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Sunday Sentiments

  • The things we do but should not and the things we should but don’t

    Posted On June 7, 1999

    By Karan Thapar

    Do you know what I consider our worst failing? Given that we are neither shy nor retiring leave aside unduly modest it’s an odd choice but it’s also an irresistible conclusion. We don’t know how to present our case. We have little idea of how to convince others. We haven’t learnt the art of putting across an argument. In short, we are the worst proponents of our own cause.

    It’s not just that we do it badly, although we do and that’s undeniable. We do it unthinkingly, we do it without passion and commitment and, worst of all, we do it as if we are doing others a favour. Oh all right, we seem to say, you want me to tell you why I’m right and the Pakistanis are wrong? Very well then, sit down and listen but mind you don’t ask silly questions and don’t you dare interrupt. Oh, you missed what I said or you couldn’t hear, well whose fault is that? Be more attentive next time.

    I’m afraid this attitude won’t do. The world has more to worry about than Kargil and Kashmir. In fact our problem with Pakistan has gone on for so long its become boring. And the waters have been so muddied by Islamabad that most people prefer an uneasy equidistance between both parties than a show of support for us. So, if we want to make a mark we have to make a concerted effort to do so. Pakistan does.

    Look at the comparison. Mushahid Hussain is available at the cost of a phone call from London for interviews on the BBC. He’s even available to Star News. But has any Indian minister made himself similarly accessible? Even when Lyce Doucet embarrassed the Pakistani minister with the critical question ‘How did these infiltrators get to 18,000 ft. if Pakistan has not trained and supported them?’ there wasn’t a single Indian minister willing to take the hint and join the hunt.

    Yet if they had it would have been easy going. They could have started with a simple argument. If Pakistan is not aiding and abetting the infiltrators how then can it counter Indian claims of success with confident declarations from Islamabad that the ‘mujahideen’ have suffered no loss and have, in fact, strengthened their position? You cannot deny supporting them and yet at the same time claim to know how well they are doing and trumpet their success. It’s contradictory.

    Of course, that’s not the only good argument the Indian side could have made. When Sartaj Aziz claimed that the LOC was undefined we worked ourselves into a frightful tizzy. Why? The man had just undermined Pakistan’s position and in the process given us an opportunity to score into an undefended Pakistani goal. Yet what did we do? We didn’t just muff it. We didn’t even realise this was a golden moment to make our point.

    If the LOC is undefined how can Pakistan claim bombs have fallen on the Pakistani side of the line? More significantly, if it is not defined how can the Pakistanis maintain that Nachiketa and Ahuja were shot down flying on their side of the border? An undefined border is hard to cross. Therefore it’s harder still to be guilty of crossing it. Ergo Pakistan’s claim to have acted in defence against our intrusion is unmaintainable.

    The point we should have made – but didn’t – is that Pakistan doesn’t know what it is talking about. On day-2, when they shot down our planes, the justification was that we crossed the LOC and over-flew their territory. So on day-2 the LOC existed and was clearly defined. On day-4, when they claimed we bombed their side of it, the line was so clear that even intrusions by artillery fire could be detected. And then, suddenly, inexplicably on day-10 the line ceases to exist? So was Pakistan inventing incidents on days 2 and 4 or was it talking through its hat on day-10?

    This was our chance to mock with humour, satire and irony, but based on solid embarrassing fact, and we blew it. This was our chance to expose their fraud on TV and the press and we failed to grab it. This was our chance to drive home the correctness of our position but we were not even able to identify it.

    If our politicians don’t want to or aren’t up to it – and the latter is more likely – then where are our Jamie Shaes? Army brigadiers and airforce group captains won’t do. You need a professional to do a professional job. Please find one.

    In the meantime let me point out two silly mistakes. The first was banning PTV. It made Pakistan television seem influential (which it is not), it made the Indian people seem gullible (which they aren’t) and it suggested that we can’t discriminate between the nonsense put out by PTV and the sacred truths of

    Doordarshan (which simply isn’t true). The other error was to claim Squadron Leader Ahuja had been murdered without attempting to prove it. It’s not the sort of thing the world will accept simply because we say so. Moreover logic would suggest that it cannot be true. For why would Pakistan voluntarily hand back his body if they had shot him through the head and heart? If we can spot the bullet wounds so too can they. And they are not stupid to hand over evidence which incriminates them.

    There are three lessons to learn : Don’t take the world for granted; you have to win its support. Don’t let down your own people by thoughtless, senseless decisions. And, perhaps most importantly, don’t assume your enemy is a fool.

    The things I wish I’d never said

    A telling way to judge yourself is to ask how you might respond to another’s mistake. I don’t mean big bloomers or nasty errors but the little, if embarrassing, clangers that we all drop from time to time. Its a measure of our character if we smile at, or at least do not get thrown by, someone else’s unintended slip. Of course, those who rise above the occasion and make a virtue of it, so to speak, are really special.

    The ideal must be this story about Cary Grant. Once when an over-eager elderly woman rushed up to him in the middle of a large gathering on live television and declared loud enough for all to hear “You’ve always been a fan of mine” he, unabashedly, replied : “That’s true. I have”. That has to be the hallmark of a perfect gentleman.

    I’ve never met with such luck. In fact, my experience has been quite different. On one occasion it even became a sort of challenge. In the early 1990s, when Rajesh Khanna and Shatrugan Sinha were contesting a South Delhi bye-election, I had occasion to interview the former. When he refused to answer a particular question I said in exasperation : “Lekin aap mere javab ka saval nahin dere”. Mr. Khanna was unfazed. He shot back : “Arre javab ka saval nahin. Saval ka javab. Aur ab TV pe apni galti na katna”. So, to keep my honour intact, I had to let the world see me speaking like a fool.

    On another occasion my faux pas led to unmitigated teasing. In the middle of December 1992, after the Babri Masjid fiasco, I managed to convince Atal Behari Vajpayee to give an interview. It was a scoop. Till then he had maintained a painful silence and this was to be the occasion he would speak out. It began well but over-eager and no doubt over-anxious I found myself butting in with the following words : “Tell me Mr. Advani ...”.

    “Mr. Advani!” Atalji responded, his face breaking into a big toothless smile and his eyes lighting up with glee. “Mr. Advani! Ab to pakde gaye!!”

    However the worst was last year and I doubt if I will ever live it down. During one of the introductions to On the Record, which is delivered from memory and can therefore be daunting, I found myself worried I would forget what I had to say. My heart was thumping when I began but despite the feeling something terrible was about to happen I soldiered on. At first it was alright and as the end came into sight I started to feel easier. That’s when it happened. My last introduction was to be A.B. Bardhan, the General Secretary of the CPI. What emerged was quite different.

    “And finally” I heard myself saying “The Secretary General of the Commonwealth Party of India”.

    “Buddoo” Mr. Bardhan burst out. “Mein tumhare samne betha hoon aur tab bhi bhool gaye!”

    He was completely right and thereafter I have always apologised in advance before starting on the introductions. After all who knows what I might call my next guest? But last week when Ghulam Nabi Azad was one of them and I started on my little spiel he at once interrupted me.

    “Ha ha” he said. “Pichle bar bechare Bardhan ko tumne Commonwealth bhej diya tha. Aaj kiski kismat bigaroge? Karan bhai tumhari sachai se koi nahin darta lekin tumhari galti se ...”

    What shall I say? A slip of the mind is no fault of the tongue.

    A recommendation with a difference

    I’m in the middle of Manoj Joshi’s book and – even though at times its far too detailed to be easy reading – I am enjoying it. It’s called ‘The Lost Rebellion: Kashmir in the Nineties’. With a ‘war’ in Kargil it seems the most apt choice for the week. However, I haven’t finished it and given my bad habits – which you know as well as I do – who knows if I will. So, for once, let my silence speak louder than my words. Judge the book by the fact that I’ve said little about it. After all like an empty vessel I make most noise when I have least to comment. This reticence should therefore be proof of my sincerity.

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