The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Like the mausami bukhaar, it is a seasonal fever. It is not caused by the intake of contaminated air, water or food, but self-inflicted by healthy people living in healthy surroundings because they believe that periodical bouts of electoral fever are good for the health of their country. The strange thing about this malaise is that we have a medical officer known as the chief election commissioner who announces in advance when and where the fever will break out, prescribes what parts of the body it will manifest itself, the day it will reach its highest pitch. Mercifully it is not a terminable disease.

We are in the midst of this mausami bukhaar in five states. A carnival atmosphere pervades as at a grand tamasha or dangal — wrestling tournament. Drums beat as contenders leap into the akhaara slapping their thighs and beating their chests. The CEC acts the referee and sees that they do not break the rules of the game. The crowds that throng the ringside decide on the winner by casting votes. The CEC endorses their decision. And the tamasha is over.

Elections are expensive business costing the country thousands of crores of rupees. Quite often they do not honestly reflect the views of the people because contestants mislead them with false propaganda and meaningless manifestos. A sizeable proportion of entrants use deception, bribery and brute force to gain victories they do not deserve. We may well ask ourselves, are elections worthwhile' Can’t we find better ways of eliciting the will of the people and give them the kind of government better suited to their needs and aspirations' The answer is that so far we have not found any alternative method of eliciting people’s will: flawed elections are better than no elections.

Family ties

The Life & Times of G.D. Birla by Medha Mudaisya landed on my table with the request that I review it in the column I write for The Hindustan Times. I was embarrassed. As editor of the paper, I ate the salt of its proprietor, K.K. Birla. I continue to write the column for the paper’s present owner-manager, Shobana Bhartia, who is K.K. Birla’s daughter. In Calcutta I enjoyed the hospitality of K.K.’s younger brother, Basant Kumar, and basked in the affection of his daughter, Manjushree Khaitan. Anything I write on the founder of their industrial empire would per force be Birla-biased. So I decided to do the critical appraisal of the book for The Outlook and make passing reference to the family here.

The Birlas are Maheshwari Marwaris from Pilani. Their ancestors were modest traders till G.D. Birla’s father, Raja Baldeo Das, acquired wealth, and set up business houses in Calcutta and Bombay. Initially, their income came from trading in opium and silver. They added jute and textiles to their enterprises, then sugar, chemicals, tea and much else. At the same time, they had a passion for building temples: Birla temples are to be seen in many Indian cities.

G.D. Birla was the first in the family to take interest in political affairs. To start with, he was drawn towards Bengali terrorists: he had to go underground for three months to avoid being arrested. He then came under the influence of Pandit Malaviya and Lala Lajpat Rai and ultimately became a follower of Mahatma Gandhi and financier of the Congress Party. Birla House in Calcutta, Delhi and Bombay were given over to Bapu when he visited these cities. The Birlas were, and are, a very close knit family and do not marry outside their sub-caste. They are strict vegetarians and teetotallers. They are a strange amalgam of the traditional and the modern, of enormous wealth and courtesy towards people they employ.

Psalm of hate

The 137 Psalm is one of the most lyrical of the psalms of the Old Testament. It is about old Babylon, present day Baghdad. D.S.V. Rao has parodied it to suit the present plight of the Iraqi capital.

Old version: “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept when we remembered Zion./ We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof./ For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted/ us required of us mirth, saying Sing us one of the songs of Zion./ How shall we sing the LORD’s song in a strange land'/ If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning./ If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth;/ If I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy./ Remember, O LORD, the children of Edom in the day of Jerusalem; who said, Rase it, rase it, even to the foundation thereof./ O daughter of Babylon, who art to be destroyed; happy shall he be that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us./ Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.”

Psalm 137: Rao’s Version: By the river of Babylon, there we got bogged down. Yea, we wept, when we remembered to do the dirty work for Yankees and Tommies./ But how shall we sing the LORD’s song in a strange Muslim land./ If I forget thee, let my left hand throw a grenade./ If I do not remember thee, let my right hand throw a super grenade./ Remember, O LORD, we shall destroy Basra and Baghdad with missiles and crush the Babylonian civilization./ O Daughter of Babylon who art to be destroyed, our Dick Cheney will get all contracts to rebuild them; your sons will be re-employed./ Happy shall we be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against stones./ But give us control of oil: and for bread and butter, you neednot toil./ We did not find any weapons of mass destructions under the culverts Meanwhile we shall swim happily in Tigris and Euphrates rivers./ By the rivers of Babylon, O LORD, our cars have enough petrol to drive on and on!

Take the blame

One day suddenly surfaced a top-secret video/ About a minister-name was Dilip Singh Judeo/ Screaming headlines in a national newspaper/ Exposed what seemed a bribe-taking caper/ As per the pictures, Judeo was on the make/ He, of course, shouted that it’s a total fake/ Congress chanted “Arrest him! Put him in Tihar!”/ BJP replied, “Frame-up! Below-the-belt war.”/ People were confused; thought some “charge is right”/ “chance to prove his innocence, not very bright”/ The fact remains however, it is not very moot/ “He took the money” was really “sach or jhoot”/ Tragedy is that our politics has fallen so low/ We will believe that Mr X,Y, Z or Mr Judeo/ Is most probably guilty whatever be his name/ Or political party, he’ll always be to blame.

(Courtesy Rajeshwari Singh, New Delhi)

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