Editorial 1\Performing solo
Editorial 2\Unkindest cut
Life in a zombie world
Letters to the Editor

In persuading the nonaligned movement that there is no place in its ranks for dictatorships, India has tightened the diplomatic noose around the regime of General Pervez Musharraf. Pakistan’s final fate will be decided at next year’s summit. This is the third international body where India has been able to slam the door on Mr Musharraf’s face. It was able to get Pakistan’s membership to the Commonwealth suspended. And it scuttled attempts by the general to attend a South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation summit. Mr Musharraf has fared little better when he has visited countries individually. From the Turkish prime minister’s refusal to stopover in Pakistan to the lectures he received from Malaysia to Singapore, Mr Musharraf has faced considerable humiliation. This reflects three reinforcing developments. First, India has recognized the diplomatic potential in Pakistan’s “democracy deficit”. It has also learnt that quiet lobbying is more effective in getting results than moralizing bombast. Second, because of the post-Cold War democratic revolution, entire chunks of Latin America, Africa and much of the former Soviet bloc are zealously democratic and fervent opponents of dictatorship. This means India can garner more votes in third world and Western fora than Pakistan can hope to snare. Finally, however much India may talk of a multipolar world, the fact remains many countries have taken their lead from Mr Bill Clinton’s fingerwagging at Pakistan and Washington’s strong disapproval of Mr Musharraf.

The diplomatic isolation of Pakistan has proven so far to be a tactical success. But isolation of itself does not constitute a strategy. Because Pakistan is a hostile, nuclear armed neighbour and there are so many outstanding differences between the two countries, India must inevitably engage with that country. However, Pakistan has for many decades sought to compensate for India’s larger size and clout by seeking external support, political or military. The decades of squabbling between the two countries over whether their disputes should be settled multilaterally or bilaterally reflected Pakistan’s desire for a foreign counterweight. Mr Musharraf has the additional problem of desperately needing every shred of legitimacy he can find. The world is no longer a friendly place for a coupster. But New Delhi must not stray from the view that the present policy of isolating Pakistan is a means to force Mr Musharraf to the negotiating table — after fulfilling the precondition that he end his support for militants in Kashmir. There is some evidence this may be working. Islamabad has started to say something can be done about restraining militants if India agrees to cut back its security operations in Kashmir. India could attempt to reduce human rights violations in the state. But only because this is in its own self- interest. However, all this diplomatic manoeuvring makes sense only if India keeps in mind a larger endgame.    

The Andhra Pradesh chief minister, Mr N. Chandrababu Naidu, has found a rather neat rhetorical solution to the conflict between political expediency and economic reforms. Following the Centre’s decision to hike the issue price of rice, Mr Naidu’s government has raised the price of rice sold under the public distribution system from Rs 3.50 to Rs 5.50 with immediate effect. Yet, Mr Naidu projected his own agency in this latest implementation of economic reforms in terms that distance himself publicly from what he has portrayed as the Centre’s refusal to consider his plea for a more gradual and considerate process of reform. He has severely criticized the Centre’s reduction of supportive subsidies as not showing enough “concern for the poor”. For the illiterate and underprivileged section of Mr Naidu’s electorate, the long term economic benefits of such reforms are far more remote and incomprehensible than the immediate experience of having to pay more for essential commodities. Mr Naidu wants to be perceived by this section as embodying the spirit of reforms “enforced with a human touch”.

Mr Naidu enjoys being the brightest star in the firmament of liberalized and technologized modernity, pushing through a mode of governance that is tough and progressive. He also heads a party which is the National Democratic Alliance’s most powerful ally. On both counts, therefore, it would be completely to his personal and political disadvantage not to implement such reforms. Yet, he will also have to play the crucial game of balancing long term economic stability with short term political survival. The former depends on fiscal reform and restraint, while the latter depends on sustaining a strategic populism that would tide over the considerable gap of time before the effect of these reforms begins to be apparent to his electorate. Just after the Centre’s budgetary proposal, the Telugu Desam had announced the absorption of the additional burden through an increase in excise realizations, which has now proved impossible. That was just before the municipal elections, and Mr Naidu’s latest critique of the Centre precedes the panchayat elections. This is often the way in which the implementation of Indian subsidy reforms gets eternally deferred, because there is always an election about to happen somewhere in the country for which a subsidy cut might prove detrimental. It is indeed unfortunate that a leading reformist like Mr Naidu does not have the courage of his convictions to break the expedient link between poverty and populism that can alone ensure economic progress.    

It was much like, for example, one of John Foster Dulles’s visits in the Fifties to the demi-colonial countries, such as Thailand and the Philippines. The paraphernalia of the visit was marked by imperial overtones. Everyone around was expected to be obsequious towards the visiting dignitary, for he represented if not divinity, at least the entity next to divine power. The military juntas who ruled these countries could not afford to make any mistake in their choice of sides in the Cold War.

The visit of the United States president, Bill Clinton, to India and Pakistan has provided the occasion to reenact that bit of southeast Asian history after a time gap of almost half a century.

Some wise men are around who deeply resent the waste represented by this waiting time of five decades. If we have to be slaves, we might, in the view of these eminences, as well have declared our choice of serfdom half a century ago, that would have allowed us the enjoyment of fruits of colonialism over this entire stretch, what fools we have been.

On the other hand, there are others, including those in charge of the administration in New Delhi, who will concede that surrender to colonial powers is not always an unmixed blessing.

The US president had come with his retinue. It listed his secretary of commerce as well. This gentleman was bluntness personified. By his conduct he earned for himself the sobriquet of not just a rampaging free marketeer, but a master bargainer in barter deals. You fervently look forward to the lifting of the economic sanctions imposed against India immediately following the Pokhran implosions, phase two. Easy, all Indians have to do is to sign the comprehensive test ban treaty. The moment the treaty is signed by the Indian authorities, the sanctions will be lifted and Indians will enter the thraldom of high living.

Messages of a similar nature had been transmitted continuously to the Indian government since the middle months of 1998. They were however never framed in such crude, explicit terms. Even the Americans have gone through the learning curve. The exercise in psychological warfare has reached a fairly advanced state.

Once India had formally ditched the bunkum of government directed planning and accepted the doctrine of free trade, and at the same time pledged to surrender the suzerainty of the country’s economic policies to the dictates of the superpower, it would be a hunkydory situation for everybody.

After all, barter as a concept has been an integral part of economic transactions ever since prehistoric times. The annals of humanity in fact began with barter. I have farm implements, you have surplus foodgrains. I will exchange my implements for your grains, that will optimize welfare for both you and me, that will also ensure economic growth in the future, for the farm implements you buy from me will lead to an increase in agricultural production and productivity, which, in turn, will lead to a rise in the demand for industrial products, inducing growth in their production too.

Even if incursions of this nature into historical times are not taken seriously, the US commerce secretary, who was an integral part of the imperial entourage, knows that time was on his side. Intense pressure will now mount within India that the authorities get off from the high horse of independent-mindedness and sign the CTBT charter, post haste and without further demur.

What does it matter if the Americans, given their idiosyncrasies, insist on this little gesture of submission on our part? After all, our sole intention in going nuclear, it will be pointed out, was to steal a march over Pakistan, although the actual denouement turned out to be somewhat different. Even so, in case the Americans offer us assurance to the effect that we should not worry, they would take care of Pakistani intransigence over Kashmir, we might as well give up our resistance to the CTBT and convey our concurrence to the contents of the treaty.

Come to think of it, the admirers of stars and stripes will continue, what the Americans have offered is full of hard commonsense; they are in effect gifting us, the Indians, comprehensive nuclear protection, we might as well save the money we are spending on nuclear arms and building a nuclear arsenal. No great harm will result therefrom; the resources thus saved could be deployed for additional purchase of conventional arms so that the earnings of commission agents, including of key political persons, are not adversely affected.

It is a matter of months. Some ground work needs of course to be done to persuade the nation that everything is in perfect order, we are signing the treaty not because the Americans have twisted our arms. Dear countrymen, please listen to your prime minister, he is informing you that you should not lend any credence to gossip, we are signing the treaty because we ourselves have twisted our arms, the gentle Americans were not party to the enactment of the farce.

Countrymen, at least some of them, may or may not believe the prime minister. The point however is that they might still go along, perhaps with tedium written on their faces, and assimilate the implications of what the prime minister is hinting at. Dear countrymen, you have an open choice. Either you enjoy high life guaranteed by the Americans once you have signed the treaty, or you negotiate the uncharted waters of a turbulent ocean. It is time to grow up. The primary task now is to take the electorate into confidence on the uncertain prospects of self-reliant growth on account of the vastly changed global circumstances

Like it or not, the imperative need at this moment is to cross over to the terrain of semi-colonial rule where the major decisions are left to the discretion of external powers; all that the local ministers and their minions have to do so is to train the people in the art of blindly following the directives issued by the colonial powers and their agents.

True, there will be pockets of protest, if only because India on the threshold of the 21st century has little resemblance to Thailand or the Philippines circa the Fifties. The Americans then received very little resistance from the people of these southeast Asian countries, barring the disturbances created by a handful of wayward communists.

In India, the signs at this particular moment are much more propitious for the Western alliance. The left are a dying race. Following the debacle in east Europe they have been driven to quoting from the Holy Book; with what shall we salt the earth if the salt itself has lost its savour. Ding dong, ding dong, the bell tolls. For whom it tolls is a matter of some dispute. It could be funeral bells asking us to surrender to the alien forces and the alien philosophy. We will in exchange be assured a goodly standard of living; what more do you expect in these difficult times?

On the other hand, the bell, it could be reckoned, is the purveyor of shame. It is a device to separate the sheep from the men. The sheep will respond to the bell, the men will be busy otherwise. At least some of these men will be engaged in plotting the popular upsurges that are, hopefully, a coming. The objective factors, these men will claim, point towards the inevitability of such an upsurge.

Dreams and hallucinations tend to get mixed up in this climate. In a world bereft of doctrines and theology, no one is honour bound to take seriously functionaries who continue to talk of the near certitude of a popular democratic revolution for the people, they are convinced, will refuse to put up with the growing immiserization that has been planned for them. At the same time, it is altogether conceivable these groups have stopped believing in their own projections. They still go through the motions: it is an aspect of what is known as conditioned reflex.

Or, as the town cynic is likely to comment, it is a zombie world.    


His man in Havana

Sir — The United States justice department is going berserk over the return of Elian Gonzalez to Cuba (“Elian transfer to father next week”, April 9). While the child has settled down to a new life in Miami, surviving a boat tragedy last November, his father, Juan Gonzalez, is determined to take him home to Havana. Juan Gonzalez’s sentiments are understandable. But not the resolution of the US attorney general, Janet Reno, to stand by Elian’s father. Ever since Gonzalez started the battle for his son, Elian has pleaded repeatedly to the US government to allow him to remain in Miami. And amid all the controversy, even the US media recently admitted that Elian had adapted remarkably well to the American environment. Thus, instead of submitting to pressure from various quarters, shouldn’t Reno be giving Elian a better life? If not, she should stop traumatizing him by authorizing psychiatrists to facilitate the reunion of father and son.

Yours faithfully,
Mallika Sen, Calcutta

Artists and celebrities

Sir — The manner in which the news of Kanika Bandyopadhyay’s demise was covered was surprising and sad. Apart from the small insertion made in the first page (“Kanika dead”, April 6), it was left to a staff reporter to write a half-column report on her passing away (“Kanika passes away”). The life-sketch that accompanied the report is ridiculously brief for a legend of her stature. But the worst thing is that this carelessly written biographical note is full of factual errors.

Kanika was not “admitted” to Santiniketan as the report informed. Her father, Satyacharan Mukhopadhyay, had been working in Viswa Bharati’s central library from 1921. Born three years later, Kanika became a natural ashramkanya like many others. That Rabindranath Tagore rechristened her Kanika from Anima is true, but Tagore’s decision had hardly anything to do with her talent in music. He found the name Anima meaningless and changed her name in the school register, after taking Satyacharan’s consent.

The report also did not mention Sailajaranjan Majumder, Kanika’s music guru in the truest sense. It was Sailajaranjan who trained Kanika when she cut her first Rabindrasangeet disc in September 1938. Again, that was not her first record. In 1937, she recorded two adhunik numbers (Gaan niye mor khela and Ore oi bandho holo dwar) with Hindustan Records. These songs were written by Niharbindu Sen and Haripada Chattopadhyay was the music composer. These songs have been re-issued by HMV under the title Dusprapya Mohar in January 1999.

Tagore was, reportedly, not happy with these recordings. Kanika pleased him by recording Mone ki dwidha rekhe gele chole and Na, na, dakbo na, again with Hindustan Records. The reporter misquoted the second song and didn’t mention the first. Kanika served Rabindrasangeet for more than six decades, enthralling audiences with her ethereal voice and perfect renditions, apart from her other music-related activities. She won all the awards Indian musicians crave for, and the love and respect of several generations of Bengalis. Amazingly, her death found only the briefest mention in your pages, whereas a popular movie star, who has been in the news for little more than six weeks, was given a great deal of attention.

Yours faithfully,
Anshuman Bhowmick, Calcutta

Sir — The demise of Kanika Bandyopadhyay is the end of a significant era in Rabindrasangeet. It is difficult to understand what prompted The Telegraph to keep the coverage restricted to a small mention on the first page and a single-column obituary. In stark contrast, Hrithik Roshan’s one-day “rampage” in Calcutta was followed by not only a huge photograph on the first page, but another one in the “Metro” supplement showing spellbound teenagers and middle-aged women. The mood of the photograph on the first page almost puts to shame the crowd that gathered after Swami Vivekananda’s return to Calcutta from his historic overseas visit in 1897, or even Amartya Sen’s visit to the city after winning the Nobel prize. Isn’t it the responsibility of the media to “rescue” Bengalis from reaching a point of no return in their cultural decline?

Yours faithfully,
Biplab Ganguli, Calcutta

Sir — The photograph of Hrithik Roshan and the report on his visit to Calcutta, “Calcutta at Hrithik’s feet”(April 6), is nothing but a nugatory use of newsprint. It is disgraceful that the obituaries of Kanika Bandyopadhyay and Amar Ganguly, two renowned personalities in West Bengal’s cultural milieu, were viewed as news of relatively peripheral importance. Does this suggest that Ganguly and Bandyopadhyay do not deserve as much space as the glamour boy’s visit to the city does? The print and electronic media are indirectly aiding and abetting cultural decadence.

The teenagers’ craze for Roshan seems less frivolous than your indiscreet projection of a celebrity who is considered to be a charismatic star rather than an actor. One can feel a sharp decline of the quality of news value in a newspaper that has been “unputdownable” since its inception. The disco and club culture of which Roshan is a part, is sharply opposed to a significant section of readers who prefer news for enlightenment and not for debasement.

Yours faithfully,
Soma Sen, Dum Dum Cantonment

After taste

Sir — The Clinton administration is definitely shifting its focus from Islamabad to New Delhi (“Delhi breaks into smile, Pak sulks”, March 27). However, there are several factors responsible for Washington’s change of attitude. First, Pakistan’s importance vis a vis the United States security net has diminished considerably after the disintegration of the Soviet Union.

Second, American investment opportunities have opened up tremendously ever since the former finance minister, Manmohan Singh, introduced liberalization in the early Nineties. And with the population of India touching the one billion mark against the 135 million of Pakistan, obviously there is a much greater demand for US goods and services here. Thus, economic considerations have played a key role in consolidating India-US relations. Finally, Washington has lost a great deal of confidence in General Pervez Musharraf, especially after the Sikh killings in Chattisinghpora of Anantnag district.

The US president, Bill Clinton, was convinced that Kargil has hardly daunted the Pakistani militants and Islamabad is continuing to endorse terrorism in India.

Yours faithfully,
Sukla Das, Jamshedpur

Sir — Bill Clinton was a clear winner over the prime minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, at the March 22 joint press conference. When the first question was addressed to the two leaders by the media, the US president offered to take the lead; however, when the second question came up Vajpayee hoped that Clinton would save him the trouble of facing the press. But the prime minister fell into an embarrassing situation when the US president indicated that it was Vajpayee’s turn to take on the media.

Moreover, while Clinton communicated directly with the audience at the Central Hall of Parliament, the prime minister appeared to be the prisoner of a bureaucratic script. Though Clinton spoke about what he firmly believed in, his diplomatic stance caused no ill feelings among the members of parliament. They were in fact falling over each other to shake hands with Clinton. If Indian leaders continue to behave like slaves how can India expect to be treated on equal terms by the US?

Yours faithfully,
H.C. Johari, Calcutta
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