Editorial 1 / Not by words
The open window
This above all / Glimpses of the raj
People / Ariel Sharon
Letters to the editor

In the beginning is the deed and the deed is with man and the deed is man. This change in the famous opening lines of St John’s gospel can only be permitted when one is discussing politics and leadership. The mettle of a prime minister is not measured by what he says and the sense of shame he expresses. The only index of a prime minister’s abilities and effectiveness is the actions he takes to uphold the law of the land and the dignity of the office he holds. Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, during his whistle-stop tour of the killing fields of Gujarat, displayed an attitude which is matched only by the insouciance of the chief minister of Gujarat, Mr Narendra Modi. Mr Vajpayee’s advice to Mr Modi was that the latter should uphold raj dharma (ethics of governance or ruling). It is not surprising that Mr Vajpayee, as a loyal member of the sangh parivar, should resurrect a notion from the Hindu scriptures. What is surprising is the complete absence of self-consciousness on the part of the prime minister. By any reckoning, by refusing to remove Mr Modi from his post, Mr Vajpayee has failed to perform what he calls raj dharma and what others would prefer to call his constitutional duties and even decency. It is clear from all that has come to light that Mr Modi has failed to suppress violence in Gujarat and to take action against those who masterminded the crimes. There is a growing suspicion that his deliberate inaction led to an escalation of the killings. Mr Modi has not had the basic humanity to visit any of the camps that have been set up for those who have lost everything in the violence. Despite this track record, Mr Modi continues as the chief minister of Gujarat with the blessings of the prime minister.

The accusing finger has rightly been pointed at Mr Modi. It is time it was turned towards those whose blessings and support enable Mr Modi to thrive. Mr Vajpayee will feature very high on that list simply because he is the prime minister and because he has failed to remove Mr Modi. In Ahmedabad, Mr Vajpayee declared that he was sure that Mr Modi is practising raj dharma. That there was no irony embedded in the statement is evident from the presence of Mr Modi in the chief minister’s office. Mr Vajpayee has been long enough in politics to know that high-sounding words or the recitation of poetry or the publication of “musings” are not enough to assuage a nation’s conscience and anger. So far Mr Vajpayee has done only this. In terms of action, the prime minister visited Gujarat only one month after the violence first erupted. During that visit, he could do no better than mouth pious sentiments and issue a certificate to the man who had done nothing to stop the butchery.

If raj dharma is the criterion, both the chief minister of Gujarat, and the prime minister of India have failed. Both have failed to carry out the duties that they are supposed to carry out towards those who have put them in their high offices. Their absence of action constitutes a dereliction of duty and a breach of trust. At a more deeper level, their indifference towards human suffering and their attempts to cover up their indifference with words, gestures and smiles are a betrayal of all that goes by the name of decency. At the end also is the deed.


There is nothing new in the proposal to create an educational system and a cultural environment that will be given an authentically Indian character by being purged of foreign elements and other impurities. What is new is the determination of the party in power and the government in New Delhi to promote such a project. Xenophobia existed in the past, but it was not officially encouraged. Today there are cabinet ministers, senior civil servants and highly placed educationists who are prepared to give it their open support.

The advocates of an educational system attuned to India’s cultural heritage have picked upon Macaulay, Marx and madrasahs as the targets of their attack. The selection of targets shows a facility for alliteration more than any capacity for deep or serious thought. Neither Macaulay nor Marx would have shown much sympathy for the revival of madrasahs or, for that matter, of Vedic schools or institutes of astrology. However, in a secular democracy which values the plurality of traditions, it would be wrong to ban either madrasahs or Vedic schools, although neither should be favoured with state patronage.

The ideas of Macaulay and Marx have contributed to the formation of the educational system and the intellectual climate in India. Each of them stood for modernity in his own time and advocated modernization in his own way, although this is not to say that all their ideas are relevant or useful today. The current attack on Macaulay and Marx is an attack on modern ideas, although those who engage in it are not always aware of the roots or the implications of their resentment of the modern world.

Both Macaulay and Marx had powerful minds which produced many seminal ideas. But they belonged to the 19th century and neither of them was fully free from the prejudices common to Europeans of their age. Their views would today be considered Eurocentric by the standards of fair-minded intellectuals even in the West, not to speak of India. Nothing would be more thoughtless than to accept their views on India — or any other subject — in toto ?or uncritically. But a wholesale and uncritical rejection of what they stood for and sought to promote would be a step in the wrong direction.

Marx’s ideas became very influential after his death and Marxism acquired a life of its own in the 20th century. It took different forms in the different parts of the world and it also changed over time, becoming very rigid in some places at certain times and quite flexible in other places at other times. Marxism influenced all intellectual disciplines in the humanities and the social sciences, and it came to be called the Latin of the 20th century. Even those who were resolutely opposed to it could not escape its influence so long as they kept their minds open and active.

From the very beginning, Marxism has had a liberal as well as a dogmatic tendency, and the interplay of these two tendencies may be seen in Marx’s own life and work. Apologists for Marxism have argued that its dogmatic tendencies were aberrations, but that has carried little conviction with those who have been the victims of Marxist sectarianism and partisanship. Marxist dogmatism has not been confined only to matters of the mind, and it has not always been inoffensive. Marxists have used state power to protect ideological purity, and official patronage to promote intellectual mediocrity. But they have not been in power everywhere or always, and not all of them have sought power or patronage. In any case, it will be safe to say that one need not be a Marxist in order to draw from the storehouse of Marxian ideas.

The political fortunes of Marxism have varied between countries and fluctuated over time. In India, as in most parts of the world, it is now in a phase of decline rather than ascendancy. But that does not mean that it can be written off intellectually. Indeed, intellectually Marxism has generally fared better when Marxists were out of power than when they were in power. And in India at least, they are better equipped intellectually than their adversaries in the present political and academic establishments at the Centre.

Today while there are many, including some very able intellectuals, who will stand up for Marx, there are few, if any, who will stand up for Macaulay. This is remarkable because the modern Indian intelligentsia as a whole has been shaped by an educational and a legal system in whose creation Macaulay had played some part. If it be said that he had made uninformed and ill-judged statements about the Indian intellectual tradition, it can hardly be maintained that Marx had painted a very flattering picture of Indian society and culture. Left intellectuals are unwilling to give to Macaulay the benefit of doubt that they are only too eager to give to Marx. Yet we may well ask what kind of left intellectuals we would have today without the reforms introduced by Macaulay and others into India in the 19th century.

When it comes to assessing the part played by colonial rule in the re-ordering of Indian society and culture, there appears to be little to choose between left and right intellectuals. Giving colonial rule its due share of praise in the making of modern India is not politically correct for the one any more than it is for the other. Here left intellectuals are similar to their counterparts on the right and different from Marx. For all the vitriol that he poured on individual members of the British ruling class, Marx had the discernment to recognize that that class was the historical agent of a change for the better in Indian society, and also that no major change comes without a price tag.

The making of modern India which began under colonial rule was not a painless process. Indians who participated in it from the middle of the 19th century to the middle of the 20th had to swallow many bitter pills. But on the whole they acted with dignity and restraint. They did not strike unnecessary postures and they owned responsibility for the many evils that had accumulated in their society. Above all, they were willing to learn from their colonial masters even when the latter might appear odious and reprehensible as persons. It is this that makes the best among the nationalist leaders stand out as superior, intellectually and morally, to the custodians of imperial rule.

More than 50 years after independence, our attitudes towards the changes introduced under colonial rule have altered. Marxists, subalternists, feminists, nationalists and revivalists vie with each other to bring out the horrors of colonial rule. All the social evils with which we are still grappling, including the excesses of caste and patriarchy, are traced back to that period in our history. In this kind of intellectual climate Macaulay becomes a soft target in comparison with Marx, or even the madrasahs. Whatever we might think of Macaulay, we should never forget that in the 19th century he opened a window for us onto the modern world, and if we shut that window now, it will be at our cost and not his.

The author is professor of sociology, Delhi School of Economics


The goras who ruled over India for nearly two centuries had a very poor opinion of Indians. Hardly any of them cared to make friends with the natives; their contacts were limited to offices, parade grounds, battlefields and occasional visits to the brothels. For the rest, they insulated themselves in their well-appointed bungalows, “whites only” clubs from where they issued staccato orders to their khansamsas, masalchis, aabdars, chaprasis and syces. They did not bother to learn Indian languages and their vocabularies were limited to issuing orders. Most of them never bothered to read the Indian classics; those who did, found them incomprehensible. There were undoubtedly a few who did, translated them into English and earned the gratitude of natives who had never read them in their original forms.

By World War II, the white-brown relationship changed beyond recognition. The two races were mixing more freely. “Whites only” citadels were crumbling. The younger generation of Brits far from being proud of their imperial heritage were apologetic about it. In return, many Indians conceded that British rule had not been as black a period of Indian history as had been painted by their ultra-patriotic political leaders. Following the more relaxed Indo-British social relationship, Indians were able to read what British jingoists had written about their forefathers and their country.

Among them was Rudyard Kipling whom they had dismissed as a bigoted trumpeter of the raj and a racist. They realized there was more to him than jingoism. He was also a good storyteller and a poet. Though he loathed Indians, most of all Bengali babus and nationalists, he loved India for its beautiful countryside and was nostalgic about the smell of spices, heeng (asafoetida) and even the stench of the city sewers of Lahore, Allahabad and Calcutta. He had two sides to him: one extolled the white man’s burden bringing law, order and justice to “lesser breeds without the law”, the other imbibed of India what he considered worth imbibing. In both cases he put them in words that have the majestic ring of scriptural writing. The best example of his pride in his imperial legacy is the Recessional, which was especially composed for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897. I quote a verse from it:

God of our fathers, known of old,
Lord of our far-flung battle-line,
Beneath whose awful Hand we hold
Dominion over palm and pine —
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet
Lest we forget — lest we forget!

Most Kipling scholars are of the opinion that Kipling’s most famous poem, If, was inspired by an Englishman he admired. I am equally convinced that his inspiration was the Bhagwad Gita. He dismissed The Ramayana as an “infinity of trivialities” and The Mahabharata as “a monstrous midden,… a lump of hopeless, aimless and diffuse dried, tempered with puerile obscenity.” He did not realize that the Bhagwad Gita was a part of the second epic. I think most readers will agree with me that it carries the essence of our sacred classic.

If you can keep your head when all about you/ Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,/ If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,/ But make allowance for their doubting too;/ If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,/ Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,/ Or being hated, don’t give way to hatting, /And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:/ If you can dream— and not make dreams your master;/If you can think — and not make thoughts your aim;/ If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster/ And treat those two imposters just the same;/ If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken,/ Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,/ Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,/ And stoop and build ‘em up with worn out tools:/ If you can make one heap of all your winnings/ And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,/ And lose, and start again at your begin-nings/ And never breathe a word about your loss;/ If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew/ To serve your turn long after they are gone,/ And so hold on when there is nothing in you/ Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’/ If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,/ Or walk with Kings — nor lose the common touch,/ If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,/ If all men count with you, but none too much;/ If you can fill the unforgiving minute/ With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,/ Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,/

And — which is more — you’ll be a Man, my son!

Importance of writing good English

My friend, P. R. Krishna Narayanan of Cochin, sent me a photostat of an article by Nirad C. Chaudhuri entitled, “From Babu English to Indian English”, published in The Illustrated Weekly of India in 1958. Nirad babu clearly believed that the future of English writing in India was very bleak. He wrote: “The argument that English will be needed for maintaining India’s contacts with the outside world, political as well as commercial, has no force at all as a justification of Indian English. What will be needed for maintaining India’s contacts with the outside world will be good, current, idiomatic English and not a local Indian version of the language which will be unintelligible to the outside world.”

How wrong could this great scho- lar be? He continued in the same vein:

“The fate of Indian English is already sealed. Every Indian writer of English knows that he is faced with a situation in which the choice before him is to write much better English than he has done so far, or go to the wall. If he is to survive, he will have to graft himself on the intellectual and literary life of the English speaking world, and there will be no place for him in his own country. This will have, as its corollary, the disappearance not only of the writers of Indian English in the narrow sense of the term, but also of those Indians who write the usual current Indian English, undistinguished and pedestrian, grammatically correct, though interspersed with Indianisms, which till now has been the average educated Indian’s English.”

However, in the same article Nirad babu cited a memorable example of two Indians who continued to think in their regional languages even when speaking or writing in English. This was from an address presented to Pandit Nehru by the citizens of Avantika. The florid verbiage was obviously inspired by Sanskrit: “Most revered soul, most adorable politician, the father of the people, the creator of the age, exponent of universal peace, the eternal fountain of the world politics, and the enlightened veteran of the millions and millions of souls of India — universally adored Jawaharlalji, Jai Hind! The holy Ganges of the heart of the singer is the time of those sweet moments, at every throb of which there is rhythm, in every concord there is a bliss, and in every tune there is a vibration of affection.”



Live and let die

One year ago as Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon stood beside his wife’s grave, he looked, in the words of BBC World Affairs editor John Simpson, “like any other elderly widower left alone in the world.” In that moment of personal grief, the stocky, slightly squint-eyed Sharon didn’t quite look the ferocious, right-wing extremist Likud leader that he is. A leader who has, in a career spanning over five decades, built up a monochromatic record of moral corruption and war crimes, that date back to his days in the Haganah (the underground Israeli military organisation before the creation of the separate state of Israel) in the early 1950s.

On the last Friday of March, Sharon began a military offensive against the Palestinians in retaliation to a suicide bombing in Netanya that killed 26 Israelis at the beginning of the Jewish Passover holiday. Over the last week, the Israeli forces have sealed off Ramallah, a town on the West Bank where the PLO headquarters are located, and held PLO leader Yasser Arafat in captivity. Various aid and medical groups have warned of a humanitarian disaster if supplies of electricity, water and food to the town remain cut off much longer.

The Israeli offensive is being described as Israel’s largest military offensive “in a generation”, but it isn’t Sharon’s first brush with heavy-duty violence. He started young at the age of 14, when he enlisted in the resistance. But the Likud leader really built up his “Bulldozer” reputation over four major battles — Israel’s 1953 attack on Jordan, the 1956 Suez Crisis, the Six-Day War of 1967 and the Yom Kippur War of 1973.

One of Sharon’s most horrific crimes was executed during Israel’s attack on Jordan in 1953. As head of Israel’s notorious Unit 101 at the time, he was more than ready to execute the Unit’s mission statement — retaliation against Arab attacks on Jewish villages by the infliction of discriminate violence not only on able-bodied fighters, but also on the young, old and helpless. Sharon’s attack on the Jordanian village of Qibya, was described by Israel’s foreign minister of the time, Moshe Sharett, as “a stain that would stick to us and not be washed away for many years.”

According to Israeli historian, Avi Shlaim, the village of Qibya had been “reduced to rubble; 45 houses had been blown up, and 69 civilians, two-thirds of them women and children, had been killed. Sharon and his men claimed that they believed that all the inhabitants had run away and they had no idea that anyone was hiding inside the houses.”

For rendering services like the ‘action’ in Qibya, Sharon quickly climbed the ranks of the Israeli military structure. But, as defence minister in Menachem Begin’s second government, Sharon was closely involved in the Lebanese Christian violence carried out in the Palestinian areas of Beirut in 1982. In the judicial enquiry that followed, Sharon, along with other Israelis, was held responsible by the Kahan Commission. Despite the Commission’s report, Sharon refused to resign. Finally, in February 1983 he was relieved of his duties as defence minister, though he continued as a cabinet minister without portfolio.

Then began Sharon’s wilderness years. A time he used to hone his extremist views to an extent that both alarmed and appalled liberal Israelis. Among other provocative statements, he said Jewish settlers should establish themselves all around Palestinian towns and villages; and the government sho-uld build a road network joining these settlements to Israel proper, so the Palestinians would be divided and isolated. Moreover, any Palestinian mixed up in any terrorist activities should be ‘taken out’ without any legal niceties.

Essentially most of Sharon’s views during these years were no different from those that were held by successive Israeli governments. Even under Labour’s Ehud Barak, there were regular extra-judicial killings of Palestinian activists. A fact which prompted several West Asia commentators to say that “perhaps Israel has become like Ariel Sharon.”

A fact which helped Sharon’s landslide win in February 2001, despite his provocative September visit the year before, to the controversial Temple Mount in Jerusalem, just months after the failure of the Camp David summit. The visit triggered bloody clashes at the spot, that quickly spread through the occupied Palestine territories. Explaining Sharon’s victory, a political analyst of the region said: “Moderate Palestinians and Jews alike tell themselves they need a General de Gaulle, a right-wing strongman to make the necessary concessions which brought about France’s withdrawal from Algeria in the early 1960s. To many, Sharon was the Israeli de Gaulle.”

And finally, a fact which also accounts for the strong contradictory reactions he inspires from all sides of the political spectrum. To some, Sharon is a war hero who will stand tough to protect Israeli interests against hostile Arab neighbours. “He is a brave man...very shrewd, an excellent tactician...smart, knowledgeable, experienced,” says Likud party member Uzi Landau.

To others, he is a bulldozer in a china shop, someone who will kill whatever is left of the peace process. “He is a man of war. He is a man of expansion. He is a man of occupation,” said Palestinian Authority minister Ziad Abu-Zayyad. “He cannot fit the criteria of making peace between the Palestinian people and the Israeli people.”

And then there are the ordinary people of Israel, like 16-year-old Ilil Komey, who confronted Sharon when he visited her agricultural high school outside Beersheva, just before he was elected Prime Minister. “I think you sent my father into Lebanon,” Ilil said. “Ariel Sharon, I accuse you of having made me suffer for 16 odd years. I accuse you of having made my father suffer for over 16 years. I accuse you of a lot of things that made a lot of people suffer in this country. I don’t think that you can now be elected as Prime Minister.” She was wrong of course.

A year later several hundred more Ilils, silently carry on the litany of accusations.



Out through the in door

Put out Sir — Contrary to what the report, “Chanakya sets off second-coming whispers” (April 4), indicates, reversals of fortune are not that common in politics. For the eighty-plus former prime minister, P.V. Narasimha Rao, his acquittal in the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha bribery case comes a few years too late. Even if Sonia Gandhi welcomes him back into the Congress, Rao is way past his prime and is hardly any threat to her or to other politicians in the party. Surely, any speculation on what role Rao will play if the Congress fails to win an absolute majority in the next general elections is like counting one’s chicken before they hatch?

Yours faithfully,
Miriam Dhanerawala, Calcutta

Harmful interests

Sir — Within a month of the budget, the National Democratic Alliance government has dealt yet another blow by reducing the interest rate on general provident fund and special deposit schemes to 9 per cent (“PF rate cut in new swipe at salaried”, March 31). Since assuming power in 1999, the NDA government has repeatedly cut interest rates on bank deposits, small savings and PF, causing immense hardship to people with fixed incomes and retired citizens.

The government has tried to justify its move by citing the low borrowing rates in most developed countries and the fact that the inflation rate has dipped to 2 per cent. But this is absolute hogwash. The inflation rate is only a comparison of prices at any given time with that prevailing a year ago. Prices of essential commodities have not come down in the last few years, and hence it is surprising that the government decided to slash interest rates.

Banks in developed countries offer loans at low rates of interest, but the governments in these countries have in place social security schemes like medical insurance, pension and unemployment doles. Instead of asking for cheaper capital, industry should adopt cost and quality control measures to survive in the new economic order. The government should also stop giving in to pressure tactics by the industrialists’ lobby.

Yours faithfully,
T.K. Batabyal, Calcutta

Sir — The Central government seems determined to make life difficult for the salaried class. PF interest rates were reduced by 1.5 per cent only last April, so what was the need to cut it by another 0.5 per cent? The government seems oblivious to the effects of such cuts on those who have retired or taken voluntary retirement and now depend solely on the interest income. If this trend continues, few investment options will be left to the salaried. The government must cease nursing industry with low interest rates.

Yours faithfully,
Purnima Vasudeva, Calcutta

Sir — While Indian industry may welcome reductions in the bank lending rates, it is disturbing news in a country with very high savings (“State Bank cuts lending, deposit rates”, March 28). Most Indians save — it is this habit that helped India survive recession in recent times, even as other countries went bust. Instead of reducing interest rates on deposits, the government should increase them. Banks are flush with funds, credit is cheaper than ever before — and yet there are few takers for loans. Industrial production has plateaued, and industrialists and politicians are to blame for this. It is they who should be punished, not the middle classes.

The government could cut income tax rates by 10 per cent and raise the exemption to Rs 500,000. That would surely create more demand since, at present, spenders are inhibited by high taxes and reduced income from savings.

Yours faithfully,
Sush Kocher, Calcutta

Language of news

Sir — One hopes that News Television (India), which will take over Star News after the contract with NDTV expires next April, will reconsider its decision to air 75 per cent of its programmes in Hindi (“Star snatches Sony star for news”, April 2). Most of the programmes on Star News were in English, which was very convenient for people who did not know Hindi well. Surely, Rupert Murdoch wants to cater to viewers in every part of India? He could set up a separate news channel in Hindi for viewers in north India.

Yours faithfully,
A.K. Dasgupta, Calcutta

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