A column, and a comeuppance of sorts

The stomach bug that laid me out all of last week is much better [and my thanks to those who either commented, or mailed, their wishes], but I’m still kind of groggy from the experience, and taking another day to get back to where I need to be.

Two quick pointers: one, to the story of the day, which is that the sports ministry has capped the tenures of those heading the various national sports federations. Rahul Mehra’s PIL helped move the needle on this one, so kudos where due — but in actual fact, I am not sure anything has been accomplished besides reiterating a rule that existed, and was universally ignored, in the first place. The key lies in compliance — Kalmadi and his ilk are past masters at this, so I wouldn’t be too surprised to see the ministry’s decision being challenged, other delaying tactics being implemented, or even one or more of those honchos arguing that the ministry’s directive cannot be grandfathered, and therefore for all practical purposes their tenures need to be counted from today.

Elsewhere, the Yahoo Opinions space just rolled out its third columnist: Girish Sahane, whose blog ranks high on my daily to-read list. As Maharashtra celebrates 50 years of its founding, Girish examines the many public myths and memorials that commemorate its birth, and in the violence of the state’s birth, finds parallels to its present.

We did promise to make sure that each column that goes up is a must read — this latest easily lives up to that promise. Read on.

And if you have comments, feel free to post them here, or on Girish’s blog.

Meanwhile, avoiding comment on the two WC games India featured in over the weekend — all that and more when I get back to this blog tomorrow, hopefully feeling a lot better.

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32 thoughts on “A column, and a comeuppance of sorts

  1. I am sure all of you came to know, but just saying: SRT is on twitter, his handle is sachin_rt

  2. There are a few points I’d like to make in response to criticisms of my column.
    1) I consulted Indian newspapers from the time, and they corroborated the Time magazine piece. I’d have preferred to link to articles by Indians, because I am familiar with the tendency of dismissing foreign magazines as prejudiced. However, Indian newspaper archives online do not stretch back to 1955, at least not as far as I can tell. In a web-based column, it is preferable to provide an immediate link to a source readers can themselves look up.
    2) The reason to prefer the Time magazine article to the blog, newspaper and encyclopedia is not that foreign publications are the gold standard, but because people on the spot are generally considered better authorities than those writing fifty years later. The reporter is conveying first hand knowledge, the later sources provide no references to back up their assertions.
    2) The language riots of the 1950s are well documented, and there are a number of people alive, including relatives of mine, who have a strong memory of them. The Salman Rushdie passage is also relevant in this context. Rushdie’s experience of the riots has obviously informed his account, although in his typical style he transforms fact into mythic fiction.
    3) Not one single piece of evidence from the 1950s, or any reference from a book of history, has been produced to show the Time reporter was making up his stories. If anybody wants to argue with the evidence I have provided, I request them to provide counter-evidence of their own, failing which their dismissal of my argument seems like a product of their bias rather than of my failure to meet exacting standards of scholarship.

    • Thanks for the clarification.

      The problem with electronic publication is sometimes the quality of analysis is lost because of the fluency of the language, and the speed of it getting publicized. Arguing about historical developments, and one as old as only 50 years, is always nebulous.

      Is your thesis that language based state divisions has worked for India? I think that, by and large the evidence is in favor.

      Ram

      • Kaveri issue (TN Karnataka), Mullaiperiyar issue (TN Kerala), Alamatti issue (Karnataka AP), Belgaum issue (Karnataka – Maharashtra), Raj Thackeray’s open talk against NIs in Mumbai, etc etc

        Are these not issues mainly because of linguistic states? I do not know what evidence is in favour of linguistic states. IMO India would have benefitted from a non-linguistic state formation. At least you wont hear of such riots. And you will have not have linguistic chauvinists ruling the states either.

        • So, what is your idea about “non-linguistic” states?

          Lets assume that TN and Karnataka belonged to a single state. Do you think that the Kaveri issue would not have arisen at all? If TN and Karnataka were a single state, there would have been more problems and management issues within that state related to language.

          What is the reason why Europe has many countries and even the effort to form a single non-governmental union is becoming a futile excercise? People are seperated by cultures. In India, local cultures are defined by languages. Whenever people come from different cultures and different languages, there is chaos. One reason why India has managed to hold on its own in its diversity is because the diversity itself was diversified using linguistic states.

    • >>If anybody wants to argue with the evidence I have provided, I request them to provide counter-evidence of their own, failing which their dismissal of my argument seems like a product of their bias rather than of my failure to meet exacting standards of scholarship

      Er, no. You have not provided any evidence apart from a single Time magazine link.

      Your attitude is similar to the following:

      Earth is the center of the universe
      All scientists are wrong, their papers on this topic are wrong
      All blogs on this topic are wrong
      all photos that have been taken by various telescopes etc are wrong
      I offer you one link to the Church (pre-Galileo) that proves I am correct.
      If you doubt me, you are biased. I will provide no more evidence to buttress my claim. You provide evidence to prove me wrong (or right)

      If that is what passes as intellectual rigor for you, we dont have to go further. Suffice to say, the accepted practice is, if you make an assertion *you* provide the proof. *You* are the one that is making a public column. *You* are the one that wants to prove someone is wrong. For that, merely provide one link is not sufficient. Yes, as readers, we get to sit back without doing anything and just examine the evidence 🙂 In other words, we don’t have to provide anything, the person making the assertions (*you*) have to, which you have definitely NOY in any amount of detail.

      >>The language riots of the 1950s are well documented

      Thank you for accepting my point. What, then, exactly prevents you from providing more references?

      >>failing which their dismissal of my argument seems like a product of their bias

      It would be instructive to read up my earlier posts. I have repeatedly said that I have no opinion one way or the other. MY main grouse is against your method, not the result you obtain. Feel free to spend the effort knocking down your strawman though.

      It seems that there is no point in discussing this further given your tendency to argue on the path made by A. Roy…

      • Yes, there is no point, since you do not consider as evidence a direct report from a respected publication, and are rejecting it without providing an iota of counter-evidence.
        You also forget the evidence inscribed on the memorial itself, which provides dates and places of the dead and runs counter to those provided by the blog / encyclopedia / NGO site.

  3. Patni Talwar :@Prem:>>here is a reason these things are called “Opinions”, mate
    Yes, I agree its an opinion. I seem to belong to the bygone era where, one’s word counted for something. When one gave an opinion for public consumption, especially in a “commentary” type of scenario, one expected it to be backed up by hard facts, research or numbers. Evidently, given the state of the media now, that is not the case.
    There is no problem with such “Opinions”. However, if one continues in the same vein, Shahane runs the risk of being clubbed in the company of people such as Arundhati Roy, Sagarika Ghosh and Eric Margolis. These august people display excellent language skills in their “opinions”, but are very rarely backed up by logic or facts. But then again, that maybe Shahane’s intention.

    I absolutely agree with you on this particular point (although I have reservations about your point about the Shahane’s article). I recently read somewhere (was it in Prem’s blog itself, I am not so sure) that the Editors of the bygone era used to hard check every “opinions” appearing in their magazines. In that sense, Prem is doing a great disservice by not doing his homework as an “Editor”. On the other hand, if he of the idea that the new age internet magazines are quite free and hence does not need any hard checking on the “opinions” of the columnists from the Editorial board, well then, I also belong to some other era or world…

    In a sense, this idea that “opinion” can be anything with no value attached to the word turns Facts into Fiction. I mean, what is the difference between a Short story named “105 killings” and the “opinion” by Shahane?

  4. @Prem:
    >>here is a reason these things are called “Opinions”, mate

    Yes, I agree its an opinion. I seem to belong to the bygone era where, one’s word counted for something. When one gave an opinion for public consumption, especially in a “commentary” type of scenario, one expected it to be backed up by hard facts, research or numbers. Evidently, given the state of the media now, that is not the case.

    There is no problem with such “Opinions”. However, if one continues in the same vein, Shahane runs the risk of being clubbed in the company of people such as Arundhati Roy, Sagarika Ghosh and Eric Margolis. These august people display excellent language skills in their “opinions”, but are very rarely backed up by logic or facts. But then again, that maybe Shahane’s intention.

    @pkr:

    There is no strawman here. I am merely pointing out that if Shahane is asserting that “105 killed” is wrong and that the protesters were acid throwing lunatics, a single quote from a Time magazine is not what usually passes the bar for acceptable evidence.

    Again, I am not on any side here… Maybe not even a single person was killed, and 105 number is a fiction. I just dont know.. but what I do know is that Shahane has failed to make a case by any stretch of imagination.

  5. I can understand why some people got offended by that article. Recording history is tricky. But as any historian will tell you that, as a rule of thumb, the account given by an outsider of any political event is considered more authentic than of those who are directly or indirectly involved in it. Since its not a hard science there are many exceptions. So lets not be dismissive of the article using straw man.

  6. I too agree with Patni Talwar. though every one has a right to his opinion, we do tend to ummm…give less importance to our own people, irrespective of their validity or scholastic value.
    another thing i want to ask is why should Govt. interfere in all fields? why can’t sports have their own federations?

    • There is no central place to read the articles like in.yahoo.com/opinions or in.opinions,yahoo.com !

        • agree with the above comments on the need for a central place where you can access all the columnists..

          Another suggestion/query is: is there a comments section under each peice.. often, the comments/discussions are as good as the original columns

    • I seem to remember making the point on an earlier thread, but to repeat: Right now, we are working on a temporary platform, for various internal reasons. The Opinions piece, complete with columnists’ home page and other bells and whistles, is being developed backstage, and will roll out sometime towards the end of May. Hopefully, at that time, most of these issues will be fixed. Including URLs, with the caveat that some things are dictated by Yahoo global, so there is a limit to how much we can tinker with things at the local level.

  7. agree with Patni Talwar. The argument is not very convincing. but then this is an opinion piece not a historical treatise.

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  9. Girish Shahanes column provides for interesting logic: he offers links to newspapers, blogs and NGOs and summarily dismisses them as fiction. Then he links to Time magazine (presumably the “gold” standard, because, yes its “Western” and automatically, neutral) and declares that to be the truth.

    One can provide a column using similar logic: Point out links to SRT being an honest and fair player, and summarily dismiss them as false. Then point out a link to Mike Dennis’ report that found SRT of ball tampering and declare he is a cheat. QED!

    I have no idea how many were killed at Hutatma Chowk (or Flora Fountain if you hate that name). However if one wants to disprove the 105 number theory, Shahane’s column is an exercise in false logic. One needs to provide scholarship for ones assertions: reports from Indian newspapers at the time, quotes from eye witness accounts, references to books etc. All these exist in large numbers, if one cares to look. In fact, given his last name, one may assume Shahane can read them in their original language. However, that takes effort, and attempts at intellectual honesty, which is lacking in this “column”.

    But yes, Prem is right.. it is a “must read”.

    • agree completely with the above comment. As much as I was initially looking forward to these columns, I must say I am disappointed by this one. Also not a good sign of things to come if Prem thinks this one is “must read”. Isn’t there the obvious conflict between Prem’s role in Yahoo and his opinion recommending it?

      • I’m sorry — what conflict?

        The underlying assumption behind anything that goes up in Yahoo is that the editorial team thinks it is worth your while — otherwise, why are we even putting that piece up into the public domain?

        How then is linking to a column a conflict with my role?

        Another thing I don’t quite get — on this blog, I often link out to articles on a wide variety of topics. Nowhere is there the suggestion, explicit or implicit, that I agree with the contents of whatever I link to, and never have I suggested that because I linked to it, it is the final word and cannot be disagreed with. So feel free to disagree.

    • There is a reason these things are called “Opinions”, mate. No one claims that what is being voiced is the definitive judgment on the topic at hand — it is a reflection of one line of thinking. And disagreement, debate etc are precisely what we hope to see. You disagree? Tell Girish [I seem to recall linking to his blog and in fact inviting comment].

    • Perhaps a wrong place to reply, but heck. I don’t think Shahane actually said the accounts by NGO’s/ blogs/etc were necessarily fiction, nor is he trying to disprove the number of people died. He seems to be merely saying that the eventual firing was a result of some violent rioting. The article in Time is useful mostly in that regard; unlike Wikipedia or the blogs, the piece also talks about violence that the pro-Maharashtra groups indulged in, not because it is a gold standard or Western or anything.

      Additionally, his main point is this: despite the obvious eulogization of those poor souls killed in police firing, the firing itself didn’t bring about the state of Maharashtra; ultimately, it was a cold political calculation, which should be obvious given the timelines involved (firings in 56, electoral reverses in 57, statehood in 60).

      So unless you’re saying that no rioting happened in 1957, and that Gujarati businesses weren’t ethnically targetted, I don’t see why you’d have a problem with the piece.

    • What is there to follow? Much noise on TV — but the only item of news is when the verdict is announced. Will follow it from home, but not sure I have much to say about it, when it comes.

      • There is one thing that baffles me completely in this whole “justice” excercise. As long as you can prove seven murders and act of terrorism, which were the easiest to prove given the evidence, why bother about the other charges like robbery and all (did Kasab rob anyone? I dont know) and waste time and effort? I totally dont understand. The whole Kasab trial is actually a trial of Indian Judicial system, and the verdict is “farcial as charged”.

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