Editorial 1\Crude tactics
Editorial 2\Campus watch
After the visit, what?
Letters to the Editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1\CRUDE TACTICS 
 
 
 
 
The ghost of oil shocks past seems to have visited the world. Crude prices has tripled the past one year. India has been reeling from the consequences. The import bill has surged. The oil pool deficit has ballooned, forcing the government to reduce subsidies on cooking gas and kerosene. The recent Vienna summit of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries has provided some relief. Nine of the cartel’s 11 members, and a tenth under protest, agreed to increase production by 1.45 million barrels of crude a day, an increase of 6.3 per cent over present OPEC limits. Oil prices, which had risen from the record low of $ 10 a barrel last year to $ 30, immediately slipped to $ 25. When winter comes to an end in the northern hemisphere, prices may sink to $ 20 a barrel. Each three to four dollar drop in world oil prices chops off about $ 2.5 billion from India’s oil import bill. OPEC’s production increase was still smaller than many consuming nations had hoped. The United States, which had applied considerable diplomatic pressure on Saudi Arabia to get the taps to open, had sought a two million barrel a day increase. Even the Saudis had pushed for 1.7 million barrels.

A greater source of concern is whether all this means the world economy is once more hostage to OPEC, a body which has been largely impotent since the mid-Eighties. OPEC’s resurrection was a direct result of the collapse of oil prices two years ago. This was a reverse oil shock that nearly bankrupted many producers. However, the likelihood of an oil shock triggering a global recession seems ever more remote. OPEC was able to jack up prices through production cuts only after winning over non-cartel oil producers like Mexico and Norway. Consumer power is still strong today. The price fixing began to unravel almost as soon as the US, the world’s largest importer, threw its diplomatic weight in favour of lower prices. As important is that with the rise of post-industrial economic sectors, oil is simply not as crucial to global economic success as it once was. Countries like India which are still sensitive to volatile petroleum prices need to play a more active international role in lobbying for lower prices and weakening cartelization. Though it is not a major importer, India has good relations with two of OPEC’s most hawkish members, Iraq and Iran. At present, New Delhi’s only response to surges in world oil prices is complete passivity. Despite the present peak in prices, world energy markets have been increasingly characterized by a transfer of power from producers to consumers. OPEC is a shadow of its former self. India needs to take advantage of these developments and promote its own stake in having a world oil price driven more by the market than by politics.    


 
 
EDITORIAL 2\CAMPUS WATCH 
 
 
 
 
Bullies are cowards. But they are ubiquitous and, in certain circumstances, marshal enough power to destroy young minds and bodies. It is reassuring that the University Grants Commission has decided to treat ragging as a criminal offence on a par with rape and torture. The UGC has urged the Central and state governments to enact a law prohibiting ragging in educational institutions, suggesting a maximum punishment of rigorous imprisonment for up to three years and a fine of Rs 25,000. Its report also recommends a three-pronged strategy of prohibition, prevention and punishment, the failure to implement which by an institution will result in sanctions imposed on it by the commission.

Starting as an English public school initiation ritual, ragging — in its current Indian form — can range from innocuous teasing to extreme forms of harrassment and assault that have often led to a student permanently giving up on a course of study, or even to suicide. What the UGC recommendation recognizes is the adult nature of this offence, forcing students to perceive themselves and one another as moral agents inhabiting a particular form of adult community. This community — even as it is sheltered, to some extent, from the “real world” — enacts impulses and energies that constitute the more obviously adult social formations, like the family and the workplace. The insecurities and perversions that motivate the extreme forms of sexual and violent ragging mostly arise from pathologies generated through the exercise of power. Fostered by a range of inequalities, prejudices and deprivations, these pathologies often originate in the family and are played out, in various guises in social life. In the implementation of these UGC recommendations, the authorities need to be mindful of two problems. First, as in cases of sexual harrassment, the institutional authorities and the police might often find it difficult to define clearly when innocuous fun becomes physically or psychologically damaging for an individual. Ambivalence and subjectivity will inevitably complicate the interpretation and handling of most episodes, calling for a great deal of intelligence and humanity from the authorities. Second, trying to explain away this perverted abuse of power in terms of the effect of “popular culture” on young minds, as the UGC has done in its report, speaks of unclear, prejudiced and evasive thinking. Sex and violence in films and in the media are not the cause of such behaviour, but are other manifestations of the same psychosocial attitudes and syndromes. Stricter censorship, as suggested by the UGC, will only deflect attention away from the private and public pressures that the young will have to understand critically and responsibly in their everyday lives. Legally empowering institutions to punish ragging is a necessary and laudable first step. But an unanxious respect for human dignity and difference — not institutionalized rigour — is what will finally put the bullies in their place.    


 
 
AFTER THE VISIT, WHAT? 
 
 
BY SHAM LAL
 
 
Contrary to the old shopkeepers’ slogan, the customer is no longer king. As societies go hi-tech, his place is taken over by the salesman. The persuader trying to make people buy a particular gadget, service, idea, policy in person does not think to stay discreetly behind the scene now. He makes his presence felt in a thousand technicolour images every day. The all too fast changes in the range and design of goods and services, and in the direction and texture of policies, make more exacting demands on his skills in evasion, equivocation, hype and manipulation of facts.

It was because of Bill Clinton’s knack of adjusting the pitch of his sales talk to the prevailing public mood here, that the country went gaga during his five-day visit. He would not have been able to do so but for the new look he had already managed to give to his administration’s south Asia policy which became apparent when, during the Kargil war, he peremptorily asked Nawaz Sharif, the then prime minister, to withdraw all Pakistani forces including the militants it was supporting to his side of the line of control in Kashmir.

The common ground between New Delhi and Washington on the need to respect the sanctity of the LoC has been extended by the shared perception that peaceful talks alone, not armed conflict, can resolve the Kashmir issue and by the repeated reiteration of the stand taken by the United States that it would never mediate in the dispute unless requested by both the parties concerned to do so. The anxiety of the US to see an early restoration of democracy in Pakistan at the national level as also the resumption of the process begun at Lahore, which demands a prior end to cross-border terrorism, has also brought India and the US closer to each other.

Even so, the political establishment here has to guard against over-reacting to recent changes in the US approach to south Asia. There is no reason for it to get bowled over. The mad scramble among members of parliament, each striving hard to get near the US president for a handshake, after his address to a joint session of the two houses, was most unseemly. The least that the people expect from the lawmakers in their country, particularly in the presence of a visiting dignitary from abroad, is a sense of decorum.

That Clinton joined in a jig with the village women at Naila in Rajasthan may have yielded some lively images for television networks. But was this charade the stuff on which to build hopes of meaningful community life in a political culture increasingly based on sharper communal and caste identities? A patronizing commendation by Clinton of N. Chandrababu Naidu’s dream of providing every village in his state access to the internet may have been like a shot of adrenalin in the Andhra Pradesh chief minister’s blood. But could the villagers put the new hi-tech facility to good use even as the level of school education continued to decline for lack of funds?

The two standing ovations the US president received when he spoke to the captains of industry in Mumbai showed their buoyant mood. Yet, they must have exerted hard to feel so upbeat when they all knew that the foreign direct investment in India was still one-tenth of that in China. How did they manage to keep their doubts at bay when the tally of the capital outlay in all the joint venture agreements signed at the meeting came to a pretty modest figure? The truth is that the state of the infrastructure being what it is, the country is not in a position today even to utilize efficiently investment in industry on a much larger scale.

Making all the right noises is one thing; translating these into policy accords is quite another. This is why it is too early to assess the results of Clinton’s visit. New Delhi will have to wait and see what effect, if any, his admonitions to Pervez Musharraf, made personally during his brief stopover in Pakistan, will have on the military dictator who prefers to call himself his country’s chief executive. Will he heed the US president’s warning, put a stop to the export of terrorism and create a climate congenial enough for the interrupted Lahore process to be resumed? No one knows whether he has the power, or even the will, to discipline fundamentalist outfits patronized and nurtured by the military establishment in his country for so long.

Will Clinton’s visit provide a stimulus to American multinationals to invest in infrastructure and other priority sectors in this country on a much larger scale? Again, the question does not permit a pat answer. A lot depends on the Central government’s performance. Can it bring the fiscal situation, which seems to be getting out of hand, under control? Can it persuade its allies — unable to get rid of the populist outlook which has been an essential part of their survival kit — to narrow the widening gap between the costs and prices of the goods and services supplied by it to manageable limits? The prospects do not seem too bright.

It may have given the government’s spirit a lift hearing the US chief executive hail India as a software superpower. The national media now periodically checks the number of dollar billionaires here in the hope of hitting upon one or two new names in the list every time. Maybe this is the stuff of which news is made in the so called global village. On the other hand, those added everyday to the list of those without a job or a place to live in do not count though it is their numbers which will make all the difference between political stability and endemic instability. The country’s spirit cannot but droop as soon as it looks at its place, which is very near the bottom of the world hierarchy, in terms of per capita income, literacy and healthcare levels, the number of festering slums and the degradation of the environment.

This is not to berate the way India has managed to keep its democratic system going despite all the distortions to which it had been subjected because of the country’s extreme diversity and far too many regional, caste and ethnic barriers, reinforced by the competition for votes. Nor is it meant to minimize the significance of the large body of scientists and technicians it has been able to produce and their conspicuous presence in many hi-tech fields. Paradoxically, the country’s failure lies in its inability to make proper use of their services. The pace of economic growth has been too slow to utilize the full potential of the country’s skilled manpower.

Ironically, India’s difficulties in dealing with the unrest at home and cross-border terrorism have increased with the end of the Cold War, the shifts in the balance of power in the world, the frantic pace of technological change, the country’s increased dependence on foreign capital and the logic of the globalization process which dangerously widens income disparities both between and within nations. Even in western Europe, it is cutting down the welfare state to size. In the newly industrialized societies, it is creating new uncertainties due to much greater mobility of capital across national frontiers. And in the poorer parts of the world it is making outcastes of entire societies.

The traces of Clintonphilia left by the US president’s visit apart, a true assessment of American policy can be made only in the context of the emerging global order. It is not the US alone but also the other four permanent members of the United Nations security council who have a stake in preserving their monopoly on nuclear weapons. The chances of the US relenting on the issue of India’s nuclear deterrent are therefore pretty slim. And if all the five oppose the project to the bitter end they can add immensely to its economic and political costs. It has certainly not helped New Delhi a whit in preventing Pakistan from dangerously increasing the intensity of cross-border terrorism.

It is not its doubts about the efficacy of the defence strategy, unable to cope with threats from a hostile and fanatical neighbour, which alone worry the public. Those not swept off their feet by the euphoria over the internet and the proliferation of websites have no idea how the country hopes to deal with the economic globalization.

On the one hand, it will have to come to terms with what a leading Western thinker calls “capitalism without work”, making demands on highly skilled workers but creating very few jobs. On the other hand, it has to do something about the millions of unemployed who can only be engaged in low-paid and labour intensive work even if there is enough capital to invest on an adequate scale in both sectors.

Neither multinationals nor friendly foreign nations can take care of the explosive situation created by the parallel growth of these two sectors, with an inevitable widening of income disparities. It is for the government to devise a strategy that can contain this danger. Being permanently at odds with itself, it is highly doubtful if it can do so. A political culture in which jumbo ministries have become the rule to keep disparate allies somehow together is hardly capable of producing hard decisions and making them stick. It is no wonder that much of politics today is reduced to sales talk and a good deal of effort goes into trivializing news in the media to divert the attention of the reader or viewer from depressing problems of which most of them have already enough in their daily lives.    


 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Glitter of modesty

Sir — Hrithik Roshan is exactly one film old, and however great a success that is, it still does not justify the hysteria surrounding him (“London crown & frown for Hrithik”, March 27). What has Roshan done to deserve a “prestigious” award from the National Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children? Merely showcased his brawn and whatever little acting skills Bombay commercial cinema requires. And for this he, his father, mother and fiancé, were flown all the way to London — business class no doubt — to attend a high profile charity dinner where all he had to do was shake hands and be polite. The organizer’s argument that he was a “role model for Asian youth worldwide” is just so much bunkum and probably masks her own desire to meet the star. The least he could have done, as a guest rightly said, was danced or performed to earn his dinner. Roshan probably thought he was being modest when he accepted that he hadn’t done anything to deserve the honour; irony it seems, is the first casualty of stardom.

Yours faithfully,
Sarita Menon, Calcutta

Death valley

Sir — The March 21 killing of 36 Sikhs in Chattisinghpora in the Anantnag district of Jammu and Kashmir was a despicable act of brutality and is reminiscent of the communal killings that took place just after Partition. Hindus and Sikhs had ranged on one side to wage war against the Muslims in undivided Punjab, leaving thousands dead and millions displaced. Muslims from east Punjab were forced to flee to Pakistan while Hindus and Sikhs were forced out of west Punjab. This was a kind of “ethnic cleansing”. Since the advent of militancy in Jammu and Kashmir, similar ethnic cleansing was attempted by Muslim militants who targeted Kashmiri Pandits, killing large numbers and forcing the rest to flee. The militants, largely mercenaries from Pakistan and Afghanistan, have now turned on Sikhs with the aim of clearing the state of non-Muslims.

This is part of Pakistan’s efforts to facilitate the annexation of the state by either fomenting violence on an unprecedented scale or by forcing a United Nations supervised plebiscite, in which case a state populated by Muslims only, will be more likely to vote in favour of Pakistan. This might also have been the reason the massacre was timed to coincide with Bill Clinton’s visit to the subcontinent. Unfortunately for Pakistan, the strategy backfired. The only way India can hold on to Kashmir is to stamp out militancy and also preserve the secular character of the polity. Any attempt to foist Hindutva — an ever present danger with the Bharatiya Janata Party at the Centre — and India will lose the moral right to hold on to Kashmir.

Yours faithfully,
Sanmay Ganguly, Calcutta

Sir — The massacre of innocent Sikhs in Chattisinghpora by terrorists, allegedly backed Pakistan, was a heinous act. Earlier, there had been similar massacres of Hindus and then too the state government had remained silent. The Jammu and Kashmir government has proved that it is unable to protect the rights of minorities in the state. It has not provided arms to the village defence committees, in spite of this being a longstanding demand.

Whatever happened to the money provided by the Centre for this purpose? Only a few obsolete .303 rifles were provided to fight the terrorists with their state of the art weaponry. Further, none of these “soft” targets were provided with sophisticated communications systems.

Yours faithfully,
Rajesh Sengupta, Calcutta

Sir — A thorough investigation should be conducted into the Chattisinghpora killings to find those responsible and punish them. A solution to the Kashmir problem needs to be found fast, for which politicians must take bold decisions.

Yours faithfully,
Shabbir Ahmed, Calcutta

Sir — The day the Anantnag killings happened, the powers that be in the country as well as the administrative machinery were absorbed with welcoming the “most powerful man on earth”. More than the militants and their sponsors, it is the government which must be held responsible for failing to protect the victims’ lives and property.

The Indian government has simply watched as hordes of intruders crossed the borders and killed indiscriminately. Do governments exist only to send messages of condolence to the bereaved?

Yours faithfully,
S.C. Banerjee, Ranchi

Language binds

Sir — While the editorial, “People’s English” (Feb 13), was thought-provoking, it also needs to be stressed that English occupies an important place as the language of free and democratic India. English, though a foreign language, has been a boon in a number of ways. It has unified different regions of the subcontinent in spite of geographical distance and respective languages. It has served as a link between provincial governments, universities and national organizations.

Also, it is English that led to a political renaissance in India, inspiring citizens with the ideals of independence and democracy. English has influenced and enriched native literature, bringing about an exchange of ideas between the East and the West. It has been and is still our major means of communication with the outside world. Thus English might be described as the people’s language in India, until Hindi attains an international dimension in future.

Yours faithfully,
K.C. Karmakar, Burdwan

Sir — It is good that the National Council of Educational Research and Training has stated it is not necessary to include a separate curriculum on “fundamental duties listed in the Constitution” (“Dutiful Joshi in awareness drive”, March 6). This is because such a chapter already exists in most civics and social studies textbooks. Students are already bogged down with heavy syllabi in most subjects, with history topping the list. Added to this is excessive homework and the numerous textbooks that students are required to carry to school.

The human resources development ministry should formulate guidelines for uniform school sessions across the country. In some states, annual examinations are over before the end of March and the new session begins in May, while in others, they stretch to April and the new session commences in June. This causes great inconvenience, especially to families who have to relocate.

Yours faithfully,
T.V.S. Murty, Noamundi
   
 

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