Editorial/ The crime of covering up
Leave parleying to envoys
This above all/ Laugh away your sorrows
People/ M.L. Sondhi
Letters to the editor

It gets worse. As the American Democrat, Mr Gary Condit, must be finding out. It seems strange that Mr Condit, from the same land that saw an ex-president lie in public and then break down as reports of his liaison proved true, should have kept on hedging about his alleged relationship with Ms Chandra Levy, the intern who has been missing since April 30. The compulsions to lie are understandable. Elected to the congress from a particularly conservative area, Mr Condit obviously felt that an extramarital relationship with a young girl in the office would not be palatable to his constituency. Probably there was also the effect of the revelation on his immediate family to consider. Both matter: his image as responsible politician and as �family man� coalesce in his profession.

The crucial issue is that of privacy. It might seem paradoxical that a country like the United States, with its strongly individualistic ethic, should be so enthusiastic about pillorying politicians with a wandering eye. This was very evident in Mr Bill Clinton�s case, where there was no disappearance involved. Public persons in positions of power should be responsible and restrained, and seen to be so. The question is not merely that of setting a �moral� example. The rapacious world of politics seizes upon the slightest slip to turn it into an opponent�s gain. But morals, in this context, are defined by implication. For the most effective expos�s by the media and for public condemnation, sexual morals matter most. The need for �morality� is thus dictated by very amoral necessities. What it amounts to, though, is a curtailment of the individual�s right to privacy. What it leads to, understandably, is a socially accepted standard of hypocrisy. It is not transparency in money matters that is the priority for an American politician, but the appearance of transparency in his sex life.

But the issue of private rights and public responsibility raised by Mr Condit�s evasions has been complicated by the fact of a mysterious disappearance. Mr Condit, caught in his role as Ms Levy�s senior, friend and concerned congressman, would need to be seen to cooperate with the police. Anything short of a �confession� to a special relationship laced with a dignified appeal for the rights of privacy will not do, once he has been caught lying. But such a �confession� would endanger his seat anyway and would have larger political repercussions for the Democrats in the congress. Lying about a relationship, perhaps one of many, is not proof of criminality, just as not lying about it is not proof of innocence. Yet such finer questions of logic � and human behaviour � become irrelevant once political opponents and the media get the whiff of an affair under cover.

It is very clear that Mr Condit should have thrown political caution and hopes of privacy to the winds since Ms Levy cannot be found. That would have been �moral�. And, in a more widely accepted sense, humane. The question of the privacy of public figures, however, allows for no clearly distinguishable black-and-white views. An Indian politician would have been considered �moral� had he been forthright about his finances. Morality, from this point of view, is relative. More important, each society constructs its own edifice of hypocrisy within which it locates the issue of privacy and the public life. Each society decides for itself in what terms the person in power is going to pay the price of his privileged position.


However graceless the Agra summit�s abrupt end may have been, the absence of a joint statement or declaration was no great loss. If Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Pervez Musharraf had endorsed an anodyne formula, it would only have added one more piece of paper to gather dust with the Shimla agreement and Lahore declaration. It follows, therefore, that the prospect for bringing about some change in India�s tortuous relations with Pakistan or ameliorating the tragedy in Kashmir is neither worse (nor better) because the summit was inconclusive.

There is no point trying to speculate who said (or did) what to whom and when behind closed doors. Both governments are already flooding us with a wealth of detail in order to seek vindication and lay the blame on the adversary. This undignified and fruitless exercise only underlines two elementary conditions that should have been factored into the decision to hold an almost ad hoc meeting at the highest level.

First, as a foxy 15th-century French monarch warned, �Two great princes who wish to establish good personal relations should never meet face to face.� They should leave parleying to envoys who can give and take, chop and change, and haggle over the small print without public discomfiture. Diplomacy being only a refined version of bazaar bargaining, it is especially hazardous for the principals themselves to risk their reputation in an unstructured encounter without agenda, preparatory papers or draft documents.

In Vijay Nambiar and Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, the two governments have accomplished representatives who could have settled matters � if there was anything to settle � with the respective foreign secretaries putting the final touches. Vajpayee and Musharraf might then have sealed the reconciliation � again, if there was anything to seal � to the flourish of adulatory trumpets.

The alternative played right into the hands of an astute strategist for whom the journey itself was the message. Everything else that Musharraf gained � like admiration in Pakistan for standing firm on Kashmir, and in India for clever media manipulation � was a bonus. He can now tell carping Americans and his own political critics not to worry about his presidential credentials. For, here was a country that never ceases to boast of being the world�s largest democracy laying out the red carpet for a military dictator who had overthrown an elected government, seized power and proclaimed himself president.

It is an acknowledgement of India�s regional pre-eminence that another ambitious brasshat, Bangladesh�s Ziaur Rahman, also similarly sought legitimacy after his coup. Having decided that New Delhi would be his first foreign destination, he demanded that Indira Gandhi receive him with exactly the same honours as she had extended to Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

Second, at the risk of being politically incorrect, or even sounding communal, I must stress that it is not at all realistic to imagine that the interaction between India and Pakistan can be separated altogether from Hindu and Muslim perceptions of each other. We have heard much lately about the Quaid-e-Azam�s apparent commitment to secularism once his dream of a Muslim homeland had been attained. But whether or not he meant what he said to the Pakistani constituent assembly, the white stripe that he inserted in Pakistan�s flag is today a piece of totally irrelevant symbolism. Even if the Islamic Republic of Pakistan were not a formally theocratic state, its overwhelmingly Muslim inhabitants would still have entertained unflattering views of what they regard, to quote Salman Rushdie, as the �land of idol worshippers�.

This perception will continue to shape military and political strategies in respect of Bharat, Hindusthan or Hindu India until such time as Pakistan emerges as an ordinary nation-state. Abroad, in Britain for instance, many Pakistanis treat �Indian� and �Hindu� as synonymous. The other side of the coin is that Indian Muslims in Singapore and Malaysia rarely admit to being Indian. Since they cannot call themselves Pakistani, they project Muslim as an ethnic definition.

Undoubtedly, many Hindus also nurse an uncomplimentary stereotype of Muslims. But there are three reasons why we are far more squeamish about flaunting it. First, there is a strong sense of responsibility towards people who comprise a substantial minority in this country. Second, most Indians take seriously the constitutional commitment to secularism. Third, Indians will not easily identify Muslim with Pakistan because to do so would be to acquiesce in the two-nation theory. That was seen as a betrayal of Indian Muslims (or Muslim Indians, as Syed Shahabuddin would have it) even before the emergence of Bangladesh exploded the myth of Jinnah�s expedient thesis.

Yet, all said and done, I would be very surprised indeed if the officials and politicians in South and North Blocks who formulate India�s responses to Pakistan are not to some extent influenced by their own cultural conditioning. In sum, therefore, while it would be simplistic and dangerous to present India-Pakistan ties solely in terms of the Hindu-Muslim equation, contemporary diplomatic exchanges cannot realistically ignore the older interaction between the two religions.

We are left, therefore, with competitive images of duplicity that no string of words can wish away. In India, Musharraf lavished praise on Vajpayee for inviting him. But he told senior Pakistani editors before leaving Islamabad that the invitation had been issued him only under American pressure to negotiate a settlement on Kashmir. While betraying the Pakistani president�s scepticism about his host, the announcement also confirmed that his focus was always exclusively and entirely on the pawn of Kashmir.

It has to be admitted at the same time that the timing of the visits of General Henry H. Shelton, chairman of the United States joint chiefs of staff, and Christina B. Rocca, the new American assistant secretary of state for south Asia, suggests that Jaswant Singh may not have been altogether candid with the media when he joked that while two (India and Pakistan) is company, three (the US added) is a crowd. As in the aftermath of Kargil, the Americans have obviously been active behind the scenes, urging the two sides to compose their differences.

Washington�s formulation is simple: India and Pakistan are bitter rivals; both have nuclear arsenals; their rivalry must, therefore, be prevented from reaching the brink where deploying (or threatening to deploy) nuclear weapons becomes irresistibly tempting. Since in the American view, Kashmir is the major, if not only, flashpoint in this enmity, the problem must somehow be resolved if the spectre of a nuclear conflagration is to be laid. But if it was na�ve of Washington to expect a breakthrough, it was inept of India and Pakistan to lay traps for each other. Musharraf would have crippled himself in two respects if he had agreed to India�s demand on cross-border terrorism. It would have been an admission of criminal complicity. Any promise to lay off would also have deprived him of Pakistan� s most potent leverage against a bigger, more populous, richer and more resourceful neighbour.

Similarly, Indian acceptance of the centrality of Kashmir in bilateral relations would at one stroke have declared a middle-aged man a bastard by denying the validity of Maharaja Hari Singh�s accession, Sheikh Abdullah�s legislative motion and everything that has been said and done in 54 years. It might also have created a precedent for other neighbours to lay claim to pieces of border territory.

So far as Kashmir is concerned, I am reminded of the description of the Pakistani delegation to one of the early Geneva conferences burdened with voluminous files, while General Thimayya sauntered into the meeting room carrying nothing but a tin of cigarettes. It is only because we have forgotten the message of that contrast that the question of discussions with Pakistan even arises. The problem must be resolved in Kashmir and with the Kashmiris, even if it means conceding independence, not as surrender to Pakistani blackmail and bullying.


Once a woman brought the body of her dead child to Gautam Buddha and asked him to put life back into it. Buddha replied that he would do so if the woman showed him one house in the town where no death had taken place. The woman went round from door to door without finding a single house where someone or the other had not died earlier. She got the Buddha�s message: death, and following it sorrow, are universal phenomena from which there is no escape. The Buddha went further to say that the world is full of dukha � grief.

Many other sages take an equally gloomy view of life. To wit this couplet in Punjabi:

Main jaaneya dukh mujh ko
Dukh sabhiyaya Jug
Kotthey Charh kay dekhiya
Ghar ghar iho agg

(I thought I was the only one afflicted with sorrow/ That is not true I have learnt;/ I climbed to my roof-top and saw/ In every home fires of sorrow burnt.)

A Christian classic on the subject is the Book of Job in the Old Testament. It is a strange story of a bet between God and Satan over the fate of Job whom God had given prosperity, sons and daughters and trusted to remain ever faithful to him. Satan tried to subvert Job�s attachment to God by inflicting pain and sorrow on him. So he deprived Job of his wealth and children, one after another and finally inflicted body sores on him. Job�s wife and friends pleaded with him to give up looking to God for help. He remained unshaken in his faith. Presumably, God won the wager for whatever it was worth. Though beautifully told, I found the story unconvincing.

There is no denying that pain and sorrow are integral to life on earth. But so is freedom from pain and joy of living. It would not be an unfair assessment that in one�s younger years, life is more fun than in later years when different kinds of ailments set in: senses of sight, smell, hearing, taste and touch are impaired, losing their sharpness. Then comes impotence. It could be said that as far as nature is concerned, women no longer fulfil the purpose for which they were created when they cease to bear children. And men when they become impotent. They may continue to make their contribution to society but as far as nature is concerned, they live on borrowed time; and it gradually deprives them of the means of enjoying life. It forewarns them of their uselessness and prepares them for death.

How should human beings make their equation with these ups and downs in their lives? The Buddha prescribed total detachment from life. Following him Tegh Bahadur, the ninth Sikh guru, defined the ideal man as one who does not grieve when sorrows afflict him, who is indifferent to joy, attachment and fear and regards gold as dust:

Jo nar dukh mein dukh nahin
Sukh, sneh aur bhai nahin
Kanchan maatee maanai

Detachment is a lofty ideal but difficult to achieve. It is also a negative concept inasmuch as it denies the enjoyment of the good things of life while you can enjoy them. There are other antidotes to combat pain and suffering. I can suggest three. First, look around and meet people who have more of both pain and grief than yourself. You will feel you have been let off comparatively lightly and thank the powers that be for having been kinder to you. When you are in low spirits, have had a set-back in life, been treated harshly, spend an hour at a cremation ground. There you will see real pain and grief: parents mourning the loss of their only child, young women grieving over the death of their husbands. Your own grief and pain will appear trivial in comparison and you will be purged of them.

Another therapy is to go out of your way to share the pain and grief of those stricken. I advocate calling on friends and relations who are sick or old and lonely; I advocate calling on people who have lost their loved ones. It lessens their grief and you know they will stand by you when your turn comes. And finally, I advocate prayer. You do not have to believe in god to realize the efficacy of prayer. A prayer is essentially addressed to your inner self to give you courage to face adversity. Just close your eyes, go over what has hurt you and repeat to yourself, �I will not let this get the better of me.� Try it out: Vijayee Bhava!

A language for all

English is no longer one language spoken in the country of its origin, England, but many languages with different vocabularies and accents which are hard to recognize. Even in England you have Scottish-English, Irish-English, Yorkshire and Lancashire dialects, and cockney spoken in the East End of London. It was in America and Canada colonized by the British that this language met its nemesis. In Hongkong and colonies of the far East, it evolved into pidgin English which became the national language of Papua-New Guinea. In the Philippines, the national language Tagalog and Spanish which was spoken by their one time rulers, mixed with Yankee lingo to evolve its own brand of English called Taglish. Fillipino poet Gemino Abad said �The English language is now ours. We have colonized it.�

Singapore has Singlish. Seth Mydans writing for The New York Times gives some amusing examples of Singlish. �Wah, government say Singlish no good; must learn to speak propah English. it is bit the difficult. How can?�

And the following dialogue in a Singapore caf�:

Got coffee or not? Got!�
You have milk is it, is it? Also have.
Join me don�t shy!

Mydan has little or nothing to say about English as it is spoken in Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh where English remains the language of the bureaucracy, the high courts and the supreme courts. And yet is spoken and written with natural characteristics of their own making. Some of the phrases that exist in these languages are a legacy left by their British rulers and are common to them all � for example, out of station (not in town) and not in his seat (elsewhere), do the needful (do what is proper). Others are hybird products of the copulation of regional languages� with English. Other than Hinglish, there is also Punjabi, Marathi and Bihari English(to name a few). Our pronunciation of English words: a school becomes sakool to a Punjabi, or iskool to Urdu/Hindi speaking people in rest of India, also causes problems. Some remnants of raj days can be seen in our bazaars: a toy shop is usually called an emporium, a haberdasher, a cloth house, a chemist remains a medical hall. Suitings for suit lengths is another anachronism.

Recently I came across yet another Indianism. My wife�s dog nurse was taken sick. Her husband rang me up late in the evening to inform me that she would not be reporting for duty the next morning. �Sir, she is getting to much latrine. I have to take her to hospital.� I understood what he meant but I doubt if Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II would understand that the woman had a loose stomach and needed to repair to the loo very often. If we are finding it increasingly difficult to understand the English spoken by her English subjects, they are finding it almost impossible to understand us when we speak their language.

A betrayal of trust

On the day the Unit Trust of India announced a six month freeze on the sale or repurchase of US-64, a wag scribbled the following verse on the notice board of its Delhi office:
Humein poora bharosa tha
Tumhari dil nawazi par
Yeh hairat hai ki, Unit Trust,
Tum bhi bewafa nikle!

(We had full faith in you./ And your open heartedness./ It comes as an unpleasant surprise,/ That Unit Trust is untrustworthy.)



Tilting at windmills

Little nameplate slabs deeply embedded in huge stone walls or heavily fringed by masses of bougainvillaea give New Delhi�s Amrita Shergill Marg a discreteness its residents have gotten used to. The discreteness certainly proves to be handy during their more embarrassing moments.

Take number 7, Amrita Shergill Marg for example. Nothing about the quiet facade indicates the turbulence inside the huge house. It is a rambling old thing and, going by the nameplates which run into three levels, obviously divided between many generations of Sondhis. The driveway is a slushy mess, seconds after the heavy downpour has thinned to a drizzle. The gate lies open, and the �Beware of Dog� sign is half-hearted enough to be safely ignored.

Inside his heavily-draped study where the air-conditioning hums rather noisily, M.L. Sondhi, who has just been unceremoniously shunted out as chairman of the Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR), is in the mood for a fight.

�What they have done is absolutely illegal... I had been appointed chairman of the ICSSR for a fixed term of three years till October 2002 and I cannot be removed,� thunders Sondhi. His voice bounces a tad too loud against the walls of the small, very functional study, but that possibly has less to do with injured pride and more to do with the fact that the former ICSSR chairman is a little hard of hearing.

The ICSSR, an umbrella body intended to mould the social science scene by setting up autonomous research centres, has been in the news for quite a while now, with a section of its members making quite a noise over Sondhi�s �arbitrary� style of functioning; while Sondhi resolutely holds that these members are working towards the saffronisation of the ICSSR.

However, Sondhi, looking every bit the archetypal intellectual dressed in his trademark bundgala, believes it was his book How India and Pakistan Make Peace that led to his dismissal. �They had planned a strategy to create an anti-summit mood... and obviously the book annoyed them. Which is why they developed an animus against the conference [Sondhi was in the middle of a conference � Vajpayee-Musharraf: A Preliminary Assessment � when news of his dismissal came through], and against me,� he says.

This is his longer explanation for the dismissal. He has a shorter one. �It�s similar to a poem I wrote when Indira Gandhi high-handedly dismissed B.G. Verghese: Mrs Gandhi admired, Verghese was hired; Mrs Gandhi got tired; Verghese was fired. Actually my poem was carried in Newsweek at the time, because I held a demonstration outside The Hindustan Times office. And my dismissal now is just the same kind of thing,� laughs Sondhi happily.

Going back to the longer explanation, who does Sondhi mean by �they�? �People with a different perspective, the hardliners who want to hold on to their shops of hatred, fear and anger,� he explains.

He moves on to an impassioned outburst against hardliners everywhere: �Kennedy tried to improve relations, look what they did to him. Then there was Mr Rabin and the hardliners finished him off as well.�

And back to the Indian hardliners: �Actually they are small-minded people, who gravitate to positions of importance and don�t represent anything of Vajpayee,� concludes Sondhi.

The former ICSSR chairman, a staunch Vajpayee loyalist, hopes that the Prime Minister (�to whom I have given a copy of my book�) will �sleep with the book under his pillow so that he can see how the Indo-Pak problem can be solved.� Sondhi also hopes Pervez Musharraf (who too has been presented with a copy of the book) will sleep with it under his pillow.

Coming back to the Agra summit, Sondhi adds that Vajpayee has shown �great skill� in handling Indo-Pak relations. And he traces that back to the time Vajpayee was foreign minister and he removed visa restrictions to Pakistan. �Then there was his Lahore diplomacy attempt and now Agra, but �they� always created problems, because �they� don�t want the India-Pakistan issue to ever be solved,� he adds.

Sondhi feels the book, which has contributions from more than 30 Pakistani professionals and a couple of Indian academics, is the answer to the India-Pakistan problem because of its people-oriented approach. �No force on earth can stop the Indo-Pak relationship from improving,� he says rather theatrically.

How India and Pakistan Make Peace (Sondhi points out the significance of the tense of the word �make� in the title), might have triggered Sondhi�s removal but �trouble had been brewing for a long time within the ICSSR�, feels economist Bibek Debroy, who adds that he has �a great deal of respect academically for Professor Sondhi, who had been making the changes that ICSSR badly needs.�

Sondhi came to the ICSSR after a long and impressive innings. After resigning from the Indian Foreign Service, he was with the School of International Studies at the Jawaharlal Nehru University. He represented the Jan Sangh in the Lok Sabha in 1967. Through the years, Sondhi has remained a key member of the BJP think-tank on foreign policy matters.

Talking about his work at the ICSSR, Sondhi says, �Things there have been improving. It is always difficult but we were introducing changes. We had introduced information technology, a lot of work in women�s studies, research work on the Northeast... there was a lot happening.� Obviously not enough to stop the tide of resistance against him.

�One gathers that there was a lot of resentment against Sondhi both from the Left wing intellectuals who dominate these institutes and an equal amount of resentment from Hindutva hardliners who felt Sondhi was not using the ICSSR the way he was supposed to,� says Debroy.

Sondhi has dismissed all the charges against him � there is a serious charge of financial irregularity � as �frivolous�.

�And in any case I am the chairman of ICSSR, I was not supposed to be in charge of the day-to-day functioning of the place. My position could be compared to the chancellor of a university. If they feel there were problems in the everyday functioning of the institute, they should be after the secretary, Bhaskar Chatterjee, not me,� he says.

Undeterred by his dismissal (he calls it a �hiccup�), or the temporary appointment of K.S. Sharma, additional secretary in the department of secondary and higher education as chairman of the ICSSR, Sondhi says he is going to �fight them all legally... and be right back there as chairman till October 2002.� Famous last words?



Bad games at breakfast

Sir � The breakfast meeting with Pervez Musharraf was seen as a prime example of the candour of the president as opposed to the closeted behaviour of our delegation. This impression changed after the meeting with Indian editors was telecast by the government-controlled PTV without the prior knowledge of the editors. When this sort of thing is done by a guest in the host�s country, it exposes the game of oneupmanship being played by the former. In the light of the summit�s failure and the subsequent blame-game played by Pakistan, it is not at all surprising that the president turned the tables on the �free� voice of the Indian media he supposedly loves.
Yours faithfully,
Alan Seth, via email

Extended woes

Sir � Even before Manipur could recover from the unprincipled antics of its politicians, it has been plunged into lawlessness. The anger in Manipur stems largely from the fear that having conceded to the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah)�s demands to extend the ceasefire beyond Nagaland, the Centre will, in future, grant a greater Nagalim as demanded by the NSCN(I-M). If the past is any guide, then the fears of the people of Manipur cannot be ruled out as the Centre has on several occasions courted the Nagas while ignoring the popular sentiment in Manipur and other states, hoping that it would help resolve the Naga impasse.

I agree that the Centre is now trying to wriggle out of its responsibility for the mess in Manipur, (�Beyond mayhem�, June 22). But what has frustrated Manipur is the political vacuum in the state and it continues to be angry with its ineffectual, power-hungry leaders.

The string of defections ensured the premature death of any government in the state. The impression that the Centre was controlling Manipur led to the burning of symbols of political authority such as the assembly and the secretariat.

Before extending the ceasefire, the Centre should have tried to gauge the needs of the people. It now falls on the Union government to restore peace in the area without giving in to the demands of militant factions and to take the views of the people into account before taking any further steps.

Yours faithfully,
Niloy Sinha, Azimganj

Sir � I heartily welcome the Indo-Naga ceasefire extension without territorial limit. This should be taken as a positive step taken by the government towards recognizing the long history and unity of the Nagas. The Nagas should take advantage of the occasion and work towards greater integration.

Many external forces are working hard to disrupt our peace and unification process. Next to Assam, ours is the first full-fledged state in the entire Northeast. Even though the language of the Manipur state, which received statehood nearly a decade after us, has been recognized by the Indian constitution, the Centre has not recognized any of the Naga languages. The Nagas should have a common language recognized by the Central government. It is high time our scholars put their heads together to give our lost cultural and political heritage its correct position in the national sphere.

Yours faithfully,
Atose Sema, New Delhi

Sir � This is with reference to K.S. Paul Leo�s statement that Nagas are fed up with living in Manipur (�Post facto�, June 28). The question is, who are the real Nagas and who are the real Manipuris? There are so many tribes living in Manipur, from the Tammis to the Chingmis, that there is no specific tribe that can be called the Naga tribe. Manipur is a land of various tribes living together, sadly in disharmony for the past few months. We should think about the sentiments of the Manipuris and K.S. Paul should desist from making remarks which might upset an already imbalanced Manipur.

Yours faithfully,
Waikhom A. Mangang, Manipur

Parting shot

Sir � It is indeed commendable that the West Bengal board of secondary education published the results of the Madhyamik examinations in a record time of 62 days after they were held. The board seems to have paid heed to students� complaints about delayed results. The board has also made it possible for students to be eligible for courses offered outside the state, which was not possible earlier.
Yours faithfully,
Mohammed Serajuddin, Burdwan

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