Editorial\Rich man, smart man
Hindu callisthenics
Letters to the Editor

 
 
EDITORIAL\RICH MAN, SMART MAN 
 
 
 
 
The claim Mr Azim Premji, chairman and main shareholder of Wipro Corporation, was for a short while last month the second richest man in the world is disputed most strongly by Mr Premji himself. The yardstick used was false — Mr Premji’s worth was measured against one year old figures regarding the wealth of billionaires like Mr Paul Allen of Microsoft and Mr Warren Buffet of Berkshire Hathaway. But there is no doubt that when Wipro’s two rupee shares passed the Rs 9,600 mark, Mr Premji was worth Rs 1.5 trillion or about $ 35 billion. It is safe to say Mr Premji was for a short while among the five wealthiest people in the world. And easily the richest Indian in the world, far exceeding the four billion dollars worth of the non-resident Indian information technology businessman, Mr Gururaj Deshpan -de. Of course, in the volatile world of “information technology, communications and entertainment’’ share prices, such peaks of wealth rise and fall with dizzying speed. The stock market knocked off Rs 500 billion of Wipro’s worth just this past fortnight.

If the knowledge industries boom continues, one pundit has claimed, there will be more billionaires of Indian origin than any other ethnic group in the world. However, it is unlikely the present bull run on ICE stocks will continue indefinitely. The price to earnings ratios of ICE shares verge on the ridiculous. Market capitalization figures exist at several quantum levels higher than tangible figures like turnover and profit. The Indian stock market has clearly plugged into the present equity bubble overwhelming Wall Street. Presumably, Dalal Street will turn tail when Wall Street at least moderates its enthusiasm for dotcoms and their ilk.

But Mr Premji and the new knowledge tycoons like Mr N.R. Narayana Murthy of Infosys and Mr Shiv Nadar of HCL are not mirages. Though the stock market may have gotten carried away, the better known ICE companies are solid, profitmaking companies with extravagant rates of growth. India’s software industry has grown by 50 per cent annually for years. Pharmaceuticals are not far behind. The economic potential of biotechnology and medical services is just beginning to be realized. Knowledge based industries are collectively the fastest growing and most profitable sectors of the Indian economy. Stockmarket’s evaluations are based on expectations of success rather than present worth. They thus indicate where it is believed the future lies.

At times it is hard to take the so called new economy seriously, that worth can be derived from pure knowledge. The weightless economy, intangible assets, digital economy and brain wealth are among the various labels being used to describe what is happening. At the heart of all this is a post-industrial economy where value addition is accomplished through the use of knowledge. Raw commodities and manufacturing, the other stalwarts of the economy, earn far less bang for the buck. This is the real story of liberalization: that India, once even partially freed of the shackles of the socialist state, is discovering its true competitiveness lies in knowledge based services. Software is the largest such sector. But it is not the only one.

India’s progress in knowledge based industries holds out the possibility of the country jumping directly from agriculture to post-industrialism while touching the smokestack economy only briefly along the way. This can only be for the best. Knowledge based economic growth allows enormous wealth to be created with minimal demands on capital and natural resources. It stresses human minds, something India has in surplus. Mr Premji’s worth can be expected to ride many more ups and downs. But there should be no doubt that in general the market has got it right. Knowledge today is not just power, it is wealth. And India has the potential to become a leader in this new world.    


 
 
HINDU CALLISTHENICS 
 
 
BY MUKUL KESAVAN
 
 
Since it isn’t often that newspaper headlines give people reason to be unqualifiedly happy, it is important for us to enjoy the sight of the Bharatiya Janata Party being forced to eat the circular that allowed civil servants in Gujarat to become members of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. In these ecological times, it is good to see paper being recycled.

We haven’t heard the last of this; the BJP looks set to make the running in Indian politics for a while yet, so it is reasonable to assume that the party will continue to work for the day when its many supporters in the civil services are allowed to take their shorts out of their closets and try them for size in public. While the withdrawal is a defeat for the sangh parivar, it is also a dress rehearsal. After a decent interval, the saffron brotherhood will take the issue to the country with every argument it can stitch together: quasi-legal points (“after all, the RSS isn’t a banned organization” or “the RSS isn’t a political organization”), plausible analogies (“if civil servants can be members of the Rotary Club, then...”) and plain brazenness (“the chief secretary in my state has been drilling in shakhas for years”).

People will nod and be swayed by these arguments because the image of men in uniform doing PT (which is how people imagine the RSS) doesn’t necessarily conjure up visions of a sinister paramilitary force; it has benign, reassuring associations too.

I can imagine the “average voter” being persuaded to think of the RSS as an outfit not dissimilar to the home guards, or the territorial army or the National Cadet Corps or a dedicated seva dal or even a troop of ageing boy scouts. The prime minister, when the controversy began, told us that the RSS was a cultural organization, unconnected to politics.

When these arguments begin to be made again, secular people need to be prepared to meet them. They could start by saying that if the RSS and its vigilante fronts, the Bajrang Dal and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, are apolitical, then the Ku Klux Klan is a band of social workers working for Caucasian emancipation. The RSS is founded on the idea of historic Hindu grievance and it is committed to the transformation of the republic into a Hindu rashtra. Ironically, (given the BJP’s newly found enthusiasm for teaching Muslims patriotism by hoisting the national flag in their midst) for decades after independence the sangh parivar was deeply suspicious of the tri-colour because of its similarity to the Congress’s standard. The RSS salutes a saffron flag, the Bhagwa Dhvaj, which is the sangh’s emblem for the Hindu state-in-the-making.

Its most revered sarsanghachalak, Guruji Golwalker, wrote a tract called We, Or Our Nation Defined in which he argued that Muslims living in Bharat should be second class citizens, living on Hindu sufferance, with no rights of any kind. “From this standpoint sanctioned by the experience of shrewd old nations, the non-Hindu people in Hindusthan must either adopt the Hindu culture and language, must learn to respect and revere Hindu religion, must entertain no idea but the glorification of the Hindu Nation, i.e. they must not only give up their attitude of intolerance and ingratitude towards this land and its age-long traditions, but must also cultivate the positive attitude of love and devotion instead; in one word, they must cease to be foreigners or may stay in the country wholly subordinated to the Hindu nation claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment, not even citizens’ rights.”

Guruji also admired Hitler’s way with the Jews and thought Indians needed to learn from his example in dealing with intransigent minorities. “German national pride has now become the topic of the day. To keep up the purity of the nation and its culture, Germany shocked the world by her purging the country of the semitic races — the Jews. National pride at its highest has been manifested here. Germany has also shown how well nigh impossible it is for races and cultures, having differences going to the root, to be assimilated into one united whole, a good lesson for us in Hindusthan to learn and profit by.”

All this is well known, or should be, but it is worth repeating if only to graphically contrast the narrow sectarianism of the RSS and its front organizations with the generous pluralism of India’s Constitution. To allow government employees to become members of the RSS or any organization like it would be to declare that the secular Indian state doesn’t mind its civil servants publicly endorsing the idea of a Hindu rashtra, an idea that subverts the constitutional foundations of the republic which they have sworn to serve.

Apart from the message that it would send to the general public, such a move would put enormous pressure on the subordinates of a civil servant, say a joint secretary in the home ministry, to ingratiate themselves with the boss by joining shakhas too. We know how corporate climbers learn golf to network: if this circular had gone through, Hindu callisthenics would have become the fast track to preferment. Try to imagine the morale of a civil service where one half feels that the others are getting ahead because of their ideological affinities with their superior or the government of the day.

To argue that the RSS is not a banned organization and should therefore be open to civil servants is to miss the point: the Ku Klux Klan isn’t banned in most parts of the United States but no black defendant would want his trial judge to be a Klansman. Freemasonry is legal in Britain and yet there was a commission appointed to study the penetration of that country’s police force by Freemasons. There were concerns that promotion into the upper echelons of the British police was impossible unless the office belonged to the brotherhood of Freemasons.

To claim, as Atal Behari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani did, that the circular was purely a provincial matter, subject to the decorum of centre-state relations, is disingenuous. It is hard to believe that Messrs Advani and Vajpayee had no inkling of what the Gujarat government was likely to do on a matter as momentous as this, given that Gujarat has a BJP government. It becomes even harder to believe when you consider that Advani and Vajpayee defended the Gujarat government’s circular enthusiastically when it first appeared. Advani even indicated that he was thinking of extending the freedom of the RSS to Central government employees before backtracking on the issue.

We have seen and heard Venkaiah Naidu list the many virtues of the RSS — its patriotism, its discipline, its social work — to justify the Gujarat government’s decision. To take the last of its virtues first, every organization that helps in times of floods, fires or famine, deserves the gratitude of the nation, but the RSS’s good works are not the issue here. It is the RSS’s construction of patriotism that is the problem. What Naidu and the RSS mean by patriotism is an exclusive chauvinism based on the claims of a dominant community. Hindus consolidated are the national community, Hindutva is the culture that must define this nation and the Hindu rashtra is shorthand for the kind of state that the saffron brotherhood would like to see in place. Their vaunted discipline is their way of trying to make all this happen, so it is hard to see why Naidu expects people outside the RSS, especially those who admire the Indian Constitution, to see this as a virtue at all.

Advani said, in the course of this controversy, that everything he was, he owed to the RSS. He, more than any one else, helped create through his rath yatras and his sponsorship of the shilanyas, the mood for the destruction of the Babri Masjid and the BJP’s rise to power. So we should take him seriously, and at his word. Advani intended his statement as reassurance; we would be wise to read it as a warning. The defeat of the BJP in this matter is a victory for every Indian citizen. This time the opposition (for once) was vigilant enough to see that it wasn’t a provincial government’s circular but the nature of the republic that was at stake. But it will happen again — we need to keep watch.    


 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Private historians

Sir — Post-princess of Wales, the British press seems to be in complete distress about whom to hunt down. What else could justify the Mail on Sunday’s perverse pleasure in publishing the experiences of a nanny in the household of the Blairs, who have become Britain’s current obsession (“Cherie rushes to muzzle nanny”, March 8). Rosalind Mark believes she is contributing to “social history” by revealing details of her tenure at the house. James Hewitt could have thought no differently while publishing his story of his steamy “affair” with Diana. And probably the entire brood of the infamous paparazzi can justify their invasions from the social history perspective.

Yours faithfully,
S. Pahari, Calcutta

Brother in harm

Sir — Chechnya with its Muslim majority is as much an integral part of Russia as Washington DC with its substantial black population is part of the United States. Bill Clinton should remember that Abraham Lincoln did not shrink from waging a war against the secessionist South on the issue of breaking away from the union because the confederate states believed in slavery. Similarly, Russia is totally justified in suppressing by all means the Chechen separatists, abetted and supported by fundamentalist Islamic communities and countries of the world.

US intervention in Yugoslavia has done more harm than good. The US is only helping Kosovar Muslims to secede from Yugoslavia and also covering up the expulsion of Christian Serbs from Kosovo. Only the American people can stop their president from intervening in the internal affairs of other countries to help deflect attention from domestic matters.

India has special reason to be apprehensive about Clinton’s involvement with Chechnya. India too has Muslim dominated areas — Kashmir being the most useful example — with a history of secessionism.

Yours faithfully,
T. Mani Chowdary, Secunderabad

Sir — Despite the destruction wrought by Russian forces in Chechnya, the United States has largely remained silent. Busy with west Asian talks between Israel and Syria, Clinton is now taken up with his forthcoming visit to India and Pakistan. Meanwhile, innocent people are being crushed to death by the war machine of the acting Russian president, Vladimir Putin.

This is not in the support of the ruling clique in Chechnya. But the unarmed Chechen civilians need to be spared the blood hunt.

Yours faithfully,
Tai-Chin Haider, Calcutta

No values

Sir — Kudos for the publication of “Three year hunt for missing marksheet” (Feb 29).The report will do a great service for hundreds of such Sunandas who have to bear the brunt of red tapism and official apathy. It is possible Sunanda will receive her marksheet within days of the publication of the report. But can the authorities concerned compensate for the valuable three years she lost at this crucial juncture of her life?

Yours faithfully,
Govind Das Dujari, Calcutta

Sir — It appears from the report, “Quality check on private schools” (Feb 2) that the West Bengal government is bungling into new territories. The state education department should stop bothering about the standard of private schools. Instead the government should upgrade the standard of government schools.

Yours faithfully,
Kausik Guha, Calcutta

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