Editorial / Language games
A cautionary tale
The Telegraph Diary
Letters to the editor

Gently does it. Or might. Evidently, the prime minister, Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, does not believe this as far as the politics of language is concerned. He argued for Hindi as the “link” language among states and between the Centre and the states in a meeting formalizing the merger of Tamil Nadu’s M.G. Ramachandran-Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam with the Bharatiya Janata Party. At first glance, it would seem that the prime minister was collaring the lion in its lair. This was a gathering of politicians who had risen from the Dravidian movement, one of the strongest forces against the imposition of Hindi. Post-1965 and the language riots, the status of Hindi as the chief link language, that is, the “national” language, has never been established. States in the south and east, which did not accept Hindi as the national language, preferred English as the link language. The strength of this preference was made clear when the chief minister of West Bengal, a state which for long played down the importance of English, proposed in a meeting of the interstate council that English become the link language.

It is a little strange to find the prime minister plunging into deep waters all of a sudden. The subject was close to his heart, no doubt, and came bursting out when he was put, unprepared, on the dais to speak in place of the absent Union home minister. Ironically, he wished to speak in Hindi, and was requested to speak in English instead, a language he claimed he was not “comfortable” with. He built his argument on a compliment of C.N. Annadurai, the founder of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, who had once said that he would have no problem if Mr Vajpayee’s Hindi were adopted as the national language. What Mr Vajpayee left out was that the DMK leader was then arguing against the adoption of Hindi as the national language. A compliment and the comfort level of Mr Vajpayee cannot provide the basis upon which a multi-lingual country’s language policy is based.

Hindi is undoubtedly one of the chief languages of the country. But it is perceived as a north Indian language, and its “imposition” throughout the country is seen as a form of cultural imperialism. There is no way the prime minister can get away from this. There is also the reality of the presence of English. This is no longer the language of the elites alone, although there is certainly that dimension to it. But the broadening of the educational base has also bred aspirations of social mobility, and recent studies have shown that parents from all segments of society now want their wards to know English for social, professional as well as academic purposes. It is immaterial whether it is possible to email in Hindi. The information highway is accessible to those who know English, and it works as the natural link language as India becomes more dependent on information technology in business, governance and interstate communication.

For India, no one language will do. Apart from the regional languages, there has to be a common language. Since not everyone will speak Hindi, or conduct work in it, English becomes one link language by default. It is too complicated a situation for off-the-cuff comments.


Reading Pervez Musharraf’s famous speech well after it was delivered, I was impressed by how craven it was. Not in the sense of being a command performance ordered by the Americans; no, it was craven because it was so cringingly deferential to the idea of Pakistan as a Muslim country. The general urged his compatriots to help him purge Pakistan of fundamentalism because fundamentalism mis-represented Islam, not because religion had no place in politics. You could argue that in the Pakistan that General Zia made (and therefore the Pakistan that General Musharraf inhabits), any process of moderation or reform must take the Muslimness of Pakistan as a given if it is to remain politically credible. If this is so, there is no prospect of real political change in that peculiar country.

It is hard to believe that everyone from the American establishment to Lal Krishna Advani saw in the general’s speech an agenda for the transformation of Pakistan into a civilized state. For the most part Musharraf’s speech (especially the half that dealt with the domestic situation in Pakistan) urged Pakistanis to respect the state’s monopoly of violence. He wanted Pakistani Muslims to stop killing each other in the name of religion and he half-promised that the Pakistani army would stop training and exporting fanatics to other countries.

This was enough for the listening world — including, in India, the Lahore Nostalgists, a loose group of grizzled liberal columnists who had gone to college in Lahore or wished they had — to declare that Musharraf was either Ataturk, or at the very least, a moderate Muslim leader with whom the world, including India, could and should do business. Liberal Pakistani columnists dusted off their memories of Jinnah’s constituent assembly speech and wondered (for the nth time) if the general was the political instrument chosen by history to create the religion-blind state allegedly envisioned by Jinnah. On the strength of one speech we are asked to believe that Jinnah went to the trouble of carving out Pakistan because he actually wanted to set up a secular democratic state that just happened to have a Muslim majority.

Even if this were true, a secular democratic state is no part of Musharraf’s agenda. From his speech and other interviews it is clear that he wants to roll back theocracy (that is, a government mentored by mullahs) by disciplining madrasahs and violent sectarian outfits, but he has no intention of meddling with the essential characteristic of the Pakistani state, that is, its Muslimness.

Much has been made of the general’s admiration for Ataturk but Musharraf himself has been careful to distance himself from the Turkish modernizer. Pakistan, said Musharraf in an interview, was more “Muslim-minded” than Turkey. The two things that Ataturk and Musharraf have in common is that, like the Turkish modernizer, Musharraf is a soldier and is suspicious of democracy.

Musharraf wants to set up a moderate Muslim state of the kind that Americans like doing business with. Since this category (Moderate Muslim State) has in the past included both the Wahabi monarchy of Saudi Arabia and the taliban, it is hard to know what features American policymakers attribute to such a state, but what Musharraf understands by it is a little clearer. He wants a Muslim-minded state, managed by the military, minus the mad mullahs. Amongst his many military predecessors, he favours Ayub’s guided democracy, not Zia’s flirtation with theocracy.

But even if he were to abolish the Hudood ordinances and put an end to prosecutions under the dreadful blasphemy laws, Musharraf will remain wholly committed to the “essentially” Muslim nature of the Pakistani state. It is this that makes Pakistan such a strange, sick state. Ninety eight per cent of its population is Muslim and yet its entire political class is reflexively committed to affirming that the state is owned by the majority community. This pathological anxiety to reassure Muslims that they are first class citizens means that non-Muslims have to be something less than that.

When Musharraf in his speech reminds his subjects that ninety eight per cent of Pakistan’s population is Muslim, he does it not to reassure them that such numerical dominance secures their identity as Muslims; he cites the figure to reproach Muslims in Pakistan for fighting each other on sectarian grounds. The scary thing about Musharraf’s speech in particular and Pakistani politics in general is that ideologically and rhetorically, non-Muslims count for nothing in Pakistan.

Pakistan’s barbaric example should make us ever more grateful that India’s constituent assembly created a secular state within an overwhelmingly Hindu India. The sangh parivar, the Shiv Sena, the search for a “Hindu-minded” India represented by Hindutva, the rath yatra, the destruction of the Babri Masjid, the rewriting of history textbooks by Hindu zealots, show us that the Indian republic could have looked very different, that secular democracy in India wasn’t inevitable, that it wasn’t an emanation of the “essentially tolerant nature of Hinduism” — it was brought into being by political will. A politics defined by the beliefs of any faith is inevitably and essentially intolerant.

Liberals in India are incorrigibly optimistic about Pakistan. This is a mistake. Pakistan isn’t an errant younger brother who needs our indulgence; Pakistan is a cautionary tale and the moral of its wretched history is this: a majoritarian politics devours its people. Musharraf can casually tell the world that Pakistan is a Muslim country. He takes it for granted that Pakistan’s polity must accommodate this Muslimness. In Pakistan there is a monstrous matter-of-factness about the bizarre idea that a country can be owned by a religious community. An increasing number of Indians, particularly middle-class Indians, have begun to buy into this majoritarian “common sense”. Should this feeling become general in India, the sub-continent will become home to two “Pakistans”. We’ll be the bigger one.

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Follow the leader Change of face

The sangh parivar may not think too highly of him, but Atal Bihari Vajpayee is quite the role model for aspiring prime ministers in the Bharatiya Janata Party. And among all Vajpayee’s acolytes, there is none so devoted as Jaswant Singh. A principal frontrunner in the race to succeed Vajpayee, the external affairs minister already resembles his boss in one particular — the ponderousness of his speech, punctuated with pauses that seem to get longer by the day. But now Singh is to doing all he can to cultivate a more Vajpayee-like image — secular, internationally accepted, modest and, most important, writerly. No one can doubt Singh’s popularity in international fora; and the former armyman is perhaps more secular than most BJP-ites. But Singh had never revealed his bashfulness or his literary leanings. Until recently. Singh was chief guest at an art exhibition organized by his alma mater,Mayo College. Everyone was full of praise for Singh, of how he never once mentioned that he was a gold medallist from the college, so modest was he. Singh, a native of Barmer district in Rajasthan, also recently published a book called District Diary, a compilation of articles he had written in the Eighties and which were published by Arun Shourie. No wonder his supporters now hail him as the Vajpayee in the making. Imitation, they rightly say, is the sincerest form of flattery.

Their master’s voice

But Vajpayee is not the only one in the saffron party to have such devoted followers. Union home minister LK Advani has a self-confessed admirer in urban development minister Ananth Kumar. In fact, Kumar is quite the Hanuman to Advani’s Ram...er, Sardar Patel. Kumar even vacated his 30, Prithviraj Road residence for his mentor and moved into the latter’s much smaller Pandara Park house. But what is a slightly cramped space to a heart that is gratified at having served the one it admires?

Kumar seems to have taken a cue from Pramod Mahajan, who now lives in the bungalow once graced by Vajpayee himself. Evidently, the second rung of BJP leaders believes that it is such gestures which will bring them political preferment.

Watch your weight

With elections becoming more and more expensive by the day, political workers in Punjab have found an innovative way to cut expenses. Instead of weighing politicians in coins, they have started weighing them in ladoos. Apparently, an enterprising party worker worked out that the average neta is worth Rs 7,000 in coins, but it takes ladoos worth only Rs 1,700 to tip the scales. Moreover, the ladoos get distributed on the spot and everyone is happy. Not to mention the fact that the Election Commission has no objection to the ladoos. It seems like a win-win situation all around, except that the netas are not too happy at having lost yet another source of easy money.

Freeloaders of the world unite

New Delhi’s freeloading high and mighty had a field day at the India vs England ODI at Ferozshah Kotla this week. Everyone who was anyone — and there are so many of them in the capital — felt that it was his birthright to get at least a couple of complimentary tickets.

The Delhi and District Cricket Association officegoers of course had first claim on free tickets and bagged as many as they could in proportion to their clout. They in turn distributed them to friends, relatives and all those they wanted to curry favour with.

Arun Jaitley, the Union law minister as also DDCA president, had a tough time fobbing off requests from all and sundry. There were requests galore from fellow ministers, as well as from high court and Supreme Court judges. PMO officials were appeased with two tickets each, but were soon back for more.

BJP workers felt they could demand as many tickets as they pleased, since it was their party in power. Then there were the local municipal biggies, the Delhi government functionaries and land development authorities who needed appeasing. And last but not the least, the journalists. There was a sudden sharp spurt in the number of sports journalists in the capital, with one leading English daily even claiming it had 11 sports reporters on its rolls and each needed to be given a free pass to sit in the press enclosure. And what about the Page 3 types, the kind who probably think lbw is a designer label but turned up at Kotla nevertheless to see and be seen?

In all the mêlée, the only ones who didn’t make it to the stadium that day were probably the genuine cricket lovers. With as much as 16,000 of the 26,000 tickets being disbursed as freebies, the real losers were the young fans of Sachin Tendulkar who wanted to see their idol in action, in the flesh.

Woman of some importance

Ambika Soni, the all powerful general secretary of the AICC and Sonia Gandhi’s blue-eyed girl, may well be Punjab’s next chief minister. That is, if the party makes it to power in the assembly polls to be held later this month. Soni, it seems, has set her heart on a stint in her home state, much to the discomfiture of Amrinder Singh, the president of the Congress’s state unit.

But the anti-Soni lobby in Delhi — which includes such big names as Arjun Singh, ML Fotedar, Ahmad Patel, RK Dhawan and Vincent George — is delighted at the prospect of Soni’s departure from the circle of influence surrounding Sonia. They have been busy impressing upon the Congress president the fact that Soni could be the right compromise candidate for chief minister, to keep the squabbling factions in the party’s state unit in check. Not to speak of the advantages of having a fresh — and pretty — face to perk up the party’s chances in the state. And to clinch their arguments, Soni’s crafty detractors in Delhi have been reminding Sonia how Soni’s elevation would also be in keeping with Madam’s insistence on empowering women in the party.

Footnote / Grassroots trouble

Trouble seems to be brewing in Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress over the question of who should be the party’s nominee in the Rajya Sabha polls to be held next month. The party has 60 votes in the state electoral college that elects members of the upper house, and only 49 are needed to bag one seat. Thus it stands to reason that the party’s nominee in the polls will make it to New Delhi. Subrata Mukherjee, mayor of Calcutta, a Trinamool Congress MLA and chairperson of the party’s parliamentary action committee, fancies he has a strong chance of bagging the nomination. But there is a hitch: Mukherjee’s detractors in the party are not too happy with his ambitions — in fact, the party could split if Mukherjee does get nominated to the upper house.

Mamata, as usual, has sought the easy way out: she has decided to give the Rajya Sabha ticket to an outsider. The lucky one could be anyone from Bengal’s favourite cine star, Mithun Chakraborty, to a state-based industrialist. But Mamata had better decide fast. Or the fruits of her indecision may well be reaped by the CPI(M).



Playing on a rough pitch

Well pitched up Sir — The report, “Hussain hits outs at umpiring” (Jan 29), exposes the deplorable umpiring standards in the ongoing one-day series against England. The Kanpur one-dayer might have had a different ending had Virendra Sehwag been given leg before wicket soon after he came in to bat. In Calcutta too, the English have had to pay dearly for Marcus Trescothick’s controversial lbw dismissal. Why are third umpires not consulted in the case of lbw appeals? Also, if cricketers are to be stopped from blaming umpires for their defeat, neutral umpires should be introduced for one-day internationals.

Yours faithfully,
Bikash Banerjee, Durgapur

Friends and foes

Sir — International response to the policies of India, the United States of America, China and Pakistan, has to change in accordance with the political developments taking place in these countries. The present threat from terrorism which is being felt all over the world and seems to be originating from south Asia and Islamic countries is now guiding international diplomatic policies. Political concentration worldwide has, therefore, shifted to Asia since any disturbances in the area may result in a nuclear war. The tension between India and Pakistan is adding to the unrest in the area. China has traditionally been an ally of Pakistan, which makes it impossible to tell whether China will side with India against Pakistan’s role in terrorist activities in India. That is perhaps why India is looking to the US in ironing out the problems it is facing from across the border.

It is thus difficult to agree with the editorial, “China is near” (Jan 17), which states that it is obvious from China’s stand against terrorism on Indian soil that China has realized the benefits of forging closer ties with India. China, as a communist country, will always have differences with the US, a capitalist country. China does not view the US influence in India-Pakistan affairs favourably. It is only to ensure that the US’s influence on India is not too great that China will side with India. Also, the relationship between Pakistan and China is so strong that it is doubtful that China will ever favour India over Pakistan. Till China’s stand is clearer on the India-Pakistan issue, it is too premature to declare that it is making moves to ally with India.

Yours faithfully,
K.Venkatasubramanian, Calcutta

Sir — The British prime minister, Tony Blair, is one of the few international leaders who have linked the terrorist attacks on the Srinagar assembly on October 1 and on the Indian Parliament on December 13 with the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center. He was also successful in influencing the Pakistani president, Pervez Musharraf, to review Pakistan’s role in cross-border terrorism. Pressure from the superpowers is obviously necessary to make Pakistan rethink its stance on terrorism.

But despite this pressure, it is evident that Pakistan is still trying to protect its own as it has agreed to hand over only four Sikh terrorists out of a total of 20 demanded by India. The remaining 16 whom Pakistan has refused to hand over, are Muslim. That Musharraf is not serious about combating Pakistan-sponsored terrorism is clear from this. The diplomatic steps taken by India after December 13 have paid off. While some may criticize India’s decision to recall its diplomats from Pakistan, such measures are required to prove that India is serious about its stand on terrorism.

Yours faithfully,
S.C. Agrawal, Dariba

Day at the zoo

Sir — It was after several years that I visited the Alipore zoo. I was appalled at the condition of the zoo. There was no grass on the lawns and hardly any greenery surrounding the enclosures or the resting areas. The enclosures were in a state of disrepair and looked as though no one had cleaned or painted them for years. Worst was the pathetic state of the animals and birds. All of them gave the impression of being underfed, under-nourished and unclean. Where do the funds meant for the maintenance of the animals and the zoo go? Like the mistreatment of human beings, that of animals too must be reported in the media.

Yours faithfully,
A. Khemka,Calcutta

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