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Sunday , July 18 , 2010
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The message from Honourable Minister Moily

India’s law minister M. Veerappa Moily was chief guest last week at a reception in the Commons hosted by Labour MP Keith Vaz.

Keith did well to attract a veritable legal galaxy, including the attorney general Dominic Grieve; the solicitor general Edward Garnier; and Nigel Evans, a deputy speaker of the Commons.

This was an opportunity for Moily to release his personal two-volume rendering of the Ramayana, which has been translated from the Kannada. Dozens of free copies were available though I noticed there wasn’t exactly a rush among British parliamentarians to pick up the hefty volumes — it’s their loss.

Though his speech at 20 minutes was too long, Moily’s message was actually quite fascinating. He argued that the popularity of the Ramayana showed that there was embedded in the Indian psyche a much older framework of laws than the system (based on Magna Carta) inherited from the British.

“Who ruled while Rama was in exile for 14 years?” thundered Moily. “Who ruled during Rama rajya? There was no king there. It is the people who ruled themselves.”

At a press conference at India House the following day, Moily developed the theme.

“Yes, we had the best rule of law,” he declared. “That is because of the Indian psyche. Indian psyche was not built overnight. It has been built over thousands of years.”

He insisted that “when Lord Macaulay entered India there was no theft, there were no robbers, no beggars. It was such a pleasant country. That is the scenario of India; we are proud of it. And that is what I picturised as Rama Rajya. India derived its democratic psyche not only from 1947 but even earlier. India is governed by a spiritual constitution which was imbibed by the people even earlier to 1951. This is the greatness of India.”

Wonderful sentiments.

Moily was then asked the question that really mattered. Had he seen Raavan, the Abhi-Ash starrer, which had put a new spin on the character of Lanka’s demon king? How did Abhi compare with his Ravan?

“No, I have not seen the film,” responded Moily, looking not entirely pleased with this line of questioning. “It has nothing to do with my book.”

He ought to send out his joint secretary to get a pirated DVD of Raavan which he must watch if he wishes to engage Mani Ratnam — and his readers — in serious discourse.

Birthday boy

Kishwar Desai held a well attended party at her south London home last week to mark a landmark — her husband Lord Meghnad Desai’s 70th birthday.

Meghnad is supposed to be an economist linked to the London School of Economics but over the past couple of years, the Labour peer became known for media appearances in which he expressed reservations about the “dysfunctional” Gordon Brown’s suitability to continue as Prime Minister.

Accused of stabbing Brown in the back, Meghnad protested: “I haven’t stabbed him from the back, I’ve stabbed him from the front.”

I am pleased to be able to report that, at 70, Meghnad is no wiser than he was at 69 or, for that matter, at 16 when he frequented the cinema halls of Bombay. The result has been a lifelong love affair with Hindi cinema. Unlike other “experts” who demand Bollywood films be shortened or have song and dance routines removed to achieve “crossover” status, Meghnad would like things to remain as they are.

He is especially knowledgeable about Guru Dutt. “I hum the songs from his films as I go about the corridors of the House of Lords.”

Western classical music, however wonderful, “doesn’t do anything for me,” he admits.

He is transported to a wonderland “if I hear a line from a Bollywood song I love”.

Ideally, he would like to be given a chance to sing all the Bollywood songs that he knows.

“This may take a few days,” he warns.

Pretty picture

Portrait painting is an art that appears to have fallen into disrepair in India — but this is not so in Britain. Here, Michael Noakes, one of the best known, tells me he has done “the Queen, most members of the Royal family, Margaret Thatcher and (Bill) Clinton”.

All this, Lord Swraj Paul might like to say has been by way of preparation for painting him.

The finished portrait was put up last week at Westminster University where Swraj is Chancellor. The building is barely a two-minute walk from Swraj’s London apartment so he can come over every morning and make sure it has not been spirited out of the country by art thieves who steal treasures to order.

Noakes, who, at 77, is two years younger than Swraj, says that the one quality that came across when his subject was sitting for him was “ebullience”.

Some of the sittings were in Swraj’s office in Baker Street where the light was perfect. “The only problem is that he was distracted by his computer screen,” says Noakes.

In his speech, Swraj thanked the artist “for the time and effort he put into producing this lovely portrait. I am delighted with it”.

Noakes hasn’t painted an Indian before but Swraj’s portrait could encourage him to go to India. My guess is that if Mamata can be persuaded to be pensive for a few hours, I am sure she would make a good portrait, especially if executed on the heroic battlefield of Singur.

Mind games

Life is not fair and the coverage of the Commonwealth Games in Delhi in October won’t be. Just as the general tone of the coverage of Fifa in South Africa was supportive, with journalists from the West going out of their way to put a positive spin on stories about Black Africa, my feeling is that the self same reporters will look for all possible fault lines in Delhi.

The projection of the new Delhi airport will, alas, not have helped matters — “how you can spend so much money on this prestige project when there are so many starving people in India etc. etc…”

Some people want the UK to cut off aid to India because they say the country is rich enough to have a space programme.

Journalists are invariably drawn into supporting the underdog. During the coverage of the neutral Test between Pakistan and Australia at Lord’s, for example, commentators bent over backwards to lavish praise on the Pakistanis for being as good as they are given the country cannot host tours.

In a way it does make sense. The only thing India has to do is make absolutely sure the Commonwealth Games run smoothly. There is a lot riding on its success.

Tittle tattle

Anand Sharma, the Indian commerce minister, appears to be gifted with an eccentric sense of humour. He will probably be meeting David Cameron when he turns up in Delhi at the end of this month with several cabinet ministers and a large business delegation.

It could be the commerce minister is a great admirer of African football. But for the sake of Indo-British amity, friends are urging Sharma to stop calling the British Prime Minister “Cameroon”.

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