In the name of Shivaji

Published : Jan 30, 2004 00:00 IST

PUNE has rightly been recognised as an outstanding home of high learning and scholastic excellence. The Bhandarkar Institute has, in no small measure contributed to put Pune on the academic map of the world. In this great institution, generations of students and scholars have sought and found intellectual nourishment. Here they have breathed the aroma of a long-established culture that has made Pune such a civilised place.

A few days ago the unthinkable happened. The Bhandarkar Institute was vandalised by a bunch of hoodlums. These inferior dregs of society invoked the name of the great Chattrapati Shivaji to justify their outrageous assault on our heritage. The people of Pune have reacted in a marvellous manner. They have voluntarily commenced work to repair the damage. Hundreds of people have involved themselves in this exercise. But all these wonderful people cannot recreate the precious items that were destroyed by these anti-social elements. The provocation for their uncivilised behaviour was that some author has made certain observations about Shivaji Maharaj, whose place in our history is so high that no author can diminish him.

Along with millions of others, I sincerely hope that those responsible for the damage done to the Bhandarkar Institute will be punished severely and promptly.

THE Congress party, for the past five years has maintained that India-Pakistan relations need to be addressed in a mature and consistent manner. The government has changed its stance at least half a dozen times. The Congress party has throughout these five years stated that the diplomatic door should not be shut and the dialogue must be resumed. We are glad that this has been finally done. The SAARC Summit in 2003 was not held because of the government's obduracy. What good did the cancellation of rail, air and bus services to Pakistan do. What did Operation Parakram achieve. Why that bombastic rhetoric about aar-paar ki-larai - fight to a finish. Then land up in Islamabad to embrace Jamali. Some consistency.

NOW let us look to the future. We certainly hope that the constructive dialogue that is beginning next month will be creative and result-oriented for the mutual benefit of both countries. The test will be Jammu and Kashmir. We will all be watching the progress on this matter. The Prime Minister of Pakistan acted wisely when he did not mention Jammu and Kashmir in his speech. General Musharraf too skated on the very thin diplomatic ice. He now finds himself between a rock and a hard place - India and the United States.

India is in a position to steer SAARC into the right course, that is, we should aim at having a common foreign policy, common defence policy, common economic policy. On the nuclear question, India and Pakistan should have a common approach. The SAARC summits of the future, one hopes, will not be held hostage to India-Pakistan relations. The Simla Agreement was not invoked this time in Islamabad but remains the bedrock of the bilateral relations in a mutual beneficial way.

Finally, this is not to belittle Vajpayee's bold and statesman-like initiative of April 16, 2003. His recent visit to Islamabad is the continuation of what he said in Srinagar last year. Every Indian wishes him well in this regard. There is an improvement in the atmosphere. Now we must get down to substance.

THE Bush Administration has decided that visitors from a very large number of countries will be required to give their fingerprints at airports and seaports before being allowed entry into the U.S. Some 27 countries have been excluded. I do not know whether India is one of them. If not, then like Brazil, we should also ask American visitors to India to give their fingerprints before being allowed entry into our country. Reciprocity is an accepted enterprise between nations. We fully share the anxieties of the U.S. about terrorism, having suffered from it for decades. The U.S. discovered terrorism on September 11, 2001. I very much hope that India is not included in the fingerprinting list of countries. The Vajpayee government has gone out of its way to oblige the U.S. on a number of issues. The least the Americans can do is to spare us this fingerprinting ignominy.

I AM a great cricket fan. I sat glued to the television to watch the fourth and final Test between India and Australia in Sydney. This most English of games has now become the most popular sport in the Indian subcontinent. During the Rajasthan Assembly elections, I visited many villages in my son's constituency (he won the election). In several places, schoolchildren wanted me to donate money so that they could buy a cricket kit. Most of them were fans of Sachin Tendulkar, Saurav Ganguli and Rahul Dravid. They even knew the names of Australian cricketers like Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting. In the Sydney final both teams performed brilliantly. We now look forward to the even more exciting cricket matches that will be played in Pakistan in the month of March. When these two teams meet at Lahore, Karachi and Rawalpindi, life in both countries will come to a halt. I wish Pakistan luck and India success.

This is my first column in the New Year. I wish all my readers a creative, happy, rewarding and exciting 2004.

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