Wednesday, December 10, 2008


why doesn’t Chomsky leave America?” This is the question I have been asked whenever I presented Chomsky’s political writings, whether in a classroom or at a seminar. The same happened in the recent seminar on Chosmky in Pondicherry too. I had never any problem in answering it, because Chomsky has answered it himself. What he has said is essentially the following: there is space for dissent in America, and it is still a great country as far as freedom of expression is concerned. Terry Eagleton writes that Chomsky is “offered a bodyguard when he speaks on US campuses”. The article does not say anything about whether security is provided to him at his request, or it is a State initiative, etc. Of course more often than not, bodyguards mean hardly anything more than symbolic. Not that symbols do not matter. In this case it clearly does. There may not be many countries in the world where an intellectual dissenter is provided security to disseminate his views - the one who has been relentlessly criticizing the State policy, especially its foreign policy, for about four decades. In any case, some delegates in the Pondicherry seminar were dissatisfied with Chomsky’s answer. They felt that he was somewhat cynically exploiting the decency and generosity of the State.

Actually it is not why Chomsky lives where he does, that is of interest to me here, it is the attitude of those who ask this question that does, which is this: if you think this place is so bad, leave!

There is arguably nothing very unusual about it. Sometimes one dissociates oneself from one’s family when one finds the atmosphere unbearable. Many support this attitude; they think that instead of constantly finding fault with others in the family, even with the best of intentions, one should leave. It is better to part in peace than stay and create an unhappy environment. Whatever merit there may be to this attitude, there is a problem when one has the same attitude towards a dissenter in the larger context of the State.

There are well known intellectuals in our country who criticize the policies of the State and the Union government. Should we ask them to leave the state or the country, as the case may be, I asked those delegates in Pondicherry. They didn’t say “no”, neither of course did they say “yes”; they just didn’t answer, and that’s something that I find worrisome.

India is the best example of a plural country; no country in the world shows so much variety as does India. Here it is not at all unexpected that the interests of two groups would sometimes clash. Exclusion of someone for his views because some others find them unacceptable is something that our country cannot just afford.

However, whatever they may say in private, I do not know of anyone in India who in public has demanded that a critic of the Indian state should leave the country. Americans may ask that question to Chomsky, but why must we accord legitimacy to that question here by raising it, even at a seminar?

Monday, December 8, 2008


The recent terrorist attacks on the CST railway station, Taj Hotel, Oberoi-Trident hotel, and Nariman House a week ago have visibly upset the metropolitan population of India; they are “angry and hurt as never before”, as the headline of The Hindu of December 6, 2008 puts it, reporting the Prime Minister’s words. In the meantime, the Union home minister, the Maharashtra chief minister and the deputy chief minister, all resigned on “moral” grounds. Such moral upsurge in our leaders was awe-inspiring. But the cynics felt all this was mere whimper. If there was any noise, it was in the Minister of external affairs’ and the Congress President’s tough talk against the hostile neighbour from where, it was strongly believed, had come those terrible people who created havoc in Mumbai.

Anyway, all the talk about steps to be taken to prevent such occurrences increase the safety that we heard on television during those terrible hours could hardly leave an ordinary old Indian like me reassured. Thanks to the Internet, one has access these days to information disseminated elsewhere. According to a report in The New York Times of December 2, 2008, US had warned India in mid-October about the possibility of terror attacks on tourist places in Mumbai which attract foreigners. Apparently it was too general for our security agencies at some high level to act on, although the likes of me fail to see how. In any case, the local Mumbai police top brass seemed to have alerted the five star hotels, who do not seem to have taken all this seriously either. After all, isn’t it only trains and crowded markets that interest the terrorists, they might have thought. In course of the sixty plus hour non-stop electronic media coverage we got to know that in addition to the all-too familiar intelligence failure, there were such complications as the coastline being unguarded, the police hopelessly under-equipped, the bulletproof jackets given to them of very poor quality, the terrorists more well informed than the police in every relevant way, NSG personnel arriving too late, and they being poorly informed about the layout of the buildings under seize, and much else. Considering their severe limitations, what the police and the NSG did was simply remarkable.

After a terrorist attack there is almost a routine demand for tough laws to deal with terrorists. But this time, the demand was for hot pursuit, since the terrorists were believed to be Pakistanis. But what laws can protect the citizens if the coastline is unguarded or the police is ill trained and under-equipped? Is hot pursuit really a solution when new training camps can be set up elsewhere? International diplomatic pressure can help, but it has its limitations. For ordinary citizens, naive about the diplomatic discourse, the US secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, came and assured her government’s support for India, and on the following day, went to Pakistan, and reportedly felt pleased with the anti-terrorist steps that the Pakistani government assured her of taking.

India has known terrorist attacks for more than fifteen years now. But this has not lead to improvement in the functioning of the intelligence network to the required level. This has not lead to a better-trained police force to deal with this particular menace. This has not lead to shunning corruption at least in buying arms and ammunitions for our police. What a shame that our policemen went to fight terrorists not knowing that their bulletproof jackets were fake. During the 60 odd hour media engagement with terrorists, one hardly noted any strong demand that corruption in buying ammunition be probed and the guilty be exposed. No one asked why the coastline was left unguarded.

We are intensely aware that India is a soft state. We know that the problem is complicated manifold because of dishonesty, corruption, inefficiency, and lackadaisical approach to things. These have become acceptable part of our public life. Our country, we are afraid, will remain an unsafe place unless there is significant improvement in this area.


When asked at a meeting with newspersons in Kolkata yesterday which was the best goal he ever scored, Diego Maradona said “Hand of God goal”. Probably it was said rather jocularly, but not all the newspersons present seem to have taken it that way. In any case, this is one of the two goals that have become part of football legend, the other being the one he scored minutes after this goal. The first one was ugly, and the second, sublime. But where the ugly scored over the sublime is the discourse of football, which acquired the phrase “hand of God goal”. In fact, almost fittingly, Maradona is the one responsible for the phrase too – he described it as a goal that was scored “a little with the head of Maradona, and a little with the hand of God”. The phrase has the force of a proper noun - since the great man’s, surely goals have been scored through cheating, and will continue to be, but the phrase will not refer to any other.

I think not many would have cared to remember the first goal if he hadn’t scored within minutes that absolutely unbelievable second goal, which has been voted as the first best goal of the century. Some even said he made amends with this goal. He scored a good goal in the semi-final, but didn’t score in the final of that World Cup, which Argentina won under his captainship. However, had he not scored that great goal, and someone else had scored the team’s second goal, taking Argentina to the semi-final, the infamous goal would have been forgotten amidst the victory celebrations of the World Cup. Who would have really worried about one illegitimate goal of the World Cup winning team, except of course the team that had lost out. Even now, two decades after the incident, there is at least one player of that English team, who is still bitter about that goal and has not forgiven Maradona.

We might like to see the “hand of God” goal in a different context. Just four years before they played that World Cup quarterfinal match, Argentina had suffered humiliation in the hands of England in the Falklands War, and the nation was deeply hurt - some say it still is; it sees UK as having occupied the islands that actually belong to it. Against this background, the football field had become an extension of the battlefield, and the match an opportunity for Argentina to redeem some honour. After 50 minutes of play when Maradona scored with his hand, and the goal was allowed, it was the turning point in that match. With that goal, England sank, as of course did the referee. Before England could recover from the frustration, helpless anger, and distress, Maradona scored his second. One cannot help feeling that the dazzle of that legendary goal was due in part to the psychological state of the English players at that stage. England recovered late and the brilliant Lineker scored and reduced the margin of defeat. It was actually with that “hand of God” goal that Maradona had sealed England’s fate. That goal may not be Maradona’s best, but it was certainly the most effective goal he ever scored.