Tuesday, October 03, 2006
VIEW FROM AMERICA
Most Americans can't make sense of the book.
Using the White House to announce his book and dropping juicy quotes like a public relations junkie, General Pervez Musharraf has proved that he was artful as ever. With the press scrambling to guess what was coming and academics reading between the lines, he ensured that the book was firmly placed in the limelight. Musharraf says, "Most of the people in fact were against my writing this book at this moment, but like a good military leader, I took the decision against the major part of their advice." The man is obviously full of himself.The 335-page book begins with his train journey from New Delhi to Karachi during Partition and goes on to describe how he took over. Musharraf has tried to portray himself as a man who tried and failed to secure a peace accord during the Agra summit. "I met Prime Minister Vajpayee at about 11 O'clock that night in an extremely sombre mood," he writes. "I told him bluntly that there seems to be someone above the two of us who had the power to overrule us. I also said that both of us had been humiliated. He just sat there, speechless. I left abruptly, after thanking him in a brisk manner.""I think the Indian establishment-the bureaucrats, diplomats and intelligence agencies and perhaps even the military-have gotten the better of him. I feel that if a leader is to break away from hackneyed ideas and frozen positions, he has to be bold." Teresita Schaffer, former US ambassador to Sri Lanka and director of the south Asia programme at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, seems to agree. "I haven't read the book, but the Agra summit did fall through," she says. "I don't think the blame lies on Vajpayee, but perhaps Musharraf's indication is that he was in total control where Pakistan was concerned, and Vajpayee was not." Walter Andersen, director of the south Asia programme at Johns Hopkins, says, "It's not the Indian bureaucrats or intelligence agencies that Musharraf holds accountable. It is L.K. Advani. It was he who practically pressured Vajpayee into not accepting a lasting peace agreement with Pakistan."Faroq Hasanth, Pakistani scholar at the Middle Eastern Institute in Washington, offers another interpretation. "While the insinuation about Advani is probably true, we do not know what the terms of the agreement were," he says. "Musharraf did not do any homework for the Agra summit. I recall the former foreign minister of India Swaran Singh and Pakistan prime minister Z.A. Bhutto meeting several times, not just once like Vajpayee and Musharraf." Schaffer is also concerned over the peace overtures between Pakistan and the resurgent Taliban. "It's not exactly clear what this olive branch is all about; we have to wait and see how it is implemented," she says.In one passage, Musharraf blames India for the Kargil war. "My gosh," says a US state department official. "This guy is unbelievable. Even the hardcore Pakistanis would not believe this." On the issue of proliferation of nuclear technology, too, Musharraf accuses India of copying Pakistani centrifugal designs and making them available internationally. "Ludicrous," says Hasanth. "Pakistan's core military generals have complete control over it and if anyone has proliferated, it is them. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was clueless about the Kargil invasion. Let there be no doubt in anyone's mind that Musharraf is lying through his teeth here." Former national security adviser Brajesh Mishra has called the book a pack of lies. Says Andersen: "This book is a rebuff to Nawaz Sharif's book where he clearly accuses Musharraf of being the architect of the Kargil war. However, no one believes Musharraf on this issue. It was he who was, and still is, in complete charge of the military. His military intelligence is flawless." Andersen is surprised that the leader of a country embroiled in problems has written the book. Hasanth finds the book full of conceits. "Musharraf's book is all about himself, his ego and his holier-than-thou persona. It amazes me how he had the gall to write such a book," he says.
Monday, May 08, 2006
Double Jeopardy - Devasish Ray/Washington
Two youth of Indian origin face infamy in the US for vastly different reasons
It’s a scandal that keeps spreading. Kaavya Viswanathan, a 19-year-old sophomore at Harvard University who wrote a book—How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life—has already confessed that she "unconsciously plagiarised" from two books of the best selling author Megan McCafferty—Sloppy Firsts and Second Helpings. About 40 passages were found similar or identical in theme or content.
On the heels of this, The New York Times reported similarities between Opal Mehta and Sophie Kinsella’s Can You Keep a Secret? It said the passages in question were short but contained similiar rhymes and descriptions. It is also said that Kaavya had borrowed passages from Salman Rushdie’s Haroun and the Sea of Stories and Meg Cabot’s The Princess Diaries.
Kaavya shot to fame when she was offered half a million dollars by the publisher Little, Brown and Co. and a movie deal by DreamWorks. To top it all, Angelina Jolie showed interest in playing the lead. Kaavya was on cloud nine and was being positioned as the next literary genius from the Indian subcontinent. But after her exposure, DreamWorks has dropped the film plan and the publishers have decided to withdraw the book permanently and cancel the deal for her second work.
Initially, Kaavya had dismissed the charges of plagiarism saying that she had unconsciously internalised McCafferty’s writings and denied any wrongdoing. However, as evidence against her mounted, she acknowledged her pilferage.
Soon after campus reporter David Zhou of the Harvard Crimson broke the story of Kaavya’s literary theft, message boards at Harvard were replete with sardonic comments. "The literary gods have finally come to their senses," wrote one student. Another wrote: "There’s a part of me that likes seeing Harvard sophomores falling on their face when they’re handed half a million dollar book deals."
If Kaavya is guilty of plagiarism, the publishers must be blamed for being reckless in investing half a million dollars on a teenager. But why did they take the risk?
The answer is that the book industry is enamoured of young, beautiful ethnic writers. The increasing domination of a handful of giant publishers and retailers has led to a concentration on titles that will sell in big quantities. Many of those titles, particularly in fiction, are the works of young and glamorous authors.
Having no track record is an author’s advantage, because the sales figures that influence publishing decisions cannot work against you. Another aspect is that publishing at this level is getting very similar to lucrative contracts from film studios. It is no secret that huge sums of money are being gambled to pay for past flops. However, the possibility of future flops from present-day books is inevitable providing cynics with a reliable supply of sour satisfaction.
Steve Ross, vice president of Crown Publishing House which published McCafferty’s novel, lashed out at Kaavya saying, this is nothing less than an act of literary theft. In her defence, Bill Poser argued in Language Log that she could have unconsciously remembered little snatches from another novel. Many people remember comparable portions of songs that they once heard without remembering the rest of the song or who sang it or wrote it.
But as Dr Sangeeta Ray, author and professor, said: "It sounds like a clear case of plagiarism. One is always influenced by writers and books one reads and likes but everyone who has gone through school knows the difference between influence and plagiarism." Students at universities are warned about the dire consequences of plagiarism and so Kaavya must have known the difference.
The problem is compounded here by the "help" she received by the company that helped her package her book, making it, perhaps, a bit difficult to know where she stopped and where they began. In either case, she, as the author, for better or worse, is responsible for the contents.
Shauna Singh Baldwin, Commo-nwealth Award winning author of the book, What the Body Remembers, has no sympathy for Kaavya. Describing Kaavya as a clever young girl with little character, Shauna stated: "She is symptomatic of a larger problem in desi society—the very problem she described in Opal Mehta. She was so anxious to please, so needy of approbation that she would cheat to achieve."
Kaavya’s career as a budding novelist has ended before it even started. As many literary scholars point out, the pressure to succeed and succeed quickly, and the dream of making millions, can make people plagiarise. Probably, Kaavya was unlucky to have been caught. She will have to do some soul-searching and come up with something genuine to silence her critics. She is, after all, only 19 years old.
Another person who would like to silence his critics is Vikram Buddhi, a 34-year-old student who is languishing in jail on charges of posting threatening messages against President George Bush on a Yahoo finance board dedicated to the satellite radio company Sirrus.
Son of Dr Buddhi Kota Subbarao, a naval scientist who was jailed for 20 months on charges of smuggling nuclear secrets but was acquitted in 1993, Vikram is a mathematics prodigy and has been studying applied mathematics at the University of Purdue in Indiana.
Vikram was arrested on April 14 and charged on 11 counts including charges under US Code 871 that deals with threats to the US president and his successor. If proved guilty, he could be sentenced to imprisonment up to 60 years.
On April 26, Vikram pleaded not guilty but has been suspended from the university and sent to an unknown prison in northern Indiana. Meanwhile, John Martin, the court appointed attorney for Vikram, has requested the court to try him under the first amendment of the US constitution as he could never have actually carried out his threat he allegedly made. His family believes that Vikram is innocent and that someone has hacked into his Internet account to post "kill Bush" messages.
Subbarao, currently a senior advocate of the Supreme Court, said Vikram had been studying at the university for the last 10 years. He described Vikram as a quiet person and said he had received the best teaching award from the university.
Thangam Moorthy, a retired high school teacher who had taught Vikram at St Joseph’s High School in Colaba, Mumbai, has written a letter to John Martin.
She said in the letter: "Vikram is a very calm, soft-spoken, intelligent and hardworking boy, who was focused in his studies. I am absolutely certain that he is a victim of misunderstanding and human weakness like jealousy."
Meanwhile, Subbarao has applied for an emergency visa to the US to discuss the case with Martin, who is the only person allowed access to Vikram . The hearing is scheduled for June 26 and it is going to be agonising days for the family.
Saturday, April 01, 2006
Tuesday, January 03, 2006
I am not comfortable dealing with Dictators: Senator George Allen
Senator George Allen, R-Virginia like many of his colleagues in the Senate and Congress are realizing the potential of India and Indian Americans. Recently the Senator from Virginia visited India and was quite impressed by India’s “successful diverse technological growth and leadership.” In an interview with me (the first given to any South Asian journalist), Senator George Allen, who some say is the prime republican candidate for the Presidential election 2008, speaks about India, Indo-US relations and the civilian nuclear issue. Here are some excerpts.
January 3, 2006.
DR: Senator, this was your first visit to India. What have learned so far?
GA: There are so many people from India in Virginia and the United States, some have been key supporters in my campaign and so I wanted to visit India. I was very impressed by the number of engineers graduating. The idea of innovation and I do want the US to be the world capital of innovation, and I wanted to see what India was doing and how they were doing it. I spoke with the leaders of the Indian Institute of Technology. I also met with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New Delhi, and then we went down to Bangalore, which was simply amazing. I want to learn more about India; the reason is that I feel that the people of India and the US need to be much closer together. India is after all the world’s largest democracy; many languages, many religions, many cultures and India can be a role model for countries that have ethnic, religious and cultural differences.
DR: I believe that before embarking on your trip to India, you had some negative feelings. After this visit has that cloud been lifted?
GA: Actually there had been some isolated incidents of human rights, but I was not overtly bothered, I was really impressed by India and wanted to see it. Prime Minister Singh came here and I attended his address to the Joint Session of Congress, and since we shared similar values, I wanted to strengthen the relationship. What impressed me were the optimism and the tremendous economic growth of India. I thought we have energy problems in the US; India has a more severe problem. India has a long way to go but clearly there is a will and direction.
DR: I am glad you brought up the energy issue. During Prime Minister Singh’s visit, President Bush announced that India would receive civilian nuclear technology from the US. Do you support this as presented by the administration?
GA: Yes I do! India of course will have to meet some commitments too in planning a credible and coherent separation of civilian and military power. Having said that, I saw how awful the air quality was in India, at least in some cities I visited. The fact is that India has to import more energy than we have to. The cleanest method of generating energy is either clean coal technology or nuclear. For India to be able to survive and grow as a country they will have to go nuclear. We need India’s support of not having a gas pipeline from Iran, as we need to keep pressure on that country. The key for India would be to come up with a way so that they are not in violation of the NPT. India has a very good record….
DR: Do you consider India to be a responsible nuclear nation?
GA: Absolutely. Their record has proven itself. They have not shared this technology with other nations unlike some countries in that area.
DR: Senator, will you be accompanying President Bush to India early next year?
GA: Unfortunately no!
DR: What would you like President Bush to achieve from his trip to India?
GA: Two things! In a larger sense continue to build this really positive and constructive relationship between the people of America and India. The President going to India will definitely help, so will the people India who have a positive image of the US, surveys indicate that. It would be good for the Presidency. Secondly, the nuclear issue. Hopefully, by then the government of India will be further along devising a credible plan as to how the civilian and military aspects could be clearly separated. This will help the President because ultimately Congress will have to vote on this. The President cannot go ahead unless the Senate ratifies the bill.
DR: So you don’t think the bill would go through before the President’s visit?
GA: It will be difficult. We will be tied up in January with the Supreme Court vacancy. It would also help if India signed the NPT.
DR: Senator that is not going to happen.
GA: Well! That would help…
DR: Is there any substantial reason for India to sign the NPT?
GA: It is an indication…
GA: It is. There are countries that are willing to sign it
DR: There are also countries that will not sign too…
GA: But then they are not trying to get an exemption from the NPT.
DR: But then India does have an exemplary track record in non-proliferation.
DR: Senator lets not get into semantics…
GA: (Laughing) I understand. Look I want this to happen. But please understand there will others want the same. We are trying to stop North Korea. Your neighbor Pakistan will want the same once India gets it. I can assure you of that. Obviously there was a serious problem with that nuclear engineer from Pakistan (The Senator was referring to Abdul Qadeer Khan).
DR: The grapevine has it that you could probably be the next President of the United States. Will you be running in 2008?
GA: Well! I am up for reelection.
DR: Are you ruling it out?
GA: No! I have been encouraged by many people to look at it and I am looking at it.
DR: I am sure our readers are intelligent enough to read between the lines Senator.
GA: Here is what your readers should understand. Regardless of what position I hold, I am very impressed by India. There are all sorts of religions. It is the second largest country with a Muslim population. Granted there is a lot of poverty. The country is a leader in innovation and the US can learn a lot from India. In addition to the nuclear situation, cooperation of energy in bio fields, instead of worrying for oil from the Middle East. The Indian community in the US, are such leaders in medicine, technology and the hotel industry. They are valued members in any community.
DR: The Democrats tout themselves as a party for immigrants, yet you hardly see Indian Americans in cabinet level positions. What is your party’s stand?
GA: When I was Governor there was an Indian who was a key leader in planning. I do not care much about ethnicity but capability. For the most in our party we reach out to anybody who pays taxes, if they work for a living and if they care about their families they ought to be on our side.
DR: Do you support India’s bid for a permanent seat in the UNSC?
GA: It is certainly worthy of strong consideration. I am not going to say yes or no. But, there is compelling argument for India which is the largest democracy and why it is not in that seat.
DR: Agreed that Pakistan is a great ally of the US in the war against terrorism….
GA: Correct. They made that decision.
DR: The package of F-16’s to Pakistan. Where on earth do you think they will use them and against whom?
GA: They are really very much on the front line. They are not actually going to purchase them because of the devastating earthquake. They simply cannot justify the expense now. I am not sure where they will use it. We do not need an arms race. Let me say one thing the clear irritant between Pakistan and India is Kashmir.
DR: You mean Jammu and Kashmir…
GA: Right! That’s good. Its fun with you! The best tea I have had anywhere is Kashmiri tea. I love it. From this earthquake the partial openings of portals has eased some pressure. Maybe, it could diffuse the situation somewhat. Again I repeat Pakistan will ask for nuclear energy once India gets it, even though they are not a democracy.
DR: Senator! I must ask you this question then. Is the US more comfortable dealing with dictatorships than democracies? Is this a fair question?
GA: It is a fair question and an interesting one! I am personally more comfortable dealing with people who are elected than with a dictator or monarch. I have Thomas Jefferson’s seat in the House and I would only deal with people who are public servants than deal with people who think they are in control because of dictatorial ways of repression and keeping people down.