Editorial 1
Editorial 2
Line of lost control
This above all
Letters to the editor



Drastic arbitration resolves nothing in Bihar. The arbitrary haste with which the governor of Bihar, Mr Vinod Pande, has sworn in the new chief minister, Mr Nitish Kumar, has resulted in the inevitable disorder that has erupted at every stage of the assembly elections. The bandh called by the incensed chief of the Rashtriya Janata Dal, Mr Laloo Prasad Yadav, has been successful. People have been killed, trains widely disrupted and Mr Yadav himself detained by the police. It is entirely in keeping with the sense of the ridiculous that accompanies most chaotic moments in Bihar that Mr Yadav had assured the people his protest would be “Gandhian”. But this reaction proves that the profuse justifications of the governor’s move given by the National Democratic Alliance leaders do not hold water. The Bihar mandate in no way indicates — as the Bharatiya Janata Party spokesman, Mr M. Venkaiah Naidu, asserts — “a clear rejection of the incumbent RJD government”. The RJD was the single largest party and part of the single largest pre-poll alliance to emerge out of the election. It would therefore be stretching constitutional authority more than a bit to talk of the governor’s punctiliousness, just as it would be foolish of the alliances backing Mr Kumar to project themselves as about to deliver a benighted electorate by harrowing the Bihar hell. Nobody can now claim to be above the frenzied wrestling with electoral arithmetic. Desperation and insecurity are the great levellers stalking every party. Armed vigilance, abduction and forced confinement of legislators, exorbitant bargaining with “money and ministership”, wooing of imprisoned independent MLAs with long criminal records — all this is part of an established legislative ethos that has swept every party into its inexorable momentum. The little tragedy of mistiming that the Congress pulled off in this theatre of suspensions has its own inexplicable elements. Is the delay in notifying the governor of its support for the RJD owing to procrastination or calculation, or both? If it was calculated, then the Congress has nicely got away with not eating its cake and not having it too. It has registered its support for a secular party against the forces of communalism, but saved itself from making a dubious alliance that would have severely compromised its principled image. And all in the name of a crisis in leadership. In the next few days, a lot would depend on the ability of the secular parties to resist lucrative fragmentation. Till then, the governor will perhaps be reminded several times that Bihar is, in many respects, a world which brooks no authority when triumphantly turning itself upside down.    


Cell fusion

The proposed merger of Birla AT&T and Tata Cellular is a logical development for India’s telecommunications industry. The new firm would be a tripartite venture with Birlas, Tatas and AT&T being equal partners. It would have a strong position in the markets of Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat and Maharashtra. It was preceded by Bharti Telecom’s purchase of JT Mobile and Skycell. And it has given a push to merger talks between Escotel Mobile Communications and Spice Telecom. The past two budgets have eased barriers to mergers and acquisitions among companies in India. While this will create concerns about monopoly, these also represent competition between different corporate managements. In technology dominated fields like telecommunications the ability to create a monopoly is limited. In any case, India’s telecom industry needs to be less fragmented for two reasons. One, telecom companies worldwide are in a frenzy of merging because of cutthroat competition. The companies most likely to survive are those with large subscriber bases and deep pockets. The Birla AT&T and Tata Cellular merger will create a Rs 630 billion company — but that is less than a hundredth the size of the $ 184 billion combination of two European telecom giants, Vodafone and Mannesmann. Indian firms need to start putting on muscle to prepare for the global market. Two, telecom mergers and acquisitions need to be freer because of technological convergence. The distinction between cellphones and computers, even television, is disappearing. The latest generation of cellphones are miniature laptops. They make telephone calls, send e-mail, surf the internet and will soon catch satellite television as well. To keep up with these fast moved developments, companies in the business of digital transmissions — whether by cellphone or internet — must be given the freedom to buy, sell and merge at will. Any country that restricts its companies from keeping up with technology ensures their eventual marginalization. Obstructed convergence will also crimp the growth of India’s burgeoning software industries. Telecom companies will soon want to move into providing internet access to their clientele. The reverse will also be true — internet service providers will soon be demanding the right to merge with their cellphone counterparts. The main barrier to such development in India is the government. The department of telecommunications has fought any erosion of its telephone monopoly tooth and nail. It will seek to regulate the convergence of information services. This will amount to little more than a barrier designed to save the economic preserve of a group of bureaucrats. Present cellphone licences have a five year lock in period so DoT could block the Birla AT&T and Tata Cellular merger. This would be in keeping with the DoT’s entire approach. But it would be a major setback in India’s attempts to catch up in a field where technology and market work at a frantic and unpredictable rate.    


The eagerly awaited report of the Kargil review committee was finally tabled in Parliament the other day with portions considered sensitive duly deleted. The findings bring out grave deficiencies in India’s security management system and highlight that the security framework formulated by Lord Ismay, recommended by Lord Mountbatten and accepted by a national leadership unfamiliar with the intricacies of national security management has remained largely unchanged for 52 years. This despite three wars, a growing nuclear threat, a decade old proxy war in Jammu and Kashmir and the ongoing revolution in military affairs. The committee concludes that the political, bureaucratic, military and intelligence establishments appear to have developed a vested interest in the status quo.

The committee opted for exploring only what went wrong rather than delving into both what went wrong and who was responsible. In its view this was to enlist the willing cooperation of all concerned. While there is merit in the argument, one can hardly ignore the fact that the poor state of our security management is precisely because authority and accountability do not go hand in hand. Nevertheless, the price of avoiding the principle of accountability in this particular instance may be worth paying if the lessons that have emerged are now acted upon by the government in all sincerity. Whether this happens is a moot point considering that the Henderson Brookes report on the 1962 debacle still remains under wraps and the Arun Singh committee report on defence expenditure still gathers dust.

The committee has made recommendations that cover a wide spectrum from security management and apex decisionmaking down to media relations. It has performed a difficult task with a great deal of professionalism, finesse and tact. There are however some crucial missing links.

The key issue was to determine reasons for the failure of the security system to detect Pakistani intrusions. While the report has dealt extensively with failures of the intelligence system to anticipate these events, there is silence on the failure of the airborne tactical reconnaissance system to locate activities close to the line of control or intrusions within Indian territory.

The committee talks of winter air surveillance operations, by helicopters and their inability to locate intrusions. These are presumably routine Army Aviation Corps helicopters carrying out visual border reccee. They are not equipped with sensors to carry out day and night tactical reccee because this is the designated task of the Indian air force for which it is adequately equipped. This writer believes that regular integrated army-IAF operations for peacetime monitoring of the LoC would have detected intrusions well in time notwithstanding preceding intelligence failures.

A disturbing conclusion appears to be that of an inter-service turf battle. It would appear that over the years the army has been trying to usurp part of the IAF’s tactical reccee role, sometimes at great cost to itself and national security. Why, for example, would the brigade commander ask the army chief for remote piloted vehicles which he knew would take years to induct when he could have demanded routine IAF tactical reconnaissance sorties which would have materialized in hours, or even minutes? One has not seen any press reports indicating that the IAF was not equipped or unwilling for the task. Indeed once the IAF was committed to the operations, considerable tactical reccee was conducted by it. The committee’s silence on this crucial issue is intriguing.

A study of the summary of the report indicates little mention of the air force apart from the fact that air power was only committed on May 25 after special clearance by the cabinet committee on security. One wonders whether this absence is due to the fact that the committee believes the IAF had little contribution to make in peace-time monitoring of the LoC and consequently in preempting events of the nature that occurred. Again, on the issue of whether Kargil was avoidable, the committee feels that it would have been possible if a policy of Siachenization to plug unheld gaps along a 168 kilometre stretch had been adopted. It concluded that such an option would have dissipated considerable military effort and not been cost-effective. While there is some merit in this conclusion, one wonders why a combination of selected posts and intensive tactical reccee by the IAF was not considered a viable option?

The foregoing discussions raise three vital issues, all of which must form part of the overall security review proposed by the committee. The first, that it is time for the services to rationalize roles and missions to avoid duplication and wastage of scarce resources, specially as the IAF forever finds itself at the receiving end of the other services trying to usurp some of its clearly designated roles. Once these are formalized, inter-service turf battles must cease. The second, there is a need towards reorganization for effective integrated operations in peace and war. This calls for some form of a joint staff concept, perhaps on the lines proposed by the Arun Singh committee.

The third and most crucial is the larger issue of air power. There is a mindset in the Indian security establishment that considers air power not as an inherent component of military power, but one which elevates the conflict to a higher level. This mindset prevented use of the IAF in 1962 and delayed its use in Kargil.

The deterrent value of air power is well recognized all over the world. It is possible that noticing the absence in peacetime of the combat element of IAF in protecting the LoC, the Pakistan general staff concluded that the IAF had no role and were tempted to risk Kargil. When the IAF showed up, the Pakistan army was clearly on the defensive. One hopes that these aspects and their impact on the larger issue of security management have found deliberation in the classified portion of the report, although from the summary this appears unlikely.

The committee’s recommendation that a thorough review of the national security system in its entirety be carried out by an independent body of experts is very welcome. The Government while tabling the report has accepted this recommendation. This is both welcome and ominous. Welcome, because this is long overdue. Ominous, because this may be used as a bureaucratic sleight of hand to defer or block progression on some of the more urgent recommendations of the committee.

While actual conduct of military operations was outside the purview of this committee, one hopes that the chiefs of staff committee would have conducted a joint internal review and drawn appropriate lessons. These lessons would also need to be integrated within the proposed review of the national security system. If such an in-service introspection fails to take place then the spirit of this entire exercise will have been in vain. The services, more than any others, will then bear the brunt as they have done in the past.

One hopes that the committee’s report will be deliberated on in Parliament, shorn of partisan politics and in the spirit of national security. If after an exhaustive debate, cutting across party lines, the Parliament and the government resolve to take positive, identifiable and time-bound steps to overcome the many weaknesses afflicting national security management, the message to the armed forces and the nation will be deeply reassuring.

The author is a retired air marshal of the Indian Air Force    


Long night’s journey into day

India has reasons to be proud of Ujjal Singh Dosanjh. He is the first Indian-born to become the premier of British Columbia, the most beautiful state of Canada. Punjabis can take pride in the fact that both he and his wife, Ravinder Kaur, are children of the Punjabi soil. Sikhs can puff out their chests with pride because Dosanjh is a Sikh who has done the community proud.

I too have good reason to pat myself on the back as I know Dosanjh, had him over in my home in Delhi more than once and have corresponded with him. We were one in opposing the demand for Khalistan which we both regarded as suicidal for the Sikhs.

It needed more courage for him as Vancouver had become the hotbed of Khalistani terrorists and they almost succeeded in killing him. Khalistan had minimal support in India and I was comparatively safe in Delhi.

The closest the terrorists got to me was to put me high on their hit list, flood me with hate mail and send me a would-be assassin who could not do more than make a rough sketch of my apartment. Though Dosanjh is more than 30 years younger than I am, I learnt to have respect and affection for him.

In the first telephone interview that Dosanjh gave to an Indian journalist, he said, “my victory is a tribute to the freedom fighters of Komagata Maru”. I don’t think many of the present generation would know anything about this Japanese ship carrying intending immigrants to Canada which triggered off violence in Vancouver on its arrival and on its return to Budge Budge harbour near Calcutta.

The voyage was an important episode in the blood-stained short history of the Ghadr Party. We have much to learn from the Ghadr. It was an attempt at armed revolution which was totally above communal considerations: till then the anusilan samitis of Bengal and terrorist groups in Maharashtra were confined to Hindus and strictly excluded Muslims from their fold. Not the Ghadr.

In its clarion call issued on November 1, 1913, it proclaimed, “Today this begins in foreign lands but...[it is] a war against the British raj.

“What is its name? Ghadr. What is its work? Ghadr. Where will Ghadr break out? In India. The time will soon come when rifles and blood will take the place of pen and ink.”

I had the opportunity of examining some issues of Ghadr, published in Punjabi and Urdu. I reproduce some in English translation:

“No pundits or mullahs do we need,/ No prayers or litanies we need recite,/ These will only scuttle our boat./ Draw the sword; it’s time to fight/ Though Hindus, Mussalmans and Sikhs we be,/ Sons of Bharat are we still/ Put aside our arguments for another day,/ Call of the hour is to kill./ Some worship the cow, others, swine abhor,/ The white man eats them at every place;/ Forget you are Hindu, forget you are Mussalman,/ Pledge yourselves to your land and race.”

On May 13, 1914, Komagata Maru arrived in Vancouver. It was berthed some distance from the docks and no passengers were allowed to embark. After a futile wait of many days, the ship was forced to return to India. When it docked at Budge Budge harbour, British Indian police tried to force its passengers into a train bound for Punjab.

The passengers’ resistance was put down by gunfire. There were many casualties. When the remaining were taken to the Punjab they broke loose and jumped off the train carrying them. They tried to foment revolution in Punjab and elsewhere. But the country did not respond to their call. Many Ghadrites ended their lives on the scaffold in the Andamans.

As a footnote, let me add for the benefit of Sharad Pawar, P.A. Sangma, Tariq Anwar and their ilk who oppose Sonia Gandhi’s aspirations to become the prime minister of India because she was born in a foreign land: Dosanjh was born in India, not in Canada and is today the premier of the Canadian province.

For your taste only

We have our regional cuisines and each has its own delicacies . Even vegetarian food well-chosen and well-cooked can tickle the palate. But a Westernized sophisticated gourmet’s notion of great food is different. He will spurn fast food as the lowest form of eating, frown upon buffet meals where the choice is huge and spread out on a long table in metal containers with spirit lamps burning under them to keep them warm.

His demands are exacting: the atmosphere should be congenial, fellow eaters should be properly attired; crockery, cutlery and wine glasses must be classy; wines must be vintage, desserts must be European (not rasgullas, gulab jamuns, halva or ice-cream), liquors should be served with black coffee — and to end the feast there must be a Havana cigar.

A gourmet feast is a leisurely affair spread over a couple of hours; it is a ritual, where attention is focussed on the tongue.

A European gourmet’s notion of a memorable meal usually consists of meat, fish or crustacea. He will begin with avocado, pear, artichoke or some other such vegetable delicacy and go on to the main dish, probably beef or chicken cooked in wine with the appropriate sauce. Crustacea (lobster or prawns) is served with garlic sauce; he will have a side-dish of salad with dressing. He does not much care what the dessert is but if there are strawberries, he will have them smothered with ice-cream.

Is there a future for this kind of gourmet eating in India? The answer is certainly yes. Despite killjoys who periodically force prohibition on us, we have begun producing excellent vintage wines and champagne from French grapes grown in Karnataka and Maharashtra. In all our metropolitan cities, the five star hotels have gourmet restaurants vying with each other to offer memorable lunch and dinners. The cost of such memorable feasts may range between Rs 5,000 to Rs 10,000 per head. They are strictly for the uppermost crest of the Indian society with cultivated taste and plenty of cash.

The next best thing to savouring a gourmet feast is to read about it. Fortunately we have for the first time a magazine exclusively devoted to good food, wine, crockery, cutlery and where to look for them in your city: it is aptly named Upper Crust: India’s Food Wine And Style edited by Farzana, wife of Behram (Busy Bee) Contractor.

It is the most lavishly produced magazine I have seen in India. Still, it costs a fraction of what it would cost you to eat a meal recommended by it.    


Flesh and blood idols

Sir — The Congress has begun to think that it is the sole trustee of the legacy of the Indian freedom struggle, having had leaders like M.K. Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru (“Tape replay silences Congress and Left”, March 2). So it breaks out in righteous indignation at any real or perceived slight to these leaders. Even if in the process it holds up parliamentary business and causes losses of crores of rupees. Gandhi and Nehru were national leaders, not merely Congressmen. It so happened that at the time the Congress had the largest organizational reach and greatest acceptability among the masses. Since the Congress seems to have completely lost both these advantages at the moment, the least Congress leaders can do is to listen, without disrupting Parliament, to Ram Jethmalani’s statement that those who agreed to the Partition killed the “spirit” of Gandhi. The nation is going through an existential crisis. This is not the time to make holy cows of those who built it, but to honestly discuss their contribution.

Yours faithfully,
G. Singh,

It’s all off the beaten track

Sir — Everybody, and perhaps every institution, especially the stock market, was hopeful of getting sops from the finance minister. That the millennium budget did not bring too many smiles was evident when the Bombay Stock Exchange sensitive index nosedived by more than 500 points. The budget has had a dampening effect on a bad market. This can only further slacken the pace of economic reforms. There are reasons for this. Corporate organizations are already paying dividends after deduction of tax at the prevailing rate of 10 per cent. Yashwant Sinha’s proposal to raise the rate to 20 per cent would effectively discourage companies from paying higher dividends to small investors.

Sinha has proposed to close down non-viable public sector units after disposing of the assets to meet employees’ retrenchment benefits. On the other hand, he has declared non-viable public sector banks shall not be closed down, but considered for privatization. Such a dichotomy in budget policy is irrational. The real issue, recapitalization of non-profitable assets of loss making banks, although addressed by Sinha, has not been given the attention it deserved. Software industry profits are tied to exports. The imposition of taxation on exports is thus a retrograde step. It would not only send negative signal to stock markets, but would reduce foreign exchange earnings. Moreover, fresh tax on software will stall new ventures in this area and reduce the competitive edge we enjoy in the international market.

Sinha has spoken of the need to downsize public expenditure without clearly spelling out the current levels of expenditure or suggesting ways of pruning this. Despite stating that growth in the agricultural sector always pushes the economy ahead, Sinha has not desisted from imposing a five per cent excise duty on urea, a key requirement in the farming sector. This will eventually push up prices of agricultural produce like vegetables beyond the buying power of the poor. By reducing the interest rate of the general provident fund the finance minister has also pushed the salaried class into a cul de sac.

The government may have honoured Amartya Sen’s prescription for implementing elementary education at the rural level. But it is pertinent to mention here that even the moderate sums of money allocated last year were not spent fully. The government’s proposal to discontinue the supply of sugar through the public distribution system is another absurd move. A tax paying citizen from whom the government earns its revenue is being unfairly denied the right to enjoy the benefits of the PDS. The bona fide tax payer is being excluded from the ambit of the “public”. This will only widen the rich-poor divide. The little sops given to the vulnerable sections of society fail to hide the minister’s surrender to the multinationals. I think the economy will go into further hibernation.

Yours faithfully,
Sankar Lal Singh,

Sir — Yashwant Sinha has come in for a lot of criticism. Although a hard budget was necessary, given that industrial output and export growth were only picking up, one should remember that a long term problem cannot be corrected overnight and a fetish for reducing fiscal deficit could only end up disrupting the economy.

Fiscal deficit is caused by maintaining a high level of public investment and is related to the methods by which the finances are organized. If this is done by borrowing, it would raise interest rates; if it is financed by money creation, it can raise the rate of inflation. Sinha, like other finance ministers, faced an unenviable choice. Sinha ought to have remembered only tough decisions can curb a runaway fiscal deficit.

Yours faithfully,
Niloy Sinha,

Sir — The Union finance minister, Yashwant Sinha, has done a good job of presenting a balanced budget. For starters, Sinha has not only increased the defence expenditure by Rs 13,000 crore to Rs 58,587 crore, but he has also made an effort to increase the excise duty in order to manage the nation’s funds. Next, the finance minister has also earmarked funds for rural development and provided relief to women taxpayers. Moreover, every senior citizen will also benefit from a tax relief of Rs 15,000 against the present sum of Rs 10,000. The prime minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, and Sinha have both hinted that harsh steps will be taken to cut government expenditure.

Interestingly, dividend paying companies will now have to pay 20 per cent against the previous figure of 10 per cent. Meanwhile, the Centre must give serious thought to the country’s foreign debt; as 26 per cent of the national income is now being channelled into payment of these debts, the figure being higher than New Delhi’s expenses on defence and Central plans.

Finally, the post-budget panic in the share market and the bullish trend are not quite comprehensible — since the market is bound to bounce back shortly. The adverse reactions to the budget were based on selfish interests. Taking everything into account, this year’s budget has been good and Sinha has given a better performance than his predecessors.

Yours faithfully,
J.N. Singhi,

Sir — It is unfortunate that while individual taxpayers are being subjected to higher tariffs, wealthy farmers are being spared the same because of political compulsions. Such situations can well demotivate fresh taxpayers from coming into the net. Meanwhile, the tax department must evaluate whether it should simply increase the tax base instead of concentrating on major taxpayers. Ironically, there is no clause in the finance bill that targets tax evaders and checks the growth of a parallel economy based on black money.

Earlier, Yashwant Sinha had stated that those public sector units which cannot be salvaged will be sold. Further, banks will be made to attain capital adequacy through the sale of equity to the public and the Centre will also reduce its holding to 33 per cent. This is undoubtedly a guise for selling off a bank. Although disinvestment and the need to close down unviable PSUs warranted attention, why should employees of the latter have their livelihoods put at risk when government and bank employees have been able to preserve theirs?

Incentives for the information technology sector and telecommunications are welcome. But this leaves issues such as health and education in the rural sector unaddressed. This budget, like many previous ones, has failed to change the direction of corrective measures. The general view is that the fiscal deficit must be controlled or the present economic stagnation will persist.

Yours faithfully,
Tapati Ghosh,
Yours faithfully,
R.R. Krishnan,

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