Editorial / Parliament of fouls
Half-truths and misdirection
The Telegraph Diary
Letters to the editor

As phrases go, �humungous fraud� is not bad at all. In fact, compared to the mind-numbing pitch at which much of Indian politics has been unfolding in the last few days, it is refreshing to listen to civilized English in Parliament. But that is precisely the problem. Mr Jaipal Reddy, an opposition member, used this phrase to comment on what the prime minister had to say in the house on the Supreme Court�s Ayodhya verdict. Mr Reddy has managed to incense parliamentarians from the National Democratic Alliance, who regard the use of the word, �fraud�, as unparliamentary. (Mr Reddy�s opponents were probably too angry to be able to recall the meaning of �humungous�.) Mr Reddy remains unrepentant. He had been deemed best parliamentarian not so long ago. He would therefore know his way around the house.

�Good temper and moderation�, wrote Thomas Erskine May, the mid-19th-century authority on parliamentary practice, �are the characteristics of parliamentary language.� What would this first baron of Farnborough and clerk of the House of Commons in the 1870s have made of Indian parliamentary behaviour today? The question cannot really be asked in earnest. The Westminster model is what India started with. But imagining the baron in contemporary New Delhi � or better still, in the Bihar or Manipur assembly � could be a way of measuring the great distance the Indian houses have traversed from the letter and spirit of May�s code of conduct.

Not that the English never play foul. Over 200 years ago, Lord Sandwich told the radical John Wilkes that Wilkes would die upon the gallows or of the pox. �That depends, my lord,� Wilkes replied, �on whether I first embrace your principles or your mistress.� The Labour leader, Mr Michael Foot, has likened Mr Norman Tebbit to a �semi-house-trained polecat�; and Mr Tony Banks, of the same party, had once said that Ms Margaret Thatcher has the �sensitivity of a sex-starved boa constrictor�. Expletives like squirt, twerp, fat bounder, pig�s bladder and food mountain have been hurled across the floor. May also forbids cad, stoolpigeon, guttersnipe, swine and cheeky young pup. �Liar� is not allowed. So, Winston Churchill described somebody as having been economical with the truth. Such a long tradition of insult and abuse is, of course, unparliamentary. But it exists because of, not in spite of, an equally long tradition of lively but civilized debate, honoured and practised by these masters of public insult. There is implicit here a shared political culture, a sense of decorum which is sometimes robustly broken precisely because it is believed in and shared.

Such a consensus as to what constitutes civilized behaviour in Parliament or in the assembly has been utterly destroyed in India today. A whole line of speakers have attempted to impose stricter codes of conduct. But given the indomitable vitality of the Indian democracy, mayhem has invariably won. Two enterprising cabinet ministers, from the Bharatiya Janata Party, have now made a fresh list of unparliamentary expressions. In this list are dhokabaz, F�hrer and �friend of Hitler�. Banning these could deprive some Indian legislators of a rather necessary vocabulary of political opposition � in or out of the house.


It�s hard to know what there�s left to say about the dangerous farce played out in Ayodhya by that well known repertory company, the sangh parivar, but the impression that stays with me after the events of the last fortnight is the inexhaustible capacity for misdirection, half-truths, plain lies and calculated contradiction displayed by the main characters.

Almost everyone who had a speaking part managed to talk out of both corners of his mouth at once and say different things. This began with the sankar- acharya�s cameo where he played the honest broker. He had been cast by the prime minister and he must have turned in a decent performance because pundits in the media were impressed. Parsa Venkateswara Rao reproached critics of the sankaracharya for their knee-jerk rejection of a man of god. An editorial in a leading daily reproached the All India Muslim Personal Law Board for turning down the �deal� that the sankaracharya offered them. The deal consisted of allowing the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and its rabid sants to perform bhoomi puja on the �undisputed� acres acquired by the government after the razing of the mosque in 1992.

This was the first half-truth, and the newspapers bought it. It was only much later that the more sensible ones began to qualify that undisputed with quotation marks. I�d bet a large sum of money that nearly all the journalists reporting on Ayodhya or writing leaders on it, didn�t know to start with that these �undisputed� acres had been gifted to the Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas by Kalyan Singh, shortly before the Babri Masjid was illegally razed. The gift was made on the plea that the government didn�t have the money to develop that area as it had planned (there was an ambitious scheme to construct a Ram Katha Park) and that the trust had promised to use its own money to execute the plan. A set of conditions was attached to this perpetual lease to make it seem respectable. These conditions did not visualize the use of the land to construct a giant Ram mandir. So the VHP�s plan to start building the Ram mandir on the �undisputed� land was a) a violation of the purposes for which the land had been given, and b) an attempt to pre-empt the title dispute pending before the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad high court, by building a temple structure that eventually planned to situate the garbh griha on the masjid�s site.

Since the land had been acquired to protect the status quo and to give the government the leeway necessary to re-allocate the land in case the Muslims won the case and needed access to the masjid site, how could the land be deemed �undisputed� for the purposes of a bhoomi puja or a shila puja, because both were ritual preliminaries to the building of the mandir?

To return to the �deal�. In return for the puja and the land, the sankaracharya reported that the VHP had agreed to abide by the verdict of the courts. Many people pointed out the absurdness of rewarding people for agreeing not to defy the law of the land, but the VHP found even this �concession� difficult to sustain. Ashok Singhal and Ramchandra Paramhans between them managed to contradict each other and themselves half-a-dozen times inside three days. Now they were law-abiding, now they were not. The daily didn�t, in its editorial, explain how any interlocutor of the VHP could deal with people who signed agreements in disappearing ink.

Nor was it clear how the sankara-charya qualified as an honest broker when his proximity to the VHP was well known. The sankaracharya sought to further the VHP�s attempt to change the status quo on the acquired land. He announced the �deal� in Chennai before the AIMPLB received the undertakings he had promised them, and when the Supreme Court announced its interim order, he made it clear that he was disappointed. I have no difficulty in conceding the sankaracharya�s right to his point of view, but why Muslims or indeed anyone else should see him as a middleman when in fact he was effectively acting to further the temple agenda, is less than clear.

Then we had Narendra Modi denying that he had used Newton�s law in macabre justification of the pogrom of Muslims in Gujarat that followed the murder of Hindus in Godhra. He then kept telling every news channel he could find that his government had set a record by bringing the Gujarat carnage under control inside seventy two hours and that, contrary to all the footage shown, he had acted promptly and impartially. Modi works on the Goebbelsian assumption that lies repeated endlessly become facts, and he may be right.

The prime minister entered the �he has been misquoted� game when he stated authoritatively that Vinay Katiyar had not claimed that the Hazratbal mosque had originally been a Hindu shrine that hosted a Hindu relic: a hair of Nimath Baba�s beard. This claim had set off riots in Srinagar; instead of throwing Katiyar into jail for stoking religious rage at a time like this, the prime minister tried to airbrush the claim out of existence. When he was told that Katiyar had made the claim on television, that it was on public record, Vajpayee advised people not to believe everything they saw on televison!

But the credit for the most wicked smear belonged to Jaya Jaitly. After touring Gujarat, she wrote a piece in another daily that first endorsed Modi�s justification of the pogrom of Muslims: had secular people condemned Godhra, not so many Muslims would have died in Gujarat. But what followed was even viler. She said that Muslims in Gujarat had become prosperous and assertive. Had this prosperity been internally generated, there would have been no reason for Muslims to resent the Bharatiya Janata Party government. But Muslims were against the BJP government because their prosperity was covertly achieved, from sources beyond the country�s borders.

Jaitly was saying that Muslims had made money in shady ways and were getting above themselves. The peaceful Gujarat of old, where Muslims knew their place, had gone. This sinister Muslim prosperity had upset the old social equilibrium. So the violence was their fault; they had it coming. Jaitly tries to anticipate criticism by predicting that she�ll be accused of �turning saffron�. That�s unlikely: there are more precise descriptions of her present position. The Nazis routinely accused Jews of making money through their links to an international Jewish cabal. These alleged connections were also used to suggest that the community had extra-territorial loyalties. Jaitly here is talking the language of Thackeray and Togadia: even Advani doesn�t go public with such theories.

The curtain on this review of government-speak should be rung down by Soli Sorabjee, who, for reasons that I hope are obscure even to him, echoed the government�s puja position before the Supreme Court and then declared that his statement to the court was his professional opinion on a matter of law. Nothing in it was owed, he maintained, to government briefing, not even the detailed logistical arrangements for the proposed puja, down to the number of participating mahants, the distance (in metres) of kar sevak spectators and the details of the security bandobast. This from a man who, in 1994, publicly criticized the Supreme Court judgment on the Ayodhya Act for being unfair to Muslims. Soli Sorabjee is a cultivated man; he will recognize these lines by Marlowe : �Yet, for he was a scholar once admired/ For wondrous knowledge in our German schools.�




Brokering a break

In 1999, the Samajwadi Party duo, Mulayam Singh Yadav and his man Friday, Amar Singh, had scuttled Sonia Gandhi�s chances to lead a Congress government at the Centre. And poor Sharad Pawar, who had been brokering negotiations between the two parties, had been landed with the responsibility for that failure. So now that it is Amar Singh�s party that needs the support of the Congress to form a �secular� government in Uttar Pradesh, guess who he chose to mediate with the Congress president on his behalf? There is, of course, the grand old man of the Indian left, Harkishen �papaji� Singh Surjit, who needs no invitation to poke his nose into such matters. But Amar Singh, who represents everything from films to modelling to industry to fashion to politics, wasn�t about to leave such delicate matters to the ham-fistedness of a crusty old politician. So one-time swimming champ turned film-star turned socialite turned social crusader and god knows what else, Nafisa Ali, was drafted in to plead Amar Singh�s case with the Congress prima donna. Ali, who moves about in the topmost echelons of the capital�s high society, is known to be close to both Singh and Sonia. But Singh�s calculations seem to have gone awry this time. Apparently Sonia was not too impressed with Ali. As a senior left leader and a one-time critic recently accepted, not only was Sonia more intelligent than everyone had given her credit for, but she had also become politically wiser. Well, well, well...perhaps the lady has grown a mind of her own?

No calls for Mr Rao

n The older, the merrier? PV Narasimha Rao has never been seen to display such unconcealed mirth. As lawyer and friend, RK Anand, walked into 9, Motilal Nehru Marg, Rao rushed to hug him with a �Well done�. He had just been acquitted in the infamous JMM bribery case. As the news spread, laddoos rolled freely. Soon there were former premiers Chandra Sekhar, HD Deve Gowda, IK Gujral at Rao�s doorstep. But no sign of the heavyweight Congresswallahs. Worse, not even a call from madam herself. Party spokesman, S Jaipal Reddy, even declared that he would not comment on a court verdict. Yes, there is still the $ 100,000 Lakhubai Patel cheating case hanging over Rao�s head. But did the party�s inhouse Chanakya need to be treated like that?

The lamp that wouldn�t light

Our dear young finance minister, Yashwant Sinha, was at a seminar on globalization and the developing countries organized by the Swadeshi Jagran Manch. The can�t-be-drowned former BJP gen-sec, K Govindacharya, was also there for a guest appearance. Sinha made the right noises before his SJM audience and declared that his policies were not influenced by the World Bank or the IMF. In fact, these organizations should be made to understand India�s specific requirements. Sinha was also required to light the lamp at the seminar, which despite his earnest efforts, refused to light. Each time he tried, the flame went out. Govindacharya, who watched in silence, finally took a dig at Sinha: �It too might have been affected by the excise duty.� Sinha, obviously, was not amused.

Can�t play to save his life

Laloo Prasad Yadav is not enjoying his stint as the Bihar cricket board chief one bit. When he was asked to play on behalf of the board, Laloo, who thought the game was like gulli-danda, could neither hold the bat properly nor bowl. Desperate, Laloo finally uipped, �Hamein kya pata tha ki hamko khelna bhi pare ga. Hum to chief is liye ban gaye kyon ki Sharad Pawar bhi bane hain� (How would I know that I would have to play the game as well? I became chief because Pawar was chief too). In another incident, Laloo�s proverbial humour is said to have infuriated people. When iron bars went missing from a flyover under construction in Muqama, Laloo said, �Loha chuhe kha gaye� (Rats have eaten the iron). Hope they don�t nibble at Rabri�s gaddi either.

Out of reckoning

Talk of aiming for the moon! Samir �Bua� Chakraborty, who at one time was deemed the sure-shot Congress candidate for the Rajya Sabha from West Bengal, is out on his ear. In fact, now that he has lost out, it seems that Bua never was in the race. Desperate to get into Central politics, Bua had lobbied with his mentor, Somen Mitra, little realizing that Mitra, in consultation with PCC chief Pranab Mukherjee and the Congress high command, had green-signalled Arjun Sengupta�s name. To add insult to injury, PR Das Munshi queered Bua�s pitch in New Delhi by declaring that if the ambitious Congressman from Bengal was nominated, Das Munshi would direct his supporters to vote against him. Not one to give up lightly, Bua even appealed to Trinamool strongman Subrata Mukherjee, who assured him �every cooperation�. Poor Bua is now licking his wounds in private!

Beat them at their game

Arise, awake. Aamir Khan and his men are about to take on the country�s worst enemies � our parliamentarians. Kirti Azad, Chetan Chavan, KP Sindhdeo, Ranjit Biswal, Chandrika Kenia and five others will miss Captain Madhavrao Scindia. The late maharaja of Gwalior was a self-declared fan of the Lagaan team and stated that he had loved every bit of the movie and would love to face Goli, one of the characters. The Lagaan team will also be reportedly touring Afghanistan, where Bollywood now seems to be providing succour to the country. But the prolonged war conditions in Afghanistan, first under the Soviets, then under the mujahedin and the taliban have left the Afghans in the dark about the recent goings-on in Bollywood. They were recently heard inquiring after the whereabouts of Shammi Kapoor, Farida Jalal and Asha Parekh. Still in the dark age!

Footnote / Tongue in cheek

The Centre and the VHP might have full faith in his sagacity given that they chose him to mediate on the Ayodhya issue, but the sankaracharya of Kanchi, Jayendra Saraswati, did not give much evidence of his superior wisdom at a recent press conference in New Delhi. The unsuspecting holy man was shocked at the thorough grilling the media subjected him to. A young female journalist even had the temerity to ask him what was so new about his grand conciliatory proposal. Saraswati was visibly taken aback at the question, and � in full range of the microphones � could be heard muttering in Tamil, �Now this woman is out to fix me.� Obviously, he thought no one in the gathering understood Tamil. Before he could answer however, another journalist came to his rescue, with a sympathetic counter-question. As the two journalists grappled with each other, the much-pleased godman could be heard muttering, �Good. I�m happy these journalists are now fighting amongst themselves.� Our superior seer from Kanchi does not seem to be above some malicious amusement.    


Begin moving and now

Sir � Nothing could have been more disgusting. Sushma Swaraj goes all the way to Pakistan with �offers�, just in case Pervez Musharaff relented and decided to lead India on that �extra mile� towards peace that A.B. Vajpayee had talked about (�Sushma hints at talks stand-off exit route�, March 11). If India is serious about peace, why does it have to wait for Pakistan to make the next move? And worse, offer conditions that Pakistan will never accept. India should start the talks itself, and without promptings from bumbling politicians like Swaraj.

Yours faithfully,
J.B. Chatterjee, Calcutta

Wearing out leather

Sir � The Calcutta leather industry, which provides livelihood to more than five lakh people, is in jeopardy because of the inefficiency and callousness of those behind the build-operate-transfer scheme. Some pertinent questions arise with regard to the way the matter is being handled in West Bengal. Why has the project not been entrusted to the more experienced organizations like Martin Burn, Larsen and Toubro and others? Why has the cost of land been stipulated by the government at Rs 40,000 per cottah when the Maharashtra government is reported to be offering the same at Rs 20,000? Why is the electricity rate Rs 4.50 per unit while the Maharashtra government is reported to be offering power at Rs 2.30 per unit? The rate at which water is offered by the Maharashtra government is also said to be cheaper.

Moreover, why has the work of the effluent treatment plant, which is indispensable to the project, been delayed for so long? Will the state government stand as guarantor against the loan provided by the nationalized banks to the tannery owners, and that too at a reduced rate of interest?

The cost of production of leather goods is bound to skyrocket if the above questions remain unresolved. It is time the governments, both in the state and at the Centre, looked at the issue more realistically. They have to hold indepth discussions on the matter with tannery owners so that tanneries in West Bengal do not add to the already long list of closed units in the state.

Yours faithfully,
A. Chatterjee, Calcutta

Sir � The entire episode involving tanneries in West Bengal has been dealt with in a slipshod manner. The state government should have been more active in espousing their cause. It is clear that the tannery workers and owners are not well-organized enough. Have communal differences come in the way, given that a large number of tannery owners are Chinese, often employing local worksmen, or is it that they have not sufficiently associated themselves with the trade unionists?

Yours faithfully,
Tanmoy Nandi, Calcutta

Blood ties

Sir � Sulekha Bose, the young girl from Halisahar, who has refused to entertain marriage proposals from prospective grooms without their blood reports attached, and her family have shown rare courage. It is unfortunate that not one young man has had the courage to meet her demand. The incident speaks volumes of how the marriage market works in India, particularly in West Bengal. It also shows how our society and the young people of today think. It is time we threw our horoscopes into the nearest dustbins.

Yours faithfully,
P.C. Ghosh, Calcutta

Sir � It is shameful that the one person Sulekha Bose liked should have returned with the demand for a dowry of Rs 70,000 in exchange for his blood report. But then, Indian society is full of such uneducated degree-holders who make ever-increasing demands of their prospective brides� families.

Yours faithfully,
B. Nirmalendu, Calcutta

Sir � Only days after Sulekha Bose�s report appeared on the pages of The Telegraph, the family tragedy of Krishnadhan Ghosh proved how right Bose is in her endeavour for a groom with a blood report. But will prospective grooms and their families understand her reasoning?

Yours faithfully,
C. Chatterjee, Calcutta

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