Editorial/ The phoney war
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Reality, like still waters, runs deep. The visible reality would suggest that war between India and Pakistan on the Kashmir border is imminent. Look at the facts. The leaders of the two countries are not talking to each other; both are making belligerent noises. There is no diplomatic exchange between the two countries. The armies of both countries remain on high alert along the border. If all this were not enough, Western governments have asked their nationals to leave India. Even the non-essential staff in diplomatic chanceries are being asked to pack their bags. One way of interpreting this decision is to read in it the inevitability of war. But look at the facts again. The two armies have been eyeball-to-eyeball along the line of control for nearly six months. In this sense, the status quo continues and nothing has changed save the heightening of the rhetoric. It is true that neither side has blinked — nor has any of them moved closer. A tremendous amount of diplomatic pressure has been brought to bear on New Delhi and Islamabad to rule out any kind of adventurism on either side of the border. On Pakistan, there is the pressure from the United States of America and other powerful states to stop infiltration into Jammu and Kashmir. There is a trickle of evidence that infiltration is on the decline. Moreover, the defence minister of India is away from the country and the prime minister will be visiting Kazakhstan next week. These facts, therefore, rule out anything precipitate from happening.

But the prospect of war must also be placed in a broader historical context. India and Pakistan have declared war on each other on three occasions and there is also the elaborate skirmish in Kargil in 1999. None of these encounters has in any way proved to be decisive. In 1965 and in 1971, India was the clear victor but this in no way solved the problems that adversely affect the relations between the two countries. This experience must be playing on the minds of decision-makers in both countries. Mr Pervez Musharraf, the president of Pakistan, must also be aware of the weakness of his own position. He knows that the last thing he can afford is a military debacle against India. Given India’s military superiority, Mr Musharraf will be wary of exercising the military option.

India has been patient in the face of extreme provocation. But this restraint is founded on very strong diplomatic calculations. Indian foreign policy has a strong stake in the preservation of peace in the region. India has inched its way towards the diplomatic high table during the crisis that followed the events of September 11. India’s relationship with the US entered a new phase during this period. All this will be in jeopardy if India goes to war with Pakistan. There may be better dividends in waiting and seeing the international pressure mount on Pakistan. War as a last option cannot be ruled out. But the proverbial last straw seems, fortunately, to be some way off.


Some years back, while researching the thoughts and ideas of the English novelist, E.M. Forster, I chanced upon a festschrift for the Cambridge-based British social historian, G.M. Trevelyan (occupant in his day of the house in which Amartya Sen now lives), edited by another Cambridge-based historian, J.H. Plumb, and containing essays mostly by other Cambridge-based historians, including one by the Provost of King’s College, Lord Noel Annan. This book, Studies in Social History, published in 1955, seemed like a peculiarly home-grown tribute to an eminent scholar by a charmed circle of close friends, several of whom seemed to be living down the street from him, with concessions being made for a few others who had suffered the misfortune of having to take up residence in regrettably distant Oxford. English social history, looking at that volume, was about fields and pastures and enclosures in Her Majesty’s realms, with the seeds of all the writings about it lying cloistered in manicured quads carefully nurtured and closed off from hoi polloi by the hoity-toities.

Annan’s essay, titled simply “The Intellectual Aristocracy” (it being drily implicit that he meant The English Intellectual Aristocracy: there isn’t realleh one in other countries, is there?), was among the most amazing I’ve ever read because it’s the only one I know that transforms a very long list of names into interesting social history. Its purpose was to show that, starting with Early Man in the form of Charles Darwin and Matthew Arnold or, if you preferred, William Wilberforce and the two Huxleys, Thomas and Julian, you could actually trace a completely incestuous genealogy within which nearly every Oxbridge intellectual could be fitted somewhere into a massive Family Tree of social proportions. Intelligent life began with the Bible, better known as The Origin of Species, and its cultural counterpart, namely Matthew Arnold’s assertion that Poetry, not God, is God. This spawned a Garden of Eden, better known as Cambridge, with an annexe in the direction of Wales, better known as Oxford. Everyone who was now intellectually anyone in England lived in this modern Eden and its motorable extension. All its inhabitants, Annan argued, were not only Apostles (the name of a Cambridge coterie) who believed the Gospel of St Charles and St Matthew and disseminated it in their own peculiar literary or scientific way, but were actually related to each other either by descent or by marriage, or at worst by adoption, companionship, and semi-legal proximities only unfortunately unsanctified by blood. The lords and ladies who made up Britain’s traditional royalty had Buckingham and Windsor, the lords and ladies who comprised the English intellectual aristocracy had something rather better: Cambridge and Oxford. Annan himself, need one add, was one of the Elect within his own long list. How else, after all, could he have become top dog at King’s?

Annan demonstrated that Leslie Stephen and Desmond MacCarthy, Duncan Grant and Ottoline Morell, Leonard Woolf and Virginia Stephen, Morgan Forster and Lytton Strachey, Gwen Raverat and Bertie Russell, Roger Fry and Clive Bell, C.P. Snow and John Galsworthy, Maynard Keynes and Quentin Bell, Gerald Brennan and Gerald Duckworth, Francis Crick and James Watson, Chelsea and Richmond, Gordon Square and Bloomsbury “all were close kin or intimately connected, all were part of an elite club-cum-happy-family if they really mattered”. There wasn’t an intelligent person you could think of who wasn’t well connected. Socially, no one was going to think you intelligent or take you seriously if you didn’t have the right accent, if you weren’t one of the Fellows.

If the British, as George Orwell later argued, are generally xenophobic, Annan’s essay showed that this most charmed of British circles exemplified such xenophobia in its most extreme form. The circle was ridiculously closed. Men of intellect from the hinterland, such as D.H. Lawrence and F.R. Leavis (and later, Raymond Williams), were “foreigners”. In order to get anywhere at all, such people were forced to define themselves in extreme opposition to the intellectual aristocracy. Lawrence was venomous about intellection in general and therefore about Keynes and T.S. Eliot in particular. Leavis was scathing about Bloomsbury in general and therefore blindly hostile to Forster and Woolf. Annan’s essay did not set out all this specifically, but the context it outlined suggested a whole world of reasons for friendships and enmities. It also gave me a new perspective on the epigraph in Forster’s Howards End, “Only Connect”. The connections that Forster was striving to make were with the world outside Eden: with the foreign, as exemplified not only by Egypt and India, by C.P. Cavafy and Mohammad Iqbal, by Beethoven and Proust, but also with the foreigner, the deviant, and the seeming intruder nearer home, with Wilfrid Blunt and Edward Carpenter, with D.H. Lawrence and T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia).

Working in Indian publishing and interacting largely with Indian intellectuals sometimes gives me the uncanny feeling that Annan’s analysis might, with modification, apply to our context. The crucial difference, I suppose, is that no one would describe the Indian intellectual class as a social aristocracy possessing the sort of financial and cultural capital that the English intellectual aristocracy once had at its disposal. The Indian academic, even the best placed, is frequently struggling to make both ends meet and keeps an eagle eye open for foreign confer- ences which offer respite from his un-Edenic surroundings: certainly Hamlet, if he saw Presidency, St Stephen’s and Jawaharlal Nehru University now, might be reminded of his Denmark — “an unweeded garden grown to seed” — a very far cry from the happy, haunting grounds of Cambridge and Oxford.

But in other respects the similarities are sharp: Bloomsbury is fine and flourishing in India. Everyone knows Everybody. Everybody is Somebody only if they know Everyone. Everyone who’s Anyone has been first to Presidency or St Stephen’s or JNU, and from there to Cambridge or Oxford, and now they’ve managed to get their sons and daughters there. Harvard and the Ivy League are “deemed universities” in this universe, having been mostly founded by well connected people with Oxbridge antecedents. Everybody may not be married to Everybody or descended of them, but in such cases of dire ill luck they’re trying to marry them or produce descendants from them in less legitimate ways. When even that fails, India’s flexible notion of who constitutes kin will enable Everyone, one way or the other, to come up with some devious connection with Everybody. And in this respect it’s a great help that Everybody is either Bengali bhadralok or Tam-Bram.

Of course the Indian intellectual is not exceptional in wishing to belong to a closed community. It seems the way of the world. Bhargavas organize Bhargava Conferences in order to ensure that all Bhargavas end up in bed with other Bhargavas. The Mathurs seem to enjoy clinging to Mathurs. The Pants and the Pandeys, oblivious of orthographic awkwardness and phonetic hilariousness, want to ensure that none of their children’s grandchildren bear names other than Pant and Pandey. Bureaucrats beget bureaucrats, Marwaris reproduce Marwaris, Kashmiri Pandits hang on for dear life to other Kashmiri Pandits, Parsis stiffen in all the wrong places and grow pale marrying fellow Parsis.

The difficulty of operating in a social structure with such fine interconnections arises mainly for the outsider who, as in the case of an academic publisher, regularly requires dispassionate opinions on writers and texts. In the Indian intellectual context it is not easy to find people who can ignore kith and kin, who have the capacity to disregard Eden. Among the most difficult things, in my experience, has been to find “referees” with neutral inclinations, people who will assess a writer from their own context without regard to his or her obvious or subtle connection with themselves. Within the Indian intelligentsia, as in the world outlined by Annan, there’s just no getting away from family and friends. The culture of book reviewing seems riddled with the same problem. Friends review books by their friends, or damn them if they’re by old friends with whom they’re no longer friends.

You can be sure only of two things: that they are all family or friends, or friends of friends. And that they’ve all been to Oxbridge or its inferior international extensions.



Mad about Mad

A Rs 50 crore question. Where was Madhuri Dixit while Aishwarya Rai and Shah Rukh Khan squealed ecstatically in front of cameras in the French Riviera and director Sanjay Leela Bhansali looked on benignly? The Devdas team, or more precisely Bhansali and his newfound “sister”, Ash, had an explanation which would put Simple Simon to shame. Mad apparently didn’t get a visa. Really? If a famous actress who has an NRI husband and who spends half the year abroad doesn’t get clearance, then something is terribly wrong with the French authorities. There is obviously a different story to Devdas in Cannes, and much of it, as with the film itself, has to do with the other woman. The problem, as this story goes, seems to have started on the sets of this “epic” film. Ash supposedly went flying when she discovered that Chandramukhi’s dresses, designed in Calcutta, were far more gorgeous than hers. The wardrobe war took another vicious turn when the former Miss World also realized that Madhuri’s dresses by Abu Jani-Sandeep Khosla were much more expensive than her own designed by Neeta Lulla. That her role as Paro, as a poor man’s daughter and old man’s wife, required no more apparently did not pacify Ash. Amends had to be made to dear Sis and made quickly. Bhansali naturally sided with sibling in the ensuing fireworks. Which probably meant Mad being dumped for the music release as also for Cannes. But need they all have got so mad at Mad?

I say goodbye

Way down south, a former actress is just as mad, although the object of her anger no way resembles Mad. Jaya Prada, Telugu Desam Party’s former MP, is reportedly determined to say farewell to N Chandrababu Naidu and his party. Peeved at being denied a second term in the Rajya Sabha, Jaya has been boycotting party meetings of late. She did not even attend the high profile three-day Mahanadu or the annual party conference that ended on May 29. She is said to have confided to her supporters about her decision to contest the next Lok Sabha elections as an independent. The distancing of Jaya from Naidu could be another setback to the party since the Andhra beauty continues to be a crowd-puller. But surely the departure of Jaya cannot be the beginning of the end of our Southern hero. Or maybe?

Article around the neck

The sangh parivar apparently has a brilliant idea to get around Article 370 in Kashmir, which it sees as a millstone around the government’s neck. The government, the plan goes, could undertake massive infrastructural development in Kashmir which would require transfusion of labour from outside the state. The social and cultural dynamics of the residence of a couple of lakhs of families from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh would also affect the security situation in the state. Although these people would still be debarred from contesting the elections, eventually, they could unleash a contrary pressure on the government for the integration of the state with the rest of the country. The government is yet to approve of this curious idea, but sangh brains are furiously working away anyway.

Showing his colours

Is the Uttaranchal chief minister casteist? Narain Dutt Tiwari would stoutly deny the charges but the suspicion lingers. Witness this. The other day, two senior leaders from the capital arrived in Dehradun. The first one to reach was Motilal Vora, AICC treasurer and in-charge of Uttaranchal. There was a red-carpet welcome. A team of ministers headed by Tiwari himself was there to receive the Brahmin from Delhi. Hours later, another AICC leader, Sushil Kumar Shinde, reached Dehradun to assist Vora to judge the Tiwari government’s performance. There was not a soul to welcome him. No slogan-shouting, no ministers. Shinde apparently had to lift his own bags and find his way to the Circuit House in a taxi. Shinde, incidentally, hails from the weaker sections of society. Or is it indeed a coincidence?

Siblings as rivals

Other haunting worries. Sunil Shastri is now a Rajya Sabha member from UP as the BJP nominee, that is in addition to retaining his job as the party spokesperson and party gen-sec. Brother Anil, on the other hand, has been reduced to persona non grata in the Congress. He has been stripped of the party’s spokesmanship and given the unenviable task of bringing out the almost defunct Congress mouthpiece, Sandesh. To extricate himself from this corner, Anil has begun with the only weapon he had. He is supposed to have got busy circulating a theory that the BJP is trying to take over the Lal Bahadur Shastri legacy after having “stolen” the legacies of Jayaprakash Narayan and Subhas Chandra Bose. Last heard, Anil had still found no takers for that in the Congress. Maybe he hasn’t got within shouting distance of madam.

Generation gaffe

Fables from Tollywood. An ageing Bengali actor, son of a yesteryear hero, who has this habit of pairing up with his leading ladies in real life, has found in a young former beauty pageant winner his latest interest. Fair enough. The problem is that this PYT has recently gone to the police station, complaining about her mother who she alleges has been holding up her passport. She wants an embargo on her mother which would prevent her from creating another ruckus where she is now living with the star. The mother however is not one to take things lying down. She wants similar measures against her daughter. Mother and daughter are now both making life miserable for the police officials on the case with frequent invitations of lunch and and so on to set the police on each other. Disgusted, the police now want direct intervention of the chief minister in the feud so that they could be absolved of their charge and the decibel levels would come down in Howrah and Gariahat. Is the CM listening?

Footnote/ Mother of mine

In the Trinamooli hierarchy there is someone superior to Didi — her mother. At least that is what some of that flock have to say. The unwritten code which partymen go by is that if there is something that someone desires from didi, the efforts have to start with paying obeisance to the matriarch of Harish Chatterjee Street. Even Atal Bihari Vajpayee had touched her feet all the while the daughter was giving him hell. The latest employer of this trick is Dinesh Trivedi, newly elected TMC member of the Rajya Sabha. Suave, urbane, didi’s man in New Delhi, Trivedi however did not know his position in the capital would be so severely contested by lesser mortals in the party. But it was. That is till Trivedi found solace in the mother figure. Even now, whenever he is in the city, he supposedly visits didi’s residence and makes his grand entry with, “Maa, aami esechhi” (Mother, I’ve come). Partymen who have been watching Trivedi keenly now reportedly do the work for him. Whenever he steps into the house, a chorus goes up, “Maa...” Didn’t know Trinamoolis also had a sense of humour.    


All for a just cause

Gloomy future Sir — It is natural that the historic judgment of the Alipore court in the Anuradha Saha case should enrage the medical fraternity (“Doctor duo sentenced to imprisonment for death due to negligence”, May 30). The judgment has set a precedent which will encourage other victims of medical negligence to come forward. This is definitely uncomfortable for doctors who, given the lack of awareness about consumer protection laws, almost always get away with malpractice. Even if a higher court strikes down the judgment, doctors are unlikely to escape the reactions that the verdict has set off.
Yours faithfully,
Mitul Mitra, Calcutta

Valley of gloom

Sir — Muzamil Jaleel’s account of how Kashmir changed from being a paradise on earth to a violence-ridden state was moving ( “I have seen my country die”, May 26). Jaleel has successfully shattered some myths perpetuated by the Indian government. The most common one is of Kashmir being an integral part of India and the Kashmiris actually wishing it that way. The events in the last decade have established how ridiculous that claim is.

However, Jaleel’s whole-hearted support for the Kashmiri cause has somewhat blunted his perspective. Although Jaleel recounts rather movingly the death of some of his closest friends and that of thousands of people in the valley by Indian forces, he does not discuss the deaths of those killed by Kashmiri separatists. Nor does he analyse the circumstances that led to the growth of discontent among the Kashmiris, particularly in the late Eighties, from where Jaleel traces the events. Instead, Jaleel seems to imply that the violence perpetrated by the Indian state was instrumental in driving the youth towards militancy.

Yours faithfully,
Anusuya Goswami, Calcutta

Sir — It was disturbing to read Muzamil Jaleel’s article. It must have been very painful for him to see his friends die one after another while fighting for freedom for the Kashmiris. Jaleel’s article raises an old question — the possibility of holding a plebiscite to solve the Kashmir dispute. It is time we admitted that apart from Indians or Pakistanis, we are also human beings. This alone should enable us to understand the sufferings of the Kashmiri people. Ordinary citizens of this country should appeal to the Central government to solve the Kashmir dispute with Pakistan before there is anymore bloodshed. Instead of deciding for the Kashmiris, the Centre should allow the Kashmiris to decide for themselves the issue once and for all.

Yours faithfully,
Shantanu Bagchi, Kalyani

Sir — It was sad to read how an entire generation of Kashmiris have died fighting for Kashmir’s liberation from the Indian Union. But before taking recourse to violence as a means to achieve political goals, the Kashmiris should have considered the repercussions of doing so. It was only expected that the struggle for freedom would bring them face-to-face with the organized military might of the Indian security forces. Although, Muzamil Jaleel cites the rigging of the assembly elections in Kashmir as the event that triggered off the struggle for an azaad Kashmir, nothing can possibly justify terrorism and the killing of both the civilian and military population in Kashmir. By accepting Pakistan’s help the Kashmiris merely helped the former in its game of one-upmanship with India.

Yours faithfully,
Rudrasish Datta, Howrah

Parting shot

Sir — Despite its sudden zeal a few months ago, why has the Centre postponed the introduction of high-security licence plates for private vehicles? I fail to see the logic behind waiting till March 2003 for vehicle owners to switch over to these plates. The safety of vehicles does not seem to be a major concern for the authorities. The government merely finds the measure an expensive step to implement. Hence the delay. But that would leave the issue hanging in the air. Vehicle owners meanwhile will continue to face the risk of having their vehicles stolen.
Yours faithfully,
Vikram Sharma, New Delhi

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