Editorial / A commission of omission
When the lion roars
The Telegraph Diary
Letters to the editor

There is far more at stake than the future of the National Democratic Alliance government in the aftermath of the revelations of tehelka.com. One obvious victim is the personal reputation of the prime minister, Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Charges of corruption have been made against some of his closest associates and colleagues. Two important ministers have resigned. One because he was directly implicated in the charges of corruption. The other because she felt that the prime minister was not acting swiftly enough to remove those who had been touched by the tar. Mr Vajpayee has been slow to react and there are reasons to believe that his damage control measures are too stale and too timid. He has announced that the government would appoint a Supreme Court judge to make a full probe into the evidence presented by tehelka.com. Whatever be the outcome of that inquiry, in the public perception it is evident that two arms of the government, the bureaucracy and the ministers, are tainted by corruption. At one level, this has nothing to do with Mr Vajpayee and with the NDA. It is the common belief that most governments in the recent past have been similarly cursed by venality. Some of Mr Vajpayee�s ministers and officers have had the misfortune to be caught with their hands on the till and that too on camera. At the root of the matter is corruption which seems to be embedded in the very structure of the government.

To inquire into this state of things, Mr Vajpayee is suggesting that another arm of the establishment, the judiciary, be brought in. This is unfortunate since in the move itself lurks the danger of compromising the judiciary. In most democracies � but this is most noticeable as a trend in India � judges are called in to perform a series of extra-curricular services. They are taken outside the court room to inquire into tragedies, to probe scandals and even, on one memorable occasion, to find out if a temple actually existed where a mosque was built in the 16th century. On the face of it, this seems very reassuring. A judge is a senior and respected figure who is trained to be objective and hence ideally placed to make an inquiry into an event. But bringing judicial figures outside the court room and to involve them in inquiries that often have political dimensions is not without attendant problems. For one thing, it keeps a judge away from what is his appointed task. For another, it makes him unnecessarily open to political pressures. And most important, because, willy nilly, he gets involved in the murky world of politics, his independence comes under doubt. In other words, inquiry commissions make vulnerable what a judge should value most.

Mr Vajpayee, to save the reputation of his government, has decided to make the judiciary susceptible to unsavoury influences. Any judge who makes the inquiry into the corruption charges will be aware that very little action will follow from his findings, whatever they are. Not many judicial commissions, in the history of independent India, have had results in terms of substantive actions. Inquiry commissions are time-honoured ploys by which a government buys time and tries to prove that it is above board. The inherent danger in such a step is that it provides the possibility of the spread of the corruption virus from the affected limbs of the government to the judiciary. Mr Vajpayee faces a political crisis. He should have the strength and the skills to fight the crisis at a political level. This involves better management of the allies and of his own party. Clearly, Mr Vajpayee is not addressing this aspect since he has lost ministers and an alliance partner, and he is unable to contain criticisms emanating from the sangh parivar. It appears that he might have to sacrifice some of his officers to prove his bona fides. All these suggest an absence of the political touch which is so characteristic of Mr Vajpayee. Calling in the judiciary indicates that he is unaware not only of the bigger issues, but also of the spread of corruption in India�s body politic.


Once a week, the lion roared. He was hungry. By prior consensus, the creatures of the forest met and voted for who, among them, would be the lion�s dinner. This saved them a lot of unnecessary introspection, and gave life in the forest a semblance of orderliness. The decision to arrive at this arrangement with the lion had been made by a council many years ago, no one remembered exactly when. If the lion were kept happy, there would be peace in the forest.

Naturally, there was, as a result, peace in the forest; the creatures gambolled, pranced, grazed, reproduced and were free to do whatever they pleased; only, once a week, when the lion roared, one of them was required to present himself before him at mealtime. Despite the occasional tears and protests this offering of oneself involved, it had become a routine soothing in its predictability, and preferable to greater, and less premeditated, calamities. Risk, chance, the unknown, chaos were the main enemies of the forest, it was concluded, and not the lion; the lion was much loved for having banished risk from its life, and wielding his appetite as a judicious form of governance.

One day, it fell on a monkey to satisfy the lion�s hunger. He spent all night devising ways of getting out of this situation, because he had no intention of being the lion�s repast. The next day, he arrived late at his doorstep. The lion, tossing his mane angrily, said, �What on earth do you mean by keeping me waiting? Have you any idea of how hungry I am? Besides,� he said contemptuously, looking him up and down, �you�re a morsel. I could eat another five of you.�

The monkey trembled and confessed, �I set out quite early, sire. But I was met by another lion on the way. He was going to eat me immediately, but, after entreaties and prayers on my part, has allowed me to come to you with his message before I go back to him.� �Another lion?� said the lion. �Very nasty and mean,� said the monkey nervously. �Nastier and meaner than I am?� exclaimed the lion,getting angrier all the time. �And what did he have to say?� �That henceforth,� stammered the monkey, �you will have to take permission from him for all your dinners and lunches.�

The lion leapt up as if someone had pulled his tail. �Where is he? Take me to the impostor!� The monkey led the way for a while through the forest. He stopped at a well. �Sire, he lives down there,� he whispered. The lion stood up eagerly on its hind legs and peered down, and caught a glimpse of a face that was large and threatening. He roared at it; the creature below bellowed back. Enraged, the lion leapt into the dark, and was drowned. Nothing more was heard of him. The monkey informed a few others of what had happened, and news spread to different parts of the forest; celebrations began to take place.

We are all familiar with some version of this story. Its magic lies, for us, precisely in its story-like quality, its unrealizability; if something like it were to happen in what we call �real life�, that event itself would become story-like, enchanted, fabular. Well, something like it did happen this week, in the Eden Gardens stadium. The lion � the antipodean beast, the Australian team; Steve Waugh � arrived in India in February, having lunched on 15 test matches and several teams; and, digesting them all thoroughly, was still agile and playful as a cub, and ready for its next dinner.

Having said that, let me admit that there is no lion I admire more than Steve Waugh, his apparent slowness disguising his alarming feline spring when he darts equally to his left or right to take catches, and then settles into repose again; his eyes, when batting, seeming to diminish with drowsiness, but actually narrowed in focus and appraisal. He is a creature who seems to inhabit the animal world between physical rest and mental calculation, and is never not sizing up a prey; yet he is far more intelligent than the lion in the story I have retold above, and is admired, at least in this city, by both its underclass and its bourgeoisie as perhaps no other player, not even Tendulkar, is.

There are reasons for this, principal among them his unostentatious, low-key patronage of Udayan, the home, in Calcutta, for the children of people with leprosy, for which he has raised funds, without any posturing, to create a girls� wing. People are, then, willing to forgive him if he occasionally demonstrates a taste for the gristle and adipose tissue of the more fattened Indian players, while nourishing, unobtrusively, a less fortunate section of the population.

The lion had an unsurprising and easy dinner at Mumbai; the creatures of the forest � rabbits, monkeys, pigeons, deer � offered themselves, as they�ve long been accustomed to, to his insouciant jaws, with the appropriate dressing or sauce; the jaws masticated, then became still. By the time the lion had come to Calcutta, he was ready to eat again. He roared; the forest creatures assembled; but the spectators had begun to tire of this story; one saw them leaving Eden Gardens in droves at the end of the second day, an even sadder sight than what was happening on the field.

But, in the gap of the night that followed, someone like the monkey in the story had decided he didn�t want to be dinner; a relatively junior Hyderabadi batsman, the impeccably mannered and deeply intelligent V.V.S. Laxman, once prot�g� of the now-disgraced Azharuddin. He kept the lion waiting; then escorted him to the well where he heard his own loud roar and attacked himself, and was drowned. Waugh�s method had been, albeit with the aid of his bowlers� skill and his batsmen�s, to sow self-doubt in his rival�s mind, and to leave him to unravel, messily, his own game. Laxman�s primary cunning, even more than his single-minded achievement, was to observe and use the same method, to arrange for the lion to listen to his echo and become his own, insurmountable opponent.

Unlike in the story, of course, this lion will roar again, and the forest creatures will wish to queue up before it, nostalgic for the symmetry and logic of a narrative they�ve grown used to. The little monkey will not always survive. Epics and fables are not real life; but, as the second Test in Calcutta reminds us (as Yeats once did: �Those masterful images�/ Grew in pure mind, but out of what began?/ A mound of refuse or the sweepings of a street�), they owe at least something of their insubstantial stardust to the toil and sweat and uncertainty of our actual existence.



No mistakes this time

No time to commit another historic blunder. So Jyoti Basu, West Bengal�s never-say-die CM who retired on health grounds last year, is busy target-practising to take his last potshot at the prime ministerial chair. On his return to Calcutta as president of the newly elected People�s Front, the third front�s new avatar, Basu, solemnly reasoned why he did not give two hoots to his health. �I cannot take rest when the country is passing through a crisis. I want the BJP-led coalition to be ousted from power at the Centre�. Ambition, in brief. Basu�s fortress-like Indira Bhavan in Salt Lake has, as a result, come to resemble a government office. There is constant activity and telephone operators are working overtime to receive calls from national leaders across the country. Not happy with this, the CPI(M) leadership apparently is also planning to open a makeshift office at the Alimuddin Street party headquarters so that the �superboss� can function without hitches. But it is not all smiles in the party about Basu�s new obsession. Party leaders feel that a Basu involved in national matters will invariably mean he will not be able to lead the Left Front�s assembly poll campaign. Fearing the worst in the coming days, terribly nervous senior leaders from the party�s district committee have apparently called on Basu to make a last ditch attempt to wean away the old man from national affairs. Do they need to be such killjoys again?

Happy days are here again

There is fun and frolic in one corner of West Bengal � the office of the BJP state unit. Union minister of state for communications, Tapan Sikdar, and his associates reportedly distributed laddus when the news hit them that Mamata Banerjee had pulled out of the NDA. Sikdar reportedly had also lined up a grand feast to mark the occasion. �It is after all freedom from bondage. The Trinamooli didi will no more treat us as her bonded labourers�, is how a BJP Yuva Morcha leader, who owes allegiance to Sikdar, put it. The party allegedly is also planning to put up nominees in all 294 constituences if Trinamool quits the alliance. But detractors feel that by doing so, didi will be severing the state BJP unit�s lifeline. �We won a few seats in the last elections only because we tied up with didi. This time we will be nowhere if Trinamoolis are not with us�, admits a senior state BJP leader. Bonded labourers maybe, but at least that way the BJP had some chance of employment.

Who�ll face the music?

The Tehelka tapes so pulverized the sangh community that no one had the heart to brave the TV cameras. Arun Jaitley, minister for law, justice and company affairs, gulped hard and offered to do his duty. Pramod Mahajan also pitched in. The person most noticeable by her absence from the studios was Sushma Swaraj. While the uproar almost throttled the parivar, Sushma made herself scarce on the plea that her daughter had her board examinations coming up, so she needed to be at home. And presumably away from the public glare.

And the race goes on

Before Tehelka hit the nation, the scene of action was elsewhere � the race for the next president and vice-president. The BJP does not have majority in Parliament, so it will have to negotiate with the Congress and the left. One arrangement being talked about is to send Karan Singh to the Rashtrapati Bhavan and to make jurist, LM Singhvi, his deputy. But there are others who have set their minds on the presidential chair � like out of work Narain Dutt Tiwari and head of the women�s brigade, Najma Heptullah. Should we start playing musical chair?

Flight of infancy

In a Delhi-Calcutta flight last Sunday, everyone who was someone in the CPI(M) sat in the front � Somnath Chatterjee, Jyoti Basu, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. Only Mamata Banerjee sat at the back and had no qualms about it. At least it saved her from conversing with the reds. She was, however, apparently uncomfortable about Sudip Bandopadhyay sitting in executive class. Didn�t go too well with her image?

Take him for a ride

The Gujarat CM, Keshubhai Patel, was informed of a new site created for quake relief and rehabilitation. He immediately summoned his driver to take out the car saying, �Site par chalna hai�.

Footnote / Please fix the rates

Another earth-shattering experience after the ground last shook at Bhuj. But the dead bodies in this case might be less numerous. One would have thought that following the disgraceful revelations in the Tehelka tapes, the leading lights of the country�s political arena would ponder over the fallouts in all seriousness both inside and outside the house. Tough luck there. Honourable members of Parliament had better ideas. They turned the crisis into an extended holiday. They indulged in light banter in the central hall of Parliament and in one voice lamented over the spectacular failure of the former BJP president, Bangaru Laxman. He was not only unworldlywise, but so inept at his job that he first settled for a mere one lakh rupees in the deal and worse, got caught accepting it. Congress MLA from Delhi, Ashok Singh, pretended to be aghast. �A junior engineer in the Delhi Municipal Corporation takes rupees five to seven lakhs for a single illegal construction. And here the president of the ruling party takes but only one lakh... Shocking indeed!� Why don�t they get the standing rates published?    


Only the power to urge

Sir � The secretary general of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, has apparently �urged� New Delhi and Islamabad to resume dialogue and continue with the spirit of the Lahore declaration. (�Annan calls for Kashmir talks�, March 16.) This is the big problem with international organizations like the UN. To start with, they can only �advise�. If at all they have any enforcement capabilities the ultimate decisions are always taken by the members of the security council. The routine urgings, condemnations and congratulations by these organizations mean nothing in the end. Kofi Annan�s veiled accusations to the effect that Pakistan is sponsoring terrorism is going to impress no one.
Yours faithfully,
Abhijit Ghosh, via email

Sectarian calamity

Sir � The overwhelming response in terms of relief and aid that has accompanied the Gujarat earthquake is commensurate with the extent of damage that has occurred. But the alleged discrimination in the distribution of relief that has occurred on caste, sectarian and political grounds is truly hideous. Apparently, the Bajrang Dal and Vishwa Hindu Parishad activists are denying any help to the Muslims unless they chant �Jai shri Ram�. (�Pawar relief proposal comes to PM rescue�, Feb 19.) This speaks of the near insanity of Hindu fundamentalism.

Natural calamities are usually great levellers of caste, creed, gender and religious prejudices. This brutality should be checked by a massive direct intervention by the Centre. In this context, one can mention that Sharad Pawar�s proposal that every village-level rehabilitation committee should include at least one woman, one Dalit and one member of a minority community sounds sensible.

Yours faithfully,
Md. Ayub Ansari, Jagatdal

Sir � The chief minister of Gujarat, Keshubhai Patel, termed as baseless Sonia Gandhi�s charge that his government is discriminating against minorities in the distribution of relief to earthquake victims. In fact, this statement of Patel�s is itself misleading. Throughout Gujarat, people have been complaining about the government and the sangh parivar organizations which have been ignoring the minority-populated areas. This is hardly surprising given that ever since the Bharatiya Janata Party government has come to power in Gujarat, violence and discrimination against the minorities has increased exponentially. Relief reaches these regions late or not at all.

Yours faithfully,
G. Hasnain Kaif, Calcutta

Poor teachers

Sir � The slump in the standard of education in our schools, despite a periodic assessment by government bodies is partially because of bad teaching. The brightest students almost always opt for the science stream or management and technical schools. The humanities and social sciences most often end up with mediocre students.

Teaching is not a very lucrative profession. Naturally, most competent people flock to other professions. Whenever the standard of education is discussed by the media or any ministry, this is overlooked. In some totalitarian states, the best minds are forced into teaching. In affluent societies, people go into teaching unafraid that they would end up with an underpaid job. We are neither dictatorial nor affluent. No wonder we have come upon such a situation.

Yours faithfully,
Uma Maheswari, Durgapur

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