The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Rituals sit uneasily in a democracy. Their rightful place is in a monarchy. One ritual in the Indian democracy, copied from a Westminster practice, is the address by the president to Parliament. The queen does the same thing to her parliament under the shadow of the Big Ben. The presidentís speech is only nominally his, since it well known that it is written by the government. The president only acts as the governmentís spokesperson. Thus the address has no more than ritual value. The prime minister and his colleagues repeat the same policy guidelines when they speak before the house. This yearís address by the president, Mr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, set a record of sorts. His speech was 24 pages long and he took more than an hour to read it out. This transformed a ritual into a torture. Even if the vice president, Mr Bhairon Singh She- khawat, had not been taken ill while reading out the Hindi translation of the speech, the text was unnecessarily and inordinately long. Nothing in the contents of the speech justified its length. Verbosity is the cardinal sin of speech-making and many Indian politicians, venerated as orators, have made it into a fine art. It was to be expected that Mr Kalam, because he came from a domain far removed from politics, would abandon prolixity for precision. He has belied such expectations.

Mr Kalamís address moved along a predictable grid. There were the usual swipes at Pakistan for funding terrorists and for being so belligerently anti-Indian. More important for the domestic audience was what the president had to say about the Ayodhya dispute. His advice did not have the ring of novelty. He said that the dispute could be resolved through negotiations between the two communities or through a verdict of the judiciary. Both solutions beg very important questions. One is the issue of bringing the two communities to the negotiating table and also the decision about who represents the communities. Without addressing these issues, the advice has no practical value. In fact, it merely restates the obvious. The dependence on a judicial verdict only points to the lamentable immaturity of civil society in India. The dispute in Ayodhya cannot be resolved by the judiciary. It is a matter on which experts ó historians and archaeologists ó should pass an opinion and the rest of society should accept that opinion. In India, there is no guarantee that such an opinion will be respected. Hence the dependence on the judiciary. Is there any guarantee that the courtís verdict will be obeyed by all parties concerned'

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