ desperation for stars to brighten their election campaigns (“Starburst on UP battlefield”, Jan 10). This signifies the politicians’ lack of confidence in their own party. For, they well know that these movie stars are worshipped by their adoring fans who would do anything to please them — which includes casting votes for the politicians they endorse. But are such politicians who seek the help of stars to win elections fit to sit in Parliament and decide our nation’s fate?

This is another of the many distinctions between the world’s largest democracy and the world’s strongest democracy. George W. Bush did not seek the help of Julia Roberts or Tom Cruise to get into the White House. As for the stars, if they really want to do something worthwhile, why don’t they associate themselves with the United Nations Children’s Fund, the World Health Organization or other such non governmental organizations. Probably, they too covet power.

Unfortunately, we can’t show our displeasure with the actors’ behaviour by simply walking out of the cinema or switching off the television. But at least we have the vote, that is, if we can exercise it without getting unduly influenced by the brilliant haze of glamour and showbiz.

Yours faithfully,
Sonali Bakshi, Calcutta

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