Editorial / Corner Kick from the east
Midsummer madness
The Telegraph Diary
Letters to the editor

The first soccer world cup in Asia will be remembered for the mark that some of the Asian countries have left on it at about the halfway stage. Japan and Korea became the first two Asian countries to enter the second round of the world cup. It would be mealy-mouthed to suggest that this success has been offset by the poor performances of Saudi Arabia and China. It is too early to see in the victories registered by Japan and Korea a sign of the emergence of Asian football in the international arena. But they should not be underestimated either. It is tempting also to parallel the soccer successes of Japan and Korea with their economic advance. Unfortunately, the football played by these two countries is yet to reach the standard that deserves the label of tigers, the rulers of the animal kingdom. If in the realms of economic entrepreneurship, Japan and Korea have broken new ground by boosting their exports and by aggressive trading, their soccer strategy has trodden well-worn paths. They do not experiment on the football pitch. They have obviously watched Western football with a great deal of attention and they have attempted in their play to replicate Western modes of play and occidental strategy and tactics. Japanese and Korean football is bereft of any oriental magic.

The success of the two Asian nations inevitably raises in the minds of all Indian soccer lovers the question of India�s participation in the world cup. India is nowhere on the international soccer map. Other than hope, there is nothing substantial to suggest that India can make it to the world cup in the foreseeable future. One very convenient alibi presented to condone India�s lack of success in football is poverty. India is poor and therefore undernourished Indians lack the fitness and the stamina to play top class soccer. This argument is falsified by the example of Latin America and some of the African countries. Many of the Latin American countries that play superb football are as poor as India, some of them, as basket economic cases, are perhaps even worse off. But this has not hampered their skill in soccer. But these countries have established over the years an infrastructure to build up skills for soccer. Football is one of Latin America�s major concerns. India has taken no such initiative. The Indian footballer, Chuni Goswami, has recently told the story of how in the early Sixties, when the Indian team had a number of talented players, they were made to stay during their training in school classrooms surrounded by the stench of urine and mosquitoes. The ambience of neglect encircling Indian football has changed only a wee bit over the years.

Till such time that Indian football undergoes a radical transformation, Indian football fans will have to enjoy the world cup vicariously. When people in Calcutta root enthusiastically for Brazil they do so with a sense of anti-climax as their own team is not playing. They make Brazil their own team. Such fans will, like all soccer supporters across the globe, remain on tenterhooks for the next fortnight. The present world cup is not only open, the portents suggest that it will be a tournament of upsets.


Those whom the gods want to destroy, the ancient Greeks were fond of saying, they first make mad. The statement comes to mind after watching the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the other left parties in action in the context of the presidential elections.

After having tried various options, the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance struck upon A.P.J. Abdul Kalam as its candidate. This was a masterstroke, for really the choice of Kalam as president is unobjectionable on any count. After some initial hesitation, the Congress realized the stupidity of opposing Kalam�s candidature and announced that it would support him. Mulayam Singh Yadav, who had originally proposed Kalam�s name, naturally accepted the NDA nomination. But the left parties announced that they would oppose Kalam as a matter of principle and would field their own candidate knowing full well that nobody, given the political arithmetic, had a ghost of a chance against Kalam.

The left�s argument was simple. It would not support anyone whose name had been put forward by the NDA. The person, in this context, was irrelevant. The provenance of the proposal was crucial. It also felt that this �principle� was strong enough to justify a breakdown of the People�s Front. The latter, with Yadav now out of it, is now well and truly dead and buried. Of course, it could be said that the People�s Front was never alive and had only a nominal political existence.

The People�s Front may not have been an effective political force but it could serve as the symbol of a possibility. It stood for the possibility of a joint political front against the BJP and the allied forces advocating Hindutva. The Indian political space now has a very clear demarcation between the secular and the non-secular. The latter is dominated by the BJP. The former is not dominated by any one party and is a fractured space. There are a lot of claimants for it. The Congress is the principal claimant since in the past it dominated this space. Its decline has forced it to share this space with the left and the caste-based parties in north India. The Congress�s electoral fortunes are on the rise and the party is imbued with a new confidence but it is still not in a position to recover the political space it once dominated and to take on the BJP singlehandedly.

This is where the People�s Front projected a possibility. There was the option, as long as it existed, that given the numbers and adequate negotiations, a single secular front could emerge to oppose the BJP. Its demise has only further fractured the secular space since now the left and Yadav will be at loggerheads. Already, there are reports of Amar Singh of the Samajwadi Party denigrating the communists and of making personal attacks against Harkishen Singh Surjeet, the general secretary of the CPI(M), who till the other day was referred to in the People�s Front as pitamaha Bhishma. The only party laughing its way to the vote bank is the BJP and the saffron brigade.

For what purpose has the People�s Front been split and killed? For what purpose has the possibility of a secular front against the BJP been torpedoed? The answer is for a meaningless election for a meaningless post. The head of state is a fancy label for someone who is no more than a figurehead of the republic and a rubber stamp for decisions made by the Union cabinet. The president�s effective political power consists of returning a bill without his assent. But he can only do this once. If the bill is sent to him a second time, he has to sign it. His other political activity consists of counting the numbers and deciding who has the right to form a government. This has some importance. The president�s role is largely ceremonial. This is one very good reason why a non-political person like Kalam, who has stature, should be appointed to the august office. A person like Kalam adds dignity to the ceremonies that revolve around the office of the president.

The comrades, of course, will have none of this. They find a token principle enough to oppose a good candidate and also enough to destroy the potential of a united opposition to the forces of communalism. What could be more insane? In the name of opposing communalism, the left has destroyed opposition to it.

The madness of the left, however, does not stop there. It is extended to the candidate the left has decided to pit against Kalam. The left, in its wisdom, has chosen Lakshmi Sahgal. There is something very pathetic about this selection. After the death of Kalpana Joshi, Lakshmi Sahgal is the only genuine heroine that modern India can boast of. In an era when very few women emerged from their household chores to take to active politics, Sahgal, from a very privileged background, risked everything and involved herself with militant nationalism. She was a prominent member of Subhas Chandra Bose�s Indian National Army and emerged as one of Bose�s closest associates. Her life has been marked by great courage and great dignity. Unlike others, she has steadfastly refused to use her association with Bose as political capital.

She and her daughter, Subhashini, are both very close to the CPI(M), the latter is an activist. Lakshmi Sahgal is now 88 years old, not the age when one expects to be drawn into a futile electoral battle. The upholders of democratic centralism, who believe that human beings are pawns of the party�s whims, consider kindness to an octogenarian to be decadent and bourgeois. Thus Lakshmi Sahgal is being sacrificed by the party at the altar of a vague and utterly specious principle.

Lakshmi Sahgal has, as is expected of her, put a brave face on all this. She has said that it is the cause that has inspired her. But what is the cause that drives her this time? Whatever be the cause, it is in no way the one that was fire in her blood in her youth. Her party has, in fact, put the only worthwhile cause in India today � anti-communalism � in jeopardy by its madness and stupidity. In the process, it has pulled down a lady who is part of a very courageous chapter of India�s past.

This episode is another instance of the left�s complete political bankruptcy. The left, especially, the CPI(M), no longer knows what is good for it. It is driven by whims and utterly irrelevant ideological preoccupations. Outside of West Bengal, it has no political presence anywhere. The divorce with the Samajwadi Party only means that the left can resign itself to a spell in the political wilderness. When it gets written out of history, the left, as is its wont, will look for a conspiracy. It will do so in vain. It would do better to look for the reason in the insanity of its present leadership.



Who�ll clear those files?

Asim Dasgupta has quite a reputation for sitting on files. He may have got away with it earlier, but people are fast losing their patience. A ministerial colleague has promised to reward with one of those three-nights-two days holiday packages any officer who manages to extricate a file from Dasgupta�s office. One MLA, famous for his caustic tongue and, needless to add, no friend of the state finance minister�s, had just about had enough of Dasgupta�s endless procrastinations. His pet-proposal, an infrastructure project that would immensely benefit the people of Calcutta, had found its way into Dasgupta�s office and showed no sign of ever coming out. Recently, this legislator had the chance to get his own back. In the midst of a party meeting, Dasgupta told him smugly that he had passed his file � three days ago. The MLA who had checked up on the status of the file just before coming to the meeting, refuted his claim and also repeated Asimbabu�s instructions to his officers � that the matter was not too important and they mustn�t bother him with it for the next six months. The embarrassed Dasgupta didn�t know where to look. Not everyone gets angry of course, some camouflage their frustration with humour. A party leader was recently exhorting the lal jhandawallahs to look beyond politics and power and do something worthwhile � for example, donate their bodies. �We wanted to,� was the reply, �but if donating bodies has anything to do with the department of finance, our bodies would start to putrefy while the ministry debated whether to pass the file!�

He�s got power

Who is real power in the Union external affairs ministry, Jaswant Singh, Omar Abdullah, or Brajesh Mishra? From the way he was all over Almaty, it would seem Brajesh is the PM�s right hand man and adviser on everything to do with external affairs. For one, Jaswant was not even part of the entourage to Almaty. Abdullah was, but no one took any notice of him. All everyone wanted was Brajesh. He was present at all the PM�s meetings with foreign heads of state. When AB Vajpayee had to reply to Pervez Musharraf�s speech, it was Brajesh he turned to, and not Abdullah or Sudhindra Kulkarni who were equally near. So much does Vajpayee rely on his principal secretary that when he wanted to convey a message to an external party � the Congress � he chose Brajesh. Brajesh�s Jeeves to Vajpayee�s Bertie Wooster, what say you?

The general has roving hands

Talking of Almaty, the Indian delegation did double duty to ensure AB Vajpayee didn�t run into the Pakistani premier. They were afraid of a repeat of Kathmandu, where Pervez Musharraf had forced Vajpayee to shake hands with him, in the full glare of the international media. This time the Indian team feared that if the two came face to face, Musharraf would try to hug the Indian PM. Vajpayee and his party had reached the Kazakh capital a day before the summit was to start and were put up at the Hotel Regent Ankara, while the Pakistani general was to stay at the Hotel Hyatt. Unaware of the PM�s dilemma, the Indian ambassador to Kazakhstan, Vidya Sagar Verma, organized a dinner for the PM to meet the Indian residents of Almaty at the Hyatt at around the same time that Musharraf was supposed to check in. But the Musharraf scare was such that the dinner had to be preponed. The next day, when Musharraf was in the basement of the Hyatt and Vajpayee was travelling in a lift on the upper floors, some impish spirit spread the rumour that the two leaders had had a face-to-face. That was enough to set the cat among the pigeons.

The man who would be president

The quiet afternoon peace was shattered at the Anna University recently by the ringing of the telephone. The caller wanted to know where Prof. APJ Abdul Kalam was. He was calling from N Chandrababu Naidu�s office, and the CM wanted to speak to him, pronto. Since Kalam was busy in the lab, he was asked to call later. It was only half an hour later that Naidu could speak to Kalam and ask him whether he would consent to be the next president of India. �Me, are you sure?� asked the self-effacing scientist. He then went back to the lab and picked up from where he had left off. But within hours, senior Chennai police officials had surrounded the University � after all, you don� take chances with a future president. Kalam however betrayed no excitement � except of course to ask his family to rustle up some biriyani.

Out of the race

One person who is not very happy now that APJ Abdul Kalam looks all set to be the next resident of Rashtrapati Bhavan is its present incumbent, KR Narayanan. Naturally. Narayanan had been in touch with the parliamentary forum of SC and ST MPs which had assured him of the support of 106 of its 145 MPs. But from Tuesday morning, the calls of support started becoming fewer. By late evening, it seemed Narayanan would not even get 30 per cent of the votes. The wise man that he is, Narayanan read the writing on the wall, and issued a late night communiqu�, saying that he had never been in the race.

All in the family

Everyone knows Indians don�t like football too much � cricket�s their passion. But residents of 10, Janpath are a different lot. Since the local cablewallah doesn�t include Ten Sports, a dish antenna has been installed specially for Rahul Gandhi, who seems to have come back to India for good, is an avid football fan. So is bro-in-law, Robert Vadra. But while the former is pegging his hopes on a Brazilian victory, the latter has put his money on the Germans. Note, no one is rooting for Italy. Not even mama Sonia, who isn�t too interested, except in the final outcome.

Footnote / Politicians are like that only

Who said Indian politicians are an uneducated, unruly lot? Suresh Pachauri, for one, is anything but. The four-time Congress MP in the upper house is currently doing a course in law from Bhopal�s Barkatullah University. Recently, in the midst of all the politics and politicking, conscientious student that he is, Pachauri forgot that he had to sit for his examinations in Bhopal. By the time realization dawned, it was too late to board the train for Bhopal. Worse, no regular flights were available to the city. What now? At his wit�s end, Pachauri then approached a senior Congress functionary who arranged for a chartered flight to Bhopal. The bill? Rs 70,000/- only. But when the news of such extravagance reached Bhopal, it upset a lot of local partymen.

What a waste, they said. Of course, it was. But don�t for a moment think that their objection had anything to with morals or principles, or any such thing. �We could have asked someone to write the answers for him for under Rs 2,000,� was their grouse. Now that�s more like Indian politicians.



Between the devil and the deep sea

Sir � The explosion outside the American consulate in Karachi was the jihadis� way of disapproving of Pervez Musharraf�s pro-America and anti-militant stance (�America under attack in Pak�, June 15). It is sad that for Musharraf�s past mistakes and allegiances, he must swallow humble pie now and perhaps revert back to a pro-militant stand. If he does not, he could be ousted from power. If he does, he will be ostracized by the superpowers. Unfortunately for Musharraf, it is a no-win situation. But did he seriously believe that his anti-jihadi stance would be accepted silently by hardliners in Pakistan?

Yours faithfully,
Soma Guha, Guwahati

Wired to monopoly

Sir � Subscribers of cable television in Calcutta are being taken for a ride and the government seems to be doing nothing except passing a few irrelevant bills. Since the entry of big players in the market, the 17,000 small cable operators have joined hands to form an umbrella company, the Forum of Cable Operators (�World through his wires�, June 1). This company subscribes to one of the big players such as RPG Netcom or Siti Cable for the telecast of a package of channels. Since only one umbrella company covers a region, this company, can establish a monopoly over the region.

All the cable operators subscribing to this umbrella company have their areas divided and charge monthly rental fees according to their wish. Since there is no fixed charge for monthly rentals, exorbitant amounts are charged. As there is no accountability, the same cable operator charges different monthly rentals from different subscribers in the same locality and those who protest have no choice except to lose their connection. And since a single cable operator wields monopoly over a particular area, users of that area cannot use the services of any other operator.

When asked the reason behind the discrepancy in the rate structure, most operators claim that they either provide better picture quality than their counterparts or are using better equipment. Some even say that they charge rates according to the area and the status of the client. It is time the tariff structure is regularized and the monopoly broken by introducing a proper law.

Yours faithfully,
Asheem Kapoor, Calcutta

Sir � On June 9, in different corners of the world, the football world cup was going on, the singles and the men�s doubles finals of the French Open were taking place, Sri Lanka was playing a three-day tie against the MCC, New Zealand was playing the West Indies in the third of the five one-dayers, Australia was taking on India in the four-nations hockey tournament, while Michael Schumacher was on his way to winning the Canadian Grand Prix.

In India, except for world cup football, none of these events was telecast live on television. Instead, ESPN and Star Sports, who have a monopoly over the broadcast of sports programmes, chose to show repeat telecasts of earlier matches. If Ten Sports had not been available to cable subscribers, we would have probably have missed the world cup matches too.

There is obviously a dire need for a greater number of sports channels on TV. In Africa, Sky Sports simultaneously beams five sports channels. Till more sports channels are introduced, Indian sports lovers will have to miss the action.

Yours faithfully,
R.N. Bose, Calcutta

City of foul smell

Sir � I am a frequent visitor to the New Market. Of late, I find a stinking garbage truck parked beside the entrance to the flower range and just beneath the clock tower. I have noticed that whenever the truck becomes full, another one takes its place.

The carelessness of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation is disgusting. Not only is the rotting garbage extremely unhygienic and an eyesore, the foul smell emanating from it also pollutes the surroundings besides breeding mosquitoes and flies and other such disease-carrying insects. Thousands of people, including tourists, visit this area every day. What impression will they take home of the City of Joy?

Yours faithfully,
Akhter Kamal Siddiqui, Calcutta

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