Editorial 1 / Colonel bogey
Editorial 2 / No reforms
Borderline friendship
Book Review / Much, too much heart
Book Review / A time of action
Book Review / Along the mighty river
Book Review / Voices from beyond
Editor’s Choice / History under the sign of violence
Paperback Pickings
Letters to the editor

The decision by Pakistan’s national security council and federal cabinet to hold a national referendum “on important national issues” has further eroded the possibility of an early return of democracy in the country. After Mr Pervez Musharraf took over the reigns of power in October 1999, the supreme court — even while granting him temporary legitimacy — had ordered that legislative elections to restore a democratic government must be held by October 2002. The proposed referendum is clearly going to be used to consolidate Mr Musharraf’s authority before the elections, which would then be held to choose the national parliament. In other words, there may a be democratically elected prime minister but real authority will continue to be exercised by the president. Not surprisingly, the decision to have a referendum has generated widespread opposition within Pakistan. Apart from fringe groups, most of the established parties have threatened to boycott the polling. This includes Pakistan Peoples’ Party, the party of the former prime minister, Ms Benazir Bhutto, and the six-party Mutahidda Majlis-e-Amal, or United Action Committee of Islamic parties. The Jamaat-e-Islami has in fact challenged the referendum in the supreme court. This criticism is unlikely to deter Mr Musharraf, particularly at a time when he continues to enjoy international support for participating in the war against terrorism.

The history of military rule in Pakistan, and of its past experience with three military dictators is not a source of much comfort. Ayub Khan, who pioneered military rule in Pakistan and stayed in power from 1958-1969, was forced out of office by general Yahya Khan. And Mr Yahya Khan gave up political power only after he had lost the 1971 Bangladesh war against India and split the country. There were few signs that Zia ul-Haq was likely to give up political control even after more than a decade from 1977 until 1988; only his death in a mysterious plane crash forced the return of democracy. It is clear that even the most non-political of army officers, and there are very few in Pakistan, are seduced by the authority that they command when they are in power, and are willing to return to the anonymity of the barracks. Nevertheless, military dictators need to keep making promises of the eventual return of democracy to keep a flicker of hope alive within civil society, and they may even be persuaded to put up a democratic facade. Ayub Khan flirted with the idea of guided democracy, which was really military rule by another name. Zia ul-Haq, after initially promising elections within three months, installed puppet civilian regimes that he thought provided him with enough democratic legitimacy to continue exercising real power. It is too much to expect Mr Musharraf to be different from his predecessors.


The government may make noises about reforming agriculture in the budget or in export and import policy announcements, but clearly, intent is not backed up by action. Faced with losses in state-level and Delhi municipal elections, there is evident support within the government for the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh view that economic reforms are at fault. Why else should recommendations of the commission for agricultural costs and prices be ignored and minimum support price for wheat be increased by Rs 10 a quintal? Excessive hikes in MSP in recent years have contributed to the food mountain, which cannot be exported as it is of inferior quality, and rots or is eaten by rats. The solution lies in addressing procurement as well as distribution and the reform agenda is known. But the government has been unable to persuade states to reform distribution, even those ruled by allies. The least that could have been done under the circumstances is to leave the MSP untouched. Rather paradoxically, procuring states like Punjab and Haryana have also not asked for hikes. The government has thus decided to make life more difficult without any external pressure and of its own volition. The hike in MSP on wheat has been spliced with a CACP recommendation that MSPs be hiked on rapeseed, mustard, safflower, gram and masur. This has ostensibly been done to persuade farmers to diversify from wheat into edible oils. Even though these hikes are in line with CACP recommendations, they are nonsensical.

Agriculture is not about rice, wheat and edible oils alone, even though the government identifies agricultural policy with policies on these items. Consequently, appropriate diversification is into fruits and vegetables, on which no procurement schemes exist. The national sample survey data also reveal an expenditure switch towards fruits and vegetables. Hikes in MSPs distort price signals and provide perverse incentives about diversification. If there is one agro-product where India is price uncompetitive across the board, that happens to be edible oils. Consequently, there is no need to artificially encourage self-reliance or diversification in edible oils. Mr Murasoli Maran made much of the 20 agri-export zones. These involve fruits, vegetables, flowers and walnuts. But as the commerce minister himself discovered in his failed attempt to free export of onions, talking about reforms is one thing, delivery is another. At least, Mr Maran believes in reforms. Mr Ajit Singh is a different matter, and the agriculture minister wanted a hike in MSP for wheat by Rs 15 a quintal. Given this, there is not much scope for pushing through agricultural reforms.


The Nepalese prime minister, Sher Bahadur Deuba, was in Delhi in the third week of March. He returned via Calcutta to Kathmandu over the weekend of March 24 to 26. His programme and discussions conformed to the protocol requirements in cosmetic terms but the substance of his discussions with our leaders do not seem to have been responsive to the political, economic and strategic imperatives which should be governing Indo-Nepal relations at this critical juncture. Deuba’s trip to New Delhi took place in the background of serious political turmoil and economic uncertainties in Nepal. This was the first visit from Nepal by Deuba after the tragic assassination of the previous Nepalese king and his family. King Gyanendra is still to fully stabilize his constitutional authority in the Nepalese power structure. The Maoist insurgency in eastern and central Nepal continues unabated despite the deployment of the Nepalese army and its dedicated efforts to counter the anarchy sought to be spread deliberately by Maoist insurgents.

Despite the fact that the domestic crisis in the Nepalese polity at the most fundamental levels is related to institutional strength and political cohesion, the major political parties in Nepal remain faction-ridden. The domestic security situation seems to be compounded further by some of the Maoists operating from the Indian states of eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar bordering Nepal. Nepal’s problems with Bhutan about refugees of Nepalese origin from Bhutan resident in Nepal is not fully resolved. Nepal’s economy stands disrupted due not only to the Maoist insurgency but also due to the endemic problems of unemployment, inflation and the imbalances in the levels of development within different parts of Nepal.

Indo-Nepal relations still remain in the doldrums because of the differences of opinion between Nepal and India on important issues like generation of hydro-electric power, trade and transit arrangements and the organization of joint security arrangements against violent and disruptive activities undertaken by various disaffected groups on both sides of the border. Controversies related to trade and transit arrangements have re-surfaced with Indian concerns about unfair advantage being taken by traders, to flood the Indian markets with non-Nepalese goods, utilizing the tariff and non-tariff concessions available to Nepal under the existing Indo-Nepalese trade agreements. Differences on territorial issues like those of Kalapani and macro-level political issues like revision of the Indo-Nepalese treaty of 1950, still remain unresolved.

The prime ministers, Deuba and Atal Bihari Vajpayee, had a long and substantive agenda to deal with, had they the time and the inclination to re-fashion Indo-Nepalese relations within the framework of a longer strategic perspective. This did not happen because Deuba was concerned with immediate priorities which were to seek Indian cooperation in countering the unstable security situation created by Nepalese Maoists, to finalize a new trade and transit treaty, as the previous treaty’s term is coming to an end, and to move forward on important projects of economic cooperation, particularly in the power sector (related to the Mahakali project) which have been hanging fire since 1996.

At the same time, Vajpayee was enmeshed in the crises resulting from the communal riots in Gujarat, the temple-mosque controversy in Ayodhya and the problems related to pushing through the prevention of terrorism ordinance in Parliament. He was also engaged in preparing for his visit to Singapore and Cambodia in the first half of April. Both sides, therefore focussed on an agenda limited to immediate concerns. One must add in parenthesis that Indian security concerns regarding the activities of Pakistan-sponsored terrorist groups from Nepalese sanctuaries also formed part of the agenda.

The outcome of the discussions on all counts has been less than satisfactory, particularly about long-term Indo-Nepalese relations. The only exception was the decision taken by the two governments to structure and implement substantive and intense cooperation arrangements to counter terrorist violence on both sides of the border. India has also agreed to provide training facilities and defence supplies to Nepal, in terms of its present urgent and expanded needs.

The discussions on other remaining subjects remained ambiguous and palliative, though they were couched in positive terms in official pronouncements on the results of the visit. Discussions on the important subject of trade and transit arrangements were inconclusive with India taking a strict view about third country goods entering the Indian market, in violation of transit and tariff concessions extended to Nepal. The point of fact is that this violation or taking of unfair advantage is primarily indulged in by Indian traders or traders of Indian origin resident in Nepal. Even at the levels of organizational and administrative efficiency of the Nepalese trade and customs services. To put the entire blame on Nepal and to expect Nepal to take preventive action is an unfair approach as this is what seems to have been the negotiating brief articulated by the Indian side.

There are even reports that senior officials of our commerce ministry were abrupt and unilateral in making demands in this respect. This is a politically inept and decidedly negative approach towards a smaller neighbour which could have been avoided. While stressing the factor of unfair advantage being taken of Indo-Nepalese confessional trade and transit arrangements, our approach should have been to offer to take firm action against Indian traders participating in this pernicious activity which is detrimental to the long-term economic interests of both Nepal and India.

A more basic question which India should have asked itself was whether the extent and value of the unfair entry of third-country goods into India would really do any substantive harm to the Indian economy. Answers to these questions should not have been based on the agitation and concerns of sections of our trading community but it should have been formulated and transmuted into Indian policies in the framework of the long-term political interest of evolving a stable relationship with Nepal which merits India’s patience and accommodation.

The equally important proposed Mahakali hydel power project which would have the capacity of generating nearly 6,000 megawatts of power has not moved forward since 1996 when the Mahakali power project agreement was signed between the then Congress government in India and the government of Nepal. The project was to go on steam within a year or two of the agreement having been signed. But it did not take off due to the interminable debates about what would be more advantageous primarily for India, thermal power versus hydel power, which could come from Nepal under this project.

There are also differences of opinion about the cost of distributing this power in India, a part of which would benefit Nepalese economy. The long-standing issues about settling the Kalapani territorial disputes and the revision of the basic Indo-Nepalese treaty of 1950 were not touched upon in detail during Deuba’s visit, given their complexity and controversies related to them. One does not quite understand why India does not implement its decision to re-negotiate the 1950 treaty with Nepal in a manner which would be mutually satisfactory and which would be responsive to Nepal’s sensitivities and would preserve India’s imperatively important relations with Nepal.

Deuba’s visit to Calcutta and discussions with the chief minister of West Bengal, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, is reflective of his desire to apprise the West Bengal government about his concerns and to seek West Bengal’s cooperation, both in trade and transit as well as security matters. Reports are that the West Bengal government responded with understanding to Deuba’s advocacy.

India seems to be imprisoned in a jacket of assertiveness and excessively narrow Indocentric considerations. The argument that India should be generous with its smaller neighbours put forward by some analysts is not a relevant point. Generosity smacks of a certain incipient big brotherly hegemonistic attitude. A cooperative and accommodating approach towards Nepal is of utmost and vital interest to India in political, geostrategic and economic terms. Good Indo-Nepalese relations have ramifications for our relations with other neighbours in the south Asian association for regional cooperation as well as with China. This is the empirical reality to which our Nepal policy should respond.

The author is former foreign secretary of India


By Arundhati Roy,
Viking, Rs 295

Arundhati Roy is eminently quotable. Her essays glitter with sentences that remain etched in the mind because of the sheer perfection of their arrangement, and because they resonate with dramatic emotion. They are hard to forget. In his foreword to the volume, John Berger chooses a few such sentences and passages for his analysis of Roy’s views. The first passage is from the essay that gives the volume its name and has made the “algebra” justly famous: “The bombing of Afghanistan is not revenge for New York and Washington…Each innocent person that is killed must be added to, not set off against, the grisly toll of civilians who died in New York and Washington.” The passage sets exactly the right tone for a reading of the book, and of Roy’s politics.

In the six essays, written between July 1998 and October 2001, Roy’ politics remain clear-voiced and fearless, large in scope, consistent in its concern for the exploited, scathing in its criticism of the state and its institutions, outspoken in its professedly old-fashioned championing of a non-nuclear world. For her, there is no difference between writing fiction and writing for causes. In “The ladies have feelings, so…” she claims the term “writer-activist” makes her “flinch”. Her fiction was as political as her essays, she feels. Besides, there comes a time when every writer should take “sides”, however “uncool” taking up a moral position might seem, and she consciously uses everything in her power “to flagrantly solicit support for that position”.

The sentiment is admirable. The problem is that it shows. Berger concludes his foreword by saying that Roy tackles today’s “global confusion” by making sense of what we have to do. And, he says, she shows us how to do it. The sentence he quotes, though, is an unfortunate example of the sentimentality that ultimately blunts Roy’s most powerful arguments: “The only dream worth having…is to dream that you will live while you’re alive and die only when you’re dead….” Which means, even more unfortunately: “To love. To be loved. To never forget your own insignificance. To never get used to the unspeakable violence and vulgar disparity of life around you. To seek joy in the saddest places. To pursue beauty to its lair…To respect strength, never power. Above all, to watch. To try and understand. To never look away. And never, never to forget.”

Such a high-minded user manual for all right-causers runs a serious danger of becoming totally meaningless. It is more urgent than ever before to fight for old-fashioned causes. But old-fashioned sentimentality in the guise of polemics remains just as ineffectual as it always was. Inevitably, the excess of hyperbole, metaphor and myth-making raises doubts about the intellectual basis of Roy’s arguments. A heart in the right place requires a head in the right place too.

One of the finest, most powerful and informative essays in the volume is “The greater common good”, championing the cause of the Narmada Bachao Andolan. The facts and their incisive arrangement speak for themselves, and quite unforgettably so. But here too, Roy goes overboard with the drama once in a while, suddenly confusing the issue. She recounts, for example, her interview with an old man known as Bhaiji Bhai, displaced years ago. She ends with this apostrophe: “Bhaiji Bhai, Bhaiji Bhai, when will you get angry? When will you stop waiting? When will you say ‘That’s enough!’ and reach for your weapons, whatever they may be? When will you show us the whole of your resonant, terrifying, invincible strength?

“When will you break the faith? Will you break the faith? Or will you let it break you?”

It’s beautiful. Only the reader is left wondering whether Roy worked out all the implications of that one.


By I.G. Patel,
Oxford, Rs 395

The volume of I.G. Patel’s memoirs is a book that delights and instructs. A brief review cannot do justice to its sweep and depth. Patel’s reminiscences are naturally interesting and are related in a limpid style, laced with subtle humour. Patel had worked with some of India’s great personages like Jawaharlal Nehru, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Morarji Desai, T.T. Krishnamachari and H.M. Patel. His narrative covers a critical period of Indian history, from independence to the Seventies. Patel figures in many of the crucial decisions that have shaped India’s recent economic history.

Patel’s role in the formulation of the second plan frame, devised by P.C. Mahalanobis, is not too well-known. He had a limited but important role, together with J.J. Anjaria, in bringing out the draft, while the main idea was that of the professor. Mahalanobis had assembled some of the world’s brightest economists at the Indian Statistical Institute in Calcutta. Patel does not throw much light on whether Mahalanobis’s plan was formulated in spite of, or because of, such fine intellects assisting him.

Turning to India’s love affair with heavy industries, Patel refers to a revealing exchange between Russia’s prime minister, A.N. Kosygin, and India’s ambassador at that time, T.N. Kaul, in which the former had said that India did not need any more heavy machinery plants. “What the Soviets had supplied was enough for us for many years to come and all we needed was to use well what we already have.” Patel’s view seems to be that the Soviets are too often blamed for selling us a wrong model whereas the mistake was in our implementation.

Patel’s recollections of the 1966 devaluation of the rupee confirm the notion that “the decision was inevitable” and supported by most economists in the country. The attempts of the World Bank’s Bernard Bell to exercise too much pressure provoked Krishnamachari’s strong adverse reaction. As Patel points out, the decision had in fact been taken during the last days of Shastri, and Indira Gandhi implemented it.

Patel reflects on the fact that the substantial non-project aid which was promised to India if it decided to devalue was finally denied. The richer countries, led by the United States of America, reneged — a familiar phenomenon. In Patel’s view, it would be wrong to blame the 1966 devaluation for the subsequent hardships India faced — they were primarily due to food shortages, successive bad monsoons and the accumulated impact of bad policies.

The system of exchange controls, industrial licensing and control of capital issues, along with a distaste for private foreign investments, which the Fifties and Sixties led to, remained a part of the Indian economic environment until recently. Patel traces the roots of this deadly combination to the impact of war, the legacy of the nationalist struggle, the fear of foreign domination and politicians’ implicit demand for economic power. Ironically, in the Fifties, the US administration sent Milton Friedman to advise India on economic policy. Unfortunately, his advice, which was in favour of freedom in economic matters, fell on deaf ears.

Patel admits that he is an old-fashioned socialist — not a Marxist, but a democrat. He and his associates played a critical role in the formulation of policies that inadvertently led to our economic straitjacket, although on many occasions Patel himself had serious doubts — on the policy of state dominance and the culture of political intervention, for instance. The political leadership, represented by the likes of Indira Gandhi and Krishnamachari, did not leave room for strong dissent. Dissenters, like the economists, B.R. Shenoy and C.N. Vakil, were either ignored or were too obsessed with their pet points of view to be effective.

Patel narrates how he was given 24 hours to draft the cabinet note and legislation on the nationalization of India’s banks by Indira Gandhi. It was clearly a political decision. Politics, in this case, dominated economics. In an ironic sequel, during his term as governor of the Reserve Bank of India, Patel had to recommend the nationalization of a few banks left out in the first exercise. “They had become the personal fiefdoms of individuals who disregarded all rules and advice with impunity.” He decided on nationalization as the way out. A return of the old-fashioned socialist perhaps?

Would India’s economy have fared differently if Patel and people of his eminence had been able to press for a freer play of market forces and against state dominance? This is a question which has the benefit of hindsight. The economists’ voice would then have been overwhelmed by a cacophony of political forces.

Aid negotiations and the successful completion of a framework for India’s relationship with the Bretton Woods institutions must surely be counted among Patel’s important accomplishments. In particular, one must acknowledge his role in the evolution of the Aid India Consortium. There are, however, limits to economic policy. Politics, especially in donor countries, had a great deal to do with decisions on both the quality and quantity of aid. Patel is, however, generous in accepting the positive role of successive US administrations in simplifying, softening, enlarging and restructuring aid, particularly to India. Special mention is to be made of the US’s treatment of PL-480. Patel played an important role in this issue.

Reflecting on how import restrictions came into being, Patel says that they started during World War II and intensified after the 1956 foreign exchange crisis. The multiplication of bureaucratic restrictions on business activity was embedded in this regime of controls. For its consequences, Patel blames not only the government but also businessmen, who used the control system for their own benefit.

Talking about his role as the RBI governor, Patel emphasizes the need for independence, but concedes that in a democracy, the central bank cannot be totally independent of government control. He pleads for greater autonomy in appointments, particularly of deputies. But, in the central banks of many other countries, appointments of deputies are matters under the purview of government or external bodies, albeit in consultation with the governor.

Patel recalls his reluctant association with the gold control order of the Sixties, which was an important byproduct of the Chinese conflict. It was an impractical piece of legislation. The gold control order failed and had to be withdrawn. The withdrawal followed the recommendations made by a committee, of which Patel was the secretary. In his view, gold bonds may not be an answer to the problem of the lure of gold. He is in favour of other attractive savings instruments which can substitute for gold.

Patel’s book will fascinate anyone interested in India’s economic history over the last five decades. The lessons he draws from his survey bear the mark of his wide experience and wisdom.


By Indira Goswami,
Rupa, Rs 295

Indira Goswami is no longer merely a front-ranking Assamese writer today — the winner of the Jnanpith award for the year 2001 now ranks among the foremost literary figures in the country. Fiction is her forte and this collection of short stories is typical of her style. The translations, mostly competent and close to the original (some of the stories are translated by the author herself), will now hopefully attract more readers to Goswami’s oeuvre.

The stories in this collection are peopled mostly by the ordinary folk of the land — those living under the shadow of age-old beliefs and customs, characterized by poverty and exploitation, habitual suffering and the obstinate will to live, who can only watch helplessly as the world around them changes.

What distinguishes these stories are the local colour and ambience Goswami weaves in. Most of them are set in the Kamrup district of Assam. Both the annual ravages wrought by the mighty Brahmaputra which flows through the district as well as the violence of the recent insurgency movements shape the destiny of many of the characters.

In telling the stories of unfulfilled love and frustrated hope, the author uses irony with admirable skill. Although some of the situations may seem a little contrived, the final effect is moving on the whole. Noteworthy also is Goswami’s sensitivity to nature and her ability to make it harmonize with the mood of the human situations.

Most stories in The Shadow of Kamakhya have a multiplicity of themes but the various strands are not always gathered into an organic whole. “The Offspring”, for instance, may be read as the story of a man’s desperate desire for a child — his ailing wife is unable to bear him one while the Brahmin prostitute he frequents also refuses to keep alive the child she supposes has been sired by a low caste client. Then, how does one relate the reform of Rahamat Pathan and his subsequent murder to the misery of Parasu, in “Parasu’s Well”.

A sense of doom runs through all the stories and ironically, it is the mute protagonist of “The Beasts” who expresses it most poignantly.

There are also instances in Goswami’s stories of a feminist defiance of the established order. Take for instance Padmapriya in the story, “Under the Shadows of Kamakhya”, who confesses, in the presence of her parents and husband, that the child in her womb is not that of her husband. Or, Bhubeneswari of “To Break a Begging Bowl”, who refuses to abort the illegitimate foetus that she is carrying.

But Padmapriya has to reckon with a husband who has collapses suddenly while Bhubeneswari has to go with her mother to identify the dead body of her brother, the only possible saviour of her family.

In the end, it cannot be denied that Goswami knows how to elevate a story to the level of a powerful narrative.


By Guy Poitevin,
Manohar, Rs 775

How do we define society? Is it a free playground of competing forces, a macro-system with several conflicting sub-systems, eternally struggling to be free of their innate inadequacies? Or is it an ampitheatre in which social actors jostle for space and leadership? What is the nature of the knowledge of a social scientist? Can it ever be purely objective? After all, the responses of the sociologist are also conditioned by his own class consciousness and social status. What is the appropriate attitide to the subaltern reaction against socio-cultural hegemony? Should it be interpreted as a mixture of dependence and resistance, or as a spontaneous counter-agency?

These and related questions form the core of Guy Poitevin’s study, though his professed objective is to examine the forms and motives of subaltern agency in some villages of Maharashtra. He seems particularly influenced by Ranajit Guha whom he quotes in the introduction: “…our emphasis on the subaltern functions both as a measure of objective assessment of the role of the elite and as a critique of elitist interpretations of that role”.

Thus, for Poitevin, the study of his subject quite often becomes the subject of his study, where knowledge is the product of interaction between the social researcher and social actor. It is against this perspective that Poitevin prefers the cooperative model of research over participatory methodologies since in the former, the researcher is more of a critical intervenor than an interlocutor.

This book presents the results of seven researches undertaken by the Centre for Cooperative Research in Social Sciences in Pune. The results are arranged in three parts according to the three phenomenological categories of subaltern agency.

Section one of part one deals with the reflexive autonomy of the cognitive patterns of the peasant women of Maharashtra who, in their grindmill songs, give vent to their personal worries by re-appropriating episodes of the Ramayana, especially those concerning Sita. These songs verbalize the experienced reality of the peasant women through the spontaneous mediation of semantically re-invested myth.

Section two explores the socio-cultural dynamics of the ritual fasting enjoined upon women by patriarchy. Women, too, internalize the norms related to fasting, which has a symbolic relevance in their lives. By fasting faithfully on a regular basis they strive to stake a claim to a social importance otherwise denied them. Thus Poitevin gives three reasons for women’s fasting: enslavement, reversal and delusion.

Part two, entitled, Assertion, includes three autobiographies — one by a rural agricultural worker, Kalu Warghade, and the other two by untouchable women — in which the narrative itself serves as a strategy to combat antagonistic forces and becomes a device to construct a historical self.

Part three highlights “action” as a discourse, presenting three grades of the ideal of “committed action” as defined by Max Webber in Economy and Society, by means of which an actor is transformed into a historical-social subject.

In his conclusion, Poitevin reverts to the problems of social knowledge and comes up with a set of alternative approaches to be adopted by future social studies. This book has the potential of pioneering fresh researches in the field of social science methodologies.


By Gyanendra Pandey,
Cambridge, Rs 595

Gyanendra Pandey’s closely argued and lucidly written book represents analytical history-writing at its best. It is necessary, of course, to explain such high praise. Pandey is careful with his sources, some of which are new. He reads his evidence with a great deal of sophistication and shows how even the best historical evidence is constructed. There is no running linear narrative in this book but Pandey has a story to tell and he narrates it movingly. More important, he addresses complex assumptions that underlie the writing of history in the academy and questions the way events, like the Partition, which embody violence, are elided in most history-writing.

Violent events are recalcitrant in that they refuse to be appropriated into any given narrative. The history of Indian nationalism, when told as a seamless story of the triumph of a secular and modern nation state, has no place for the genocidal violence of 1946-48 that accompanied the birth of not one but two nation states. The violence becomes an aberration, a freak event or the product of conspiracy (on the part of the British and the Muslim League) or of failure (on the part of the Congress). The latter technique reduces the history of an event to its origins or cause: it is enough to know why a thing happened. This places a distance between the horror of the event and the historian. Thus the violence of the Partition becomes the product of some other history, the British divide and rule policy, the drumming up of the two nation theory by Jinnah and the Muslim League.

Pandey proceeds through a critique of many of the common assumptions about the Partition and of the writings on it. One consequence of this is that the violence of the Partition, the physical and the emotional, has remained outside history. It is a part of the memory or of “survivors’ accounts”. This produces in mainstream or nationalist historiography in India “an all too facile separation between ‘Partition’ and ‘violence’”. Partition is something that happened across the negotiating table and is recorded in the Transfer of Power volumes and the violence is inscribed in the memories of survivors. One sees the events of 1946-48 as the establishment of a new constitutional/political arrangement; and for the other, “Partition was violence…a sundering…a radical reconstitution of community and history.”

The violence — the killing, rape and arson (and one could add the violence associated with the actual physical displacement) — of the Partition was unprecedented, both in scale and method. Pandey’s book has graphic accounts of this violence and some of his descriptions have contemporary resonances. Pandey argues that this violence created new subjects and new subject positions (this, he says, “necessitates a reconsideration of the standard view of history as a process with an already given subject”); violence and community constituted one another in many different ways.

One of the strengths and novelties of Pandey’s analysis is his emphasis on the local and how the local folded in to the national. The local is always double-edged: it is the particular and the small scale; it is also that which is not general and part of the mainstream. The local defies narrativization or is in perpetual waiting to be appropriated into some grand narrative. The local has no history of its own, it is always a part of some other history. The local, Pandey shows, is an index of power. Communities constituted through violence worked out new modes of sociality at the local level within a new and renegotiated national framework.

Pandey’s writing is forceful and poignant but it is also tentative and open-ended. His book is full of questions and new approaches. It is not recommended to those who refuse to think outside their familiar grooves.



The great Indian cleverness

Edited By Kai Friese and Mukul Kesavan
(IndiaInk, Rs 250)

Civil lines: New writing from India, Vol 5 Edited By Kai Friese and Mukul Kesavan is a collection of what its editors describe as “good writing by desis (loosely defined to include all kinds of south Asians)”. It begins with Sonia Jabbar on life and death in contemporary Kashmir and ends with Urvashi Butalia revisiting Partition. In between are short stories by Mina Kumar, Amti Chaudhuri, Amitava Kumar, Avtar Singh and others. There is also Anita Roy’s account of her encounters with the American writer, Harold Brodky. (The editors approve of “readerly fixation”, but are terrified of “critical appreciation”.) This is a readable mix, the standard fluctuates, and there is more than a whiff of cleverness.

By Clive Bell
(Rupa, Rs 95)

Clive Bell’s Civilization is a reprint of a 1928 essay by this Bloomsbury art critic and “an almost professional homme d’esprit”. It is dedicated to “dearest Virginia” in a marvellously frivolous epistle. In the days before World War I, Clive and Virginia, then young socialists, would chatter on, in the latter’s workroom in Fitzroy Street, about “contemporary art, thought, and social organization”. For them, these were “manifestations of civility”. Then a few things happened which complicated their conversations — the war, the Russian revolution and the Italian coup d’etat. The last chapter, “How to Make a Civilization”, is the most entertaining: “Who gets the cars and cocktails is a matter of complete indifference to anyone who cares for civilization and things of that sort. The trade-unionist is as good as the profiteer; and the profiteer is as good as the trade-unionist. Both are silly, vulgar, good-natured, sentimental, greedy and insensitive; and both are very well pleased to be what they are; neither is likely to become anything better.”

Edited By Ranabir Samaddar
(Orient Longman, Rs 450)

Space, territory and the state Edited by Ranabir Samaddar is a collection of academic essays on how geopolitical identities, perceptions and frontiers were manipulated to suit political and moral exigencies in central and south Asia. A stolidly academic collection.

By Jill Margo
(Penguin, Rs 250)

Jill Margo’s Perfect health: Dos and don’ts for men who want to stay fit is a manual for men — straight, upwardly mobile and getting on a bit — who want to strike the golden mean between the Grim-Faced Immortal and the Whingeing Wimp. There is a great deal of concern for the penis — its vagaries and dysfunctions, and the myths and anxieties associated with its legendary career. There is a particularly terrifying account of artificially induced tumescence: “In my right testicle I have a small flat box which is a pump...I push a little button on the pump and it takes maybe 30 seconds to work.”



Bountiful Amma

Doubtful bounty Sir — Never one to shy away from the limelight, J. Jayalalithaa had surprisingly been maintaining a low profile after she took over as chief minister. Now she is back with a bang and in a brand new avatar. First, she rushed to stitch up the severed tongue of a follower. Then she decided to take up the cause of an illegal immigrant, a 21-year-old Kuwaiti woman who eloped with her Indian boyfriend to India using a fake passport (“Jaya rushes to runaway lover’s rescue”, April 2). And now Amma, who has for long been drawing a token salary of Rs 1, has decided to donate her actual salary of Rs 10,000 to a temple each month to help run the anna dhan scheme (“Charity begins with Amma’s packet”, April 2). How genuine is the puratchi thalaivi’s altruism? Very, so long as they continue to shore up the image of this much-convicted leader. But the people of Tamil Nadu can rest assured that this bounty will dry up as soon as their chief gets down to the mean business of hardcore politics.

Yours faithfully,
Parul Guha, Calcutta

Rational stand

Sir — Among the various articles published in The Telegraph criticizing the carnage in Gujarat, Dipankar Gupta’s “Calling the bluff” (March 27) stands apart. His elucidation of what he calls the “paper tigers” exposes the sangh parivar and its activists. The pre-Godhra provocation by kar sevaks and the Bajrang Dal, the news of which has been slowly filtering into public domain, amply refutes the much touted government claim of the riots being a “rationalization” of the Godhra train massacre.

Jawaharlal Nehru’s high-handed treatment of the Hindu Mahasabha, as related by Gupta, should be a lesson for Atal Bihari Vajpayee. If Nehru could ban the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, why cannot Vajpayee come down heavily on the Bajrang Dal activists wreaking havoc in Gujarat?

If religious sectarians find themselves free to carry on looting, killing and persecuting members of the minority community, it is because both the state and the Central governments have been rather soft and partisan in their attitude. Various incidents testify to the fact — the symbolic puja allowed at Ayodhya; the clean chit given by the Bharatiya Janata Party to Narendra Modi; inflammatory statements by the RSS; distribution of anti-Muslim leaflets by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. Yet the BJP’s debacle in the recently held assembly elections should have served as warning to the sangh parivar that such religious politics cannot bring it political support. The allies of the National Democratic Alliance should rethink their support to this government, especially since their participation in it is serving them no purpose.

It is at moments like this that leaders of Nehru’s stature are sorely missed. Vajpayee’s decrying of the sangh parivar’s actions in Gujarat is not good enough. It is time he took on the mantle of a truly moderate national leader. The only way the country can avoid more events like those in Ahmedabad, Delhi, Bhiwandi or Godhra is pushing for the resignation of Modi and the imposition of a complete ban on all communal organizations such as the Student’s Islamic Movement of India and the RSS.

Yours faithfully,

S.A. Rahman Barkati, Calcutta

Sir — Dipankar Gupta is quick to prove the incompetence and indifference of Atal Bihari Vajpayee by comparing his inaction with Jawaharlal Nehru’s banning of the RSS during the communal problems following Partition. One wonders why Gupta does not mention Nehru’s inaction when it came to Kashmir. When the Pakistanis were trying to divide the country by demanding Kashmir, leading to much violence in the state, Nehru did not seem as concerned as he was about the behaviour of Hindu sectarians. Before praising Nehru, Gupta should remember that there are two sides to a coin. For all the good that Nehru did, he also did considerable harm.

Yours faithfully,
N.K. Bhattacharya, Calcutta

Loser all the way

Sir — Expectations from Lagaan may have ended, but not the hopes of cinegoers. It is pity that many felt that too much hype had been generated about Lagaan’s fate at the Oscars. The country should have been proud of the fact that the film was at least nominated. This is not because we need the academy to prove our talent, but because we need a platform to announce India’s stature in filmdom.

There is another point which needs to be made to these Indian film buffs. If India does not need the West, why do we have so many remakes of Hollywood films? Why do we have Hindi film music “inspired” by Western tunes? Why do we have Indian actors craving for a chance in Hollywood? If we do not need the Oscars, we do not need the Nobel Prize either.

Yours faithfully,
T. Arif, Calcutta

Sir — The Lagaan Oscar hunt made it to headlines of The Telegraph in two consecutive issues. There was a Lagaan lead story with photographs and mid-page coverage on the third day again. Does the media have any idea about the ground realities? India does not live b y the glitz and glitter of Bollywood, but mostly in ghettos and the gutters. Those who look up to the West do not realize that poverty, illiteracy, corruption and so on still symbolize India for the West. It is heartening to know that there are people like Anand Patwardhan and Prahlad Kakkar who believe in calling a spade a spade.

Yours faithfully,
Mrinmoy Goswami, Pattynagaon, Assam

Sir — It was quite amusing to read the disparaging comments made by some in the Indian film industry about Lagaan (“National mourning but only for west-struck”, March 26). They would have said the opposite had Lagaan won the Oscar. These men either have no patriotic feelings or are hypocrites. The value of an Oscar is not unknown in world cinema. To belittle it and Lagaan, which was nominated for an Oscar, shows the ignorance and conceit of these commentators.

Yours faithfully,
Lalita Agarwal, 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

Maintained by Web Development Company