Editorial 1 / War zone
Editorial 2 / Warmer hearth
Musical chairs
Book Review / Playing in the corridors of power
Book Review / Here to eternity
Book Review / Quiver full of lores
Book Review / Together we raise our voice
Bookwise / Many a burp over the blurb
Paperback Pickings
Letters to the editor

The politics of the gun has no place in a democratic society. It does not become legitimate if it is practised in the name of a political ideology. The depredations of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) and the People’s War in parts of West Midnapore district have to be seen for what they are — criminal acts and a war against the state. The West Bengal government has, therefore, every justification for ruling out talks with the group if it continues to indulge in violence and challenge the rule of law. The PW’s conditional offer for talks with the government is to be seen as an affront to the authority of the state. Accepting its conditions, for whatever they are worth, will mean succumbing to the gun culture. Worse still, it would send out a dangerous signal that violent means are a legitimate way of negotiating with the government. Once this is accepted in principle, there will be no end to extremist groups trying to armtwist the people and the government in the name of their sectarian mutinies. There is every reason to suspect that the PW’s offer for talks is only a ploy to buy time and space for its action plans. Maoist groups such as the PW have a history of feigning peace overtures whenever they are cornered, as the PW has been in West Bengal in the past few weeks. They want to use the talks and the cessation of state action to regroup, rearm and resume their violent activity. The duplicity of such talks offers was exposed again in recent months by the Maoists in Nepal and the PW in Andhra Pradesh, when they left the negotiating tables and returned to their guerrilla battles.

The government should however look into the PW allegation that activists of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) take to arms to retain their control over the troubled areas of Midnapore. Although the party’s state secretary, Mr Anil Biswas, has denied the charge, the police and the administration must act impartially to clean up the areas. The authorities cannot afford to give the people the impression that the PW activists now face state action because they are killing the Marxist workers and threatening their bases. The government has to act as firmly if the PW cadre unleashes the violence on activists of the Congress, the Trinamool Congress or the Bharatiya Janata Party. On their part, the political parties need to realize that using the PW in their own battles is a suicidal game that will not only catch up with them but also destabilize the democratic system in which they exist. It is also necessary to discredit and demolish the rebels’ theory that poverty and lack of development justify political extremism. Democracy provides for legitimate political and other institutional means to fight these ills . Guns can only make things worse.


The West Bengal government has come as close as it can to a fine balance in the troubled issue of tenancy. Both sides, landlords and tenants, get something to be satisfied about. This is perhaps not quite the perfect play of free market forces, but it might still help release some of the energies of the real estate market and encourage house-building and renting out. The West Bengal premises tenancy (amendment) bill, 2002 has had a labyrinthine passage after the promulgation of the original act in 1997. Initially criticized as pro-landlord, it stumbled repeatedly on certain outstanding issues such as that of inheritance of tenanted premises and the scope of the applicability of the act. Both these aspects have been dealt with in the amended bill, and in both cases, the balance of favour has shifted towards the tenant. It is a pragmatic move on more than one count. For one, the act in its original form has never really been applied, the opposition to it was too strong. The small traders especially baulked at the inheritance clause which, if applied, would have left thousands of them without commercial premises within a limited period after the death of the original tenant. Similarly, residential premises could not have been retained by the heirs of the original tenant beyond five years after his death. Besides, the rent limit decided upon for the “protection” of the act was considered too narrow. Both these issues have been addressed, hopefully to the satisfaction of the tenants. Given that the landlords have in their favour provisions that are a major improvement on the conditions that prevailed, it seems more likely that the amended act will actually be applied.

The situation pertaining to rented premises in Calcutta and Howrah has been in a terrible mess for a long time. The pressure of the population and the economy has perforce kept alive an unproductive and unbalanced system that depends on primitive principles and encourages lawlessness. It would have been next to impossible to sort this out in one fell stroke, although the original act did attempt something like that. It is a pity that the thrust of the act has had to be diluted. At the same time, existent realities would have ensured that, if applied, such a law would have been honoured more in the breach. At least the amendments seem to promise the possibility of application. It is true that the Augean stables will take rather longer to clean than the government hoped. But if the cleaning has to begin, then it is better that it has the goodwill of all parties concerned. In a sensitive issue such as this, the government has had to give in to some extent to popular pressure. But if it keeps the heat on, fixing upon a rent controller and oiling the machine, the amended law could become the first step to greater changes.



Expectations exceeded the eventual realities of the cabinet reshuffle of the prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, on July 1. The most significant change was Jaswant Singh and Yashwant Sinha swapping their portfolios of external affairs and finance respectively. The home minister, L.K. Advani, has been elevated to the de jure position of deputy prime minister, formalizing his place in the power structure as number two man in the government, which in any case was a Fact in terms of substantive political equations. Second, representation of the Bharatiya Janata Party has been consolidated and marginally augmented along with representation from the Shiv Sena. Some additional representation has been given to Tamils in the cabinet apart from the representation of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagham, the objective being to expand the support base for the BJP and its more quiescent allies in Tamil Nadu.

There is a shift towards giving greater representation to weaker sections of civil society in the council of ministers, while upper castes representation has been reduced with the removal of the health minister, C.P. Thakur, and Maneka Gandhi. Mamata Bannerjee of the Trinamool Congress was not accommodated, given the party’s poor performance in the state elections in West Bengal and her truculent and assertive behaviour. Farooq Abdullah also stands secluded; which will have repercussions on the politics of Jammu and Kashmir.

Vajpayee is confident that he can do without the support of such parties and political elements. He has inducted two film stars, one from Bihar and one from Punjab, Shatrughan Sinha and Vinod Khanna, in the cabinet. It is obvious that they have been included in the council of ministers primarily as individuals capable of attracting voters and not because of any known political experience and administrative abilities. The former BJP party president, K. Jana Krishnamurthi, is an unhappy entrant into the cabinet. The portfolio given to him is not commensurate with his political credentials as one of the founding members of the BJP. That such a senior leader with strong support among the party cadre could be persuaded to step down shows the dominance of Vajpayee and Advani in the party.

A parallel shifting of the younger, more active and articulate ministers, M. Venkaiah Naidu and Arun Jaitley, to senior positions in the BJP party structure signals the overall logic behind the changes made. Basically the logic is to increase the influence of the BJP within the cabinet, to project an image of unity between the top leaders of the cabinet, Vajpayee and Advani, to strengthen the ideological purposiveness and appeal to the Hindu voters of the BJP and to ensure a closer relationship with ideologically like-minded parties in the National Democratic Alliance like the Shiv Sena.

The appointment of the former Uttar Pradesh chief minister, Rajnath Singh, as general secretary of the party and the appointment of the former Bajrang Dal chief, Vinay Katiyar, as the president of the UP unit of the party confirm the above logic further. There are reports that Uma Bharti may take over as the chief of the party unit in Madhya Pradesh in line with the above decisions. It is reasonable to conclude that the reshuffle exercise has the twin aims of BJP closing ranks to overcome inner tensions and contradictions and at the same time to prepare for the national elections due in 2004.

The exchange of portfolios between Jaswant Singh and Yashwant Sinha should be viewed in this context. A little bit of history would be relevant. It should be remembered that Yashwant Sinha was not the first choice of Vajpayee as the finance minister when he assumed power in 1999. Vajpayee had stated that he would initially hold the charge of finance portfolio himself. Soon thereafter Yashwant Sinha was appointed the finance minister on the advice of Advani and certain business circles, if reports at that time are to be believed. Despite being the choice of Advani, BJP and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh party cadre were never enthusiastic about Yashwant Sinha as minister of finance.

Objectively speaking, Yashwant Sinha proved to be a practical and tactful finance minister. His budgets and finance policies primarily aimed at reconciling the contradictions between the requirements of the liberalization and modernization of the Indian economy and the imperatives of distributive justice in a civil society where more than one-third of the population lives in poverty. If the assessment within the BJP that he was not an efficient finance minister is examined, it is obvious that this judgment is based on purely ideological orientations of the hardcore members of the party and the sangh parivar. If one looks at India’s economic growth, general export performance and its attraction as a market for investments and transfers of technology, it is clear that he managed to do his best in extremely difficult times when India had to deal with uncertain trends in global economy, discriminatory undercurrents of the World Trade Organization arrangements and the requirement of increasing Indian defence expenditure in response to India’s troubled relations with Pakistan.

Jaswant Singh’s moving into the finance ministry in contrast does not have the ingredients of controversies to which Yashwant Sinha was wrongly subjected. The rationale of Jaswant Singh being made the finance minister is his known orientations towards Western democracies and the United States of America, his belief in competitive market economy being the most effective instrumentality in India’s economic development and his extensive contacts with the leaders of the Western democracies, especially during his tenure as the deputy chairman of the planning commission, and as minister for external affairs during the last four years.

What then should one expect from these two senior cabinet ministers in their new responsibilities? Sinha, as one of the longest serving finance ministers of India, has wide contacts with the leadership of the Western world. His professional background is, in a manner, an ideal mix of administrative and political experience. As a member of the Indian administrative service for 24 years, he has substantive experience of governance at the operational level. This includes some experience in foreign affairs also. He was India’s consul general in Frankfurt in the late Seventies. He has worked in the Union ministries of commerce and finance holding charge of India’s foreign economic relations. His tenure as the finance minister has augmented this knowledge and experience at the highest political levels.

Jaswant Singh does not bring the same substantive experience of economic and financial management to his new charge. His expertise has been in foreign policy and national security affairs. He certainly has been one of the most “hands on” foreign ministers of India. One acknowledges the important contributions he has made to India’s external relations during the last four years. He has steered India through the negative fallout of the nuclear tests at Pokhran in 1998. He not just revived but structured a close relationship with the US and other major powers of the world which had drifted into doldrums after May 1998. He restored normalcy in Sino-Indian relations in the aftermath of critical comments made by the defence minister, George Fernandes, against China.

He has evolved a close pattern of consultations with all the major powers on foreign policy and security matters. To top it all, he has certainly ensured incremental international support for India in its difficult relations with Pakistan, specially over the last two years. This performance record ensures for him high credibility with the major powers, particularly the major economic powers of the world. This should serve India’s economic interests well when he functions as the finance minister of the country.

On the downside, however, as foreign minister perhaps he did not have enough time to spare to deal with countries of central Asia, Africa and Latin America (even though these countries may not have the same priority in terms of substantive Indian interests). India’s influence in the constituency of developing countries certainly diminished to some extent during his tenure. While he is much admired by members of the Indian foreign service for his knowledge and activist approach to the work of the ministry, the institutional command structure of the ministry weakened under him. The higher foreign service establishment led by the foreign secretary played a diminishing role over the last four years. He relied on his own undoubted knowledge and experience and advisors from outside.

This became a more prominent characteristic of his tenure when the foreign secretary of his choice could not assume charge in the year 2001. The result was that the foreign secretary who was appointed in the year 2000 was practically a marginal figure in foreign policy formulations. Jaswant Singh, of course, dealt with some of the joint secretaries who held important charges to which he appointed them because of their undoubted abilities. But the service in general was not accepted by him as an efficient collective instrumentality for fashioning his policies and implementing them.

One hopes that Yashwant Sinha will redress this particular imbalance during his tenure, given his background as a former civil servant and his knowledge about the role of the civil service in higher policymaking. One hopes that he will revive the role of the foreign service and its senior echelons in the formulation and implementation of India’s foreign policy. It is logical to presume that he will give an economic focus to India’s foreign policy which is not just essential but imperative in the current global context. He will have to bone up his knowledge on strategic and security affairs, a sphere in which Jaswant Singh excelled as foreign policy planner.

It is yet to be seen whether Yashwant Sinha will have the same personal equation with Vajpayee. The chemistry of Jaswant Singh’s relations with Vajpayee was a strong point in his favour underpinning his influence. The compensating factor could perhaps be a more harmonious interaction between Yashwant Sinha and the prime minister’s national security advisor, Brajesh Mishra. So one hopes that the foreign office will play a more substantive role in policymaking in the coming days.

The answer to the basic question whether Yashwant Sinha’s arrival in the ministry of external affairs will result in any policy changes is that one need not expect any major changes in India’s foreign or economic policies. The objectives remain constant, so do the policy options decided upon for the time being.

The author is former foreign secretary of India


By Kishore Thukral,
Orient Longman, Rs 300

Politics, international diplomacy and revolution. Democracy, communism and capitalism. These are some of the abstract theories that Kishore Thukral has tried to portray as valid and contemporary issues in The Chronicler’s Daughter. Interesting but not absorbing enough is probably the best way to describe the book. Although it mirrors the lives of countless people across the globe, it is found wanting in sensitivity. The reader is not invited to join the struggle of the hapless people. The feeling of dissatisfaction is compounded by a sense of something going amiss.

Certain episodes in the professedly fictional narrative bear a strong resemblance to current events. Through these, Thukral tries to explain the political upheavals around the world. He ends up oversimplifying things, negating the effect of the strong emotional thread running through the story. There are shifts in the narrative as well as an element of suspense, but there is very little palpable excitement. There are corrupt politicians, downtrodden people, voices of dissent, people’s rebellion, and soon enough, the circle begins again, with the previous heroes as the new villains.

The plot is perhaps not completely original. As an attempted political thriller with echoes of Big Brother (in the form of the omnipotent Council of Elders), the novel fails miserably. But there are flashes of originality, and the fictional state of U-Belly, the principal characters — the chronicler, his daughter (No. 1), the elders, the vet, the brother and the CIB — and their relationships are well illustrated.

The bond between the chronicler and his daughter is particularly moving, mirorring that of many a father and daughter. It withstands the test of time, and the trials and tribulations of the two lives.

There are several echoes of the current international diplomatic scene. Parallels can be drawn between the condition of the city of U-Belly and a modern communist country. A closed state, cut off from the rest of the world, with poverty and degradation rife, but ignored by an air of complacency and a “the state will look after us” attitude. The nameless people, known only by numbers and their professions and relationships, their creativity stifled and their individuality effectively discouraged, are without a voice.

Then the inevitable happens. The winds of change begin to blow in the form of the inspiring chronicler’s daughter. The people’s resentment rises to the surface, and a bloody revolt follows. The stage is set for the New Order.

It is now, halfway through the book, that the reader is allowed to get involved to a degree. Sub-plots of corruption, greed, illicit affairs and unrequited love are more riveting than the main story, although midnight meetings and grand plans for the freedom movement are stirring.

The fledgling administration, newly liberalized and opened up to the world, finds a friend in the form of the Banded States of Monimayniya (pronounced “money mania”). The benefactor bears a striking resemblance to the United States of America, and there follows a thorough portrayal of the ills of capitalism. The end result is a rather ambiguous and anti-climactic finish with no definite outlook or solution to the country’s troubles. The situation essentially remains the same, with social discrimination, poverty and decadence remaining the bane of the people’s existence and corruption and ignorance pervading the New Order.

The Chronicler’s Daughter is Thukral’s first attempt in English, and his use of the language is too simplistic, with not enough pizzazz. Although not riveting, the book is worth reading once to understand the games people play in the corridors of power, if for nothing else.


By Lawrence M. Krauss,
Abacus, £ 9.99

Steven Weinberg, Nobel prize-winning physicist and lately a postmodern commentator on science, is often hounded by an image not entirely of his own making. In The First Three Minutes, a popular science classic published in 1977, he turned philosophical while discussing the latest findings in astrophysics, which hinted, among other things, that the universe was facing extinction from endless cold or intolerable heat. “The more the Universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless,” he wrote.

Lest a sweeping comment such as this should project him as a prophet of doom, Weinberg unveiled his mind in the last paragraph of the book, arguing that if there was no solace in the fruits of scientific studies, there was at least some consolation in the research itself. “The effort to understand the Universe,” he maintained, “is one of the very few things that lifts human life a little above the level of farce, and gives it some of the grace of tragedy.”

Inference being catchier than explanation, critics have identified Weinberg as an expert showing science has nothing to offer but gloom. Readers of Atom, also may accuse Lawrence Krauss, a Case Western Reserve University professor and bestselling author of The Physics of Star Trek or Quintessence, of the same sin. If despair is written in the destiny of the cosmos, what else can a fate-reader expect?

Krauss has the entire cosmos under his gaze and he is using an atom as his looking glass. In Atom, he tells us the story of the birth, adulthood and the likely death of the universe, but not in the way that many others have told it before. Instead, he captures that splendid saga in a biography of a single oxygen atom — from its genesis to its demise.

It’s the same oxygen atom that is there in every single molecule of water on earth, it’s the gas without which life on this planet might have been an improbable proposition. The individual cells of one’s body are dependent on its supply as long as one is alive.

Each atom of oxygen on earth, by its very existence, suggests a veritable treasure trove of detailed history: the life and death of millions of stars, the slow evolution of our galaxy, and indeed the history of matter from well before galaxies existed. Krauss chronicles this aeons-spanning journey in painstaking detail.

Every oxygen atom that is present in the universe today began its life as 16 particles which emerged out of pure energy unleashed during that cataclysmic birth of the cosmos — the Big Bang. Then, like the Little Indians in the old nursery rhyme, they quickly became 13, as the rest of them went to form one nucleus of helium billionths of a second later. A few hundred million years later, they were 10, as another helium atom was formed. Some time later, they were 7 as a third was formed, and then quickly they became 5 as the 3 helium atoms merged to become a carbon atom. In this configuration — 1 carbon and 4 hydrogen nuclei — they persisted for billions of years, witnessing the death of stars and planets, and the breakup of an entire galaxy. Finally, 2 particles, the nuclei of carbon and helium atoms, were brought together from parts of the cosmos that were billions of kilometres away from each other, with completely different individual histories, to make a single nucleus, the nucleus of oxygen.

If you think all these proceedings went off smoothly, you’re mistaken. Krauss shows how serendipitous each of them were. “If the Universe had remained undisturbed, everywhere, for its entire existence, nothing of interest would have happened,” writes Krauss. “Instead, from the creation of protons to the creation of stars, we have witnessed over and over again a local departure from equilibrium, followed by a return back to the fold. Everything of interest to us in the Universe has followed from these momentary deviations.”

Like any stroke of luck in a human’s life, those events in cosmic history haven’t been fully explained yet. For example, physicists are still struggling hard to understand why protons, that invaluable ingredient of all matter, exist today. In the fiery moments after the Big Bang, calculation shows, protons would be created in equal number as anti-protons, particles that would annihilate protons to leave pure energy again. Somewhere somehow that exact income-expenditure balance did not work out. And all matter in the universe today, including us, is the product of the tiny excess of proton over anti-protons in those moments. Who ordered that excess?

In 1998, astronomers revealed a set of data, unsettling to say the least. They showed that the rate of expansion of the cosmos, which began with the Big Bang, is increasing. The discovery, many believe, seals the fate of the universe. It is destined to die as its constituents are to disperse in an unlimiting volume of space. What kind of a fate awaits the oxygen atom in this backdrop of despair? Krauss foretells its future in vivid detail. Explaining that life on earth is most likely to be wiped off its face much before the sun exhausts its fuel reserve, he calculates that the days of the oxygen atom may be numbered as well. “It may proceed unscathed out of our galaxy, and out of our cluster of galaxies, in what seems an eternal voyage into the darkness,” writes he, “but inside the protons and neutrons that make up the heart of our atom may lie a clock that has been ticking for more than 10 billion years, waiting for a signal embedded at the beginning of time itself. Upon that signal, as surely as our sun, and our galaxy, will end their existence, so will our atom.” Sounds like Weinberg again?

For his “excellence in the interpretation of physics to the public” the American Institute of Physics last year chose Krauss for its Andrew Gemant Award. However, despite his deft handling of the topic here, the book deserves to be criticized on account of its length. Left to write Atom, Gordon Kane (Supersymmetry) or Martin Rees (Our Cosmic Habitat) would have come out with a slimmer volume. I daresay that would have made the account more gripping, at least in some places. Krauss, it seems, did not want to barter rigour for charm.

That minor quibble aside, Atom is a valuable addition to the corpus of science writing. The grandest travelogue imaginable, it captures all eternity — from a past in which we were hardly a possibility to the future that will look, as James Jeans once said, “as though we had never been.”


By Mahasweta Devi,
Seagull, Rs 550

“His name is Chotti Munda Chotti is of course also the name of a river. There is a story behind a river giving him a name. Stories grow around him all the time.” These are the opening sentences of the novel, Chotti Munda and his Arrow (Chotti Munda Ebong Tar Tir in the original). The metaphorical resonances of these lines continue throughout the narrative, and, in fact, mingle with the history that it seeks to represent. Chotti, the great Munda leader of Chotti village, is indeed like the river after whom he is named. He has only one magical arrow with which he creates history. He does not have to use it to kill human beings until, at the age of 78, in a dramatic set-up at a Chotti fair, he declares to have assassinated Romeo and Pahlwan. What was only a metaphor at the beginning now condenses into a myth: “As he waits he mingles with all time: and becomes river, folklore, eternal. What only the human can be.” Chotti thus grows to become “the human” — history personified, both in its essence and vitality.

The novel, translated by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, is undoubtedly Mahasweta Devi’s magnum opus. Here, she delineates the history of the tribal movement against the feudal land system, of tribal agitation against bonded labour, of tribal helplessness against bureaucratic corruption and police atrocities in independent India. In the process, she brings out the essential difference between tribal reality and the reality of the “civilized”. The reality of tribals is formed by lores and legends, myths and memories, rhymes and rumours.

The narrative, in both structure and content, creatively regenerates this pattern of multi-dimensional reality. “Everything is a story in Chotti Munda’s life” is a refrain which connects one story with another within the panoramic scope of the novel. And Chotti figures in all these as a timeless yet pervasive presence.

What makes Chotti special is his skill with the bow and arrow, which he picks up from the great Dhani Munda, one time associate of the great rebel, Birsa. It is this skill which apotheosizes him in his own community, and even among the Oraons, Hoes and other tribals. While the idea was to win prizes in the archery festivals at annual Chotti fairs, Chotti’s skill, imparted to the younger generation, motivates and mobilizes the tribals in their crusade against injustice and exploitation. The skill engenders a bond among these subaltern classes.

The author narrates how this bond evolves into an expansive consciousness, which has the potential to challenge the homogenizing tendency of colonial and postcolonial politics, resulting in a “museumization” of ethnic cultures. She envisages “the extraordinary apocalyptic, timeless moment of a world turned upside down” as a culminating point of peasant mobilization, which Partha Chatterjee talks about in Nation and its Fragments.

Spivak has carefully preserved “the sustained aura of subaltern speech” of the original in her translation. She admits to her intention of problematizing, rather than facilitating, the non-tribal reading of the text. Spivak’s language is unmistakably that brand of subalternized English which has succeeded in “provincilizing” Europe. Her interview with Mahasweta Devi which is part of the package, provides interesting details to the reader.


Social Movements and the State
Edited By Ghanshyam Shah,
Sage, Rs 325

The authors of the 15 essays in Social Movements and the State, belonging to both Marxist and non-Marxist persuasions, largely analyse and assess movements by various social groups on different issues.

A social movement, according to the editor, Ghanshyam Shah, must evince a certain degree of organization, though this may range from the loose and informal to the highly institutionalized. Shah points to “objectives, ideology, programmes, leadership and organization” as important components of social movements. A social movement’s commitment to change and its raison d’etre are founded upon the volition, aims or beliefs, and active participation of its followers or members.

Rajni Kothari exposes the reactionary, anti-people role of the state in the third world. Once an instrument of liberation of the masses, the state has now degenerated into an instrument of oppression. It is obvious that any progressive social movement is ruled out in such a context.

Talking about the Telengana Peasant’s armed struggle (1946-51) led by the Communist Party of India, D.N. Dhanagare focusses on its class character and the intra-party differences which proved to be its undoing. Although the CPI in Andhra and Telengana scored impressive electoral victories, it failed to introduce any radical changes in the land reform legislations. Besides, in Andhra and Telengana, the leading communists were mostly wealthy landholders.

Sumanta Banerjee discusses the ideologies and strategies of the Naxalbari movements launched in West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh by various extremist communist parties. According to Banerjee, Kanu Sanyal one of the most prominent leaders of the movement in Bengal, felt that after the ousting of the landlords, the task of re-distribution of land was often neglected: attacking a jotedar’s house instead of occupying the land often became the main aim. He also admitted that one of the main weaknesses was the failure to establish a mass base, besides an ignorance about military operations.

Surjeet Sinha and K.S. Singh probe into the nature of tribal (solidarity) movements in India. Gail Omvedt discusses the nature of the Dalit movement after B.R. Ambedkar. She regrets that “the post-Ambedkar Dalit movement was ironically only that in the end — a movement of Dalits, challenging some of the deepest oppressions and exploitations, but failing to show the way to transformation.” Ambedkar’s “transformative social movement” failed to fulfil its potential.

Lakshmi Lingam presents the overall scenario of the womens’ movement in India and its relationship to the state. She notes that the movement in India came into being around the issue of rape. Women’s liberation movements are broadly guided by an ideology of fighting the different forms of patriarchy with an aim to arrive at an egalitarian society. But Lingam feels that the issues of dowry, property rights, joint land pattas and so on represent the problems of the different class groups of women.

Indian politics in the Seventies was dominated by student movements that raised diverse issues ranging from corruption, educational problems, price hike, rights of the sons of the soil to total revolution. Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Assam witnessed most of these agitations. However they were more in the nature of protest movements as Shah notes, and not revolutionary.

Regarding the anti-foreigner upsurge in Assam around the Eighties, Amalendu Guha observes that the Bengalis are neither dominant in the economy nor in the state machinery. Guha argues that the movement, instead of uniting the toiling masses of the different castes, creeds and languages in an anti-feudal anti-monopolist struggle, has divided them. Similarly, the land nexus of the movement relates to the interests of the Assamiya landlords rather than of the peasantry.

Ramachandra Guha underscores the fact that the Chipko movement lies in the path of continuity with earlier peasant struggles in Uttarakhand. At the same time, as an organized and sustained social movement, it promises to go beyond them. Here it is useful to distinguish between the private face of Chipko, which is that of a quintessential peasant movement, and its public profile as one of the most celebrated environmental movements in the world. In the Himalayan belt, footmarches and environmental camps are organized at regular intervals. Guha maintains that by successfully bringing commercial forestry to a standstill, Chipko marks the end of an epoch for the people and landscape of the Indian Himalayas.

The notes and references at the end of every chapter and the suggested reading list at the end of the book will be valuable for those who want to extend their studies on the issues discussed.



Who among us haven’t smiled at the blurbs of modern novels, in which the summary of the story and the author’s potted biography seem interchangeable? Of course we all know that it is an endless story of make-believes, in which the author imagines himself/herself in different roles like a lonely child in a crowd of imaginary friends. But some of us are goosed into buying novels even while we know that we are probably being conned. Hence the question: who writes these blurbs and juxtaposes them with a steely automatic and a frilly panty so that it pays off in the market?

Unlike the past when the author decided what went in, today it is a team. The author, who knows the plot, characters, setting, the theme and so on, prepares the first draft. The editor, who has read the novel before accepting it for publication and later at the proofing stage, comes next to cut it down to the bone. And finally, the artist who visualizes the cover and the way the text should be presented.

Of the three, it is the artist today who calls the last shots because it is the cover that attracts the customer to the book. The blurb comes next, but it has to be, as a famous copywriter put it, “short and sweet like a donkey’s trot”. The author comes at the end of the chain and in fact, could even be dispensed with, if the editor has read the novel carefully and can put it across in all of 250 words. The increasing marginalization of the not-so-famous-author (the big shots can still dictate) in deciding what goes in is largely because of the pressures of the market.

Publishers have realized that with more leisure and competition from television (so much of the print media has become visual now) the fight for eyes and ears and mental space has become a great deal stiffer. Hence cut the text, put it in colour, frame it in images and set it to music if possible (like CDs accompanying the book) even if it does little justice to the “vision” of the book. A classic example is the description of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina as little more than a railway accident simply because the cover shows a steaming engine on a cold Leningrad railway station. Dumbing down of the blurb content has been the riding philosophy since the Nineties but to an extent, the authors too are to blame. Quite a few can be prickly, and that doesn’t endear them to the editors: they simply refuse to accept the exigencies of the market and besides can’t understand how an “outsider” has the temerity to whittle down their work to just 200-odd words. If asked to do so, they will in all likelihood find the task extremely difficult on their own.

Hence the pruning down by the editor and the capsule version of the novel and its author. Is there a way out? It doesn’t seem likely. Pictures on the page are more important selling points for a novel than the text, coupled of course with what is called the “feel-good” factor. This means that the cover and the sugar-coated blurb has to be the starting point of the journey into the book. If the journey turns out to be different from what the blurb and the cover tells us, so be it. The book has been bought and that’s all that matters.



Madness is the doubt of reason

By Gustave Flaubert
(Hesperus, £ 5.99)

Gustave Flaubert’s Memoirs of a madman is part of a series of elegant books “committed to bringing near what is far — far both in space and in time.” Each volume presents a little-known work by a great writer, so that reading it is like finding oneself — “par hasard” as Flaubert would say — in a dusky antechapel of a grand cathedral. Flaub-ert’s Memoirs — written in 1838 when he was in his late teens — is in the tradition of Goethe’s Werther and Byron’s Childe Harold, unfolding a private confession of despair and desire: “I had at first wished to write an intimate novel in which scepticism would be driven to the final limits of despair, but little by little as I wrote, my personal impressions broke through the fable, my soul gripped my quill and flattened its tip.” This book also appends Flaub-ert’s Borgesian story of 1837, “Bibliomania”, about an obsessive and paranoid devotion to books. The foreword is by Germaine Greer and contains the sentence, “A woman enjoyed is a goddess destroyed.”

By John Gray
(Newleaf, Rs 150)

John Gray’s Mars & Venus: a match made in heaven is one of those insufferable self-help books that seem to be written for a readership of emotionally dysfunctional and very low-IQ couples whose only hope lies in a credulous receptivity to banal homilies on life and love. Like Gray’s Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, this book is founded on the notion of certain insuperable differences between men and women. The political incorrectness of such a premise isn’t really the problem. What would infuriate the intelligent reader — Martian or Venusian — are the combination of all-knowingness and sham humility in Gray’s tone (“I thank you for letting me make a difference in your life”), and the smug, smiling stupidity of his vision of domestic harmony. This book is not even fun to read, or read out, in one of those perverse moods in which one enjoys rubbish, and it is sad that there seems to be a growing market for such books in India.

By Pamela Philipose
(Penguin, Rs 150)

Pamela Philipose’s Laugh all the way to the vote bank is an irreverent take, with cartoons, on the electoral underbelly of the Indian democracy. Some chapter headings: “By the Grace of Godmen, or how the divine and the vulturine come to coexist happily in politics”, “Of Cadavers and Kings, or why senescence makes such sense in Indiaprastha’s politics”, “From Here to Radioactivity, or how everyone loves a good bomb”. Generally works.



Self-serving, with a lot of love

Sir — The greatest drawback of the system of positive discrimination in India is that it can be misused by politicians like Babulal Marandi to further their own interests (“Mandal spectre looms over Jharkhand”, July 16). By adopting a domicile policy that will help tribals and other indigenous populations secure admission into educational institutions and get jobs, Marandi has come up with a unique way of consolidating his depleting vote bank. The chief minister seems blissfully unconcerned about the fact that this policy would merely serve to alienate a large section of the state’s population who do not fall within the reserved categories. He might succeed in bringing the tribals and backward classes into the mainstream, but this will be done at a cost. But where the political chair is all one is concerned with, one cannot be too bothered about either political unrest or violence. So should we start preparing ourselves for some Mandal-style self-immolation bids in Jharkhand now, Marandi?

Yours faithfully,
Mandira Mehta, Lucknow

Game of death

Sir — While the country was watching the finals of the NatWest tri-series between England and India at Lords, militants in Jammu and Kashmir launched one of their most audacious attacks in Qasim Nagar, killing 28 people and injuring several others (“Carnage in Jammu ends calm”, July 14). The attack came at a time when the state is gearing up for elections in October and a day before the monsoon session was scheduled to start in Parliament. Although the Central government has not blamed Pakistan for the attack, it is obvious that the attack is a desperate attempt by the latter to disrupt peace in the region. Nor has Pakistan made any attempts at controlling cross-border terrorism despite making promises to the contrary. Yet, if current events are any indication, Pakistan too has been badly hit by the terrorist menace. There have been repeated attacks against Christians and foreigners, the most recent being the bomb attack on a group of tourists in northern Pakistan (“Tourists hurt in Pak blast”, July 14).

The Qasim Nagar massacre will lend credence to the demands of the sangh parivar that Jammu and Kashmir be divided on ethnic lines. However, what needs to be pointed out is that even in a divided state, it will be impossible for the government to provide troops for the entire region. What is required is more vigilance against militants not merely from the police but also from the populace. Moreover, the uniformed men have to regain the confidence of the public. Besides, the people of the country are now tired of the government’s wait and watch policy. Stringent action must be taken against Pakistan trying to disrupt peace in Jammu and Kashmir.

Yours faithfully,
Srinivasan Balakrishnan, Jamshedpur

Sir — The ghastly terrorist attack on slum dwellers in Qasim Nagar has raised an important question. How long will India tolerate such incidents? It is ironic that despite being the victim of terrorism for many years now, it does not have a full-proof strategy to deal with this menace. In fact, the Indian political establishment continues to be complacent about the routine massacres. Little wonder that all the deputy prime minister had to say after being confronted with the fury of the people of Jammu is that he would discuss the matter with his party leaders and inform Parliament about the government’s course of action. One can easily predict what is going to follow. There will be a spate of discussions within the National Democratic Alliance and a great deal of time in Parliament will be devoted to heated debates over the issue. A resolution may even be passed condemning the cowardly act in Qasim Nagar. Subsequently, a commission headed by a retired Supreme Court judge will be appointed to investigate the incident. Has India lost the ability to retaliate in the face of such attacks? Do we not realize that such attacks speak very poorly about our defence system? It is imperative that our political leaders give a fitting reply to this attack. But the diplomatic channels should remain open.

Yours faithfully,
Ashok Pandeshwar, Ranchi

Sir — The attack in Qasim Nagar was an attempt to subvert the peace process and terrorize the people of Jammu and Kashmir before the elections. It is therefore imperative that the NDA government takes immediate steps to reassure the people of the state and ensure that free and fair elections take place in October. A successful election will not only sabotage the plans of Pakistan, but also convince the international community of India’s sincerity.

The editorial, “Terror attack” (July 16), has rightly praised the political establishment in New Delhi for trying to secure adequate proof before accusing Pakistan of masterminding the Jammu attack. Even if Pakistan is not responsible for the attack, it is a fact that Pervez Musharraf has done nothing to dismantle terrorist camps in Pakistan. India should continue to exert both military and diplomatic pressure on Pakistan so that it is left with no choice but to stop cross-border infiltration permanently.

Yours faithfully,
Rupa Sinha, Calcutta

Wrong signals

Sir — The Gas Authority of India Limited advertisement on the backpage of the June 5th edition of The Telegraph was confusing. The advertisement stated that if people carried on refusing to use plastic it would lead to severe deforestation. This message seems incongruous at a time India has enthusiastically joined the “say no to plastic” bandwagon. Yet, GAIL is correct — if people start using only paper bags, it will definitely lead to our forests being denuded. But GAIL does not tell us how we can stop the ill-effects of plastic on the environment. Therefore, it seems that whether we use plastic or not, our environment is going to be adversely effected. What then is the solution to the problem?

Yours faithfully,
Anagh Pal,Calcutta

Sir —A recent commercial of a popular television brand shows a housewife declaring to her husband that she is in love with their driver and that she is leaving with him. The husband who is busy watching TV, is oblivious to what she says and in fact asks her to be sure to take the driver with her if she were going out. Not only is the advertisement in extremely poor taste, but it could also encourage vulgar and immoral behaviour. I realized this the other evening. I had gone out to speak to my driver, who was sitting with some other drivers discussing how they wished they could enjoy their malkins while their maliks were watching TV.

Yours faithfully,
S. Datta, Calcutta

Safety in numbers

Sir — India’s ever-increasing population is nothing but a headache for the administration and Srinjay Chakravarti’s article, “Faced with a problem of plenty” (July 12), does little to help matters except give some new figures and statistics. Moreover, one does not need a World Population Day to prod editors and columnists into writing something about the issue. Countless symposiums, panels and fact-finding missions have been held on the subject and these have managed to do little to improve the situation. Chakravarti’s article is unable to provide any fresh insight into the matter.

I remember reading about a remote village in Bihar where giving birth to children was a matter of great prestige. The woman who had the largest number of children in the village was intensely proud of her accomplishment. The desire for a male progeny — which is embedded in the Indian psyche — is another cause for population growth. A couple with a number of female children continues to hope for a male heir and those who have male children continue having children to ensure a strong male working force. Most couples in Bihar would probably be disinclined to go in for family planning anyway given the fact that the chief minister of the state has nine children herself.

Yours faithfully,
Santanu Ganguly, Calcutta

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