Editorial 1/As the eagle flies
Editorial 2/Wet blanket
Hawk eye on CTBT
Letters to the Editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1/AS THE EAGLE FLIES 
 
 
 
 
The United States president, Mr Bill Clinton, is in a unique position. Thanks to a bountiful economy he has been able to simultaneously promise to cut taxes and increase spending during his state of the union address last week. It is a reflection of Washington’s financial health that Mr Clinton can talk of a $ 350 billion reduction in taxes and huge increases in government spending in healthcare, education, and law and order without sounding deluded. He may well be wistful that this dream budget is being announced in his last year in office. His approval ratings of 65 per cent are the highest of a US president after so many years in office. If his budget gets through congress, these figures will rise further.

How much Mr Clinton has contributed to the US boom is debatable. But he cannot be denied credit by association. Surveying an economy that has combined record low levels of unemployment, nonexistent inflation with levels of growth that have baffled academics, US commentators are claiming the 21st century will be even more an “American century’’ than the previous one. It is hard to find reasons to disagree. The US has long been the leading military and economic power. It is also at the cutting edge of almost every field of technology. There is no serious rival even coming up for the next few decades. Even US society is quiet — crime statistics have not been so low for decades. When it is said the US is the sole superpower, the phrase barely captures the sheer variety of ways it leads in the world.

However, there is always a serpent in paradise. In the case of Mr Clinton’s America, the flaw lies in the very root source of its present power — the economy. The US economy’s ability to generate growth of four per cent a year, cut joblessness to nearly nothing and keep prices flat has turned economics inside out. One school argues such figures are the consequence of huge productivity increases that have followed investments in information technology. In other words, the economy is squeezing more from its workers, its capital and its other assets. Because information technology is unprecedented, this school argues, traditional economic theory cannot explain the Clinton economy. A more sober view is to argue the US economy is undergoing a boom in its business cycle — just longer than normal. But a boom is inevitably followed by a bust. There is a potential cause of a bust: the debt of US individuals and firms tops 130 per cent of gross domestic product. Much of this borrowing is not going into investment but supporting share prices. The sober school picture is thus one of debt being used to prop up shares, a rising Dow Jones making consumers feel rich enough to buy and borrow more, and the economy’s various ships rising on the subsequent tide of money. At present, 90 per cent of US economic growth is driven by consumption and too much is dipped in red ink. This does not mean the US economy is not healthier and wealthier than others — the fundamental sources of US superiority are unassailable. This means the Clinton economy is unsustainable, that growth will fall in time. If so, the combination of tax cuts and expenditure will have to be abandoned. However, choosing between the two will almost surely fall to Mr Clinton’s successor and not him.    


 
 
EDITORIAL 2/WET BLANKET 
 
 
 
 
Instead of showing signs of abatement, cultural policing is growing more fearsome. At least the protests against Ms Deepa Mehta’s earlier film, Fire, erupted after the film had been shown. The vandalization of the sets of Water, the film she is about to make, took place even before the first shooting in Varanasi. And this is not the worst thing about it. The nation has become acquainted with the ugly face of uninformed prejudice and aggressive cultural and religion based chauvinism through a series of recent incidents. The self-appointed cultural police too has not been coy about its identity; it is usually the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, or the Bajrang Dal, or any one or two of the various local front organizations of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. In this case, the vandals called themselves the Kashi Sanskriti Raksha Sangh. Before this happened, the Bharatiya Janata Party managed to keep its skirts just out of the mud by claiming some kind of nebulous distance from its more flaming saffron kin on the one hand and by not being too harsh on vandals on the other. The worst thing about this incident is that there were just too many state BJP leaders heading the thugs for the BJP to keep its hem unsullied. The strongly chauvinistic elements in the state government have defiantly shown their hand. Add this to the repeated warnings local BJP leaders had evidently sent Ms Mehta , and the culture guard they had set up to monitor the shooting, and the whole episode should be deeply embarrassing for the BJP at the Centre.

The objections are, as usual, irrational and myopic. Apparently, the film is going to show Varanasi as a city of debauchery instead of spirituality and Hindu widows as fallen women. Fears about the possibly unsympathetic — read realistic — portrayal of Calcutta too had led to vandalism during the filming of City of Joy. Supporters of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in West Bengal have sometimes displayed tendencies similar to their saffron foes. The destruction of the sets of Water is an extreme example. It is most alarming because it exposes the complicity of groups in power in an all out attempt to homogenise a multi-faceted culture along lines arbitrarily determined by a small section of the population.    


 
 
HAWK EYE ON CTBT 
 
 
BY ACHIN VANAIK
 
 
The terms of discourse in the original 1994 to 1996 comprehensive test ban treaty debate were systematically distorted by all those who opposed the treaty. The key distortion was a refusal to recognize that whatever the difficulties the CTBT posed for India’s position of nuclear ambiguity or for the pursuit of its “national interest or security”, the CTBT was nonetheless a genuinely worthwhile measure of nuclear restraint even with relation to the most advanced of the nuclear countries, the United States. In effect, the worthiness of the CTBT as a crucial measure of nuclear restraint and therefore a promoter of the momentum towards disarmament was either ignored or dismissed.

It can hardly be a surprise, therefore, that once again the worth of the CTBT as a global restraint measure hardly figures in the current debate on whether India should or should not sign it. The principal criterion is instead, as can be expected, perceptions of “national interest and security”. This is supposed to be a form of hardheaded realistic thinking. It is not even that. But it is most certainly a form of thinking which is disdainful of morality and of the general quest for global restraint and disarmament for strengthening the momentum towards nuclear sanity.

Even to those unfamiliar with the technical aspects of nuclear weapons development and the ways in which the CTBT acts as a barrier to further qualitative improvements in this regard (despite allowing sub-criticals, computer simulation and research into direct fusion technologies), the fact that the Republican dominated US senate refused to ratify the treaty should have made it crystal clear that this is precisely because the CTBT does significantly restrain the US’s weapons development.

This non-ratification is a victory for the most hidebound, belligerent and reactionary rightwing elements in the US. They are the ones who want no restraint whatsoever on US nuclear activities and preparations. Today the post-Cold War momentum’s preservation is imperilled as never before. If the permanent extension of the nuclear nonproliferation treaty and North Atlantic Treaty Organization enlargement weakened this post-Cold War momentum, the most important factors responsible for all but scuppering it have been India’s (then Pakistan’s) decision to go openly nuclear, US non-ratification of the CTBT, and the new assault on the anti-ballistic missile treaty of 1972.

Pokhran II greatly strengthened the hands of not only the anti-CTBTers in the US but also of those wishing to destroy the ABM treaty. Belligerence by nuclear hawks and an unwillingness to accept restraint by other nuclear weapon states tend to strengthen the most belligerent nuclear hawks in the US. Indian pro-nuclearists often talk of the US nuclear establishment as if it is a unified monolith. They also refuse to recognize that India cannot scare, frighten or awe the US into becoming more moderate in its nuclear behaviour by being immoderate or aggressive itself. If today’s White House under extreme rightwing pressure seeks to weaken the ABM treaty, the extremists want to destroy it altogether. Both courses are currently being resisted by Russia.

If we want the post-Cold War disarmament momentum to survive then everything must be done to get the CTBT into force. Fortunately, all is not lost. Although the Republicans have refused to ratify the treaty, their presidential candidates have publicly declared that they will continue to abide by its ban on further explosive testing.

At least a part of the reason for its rejection was the White House failure to do enough backroom lobbying work early enough amongst the substantial section of the more liberal Republican senators who could have been won over. A Democrat victory in the forthcoming presidential elections means chances of a reversal in the senate decision become brighter, a Republican victory significantly diminishes such chances even if a reversal of non-ratification is still not impossible.

The Indian nuclear establishment cannot, of course, be expected to bother itself about the prospects for global restraint and disarmament. Such avowed concerns are essentially rhetoric to cover up its supposedly hard-headed pursuit of the “national interest”. But how hardheaded an understanding of national interest is it if all India does is contribute to the strengthening of arms racers in the West, especially the US?

Does anybody in their right mind think that a collapse of the CTBT regime and a resumption of testing and qualitative weapons development of a kind otherwise not possible, will advance Indian and global nuclear security? If the CTBT does not come into force over the next few years then its complete collapse is certainly possible.

Yet the dominant response to the travails of the CTBT in India from our “strategic experts” has either been to gloat over the difficulties of the Bill Clinton administration in this regard or to give a sigh of relief that US pressure on India to sign the treaty has, if not lessened, certainly become easier to resist. And so the new talk of staggering times between signature, ratification and the depositing of instruments of ratification, or of simply not considering signing till after a US ratification, or even hoping that the CTBT issue becomes a total dead duck eventually if it has not become one already.

If these varied responses exemplify the state of sophistication in India’s “strategic thinking” then what is one to say? It is a classic example of insular and short term thinking triumphing over longer term and more sober understandings. In a world where nuclear arms racing by all NWSs continues (with the pace being set by the US), India even as an NWS will lose out.

It can, of course, be argued that the future fate of the CTBT is out of Indian hands and depends on changes in domestic US politics. This is not entirely true. There is a relationship of some considerable significance between external developments such as India and Pakistan joining the CTBT and Russia and China ratifying the CTBT and getting desired changes within the US. No doubt, some in India would still insist that New Delhi play hardball, that is, try to get the best bargain from the US for signing and ratifying the CTBT.

But if New Delhi has any serious awareness of how damaging it will be to its own future interests if the CTBT regime collapses then it should understand that its manoeuvring room is little. Just as the CTBT’s survival is not decisively hinged on Indian accession alone, so too the US does not have to consider making serious concessions to get India on board.

Anti-nuclearists who oppose Pokhran II and have always supported the CTBT have no problem. They see Indian national security and global security both enhanced by joining the CTBT. Pro-nuclear but now pro-CTBT supporters have a problem. Their chickens have come home to roost. They shamelessly and dishonestly participated in the systematic distortion of the whole earlier CTBT debate by refusing to portray the choice between signing or rejecting as a choice between two “goods” (their version of national security compulsions and a worthy global restraint measure) rather than as a choice simply between good and bad.

Had they acknowledged and publicized the truth that the CTBT was a worthy treaty, despite all its limitations, then they would not have misled a wider public into thinking that the CTBT was iniquitous, useless or part of some grand US conspiracy to shackle the rest of the world by which logic one should now be grateful that the most hateful and reactionary right in the US has so stupidly undermined American imperialist conspiracy! How do the Indian pro-nuclearists now hope to see, let alone portray, matters regarding the CTBT with proper balance and sophistication today?

The author has recently co-authoured the book, South Asia on a Short Fuse: Nuclear Politics and the Future of Global Disarmament    


 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

On the wrong note

Sir — What exactly was Nilaksha Gupta trying to prove in his review of the Dover Lane music conference (“Classy rhythms”, Jan 28)? Certainly not that Amjad Ali Khan plays the sarod well? The review, more than half of which is devoted to the sarod maestro and much of the rest to his younger ward, verges on sycophancy. It is not a surprise that Amjad Ali should put up a brilliant performance. But if a Shahid Parvez or a Shubha Mudgal happens to impress, one expects, as the performers themselves must, to hear a few more words of praise. The reviewer’s choice of performers is a little puzzling. Of the seven who receive mention, not all have given stellar performances, and it may be assumed that all of the remaining 13 odd performers did not perform below par. Not a word is spared for the tabaliyas and harmonium sangatiyas, among whom were the promising Bikram Ghosh and the veteran Jyoti Goho. Reviews like Gupta’s reveal how little the coverage of Indian classical music has progressed in the recent years.

Yours faithfully,
Srimanta Chatterjee, Calcutta

The play’s the thing

Sir — Swati Sengupta’s article, “Enveloping darkness at noon” (Jan 25), is a superfluous critique of the state of Bengali theatre today. The writer shows little understanding of the art of theatre in West Bengal and less knowledge of the history of Bengali theatre in the last century. Theatre was in no way “moving towards a dead end” in the Forties. The emergence of a new language of theatrical expression, courtesy the Indian Peoples’ Theatre Association, *Sambhu Mitra and his group Bohurupee, cannot mean that Bengali theatre was in dire straits. On the contrary, it was one of the better periods for so called “commercial” theatre, with the legendary Sisir Kumar Bhaduri leading from the front.

Mitra’s doctrine of “honest theatre” may be said to have laid the foundation stone of the group theatre movement. These two forms of urban theatre ran successfully side by side for several decades before the electronic media started posing a threat from the Seventies. The burning down of Star theatre, the principal centre of commercial theatre in Hatibagan, could be considered the symbolic beginning of the end for commercial theatre in Calcutta. Its decay was hastened by poor management by the producers of the theatres. Amidst all this decay, group theatre still managed to hold its own. State subsidization is a recent phenomenon and only a few of the hundreds of the theatre groups in West Bengal are benefited by it. It is not as if all these theatres run to full houses, but the response is still enough to encourage the groups to carry on in spite of the competition from satellite television channels.

As far as state subsidy is concerned, it must be remembered that even a group like the Royal Shakespeare Company enjoys generous grants from the British government. What is wrong if Calcutta-based theatre groups accept government grants?

The writer seems to have little idea about how group theatres operate on a shoestring budget. Besides, Sengupta’s statement that theatre directors have no clue about “who they want to place on the dark ‘other side’ of the lit-up stage”, betrays her ignorance about the formidable street theatre tradition in Calcutta and West Bengal. Also, her conclusion that theatre groups addressed “merely the left inclined educated middle-class’’ is a sweeping statement and completely untrue. No production can appeal equally to everybody. Every theatre group must have a target audience in mind: by trying to please all, they would only end up pleasing nobody. As for English language theatre in Calcutta, performed mostly by groups from Mumbai and Delhi, the seriousness of the audience which flocks to these is in doubt. Bengali theatre can safely do without this segment of the audience. Bengali theatre is not a bottle of soft drinks which needs to be marketed well. It is for those who believe theatre is an art form and not just a marketable commodity.

Yours faithfully,
Anshuman Bhowmick, Calcutta

Two’s company

Sir — Why did the government suddenly try to bring in legislation to bar those who have more than two children from contesting elections (“Hum do hamare do, not for MPs”, Dec 14)? If the intention is to ensure that only role models become members of Parliament and state legislatures, then that would surely fail as people no longer have any faith in politicians. This measure would hardly make any difference to that.

The government should instead try to prevent politicians from contesting from more than one constituency. This is an area in which intervention might bear more fruit.

Yours faithfully,
Swagato De, Jamshedpur

Sir — The Centre’s consultations with political parties to build a consensus to introduce a legislation banning persons with more than two children from contesting elections have come to naught. Except for the Communist Party of India, no other party seems to have given any thought to the government’s proposal.

Consider the hypocrisy of politicians. The poor have many children whom they are compelled to send out to work. But politicians ignore the compulsions of poverty and fulminate against the “inhuman” practice of child labour. But for the poor, the greater the number of children, the higher the household income. Family planning programmes have not succeeded in India because this basic problem has not been properly understood. The least politicians can do now is to address that.

Yours faithfully,
T. Mani Chowdhary, Secunderabad

Sir — “Hum do Hamare do, not for MPs” (Dec 14) brings to mind the adage: heads I win, tails you lose. Although the population explosion has worried political and social thinkers since independence, none dared tackle the subject that was considered “sensitive” ever since Sanjay Gandhi’s “nasbandi” campaign. The innate hypocrisy of all politicians has ensured that the bill barring politicians with more than two children is now in permanent cold storage. “Secularism” is the rallying cry of all politicians now, issues like “Hum do hamare do” no longer excite them.

It might be pertinent to repeat here that the only method of checking population growth is to encourage literacy.

Yours faithfully,
Govinda Bakshi, Budge Budge

Sir — The Digvijay Singh government in Madhya Pradesh should be praised for banning all those who have more than two children from holding government jobs. This measure deserves to be emulated by other states.

The population of India has increased threefold since independence. The government has until now concentrated on increasing food production through the Green Revolution. But it must realize that no amount of increase in production will suffice unless population growth is checked. Other results of this population explosion are deforestation, increasing pollution and falling ground water levels. Birth control programmes in India are also handicapped by religious taboos against the use of contraceptives.

But before barring government servants, politicians like Laloo Prasad Yadav and Rabri Devi who have as many as nine children, should be barred from holding public office. The makers of law should set an example for the others. The benefits of globalization and liberalization have not had a trickle down effect mainly because of the high population growth rate among the poor. Without population control, development and the elimination of poverty will remain distant dreams.

Yours faithfully,
Manoranjan Das, Jamshedpur

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