Letters to the Editor

Print edition : November 15, 1997
The U.P. crisis

Allow me to congratulate your Cover Story team for its comprehensive coverage of the U.P. crisis (November 14). Your Editorial was very balanced and thought-provoking. The Bharatiya Janata Party's "man in a hurry" always wanted to "make it alone", but his stance did not find favour with party stalwarts like A.B. Vajpayee, who had in an interview on May 28, 1996 declared: "We (the BJP) assure you. If power comes our way by breaking other parties, I will never want to touch such power even with a bargepole." But now that Kalyan Singh's strategy of engineering defections in other political parties with across-the-board enticement of ministerial posts has seemingly paid off, everybody, including Vajpayee again, has backed him. Vajpayee has even warned that some situation could replicate itself in New Delhi. Indeed, nothing succeeds like success.

Power might have its sobering effect, but certainly not in BJP parlance. Kalyan Singh's visit to Ayodhya soon after he became Chief Minister indeed proves that "he remains unreconstructed, unrepentant and defiant towards the secular philosophy and provisions of the Constitution." However strongly he might deny it in his interview, the fact remains that Ayodhya is high on the BJP's agenda. The Chief Minister, soon after taking oath of office, declared: "A criminal is a criminal. He may be of any caste or religion, but my Government will not spare him." Now, in the changed situation, 16 legislators with criminal background strut about the corridors of power and Kalyan Singh unabashedly declares that he needed to express gratitude to all those who helped him during the confidence vote. In an interview to "Saaptahik Aaj Tak", telecast on November 2, 1997, he even reasoned that they did not count as criminals in his view. Kalyan Singh wants us to believe that he would create a bhayamukta samaaj (fearless society) with the help of these criminals-turned-politicians. Vajpayee, who was till yesterday crying himself hoarse about the criminal-politician nexus in Parliament, has treated us to his own piece of logic by issuing statements to the effect that people who had been elected by the electorate as legislators were certainly fit to be Ministers.

What could be the reason behind such doublespeak, such a volte-face? It seems that the BJP, beset as it is with growing indiscipline among its ranks, is no longer to bear the stigma of a "perpetual opposition party". It might have realised that proximity to power could be the magic wand that would stem the rot within the party. Nothing else explains its opportunistic alliance with the Bahujan Samaj Party, which was doomed from the word go. The BJP's game plan is becoming increasingly clear. It is now ready to play the same self-serving, unprincipled political games that it accused others of playing. That is why its political agenda, which could have serious implications for democracy and secularism in India, needs to be separated from the sophistry that its leaders always indulge in. In expressing his gratitude to his supporters, Kalyan Singh has not only dangled the carrot before other potential defectors but also set a dangerous precedent, which, as has been rightly argued in media circles, could radically alter political reality in the rest of India.

Diwakar Jha New Delhi

Kudos to President K.R. Narayanan for taking firm and decisive action to resolve the constitutional crisis in Uttar Pradesh. This kind of bold action on the part of the President is essential when governments are in crisis.

Dr. T.S. Hanumanthe Gowda Kanakapura, Karnataka

It has become the fashion with the English press to dismiss the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh derisively as the Sangh parivar. I am not a camp follower of the BJP. Nor do I hold any brief for them. But I believe in calling a spade a spade.

In your Cover Story on the U.P crisis it is stated that Pramod Tiwari, the Congress Legislature Party leader, started the ugly brawl. But anybody who looks at the pictures on pages 5 and 22 with their captions would get the impression that it was the BJP who was the culprit and the Opposition the poor victims. Those who saw the visuals on Doordarshan and STAR Plus could conclude that it was the Opposition that started the bedlam which caused hurt to both members of the BJP and of the Opposition parties. The newscasters also said that two Ministers were hurt - a fact which was confirmed the next day by the Special Correspondent of The Hindu of October 22. (Later the BJP retaliated and gave much more than it received, but that is a different story.)

Instead of adopting a neutral stand, you have published pictures prejudicial to the BJP. Thus you have clearly exposed yours bias against the BJP.

G.S. Sampath Bangalore Authors' rejoinder

With reference to the review of the book Riots and Pogroms (Ed. Paul R. Brass, Macmillan Press, London, 1996) in the September 19 issue, we, as the authors of the article on the Agra riots included in the book, wish to make a few clarifications.

The reviewer considers some of our comments "odd". It is strange that any opinion that does not tally with one's own can be termed "odd". The reviewer charges us with "roundly attacking" the English language press for its alienation from popular sentiment at the height of the Ayodhya movement. Our thesis that even Western mediapersons are often amazed at the hiatus between the ground reality and the reporting/prognosis of the English language press is dismissed with the smug satisfaction that "the solitary authority cited in support of the proposition is Mark Tully's No Full Stops In India."

We wish to clarify that we have made no attempt to "roundly attack" the English language press. We have merely sought to highlight its widely perceived alienation from mass sentiment and ground realities, specially in the rural hinterlands of Uttar Pradesh where the Ayodhya movement was at its strongest. A seminar was held in Haryana Bhavan in New Delhi on August 13-14, 1994, attended, among others, by print media luminaries such as Ajit Bhattacharjea, G.S. Bhargava, Venkatesh Chakravarthy, T.N. Gopakumar, S.S. Mysoremath, Chanchal Sarkar and Umashankar Phadnis as well as the authors. In this interface between mediapersons, academics and activists, the fact that there did exist a distance between the English language press and rural mass sentiment was accepted and remedial measures were deliberated upon. This was particularly in view of the challenge and role of the language press in Uttar Pradesh, which, it was felt, did not always adhere to the highest standards of reporting, thereby compromising in the publication of inflammatory tracts. The mention of this hiatus by us is, therefore, certainly not an indictment but merely a statement which constitutes a basic premise of our research. As for quoting Mark Tully, we refer to him not so much in "support" as an example of parallel thinking. We, at the grassroots level, would not put our findings in print unless we were well beyond the point of "support" and certain of our facts.

The reviewer wonders if our statement, "... an increasing number of Hindu agents of the interventionist state are finding it more and more difficult to stifle what they see as their own conscience and render unquestioning obedience to the dictates of an increasingly alien state," is an explanation or an excuse or a defence. It is none of these. It is merely a pointer to the pitfalls of an evolving over-interventionist state. If one must look beyond this in one's search for the motives and orientations of the authors, then it may be construed as an explanation of why the state failed to prevent the actual act of demolition despite the Central forces being close at hand. Besides, videographic evidence exists of women family members of civil servants stationed at Ayodhya engaging in public marches, demanding of the state the right for their menfolk to remain human beings first and not be compelled to resort to carnage of the kar sevaks under the orders of the state. Considering that civil servants are liable to face disciplinary action and dismissal for non-compliance of orders, this was the farthest they could go in expressing their sentiments.

As regards the reviewer's comments concerning our confirmation of the communal bias of the Provincial Armed Constabulary in Uttar Pradesh, much ink has already been spilled on the topic by writers and scholars like the Rudolphs as well as senior police officials like K.F. Rustamji (as stated in the essay). In any case, the authors have in no way contributed to the creation of this bias and this obviates our need to defend it. It is simply a plea to understand and accept the ground realities of Uttar Pradesh politics for purposes of both academic research and policy formation. In recent times, the induction of an overwhelming number of members of the Other Backward Classes into the Uttar Pradesh police with the clear intent of tilting the balance in their favour in times of riots, and then the creation of the Rapid Action Force for the management of riots (again with a sizable segment of OBC recruits), leave very little to the imagination and confirm the caste stratification within the Uttar Pradesh police force. Also, the nexus between politicians and criminals often renders the police force ineffective. In fact, it is precisely because academically inclined people, far removed from the scene of action and suffering from the malady of alienation, have consistently refused to take note of the ground realities that the hiatus between the 'is' and 'ought' of state politics has not only come into existence but has also got consolidated.

Our statement that Nehru took to Western values lock, stock and barrel, is, to say the least, a truism. The authors, themselves members of the community which the Nehruvian world view spawned, often find themselves out of tune with the spirit of rural "Hindu" India. Nevertheless, we take cognizance of that zeitgeist and have tried to plead that the alternative world-view ought not to be dismissed as powerless in its hold upon the rural masses.

One of our statements, perceived as pro-Hindutva (given in italics by the reviewer) has clearly ruffled a few feathers. We submit that it has been quoted out of context. It appears in the context of discussing the Hindu discourse to establish that the average Hindu masses in Uttar Pradesh have developed a certain kind of self-image, internalised a certain interpretation of history, and share a definite world-view. This submission is followed by a treatment of the Muslim discourse with the purpose of presenting a balanced picture of the two opposing discourses. To this the reviewer makes no reference.

In mentioning the three strands of Muslim discourse (those of the nationalist Muslims, those of the communalist Muslims and those of the Marxist Muslims) we have tried to establish that Muslim opinion in India is not as monolithic as is made out to be by Hindu nationalists.

Dr. Jayati Chaturvedi Dr. Gyan Chaturvedi Agra

A.G. Noorani replies:

The writer's essay went beyond alleging a "hiatus" and "perceived alienation from the masses" in the English press, as they now suggest. It was not only "almost total alienation from the popular sentiment", but also "serious inability to comprehend the meaning and power of the Hindutva resurgence", that is, professional incompetence. One wishes they had taken note of the Press Council's censures of some Hindi journals which showed such "comprehension".

References to the "conscience" of the police hostile to minorities and sneers at their critics ("conscience-keepers") reveal a lot. The three paragraphs on "the Muslim discourse" are encapsulated in its "three strands" which they mention. The paragraphs are as simplistic as the categories.

When it is alleged that "one of our statements... has been quoted out of context", it is fair to reproduce it and show how the reviewer committed the lapse. Dilating on the context, without the quote is not helpful. As for Nehru, the quotes from the authors' essay speak for themselves. They are free to claim, as they do, that their statement (which reflects an opinion) about him "is, to say the least, a truism".

Booker Prize

Critics must understand that Arundhati wrote the book not because she was a writer, but because she had a story to tell from deep down her heart. This she did with authenticity and with a large helping of inventive narration.

The Booker Prize awarded to Arundhati Roy is a grand tribute to an Indian English writer, a true home-grown writer, in this Golden Jubilee Year of India's Independence, paradoxically from the English!

Subbiah Venkataraman Bangalore Social outrage

This has reference to "A continuing social outrage", on sanitary workers (October 17). In the 50th year of Independence, the condition of these workers calls for a closer look. In spite of Gandhiji having taken the initiative and having worked for the abolition of the practice of manual scavenging, it is still prevalent in almost all states barring a few exceptions. To make the sanitary workers live like humans and with self-respect, the Government needs to awake from its slumber and take a review of its Acts and their implementations. The situation calls for a change in attitude and outlook of the people who employ the sanitary workers.

Until every class of people is able to lead a healthy life and a life with self-respect (such was the India the Father of our nation dreamt of), we don't deserve to celebrate the 50th year of our Independence.

Sunita Yadav Gangtok, Sikkim Mother Teresa

While your Cover Story on Mother Teresa (October 3) was interesting and the stories about her self-sacrificing devotion to the poor and the helpless were moving indeed, the absence of critical analysis was surprising, especially in a publication of Frontline's standing. This is not in the spirit of maligning the dead or to take anything away from her undeniable achievements. Rather, we must come to a fuller understanding of what made those achievements possible and what precisely these constituted.

Catholic and Protestant Churches in India have both accommodated themselves to the grim realities of class and caste - to such an extent that converts retain many of the privileges and stigmas of the caste groups they came from. Even the dead are not spared and burial grounds may often be separated by caste. Elsewhere in the world, in the wake of Pope John XXIII and Vatican II, liberation theology has radicalised many sections of the Church. The acceptance of social injustice by the Church in India has few parallels in other parts of the world. The kind of charity-based approach undertaken by Mother Teresa might well be seen as unforgivably timid outside the Indian clerical scene. It is doubtless that this wilful blindness towards questions of social and political justice allowed Mother Teresa to ignore all distinctions between dictators and democratic leaders, so that she consorted freely with tyrants of the most lurid hue such as 'Papa Doc' Duvalier. If we concede Mother Teresa was a good - even an exemplary - human being, that does not mean we must ignore the limits of her work and the uses others made of her, uses that she clearly consented to.

Arvind Rajagopal Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN, USA

Akal Takht

The photograph that is published with the item "Jathedar's unfinished sentence" in Update (October 31) is of the Akal Takht, not of the Golden Temple as mentioned in the caption.

J.S. Kalove Visakhapatnam EMS in The God of Small Things

In her Booker Prize-winning novel, The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy has made repeated references to my father, E.M.S. Namboodiripad, which in most cases caricatures his character and the movement that he has been involved with. Whereas the author has every right to her opinion and views about my father and his Party, just as we have to ours about her writing, Roy has, however, transgressed her freedom by gross misrepresentation of facts.

In her novel there is reference to a "Heritage" hotel located in Ayemenem (Kottayam district), which is claimed to be my father's "ancestral home", where "old Communitsts... now worked as fawning bearers in colourful ethnic clothes" (page 126 of the 1997 IndiaInk edition). This, I must state, amounts to complete fabrication, which, to make about a living person in particular, is completely unethical. While Roy may hold that "Comrade E.M.S. Namboodiripad" of her novel is a "fictional" character, the fact is that the book contains sufficient factual references to my father, including his being the "Chief Minister of the first ever democratically elected Communist government in the world", subsequently dismissed by the Nehru regime (see pages 67 & 68).

Moreover, there are other apparently real-life characters in the novel whose names have been changed. The only exception here happens to be "Comrade E.M.S. Namboodiripad", whose name and supposed antecedents have been retained lock, stock and barrel. What makes one suspect that the reference is not merely a figment of the author's imagination is the fact that the hotel described in the novel does indeed exist in Kottayam. Until around 1993, the hotel was the ancestral home of another gentleman with similar initials - Ezhumavil Subramanian Namboodiripad. My father's full name, on the other hand, is Elamkulam Manakkal Sankaran Namboodiripad.

Further, my father's ancestral home, as his name suggests, is located in Elamkulam village in Malappuram district. Anybody with even a rudimentary grasp of the State's geography (which, one hopes, Roy possesses) would know that Malappuram in Northern Kerala and Kottayam in Southern Kerala stand about 250 km apart!

I am not sure whether the reference to my father is a product of the author's ignorance and confusion or whether it is a deliberate act intended to malign him. The tone of the book makes one infer the latter. The matter assumes importance beyond a mere "clarification" from my side because it is well-known that my father donated the entire proceeds from the sales of his share in ancestral property to the then undivided Communist Party of India, nearly 60 years ago.

In this context, a picturisation in which the "Communist party boss" converts his ancestral home into a hotel and makes Communists work as servile bearers clearly tarnishes my father's image. And incidentally, "Comrade E.M.S. Namboodiripad's ancestral home" itself has not been sold to anyone and is, in fact, currently occupied by the widow and two sons of his eldest brother - E.M. Raman Namboodiripad - who inherited it in the first place.

Roy may have a legal excuse in the form of a claim that all characters in her book are fictional. But to say that explicit factual references such as those mentioned above are "fictional" is to ridicule the reader's intelligence. I had no intention of bringing all this out because one is, after all, used to anti-Communist propaganda and personal attacks of much greater intensity. However, over the past few weeks, my family has been harassed with repeated queries and doubts from various quarters about the hotel referred to in the novel.

There has also been a fair amount of newspaper writing about the literary and political content of Roy's book. My intention here is neither to comment on the quality of the novel, whether as a piece of literature or in terms of its political context, nor even about Roy's credentials to receive the Booker Prize. This statement is being given purely in the public interest to make a factual clarification as well as to question whether making completely false and libellous references to a living person is justifiable in the name of artistic freedom.

Dr. Malathi Damodaran Thiruvananthapuram

A letter from the Editor


Dear reader,

The COVID-19-induced lockdown and the absolute necessity for human beings to maintain a physical distance from one another in order to contain the pandemic has changed our lives in unimaginable ways. The print medium all over the world is no exception.

As the distribution of printed copies is unlikely to resume any time soon, Frontline will come to you only through the digital platform until the return of normality. The resources needed to keep up the good work that Frontline has been doing for the past 35 years and more are immense. It is a long journey indeed. Readers who have been part of this journey are our source of strength.

Subscribing to the online edition, I am confident, will make it mutually beneficial.

Sincerely,

R. Vijaya Sankar

Editor, Frontline

Support Quality Journalism
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor
×