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Archive for August, 2007

Left disrupts Parliament… and “The Hindu” salutes…

Posted by chakrabarti on August 23, 2007

A few days ago, The left-leaning “Hindu” newspaper endorsed the draft 123 nuclear agreement between the US and India on resuming nuclear fuel supplies, albeit with caveats. That, apparently, was before a signal came down from the offices of the comrade, to put a lid on the editorial page’s independence, and fall in line with the comrades. Since then, the editorials have been a case study in running down Manmohan Singh along with the Indian diplomatic and scientific establishment who were chiefly responsible for arriving at the terms of agreement following tortuous negotiations.

Today comes a similar argument backing the disruption of Parliament on account of Ambassador Ronen Sen’s insensitive remarks. And what was Sen’s crime on this occasion? A “headless chickens” remark that he has later clarified to be meant to be directed at mediapersons rather than politicians. But the opposition will have none of it, of course. They have found an excuse to create a ruckus and embarass a government they claim to support, and they aren’t about to let it go, taxpayer money be damned. So desperate are these guys to stop the deal, one has to ask, what’s actually in the 123 agreement which will caused such an uproar among the govt’s supposed allies?

The plain and simple answer is: nothing, really. The treaty does not cap India’s nuclear programme, nor attempt to roll it back. Of course, it does stipulate that none of the nuclear fuel that would be provided by the US, should be used as fissile material to produce nuclear weapons. A reasonable restriction in accordance with international non-proliferation treaty, one reached even in a similar deal between India and Russia.  These facts have been openly acknowledged by bona-fide left-wing columnists and journalists in publication like Hindu and Frontline.

But all that was before the CPM decided to stop “operationalizing” 123 at all costs. One has to ask, why all this mayhem and talk of withdrawing support at this moment, when such a prescription is certain political suicide for many UPA constituents, and things look so rosy for the Communist parties either?

Full disclosure: some of the provisions in the Hyde Act, which includes attempting to press-gang India into supporting an escalation of tension and eventual military action  against Iran, are unpalatable to many sensible Indians. Not to mention the annual certifications any future US presidents would have to provide certifying India to be in good standing of being a “responsible” non-proliferator. The parallels of such certifications that America had to provide for Pakistan throughout the 80s (and which were denied right after the Soviets had withdrawn from Afghanistan) are an instructive case study.  But those are domestic US laws, scripted on the whims and fancies of senators and congressmen, not to forget the role of non-proliferation ayatollahs. The only influence India had at that stage was thru lobbies such as USINPAC.

But despite its drawbacks, the bottomline is that India gets to keep its nuclear weapons program outside IAEA supervision, while getting fuel supply and help in setting up reactors. Yes, there would be a political price to pay for any future tests were India to conduct any, but that is something different Indian governments have had to deal with in the mid-70s and the late-90s, something which hardly had a telling effect on our population. Plus, the US itself has acknowledged that it cannot prevent India from sourcing uranium from other nations if it decides to get up and leave at any point.

All this has been achieved through the painstaking efforts of officials such as Ronen Sen, something made clear by Arundhati Ghose in the Indian Express today. Don’t tell that to the Hindu of course, whose excellent coverage of social issues is obscured by kowtowing to a particular political group throwing around old shibboleths.

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It’s called the Hockey World Cup – not “World Hockey Championship”!

Posted by chakrabarti on August 22, 2007

Since it was a Saturday and everyone was raving about having seen or having heard someone who had seen “Chak de India”, I decided to check out this flick, even though it had Shah Rukh in the lead role.

A few observations:

  • The Muslims-are-as-patriotic-as-anyone-in-India card was played for the umpteenth time. SRK plays India’s Muslim hockey star Kabir Khan, who misses a last-minute penalty stroke and thus sees India’s World Cup dream slipping away at the hands of – horror of horrors – the Pakistanis! Branded a traitor after this incident, egged on by a jingoistic media, he is forced to leave his home in Delhi along with his mother. Years later, he attempts a comeback as coach of a hopeless Indian women’s hockey team, and astonishingly takes them to a World Cup victory against all odds, beating Australia in the final, of all teams (might as well beat’em on celluloid, since no one can seem to do that in real-life at least!!). Going one step better as a coach, of course, means Kabir Khan’s honor has been restored, and the slander of treason that was planted on him years back now melts away, his patriotism now unquestioned. Message to Indian Muslims: if you want to represent India in sports or any other field, be damn sure to win ALL your encounters ALL the time, especially if your opponent is our western neighbor. Else, you’re toast…
  • SRK acted well for once. That is to say, he had little emotional content and his character demanded that he keeps his emotions in check almost all the time. This avoided much of the hamming he’s perfected through all those Karan Johar-Yash Chopra tearjerkers/ romantic movies over the years. His best performance since Swades for sure (another role which didn’t involve much emoting, incidentally)
  • It’s amazing what a few weeks of national integration camp-style exercises along with jogging in Lodhi Gardens at 5 am can do to a national hockey team. It can take a bunch of rag-tags who could be beaten by school-level teams to the status of world-beaters… Wish Greg Chappell had tried such tactics before our much-hyped cricket World Cup earlier this year. It may have saved the window panes present in our cricketers’ homes…
  • It seems the scriptwriters had a field day running down the game of cricket and cricketers, what with the callous attitude of the cricketer Abhimanyu Singh towards his girlfriend (a forward in the girl’s hockey team). Not that I have anything against this portrayal. I don’t know if Indian cricket superstars behave in the manner portrayed by that particular character, but it is undeniable that the attention given to cricket, especially since we accidentally won the World Cup in ’83, has led to other sports suffering. Football is making a comeback of sorts now (I am talking about English Premier League, of course…)
  • A very obvious thing that was overlooked of course, was that the women practiced for weeks in Delhi at the training camp, playing on grass pitches. Amazingly, they had absolutely no problem adjusting to the completely different astro-turf which was used in the World Cup. If anything has led to the spectacular downfall of Indian (and South Asian, though Pakistan has dealt with the change much better than us) hockey, it has been the abandonment of grass, a surface on which our dominance was unquestioned. Western nations pulled a fast one on us by this change, and we have been left floundering ever since. That, in essence, is what ails our national game today. Lack of astro-turf pitches, lack of qualified coaches and trainers at the district and state levels, indecent facilities for athletes, a general apathy and indifference towards sports, not just hockey. An indifference that has been exacerbated by big bucks thrown into cricket (particularly one-day cricket) that keeps circulating among the BCCI, multi-national corporation sponsors and television broadcasters, with a bit of it going to cricketers playing in the national cricket team.

Verdict: go watch the film if you have nothing better to do on a weekend afternoon. But don’t expect the hockey equivalent of Lagaan.

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(S)electing a President…

Posted by chakrabarti on August 22, 2007

I watched YouTube clips of one of the recent Democratic debates. A striking (and revealing) moment was at the start when the moderator addressed first question to the candidates by saying that the two most important questions that had come up in the campaign were…

a) whether Barack Obama was experienced enough to be President

b) whether Hillary Clinton was too polarizing to win a general election

Wow! One would think the issues most Democratic voters cared about might be, say, ending the occupation of Iraq, or providing universal health care, neogtiating a peaceful settlement of all issues with Iran, a just solution to Israel-Palestine, fighting Bin Laden’s followers in Afghanistan etc. etc…

But no… those apparently aren’t the most important issues facing voters. At least that’s what the professional punditocracy is going on about. Why let primary voters make rational decisions about choosing a candidate based on their policies and positions on actual issues of concern? Why not instead throw out some issues of “character” so the public can be distracted instead?

Another interesting way of introducing the candidates to the audience was by mentioning their up-to-date poll ratings. That way people know who’s to be taken seriously and who’s not. Tell you, democracy is such a chore with all these choices! Why not just sit back and punch your ballot for one of the two or three pre-selected candidates who have already gone through a through vetting process by intellectuals, ensuring none of them can rock the boat once elected to office.

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Bhutto and her newfound American audience

Posted by chakrabarti on August 20, 2007

Fascinating article in the Washington Post from veteran scribe Robert Novak. He writes about Benazir Bhutto’s seemingly imminent return to Pakistan in this election year. Apparently, networks and newspapers that have been studiously ignoring her for years are now queueing up for every soundbite on the situation in her country, and the all-important deal with Musharraf that would allow her to return, thus restoring a modicum of credibility to a discredited military regime. A regime that been boxed into a corner by civil society on the one hand (lawyers especially, after Musharraf tried unsuccessfully to oust a not-so-supine Chief Justice of the Supreme Court), and Islamic fundamentalists on the other side, who are none-too-happy that their decades-long honeymoon with the military has come to an abrupt end, thanks to American pressure.

Interestingly, Novak says the White House is playing a behind-the-scenes role in reconciling this odd duo. Not in the interest of Pakistani democracy, of course, but to keep Pakistan from boiling over, to keep it on the right side of the war against that abstract noun, “terrorism”.

While the correspondent’s account of the secret meeting between the two parties in Dubai is old hat, Novak seems to give Bhutto a pass when she claims that any future government with her at the helm shall take on radical Islamists “that brainwash our children into intolerance”, in her words. Which is surprising considering her own govt’s record of egging on the Taliban to capture power in Afghanistan back in ’96 and then offering it diplomatic recognition. Of course, this avenue of pursuing “strategic depth” had to abandoned swiftly once American bombs started raining down on the other side of the Durrand Line post 9/11.

One thing completely absent from the Novak article (and in Western media when discussing Pakistan these days)? No mention whatsoever of Nawaz Sharif, the deposed PM driven out by Musharraf after his ’99 coup. How times have changed for someone once proclaimed as Pakistan’s most powerful civilian leader.

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