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Why the disaffection?

The last week of February and first few days of March will have long lasting effects on the future of our country. On February 28, P Chidambaram presented the Budget for the year.

india Updated: Mar 18, 2006 00:16 IST

The last week of February and first few days of March will have long lasting effects on the future of our country. On February 28, P Chidambaram presented the Budget for the year. A day later, George W Bush arrived on a three-day visit to India, agreed to assist India fulfil its nuclear ambitions and proceeded to Pakistan. He gave Pervez Musharraf a not-too-gentle dressing down on his not doing enough to put down terrorism and the lethargic pace at which he was moving towards democracy.

The Budgets (including Lalu Yadav’s Railway Budget) were well received by the media and experts in matters of taxation, finance and commerce. As is their wont, spokesmen of opposition like Vijay K. Malhotra expressed their disapproval for no other reason than they believe it is their duty to do so. ArunJaitleyargued like a lawyer briefed to do so. No one need take them seriously. What put the final stamp of approval on the Budget was the upbeat market: the Sensex shot to an all-time high of over 10,700.

Our media, which have been portraying Bush as a Texan hillybilly with a low IQ, were in for a surprise. He captivated his audiences by his lucid and forthright speeches. He made a better impression than any American president who had visited India before and conceded more than any of his predecessors. Our nuclear experts to a man lauded the deal between Manmohan Singh and Bush. As was expected, the only criticism came from the communists. Do they not want India to be a nuclear power? Do they want it to stay the banana-coconut republic they describe it to be? They accuse the government of compromising Indian sovereignty despite not spelling out in what way.

I wonder if they heard the exchange of views between Bush and Musharraf on Pakistan TV. Bush was again as lucid and forthright as he was in India. Musharraf was on the defensive. His speech was full of ‘I’s. “I liberated the press and TV. I gave the people a democratic election and Parliament. I have fought a relentless war against terrorism.” By contrast, Singh did not use ‘I’s in any of his utterances.

I am at a loss about the Indian Muslims’ antagonism towards Bush. They regard him as an enemy of Islam because he knocked down Saddam. It has not yet occurred to our Muslim brethren that the real enemy of Islam is not Bush but Saddam. Saddam has shed more Muslim blood in his war against Iran and Kuwait than any other man in history. He persecuted Shias and widened the schism between Sunnis and Shias more than anyone before him. Unfortunately, Indian Muslims don’t have a leader who could explain the situation in Iraq to them. Singh has undertaken to do so. Sonia Gandhi could not have chosen an abler and a more level-headed man committed to the advancement of his country than Manmohan Singh.

The dynasty

The saga of the Nehru dynasty should be of interest to all Indians. Its founder, Motilal Nehru, started off being a Brown Sahib. He dressed like an English country gent and brought up his son Jawaharlal to follow his example. He sent him to Harrow and then to Cambridge. He hired English governesses to teach his daughters and learn table manners. He was perhaps the last of the clan to be able to understand and speak Kashmiri.

However, the change from loyal Kashmiri Pandits to Hindi-Urdu speaking Indian nationalists also started with Motilal. He and his son changed from top hats, black coats and striped trousers tailored by Saville Row tailors to Gandhi caps, kurtas, dhotis of handspun khadi. Mahatma Gandhi was the dominant influence in their lives. They were entirely free of communal prejudices. At one stage, Motilal’s daughter Vijaya Lakshmi almost married a Muslim. The Nehrus became the top Indian family of India under Jawaharlal who went on to become independent India’s first prime minister.

After Jawaharlal’s death and a short period of the Lal Bahadur Shastri’s premiership, it was Jawaharlal’s daughter Indira who came into the picture. She married a Parsi, Feroze — fortunately surnamed Gandhi. Their sons Rajiv and Sanjay married an Italian Catholic and a Sikh respectively. For a time Sanjay ruled India and his wife, Maneka, became a power to reckon with. After Sanjay’s death, followed by the assassination of his mother, Rajiv took over the reins of office. Today, Sonia Gandhi rules the country through her nominee Manmohan Singh. Her son Rahul is the anointed successor to the throne. Maneka and Varun have joined the ‘enemy camp’.

It is a fascinating story told by Mushirul Hasan, vice-chancellor of Jamia Millia Islamia and a noted historian. It is illustrated by rare photos from the personal archives chosen by Priya Kapoor. The Nehrus: Personal Histories (Roli) is a veritable family heirloom. However, it has one serious gaffe. A two-page spread photograph is captioned as one of an old painting of the Mughal King Farrukhsiyar’s court with one of Motilal’s ancestors as a courtier. It is, in fact, a picture of Maharajah Ranjit Singh’s durbar in Lahore. I expect this error will be corrected in subsequent editions.

Gallows humour

The Goans have an excellent sense of humour. Micheal Pinto, Mumbai’s Mahim-based undertaker, is not always dead serious about his business. He always advertises his services with goofy ads. After catchlines like, “When you drop dead, drop in” and “Hey smoker! You are the next guy coffin in,” his latest one reads: “We are the last ones to let you down.”

(Contributed by Reeten Ganguly, Tezpur)

First Published: Mar 18, 2006 00:16 IST