Editorial 1 / Hard lesson
Editorial 2 / Tight fist
A little outside the ring
Fifth Column / Helping them play their dual role
Book Review / Deities with their feet of clay
Book Review / It is never easy to follow the middlle path
Book Review / Portrait of an armyman as governor
Editor’s Choice / The sun doesn’t set on Winston
Paperback Pickings
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1 / HARD LESSON 
 
 
 
 
Blinkered politics hinders not only good governance but also the growth of an open society. It would seem that the controversy over the stand of the chief minister, Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, on madrasahs in West Bengal has hijacked the real issues. His critics may gloat over their supposed success at Wednesday’s front meeting in forcing him to go on the backfoot. It is regrettable that the sceptics did not seriously address the issues raised by Mr Bhattacharjee in their eagerness to calculate the political cost of his move. They seemed to argue that certain dangers were better hidden than exposed. Although on the defensive, Mr Bhattacharjee did well to clarify that he had referred to only some unregistered madrasahs being used to spread religious fundamentalism. His critics seemed to have been unnerved by the angry reactions of some Muslim organizations which were misled into thinking that the chief minister was referring to all these schools. If Mr Bhattacharjee has agreed to initiate some steps to correct this wrong impression, this does not necessarily mean he has backtracked from the issues he had raised. If he eventually does so because of political pressure, it would indeed be a setback for governance because he seemed convinced by intelligence reports that he needed to act against the erring madrasahs.

It is difficult to see how the government can afford not to take action if it has evidence of illegal activities being carried out in any educational institution or, for that matter, at any other place. Even more regrettably, the political concern over losing the support of the minorities has sidestepped the other important issue Mr Bhattacharjee raised — the need to reform madrasah education. This larger issue prompted the state government to set up a commission headed by the former West Bengal governor, Mr A.R. Kidwai.

Those who are trying to throw a spanner in Mr Bhattacharjee’s works will end up doing a great disservice to the minority community if madrasah education reform is sacrificed at the altar of politics. Educational priorities of the Muslims cannot be different from those of the Hindus or any other community. If anything, the Muslim community’s need for a liberal education is even greater because certain historical factors led to a greater socio-economic backwardness for the community. Mr Bhattacharjee’s voice needs to be strengthened, not stifled, when he says that the government must do more to correct the imbalance that makes a madrasah-educated Muslim suffer in the race for social advancement. It would be a cruel continuation of an unfair legacy if the Muslims are still deprived of the privileges of a liberal education. If the government is forced to roll back its reform agenda , it will be a setback, not for Mr Bhattacharjee, but for the Muslim community itself. Mr Bhattacharjee and his party colleagues would actually serve the Muslims’ cause better if they reach out to the community with this all-important message. Similarly, the Muslims have to be told in no uncertain terms that religious fundamentalists are cynical manipulators who care little about either their children’s education or their social progress. It is important, however, that the chief minister goes the extra mile to enlist the support of the madrasah education board as well as leaders of the Muslim community in the government’s task.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2 / TIGHT FIST 
 
 
 
 
The chief minister of Kerala, Mr A.K. Antony, has decided to sacrifice popularity to austerity. The backlash has been immediate: government employees and teachers have launched a statewide strike against the government’s measures to pull the state back from bankruptcy. What has hurt most, perhaps, is Mr Antony’s decision to defer the payment of salaries for 15 days in March and April. Although popular opinion has swung against strikes, there has been a remarkable unanimity in the strike itself. The Congress unions have also joined in. Here at least, the chief minister’s claims that the Communist Party of India (Marxist) was inciting trouble have backfired. It is unfortunate that the talks between the state government and the union representatives to prevent the strike have failed. The unions were professedly willing to cooperate with the government in its cost-cutting measures if it first suspended the announced measures. Characteristically, Mr Antony has decided to take the bull by the horns, come what may.

The coffers are in a sorry state. Else, no chief minister would go to these lengths. Mr Antony’s political success lies in having argued relentlessly that his United Democratic Front government was left with nothing in the box by the departing Left Democratic Front government. Since some members of the LDF had been accused of putting their fingers in the till, the argument is a persuasive one. The counter-arguments — and counter-calculations — of the leader of the opposition, Mr V.S. Achuthanandan, have had no effect so far, apart from suggesting that the UDF is exaggerating. Noticeably, the nine months the UDF had in government have not bettered matters. Mr Antony feels the liberal attitude towards government employees that the UDF has so far displayed has worsened the situation. The measures are indisputably harsh, and Kerala has taken the lead to show that taking such stern administrative measures is possible. What remains to be seen is whether the UDF government also has the solution to the present deadlock. All said and done, a semi-paralysed work situation is not quite ideal.

   

 
 
A LITTLE OUTSIDE THE RING 
 
 
BY RUKUN ADVANI
 
 
The recent reappearance in paperback of the memoirs of P.N. Dhar, who was Indira Gandhi’s right-hand man in her heyday, alongside the recent death of R.N. Kao, former chief of the Research and Analysis Wing and one of the most powerful members of Indira Gandhi’s “Kashmiri mafia”, reminds me of the fact that an entire generation of incorruptible, suave, intellectually oriented and generally upper-class bureaucrats, formed by a Nehruvian version of Whitehall, are now either dead or on their last leg.

Of the Kashmiri Pandit subset within these, D.P. Dhar predeceased Indira Gandhi, P.N. Haksar died several years ago, T.N. Kaul died some months ago, B.K. Nehru died very recently, and we are lucky to still have with us the most intellectually eminent of what was once the Indian bureaucracy’s “Gang of Four”, the economist and author of several learned books, Professor P.N. Dhar.

In the most recent of his books — the one by which he will be remembered for as long as Indian political history of the last century is written — titled Indira Gandhi, the ‘Emergency’, and Indian Democracy (2000; paperback reprint 2001), Professor Dhar remarks that it was during the Bangladesh crisis of 1971 that Indira Gandhi first showed signs of becoming the autocrat she grew into by 1975: “She decided to take direct responsibility for meeting the crisis. This was adversely commented upon at that time by sections of the bureaucracy and politicians. The criticism was that she was trying to manage the crisis too tightly, with only a small group of officers to help. This group was dubbed the Kashmiri Mafia. In actual fact this group was nothing more than the kind of ad hoc committee which is often formed in the Indian administrative set-up…P.N.Haksar, secretary to the prime minister (later replaced by me), R.N. Kao, special secretary in charge of external intelligence, and T.N. Kaul, foreign secretary, were responsible for the epithet…”

The fact that this committee also included two non-Kashmiris, namely T. Swaminathan, the cabinet secretary, and K.B. Lall, the defence secretary, was overshadowed by the preponderance of advisors from the prime minister’s own community. Despite Professor Dhar’s gentle disclaimer, it was never much of a secret, and between the lines is apparent, even within his book, that Indira Gandhi liked tall, fair and handsome Kashmiri Pandits within her orbit. In Professor Dhar’s case, this was a home truth of which he was often laughingly reminded by his late wife, the singer, writer and raconteur, Sheila Dhar, who said that he and his friends were all in love less with power and more with the PM.

Are there less informal sources of information on the professional doings of this group? Professor Dhar laments that in India, “people involved in policy-making seldom leave behind records of how they formulated policies and made decisions.” Contrasting the lack of interest in archives and institutional memory in India with the developed tradition of such record-taking in the West, he points out that with the exception of V.P. Menon’s writings (incidentally, The Story of the Integration of the Indian States remains in print via Orient Longman) there is really very little high-calibre work in this genre by the country’s bureaucrats.

The Crossman diaries, the Kiss- inger memoirs, and the wittily enlightening recollections of John Kenneth Galbraith and Barbara Castle have no real Indian counterpart. Local accounts of tenures in power tend to become a mixture of narcissistic gossip and vainglorious self-aggrandisement.

This is true even of some of the memoirs written by Professor Dhar’s Kashmiri friends. Apparently not very much can be said, or has been said, in favour of the several books written by T.N. Kaul. D.P. Dhar died of a sudden heart attack and did not write up his life. P.N. Haksar’s slim autobiography, titled One More Life, is pleasant to read but does not manage to go as far in the direction of a memorable historical “life” as its author seemed capable of taking it, in part because Haksar did not stay in good health after its appearance; he was eventually prevented from writing a companion volume by blindness.

B.K. Nehru’s Nice Guys Finish Second is much more highly rated, but then B.K.Nehru was not really part of Mrs G’s innermost decision-making coterie. R.N. Kao who — like the other well-known Indian spy, Keki Daruwalla — came from a literature background, and who could therefore have been expected to write about himself, could only be persuaded to contribute to the Oral History Archive of Delhi’s Teen Murti Library, and we have no autobiography of this urbane head sleuth who more or less created the country’s premier intelligence-gathering body.

All this is further reason for us to count ourselves lucky in having Professor Dhar’s incisive, informative and elegant autobiography, which covers, in the main, his professional life. Though not all reviewers of his book have agreed with what amounts to special pleading in his account of the Emergency, the value of having had a reporter of his skill provide us with an insider’s account seems in retrospect to provide some mitigation to his decision to stick it out with Mrs G even during that dark period of her monarchy. Reviewers have also pointed out the great value of Professor Dhar’s insights into the woman’s mind in her relations with opponents such as Jayaprakash Narayan and confidantes such as Sanjay Gandhi; of his persuasive views on the shortcomings within India’s top-heavy political edifice; of his succinctly informative historical account of the Sikkim takeover and the Bangladesh War; of his controversial account of the personalized nature of the Simla Agreement.

In writing this book, Professor Dhar locates himself with thinking decision-makers and scholar bureaucrats. No one who reads his memoir can fail to agree that, like V. P. Menon, he is far removed from the world of India’s self-promoting babus. In fact, the problem for me, as his editor, was that the model Professor Dhar had in mind when writing seemed that of the 18th-century social observer, Joseph Addison, who, in his Spectator essays, emphasized the writer’s duty to observe and record as neutrally as possible.

Reticence and modesty are the recommended virtues in such writing — a complete contradiction of the standard Indian bureaucrat’s deepest instincts and going against the grain of the sort of prose they write when they write at all. “Even while actively participating”, says Professor Dhar, “I often had the feeling that I was standing a little outside the ring and watching events. I can only hope that this infirmity has helped my account to be dispassionate…”

Professor Dhar’s virtuous infirmity is fortunately less manifest in the all-too-short first six chapters of the book, which record his life before he became the head of the prime minsiter’s office. For my money, and speaking as one to whom emotive prose appeals more than information on a second-rate prime minister, these are the best chapters in Professor Dhar’s book. Here, this foremost member of the Kashmiri Mafia writes of his humble Kashmiri origins as a schoolteacher’s son, of middle-class life within the valley nearly a hundred years ago, of the peculiar nature of Kashmir’s nationalist awakening in the time of Sheikh Abdullah, of everyday life in Srinagar and Peshawar.

This part of the book contains a little on Professor Dhar’s directorship of New Delhi’s Institute of Economic Growth, but not much on the early years of the Delhi School of Economics, of which he was a founder. Perhaps this too is a consequence of the author’s “infirmity”, a decision not to list himself with India’s intellectual aristocracy. All the same, it seems worth remembering that, alongside luminaries such as Amartya Sen, Tapan Raychaudhuri, M.N. Srinivas, T.N. Srinivasan, Sukhomoy Chakravarty, Veena Das, André Béteille, and T.N. Madan (India’s foremost economists and social theorists), we also have this examplar of Indian academic and bureaucratic integrity: P.N. Dhar.

   

 
 
FIFTH COLUMN / HELPING THEM PLAY THEIR DUAL ROLE 
 
 
BY N.K. PANT
 
 
There is some good news for persons of Indian origin, especially those staying in Australia, Canada, Europe, New Zealand, Singapore, the United States of America and the United Kingdom. In January, the government of India finally agreed to meet their long standing demand for dual citizenship. New Delhi has also decided to celebrate January 9 every year as Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas and honour the 10 most prominent non resident Indians.

It is not yet clear when the dual nationality will actually take effect. But, supposedly, there will be two categories of Indians abroad — those who will enjoy the new status and others who will continue to be PIOs, especially in countries like Sri Lanka, Mauritius and Malaysia which do not allow dual citizenship. Indian immigrants settled in Fiji fall under a different category as granting them dual citizenship or even the PIO card may harm their interests in Fiji.

Although Indian governments since 1947 have been in favour of overseas Indians, it was the Bharatiya Janata Party-led coalition which had placed the issue of dual citizenship on their agenda in the election manifesto.

Due recognition

The first step in this direction was to identify PIOs and issue them PIO cards to ease travelling woes. Simultaneously, a high level committee under L.M. Singhvi was appointed. The panel presented its report on January 9, 2002. Speaking on the occasion, the prime minister emphasized the need for NRIs to regard themselves as citizens of their adopted countries. He said, “I am in favour of dual citizenship but not dual loyalty.”

The dual citizenship has been recommended within the framework of the Citizenship Act and it will not involve any amendment to the Constitution. According to the Constitution, every person who has his domicile in the territory of India is considered a citizen of India provided he or either of his parents was born in the territory of India; or he had been ordinarily resident in the territory of India for not less than five years. The statute also granted the right of citizenship to persons who had migrated to India from Pakistan during Partition. The Constitution also states that no person shall be deemed to be a citizen of India if he has acquired citizenship of any foreign state.

It is these people who stand to gain the most now. While persons holding dual citizenship will have the right to property, investment and other material benefits, they will not have the right to vote or contest elections.

Welcome home

The government will eventually advise overseas Indians on the advantages of possessing an Indian passport. Once PIOs have an Indian passport, they will no longer need a clearance from the Reserve Bank of India and local authorities to own property in India. This might also lead to a property boom, especially in big cities.

The NRIs contribution to the Indian economy is already quite significant. The annual inflow of money from abroad is roughly $10 billion. The grant of dual citizenship to overseas Indians is likely to attract more capital from abroad and boost commercial and industrial activity. The Singhvi panel has proposed special economic zones for NRIs and PIOs. It has also urged the government to issue special infrastructure bonds to both NRIs and PIOs to attract investment. The setting up of a special welfare fund for PIOs facing retrenchment in the Gulf and elsewhere, too, has been advised.

Countries like China have made rapid strides on the economic front because of the immense contribution from overseas Chinese citizens. Israel is another example. It has maintained commercial and technological supremacy on the strength of the Jewish people who hold dual citizenship. Indians settled abroad are qualified professionals who have contributed significantly to their adopted countries. Their substantial presence in some countries, especially the US, has become instrumental in shaping the foreign policy of these nations with regard to India. New Delhi rightly hopes that the issue of dual citizenship would facilitate Indians settled abroad to assist India’s economic uplift.

   

 
 
BOOK REVIEW / DEITIES WITH THEIR FEET OF CLAY 
 
 
BY ASHIS CHAKRABARTI
 
 
GODS OF POWER: PERSONALITY CULT AND INDIAN DEMOCRACY
By Kalyani Shankar,
Macmillan, Rs 355

Unlike the players in chamber politics, leaders of mass politics must play gods on stilts. They need to tell their worshipping audiences that they are here to right the world’s wrongs. They must project their predecessors as hollow men who spoke of a promised land but left only a wasteland. How they go about doing this is decided as much by their own personalities as by their times.

The personality cult is hardly new to democratic politics, because personalities give faces as well as flesh and blood to party ideologies and programmes of action. The Congress was always the party of M.K. Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi. The Bharatiya Janata Party is largely what Atal Bihari Vajpayee makes it look like. Even the communist parties , which pretend not to encourage the personality cult, have been equated with E.M.S. Nambooridipad, S.A. Dange or Jyoti Basu at different times and places.

What is new in Indian politics, however, is a generation of leaders whose rise and power represent significant changes for the country’s democratic politics. In writing the book, Kalyani Shankar has, like most political journalists in India, tried to capture and understand the phenomenon that the new breed of M.G. Ramachandran, N.T. Rama Rao, N. Chandrababu Naidu, Bal Thackeray, J. Jayalalitha, Laloo Prasad Yadav, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Mamata Banerjee and Mayavati represent.

The story of these leaders, as the author rightly says, is primarily one of the decline of the Congress and the rise of the regional parties. One might say Indira Gandhi’s dictatorial control over party and government was a paradox for democracy, just as the communist overlords were misfits in a democratic polity.

As a political journalist who has interacted closely with most of the new leaders, Shankar captures their essential features quite well — they come from social, economic and educational backgrounds which the earlier generation of leaders would consider lowly; their politics is agitational, rather than ideological; their styles and rhetoric theatrical and their visions focussed on regional or subaltern loyalties and rewards.

Most important, they are all big rebels to the masses and small dictators to their party faithfuls. The difference with the national dictators of the earlier generation is that the new ones are small-time regional satraps thrown onto the national scene by a fragmented polity. They are often at odds trying to come to grips with their fortuitous importance in national politics.

Even if they are usually as impotent as gods with feet of clay, they represent forces which are shaping Indian democracy in crucial ways. So much so that the national parties — the Congress and the B.J.P — are forced not only to make common cause with them but also sacrifice their own party agenda at the altar of coalition politics. This is not necessarily a debilitating influence, as is evident in the manner the common minimum programme of the National Democratic Alliance has forced the BJP to put its Hindutva agenda on the backburner. The influence of these leaders and their parties have not, however, succeeded as much in redefining the idea of democratic governance in the light of Centre-state relations. They have acted as pressure groups, ever impatient for their own slices of power, rather than using it to correct imbalances in the federal polity.

The book does not live up to its promise of exploring the big picture. Its collection of portraits is interesting but familiar journalistic stuff — the personalities seen in their own image and through the eyes of their associates. There are cursory views from critics too. But all these do not quite add up to a critique of the leaders, their politics and their contribution to important democratic choices.

   

 
 
BOOK REVIEW / IT IS NEVER EASY TO FOLLOW THE MIDDLE PATH 
 
 
BY ARNAB BHATTACHARYA
 
 
FRACTURED MODERNITY: MAKING OF A MIDDLE CLASS IN COLONIAL NORTH INDIA
By Sanjay Joshi,
Oxford, Rs 495

The emergence of the middle class is one of the major social phenomena in colonial India. In India, like elsewhere in the world, the values and lifestyle of the middle class are determined as much by economic indicators as by its specific mode of intervention in the public sphere. Middle-class discourse in colonial India, derivative as it is, incorporates glaring paradoxes, evident in such public sphere activities as the nationalist politics or the women’s empowerment programme of this period. Ambiguities in the middle class consciousness prompted its inconsistent attitudes towards social issues which kept oscillating between the authoritarian and the liberal, the egalitarian and the parochial, the democratic and the hierarchic and so on.

Sanjay Joshi’s contention in his book, Fractured Modernity, is that the Indian middle class consciousness is a product of cultural entrepreneurship. It is shaped by the notion of modernity, received during the British rule as ruptured and fragmented. Positing his study against the backdrop of Lucknow, Joshi argues that this “fractured modernity” is not an exclusive colonial legacy for the Indian middle class (as suggested by most subalternists), but a characteristic of the post-Industrial Revolution and post-Enlightenment European middle class as well. But the model of European modernity fails to explain the efforts of the middle class, both Indian and European, to reconstitute itself.

Joshi’s exploration of the competing ideologies that go into the making of the middle class in Lucknow is, to his mind, a case-study based on variables flexible enough to have wider application. He notes that the middle class in colonial Lucknow, in its bid to assume social leadership, created new norms of respectability while remaining equidistant from the elite and the lower classes. Its attempts at self-construction called for a reworking of traditional values of the nawabi era and tempering them with radically modern concepts. This resulted in contradictions still evident in the postcolonial north Indian middle class.

The most interesting chapter of the book is the last, where Joshi records his reflections on the fractured modernity. Here he suggests methods of “provincializing” European modernity, erroneously conceived as universal in the colonial period. He recognizes the divergence between the theoretical and practical aspects of modernity as part of lived reality in both Indian and European contexts.

   

 
 
BOOK REVIEW / PORTRAIT OF AN ARMYMAN AS GOVERNOR 
 
 
BY KAUSHIK ROY
 
 
IN THE SERVICE OF THE NATION: REMINISCENCES
By K.V. Krishna Rao,
Viking, Rs 595

Armed constabulary or a modern combat force? Which category fits the postcolonial Indian army best? While Western analysts like Stephen P. Cohen asserts that independent India’s army is a Hindu police force used for subduing minority communities in the peripheries, Indian generals like S.L. Menezes categorize it as a modernizing institution capable of conducting large scale conventional combat.

It is probably a mix of both, as the autobiography of General K.V. Krishna Rao. Rao joined the army in 1942, fought three major wars and rose to become the chairman of the chiefs of staff (1981 to 1983). After retirement, his star rose higher. From 1984 till 1989, Rao functioned as governor of the six northeastern states. Then he was made the governor of Kashmir, where he continued till 1998. It was Rao’s genius in suppressing armed insurgencies that led several governments to appoint him as governor in the disturbed areas.

Despite being a Madrassi, considered as a non-martial race by the British, Rao was given an officer’s commission during the break-neck expansion of the Indian army at the time of World War II. Rao was hard-working and dedicated. After the end of the war, many officers were encouraged to apply for the Indian Civil Service. Despite the temptations of higher pay and prestige, Rao decided to remain in the army.

Rao was a rare blend of both a desk officer and a combat leader. He is one of the few Indian generals to have boldly shouldered the responsibility for the Chinese debacle. He points out that inadequate training and unrealistic tactical thought sounded the death knell of the Indian army in the snowy Himalayas.

Even while serving as a battlefield leader, Rao continued his intellectual pursuits. In the early Sixties, he was the initiator of discussion on nuclear warfare. As the chief of army staff, Rao’s contribution was to start long-range strategic plans covering a future period of 20 years.

After retirement, Rao utilized his military experience to crush the Naga and the Mizo insurgents. Despite the fact that military personnel burned villages while conducting counter-insurgency operations, Rao proved to be a popular governor because he constantly toured and interacted with the common people.

Rao’s reminiscences steer clear of “juicy” controversies. Instead, he provides temperate comments about the various aspects of the state’s policies. The autobiography brings forth his personality: of being a gentleman-officer.

   

 
 
EDITOR’S CHOICE / THE SUN DOESN’T SET ON WINSTON 
 
 
 
 
CHURCHILL
By Roy Jenkins,
Macmillan, £ 30

Winston Churchill is considered by many, including Roy Jenkins, as the greatest prime minister Great Britain ever had. The historian, A.J.P. Taylor, more known for his acerbic comments on famous personalities than for words of praise, described Churchill as “the saviour of his country”. Yet, looking back on his own life during his last and protracted illness, Churchill himself wrote, “I have achieved so much to have achieved in the end NOTHING.” No biographer can afford to ignore this singular paradox of Churchill’s life and career.

He was eulogized as the prime minister who saved Britain from the Nazi menace, but after the war, the British electorate rejected him. He wanted to preserve the grandeur of Britain as an imperial power: before his eyes, India, the jewel in the British crown, was taken away and the process begun of dismantling the British Empire in Asia and Africa. He knew that as a peace-time prime minister, during his second stint in 10 Downing Street in the early Fifties, illness and age made him even less than a shadow of his former self. As he himself noted in the title of the final volume of his war memoirs, his triumph was laced with tragedy.

Churchill’s provenance, Jenkins reminds us, was aristocratic if not ducal but there was a question mark since the Marlborough lineage was not held in high esteem in Britain. He exploited his aristocratic lineage and his mother’s extensive social connections to secure for himself special privileges when he served as a young Hussar officer in India and South Africa. Jenkins is particularly good on Churchill’s early years in politics. The young Churchill saw himself as a man of destiny and was therefore full of himself in the house of commons as well as in dinner parties. His early friendships with Asquith and Lloyd George were the two pillars on which he built his political career once he had broken with the Tories early in the 20th century. The network he built during this period helped him survive the Dardanelles fiasco during World War I.

His worst years were in the Thirties when he was out in the political wilderness. But it was during this period that Churchill’s areas of strength and weakness were first visible. He remained steadfast in his opposition to appeasement and Nazism; he was intransigent about Indian constitutional reform. His voice was in many ways the last shout of the Empire. There was something heroic about Churchill’s opposition to Hitler, but he did not foresee that victory would not necessarily guarantee Britain’s position as a world power. He has been aptly described by the historian, David Cannadine, as a great statesman in an age of decline.

Jenkins, in what will stand as the best written biography of Churchill, does not quite probe the paradoxes of Churchill’s life even though the antinomies of his subject’s career lie quite close to his narrative. One reason for this is that Jenkins has not chosen to write an analytical biography. His book is in the best traditions of narrative biography. Jenkins does not use his considerable skills as a writer to explore the interplay of historical forces and personality. Instead, he uses his own intimate experience and knowledge of the workings of British political life to explicate Churchill’s career. There is an evaluation here because Churchill is always held up for comparison with others who held important public office in the 19th and 20th centuries. Jenkins is extraordinarily good in depicting his subject’s relationship with other British politicians of the time — Asquith, Lloyd George, Baldwin, Attlee, Rab Butler and so on. He has the gift of the apt quotation and renders his narrative vivid and delightful with anecdote and not a little gossip. The writing is leisurely, limpid and yet incisive. Reading Jenkins is like listening to a wise raconteur in the cosy surroundings of one’s club, or more aptly, to Isaiah Berlin in the senior common room of an Oxford college.

   

 
 
PAPERBACK PICKINGS 
 
 
 
 

Lots of pretty little Tagores at the fair

MY BOYHOOD DAYS
By Rabindranath Tagore
(Rupa, Rs 50)

Rabindranath Tagore’s My Boyhood Days is part of the “Rabindra Rachnavali” series, one of the first fruits of the expiry of the Tagore copyright. Like the others in this series, this is a sweet little volume, a trifle over-decorated, looking more like something by Kahlil Gibran than by Tagore. There is certainly a reassuringly “accessible” feel to this slim book. But the prettiness begins to get a bit dodgy when the reasonably serious reader looks in vain for the name of the translator. Published in 1940, in Tagore’s penultimate year, Chhelebela, is an invaluable personal and historical document, written in a crisp and lucid Bengali. The English translation does have a not-altogether-unpleasant archaic quality, which could mean that this is an older version being recycled: “The hushed pause of that old-world midday is now no more, and the hawkers of the silent time are heard no longer. The girl who in those days had married status, nowadays has still not attained it, she is learning her lessons in the second class. Perhaps the bangle-seller runs, pulling a rickshaw, down that very lane.”

COURTSHIP AND MARRIAGE: A GUIDE FOR INDIAN COUPLES
By Vijay Nagaswami
(Penguin, Rs 200)

Vijay Nagaswami’s Courtship and Marriage: A Guide for Indian Couples is, surprisingly, an enjoyable book, written with humour, intelligence and a certain lightness of touch (without which such a book would be quite unbearable). Nagaswami targets the heterosexual couple in urban middle India, and extends his definition of marriage to “any committed relationship entered into by two consenting adults filled with a strong desire to spend the rest of their lives together”. He sets out his basic premise in the image of the “four pillars” of marriage: love, trust, respect and intimacy. The entire gamut from irresistible passion to jaded drudgery is covered, and there are some particularly entertaining chapters. There’s one called “There’s a Parent in My Bedroom”, which has some very sharp things to say to the “Indian Oedipus” (in A.K. Ramanujan’s memorable phrase).

There are also little nuggets like this which make it worth enduring the less crisp passages in the book: “The need to escape from one’s partner usually starts asserting itself a few years into the relationship, paradoxically enough, when both partners are on the verge of getting closer to each other.”

NORTHANGER ABBEY
By Jane Austen
(Rupa, Rs 70)

Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey is an affordable reprint of a delightful classic. Published posthumously in 1818, Northanger Abbey is Austen’s brilliant take-off on the Gothic romance. The imaginative predilections of the female reader preoccupied many a Romantic writer and moralist, and Austen’s heroine, Catherine Morland, is born out of this fascination. She is like a Regency Emma Bovary, without the adultery. What she reads profoundly colours what she feels and sees, what she fears and desires — this is the source of Austen’s comic irony. In the critical intelligence Austen brings to the Gothic fictional tradition, Northanger Abbey stands crucially between earlier novels like Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho and such modern masterpieces as Henry James’s Turn of the Screw and Portrait of a Lady.

COOKING FOR ALL SEASONS
By Jasleen Dhamija
(Penguin, Rs 250)

Jasleen Dhamija’s Cooking for all seasons is an unusual cookbook that organizes its menus around the weather, telling us how to make the most of each season by using what is plentiful and cheap. The dishes are fairly international: Armenian kabab in a clay pot, Lahore kailash di machi tamatarvali, Burmese papaya salad.

BLOOD TIES
By Ameeta Rathore
(Penguin, Rs 250)

Ameeta Rathore is a woman’s exploration of a geographical terrain which ought to have produced a lot more fiction — Bihar. This is a slim, competently written novel which runs through a few predictable scenarios of oppression, feudal and patriarchal. But the writing is measured and precise, and manages to avoid the ecriture la femme clichés of style and tone: “And Ila, taking the second chance that life offered her, finally returned as an adult to a Brahmanagar that had lost its heart.”

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Long arm of the US

Sir — It is never too difficult to read selfish motives in the United States of America’s foreign policy. On the face of it, the US’s seeking military sales to India would seem to be in contrast with its diplomatic offensive to de-escalate cross-border tension with Pakistan (“US, Russia in Delhi arms race”, Feb 4). The proposed multi-billion dollar increase in defence spending will clearly have a significant impact on south Asia. Everytime the American arms industry has been stimulated to grow by an increase in government spending, it has aggressively tried to sell arms to sundry oppressive regimes and guerrilla groups in the developing world. The coalition against terror has, however, happily brought India back within the international fold, making it a vast and “legitimate” market for weapon sales. The US will also probably propose sales to Pakistan to ensure “regional balance”. An armed peace along the Indo-Pak border therefore suits the US very well and perhaps explains why Colin Powell has not pushed the case for US mediation in Kashmir too strongly.

Yours faithfully,
Jeet Sen, Calcutta

Sir — It is hard to agree with Ashok Mitra’s gloomy forecasts on the future of the ties between India and the United States of Amercia (“A slave for nothing”, Feb 1). He says that either the Bharatiya Janata Party government in Uttar Pradesh will be brought down in the forthcoming assembly elections, in part due to the party’s perceived accomodation of the US’s wishes on Kashmir. Or, the BJP will survive only to be forced by the US into bilateral negotiations with Pakistan on the issue of Kashmir. In the event that these talks fail, the US will then step in to mediate. It is hard to understand why Mitra — a committed socialist and a supporter of peace in Kashmir — has a problem with any of these outcomes.

The worst case scenario is if the BJP were to lose the UP by-polls. The BJP is the only party capable of controlling the Ayodhya movement and preventing the construction of the Ram temple. If the Congress came to power, its own internecine struggles would surely delay any talks with Pakistan on Kashmir. Besides, India needs a leader of the stature of Atal Bihari Vajpayee to find a resolution to the Kashmir issue. Indeed, the only catastrophe would be if the talks did not commence: the situation in Kashmir would then deteriorate and the tension along the borders continue unabated. That is the most “ominous possibility” of all.

Yours faithfully,
Arjun Chakraborty, Calcutta

Sir — Ashok Mitra is right to be apprehensive of the outcome of the present government’s alignment with the US. The need to tackle cross-border terrorism in Kashmir has pushed the government into a closer alliance with the US and its “coalition against terror”. But it is foolhardy to think that the US is concerned about anything other than its own politico-economic interests. The cost of the war against terrorism will have to be offset by the opening up of new markets in countries it has made friends with.

It is sad to see India, which had been one of the pioneering leaders of the non-aligned movement, turn to the US and not the United Nations to express its concerns over terrorism. India might have built a constructive and powerful coalition along with France and Russia — both permanent members of the security council. Instead, it finds itself, as Mitra laments, at the mercy of the US.

Yours faithfully,
P.N. Pal, Calcutta

Forked tongue

Sir — Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s desire to establish Hindi as the link language will find few takers in south and northeast India. The editorial, “Language games” (Feb 3), rightly points out that in multi-cultural India, one language will never work. Vajpayee’s off-the-cuff remarks are reminsicent of M.A. Jinnah’s speech in Dhaka in 1948: “The state language of Pakistan is going to be Urdu and no other language. Anyone who tries to mislead you is really the enemy of Pakistan.” This assimilationist cultural policy led to the suppression of Bengali as a language. It provoked the student demonstrations in Dhaka in 1952 which resulted in the police firing in which many students were killed.

The seeds were sown for the eventual secession of East Pakistan. The Centre’s efforts to impose Hindi in the Sixties met with a similar response in the south Indian states. The nation has enough problems for Vajpayee not to add to them. Before trying to find a place in history, he would do well to take lessons from it.

Yours faithfully,
Meraj Ahmed Mubarki, Calcutta

Sir — It is time the advocates of Hindi as a link language learnt to respect other Indian languages. A.B. Vajpayee is not the first north Indian politician to assert his own personal and regional interests above that of the country (“Atal seeks to connect states with Hindi link”, Feb 2). He has, however, demonstrated his ability to put national concerns above politics by closing the Ayodhya chapter till 2004.

Let us hope Vajpayee corrects himself, or the next time he speaks in English, it might well be his resignation speech.

Yours faithfully,
Kajal Chatterjee, Sodepur

Captain, my captain

Sir — The one day international against England in Mumbai has vindicated Sourav Ganguly’s captaincy. He made brilliant field placements, took two wickets and delivered with the bat, scoring 80. But despite this, his ability as batsman and captain is being questioned. It would be typical of the Board of Control for Cricket in India to appoint him captain for the home series against Zimbabwe only and not for the subsequent tour of West Indies. The BCCI’s pressure tactics have forced many captains to quit, including Sachin Tendulkar. Ganguly is the best India has at the moment. Thus we must make the most of the resources Ganguly displayed in Mumbai.

Yours faithfully
Amrita Daityari, Calcutta

Sir — Though the recently held ODI series between India and England ended in a draw, it brought to the fore talented newcomers like Dinesh Mongia. The gifted Virendra Sehwag cemented his position in the team as a result of his performance in the series, which also signalled Sourav Ganguly’s welcome return to form. But, with the exception of Harbhajan Singh and Javagal Srinath, India’s bowling remained lacklustre and the fielding appalling. If the Indian team continues its abysmal record in these areas, it will be hard for it to lift the world cup.

Yours faithfully,
N.R. Venkateswaran, Calcutta

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