Editorial / A nation and its historians
Anarchy and order
The Telegraph Diary
Letters to the editor

History writing is always open to debate and to revision. No historian will doubt the wisdom of revising text books that were written in the middle Sixties. Research and interpretative thrusts have changed and moved on since then. Therefore there can be no principled objections to the decision of the National Council of Educational Research and Training to revise textbooks which were written for school children in the Sixties. These textbooks were written by some of India’s best historians, including Romila Thapar. The problem is that the persons who have been chosen to do the revision have no standing in the world of Indian historiography. This is what raises the suspicion that behind the decision to revise the text books is an ideological agenda determined by the sangh parivar. One thing should be made clear. No form of history writing can ever be free of bias. The substance of history writing is interpretation which by definition is implicated with a certain amount of subjectivity. The quest for complete objectivity is a meaningless one. The good historian is self-conscious, knows his own biases and ideological orientation, and takes extra precautions to ensure that his writing does not become loaded in favour of his own beliefs and world view.

In India, the task of creative history writing has been queered because historiography was made a handmaiden in the project of nation building. India was to be made into a secular state and therefore secular history writing was made a part of the agenda. Nobody quite defined what constituted secular history. The term has become part of the baggage that most historians carry quite uncritically. Loosely defined, it was taken to mean that the driving forces of Indian history were not the religious interests of this or that religious group or this or that ruler. The movement of history was determined by material factors. This found a certain affinity with those historians who upheld the Marxist materialist conception of history. Historiography thus became imbricated with the Nehruvian project of India as a secular state and with a Marxist teleology. History writing also became a matter of state patronage and inevitably the recipients of this patronage were historians who had leftist leanings.

Now, the situation has taken a 180 degree turn. The intellectual current called postmodernism increasingly questions the linking of knowledge with the project of nation building. And at the political level, the Nehruvian vision has fallen into disrepute and has been surpassed in terms of control over the levers of patronage by the Bharatiya Janata Party. It should surprise nobody that the BJP and the sangh parivar now want to imbue history writing with its own agenda and its own vision of India. The idea of India is up for grabs. Self-conscious and creative history writing has fallen by the wayside in the wake of a shallow and meaningless ideological battle. Indian practitioners of what the French historian, Marc Bloch, called the historian’s craft — the choice of the word craft is eminently significant — should work to extricate history writing from state patronage and from agenda set by politicians and ideologues. Clio should not be denigrated and made to worship at the altar of the state.


The critics of the BCCI’s actions in South Africa invoke the spectre of anarchy and warn of the breakdown of institutional order and process. Their argument goes like this: the International Cricket Council needed more teeth, the member countries gave it those teeth. They agreed that there would be no appeal against a match referee’s decision, so India should have knuckled under at Port Elizabeth and raised the Denness issue later in the appropriate forum.

Is there a legitimate argument against this position? There is. It goes like this. Any rule or law commands assent so long as it is seen to be reasonably applied. If the full bench of the Supreme Court sentences a child to transportation for stealing apples, sentences his friends to thirty lashes for abetting him and gives his father a jail term for not bringing him up better, the defendants have a right to challenge the unreasonable exercise of absolute authority. Especially if the court refuses to notice the equivalent guilt of another boy who, according to reliable witnesses, was seen filching pears. Particularly when the accused can’t appeal: by the time the law governing the decision is changed through due process, the punishments will have been meted out, the damage will have been done.

Anarchy is a term that men of Lord Mclaurin’s stamp have long used to describe disorder in the ranks. It’s a word that should be used with care. Mclaurin of the English Cricket Board, the two Malcolms who run the ICC, and Dalmiya, president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India, aren’t wrangling about elevated principles. They’re using the Denness incident to conduct a struggle for the control of the modern game.

The incident at Port Elizabeth tells us a great deal about the tensions in the world of cricket. The penalties imposed tell us something about the way in which the regime of the two Malcolms intends to enforce order. Over the past few months it has become clear that the ICC’s match referees see excessive appealing as the main threat to discipline. Indians, on the other hand, are outraged by sledging, the obscene abuse that Australian and South African cricketers routinely use to intimidate and distract their opponents.

The ICC’s referees have gone after the appealers, not the sledgers, and the suspicion has grown that the Malcolms and their enforcers wink at sledging, because they see it as a symptom of robust competitiveness, while chronically punishing Ganguly and company because persistent appealing in their view intimidates the umpire. In Port Elizabeth, Denness’s decision to penalize five players for excessive appealing while ignoring aria-length appeals by the South African captain (one of which won a plainly wrong decision against S.S. Das) turned Indian suspicion into rage.

Malcolm & Malcolm responded by invoking the Rule of Law. Dalmiya, buoyed by currents of Indian fury, made it plain that Indians had patiently submitted themselves to suspensions, fines and reprimands on the assumption that Justice was blind. In Port Elizabeth, they discovered that she was merely squint-eyed. Dalmiya’s ultimatum to the Malcolms and his subsequent coup, where he leaned on the United Cricket Board of South Africa and forced it to play ball, has drawn end-of-the-world howls of rage from McLaurin and the Australian prime minister, discreet dismay from Ali Bacher, South Africa’s Svengali, and, best of all, apoplexy from the Daily Telegraph’s Michael Henderson: “Who does Dalmiya think he is?”

Before I answer that question, a quick look at the track records of these indignant critics and the cricket cultures that they represent. McLaurin ran the ICC when Michael Slater disputed the umpire’s decision in Mumbai before walking up to the batsman, Rahul Dravid, to swear at him. Steve Waugh, Australia’s captain, did nothing to restrain Slater. The match referee, Cammie Smith, did nothing to Slater either. McLaurin (currently yours indignantly) did nothing to Cammie Smith.

More recently, McLaurin tried to weasel his way out of the English tour of India on account of the Afghan War! It was remarkable how quickly he changed his mind when Dalmiya threatened to cancel India’s 2002 tour to England. Dalmiya might be forgiven for thinking that the big stick is the only language the ECB understands. Incidentally, it’s worth remembering (if you really want to pull out the historical stops) that during the Bodyline series, when the Australians protested against Jardine’s tactics, the MCC threatened to call off the tour.

The chairman and chief executive of the ICC are both Australian. They represent a cricket establishment that is best known for first suppressing and then dissembling about the incident where Mark Waugh and Shane Warne took money from an Indian bookie. The Australian board’s position on this was (and still is) that the two players had been fined and the matter was closed. The board also accepted that the money had been taken for weather reports and that no further services had been rendered on the cricket field. And just in case we’ve forgotten, the Australian Cricket Board made its peace long ago with Channel 9 and Kerry Packer, who first showed the world that cricket’s administrators could be taught the facts of life by a canny businessman.

Ali Bacher, who is worried about the precedent set by Dalmiya’s defiance of the ICC, is the same man who, during the apartheid years, made the subversion of international cricket his life’s work. For nearly twenty years, he challenged the authority of international cricket and the moral consensus against apartheid. He sneaked around trying to buy sporting respectability for his racist state by purchasing renegade cricketers and organizing unofficial “tests”, a strategy enthusiastically endorsed for years by the Daily Telegraph, the paper for which Michael Henderson does old fogey imitations.

In contrast, the Indian board has been a model member of the international cricket community. It shunned Packer and campaigned for the sporting isolation of South Africa at a time when England and Australia played regular test series with a wholly racist South African cricket board. It pushed for the expansion of test cricket and was instrumental in promoting Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe and Bangladesh to full test status. It stretched its schedules to play cricket with these countries, unlike the English board which till recently wouldn’t deign to host Sri Lanka for more than a single test. When Australia refused to play a league match against Sri Lanka during the last World Cup, India joined with Pakistan to send a composite team to the troubled island in a gesture of solidarity. For decades, the Indian board hosted without complaint second-rate MCC teams and suffered for even longer an Anglo-Australian axis that effectively ran world cricket.

Which brings me to Michael Henderson’s question, “Who does Dalmiya think he is?” Nemesis, would be a nice, purple answer, but let me answer that rhetorical question literally. Dalmiya is a Marwari businessman. He has recently found a day job, the presidency of the BCCI. In his latest avatar, he’s a messenger sent by Mammon, cricket’s presiding deity, to the Malcolms and McLaurins of this world to remind them that the old order changeth. The Malcolms are children of the Packer revolution, so it isn’t news to them that international cricket is big business. It is a business that they want to run. Dalmiya is trying to tell the management that he represents a large bloc of shareholders. He is trying to explain that when these shareholders complain that laws are being inconsistently applied, the management should listen instead of throwing the book at them.

India owns the world’s only mass television audience for cricket. It is an audience indispensable to the financial health of the game. Dalmiya, like Packer, is a businessman who doesn’t scruple to use financial muscle to score points. He has made no secret of his ambition to shift cricket’s centre of gravity from London to Calcutta. The Malcolms of the ICC might consider that when they react insensitively to legitimate Indian grievances, they give Dalmiya the opportunity to hitch his agenda to the juggernaut of popular feeling which also happens to be (if that’s metaphorically possible) the goose that lays cricket’s golden eggs. India’s cricket following doesn’t particularly want its board to dominate the ICC.

It is happy for India to be part of cricket’s international fraternity. But when it hears denunciations of “anarchy” drifting up from Lord’s, it stirs uneasily. And Dalmiya begins to dream of that imminent day when, in the councils of the ICC, he shouts “Jump!” and the Malcolms (or their ilk) obediently ask, “How high?”

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Entry into showbiz

Once labelled the government’s “showboy” in Kashmir, presently the Congress showboy in Uttar Pradesh, Salman Khurshid airdashed last Monday to Mumbai to answer the call of the world of showbiz. Camera, lights! And he was face to to face with the mast mast girl, Raveena Tandon, in Syed Jamal’s Sooch. Wife Louis kept close company, unwilling to take chances. Several thousand kilometres away, in Uttar Pradesh, Congress leaders opposed to the star found it an opportune moment to pounce on the man who was threatening their rozi roti. Khurshid was blamed for whiling away his time shooting for a film when he should have been working in Lucknow to shore up the party’s chances in the assembly elections. In Mumbai, poor Salman wondered how eight hours away from the scene could make such a significant difference. What he should, in fact, tell his detractors in Lucknow is how a single shot in Bollywood has brought him at par with his bete noir in UP, Amar Singh, who had made a guest appearance in Hamara Dil Aap Ke Paas Hai, starring Aishwarya Rai and Anil Kapoor. If Salman could stretch this logic by a few centimetres more, he could convince his colleagues about how the Congress could even make inroads into Delhi. Both the prime minister and the home minister are avid watchers of Bollywood masala movies. If Sooch could help them unwind, if Jamal could help regale, if only Salman proved a showboy....

To keep hopes alive and kicking

The great Akali hope to retain Punjab was dashed to the ground when their star campaigner and chief minister, Prakash Singh Badal, fell down in the bathroom and broke his hipbone. The CM will presumably be out of action for at least four months, by which time the campaigning is likely to be over. But Badal is not giving up. He is reported to be making his plans from Delhi’s Sri Ganga Ram Hospital. If he has his way, the coming months will see him aboard a truck, reclining on his bed and addressing the people on a microphone. Meanwhile, the former maharaja of Patiala, Amrinder Singh, has wished Badal speedy recovery. This main rival of the injured man has no doubts that he will win the elections. Badal’s fall, Singh allegedly believes, is divine intervention for the CM has so far repeatedly refused to present himself before the Akal Takht. If the Takht does not want it, how would he get the taj? Maybe, Badal should answer that question.

After a dog’s day

Among the innumerable theories doing the rounds regarding Maneka Gandhi’s unceremonious exit from the ministry of culture, there is one concerning dog meat. The grapevine has it that as animal welfare minister, Maneka had allegedly written to the Korean government, objecting to the consumption of dog meat in that country. A diplomatic row followed. Another time, the prime minister is said to have been warned by the commerce ministry against Maneka’s intention of holding an international seminar on animal welfare because that might lead to international trade being linked to animal welfare. Is the government absolutely sure such controversies won’t happen with policy implementation?

Altering a mistaken identity

In quite a spot. On top of being declared a non-tribal, Ajit Jogi, chief minister of Chhattisgarh, still has his detractors pointing out the fact that the bluff should have been called earlier. Sons of Jogi’s uncle, these men say, reap the benefits of being scheduled caste, so how could Jogi romp around for so long claiming himself to be a tribal? On Jogi’s part, he is trying his best to get his name cleared. So quite naturally, journos have become his favourites. Sarees, dupattas, tribal artefacts and even suitcases are being doled out in the dozen. Madam Jogi and Son Jogi have been pushed into service. Lets see if all that can make a difference to the identity of Papa Jogi.

The world beneath their feet

Seems like the BJP and its ministers can never get over their fascination for anything Italian. In their rest rooms in Parliament, senior ministers of the party are reported to have replaced the Indian tiles on the floor with shiny Italian tiles, making the room of one Italian seem almost spartan. There is apparently one huge green mattress on the floor of the room belonging to the leader of the opposition. A recent proposal for a similar replacement of tiles was turned out. That’s probably one way for the lady to remain true to her Gandhian legacy. What about the more Hindu legacies of our saffronites?

Not just a city for Dr Sen

The Nobel laureate, Amartya Sen, was seen hobnobbing with Javed Akhtar and Amitabh Bachchan recently. The occasion was the release of an English translation of Akhtar’s poems. But why did Sen have to release the book? That is because Akhtar believes that “he is a giant of an intellectual”. Javed also mentioned that the economist was impressed by one of his poems on hunger. Looks like a virtual convergence of interests. Well, almost. Don’t miss the fact that Bollywood must have been rendered more palatable for Sen by the presence of his daughter, Nandana, who is slowly graduating to a page three celeb in Mumbai.

Some more closed doors

At the green room of the hall where Sara Jones, American author-actress, women’s libber, staged her recent show in Calcutta, a photographer (who had taken Jones’s pictures and wanted them autographed) was prevented from walking in although kids and women had free access. Reason, according to the NGO representative at the door: “men are not allowed”. Any takers for gender equality?

Footnote / Should you believe in what people have to say?

The beginning of the end of another long chapter. Advocate-general of West Bengal, Naranarayan Gooptu is appearing to be quite irregular in the court these days and he often cites health reasons. That is because, some say, he is planning to quit. But why? They say that is because the new CM, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, does not really like him too much and also possibly because Gooptu was an appointee of former king Jyoti Basu. Fair enough. Then why the sudden decision to call it a day? Some say that is how Gooptu had planned it. A resignation soon after Buddha’s accession would look too abrupt. So Gooptu had been given another term of five years. But it was known, they say, that Gooptu would drop out mid-term. The advocate-general has already given up his chair in the administration of Woodland’s Nursing Home on health grounds. The absenteeism at court is probably a sequel to it. But what next? Bikash Bhattacharya, most probably. He is advocate-general of Tripura, and reportedly very close to Buddhadeb. But all that is what some people have to say.    


Seeing through smoke

Sir — The decision of the health ministry to introduce “smoking cessation” clinics throughout India is indeed praiseworthy (“Quit clinic for smokers in Calcutta”, Nov 17). This follows the landmark judgement of the Supreme Court banning smoking in public places. These events prove that the Indian government is serious about eradicating a grim problem like smoking. The involvement of the World Health Organization in such a project would ensure a systematic utilization of funds and the participation of dedicated health personnel. The cooperation of those requiring treatment is also needed for the success of the project. It would be heartening to see the government continuing with the good work, paving the way for a smoke-free world.

Yours faithfully,
Aruni Chatterjee, Calcutta

Moves and motives

Sir — Sonia Gandhi could not have received a better gift, on the inauguration of the new Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts, than the removal of her estranged sister-in-law, Maneka Gandhi, from the culture portfolio (“Vajpayee gift to Sonia, Maneka picks up tab”, Nov 20). That too from her political opponent, Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

Maneka Gandhi is known for her clean image and she has always put in her best efforts with her work. The timing and manner in which Gandhi was divested of her important portfolio raises questions regarding Vajpayee’s own transparent image. The incident clearly indicates that he wanted to appease the Congress, thus striking a “deal” with its leader, Sonia Gandhi. This was a strategy on Vajpayee’s part to avoid being grounded in Parliament over contentious issues like Ayodhya and the re-induction of George Fernandes as defence minister.

It is alleged that certain financial irregularities at the IGNCA and the Nehru Memorial Museum Library were being probed by Maneka Gandhi in her capacity as the minister of culture. Maneka Gandhi’s decision to put intellectuals in charge of these institutions was indeed laudable.

Vajpayee used to say, “Just as a fish cannot live without water, the Congress cannot live without power.” His words seem to have now boomeranged on him and his party. His credibility on the domestic front would certainly raise quite a few eyebrows.

Yours faithfully,
S. Balakrishnan, Jamshedpur

Sir — Maneka Gandhi has cast her doubts on Sonia Gandhi’s intellectual abilities just because the latter cannot speak in the national language, Hindi (“Culture cannon booms at Sonia”, Nov 15) This accusation is in poor taste. It can be recalled that the Indian prime minister delivered a speech at the 56th session of the United Nations general assembly in November this year in no other language but Hindi. Does this mean that we should cast doubts on Vajpayee’s intellectual abilities?

Maneka Gandhi should bear in mind that the inability to speak another tongue does not indicate intellectual inadequacy. And as a responsible politician Maneka Gandhi should refrain from making personal attacks on Sonia Gandhi in future.

Yours faithfully,
Mohan Lal Sarkar, Budge Budge, 24 Parganas(S)

Open family

Sir — The article, “Growing beyond the fold” (Nov 19), provides an interesting insight into the world of family-run business houses in India. The growth of small family enterprises into large business units has revolutionized the industrial scenario in India. The best part of this has been the absorption of talented outsiders into the family business. Despite the risk of being cheated by the outsider, members of the family have been open to this idea. This openness has generated employment opportunities and ensured the holding of family shares by individuals not belonging to the family.

But it has not always been smooth sailing for these business families. This could be because of negative government policies, the shifting of managers from the companies, and individual groups being favoured by the government over others. Indeed, Bajaj, Ambani and the likes have made a significant difference to the Indian industry by playing a constructive and positive role.

Yours faithfully,
Keya Sen, Calcutta

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