Editorial 1/Danger man
Editorial 2/Stop at two
Uneven playing field
Letters To The Editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1/DANGER MAN 
 
 
 
 
Stuffing children’s toys with explosives was a tactic used by the Soviet Union to terrorize Afghans in the Eighties. Such lethal playthings have come to India, at the end of a trail that leads to Pakistan. Complementing this was an attempt to frame an Indian high commission staffer in Islamabad as a terrorist. In the background is an intensified guerrilla war in Kashmir, day and night shelling along the line of control. New Delhi has begun applying economic pressure, recently banning cotton imports from Pakistan. India and Pakistan are also waging diplomatic war around the globe. India is appraising other countries of Pakistan’s rogue tendencies. Pakistan is pulling out all stops to legitimize its military regime, such as ensuring Mr Bill Clinton visits both south Asian countries. No one doubts that Indo-Pakistani relations are sinking rapidly — with no bottom in sight. The spirit of Lahore has been replaced by the spectre of Kargil and wraith of flight IC 814.

At the centre of all this sits Pakistan’s chief executive officer, Mr Pervez Musharraf. When he was armed forces chief, Mr Musharraf believed that Pakistan’s military strategy could have only one goal. Namely, ending the Kashmir dispute on Islamabad’s terms. Mr Musharraf was impressed by the success of the mujahedin in driving the Soviet Union out of Afghanistan. He was among many officers who tried to repeat Afghanistan in Kashmir. As local support for insurgency flagged, he was among those who advocated using Afghan mercenaries to bolster the covert war. But despite daring attacks on Indian security establishments, the situation in Kashmir proved quite different from Afghanistan. India’s losses were considerable, but nowhere near enough to make it abandon Kashmir. Mr Musharraf seems to have decided to resuscitate an old Pakistani policy: internationalization. It may have followed from Pakistan’s nuclear tests. In an overtly nuclearized south Asia, any relatively dangerous confrontation could be calculated to force international intervention. The Kargil incursion was designed to provoke that sort of diplomatic intervention. India, by not crossing the line of control, ruined the Pakistani gameplan. There is evidence Mr Sharif decided to move Pakistan in a different direction, building on the spirit of the Lahore declaration. However, partly because of Mr Sharif’s own bungling, the final act of Kargil proved to be Mr Musharraf’s coup.

In recent statements, Mr Musharraf has made it clear he opposed the Lahore declaration. He disparages bus and cricket diplomacy, and confidence building in general. Of India-Pakistani relations he recently said, “There is one dispute only — the Kashmir dispute.” He has also warned that any fullscale conventional attack on Pakistan would invite nuclear retaliation. Mr Musharraf’s obsession with Kashmir points to a steady deterioration of bilateral relations in the months ahead. His background indicates a taste for high risk strategies designed to goad India. New Delhi has to be wary. If it attempts to use its superior conventional military strength or responds to Pakistan’s provocation in a hotheaded manner, Mr Musharraf will muster his nuclear arsenal. This in turn will trigger immediate international intervention — exactly what Islamabad wants. Emotions ran strong in India after Kargil and during the hijack. This could only have pleased Mr Musharraf. Fortunately, New Delhi declined to rise to the bait in either case. It can be certain Pakistan’s strongman will try to arouse India to indiscretion once again. And that explosive toys will be the latest in a long running play.    


 
 
EDITORIAL 2/STOP AT TWO 
 
 
 
 
Setting population growth rate targets is very much the in thing now. It is not a question of fashion, but of urgent need. The population projections for India for the next few decades are truly alarming. And any state government which formulates measures to contain the rate of population growth is undoubtedly doing the right thing. But it is one thing to formulate practical measures and quite another to extract penalties in the job market. The Madhya Pradesh government has decided to ban people with more than two children from entering government service. However spectacular the decision may seem, it is impractical. This measure cannot be sustained, neither can it be emulated by other states. The backlash would be terrific. More important, no lesson can be rammed down people’s throats. Hostility towards the administration, especially in a matter as personal as birth control, will help neither the cause nor the people. Determination to improve matters cannot be replaced by over-enthusiasm that leads to overstepping. A government cannot violate an individual’s right to a job he deserves because he has more than two children.

The problem has to be tackled in a different way, although not necessarily in a novel way. The initial success of family planning is a tale of the past. True, birth control clinics and camps have proliferated. But that is obviously not enough, perhaps because of mismanagement or corruption. Besides, birth control camps are a patchwork way of doing things: the results are unevenly distributed and do not endure for very long. The real issue is that of education, and India’s failure here has bred some of the greatest evils of today. Allied to this are two things, the persistence of quasi-feudal systems of land distribution and the extreme poverty of the landless which pushes them to produce more helping hands. Since the damage has been done, nothing can be achieved in a hurry. Perhaps the Madhya Pradesh government would do better to strengthen the old fashioned schemes and not expect magical results.    


 
 
UNEVEN PLAYING FIELD 
 
 
BY ASHOK MITRA
 
 
Steve Waugh has a point. It was perhaps somewhat unfair to pick Sachin Tendulkar for the man of the series award at the close of the recent three test matches which saw Australians make smithereens of India. Both Ricky Ponting and Justin Langer scored more runs in the tests than Tendulkar did; they also hit two centuries each during the tests as against Tendulkar’s lonely ton in the second test. Langer’s double century in the final test marked some sort of a record, it was the highest score in an innings by an Australian against India. And if mention is made of the department of bowling, Glenn McGrath’s performance in the series was equally outstanding. How Tendulkar was picked as the man of the series therefore defies explanation.

The mystery of the choice lies elsewhere than in cricketing skill. Australia has a population of less than 20 million; India has close to a billion. The per capita income of Australians is of course nearly one hundred times higher that of Indians, and is almost at the same level as the per capita income in the countries in northern America and western Europe. So what? The consumer market Australia can flaunt is the bare sum total of the purchasing power of its 20 million inhabitants.

India in contrast may be a horrendously poor country; roughly 15 per cent of its population nonetheless enjoys a level of income as well as a level of consumption which matches that of west Europe’s and north America’s. Fifteen per cent of a billion amounts to 150 million; this creamy layer of Indians constitutes a market for goods that is easily seven and a half times the size of the Australian market.

The multinational company sponsoring the India-Australia test series had done its homework. Never mind the outcome of the tests; the Indians, the sponsors are likely to have insisted, deserve to be offered some sort of a consolation prize in deference to their vastly superior purchasing power in the globalized durable and non-durable goods markets. Tendulkar was accordingly named the man of the series. This is absurd, some might say; so many things in life are equally patently absurd though.

It is necessary to take cognizance here of another harsh reality. Player by player the cricketing ability of the Australians may be way above what the Indians are capable of.

But the annual income from product endorsements of Mark Waugh or Shane Warne must be substantially less than the money earned by Tendulkar, or Sourav Ganguly, or even that consistently non-performing zombie, Rahul Dravid. Australia may be bustling with cricketing talent; the continent however holds, to repeat, only 20 million people. The market for consumer products Australia can offer pales into insignificance when compared to the size of the Indian market; forget the fact that India is one of the world’s poorest countries; its rich are very, very rich and the size of the market they command leaves Australia far behind.

Those amongst the Indian players who have made it to the top of the world of advertisement are entitled to take pity on the Australian test team as a whole; they, the Australians, may be players of far superior calibre; they have nonetheless no clout in the market.

The network of deals and contracts that characterizes the Indian cricket team must bemuse the Australians. The overarching challenge is to sustain the demand for the products the Indian players endorse. These players are made to don the image of supermen. They jolly well have to be supermen, for otherwise the wares they are bonded to sell will not sell. There could be no greater tragedy in the global free market milieu than the inability to sell. An uncomfortable situation has arisen in the wake of the three-test series with the Australians.

The market gossip could be lethal; not only are Indian goods of such poor quality as to make it difficult to sell them in the global market; their cricketers too are no good at all, the Australians have given them such a drubbing that the market for the wares they had been endorsing in newspapers and the electronic media might shrink perceptibly in consequence.

It might, and perhaps it will. The credibility of the Indian cricketers will certainly decline, at least in Australia . For instance, a bunch of Indian migrants had taken leave from work for a couple of days and, high of hopes, had come to watch the games along with their entire families. They were flabbergasted by the Indian performance and are unlikely to easily forget the experience of bitter disappointment: expatriate patriotism will take a dip.

But, for most of the rest, it will be business as usual. Nothing much to worry about, the Indian domestic market will remain substantially out of reach of any evildoers. The memory of the Australian misadventure will fade, or be made to fade.

The advertisers have nowhere else to go, they will cling to the list of players the Board for Control of Cricket in India picks for them. There is to be no abatement of the thraldom associated with the investiture of divinity for the players. One does not know about the players; at least their sponsors suffer from no sense of embarrassment on account of the Australian disaster.

Therefore soothing words of encouragement will soon resume flowing. The cricketers should not feel despondent. Of course their overall performance in Australia is nothing to write home about. But take heart, their captain has walked away with the man of the series award, the Australian skipper’s caveat notwithstanding. The factor underlying the decision to hail Tendulkar and not McGrath or Langer is no different from what explains the recent proliferation of Miss World and Miss Universe awards to Indian damsels.

The Indian girls were no less presentable in the earlier decades but the beauty awards would elude them. India did not have a sizeable consumer market then, the country’s aspiring young women therefore received the brush off. Be proud, times have changed, the Indian girls have a market demand, because India now offers a luscious market for the products put on the showcase by the multinational giants. The Indian cricketers too will in due course survive the embarrassment caused by their miserable display of non-talent in the Australian playing fields. One can take a wager: accumulation of wealth by Mark Waugh will not be a fraction of Tendulkar’s earnings during the forthcoming decade.

You never know though, the blow might fall from altogether unexpected quarters. Suppose the International Cricket Council, which sets cricket rules, is suddenly visited by a streak of wobbly decisionmaking globalization, it might choose to issue an edict that recommends a fair sharing of the spoils amongst the players. Already a convention exists that prize money earned by individual players during a foreign tour goes into a common pool, and the proceeds are equally distributed among all the players.

The ICC might choose to extend the principle to earnings from endorsements as well, domestic as well international. In such an emerging situation, a Dravid will have to share his booty with a Devang Gandhi, and the Waugh brothers will turn over their receipts from endorsements in the same box where Brian Lara and Tendulkar deposit their earnings, it will be a splendid show of an international sharing of the spoils.

Will such a prospect unnerve the Sachin Tendulkars, the Sourav Gangulys and the Rahul Dravids? Perhaps the suggestion will be regarded as too impractical to be enforced. But a social purpose will still be served if these eminences realize that the huge payments of which they are beneficiaries provide no objective assessment of their worth to society; the free market can often be a cheat, and the players enjoy a kind of temporary bonus because the market for cricket glamour is not yet 100 per cent perfect. And it is no longer a la mode to read Joan Robinson or Edwin Chamberlin these days for appreciating the mystique of imperfect competition. In any case, the concept of equal sharing has to be rejected out of hand: that is dirty socialism.    


 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

After domesday

Sir — 10 Downing Street must be embarrassed no end. After turning the millennium dome into an emblem of “New Britain”, the Labour government has decided to privatize the £ 758 million public relations catastrophe (“£ 100m price tag on Dome”, Jan 10). The British prime minister, Tony Blair, on many occasions has spoken of the dome as being representative of a “revitalized and post-industrial Britain.” But after all the hype, the inauguration of the dome on New Year’s eve brought great disappointment to the people. Not only was the entertainment mediocre, the quality of the exhibitions was criticized by most. If Labour feels justified in having spent so much of the country’s resources, the people also had the right to expect an organized infrastructure that would have avoided two hour long queues, pervasive mismanagement and all the accompanying chaos. And Britons would have accepted the bad news had Blair not made the dome such a national issue from the time he dethroned John Major.

Yours faithfully,
Sunita Tandon, Calcutta

High price to pay

Sir — The recent unavoidable hike in diesel prices and the subsequent warning of the prime minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, regarding tough measures in the future call for a systematic financial policy in the country. The Centre must implement financial discipline by arranging for an automatic review and revision of prices of all goods and services with government administered prices. This should be declared in the Union budget and be implemented either with immediate effect or from the first day of the new financial year.

Since most political parties in power have to make such unpopular hikes once in a while, it is not difficult for the parties concerned to achieve a political consensus in the national interest. Like the United Front government, the National Democratic Alliance linked the country’s diesel prices with the global ones till the price of the latter had come down. However, when international prices went up, the Bharatiya Janata Party government did not readjust diesel prices accordingly.

Since the associated price hikes of other commodities are never adjusted by lowering the cost of diesel, the procedure of linking local and global diesel prices should be adopted only for upward price revision.

The vast differences in diesel prices of up to about 20 per cent in different parts of the country is mainly because of the disparities in local taxes. The government should convene a meeting of state governments in order to achieve a consensus on uniform rates of local taxes; this will help in gaining uniform prices of commodities throughout the country.

In this context, the government administered prices may be normally in round figures. And for the automatic upward revision of indirect taxes with the usual trend of price rises, excise duty must be imposed ad valorum on all commodities with only a single slab for any single commodity.

Meanwhile, subsidies and surcharges must be avoided. There are too many subsidies being misused by vested interests. For instance, a heavy subsidy on postcards is often misused by business firms while it is of no use to common people who may be using one or two every month. Thus, subsidies must be gradually phased out to strengthen the economy. But surcharges must also be avoided — since surcharges on income tax have caused a set back in the voluntary tax compliance of honest tax payers. The Centre can get much more in tax revenue by imposing harsh measures to curb the currency circulation.

Yours faithfully,
Subhash Chandra Agarwal, New Delhi

Sir — For a couple of years now, I have been noticing regular advertisements by the Unit Trust of India in almost all the major dailies, publishing lists of names of people who have lost their UTI certificates. The lists include anything between a few names and a little more than a thousand. The lists give an impression that every UTI certificate holder has lost his certificate at least once.

It is befuddling how UTI certificate holders lose their certificates so methodically. People do not lose their Life insurance Corporation of India documents, share certificates so regularly. Is there really a system of “Buy UTI certificate today, lose it tomorrow then contact us”? No other set up publishes lists like the UTI. Normally, if anybody does lose his certificate, one has to make a public notification himself before getting a replacement. Why does a government organization like the UTI indulge in so much of public welfare by publishing these ever increasing lists? One hopes there is no scandal involved.

Yours faithfully,
B. Nath Datta, Calcutta

Sir — The recently announced cut in the rate of interest on small savings will be a severe blow to those retired senior citizens whose main source of income is the return on their savings.

Senior citizens have been totally ignored by successive governments, no matter which party is in power. Although 1999 was ostensibly the year of the senior citizens globally, little was done to alleviate their problems. And now the meagre resource they depend on is about to be snatched away. This may be good economy, but must such economic measures be adopted at the cost of depriving the old and the needy?

Yours faithfully,
Arabinda Bose, Calcutta

Bihar blues

Sir — The decision taken by doctors in Bihar to not attend anonymous calls at night is reasonable. There is a rising crime rate in Bihar, with the law and order situation deteriorating with every passing day. Doctors feel insecure when they have to attend anonymous calls at night. While one may argue that doctors are evading their “duties”, it is also necessary to appreciate that they should be treated at par with other people who are equally troubled by criminal activity in the state.

Yours faithfully,
Ratan Kumar Chakraborty, Jamshedpur

Sir — The food situation in Bihar is abysmal to say the least. At the fair price outlets, the stock of supplies earmarked for shops is often not available. It is also heard that the supplies through the public distribution system may be stopped altogether. This hardly befits a popular government. The food minister of Bihar as well as officials in the Central food ministry must admit responsibility if the PDS breaks down.

Yours faithfully,
M.R. Shivrajan, Jamshedpur

Smoke ’em out

Sir — In accordance with the government directive, cigarette packs carry the statutory warning, “Cigarette smoking is injurious to health.” Yet a gazette notification by the finance ministry has exempted excise duty on cigar and cigarette manufacturing units in Tripura and Assam, stipulating that this is in the public interest.

It is difficult to reconcile the two “opinions”. Should the government not try to to improve the infrastructure of backward regions through other means?

Yours faithfully,
Benoy Chakraborty, Calcutta

Sir — Is smoking nowadays always politically incorrect? The Indian middle class woman, one would have thought, is being quite radical. She is following in the footsteps of her less privileged sisters among the rural and urban poor, who have smoked since time immemorial.

Yours faithfully,
Rishi Sen, Serampore

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