Editorial 1/Old timer
Editorial 2\Big and bad
Neighbourhood talkie
Letters to the Editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1/OLD TIMER 
 
 
 
 
Meticulously planned American efforts did not lead to the implosion of the Soviet Union, it collapsed through its own internal contradictions. Similarly, well honed sallies by the opposition at the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance government will do it far less harm than the internal contradictions of the sangh parivar, as the BJP and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh grit their teeth to put on amicable smiles for each other. The anointing of Mr K.S. Sudarshan as the RSS’s new sarsanghchalak is both the culmination of a series of events and possibly the inauguration of another. Mr Sudarshan is a known hardliner, and his taking on Mr Rajendra Singh’s mantle is a signal that the RSS is no longer willing to shillyshally about getting the government to accept its view of things. The RSS issue fiasco in Gujarat has not helped. The BJP is obviously much keener to keep its allies happy than the RSS. So the new RSS chief has wasted no time in being heard. He has asked the government to change its economic advisers, and proposed names too. Mr Sudarshan’s views on the economy are rather out of tune with the times. His pro-swadeshi notions, when disentangled from the Hindutva skein, have a strong tinge of the Gandhian; probably his idea of running the country would be to cultivate “self-sufficiency” by going as close as possible to the village economy model.

The RSS, insulated in its obscurantist world, has forgotten that the world does not move backwards. The logic of power and of coalition politics have begun to strain the umbilical cord with the BJP to breaking point. The faces the BJP needs today in order to look credible as a forward-looking party running a developing country in tune with the world are those of politicians like Mr Arun Jaitley and Mr Jaswant Singh. Hardly comforting for the RSS. And the more votes the BJP gets, the more members it acquires. After all it is the BJP, and not the RSS, that offers powerful contacts and a career in politics. The RSS recruits few nowadays and has more dropouts than ever before. Apparently, television serials eat into the time of its shakhas. No wonder the RSS chief is sounding aggressive. Whistling in the dark is one way of keeping up flagging confidence. Mass contact programmes on the one hand, and boisterous agenda-pushing on the other, might just produce the illusion that the RSS is thriving.

It takes one contradiction to come to the surface to bring out others. A people’s elected government develops its own steam and is moulded and changed by the needs of governing a democratic country. As the distance between the BJP and the RSS grows, another question has to be raised: whether there is a place for cadre-based parties in a Western style liberal democracy. The BJP and left parties, notably the Communist Party of India (Marxist), are possibly the only cadre-based parties in the electoral arena of a democracy anywhere in the world. That is why Mr Sudarshan can call for a change of economic advisers and, if successful, force on the people advisers and policymakers whom they have not voted for. The Constitution review committee should decide whether or not cadre-based parties should be allowed to participate in the electoral politics of a democracy. It is inevitable that the RSS should be marginalized as the BJP struggles to come to terms with democratic politics.    


 
 
EDITORIAL 2\BIG AND BAD 
 
 
 
 
The Indian prime minister, Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee, during his trip to Mauritius, complained that globalization was promoting the creation of ever larger corporations. Deutsche Bank’s taking over of Dresdner Bank to create the world’s largest bank with assets of $ 1.2 trillion just days before seems to support his claim. But both Mr Vajpayee and globalization’s naysayers grossly oversimplify what the present wave of worldwide mergers and acquisitions represents. It is true one reason for the merger was a desire for bulk. Though dominant in Germany, the banks had too small a mass customer base for the demands of global competition. But the more important reason for their getting together was the need to break free of Germany’s suffocating banking environment. Retail banking in Germany is fragmented and dominated by large public sector concerns. Deutsche and Dresdner had large retail banking chains which were getting in the way of profits. Plentiful assets are meaningless if profits are minimal. The two companies are expected to effectively give their retail outlets to an insurance company. This will allow them to pursue the more profitable business of investment banking. Investment banking has been dominated by Wall Street firms like Merrill Lynch and Goldman Sachs. These banks are hugely profitable without having huge asset bases.

Size is not the major determinant for success in the global economy. Globalization means much fiercer competition in almost every sector. While having more capital and a wider distribution network than others helps, it is not necessary or even always advantageous. Analysts were drafting the obituaries of Deutsche and Dresdner before the takeover. The merger’s real accomplishment has been to give the two a chance to evolve from being retailing behemoths into nimble investment bankers. A larger bank is likely to arise from the merger of the Bank of Japan, Fuji and Dai-Ichi Kangyo Banks. Again this will be an act of weakness. Japanese banks are heavy with assets but are lacking in profits. Many are suffocating from asset obesity in the present depression. In comparison, United States banks are smaller but extraordinarily profitable. Competitiveness is better measured by leanness and flexibility than by size and weight. And this is what globalization instils in companies these days.    


 
 
NEIGHBOURHOOD TALKIE 
 
 
BY J.N. DIXIT
 
 
Indian and Chinese delegates met in Beijing from March 6 to 8 in their first exchange on security issues. Senior officials from India’s ministry of external affairs and China’s foreign office led the respective delegations.

This security dialogue is separate from the discussions being held under the Sino-Indian joint working group on the boundary question. The two sides differed on nonproliferation and other nuclear issues during the talks. The Indian delegation affirmed its objections to China’s criticism of India’s nuclear and missile weaponization.

India’s nuclear weapon tests of 1998 and the statements by the prime minister and defence minister that one reason for India’s acquiring nuclear weapons was a perceived Chinese threat, triggered a crisis in Sino-Indian relations. The political and security dialogue being held at an informal level was discontinued.

Resuming the security dialogue, separately from the joint working group, was one of the most significant results of the discussions that India’s foreign minister, Jaswant Singh, had with his Chinese counterpart, Tang Xijuan.

The importance of the March 6 to 8 meeting needs to be assessed in the context of China’s broader strategic thinking. Notably, this is the first security dialogue held since the nuclear tests. It took place despite strong criticism by Beijing of India’s nuclear weapons programme. And despite India’s objections to China’s longstanding defence cooperation agreement with Pakistan.

Another backdrop is the Sino-Indian boundary dispute which remains unresolved.

China is also critical of the United States-Japan security arrangement and proposals for a theatre missile defence system in east Asia. Taiwan remains a major source of tension in the region. Beijing’s assertiveness is also causing apprehension among southeast Asian countries. Some thought is being given to evolving countervailing strategic equations in south and southeast Asia.

The very first day of the Sino-Indian dialogue, the Chinese authorities announced a 12.7 per cent increase of their defence expenditure. But this has more to do with the US moves to set up a missile defence system and the tensions surrounding Taiwan. China’s finance minister, Xiang Huaicheng, said the defence budget would be $14.5 billion, about 1.4 per cent of gross domestic product and 8.2 per cent of budgetary expenditure. There are reports China will allocate more money to buy high technology weapons and improve its nuclear missile arsenal.

Most of this equipment will come from Russia, a fallout of the Sino-Russian strategic partnership that followed Jiang Zemin’s visit to Moscow in 1998. Given the US’s overarching political and military power, China is also engaged in restructuring its strategic and security equations with important powers.

Beijing’s attitude towards south Asian and southeast Asian countries are drawn from China’s current perceptions about likely developments in regional politics and power equations. Its views are inevitably influenced by China’s own military and technological capacity.

At present, China is concentrating primarily on domestic political consolidation and economic development. Its focus is inwards. It is China’s assessment that an atmosphere of stability and peace in its vicinity is necessary if it is to meet its priority objective of economic development.

China, therefore, seeks a practical and cooperative relationship with all its neighbours and other power centres like the US, Russia, the European Union and Japan.

This approach does carry a rider: that China shall not compromise it territorial, strategic and security interests.

The Chinese have a deep and unarticulated conviction that they are destined to be citizens of a superpower. Beijing will therefore concentrate on its defence capacities to counter external challenges from technologically superior countries.

An additional objective is to prevent any of the existing nuclear powers from dominating the world scene and also prevent, if possible, the emergence of additional nuclear powers in its neighbourhood.

The asymmetry between the greater military and economic strength of China when compared to India should caution India that the security and strategic dialogue is not based on complementarities but aimed at generating a stabilizing atmosphere to remedy the above imbalances.

The dialogue is also aimed at counter-potentialities of tension and conflict in the context of differences of opinion on the boundary question between the two countries. Another aim is to create an incremental environment of trust which could lead to the resolution of the boundary question. The bilateral exchange of views could also serve the purpose of removing misunderstandings about India’s nuclear and missile programmes and structuring a political and strategic understanding on nonproliferation and arms control.

The dialogue could also serve to evolve an understanding between India and China on issues affecting south and southeast Asian security in general, and perhaps reducing Indo-Pakistani tensions. Stable security relations and understanding between China and India will temper Pakistani adventurism and extremism, despite the Beijing-Islamabad link.

These are all not only desirable objectives but also of immediate relevance. The security discussion between India and China is, by all accounts, a positive and strategic development of importance to the region.

The author is former foreign secretary of India    


 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Black coat harassment

Sir — “I don’t deserve you and you don’t deserve me” is what Ram Jethmalani told the Supreme Court bar association (“Bar club expels Jethmalani”, March 10). The people of India might just as well be telling that to Jethmalani and his friends in black coats. A semi-literate population as that of India does not deserve to have in their “service” men of letters who exploit the anglicized system of jurisprudence to fill their pockets and boost their egos. And a legal fraternity so unscrupulous and politicized does not deserve to have a clientele so gullible as to eat out of its hands. It is not known what brownie points Jethmalani or his kind in the bar association might have gained through their slanging match. In all this, the main issue — their being there to help people get justice — might have completely slipped their minds. Do lawyers honestly believe their frequent strikes will help the cause of justice? And does Jethmalani really think his resignation from the bar association will reduce people’s harassment at law courts?

Yours faithfully,
D. Basu Ray, Calcutta

Back to basics

Sir — Eighteen notorious mafia dons and criminals like Rajen Tiwari, Munna Shukla, Suraj Bhan, Dhumal Singh, have been elected in the recent Bihar assembly elections. Of these, six are Bhumihars and Rajputs, three Brahmins, two Kurmis (the caste Nitish Kumar belongs to) and only one is a backward classes member. Given the caste composition of north Indian states like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, the preponderance of upper castes in the list is not surprising. Many of these candidates contested and won from jail. It was even whispered that they played an important role in deciding how the numbers game that was played out last week in the state legislature between Laloo Prasad Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal and the National Democratic Alliance would be resolved.

But one thing is certain — given the way the numbers are poised in the legislature, the RJD can do little to reign them in for fear of losing their support. Thus it should surprise no one if caste killings, smuggling, extortions and kidnappings flourish on a larger scale in the state than before. In the circumstances, television commentators’ delicately expressed concern over the criminalization of politics and politicians shedding crocodile tears over the matter in Parliament seem hollow. One presumes there are laws to deal with these criminals. But is there anyone to apply them? Are laws only to punish the poor and helpless?

Yours faithfully,
Som Dutt, Calcutta

Sir — In the light of Nitish Kumar’s resignation from the chief ministership of Bihar after a brief eight day tenure, it is clear that the original decision of the governor, Vinod Pande, to swear in the National Democratic Alliance candidate on March 3, ignoring the RJD’s claims, was wrong. But the way Laloo Prasad Yadav and his goons reacted to Kumar’s swearing in — by violence and by blocking trains — is contemptible. While Yadav and his party had every right to protest against the governor’s action which they thought was unconstitutional, they did not have the moral or constitutional right to destroy national property or cause losses to the national exchequer. Can such “dadagiri” be tolerated in a democracy?

On March 5, Yadav was arrested and then released. Are political leaders above the law? Would an ordinary citizen who acted similarly be treated thus? Does the country have two sets of laws — one for the mighty who can wield muscle power and another for ordinary citizens?

Bihar has gained notoriety as a mafia state where lawlessness perpetrated by political parties is the order of the day. Repeated attempts to set the state in order have been nullified by selfish and opportunistic parties like the Congress which has no qualms about supporting Yadav. It has even ignored its own Panchmarhi declaration and protests by its own state unit. The president should protect the Constitution by putting an end to such lawlessness.

Yours faithfully,
Ranjan Guha Majumder, Calcutta

Sir — The fractured mandate of the assembly elections in Bihar bodes ill for India’s poorest state (“Sonia buries Panchmarhi for Laloo”, March 3). The Congress, which over the years declared Laloo Prasad Yadav corrupt and responsible for all Bihar’s ills, has finally proved that it is absolutely unscrupulous in the pursuit of power. It does not seem afraid that by supporting Rabri Devi it might damage its own support in Bihar.

Besides infighting in the NDA, the Bharatiya Janata Party is itself to blame for its lacklustre performance since it gave up more than half the seats to its allies. The BJP will find its support eroding in Bihar as well as in the rest of the country if it doesn’t stop giving in to its allies. While the allies have been helped by the association with the BJP, they have also manoeuvred to bring about its fall by fielding dummy candidates. There is no reason for the BJP not to contest elections on its own. It should strengthen its election machinery and set up party offices everywhere in the country. Yadav’s success in the face of isolation by almost all parties proves that he managed to win the support of an electorate that was disillusioned by the fractured election campaign of the NDA.

Yours faithfully,
Santosh Kumar Sharma, Kharagpur

Well on track

Sir — The editorial, “Thin Gravy Train” (Feb 26), is a bit uncharitable in stating that the railways minister, Mamata Banerjee, has sacrificed the long term interests of Indian railways for the gratification of lower middle class voters. Banerjee is pursuing a policy of “people over profit” and does not want to hike fares without improving the service. Quality first and fare rise next should not be condemned as a “pro-people” policy.

The railways shoulders a subsidy of approximately Rs 2,000 crore for carrying suburban passengers . But the railways should not bear the burden of subsidy alone — the states should also share this financial burden. The states’ indifference in this regard may be used as ground for an increase in railways’ suburban fare hike, if required.

The budget proposals for providing door to door collection, delivery and the speedy transport of goods are likely to help in achieving the railways’ target of recapturing the market share of half the freight business. The plan of raising Rs 500 crore as additional revenue through the leasing of “right of way” for fibre-optic cables is innovative — but given the state of our track maintenance, implementing this scheme may be difficult.

Sixty per cent of railways expenditure is used to maintain the workforce. Thus, rail authorities must make an effort to raise the per capita productivity of the employees. Also, the ill maintained tracks, signalling and monitoring equipment must be revamped to improve safety of passengers. The railways must invest Rs 150 billion as suggested by the H.R. Khanna commission for the purpose of safe rail travel.

Yours faithfully,
B.C. Dutta, Calcutta

Sir — Mamata Banerjee must be congratulated for her people-friendly rail budget. The public in general are happy with the minister’s balanced budget — especially because it has incorporated the welfare of different sections of the society including students, Kargil widows and senior citizens.

However, Banerjee ought to look into some existing loopholes. For example, corruption ought to be checked in the parcel booking and delivery departments. Also, the efficiency of the railways is bound to improve if bureaucrats incorporate the views of passengers for future planning.

Yours faithfully,
K.K. Ghosh, New Delhi

Sir — Students have been given the advantage of the free local rail commuting facilities by Mamata Banerjee. But it is unfortunate that while girls will be allowed to commute free till class XII, boys can do it only upto class X.

Yours faithfully,
Sarfaraz Ahsan, Calcutta

Sir — What happens when populism and hope for political gain influence fiscal policies? Something close to Mamata Banerjee’s rail budget. Fiscal policies affect the economy only after a long time, so policymakers must have a long time horizon. Banerjee has proved to be a shortsighted politician.

Yours faithfully,
Rajeev Bagra, Naihati

Last word

Sir — Asoke Sen’s letter, “No doubles to cause trouble” (March 1), is a neat translation of a section of Kalyan Sanyal’s piece that appeared in Ananda Bazar Patrika on February 27. Translation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Yours faithfully,
Soumyen Sikdar, Calcutta

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Calcutta 700 001
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