Editorial 1
Editorial 2
Fund of paradoxes
Letters to the editor


Buying game

The allegations levelled against some of the South African cricketers, including their captain, Hansie Cronje, only highlight the altered ambience in which cricket is now played. The notion that cricket was a leisurely and gentlemanly activity to be pursued more in the spirit of a rural idyll rather than in the competitive spirit of the marketplace is not only a thing of the past but also, as many would argue, a utopian ideal with no basis in past or present reality. The entry of sponsorship and big money into the game has only given a different edge to the spirit of rivalry and commercialism which was always a part of the game. Players always played to win and many, if not most, of them, played for money or to make a decent living. Professionalism is as much a part of cricket as W.G. Grace. What has altered since big money came on the scene is the growth in allegations that players are sacrificing their professionalism at the altar of Mammon. There have been too many stories in recent years that players are taking money from bookies to fix matches or to give away vital information which affect the odds a bookie might offer. The charge against the South African players is only one in a series in which prominent Pakistani players, well known Australian players and some Indian stars have featured. The truth or otherwise of these allegations is never known because they are never the subject of thoroughgoing and transparent investigations. The Australian Cricket Board tried to cover up the fact that Mark Waugh and Shane Warne had given information to bookies. Even after the cover up was exposed, no severe punishment was meted out to them. There are reasons to suspect that in India the inquiry under Mr Y.V. Chandrachud was no more than whitewash. The International Cricket Council pursues a strange and ambivalent policy on matters relating to gambling by and corruption among players. If it means all that it says on such matters, it should come down hard on players irrespective of who they are and their nationality. There is no justification for the lenient attitude the ICC adopted towards Mark Waugh and Warne and towards the ACB for attempting to put the lid on things. If on the other hand, it feels that these are trivial matters which do not affect the game it should stop adopting a holier-than-thou public posture. In India, this kind of posture grows out of a hypocritical attitude towards gambling. There is no reason why gambling should be illegal so far as cricket is concerned. The illegality only encourages fly-by-night operators. Legalized gambling will allow room for regulation as exists in horse racing. If Ladbroke’s can have a shop at Lord’s why can’t it have a counter at Eden Gardens? At the heart of this kind of ambiguity and hypocrisy is the refusal to accept the reality that cricket is changing and changing fast. An attempt to cling on to a nostalgia or to an idealized version of the game can only spell disaster. The Kerry Packer episode should have taught cricket administrators about the strength of money and the price of complacency. There is a need to acknowledge today that sponsorship money and may be even punters have changed the culture of the game. That acknowledgment will be the first step towards preventing the abuse of the new power dominating cricket. Change is not the end of the world but an end of a way of life.    


Kitchen watch

There is an occasional spurt of activity among civic authorities in Calcutta which raises hopes even in the most resigned. The recent instructions given by the Calcutta Municipal Corporation to the licence department regarding the renewal and issue of licences to houses rented out for ceremonies such as weddings are both sensible and focussed. No licence is to be issued unless the health department clears each such house on the basis of guidelines provided by the CMC. The focus is on hygiene: condition of the kitchen, washing arrangements, safe drinking water and good plumbing, exhaust facilities, low noise and garbage disposal systems. Of course, it may always be asked whether there is any reason to be thrilled with the CMC’s awakening when houses for hire have been doing heavy duty for years. But for Calcuttans, used to an unceasing assault on the nerves and health, any small move offers a ray of hope. There is, of course, the next stage to be passed, that is, the stage of implementation. It is here that most good intentions come to grief. Evasion, neglect, plain laziness and a little bit of political and monetary influence, each by itself, is quite enough to ensure the issuing of licences with the most superficial inspection of the premises involved. Calcutta suffers from a deadly lack of pride. People are not proud of the city, of themselves or of the work they do. It is easy to put down the lackadaisical functioning of every aspect of the city to corruption, but the problem runs deeper than that. Because most of the corruption that holds up everyday work or foils civic policy is of a petty kind. What gives rise to it is a kind of habit, a complete unwillingness to do one’s work the right way. The erosion of the work ethic has had terrible consequences in the city. Big projects are undertaken and left half completed, flyovers are begun without adequate planning of traffic diversions, the most polluted waterways are left untouched. In everyday life, nothing is simple. The introduction of computers into banks and government offices has not changed the attitude of the employees or helped cut down red tape in any noticeable way. Even a small matter such as the monitoring of “ceremony houses” may ultimately not take off.    


John Maynard Keynes and his American counterpart, Dexter White, designed the Bretton Woods twins to make the world safer in the post-World War II era. Adolf Hitler’s war had followed a disastrous decade period in which competitive devaluation and trade anarchy enforced by Nazi Germany had crushed the economy of many European nations. In 1945, Germany, a vanquished country, was in no position to direct the detailed talks , which Keynes and White orchestrated. Surely, it would definitely have been farthest from Lord Keynes’s thoughts that one day the International Monetary Fund, his pet creation, would be run by a German civil servant.

But the irony of history is that the latest managing director of the IMF is not from any of the former allied powers of the United States or France or the United Kingdom, but from Germany. When Michel Camdessus, a French financier left his position as the managing director of the IMF last year, he also left behind a confused bureaucracy in the IMF as well as in the US. The US congressmen had, for some time, quarrelled with his proclivities to help the poorer countries in spite of their mistakes.

It was expected by many that the remainder of Camdessus’s term of nearly two years would go to Jean-Paul Claude Trichet, the current governor of the Central Bank of France. Indeed, he was then hoping to take over the chairmanship of the European Central Bank after a few years — as part of a compromise between Germany and France, which meant that Willem F. Duisenberg would leave as president of the ECB at the middle of his six year term and then hand over this chair to Trichet. Trichet having thus taken himself out of the race for the IMF, in view of the prospects in the ECB, the top policymakers of group of seven started looking around for a substitute.

Germany was the first to realize the high stakes involved. Gerhard Schroeder, chancellor of Germany put forward the name of Calo Koch-Weser, a multilateralist, a Brazil-born German who had moved recently from the managing directorship of the World bank as deputy finance minister in Bonn — a post equivalent to our finance secretary. But, his name was not acceptable to the US treasury.

The US secretary of the treasury, Larry Summers, who had earlier worked as the chief economist of the World Bank, must have been unimpressed by his encounters with Koch-Weser. The gossip mill has it that Koch-Weser also did not get enough support from the nations that mattered, such as the US or UK, nor had his manners and policy stance endeared him to the administration of India or China. He was not particularly well known for modesty or warmth. In any event, India herself supported the name of the brilliant economist, Stanley Fischer, in preference to Koch-Weser.

In the result, Koch-Weser was out of the race, being blackballed as politically inexperienced. If the US officials thought they had got rid of a German by this decision, they were mistaken. They had reckoned without the persistence of Schroeder, who seemed determined to plant a German as the head of the most powerful institution in the world. Of course, he must have remembered that he had lost the other powerful post, that of president, ECB, to a Dutchman, but he knew which of the two — ECB or IMF mattered more. IMF obviously.

His next few steps were picture perfect. He got the European monetary union to support his new candidate, Horst Koehler, who had played an important role as finance secretary in Bonn in getting the euro accepted by various European nations. Koehler was by now the president of the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development. He was generally acceptable to the European nations, although for a time the UK toyed with offering the names of leading politicians like Gordon Brown, its chancellor of the exchequer. Giuliano Amato, the finance minister of Italy, also offered himself as if in response to the criticism of Koche-Weser that he was not politically experienced. Amato’s name was brutally rejected by the US.

At this stage, Japan weakly put forward the name of Eisuke Sakaklbara, Japan’s controversial but brilliant vice-minister for finance (finance secretary). His word was law in the Japanese financial markets, where he had earned the sobriquet of “Mr Yen”. But in US eyes, he had committed the unpardonable sin of suggesting at the initial stage of the Asian crisis that Japan and Asian nations could help the region better by putting together an Asia monetary fund of $ 100 billion. His argument was that early availability of help was more important to countries in crisis than the size of the aid.

He argued also that the US political process takes time to fund the IMF, while the AMF could immediately help countries like Thailand. It was unfortunate that the Japanese political leadership did not press forward Sakaklbara’s idea strongly enough. Unlike Schroeder, Japan’s prime minister, Keizo Obuchi, did not canvas even the Asian nations or others for support to Sakaklbara. This contrasts with the way in which Germany built up a solid phalanx of support among the European nations. Japan thus let Sakaklbara’s case fall through.

The US was only too delighted to let this controversial candidate fall by the wayside. Perhaps it is as well. One recalls how when Sakaklbara had put forth the idea of AMF, it was suggested by the US administration that AMF under Asian leadership would not be sufficiently rigorous in monitoring the fiscal status of the regional economies. Not many noticed the implied racial slur. What was obvious was that the US was in no way prepared to surrender the position of economic policeman of the world to Japan. Once again, Japan had failed to push forward a legitimate case. But now, the US has ensured that a European is once again ensconced on the banks of the Potomac.

Schroeder might have still scored a pyrrhic victory. As Koehler moves into the palatial office of the IMF, he would be confronting the first ever struggle of the new millennium over the future of Bretton Woods twins. A high-powered joint commission set up by the US congress and senate under Alan H. Meltzer has just now recommended the downsizing of both the IMF and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development. This particular recommendation has still not been accepted by the US administration. Surely, Schroeder would not be too happy to see the protégé heading a moth-eaten version of the IMF.

Koehler will have his task cut out as he endeavours to convince the interlocutors in the congress as well as the US administration about the need to proceed cautiously with the reform of the IMF. Surely, the future is not going to be all roses for Koehler nor for the world at large. Koehler will need to establish the right relationships with Summers, Stanley Fischer and Alan Greenspan as well as with his counterpart across the street, James D. Wolfensohn, the president of the World Bank.

As one recalls the labour of love which Keynes put in into the creation of the IMF, a paradox comes home with a rather strong impact. Keynes himself had at one stage been tempted to put forward C.D. Deshmukh as a candidate for the IMF’s managing director. It will now be not an American, not even an Indian, but a dyed-in-the-wool German bureaucrat who will be lording it over Keynes’ brainchild. Strange are the turns of history.

The author is former governor, Reserve Bank of India    


Slim chances

Sir — The beauty business is finally taking its toll on schoolgirls in Calcutta, most concerned about slimming down when they should have a more cheerful approach to life (“Beauty Bug Sucks Dry”, April 4). That girls barely into their teens now have anorexic tendencies reveals how the beauty business has caught up in the city, albeit later than in Delhi and Mumbai. Enticing young girls is all part of the international phenomenon of attracting young women to lucrative careers in modelling. Little girls prancing and strutting on the ramp to satisfy the male gaze helps the business in more ways than one. Indeed, when girls of class VI refuse to eat chocolates, one knows that all is not well. What is appalling is that schools are somewhat encouraging this in a roundabout way by helping students to take up yoga and swimming, so they learn “healthy” ways of slimming. All this will not divert their attention from the aim of looking slim at all costs. Why can’t schools give girls the idea that fat can also be beautiful?

Yours faithfully,
Suchita Das Gupta,

Merit listed

Sir — Kudos for a forthright argument in the editorial, “Equal before the law” (April 1). Although its ultimate aim is the establishment of an egalitarian society, our Constitution had sought to provide temporary safeguards against discrimination in the form of reservations for the socially and economically deprived. The effort, evidently, has failed. Reservations would have succeeded had it not generated hatred and animosity against its beneficiaries. The benefits, moreover, have been cornered by a small section of the depressed classes. The majority is still out in the cold.

The Constitution had suggested the periodic review of the policy of reservation. But our legislators have instead renewed their mandates term after term by keeping an eye on the vote bank. Unlike the United States, affirmative action here seems intended for perpetuation. Our major political parties should note that reservation based appeasement of the Dalits has become unnecessary, given that Dalits now have their own political parties to wrest their due from a thoroughly fragmented society. The key word in these days of globalization should be competition on the basis of merit. Reservations are an anachronism.

Yours faithfully,
B.C. Dutta,

Sir — The editorial was right in focussing the shortcomings of the reservation policy in India vis a vis the same in the US. It is shameful that when the need of the hour is national integration, the policy should be breaking up Indian society and politics into fragments. However, it is a pity the Supreme Court has delivered its judgment against the policy only now when its own citadel is under threat. Had the Supreme Court acted a little earlier, say before the Mandal bomb was exploded by V.P. Singh, many a promising young man could have been spared his life. The media too has failed miserably in putting up a firm stand against the destructive game plan of the quotaists.

Two other reports on the same day make interesting reading. “BJP fires quota gun at Congress”, where M. Venkaiah Naidu derides the Congress for amending the Constitution no less than 50 times and “Apex court practising untouchability: MPs” where Bharatiya Janata Party member of parliament, Kariya Munda, talked on the sanctity of constitutional provisions. May I remind these venerable people that the Constitution itself provided for withdrawal of reservations for scheduled castes and tribes after 30 years?

Yours faithfully,
A.K. Bhattacharjee,

Sir — “Equal before the law” cautions against reverse discrimination in India. Unfortunately, that very ailment is in full swing. Often an individual belonging to the backward classes supersedes his upper caste counterpart in the sphere of education or service despite the former’s inferior track record. In the process, not only does the criterion of eligibility get relegated to the background, but the pernicious practice also gives rise to a class of “neo-Brahmins”. Social justice and equality cannot be achieved through such policies. The present generation of upper castes should not be paying the price for the misdeeds of their ancestors.

Reserving seats for the deprived is as ridiculous as reserving berths in the Indian cricket team for the inferior Ranji teams like Himachal Pradesh, Kerala or Tripura for the reason that they would otherwise never make it to the national team. Not only would the performance of the teams suffer, it would mean doing injustice to the eligible players. Irrespective of caste affiliations, people deprived of proper education should be given free access to schools and colleges. But this is where positive action should end. Admission to higher education or employment should be based on merit.

Yours faithfully,
Kajal Chatterjee,

Sir — Fifty years after the Constitution came into practice and many more years after reservations have been in practice, it has suddenly dawned on our learned judges that it is not “propah” to have reservations in judicial service. The reason is that such service is not “employment” by the state in its strictest sense. Had the judiciary really been of “service” to the people of India, we would not have had to see such harassed faces in law courts. But that obviously is a different issue altogether.

The apex court however, does not seem to have given up on “discrimination”, albeit positive, completely. In case of admission, it seeks to give priority to a candidate of the reserved category over a general category candidate. The subject has been conveniently kept out of the bounds of law. True, in case of a recruitment from the general category, the reserved category candidate cannot go to court against the decision. But then in case of a “preference” for the reserved category candidate, the candidate from the general category cannot debate the decision legally either. And given the fact that political influence is not very far removed from the august chambers of the courts, such preferences are likely to be a a frequent occurrence.

Yours faithfully,
Jagannath Sikdar,

Dress rehearsal

Sir — Air India’s concern about hemlines is not surprising considering the rising hemline — read losses — of the state carrier (“Fly free, but don’t dress freely”April 1). Probably officials of the airlines are trying to bring in a touch of Hindutva in their dress code to please the saffron brigade, so that additional funds are pumped in to prevent the liquidation of the airlines.

The circular in question prohibits the wearing of tank-tops and minis, but does not specify the alternatives. Which still leaves enough scope to play around with the code. However, it should be noted that the passenger lounge at times resembles a catwalk with members of the fairer sex dressed in outlandish costumes. But then that isn’t what the maharaja should be worried about.

Yours faithfully,
Hrishikesh Chakrabarti,

Sir — The report on dress codes once again highlighted the magnification of fundamentalist tendencies in a society that prides itself for being tolerant. Wonder who could have the time and the inclination to bother about the dress code of the dependants of employees of a national carrier?

Yours faithfully,
Sush Kocher,

Sir — My wife, who was my batchmate at the undergraduate level, started avoiding dark colours in her wardrobe once our son reached his teens. So at 41, with a wife whom minibus conductors often address as mashima, I am genuinely jealous of the 60 plus employee of Air India whose wife was denied a boarding pass for not being suitably dressed, and that too by a foreign airline. I hope my wife learns something from the episode. After all, examples are better than precepts.

Yours faithfully,
Tapan Pal
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