Editorial/ Lullabies and dotted lines
The artful dodger
The Telegraph Diary
Letters to the Editor

Aculture dominated by mother-goddesses spawns reams of sentimental outpourings over the mother. Ironically, the glorification of mothers works as a double trick. On the one hand, it weighs women down with an elusive ideal of perfect motherhood. This means, in the context of the demands of Indian society today, multi-tasking of a fittingly superhuman order. On the other hand, it imbues the notion of motherhood with a convenient aura of purity, untouched by the sweat and grit of legal realities. In this scheme of “family values”, excellently portrayed on the small screen by numberless popular serials, the mother’s power is within the home. Family lineage is a different matter, it is where less visible “ownership values” come into play. There the mother does not figure.

Each society has its own equivalent of similarly neat negotiations. One of the results is the insufficiency of the mother’s signature on the dotted line of anything that legally or officially establishes the parentage or guardianship of children. In India it took a lengthy court case by a well-known author to make legal the opening of a minor’s account in banks on the strength of the mother’s signature. This was a welcome breakthrough. Now the state of West Bengal is preparing to introduce a law which would make the mother’s identity sufficient for social and legal recognition. If passed, the law would ensure that the mother’s signature on any legal document, such as hospital admission forms or school admission forms or passports, would make the document valid.

The law promises to be a significant corrective to an imbalance that has persisted in spite of the many changes being gradually made to emphasize women’s legal rights. Reports suggest that the legislation was first thought of as an aid to test-tube babies. However that may be, the real importance of the proposed law inheres in a basic change of perception about rights within a marriage and the conceptions of family and lineage. So it is not enough to laud the proposed law for its effort to keep in step with scientific advances. The effects of science have a direct result on the arrangements and perceptions of society, and this is where such a law has its most important function.

The fact that such a law is yet to be passed shows up the ways in which deep-embedded social attitudes penetrate law-making. The law is consciously evolving with the times, underlining and redefining women’s rights to property and independent rights over inheritance, trying to ensure economic justice through newly conceived maintenance principles in the case of divorce and so on. The mother’s irrelevance in establishing the social and legal identity of a child had remained a big gap in this series of moves. Therefore the real point of the proposed law is the emphasis on the identity of the mother. For single mothers, divorced or unmarried, the proposed law would come as a boon. But apart from the practical aspects, the law would relocate the mother in the social structure. A society in which domestic violence is an everyday reality, any legal instrument of empowerment for the woman is a major step forward.


Now that Atal Bihari Vajpayee can stand up on his own two knees, he has announced to the country and to the world what he actually stands for in terms of ideology and politics. The idiom of hatred that he used with such great effect in the meeting of the national executive of the Bharatiya Janata Party in Panaji will not surprise those who had had no illusions about Vajpayee’s commitment to Hindutva. It might disillusion those who have tried to see in Vajpayee the moderate face of the BJP and have tried to create an artificial distance and distinction between L.K. Advani and Vajpayee. It is now evident that Advani and Vajpayee play rather a nice duet: Vajpayee’s piano to Advani’s screeching fiddle.

Having declaimed in Panaji, Vajpayee sought to clarify in New Delhi. He must be heading towards some sort of record in clarifications. Why is it that of all the prime ministers, he is the one who always has to add a codicil after a speech or a statement has been made? There was first the statement he made about the BJP not needing the support of the Muslims to come to power. This statement, according to his office, was misunderstood. Then, he described Ayodhya as a national movement with an unfinished agenda. This had to be clarified. In New York, he announced that he had been a swayamsevak all his life and would remain one. This too had to be explained. And most recently, we have had a long annotation about what Vajpayee had meant in his speech in Goa. (One wonders if there is a full-fledged clarification section in the prime minister’s office or does this, like much else, fall into the lap of the ubiquitous Brajesh Mishra?)

The list is a significant one and suggests a number of possibilities. The first is that Vajpayee is an orator and is often not in control of his own rhetoric. He thus goes over the top. Second, that he has lost his marbles and does not quite know what he is saying. And third, the statements and the clarifications are deliberate, disingenuous political devices used to secure desired effects in selected constituencies. I lean heavily on the third argument. Let me try and explain why.

It will be clear that all the statements and the explanations cluster around two related themes. One is Muslims and the other is the agenda of Hindutva. The two are related because from the advocacy of Hindutva flows a particular attitude of hatred towards the Muslims. It would appear that Vajpayee, when he is speaking to a gathering of the converted, loyal sanghis and their supporters, utters what are his beliefs which he knows is guaranteed to win him applause and approbation. Some hours later (in the latest round, as many as 48), it occurs to him that he is also the prime minister of India and he cannot afford to be seen as somebody waving a saffron flag and wearing khaki shorts. Then follows the clarification, which is nothing more than a cover-up drafted by a rather clever wordsmith. Both the original statement and the subsequent gloss are important to Vajpayee. With one he waves the ideological flag of the sangh parivar and with the other he projects himself as a national leader who occupies the top job of a secular state. That credulous people, many of whom should know better, have bought into this deviousness is evidence of how astute a dissembler Vajpayee is.

One can look at the latest instalment in this ongoing text of statement and clarification. In Panaji, faced with a distraught and hostile party which was convinced that only a return to Hindutva could revive the languishing electoral fortunes of the BJP, Vajpayee played the Hindutva card. He also knew that the party was in no mood to listen to the demands for Narendra Modi’s dismissal. Smooth backroom operators had ensured that Modi be treated as the hero of a new and more militant and ideologically driven BJP. Moreover, Modi has the right kind of blood on his hands. Grasping the mood of the meeting, Vajpayee let loose on the Muslims and the proneness towards violence exhibited by the fanatical sections among the Muslims. In the rhetorical frenzy, the distinction between ordinary Muslims and fanatical Muslims became blurred. The pronoun “they” in the relevant part of the speech — “wherever they live they create trouble” — left the referential noun unclear, may be deliberately. The elaborate clarification issued 48 hours later said that Vajpayee had referred only to the militant Muslims. It had taken 48 hours for the BJP ideologue to pupate to the prime minister of India.

But even the clarification leaves important questions unanswered. Nobody denies that contemporary Islam has within it a pronounced militant and fundamentalist streak. But has Vajpayee paused to look at the weeds of militancy and fundamentalism in his own back garden? These are not related to Hinduism but directly to Hindutva, the ideology to which he owes allegiance. The advocates of this fanaticism are none other than some of Vajpayee’s colleagues in the sangh parivar. Is Vajpayee’s righteous anger and condemnation ever directed at them? What is more important is that Islam at least has a tolerant and an egalitarian aspect. Hindutva has none. From its origins, Hindutva and its practice have been steeped in hatred. And this hatred has primarily been directed at the Muslims.

M.S. Golwalkar, one of the principal idealogues and gurus of Hindutva, articulated this attitude in unequivocal terms. He wrote, “the non-Hindu people in Hindustan must either adopt the Hindu culture and language, must learn to respect and revere Hindu religion, must…give up their attitude of intolerance and ingratitude towards this land…or may stay in the country wholly subordinated to the Hindu nation claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment, not even citizen’s rights.” Gujarat has just seen the enactment of this agenda. The Muslims there, without distinction between militant and non-militant, now know for certain that they can claim nothing and have no citizen’s rights.

As the prime minister of India, Vajpayee has done precious little about this, save utter a few puerile homilies about raj dharma. As the ideologue of the BJP, he has condoned the utter indifference of the chief minister and those who masterminded the violence. It is telling that Vajpayee, like Golwalkar, spoke only of the intolerance of the Muslims (non-Hindus) and not about the intolerance of the sangh parivar. The message of Golwalkar is firmly embedded in Vajpayee’s ideological soul. It was not for nothing that he had announced that he was a swayamsevak for life. The clarification, that he had meant the country’s swayamsevak, does not wash any more. Vajpayee serves Hindutva, not India.

The gloss on Vajpayee’s Panaji speech does not clarify why he had to causally link the pogrom in Ahmedabad with the carnage in Godhra. If one is seriously looking for causes, shouldn’t one consider what caused Godhra? Why a group of people one fine morning decided to torch only one particular section of a train? From Golwalkar to Vajpayee the answer would be simple: Muslims are intolerant. This can be enough for the Hindutva brigade but not for the prime minister of India. The latter cannot be blind, neither can he be smug.

The notion that Vajpayee does not deserve to be the prime minister because he is not in full control of his mental faculties is an erroneous one. He is in full control. He knows what to say to which gathering, when to fudge, when to leave things ambiguous, when and what to clarify. He is deft at changing his hats. This might make him appear astute, but all the people, as the adage goes, cannot be fooled all the time. Vajpayee does not deserve to be prime minister of India because he is a moral cripple. The only thing he can bequeath to India is a receipt for deceit.



Going bust

Question hour. If the breeze from Goa hadn’t managed to move a hair from Narendra Modi’s well-kept beard, how could one expect the N Chandrababu Naidu storm to suddenly blow Modi out of Gujarat? One obviously couldn’t. Naidu merely decided not to heed the answer blowing in the wind. For one, he took too seriously what he was made to see as signals emanating from the PMO. Suddenly there were press reports, sourced to the PMO, about the prime minister’s deep sense of anguish and betrayal at the way Modi had let him down. But those who had any inkling about the functioning of the sangh parivar would know that Modi was not amenable to Vajpayee’s influence at all. It was to LK Advani that he owed his rise to power. Nevertheless, Vajpayee’s late visit to Gujarat and reference to raj dharma were interpreted by the gullible Naidu camp as proof of his dissatisfaction. Additional proof was provided by the media statements of a senior cabinet minister, Shanta Kumar, also former Himachal Pradesh chief minister and life-long member of the sangh, who criticized Modi before the wide eyes of the media. But Kumar is supposed to have acted out of vindictiveness and anyway, in Goa it was for Vajpayee to see for himself how Modi had turned into the “defender of the faith” for the rank and file. Vajpayee himself was eagerly trying in Goa to prevent himself being clubbed with Kumar. A bad case for the Andhra CEO there. Especially since his own deputy in Delhi, Yerran Naidu, had also supposedly misled him into believing that Modi was only waiting to go. Don’t always go with the wind, Naidu!

Future plans

If wishes were horses, Narain Dutt Tiwari would be riding them. Not satisfied with the chief ministership of Uttaranchal, ND is busy trying to enter the Rashtrapati Bhawan. He recently returned from Race Course Road with words of encouragement from the PM himself. He was being perceived as a presidential candidate, he had been told. To close aides, Tiwari is supposed to have said that he was willing to stay on as the Uttaranchal chief for “some time” till the infrastructure was in place in the state. He would then go back to Delhi. That would be faster than thought for ND shows no intention of getting himself elected to the legislative assembly in another four months’ time. He has also begun to cough up names of possible successors. Never say die, ND?

Show them their places

Goa over, the BJP seems to be gearing itself for major changes in the party. For one, Sushma Swaraj may find herself further cut down to size. Her alleged propensity to sit on the fence and put her interests before that of the party has not done her political image any good. The only one rooting for her now is KS Sudarshan, perhaps not for too long. The two who have everything going for them are Venkaiah Naidu and Pramod Mahajan. Although Mahajan is not too keen on leaving the government, he wouldn’t mind a party president’s post. But the one who might prove lucky is Naidu, who has reportedly been tipped to head the party with Arun Jaitley as his gen-sec. Fair enough. There won’t be anyone left crying in the woods then?

Message for you

Well-connected. And Ghulam Nabi Azad is making no bones about it. The Jammu and Kashmir Congress chief is always seen carrying his mobile phone. The problem is that he was never seen with one when he was the AICC gen-sec. The intriguing thing is that Azad has an MTNL connection with its range limited to Delhi. The quality of connection is often so poor that Azad sometimes cannot be contacted. State Congress leaders have been wondering why Azad has gone for a cell connection that works in Delhi alone. Is it Azad’s way of telling madam what a godforsaken place J&K is? Or is it his way of taking on the home ministry which has banned cell phones in J&K?

Keep the other down

And the war goes on in Uttar Pradesh. Former CM Rajnath Singh cannot bear the thought of his bęte noire, Om Prakash Singh, bagging the post of deputy CM in Mayavati’s cabinet. His camp is said to have launched a whisper campaign that warns against the fallout of having both the CM and the deputy CM from the weaker sections of society. Lalji Tandon is another aspirant for the post and is said to have the support of both the PM and the home minister. His detractors, Rajnath-Kalraj Mishra, have other plans. They have a suggestion. Why should the BJP insist on designations when it should be concentrating on getting the important portfolios? Smart move.

Learning the political game

The new Maharajah of Gwalior is itching to get into his father’s shoes. Already a page three fixture, Jyotiraditya Scindia is soon going to head the Madhya Pradesh cricket association that was run by Madhavrao. At the micro-level, the new king is supposed to be keeping in touch with almost all political workers who had remained loyal to his father. He recently sent a long list of party workers at the block level to the AICC, recommending the appointment of the men to various party posts and offices. A fast learner. Hope the party can keep pace with him.

In the charmed circle

The capital’s fashionable politicos have two more members to add zing to their parties — Vijay Mallya and his mentor, Suresh Kalmadi, who is playing friend, philosopher and guide to Mallya in his new role. Happy partying!

Footnote/ Man of many parts

Laloo Prasad in the capital is a very different man from the Laloo Prasad in Patna. In New Delhi, our man from Bihar is raising uncomfortable questions about the Gujarat governor, Sunder Singh Bhandari. “Yeh Bhandaria kya kar raha hai? Yahan Bihar mein to roz ripotwa bhejat raha. Ab kya ho gawa? (What has happened to Bhandari? In Bihar he used to send reports everyday. What has happened now?)”. Any answers Bhandari? No such fire-spewing in Bihar, where he is reported to have recently dug out a forgotten socialist to honour him. Mohammed Yunus Lohia, an associate of Ram Manohar Lohia and Jayaprakash Narayan, had once been a leader of repute. Now 75, he thought he was destined to die in penury. But not with a god like Laloo around. Only days back, residents of the Lalbagh area in Patna panicked at the sight of innumerable official cars and a posse of policemen in the area. That was until they found out that Yunus had been summoned by the Bihar lord for a Vidhan Parishad nomination. All praises for Laloo in Patna. Never mind what goes on in Delhi.    


Knotty affairs of the state

Sir — The age-old stereotypical image of an Indian village is about to receive a jolt, thanks to the first couple of Bihar(“First family marriage lights up lowly Bihar village”, April 18). Unfortunately, it takes the marriage of the second daughter of Laloo Prasad Yadav, for the most basic amenities to be made available to the residents of Hichanbigha. Earlier efforts to usher in development had failed miserably owing to the lack of political will. Does this mean that the residents of neighbouring villages will now have to pray for similar marriages to take place before they can get a taste of the same facilities?
Yours faithfully,
Neha Jha, Chhapra

Border insecure

Sir — Brijesh D. Jayal has rightly justified the deployment of troops along the India-Pakistan border on the grounds that such a measure becomes inevitable in a world that is less than perfect (“Prepare or perish” April 4). It is immaterial in this context whether India can or should trust Pakistan or whether Pervez Musharraf actually intends to crack down on terrorist outfits based in Pakistan.

Even if Musharraf could be trusted, India would still have to be prepared for any crisis. Further, despite the thaw in relations between the United States of America and India, Washington needs Pakistan’s help not only to capture Osama bin Laden, but also because of the latter’s strategic importance in Asia. Moreover, recent history shows that India was unprepared both during the Indo-China war in 1962 as well as during the more recent Kargil conflict with Pakistan.

Yours faithfully,
Aruna Gupta, Calcutta

Sir — Although I agree with Brijesh D. Jayal, I do not think that the Indian political leadership has what it takes to really up the ante against Pakistan. The charged rhetoric emanating these days from government sources notwithstanding, India would be incapable of acting with promptness and speed if the situation demanded it.

It is difficult to understand why India has displayed a peculiar complacency where Pakistan is concerned. Not so long ago, Pakistan-sponsored militants had attacked the Red Fort in broad daylight. In the aftermath of the attack, the Indian political leadership had been more concerned about evading responsibility and were only too happy to gloss over the obvious security lapse. No wonder then that the terrorists dared to attack the Parliament soon after. Once again, the findings of the official inquiry team were ignored. Only months later, while the administration was preoccupied with the Ayodhya dispute, militants were able to launch a daring strike on the Raghunath temple in Jammu.

Pakistan’s diplomacy has always been far superior than India’s. After losing a part of Kashmir to Pakistan and also some territory to China, India is now losing both men and resources in Jammu and Kashmir. Unlike the US, India, for several reasons, will never be able to carry out an operation like Enduring Freedom. The same old pattern is likely to be repeated in future: Pakistan-sponsored attacks on Indian institutions and people, India’s complaints to the US and other world organizations, and still, no serious international condemnation of Pakistan.

Yours faithfully,
Jayanta Kumar Dutta, Calcutta

Matter of shame

Sir — Almost in the wilderness stood the small room holding tight in its bosom the mazaar of one of the greatest musicians of the century, Ustad Faiyaz Khan, while the sunlight streamed in through the large gaping chinks in the wall. This was in Baroda in 1984, where I had gone to take pictures of all the places where Khansahib performed, lived and finally died, which naturally included the mazaar. When, therefore, I was told that the grave has been totally razed to the ground, out of shock, my senses were completely numbed. In revenge people do kill each other most cruelly, but it is absolute insanity to wipe out a grave, that too of such a great man, who never indulged in petty communalism. Even history does not have a parallel to this. If we claim to be civilized, is there nothing we can do to stop this insanity?
Yours faithfully,
Dipali Nag, Calcutta

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