Editorial / Fair and unfair play
Off with their heads
This above all / A composer of bad verses
People / Rajinder Vadra
Letters to the editor

The Mike Denness affair continues to fester. Most Indian cricket fans, officials and players think that a serious injustice was done to the concerned players. Denness’s sudden show of authority was entirely one-sided. The International Cricket Council, after some initial reluctance, accepted the substance of the complaints and allegations emanating from the Indian side and formally articulated by the president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India, Mr Jagmohan Dalmiya. The ICC agreed to appoint a committee to look into the matter. It is an unwritten convention that an arbitrator appointed to mediate in a dispute must be acceptable to both sides. The ICC has announced the composition of the committee. It is to be headed by a judge from South Africa, Mr A.L. Sachs, and the two other members are Majid Khan, the former captain of Pakistan, and Andrew Hilditch, the former vice-captain of Australia. Mr Dalmiya, reportedly, has very strong reservations about the composition of the committee. According to Mr Malcolm Gray, the president of the ICC, Mr Dalmiya, while objecting to the ICC candidates, suggested the names of Richie Benaud and Imran Khan who refused to come on the panel for personal and business reasons. The other names suggested by Mr Dalmiya have not been revealed.

One cannot but agree with the objections voiced by Mr Dalmiya. Members of a committee such as this one, with the brief to investigate a serious and a very controversial incident, must be past cricketers whose positions in the cricketing world are above question. The names of Benaud and Imran Khan indicate that Mr Dalmiya had cricketers of a certain stature in mind. The ICC, on the other hand, has appointed a judge, a player who has only 18 test caps and another who was a talented batsman but was not known for his technical knowledge of the game. It is difficult to comprehend what criteria were used for selecting the members of this committee. For obvious reasons, past Indian players cannot come on this committee but there are many others with the required stature and distinction to be invited to come on board. Gary Sobers, Clive Lloyd, Michael Holding, David Gower, Mike Brearley, the brothers Chappell, Dennis Lillee, Duleep Mendis, Glenn Turner are names that come easily to mind. There many others whose competence to serve on such a committee is above doubt.

Disregarding this pool of talent, the ICC has picked out Hilditch who, in terms of cricket experience, can only be described, without any undue harshness, as a nonentity. There is no earthly reason for including a judge in the committee. The matter to be discussed and decided upon does not hinge on the niceties of law but on the ethics of the game and on the fairness of the punishments meted out. Included within the discussion of fairness must be the mode of appealing of the South Africans, especially that of Shaun Pollock, the captain. This can only be decided by former players who are aware of the pressures and tensions that operate in the “middle”. The ICC’s intentions may not be mala fide, but the formation of the committee has a whiff of insincerity about it.


Here we are at the beginning of a new year once again, and as usual there is much comment in the air on the year that we’ve left behind, the year that’s just begun. Suddenly perspectives span years, trends are observed in the past and the future. Astrologers are not the only ones who have pronounced on what is in store for us, though the nature of the evidence used by them and other analysts may have differed.

Having no wish to join in the flurry of analysing and forecasting that’s going on, I invite our readers to consider once again an issue that, like the poor, never goes away — downsizing the government. The eminent committee chaired by that eminent former bureaucrat, K.P. Geethakrishnan, has given the government its eminent report. One cannot comment on it since one has not had the good fortune to read it, but, judging from the reports that appeared about what it said about the ministry of information and broadcasting — on which one had commented in an earlier essay — the approach has been robust. As robust as that of the Queen of Hearts in Alice In Wonderland. “Off with his head!” the Queen said from time to time, a most effective remedy for all possible ills. The Geethakrishnan committee seems to have done much the same.

Now that we’re about to engage in an armed conflict with Pakistan, which will cost us several hundred crores a day, the wisdom of the approach advocated by the eminent committee mentioned above gains in significance. Or does it? Would it be politically correct to balance expenditure on war with the elimination of several posts?

Even in these tense times there appears to be something wrong with the argument that eliminating offices and departments means a reduction of government expenditure. Of course, on the surface, it is obviously true; if you have less people to pay, your expenditure is less. But this argument, carried to its logical conclusion, would mean that the maximum economy would be when you have no jobs at all in government, and hence no expenditure. No government means no expenditure; and just imagine the savings.

But, tragically, there has to be some kind of apparatus to carry on governance; and this is where logically anyone concerned about government expenditure should begin. What activities are essential for there to be good governance, what absolutely unavoidable, vital activities? And what, on the other hand, are those activities that are unnecessary for the government to do — not unnecessary in themselves, but unnecessary for the government. Running hotels, for example, or steel mills, or factories producing wheels for railway carriages and similar activities.

One has no wish whatsoever to enter into an argument on this point; all one is saying is that the distinction must be made, and made without equivocation. The starting point is here, not in looking at the work done by different ministries and their offices.

Years ago, an exceedingly foolish officer in the finance department of the government of West Bengal thought he had discovered a very clever way of reducing expenditure on government vehicles, and managed to get everyone to agree to it being enforced. Every government vehicle, he decreed, would not travel for more than 40 kilometres a day. He had apparently done some calculations which showed that a fat sum would thereby be saved. Very soon, indignant district magistrates said that this new order meant they couldn’t even travel to some of their subdivisions, leave alone a remote area where it was essential they go. The gentleman concerned was unmoved; the order, he said stiffly, stood. Then one district magistrate sent a vehicle to a point 40 km from his headquarters, and having gone to that point in one vehicle, left it there and took the other vehicle for the next 40 km, where, as planned, there was a third vehicle to go another 40 km, and so on, till he got to wherever he had to. Some districts were pretty large in those days, remember, like the undivided 24 Parganas and Midnapore.

He then sent a report to the chief secretary informing him that, for one official visit, he had used four vehicles where one would have done; four drivers were on duty, and had to be paid their allowances, which were necessarily double or more, since they had to wait for him to get back, again using four vehicles, each travelling 40 kms at a time. Then, like an accordion folding up, all four vehicles had to be brought back, each travelling no more than 40 kms a day, so that it took, on an average, two days, for all four to return. One could not administer a district, he pointed out mildly, if this was the way one had to travel, and incurring four times the travelling allowance costs that he would otherwise have done. The hapless finance department wizard was called in by the infuriated chief secretary and came out of the room like the Ancient Mariner, a sadder and a wiser man.

The point of this is that economy measures can at times be ridiculous; that is what one hopes the Geethakrishnan committee’s recommendations are not. And ridiculous they can become if they do not focus on the activity involved. That is what they need to ask, not how many people are working in an office. Is that activity essential to government functioning? If so, how can it be done effectively — effectively, mind you — with the least possible expense? Not, for example, by requiring four people to do the work of twenty but by finding out as accurately as possible how much one person can effectively do.

And, while measures of economy are being practised, a good look could be taken at the way government business is transacted. This can be effectively changed, but in the grotesque manner in which the government of India brought in the institution of desk officers, who were single-handedly required to do the work of a section consisting of a section officer, and half a dozen clerks. In other words, the procedures did not change in actual fact; all that happened was one wretched man got the workload of half a dozen. Decision-making has also to be handed down, simultaneously with structural chan- ges, and it rarely is.

A third rider. If it is decided that the government should not run hotels or steamship companies, then the means by which they will continue to run outside the government (if they are considered worth running) needs to be worked out clearly and given effect to first. Then, and only then, can one say, with the Queen of Hearts, “Off with his head!” or “their heads”, which would be more to the point.

All this, our champions of economy and frugality will cry out, will take time. It will. But it is only over time that one can ensure enduring economy, not the kind the wretched finance department man had dreamt up — and which he had to withdraw, incidentally. The key is to determine what activities properly belong to the government, provide realistically for them, and then firmly get rid of the others, but only when the alternative methods by which such activities can continue have been put in place.

This could well be a new year’s gift to the people by the government, but it needs to be put together carefully, and made to last. Noble sentiments about the virtues of economy and the rest are no better than gift-wrapping, which, like the wrappings of all gifts, ends up torn and on the floor.

The author is former secretary, ministry of information and broadcasting


I have a soft corner for Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Despite his RSS roots and continuing association with the sangh parivar, I think he is a good, if not a better prime minister than any we have had. He is a warm human being. I am not so sure of his stature as a poet. Some years ago he read out a poem he had written on his birthday following the destruction of the Babri Masjid. It was an unpardonable act of vandalism and I felt an apology was due to the entire country. His poem was a kind of apology for what he had failed to prevent. The refrain was “Kya main boorha ho gaya hoon” — have I really become an old man? After he finished reading it, I asked him, “Atalji, why don’t you speak out openly against this monstrous act?” He remained silent. I took the poem from him, made him sign it and published its translation in my column.

Last year a friend gave me a collection of 51 of his poems marking two or three for my special attention. I was appalled. One was gloating over the inception of the RSS at Nagpur as a beacon of light. Another, a rustic idyll, warned a village maid from going to Manali his holiday home. It runs somewhat as follows:

Goriya, Manali mat jaiyyo
Jai yo to trishul lay kay jaiyyo
Manali mein milengey Khalistani

And drivel of that kind. I don’t think he knew what was contained in that collection. It was certianly most inappropriate for publication after he had become prime minister.

Perhaps he had no time to go over the contents and does not know how to deal with sycophants. By now his poems have been set to music, song and dance. How does a prime minister of a country, steeped in sycophancy , keep his balance of mind? I was glad Vajpayee had become prime minister and would now have little time for writing poetry of the kind he allowed to be published.

I was somewhat alarmed to hear that Pavan Varma, currently our ambassador in Cyprus, translated a selection of Vajpayee’s poems — 21 Poems. Varma is a competent translator and wisely chose to exclude Vajpayee’s politically motivated compositions meant to be chanted loudly at mass meetings. He has done a good job and captured the lilt and subtle nuances of Hindi poetry. He includes, “Jung naa honey deyngey” (We shall not allow war.)

Never again will fields bear the fruits of

Nor farms produce a harvest of death,
Never again will the sky rain fire,
Never again will Nagasaki burn,
We shall fight for our dream of
a world without war.
My favourite among Varma’s selection is Naee Gaanth Lagtee (A New Knot is Tied)
The river of life seeks the
Ocean again,
The winter sun slips down like
golden rain,
In the heart, the mango grove’s fra-
The shehnai’s lost cadence
Like a pain, half-forgotten, comes
suddenly alive.
A new knot is tied.
Not far, not near, the goal is unknown,
Yet to life’s rhythm, I resolve to move
A pattern drawn on water,
All shackles undone —
Again, and again, by a mirage I am
A new knot is tied.

The Punjabi way of life

Punjabis do not think there is anything laughable about them: they regard themselves as numero uno among Indians. They make jokes about Bhaiyyas (from UP and Bihar) and Bongos ( Bengalis). All the rest living south of the Vindhyas they know as Madrasis. Other Indians do not share the Punjabis’ self-esteem. To them Punjabis are loud-mouthed braggarts who know no culture save agriculture. The main butt of their anti-Punjabi jokes are the newly rich who flaunt their opulence by living in palatial bungalows with rooms hung with chandeliers and garish porcelain vases full of exotic flowers.

They find Punjabi weddings very hilarious: Brass bands followed by fat men and fatter women dripping with gold and diamonds dancing bhaangra as they go along crowded streets. The comic side of Punjabi parvenus had to be exposed by someone who knows them well. This has been done by Jaishree Misra in her second novel, Accidents like Love & Marriage.

Jaishree is a Keralite Nair who spent her school and college years in Delhi. It is likely that the Punjabis she met complimented her on her looks. Jaishree is very light-skinned and pretty. Anyway few Punjabis know the difference between Tamilians and Malayalis: south of the Vindhyas all are kali kalootis (black as black can be). Even those who are aware of Keralites as being different from Tamilians refer to them as mallus.

Jaishree Nair is married to a very handsome Uttar Pradeshi, Dicky Misra, and lives in London. She had to settle scores with the Punjabi anti-everyone-else attitude. She has done so by making fun of them. While doing so she has also taken a swipe at the institutions of marriage and the joint family system.

In her novel, Punjabis are represented by the Sachdevas who have made their fortune in textiles and readymade garments. The family comprises of Mr and Mrs Sachdeva, their two sons, of whom the elder is married to the daughter of an equally wealthy Punjabi family, the Singhs, and has two children. The younger son is a handsome young fop who does nothing besides taking his girlfriends to discos. The Sachdevas live in a large house in Maharja Bagh.

The Singhs own an equally large house in Sainik Farms. The Malayalis are represented by the Menons who live in a two-bedroom flat in Saket with their only child, their ravishingly comely daughter, Gayatri. Menon has a job in the Indian Standard Institute, his wife is a professor. Their home is packed with books. They have a rickety old jalopy in which Menon just about manages to get on the road. Gayatri’s closest friend is Sachdeva junior’s wife. They have been bosom friends since their school days. Gayatri wins a scholarship to Oxford where she has an affair with a married don who refuses to divorce his wife to marry her. She returns to India, gets a professor’s job at the Jawaharlal Nehru University and resumes her friendship with Mrs Sachdeva junior.

Through her friend she meets the younger Sachdeva who falls headlong in love with her and proposes marriage to her. The stumbling block is her mother-in-law to be, Mrs Swaran Sachdeva, who cannot bear the idea of her son marrying a kali-kaloti Madrasan — the fact that Gayatri is neither dark nor a Madrasan are matters of minor detail beyond her comprehension. The closely-knit Sachdeva family begins to fall apart. The break comes when the Menons come to call on the Sachdevas, Swaran Sachdeva behaves discourteously towards them. The Menons write off the Sachdevas as ill-mannered upstarts with no breeding. Her bachelor son walks out of the family.

The elder son, who is on a business trip to London, has a torrid affair with a blond cockney girl he meets at Heathrow while looking for a taxi. The girl calls his mobile telephone number which is picked up by the wife. She returns to her family. Sachdeva senior, who spends most of his after-office hours sitting naked in his air-conditioned study, storms into his wife’s bedroom in his nakedness, gives her a tongue-lashing and moves out to a motel. Poor Swaran is left with only her chauffeur and cook who has been fantasizing sex with his mistress over the years he has been bringing bed tea for her.

Though a little over-written, Accidents like Love & Marriage makes for delightful reading; it is witty, malicious and humorous at the same time.



He’s got the brass

Rajinder Vadra is making the most of his 15 minutes in the sun. In the 72 hours following reports that brought the public notice issued by son Robert against him onto the front pages of newspapers, Priyanka Gandhi’s father-in-law has been impressively alternating his exasperating moments of hide-and-seek with the media with sessions of expansive interviews.

Fortunately, this is the expansive interview moment. “My son is talking about disowning me now, but I disowned him when he married into that family,” says Vadra, who isn’t about to play any aggrieved dad role. “They’ve flung mud on me... now I’ll fling it back.” Despite his soft-spokenness, Vadra likes being loud. In everything, right from his clothes — a flashy blue tie decorated with gold crescents and glittering stars; to his cellphone — a dinky little brilliant silver gizmo that looks straight out of Star Trek; to his statements — “I’m not afraid of anybody, Kashmiri militants or Italian militants; or “If I am killed, three people will be responsible: Sonia Gandhi, Robert Vadra and Priyanka Gandhi.”

Despite the bombast, when talking about family ties, Vadra’s favourite word seems to be ‘perfect’. His relations with son Robert were ‘perfect’ till the public notice; ditto for his relations with Priyanka and Sonia Gandhi; and for that matter the rest of his family. The word doesn’t quite ring true given the fact that he has been separated from his family for the last two years. His wife and son Richard live in New Friends Colony. “The separation was a personal matter, but we were a very happy family...though over these last two years I have had little to do with them.” Last April, when his daughter, jewellery designer Michelle Vadra, died in a car accident, the family came together briefly.

Vadra, continuing with his description of the family, says that when Priyanka and Robert were courting, she would often visit the happy family. “So she knew how we lived, in a disciplined way, but were a very liberal family with Robert’s mother being Christian and me a Punjabi. It was a great environment,” he says. Strangely enough, the ‘great environment’ fostered much bitterness.

That there is little love lost between father and at least one of his sons came through in last week’s notice and Vadra Sr’s subsequent disparaging comments about Robert. “As a father, I’m shocked by what he says... but now he has become a pawn in the hands of the Gandhi family,” says Vadra, describing his reaction to the announcement. In the public notice he issued last week, Robert stated that “one Rajinder Vadra and another Richard Vadra” were duping people by “promising jobs and other favours.” He went on to add that the two were not authorised to use his name. More importantly, they had “no access to him.”

Some of the “jobs and favours” included pushing candidates for various posts in the Moradabad Pradesh Congress Committee. One Congress leader also spoke about a recent visit Rajinder Vadra paid to his office. When Vadra sent in his visiting card, he had pencilled ‘father-in-law of Priyanka’ on it in bold letters.

Vadra Sr rubbishes all the allegations. “I have challenged them to provide one witness who will say that I gave him a job or that I cheated him. It’s all nonsense.” He also dismisses talk that the Congress is uncomfortable about the Vadra family’s RSS links. “I have no political affiliations,” he says. It is a little more difficult, however, to explain the donation of a school which is located on the Vadra family farm on the outskirts of Moradabad. Rajinder Vadra’s elder brother, Om Prakash Vadra, had donated the school to the RSS in 1995. Om Prakash remains the school chairman for life. “It [the donation of the school] should not be seen as a political move. My elder brother donated the property after his sons died prematurely in an accident,” says Vadra.

Explaining the timing of the notice issued on Robert Vadra’s behalf by advocate Arun Bhardwaj, a senior Congress leader said, the idea behind the publication of the notice was “to nip mischief in the bud.” Given the coming UP elections, the Congress would have found it difficult to explain the Vadra family’s links with the RSS.

The small terrace of Rajinder Vadra’s Amar Colony office looks out onto the by-lanes of this commercial area crammed with telephone fax booths and rows of garment shops. A few chairs have been lined up along one side of the terrace, which leads into a room, presumably the office, the door of which is kept discreetly closed. “I was always against the marriage [of Robert and Priyanka] because of the way the family treated Maneka Gandhi... imagine throwing out a woman like that. I was also against it because the Gandhi family was involved in the Bofors scandal. But the rest of the family wanted the limelight, so I had to give in,” says Vadra, who doesn’t quite describe his family with the warmth of a happy patriarch.

Vadra, who divides his time between his Amar Colony office and his home in upmarket Chhatarpur, an area on the southern outskirts of Delhi famous for its sprawling farmhouses, says that he always believed in leading “a very simple” life. “I work the whole day,” — he runs a brass and wood handicrafts business — “and in the evenings after a couple of drinks, I go to bed.” However, with the publication of the notice, “things have changed.”

He says that after he began speaking to the media, he has received threats. He describes the most recent: “When I went out on my morning walk, a man dressed in a long coat signalled to me from across the road. I looked around the road wonderingly. ‘You, you... I’m calling you,’ said the man. He then waited for me to go across, before walking past me. And as he went by, he opened the flap of his coat, and there was this very long gun tucked in there, the kind of gun that I had never seen before... it might have been an AK-47. He then dropped the coat close (sic) and walked on.”

And if that sounds like a threat straight out of Bollywood’s badlands, Vadra’s dramatic narration makes it even more fantastic. His friends and advocate are talking about police protection. But Vadra remains unfazed, busy planning a great vendetta. Which he isn’t ready to talk about just now. “You just wait and watch,” he promises deliciously.



Some more sibling rivalry

Sir — After her unsuccessful attempts to tame Ajit Panja, Mamata Banerjee, seems to have turned her attention to Subrata Mukherjee (“Mamata clips mayor’s wings”, Jan 8). The mayor’s inclusion in the Metropolitan planning committee, the newly formed apex body for development, coupled with his progressive stance on issues like hawker eviction has invited didi’s ire. Banerjee, whose political future seems uncertain, is afraid that Mukherjee may pose a serious threat to her leadership. But it would be foolish of didi to let her ego to get in the way of her relationship with Mukherjee, who is one of her strongest allies.

Yours faithfully,
Urmila Roy, Calcutta

Well said

Sir — There is some truth in Sunanda K. Datta-Ray’s statement that George W. Bush should encourage Pervez Musharraf to come to terms with geography (“Delusions of grandeur”, Jan 5). Indeed, if size were a measure of a country’s strength, then India and Pakistan could never be equals. Datta-Ray has rightly pointed to the irony implicit in the attitude of the smaller powers towards India. Countries like Sri Lanka and Nepal have always expected India to play the role of “a big brother” in subcontinental politics. On the other hand they have felt threatened by India’s size and economic stability.

Datta-Ray rightly argues that the United States of America could not have been unaware that China was arming Pakistan so that it could neutralize India in the subcontinent. However, his statement that Pakistan should accept India’s primacy in the subcontinent is naïve given that no government in Pakistan, civilian or military, will accept the fact. Moreover, criticizing India forms a crucial part of Pakistan’s foreign policy and domestic policy as well. Kashmir has now become a prestige issue for both countries.

Yours faithfully,
Nandini Guha, Calcutta

Sir— Sunanda K. Datta-Ray’s understanding of Indian foreign policy is revealed in his detailed analysis of India’s relationship with Pakistan and the United States of America. But he seems to have missed one point. The US has always perceived India as a potential superpower and a threat to its interests in southeast Asia. This insecurity is the reason behind the US’s insistence that India and Pakistan were equals, even though this is not actually the case. While India may have desired a more cordial relationship with the US, the latter has done everything in its power to prevent India from becoming an industrial and political heavyweight in Asia. Further, the US was also guilty of invading the India’s territorial waters in 1971.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that all US overtures to India are aimed at gaining economic leverage. That the US wishes to establish a permanent military base in India’s territorial waters is well-known. It would be foolish of India to promise George W. Bush its full cooperation on issues like the national missile defence under these circumstances.

Yours faithfully,
Natranjan A. Wala,via email


Sir — One of the downsides of service tax is that there is no tax exemption for small businessmen, traders and other professionals. In every profession, there are people who earn less than their counterparts and should therefore be given basic exemption. The forthcoming budget should focus on it.

Yours faithfully,
Mahesh Kapasi, New Delhi

Sir — The Central Board of Direct Taxes is in the process of evaluating perquisites and other benefits of Central government employees. This is bound to generate a great deal of resentment among employees. For instance, staff loans have always been an incentive to bank employees, just as a railway employee is entitled to travel benefits. It is disappointing that the Bharatiya Janata Party, which has always claimed to be a friend of the middle classes, should be reported to be considering slashing tax benefits on Mediclaim and higher education also.

Yours faithfully,
Nitin Hoskote,Mumbai

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