Editorial/ Place in the sun
Insecure in the middle
The Telegraph Diary
Letters to the Editor

 
 
EDITORIAL/ PLACE IN THE SUN 
 
 
 
 
A successful foreign policy has to be driven by a vision. The makers of the policy must be guided by an overarching concern about the country’s status in international affairs. India’s foreign policy has suffered from a peculiar paradox: when it was guided by a grand vision spelt out most notably by Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s foreign policy was not marked by any remarkable successes; and now, when the foreign policy has no vision, only the short term goal of containing Pakistan in Kashmir, it is seen to be successful. The failure of Nehru’s foreign policy was evident from the debacle in 1962 vis-à-vis China and also from the inherent pro-Soviet bias in the doctrine of non-alignment. (One has only to recall 1956 when India condemned British action in Suez but failed to condemn the Soviet invasion of Hungary.) These failures notwithstanding, Nehru’s foreign policy was influenced by conditions prevailing during the Cold War. He desired to make India a powerful and self-reliant nation which, without being dependent on either power bloc, would be an important player in world politics. The power of the vision, especially when it is seen in the context of a fledgling nation which had won its freedom from British rule only two years before the onset of the Cold War, can hardly be denied. The failure of the policy can also be explained in the context of the Cold War and India’s newcomer status in the community of nations. It was not a time when it was easy to steer a neutral ship of state, especially as the ship was plagued by so many economic problems which forced it to make choices. Nehru could be faulted for having too much vision rather than too little.

Things have swung to the opposite end of the spectrum. India’s foreign policy is now over-determined by Pakistan and its support to terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir. India was drawn into the global battle against terrorism initiated by the United States of America out of pure self-interest. It wanted to utilize the opportunity to eradicate terrorism on its own turf. This narrowness of attitude is in sharp contrast to the diplomatic attention India is receiving. In the month of January, the prime minister of Britain, Mr Tony Blair, the Chinese premier, Mr Zhu Rongji, and the US secretary of state, Mr Colin Powell, have come to India. Mr Blair’s visit had overt commercial objectives. But both Mr Powell and Mr Rongji came to strengthen diplomatic ties with India. The US needs India to counter-balance the emerging importance and strength of China in Asia. And China wants to remain friendly with India to reduce the influence of the US in south Asia.

In this scenario, India, with a foreign policy not rooted to a vision, runs the risk of becoming a pawn in a bigger setpiece power battle. This is the challenge before Indian foreign policy mandarins. They must stop seeing international relations through the prism of Pakistan. Indian foreign policy must be clear about where it wants to place India in the next decade and beyond. The claim for a permanent seat in the security council of the United Nations must become the tangible outcome of the perception in world capitals that India’s stand on issues is backed by solid economic power and diplomatic weight. Rhetoric alone will not bring to New Delhi this distinction.

   

 
 
INSECURE IN THE MIDDLE 
 
 
BY MUKUL KESAVAN
 
 
Once, in the Sixties, being middle class meant ironed clothes to wear, enough to eat, a newspaper to read, a watch to tell time by and, perhaps, a scooter to ride to work. The scooter was marginal; many bona fide members of this class chose to bank the scooter’s value in a fixed deposit and take a bus to work (if they lived in a metropolis) or a cycle rickshaw (if they lived in a provincial town). There were two other totems, the phone and the fridge that became standard kit for middle-class life but they came later. It wasn’t easy to get a phone allotment in the Sixties and Seventies and in many houses as late as the Sixties, a surahi with a lion spout or a ghada with a ladle was the only way of keeping drinking water cool. The radio and the television set were important to middle-class living but they weren’t durable insignia of social rank; while both gadgets started out as objects of bourgeois desire they rapidly found consumers outside this class.

But till the end of the Seventies, people who imagined themselves middle class understood their status in terms that acknowledged the importance of consumer durables, but didn’t see them as definitive. Much more critical to their social pretensions was a private education. There was a visceral unanimity to their hatred of the state system of education and their refusal to educate their children in government schools. A part of this flight from sarkari schooling can be understood as rational self-interest. These schools were poorly funded and their teachers weren’t wonderful (not that any bhadralok parents ever ventured into a government school to see for themselves); besides, these schools taught their lessons in the vernacular, and, mindful of Macaulay and the pattern of post-colonial opportunities, this middle class wanted its children socialized into English.

This still doesn’t wholly explain the middle-class loathing of the government school. It wasn’t and isn’t simply indifference; indifference would be normal. Countries with public education systems better than ours, such as England and the United States of America, have seen their middle classes turn to private schools. No, in India the state-run school represents not so much a bad education as a bad end. When wicked Bhadralok die, they go to government schools. I remember my mother threatening to remove me from the school I attended (run by Jesuits) and transfer me into the government school in the neighbourhood if my marks didn’t improve. For days afterwards, I would wake up in the dark, panicked by the prospect. Even as an eleven year old I realized that the awfulness of that fate wasn’t just the loss of friends and a familiar world, but the loss of respectability.

I understood clearly that the threatened change was not a lateral transfer from one school to another but an unthinkable demotion into the company of the poor. In my eleven year old mind, the poor were undersized boys my age who went to school in shabby indigo and blue uniforms and chappals. I wore a maroon blazer (with a wire crest) and tie to school on top of grey flannel trousers and polished Bata shoes. I knew what respectability looked like and it didn’t wear chappals to school.

This collective anxiety about respectability had something to do with the nature of India’s post-colonial middle class. This class was, in fact, a salariat, dependent on the state for income, employment and opportunity. Apart from government servants of one kind or another, this class was made up of respectable professionals (teachers, lawyers, engineers, accountants) and a small sprinkling of box wallahs. But its thinking was determined by the officer-class babu who found jobs via competitive examinations or discreet preferment, whose career goals weren’t affluence or power, but security and gentility.

In a protectionist licence raj where wealth creation was fiscally punished and commerce socially disdained, middle-class Indians saw themselves as managers and trustees of the post-colonial state. Their claim to this function was based on no special skill or managerial ability, except a talent for doing exams and manifest respectability: they were well-spoken, neatly dressed, modestly well-connected people — easily recognized and recruited by other well-spoken, neatly dressed, well-connected people. Private schools and colleges were finishing schools where the middle-class young cultivated the tics and reflexes of gentility.

In this world, a world that has disappeared over the past twenty years, the respectable middle classes were hegemonic in India. The rich were unreal, shopkeepers were vulgar and the poor were a warning, a cautionary tale. The poor were put on earth to show the middle class what happened to boys who didn’t do well in the right schools. That’s why my mother used the government school as a bogey and that’s why it frightened me. We both half-believed that if I rubbed shoulders with the poor, their poverty would rub off.

Since the middle class’s only claim to employment was gentility, and since fluency in English was an emblem of gentility, private schools punished children for speaking in their natal languages with the tacit consent of their parents and young teens didn’t admit to listening to Hindi film songs in public.

Then, in the Eighties, this world changed. It changed because the middle-class’s monopoly over education and government service was successfully challenged by the workings of democratic politics. Mandal is, of course, a prime example. But more important, India changed because the Nehruvian vision of a mixed economy protected by high tariff barriers came to nothing. Once businessmen and private enterprise became respectable, gentility and security became unfashionable. Now people aspired to the glamour of affluence, not the respectability of being middle class. Private schooling and an education in English remained important but as building blocks for diverse careers, not as passwords to a pension. Ironically, at the moment when outsiders began investing in India, drawn by their visions of its gigantic middle class, that class began to chafe at its middle-ness.

[email protected]

   

 
 
THE TELEGRAPH DIARY 
 
 
 
 

Colour me black

Colour blind? Certainly not. They know the colour white when they see it. So when officials of the Archaelogical Survey of India spotted Rahul Gandhi, son of Italian mother and Congress hope, trying to enter the Ajanta caves, they couldn’t but stop him dead in his tracks. He hadn’t paid the entry fee for foreigners. A crimson Rahul pleaded that he was a thoroughbred Indian and that his five other friends, who were indeed foreigners, had paid Rs 500 each for entry. That is from where his security guards took over. ASI officials were told that they were so blind that they could not identify a Gandhi. They immediately paled. Colours changed elsewhere as well. The Maharashtra government, already red in the face after the Vadra episode, turned a shade darker. State minister Kripa Shankar Singh is said to have arranged for the stay of Richard Vadra, who allegedly used the opportunity to misuse the Nehru-Gandhi name. Son of AICC treasurer and in charge of Maharashtra affairs, Motilal Vora, is also seen to be somehow connected with the Vadra underhand deals. The counter-action thus had to be prompt this time. Maharashtra Congress chief Murli Deora, who was Rahul’s host, stepped in to clarify that no “disrespect” was shown to the Nehru-Gandhi. What, after Maharashtra has already shown its true colours to Mama?

Tale of two retainers

More on the Congress. With the Uttar Pradesh elections round the corner, two long time family retainers, Makhanlal Fotedar and RK Dhawan, have been rehabilitated by Sonia Gandhi. While the former has been included in the central election committee, the latter is chairperson of the screening committee which selected candidates for the UP polls. But the two are far from satisfied — they have their eyes set on the all India Congress committee reshuffle to be held after the assembly elections in four states. The wily Fotedar is aiming for the post of political secretary to the Congress president, lying vacant ever since Vincent George’s exit from the palace and has already begun courting Ambika Soni, Sonia’s chief confidante. But there might be trouble ahead for Dhawan, who has put his hat in the ring for the post of AICC general secretary. Both Dhawan and Soni are Punjabi Khatris, and there is unlikely to be space in the AICC for two members of the same caste.

Indecent proposal

Bollywood directors beware! Disturbed by the rising vulgarity in Hindi films, the almost de rigueur depiction of women in various stages of déshabillé, moving their bodies in suggestive matkas and jhatkas, the Maharashtra commission for women has decided to institute an alternative set of awards — for vulgarity. It has also come up with evocative names for these prizes — “Duryodhan”, presumably for the director whose films show most skin, and another called “Rakshas”.

But Bollywood directors are not bothered. Even the eminently respectable Mahesh Bhatt has pooh-poohed the proposal saying that even the censor board couldn’t make up its mind about what’s vulgar or indecent.

Brother George and Brother Paul

What was our venerable rakhsa mantri up to in Toronto at the end of the US leg of his jaunt abroad? George, it appears, was in Canada to see his brother, Paul George, a Canadian citizen. Paul was contesting the local polls in that country and big brother George had dropped over to chip in. That might be all very well and hunky dory. But Congresswallahs in Delhi wonder why George was so dead set against Sonia Gandhi holding office, given her “foreign origins”, when his own brother, a foreigner in Canada, was contesting that country’s polls.

A house for Mr Advani

Union home minister LK Advani has at last been persuaded to move out of C 1\16, Pandara Park, the modest quarters which have been home to him, wife Kamala, daughter Pratibha and son Jayant for over 31 years. The Advanis were reluctant at first but the security and intelligence agencies were insistent since the locality was not deemed safe enough by their standards. What clinched the decision however was the inconvenience caused to Pandara Park residents by the heightened security around Advani nowadays. But finding a home befitting the power and prestige of the home minister of India is not an easy task. One alternative was 10 Akbar Road, allotted to Rajesh Pilot when he was minister in the PV Narasimha Rao government but who continued to occupy it after he ceased to be minister. On his death two years ago, his family did not vacate the house. And once Rama Pilot made it to Parliament herself, she felt fully entitled to stay on in the Type-VIII bungalow in the heart of Lutyens’ Delhi. Another option was 34 Prithviraj Road, except that its present occupant, Beni Prasad Verma, too refused to move out.

Reportedly, a safe house has been located for Advani. And so, Pandara Park is about to lose its most famous and powerful resident — the man moreover, who made this area, which abuts popular Mughlai eateries like Pindi and Gulati, relatively crime-free.

Air your views

A strict disciplinarian who cannot think beyond her jhola, sandals and sometimes the people, Mamata Banerjee also cannot think of travelling in one particular private airlines. Her cronies lunge at the airlines with their choicest abuses in her presence, but otherwise avail of it happily. But why is didi so angry with it? It is because she suspects that her betê noire, Pramod Mahajan, her last barrier to the railways ministership, and his family may have some stakes in the airlines. Doesn’t that mean she ought to use it more frequently?

Footnote/ Man who would be prime minister

Narain Dutt Tiwari — four times chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, twice chief of the Uttar Pradesh Congress committee, former Union finance minister, industry minister and what not — is eager once again to become a chief minister, so what if it is only that of Uttaranchal? That’s quite a comedown for the man who once fancied himself prime minister of India. In fact, in the run-up to the 1999 elections, Dutt had boasted that should the Congress make it to power at the Centre, he would surely become prime minister. But post-elections, the veteran Congressman found himself sadly ignored and sidelined in the new Congress dispensation under Sonia Gandhi. Even the post of chairman of the editorial board of the Congress’s inhouse magazine, Sandesh, came his way after Dutt wrote an article on Atal Bihari Vajpayee in the RSS mouthpiece, Panchajanya. With age not being on his side and little chances of the Congress ever coming to power in New Delhi, Dutt is desperate for something — anything — from the presidentship of India to chiefministership of Uttaranchal.    

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

At the flag end of it all

How to bear the flag Sir — It is gratifying to learn that every citizen is now eligible to fly the national flag. But why was the Centre so hell-bent on keeping this right from the people (“Indians win freedom to fly the Tricolour”, Jan 16)? Was this simply one more way the privileged few could stand apart from the great unwashed? Also, if fashion designers are blocked from using the tricolour in their creations, will similar steps be taken against spectators who paint their faces with the colours of the flag and then indulge in wild behaviour at international and national cricket matches?
Yours faithfully,
Biswapriya Purkayastha, Shillong

Clean up first

Sir — The report, “Arsenic seeps into Bangla food chain” (Jan 13), described the severity of arsenic pollution and also provided information regarding some of the sources of safe water for domestic and agricultural purposes. Experts strongly opposed the use of tube-well water in arsenic affected areas and emphasized the collection and use of rain water and surface water as alternatives.

Rain water is the purest form of natural water. Yet, rain water in polluted cities like Calcutta cannot be potable because while falling through the atmosphere, it absorbs various pollutants and impurities present in the air. Rainfall is also sporadic and irregular. Therefore, the total collection of rain water may not be adequate or safe for consumption.

About the alternative of surface water. The dilemma lies in the fact that in areas where the soil is polluted by arsenic, water bodies may also be arsenic polluted and may therefore not be potable. Moreover, wastes from mines, industries and sewage are dumped into rivers and lakes, making surface water toxic. It would be a greater help if experts found a way to remove arsenic from water instead of spending money on conferences which do not state anything new. A mere estimation of the percentage of arsenic in tube-well water and the consequent sealing of tube-wells are not good enough measures to protect people from arsenic pollution.

Yours faithfully,
Anita Bhattacharya, Calcutta

Copying rights

Sir — With the Centre’s recent stand to discontinue the Visva-Bharati university’s copyrights over the works of Rabindranath Tagore, the university has ceased to be sole authority on Tagore (“Tagore copyright freedom at midnight”, Dec 31). It would have been terrible had the Centre reconsidered its stand on the copyright issue and granted Visva-Bharati another extension. Visva-Bharati’s copyrights had meant the creation and sustenance of a monopolistic Tagore factory. Now, hopefully, there will be cheaper versions of Tagore’s works flooding the market. The university should see this as a challenge.
Yours faithfully,
Abhijit Roy, Jamshedpur

Sir — It is good news that the stranglehold of Visva-Bharati over Tagore’s literary works and songs has been lifted forever. The proprietorship of Visva-Bharati had been a great stumbling block to the enjoyment of Tagore for the common people. But, publishers must take adequate precaution while publishing Tagore’s literary works. They should not vulgarize or cheapen his writings. The quality of the text should not be compromised in the hopes of reaching out to a larger audience. So far as Tagore’s songs are concerned, the notations of the composer must be followed as far as practicable.

Yours faithfully,
Debal K. Chakravarti, Calcutta

Sir — It is disheartening to know that Visva-Bharati’s copyright on Rabindranath Tagore’s works has expired. Rabindrasangeet will definitely suffer and will be denigrated by the Bengali pop bands as well as by commercial Bengali cinema. They will both try and use Tagore’s songs and words to their best advantage in their next releases. While no organization should hold the sole copyright of Tagore’s works, by placing these works in the open market we are providing an opportunity for the distortion of the Nobel winner’s works.

Yours faithfully,
Bhupen Bose, Calcutta

Letters to the editor should be sent to:

The Telegraph
6 Prafulla Sarkar Street
Calcutta 700 001
Email: [email protected]
Readers in the Northeast can write to:
Third Floor, Godrej Building,
G.S. Road, Ulubari, Guwahati 781007
All letters [including those via email] should have the full name and full postal address of the sender
   
 

FRONT PAGE / NATIONAL / EDITORIAL / BUSINESS / THE EAST / SPORTS
ABOUT US /FEEDBACK / ARCHIVE 
 
Maintained by Web Development Company