Editorial / No laurels to rest on
The new tournament
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EDITORIAL / NO LAURELS TO REST ON 
 
 
 
 
Mr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam is a very modest man. One could almost say, following Winston Chur-chill’s famous quip about Clement Attlee, that he has much to be modest about. Nobody seriously believes that he is a first rate scientist even by Indian standards. He occupies that unique and unenviable position where he is a bureaucrat-administrator among scientists and a scientist among bureaucrats. Now, given the alignment of numbers in Indian legislatures, he will probably be the president of the republic. Since Mr Kalam has chosen to forsake the twilight world of the mandarin-scientist and come out in the glare of public life he so much enjoys, it is time to put his record in the world of science under scrutiny. It is important to underline that Mr Kalam is not a trained scientist. He qualified as an engineer from Madras University. His career has been concentrated in governmental defence research establishments; he was also the scientific advisor to the government of India. His reputation should stand or fall by what he did in this sphere. His name is associated with India’s missile programme. Here most observers agree that the sum of his failures exceeds the sum of his achievements.

This evaluation is not based on the failed launches of missiles. But it follows from more substantive issues: both Agni and Prithvi faced problems from the day they were first conceived. The former had to switch from liquid to solid fuel and the latter has question marks on its accuracy as well as its choice of fuel. The other three missiles with which Mr Kalam’s name is associated did not cover themselves with glory and unqualified success either. These questions are never raised because defence research in India is shrouded in secrecy and criticism of the programme is considered to be unpatriotic. Thus the other failures of Mr Kalam’s leadership of the defence research establishment are always overlooked. The list of such failures is a long one: the nuclear submarine project was jettisoned; the Arjun Main Battle Tank is yet to be commissioned; even India’s missile programme, according to experts, is behind that of North Korea. Moreover, Mr Kalam in his closed-door dealings had the reputation of being strong on rhetoric and not on substance. According to one analyst, around 1999, the then service chiefs “deemed [Mr] Kalam a defence liability”. To anyone with a reasonable familiarity with global security, Mr Kalam’s slogan, “When the developed world says don’t do that, we will do it”, appears as a piece of risible and juvenile jingoism.

These criticisms should not be used to justify the elevation of Ms Lakshmi Sahgal by the left as a candidate for the presidency. Ms Sahgal’s life is forever tied to Subhas Chandra Bose who remains her hero. Yet the party whose cause Ms Sahgal upholds once derided Bose as a quisling. The minuses in the curricula vitae of both presidential candidates point to a certain crisis in Indian public life where there are no figures deserving of respect without codicils. The president, as defined by the Constitution, is no more than an ornament. With Mr Kalam in Rashtrapati Bhavan, the country has to be satisfied with an uncut, and even perhaps a fake, gem.

   

 
 
THE NEW TOURNAMENT 
 
 
BY SUNANDA K. DATTA-RAY
 
 
The knighthood bestowed on a non-resident Indian economist, Partha Sarathi Dasgupta, illustrates how the Bengali world has been transformed in the 60 years since the last Bengali, Biren Mookerjee, was so honoured. Swarajist affectations have been dropped and icons refashioned. The diaspora has dealt a fatal blow to the lingering shade of the 19th century civilians and barristers, Brahmo as well as Hindu, whom Satyendranath Tagore derided as ingabanga.

It meant “England-worshipping Bengali” for Rabindranath Tagore. Krishna Dutta and Andrew Robinson translated it as “Anglomaniacs”. It was always an outsider’s description, never used by anglicized Bengalis themselves. Born in the heartland of that world, my grandmother spoke always of “the set”.

It was ironical that Satyendranath Tagore should affect such disdain, for he was the first Indian member of the Indian Civil Service that was, adapting Voltaire on the Holy Roman Empire, neither Indian nor civil nor a service. His wife devised the modern way of draping a saree. Ackroyd’s biography of T.S. Eliot lists his younger brother as the second Briton (after Rudyard Kipling!) to receive the Nobel Prize for literature. Rabindranath himself wrote scathingly that if you wore a morning coat in the evening, an ingabanga magistrate would condemn you to solitary confinement.

I can believe that, for my grandmother recalled Sir Tarak Nath Palit’s horror when someone asked for mustard with his mutton. Obviously, it was a common solecism of the times. According to my friend, Arany Banerjee, his grandfather, Aswini Coomer Banerjee, a prominent barrister with Jorasanko connections, thought “mustard with mutton was food for a glutton”.

Central to the ethos was an imitativeness that Bankim Chandra Chatterjee defended robustly by citing Roman emulation of the Greeks. “The result of that imitation was the elocution of Cicero, the histories of Tacitus, the epic of Virgil, the drama of Plautus and Terence, the lyrics of Horace and Ovid.” More pointedly, “The Bengali sees that an Englishman is superior to him in everything, in culture, in education, in strength, wealth, and happiness. Then, why should he not try to be like an Englishman?”

The great novelist did not himself belong to an elite that included Britain’s only non-white hereditary peer. Yet, he justified its emergence as both natural and necessary, unlike lesser folk who snapped and snarled at what they could not aspire to. It was part of this carping to portray the ingabanga as anti-national; four incidents suggest a more complex division of loyalties than D.L. Roy’s mocking lyric suggests.

First, Baron Sinha of Raipur introduced Sanskrit to the College of Heralds and House of Lords with his motto, Jata Dharma Stata Jaya. Second, another law member, S.R. Das, founded the Doon School as an Indian equivalent of an English public school because he felt that his own two sons who had been boarders in England had become estranged from their roots. Third, the viceregal drawing room must have been stunned when, asked to sing, Sir B.L. Mitter’s wife burst into Bande Mataram. Finally, B.L. Gupta, Das’s father-in-law and my great grandfather, who joined the ICS in 1871 with R.C. Dutt and Surendranath Banerjea, placed friendship and Indian rights above career advancement.

Writing to Indira Devi Chaudhurani, Tagore fulminated against Gupta, with whom he stayed in Puri in 1893, for persuading him to swallow a snub and dine with the European magistrate. But a decade earlier Gupta’s note on discrimination against judges who were “Natives of the country” (a clever way of taking the sting out of the pejorative official term) as opposed to “European British subjects” had precipitated a hysterical European upsurge over the Ilbert Bill. Nirad C. Chaudhuri called the storm a “watershed” in India’s evolution.

Less well-known is the incident of Gupta presiding in the high court when word reached him that Banerjea, his friend and former colleague, had been arrested and taken to the Presidency jail. He at once closed court for the day and went straight from the Bench to Alipore to greet his old comrade, who was by then a seditionist in the eyes of the government.

These were not the actions of a sycophant or of someone who was frightened by authority. But Tagore is right to say that the British did not accept even anglicized Bengalis as equals. They were certainly favoured, and knighthoods were generally reserved for them while less sophisticated but equally loyal babus had to be content to be a rai sahib or rai bahadur. But even the ingabanga was kept at arm’s length until the Calcutta Club was founded as a stately retreat for Indians and Europeans above a certain level.

The races congregated in different parts of the Bar Library. Personal intimacy was rare. A British civilian’s comment in 1880 on the B.L. Guptas — “Mr and Mrs G live in a very nice house and have their rooms furnished just like those in an English house” — reeked of subtle condescension.

As Tagore also says, the ingabanga’s stature depended on the length of his British connection. Someone who had lived three years in England regarded “himself as infinitely superior” to someone who had spent a mere year there. What he did not say was that other Bengalis accepted that yardstick, witness the BNGS (“Belait Na Giye Sahib”) jokes. Since the attitude still persists, the NRI is tops even though he might fail all the other tests of the old elite. Today, thousands of lower middle class Bengali emigrants rub shoulders with the British in their own homeland. When they revisit Bengal, it is with dazzling accents, suits, money and a framework of reference that stands orthodoxy on its head.

One sees the contradiction in Singapore where I have again taken up abode. Some second generation local Bengalis could pass for suave ingabanga sahibs until you meet their womenfolk. Wives are imported from Bengal, which means Barasat or Boinchee for these are the only places where these migrant families have links. When an extremely rich Singaporean Bengali took his mother back on a pilgrimage of nostalgia, he booked into a grubby little boarding house in Salkia (where his papers and money were stolen), not because he was mean but because he knew no better. It is often the non-resident’s fate to be caught in a time warp.

But he is the Bengali future, if there is one at all. I do not have in mind glitterati like the latest knight, Amartya Sen, Jhumpa Lahiri or Sumantra Chakravarty (the highest ranking Indian in Britain’s civil service) who are world class, but the many Bengalis in Britain and America whose savings convert to a fortune in rupees. They are buying up plots and flats from Salt Lake to Alipore. This is the phenomenon of the new millennium, and its rise coincides with a physical revolution in Calcutta.

Development, perish the word, has drastically changed the character of that bastion of residential privilege called “south of Park Street”. More than stately homes are buried in the earth that is churned up to erect matchboxes of poky flats that incongruously blend modest lifestyles with once fashionable addresses. With their corner-cutting, criminal links and cash hoards, the new tribe of operators known as promoters has exorcized the ghosts of the Bengali sahibs who inhabited Elysium Row and Hungerford Street.

That elite is as moribund today as the Brahmo Samaj and for similar reasons: run of the mill society has stolen its ideological clothes. Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar’s crusade for widow remarriage has served its purpose. No need either for the ingabanga when schoolboys from Haltu to Hathibagan flaunt striped ties, puja pandals resonate to English slang, knives and forks clatter in cheap eating places, and IFML — guess what those quaint letters stand for? — is the hallmark of the progressive Bengali intellectual.

There are no ingabanga knights left. A knighted Bengali NRI marks the beginning of a new social cycle.

   

 
 
THE TELEGRAPH DIARY 
 
 
 
 

Odd man out

APJ Abdul Kalam is quite the missile man. Even while filing his nomination he behaved as if he was firing off a missile — “5, 4, 3, 2, 1...”, and then, “here I go,” before putting his name on the papers. But the president elect’s eccentricities don’t end there. Take his insistence on paying the Rs 15,000 deposit money from his own pocket. He even fished out a wad of notes and flashed it at his protocol minister, Pramod Mahajan. All Mahajan could say was, the sentiment was no doubt a noble one, but currency notes wouldn’t do — a draft was required. At which point, Kalam proceeded to get a DD made straight from his bank. But even if his many eccentricities amuse them, politicos had better beware of his sharp wit. To Mahajan’s query about whether he was a bachelor, Kalam replied, “Yes, and a brahmachari too.” Kalam has also puzzled his political sponsors with his lack of belief in astrology. When fellow Tamilian, Murasoli Maran, asked him on what auspicious date he would like to file his nomination, the scientist said, “The earth rotates on an axis. It takes 24 hours to revolve around the moon and 365 days to revolve around the sun. Every day and every night is the same for me.” His saffron supporters in the BJP however refused to buy the logic. They insisted that an auspicious mahurat be worked out — not for Kalam but for the prime minister!

Batting rather well

To each his own. Be it in politics or on cricket boards. Journalist turned politician, Rajiv Shukla, who allegedly never held a cricket bat all his life, is now manager of the Indian cricket team visiting England, and has no qualms about making the most of it. The Rajya Sabha member will be away from the capital on the business of cricket for 83 days, but it will be, according to him, “worth all that”. And why not? Shukla’s Loktantrik Party has hardly any political presence. The party chief, Naresh Aggarwal, is now part of the Samajwadi Party and the other leaders, too, have their own loyalties. For instance, the party’s two Lok Sabha and two Rajya Sabha members support the NDA. Which is why Shukla gets a place in the NDA meetings. But he is unwilling to run the party on his own. His argument: if Arjun Singh and Madhavrao Scindia failed to run independent parties, is there reason to believe he can? None, Shukla. Rest in peace.

Get on the merry- go-round

There is reason for the rather timid Omar Abdullah to start shrieking at the top of his voice — an almost suicidal father. Farooq Abdullah is said to have been completely destroyed by the NDA’s reluctance to propose his name for the vice-president’s chair. There is apparently only one thing that can lift his mood — offer of a cabinet post and that too in the MEA. Which means he wants Jaswant Singh to move over. Where will Singh go then? To finance. What will happen to Yashwant Sinha? He can go to Ranchi, Farooq is said to have quipped.

Their little games continue

What ails the Uttar Pradesh state Congress? Sonia Gandhi is said to have received bomb-sized hints of the probable answer at a recent meeting of senior party leaders. Salman Khurshid apparently was found wondering aloud why Congress working committee members were not sitting on the dais along with the biggies like Ghulam Nabi Azad, Motilal Vora, Ambika Soni and Mohsina Kidwai. It was Khurshid’s way of reminding madam that he too belonged to the CWC. And he supposedly got generous nods from Makhan Lal Fotedar and Ram Naresh Yadav, both members of the AICC’s central election committee. There were also questions raised about why only former ministers had been invited when the Congress in UP had been out of power since 1989. “What about those contesting now?” Vora reportedly chipped in quietly, “There are so many leaders around. What a pity they have no following.” That was obviously meant more for the ears of Khurshid than madam’s. For Vora is intent on seeing the central legislature party leader, Pramod Tiwari, as the next UP chief instead of Khurshid, who is supposed to have the blessings of the new Sonia confidante, Ambika Soni. There are other names doing the rounds — Rita Bahuguna Joshi, Ram Nihore Rakesh, Arun Kumar Singh, Harkesh Bahadur and Jagdambika Pal. Sonia may personally prefer Rita Joshi. But that wouldn’t stop the rest from lunging at each other’s throats, would it?

Godman and his ungodliness

Chandraswami, the infamous godman who is the astrological advisor to world luminaries like Adnan Khashoggi and Pamela Bordes, was reportedly in Varanasi last week in search of some solace himself. Many soothesayers and astrologers were consulted in the city. Among them was the aged shahi vaid. The vaid apparently took one feel of the godman’s pulse and pronounced that the swami was suffering from all kinds of diseases. Which means the godman now has to pray for mukti from diseases as also the old legal problems. What a curse!

What’s in a dog’s name?

The fast ageing pin-up girl, Rekha, is in a bit of a spot. She is said to have acquired a new canine companion and named it Shiva of all things. Several Hindu organizations are up in arms against what they see as a rather “silly” idea. They are asking for a change of the dog’s name. The good thing for the fading star is that the Shiv Sena tiger, Balasaheb Thackeray, has not growled so far. But the supremo’s sainiks have claimed otherwise. Apparently, Balasaheb’s informal advisor has already reached Rekha, asking her to do what is most urgently needed. Will the name change to something starting with “A” this time? Or will she continue to require the ijaazat of the Hindu right for that?

Footnote / It’s cold out there

Trinamool’s Pankaj Banerjee is in a soup. He came out of a recent meeting with Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee full of praise for him — “Borof golte shuru koreche,” he told reporters, beaming from ear to ear. Some time later, party colleagues warned him that the boss woman was looking for him. Apparently, Mamata Banerjee was furious with Pankaj for singing paeans to the CM since it implied a dilution of her anti-left stance. Scared of the firebrand leader’s anger, Pankaj decided to lie low for a while. All callers to his residence were told — “Dada is unwell. He has a sore throat, he can’t speak to anyone. Doctor’s orders.” The intrigued Mamata then instructed Subrata Mukherjee to check up on the errant legislator. When the Calcutta mayor dropped in at Pankaj’s house, he found the legislator sipping tea — quite hale if not very hearty. The veteran politician that he is, Mukherjee’s only advice to Pankaj was — “Chaliye ja.” To Mamata he reported, “Pankaj had been standing in the cold water from the melting snow for a long time. He’s caught a cold.”    

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

A hardpressed prime minister

Press control Sir — The Indian press has for long known that outright criticism of the ruling party calls for trouble. Obviously no one shared this information with Alex Perry, the Time correspondent who is being taken to task by the Indian government for writing a critical article on Atal Bihari Vajpayee (“Payback Time for sleep slur”, June 22). The sudden interest in Perry’s passport status and his imminent expulsion only prove that the article has hit home. Maybe Vajpayee, like Narendra Modi after the Gujarat riots, is soon going to ask foreign agencies to only write reports that compliment him and his government. So much for the freedom of the press.

Yours faithfully,
Sonali Guha, Bangalore

Pious wishes

Sir — The legislative assembly of Manipur has recently passed a unanimous resolution to preserve the territorial integrity of the state at all costs (“House boosts Manipur cause”, June 14). After a marathon 11-hour meeting that ended just before midnight on June 13, the legislators decided that they would not tolerate any attempt to split up the state or merge any part of its territory with any neighbouring state.

A Naga rebel group, now negotiating with the Centre, has been asking for a merger of Manipur’s Naga-inhabited areas with neighbouring Nagaland to create a greater Naga tribal state. In the light of this, the Manipur assembly’s resolution calls for necessary amendments to Constitution to ensure the territorial integrity of Manipur. Constitutional provisions must be made to make it impossible to alter Manipur’s boundaries. Naga tribal legislators have also supported the resolution, although some others chose to stay away.

The prospect of separating Manipur’s Naga-inhabited areas and merging them with Nagaland has threatened the population since last year, when the government of India extended the ceasefire with the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) to Manipur and other northeastern states. Sensing that this could be a prelude to a merger of its Naga-majority areas with Nagaland, Manipuris took to the streets, burning down party offices and even the state assembly. The furious street protests forced New Delhi to withdraw its proposal then. But as prospects of a settlement with the NSCN(I-M) brightens, apprehensions have begun to surface again. It is the Centre’s responsibility to quell fears.

Yours faithfully,
P.C. Arambam, Imphal

Sir — The fervent wish of Manipur about the inviolability of the state’s frontiers will never be granted by Parliament. For such a constitutional clause will not allow new states to be born and therefore give politicians no further opportunity to stoke separatist fires.

Yours faithfully,
M. Chitrabhanu, Calcutta

Sir — The Manipur government’s recent decision to rescind prohibition in the hill districts in order to generate an annual revenue of Rs 15 crore is both unnecessary and inappropriate (“Manipur eyes cash from liquor”, June 10). Manipur is a state given to extremes. That is probably why previous legislatures in the past decade or so have kept it a dry state. Besides, Manipur has enough problems in the form of insurgency and poverty to cope with. It can do without those caused by alcohol.

The state cannot afford to bear the consequences of yet another blunder, and that too one prompted by the state. Why prohibition is being lifted only in the hill regions is not understandable. If the chief minister insists on legalizing liquor sale as a means to tide over the financial crisis in the state, maybe he should first lift prohibition in his own constituency, Thoubal. But maybe his idea is to see how the project affects other areas before it hits his constituency.

Yours faithfully,
Wungkui Zimik Hamleikhong, Imphal

Parting shot

Sir — I have just arrived in Calcutta and I find that the article, “Boarding pass” (June 8), by Rajlakshmi Bhattacharyya refers to me as the principal of Welham Girls’ School. I am actually the vice-principal. The principal is Ms Jyotsna Brar.

Yours faithfully,
Dayita Datta, Calcutta

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