Editorial 1
Editorial 2
This above all
Letters to the editor


Straw guns

Since roughly the late Sixties, the two main sources of India’s defence hardware have been Moscow and the Defence Research and Development Organization. Serious questions are now being raised about the dependability of either of these. Recently, the comptroller and auditor general and defence analysts have expressed concern that the much vaunted Sukhoi 30 warplanes India contracted to buy in 1996 are proving to be little more than hollow dummies. Both Russian chaos and DRDO ineptitude are being blamed. A similar indictment of the DRDO’s capabilities is evident in the negotiations India has begun with Russia for 300 T-90 tanks. In effect, this purchase will bring down the curtain on the indigenous Arjun main battle tank, a vehicle that has been nearly 25 years in the making and still shows no signs of being ready for combat. Thanks to this niggling and self-defeating obsession with self-reliance, Pakistani armour — equipped with Ukrainian built T-90Us and Chinese MBT 2000s — is generally accepted to have achieved a qualitative edge over India’s.

At the heart of all this is the increasing importance of high technology additions to weapons systems. In terms of engines, armour and basic engineering, tanks and fighter aircraft have improved only incrementally in the past several years. What separates the boys from the men is the electronic gadgetry that allows accurate and multiple targeting, better avionics and command and control. Half the cost of a modern fighter is today to be found in its computers and software. The dozen Sukhoi 30s that have already arrived in India are wholly bereft of the advanced electronics and software that would make them weapons worthy of the information age. The truth is that Russia, which imports computers from India, is finding itself unable to put together an infotech sector. Therefore, much of the electronics of the Sukhoi 30 — including radar and mission computers and display processors — was left to DRDO to produce. But DRDO has fallen far behind schedule in developing these systems. As a consequence, the air force is now in a mad scramble to try and buy the various electronic systems for the Sukhoi 30 from the West and elsewhere. India has already doled out Rs 24 billion of this Rs 73 billion deal. It can hardly be said to be getting its money’s worth.

The Arjun tank is another sorry tale. The Indian army is categorical: it is too heavy, too clumsy and neither its engine nor its firing systems works properly. Calling it indigenous is almost laughable. The imported component of the Arjun is now 60 per cent. After the experience of Kargil and Pakistan’s recent Ukrainian purchases, New Delhi is at last turning a deaf ear to the DRDO’s pleas for yet more money and more time. The T-90 is far from perfect for Indian conditions. But with the window of vulnerability now wide open, the army is in no position to dither. Only now, when relations with Pakistan could not be worse, India is finding how unreliable are its own military industrial complex and a crippled Russia as arms suppliers. Still under sanctions from the West, India is turning to third countries like Israel and South Africa. However, this is too important an issue to be left to ad hoc, last minute measures. Time to reassess India’s defence equipment sources in the light of post-Cold War realities.    


Setting sun

In the Seventies and Eighties it was believed the United States was in permanent eclipse and Japan destined for global domination. The contrast to what has happened to the number one and number two economies this past decade could not be greater. The US has clocked a record eight straight years of economic growth. Japan spent the same time either stagnating or in recession. The last prime minister, Mr Keizo Obuchi, staked his political career on producing a miserly 0.6 per cent growth in the last fiscal year. He accomplished the task by spending a staggering $ 325 billion of government money to boost the economy. Mr Obuchi subsequently suffered a stroke and slipped into coma. His successor, Mr Yoshiro Mori, has inherited what superficially looks like a strong political hand. The economy is growing, however marginally. More usefully, Mr Obuchi was able to expel and splinter a troublesome partner of the Liberal Democratic-led coalition government. Mr Mori will also get lots of positive media play by hosting a Group of Eight summit in July. All this points to a good performance by the incumbent when the country goes to the polls sometime later this year.

The Japanese should hope Mr Mori’s future is a little more sticky. The country is still the sick man of Asia. Economic growth based solely on government spending is unsustainable. Public debt is now estimated to equal 174 per cent of the gross domestic product. Amazingly, Moody’s recently threatened to downgrade Japan’s credit rating. At the heart of the malaise is Japan’s continuing unwillingness to liberalize its economy. Though its manufacturing industry has been the eighth wonder of the world, Japan’s agricultural and services sectors have always been heavily protected and grossly uncompetitive. It has failed to make much headway in shifting its economy from assembly lines to knowledge based production. The engines of growth driving the US economy are idle or nonexistent in Japan. Unfortunately, Mr Mori and his party depend on the political support of exactly those groups — farmers, construction workers and small businesses — most scared of radical domestic reforms. Going by present trends, Japan will muddle through another decade as the land of the setting sun.    


Tamil Nadu has always been a frontrunner in India’s industrialization, both in terms of industrial output and in encouraging new largescale projects. The state accounts for over 11 per cent of India’s industrial output and contributes 15 per cent of its exports. It is poised to become the second largest state economy in India in 2000. It boasts of the second best infrastructure in India, and a large reservoir of talent that has earned it the reputation of being India’s “intellectual powerhouse”.

These strengths, with a global orientation and investor friendly bureaucracy, have allowed Tamil Nadu to emerge as a top destination for foreign investments in India. The Centre for Monitoring the Indian Economy says it leads all other Indian states in cumulative investment from mid-1991 to April 1999.

The state has already leveraged its strong industrial foundations to emerge as a manufacturing hub, particularly in the automotive industry, attracting major players like Ford and Hyundai.

Tamil Nadu is trying to climb the value chain of innovation and intends to become a major player in the global information technology industry. Its government has recognized infotech as a thrust area that can accelerate the state’s economic development. It is creating a business environment conducive to rapid infotech development. In 1997 it became the first Indian state to announce a comprehensive infotech policy. It later setup a special task force — with representatives from government, industry and academia — to oversee implementation. Its infotech department, another first in India, is to ensure administrative adoption of infotech.

Tamil Nadu’s infotech policy is unique because it focusses on both infotech “demand” and “supply”. It also has a willingness to address both physical and institutional infrastructure — something often neglected by other Indian states.

The Tamil infotech industry has done extremely well, growing faster than its competing neighbour states. In 1998 its $ 300 million worth of software exports represented 15 per cent of the country’s total. It has the largest number of software professionals in India. It also boasts the largest mainframe computing capacity in the country.

Chennai is fast emerging as a prominent development centre for multimedia software applications. Pentafour, a local firm, designs multimedia content for Hollywood animation movies. International software majors like Alcatel, Electronic Data Systems and International Business Machines have opened offices. Domestic software giants like Tata Consultancy Services, Infosys and Wipro also operate large development centres in Chennai. A National Association for Software and Services Companies study rated Chennai the best place to set up software projects in India.

The first step in a successful state level infotech development strategy is the creation of an institutional infrastructure that supports the establishment of such an industry. The Tamil government scores high in this regard. It has set up a forward looking technocratic structure that acts as a major catalyst for infotech development in the state. This structure is made up of an infotech task force which provides policy guidance, the infotech department which oversees policy implementation, and the Electronics Corporation of Tamil Nadu which acts as a “single window” agency for all infotech related investments.

The key strength of this structure is its determination to drum up grassroots support in the administration for each of its infotech policy initiatives before implementing it. Seeking such widespread endorsement is a good move and needs to be maintained. Grassroots support is critical for the success of major infotech projects such as e-governance, which aims to make the administration more efficient and responsive.

Another favourable factor about Tamil Nadu is the advanced level of preparedness of its society. The state boasts one of the highest literacy rates thanks to an emphasis on universal education. It also has high teledensity: 75 per cent of rural areas have access to telephones. Personal computer penetration rate in both business and society “has traditionally been higher in the state compared to the rest of India”. Computer science has been introduced as an elective in all state high schools. The goal: 100 per cent computer literacy in the state in 10 years. Furthermore, the 1,000 internet community centres being set up by WorldTel throughout the state will ensure even remote areas reap the benefits of the internet.

Finally, the adoption of a coding standard for the Tamil font and other initiatives like a Tamil virtual university, will help raise infotech awareness in the state. These aim at using infotech as a tool to promote the Tamil language and culture.

Any developing country that wishes to become a knowledge based economy needs to make infrastructure development its top priority. Tamil Nadu has some of the best infrastructure facilities. The government is committed in attracting foreign investments in this sector. Sixty per cent of all new investments in the state during the Nineties were in its infrastructure sector.

Lately, Tamil Nadu has been actively upgrading its telecom infrastructure. Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited is already investing hugely to upgrade facilities in Chennai with additional earth stations to increase bandwidth.

However, major improvements are still needed. Once the statewide high speed fibre optic network by WorldTel is laid, the state could try to convince the Centre to let the local railway authority and electricity board provide last mile access. The telecom bottleneck is a “national” issue and therefore the state government cannot address it directly. The Centre needs to realize the services revolution places a premium on the development of a competitive telecom system.

High technology parks are another important part of an information infrastructure. Regional development theorists have pointed to the significant contribution hitech zones make to diffusing economic benefits. Tamil Nadu is setting up a one million square foot software technology park in the heart of Chennai at a cost of $ 75 million, as well as two other infotech parks near Chennai. Once these parks are complete, Chennai will be much more competitive in attracting software projects.

We would like to make two point. First, besides Chennai, the state government needs to create infrastructure for software development in other major cities like Coimbatore, Madurai and Tiruchirapally. This will save Chennai from congestion and spread the benefits of infotech development.

Second, in addition to infotech parks, the state should promote “infotech zones”. Companies that settle in infotech zones would be free to build facilities according to their own specifications. This “grow as you need” model will help foster a stronger sense of “community” among its occupants.

To successfully integrate into the global knowledge economy, a country also needs a quality workforce. Tamil Nadu has no dearth of talent. It has the largest number of software professionals in India and produces 4,000 computer science graduates every year. In terms of talent availability in the field of infotech, Tamil Nadu rates much higher than other Indian states. The 1997 infotech policy will diffuse infotech knowhow throughout the state.

In order to fill the gap between formal academic training and industry demand, the government has set up the Tamil Nadu Institute for Information Technology, or Tanitec. Modelled on Stanford University, Tanitec’s objectives are to upgrade the quality of infotech training in Tamil Nadu and computerize the state administration. Besides offering undergraduate and graduate training programmes, it will also conduct cutting edge research and provide software testing certification services. Tanitec’s equity is split between government and industry. This shareholding mechanism allows Tanitec to extend technology into industry and other institutions in the state. Tanitec is expected to propel Tamil Nadu into becoming an “intelligent state” — something Singapore is close to achieving.

Tamil Nadu has successfully developed its “soft” and “hard” infrastructure. Its telecom infrastructure still needs improvement. But this cannot be done without strong support from the Centre. By marshalling its inherent strengths, however, Tamil Nadu should be able to integrate well into the global knowledge led economy.

N. Bajpai is director, India programme, Centre for International Development, Harvard University, US. N. Radjou is a consultant, Harvard Institute for International Development    


Laugh, love and be confused

I recall the time when T.N. Seshan was chief election commissioner and the most popular man in the country. I had great faith in his future and hoped he would become president of India. He had a very high IQ and integrity and an attractive ever-smiling wife, Vijayshree. I had only two reservations: he believed in astrology which is anathema to me, and he took himself too seriously.

In my columns I showered fulsome praise on him. I also admired his number two, M.S. Gill, who later succeeded him as CEC. Gill once asked me, “Why doesn’t your friend ever laugh?” In my turn I put the question to Seshan. He replied with a growl, “What is there to laugh about ?” Apparently his wife found plenty to laugh about as she was always bubbling with laughter. She was, and is, a very happy person; her husband was not, and is not.

Most Indians are able to laugh at other people: laughter that is meant to hurt is cruel. Very few of us are able to laugh at ourselves. We extend this wall of no-laughter to our community and the country. We have become touchy about most things : every community has its sacred cows about which jokes are taboo. Virtually the only two people who make and enjoy jokes against themselves are Parsis and, to a lesser extent, sardarjis—they have also succumbed to touchiness.

It is no great wonder that Indians have very little sense of humour and have not produced any great humorists. I find jokes attributed to Raja Birbal, Mullah do Piaza, Tenalirama and Gopal Bhanr very puerile and lacking in sophistication. I am also not amused by anecdotes ascribed to Shaikh Chillee, Boojh Bhujakkar and other rustic favourites. None of our humorists compare with the American, or the British. Perhaps the wittiest race in the world are the Jews who, despite the cruel discriminations practised against them, were able to churn out jokes against Hitler and his Nazis even when they were being eliminated by the thousands in gas chambers.

Is there much hope of bringing laughter in our lives? Osho Rajneesh believed in the therapeutic power of laughter. He believed that laughing even without reason did a parson a world of good. He advocated laughing heartily to begin the day. I found that somewhat silly. Getting up early, rubbing sleep out of your eyes and solemnly guffawing with laughter! But it caught on and we have many clubs where members get together for laughter sessions. I am not sure if it does them any good. Most probably they spend the rest of the day quarrelling and get constipated with self-esteem. Laughter has to be spontaneous, not evoked by the press of a button.

Osho had quite a sense of humour. All his discourses on serious subjects were peppered with amusing anecdotes and often ended with bawdy jokes. I could not understand why his favourite jokester was Mulla Nasiruddin whose repartees don’t bring a smile on any face. The only thing in favour of the Mulla is that he made himself the butt of many of his jokes. The ability to make an ass of oneself is the most important ingredient of a good joke. Having thus demolished Indian humorists, I have arrived at the comfortable conclusion that in present day India there is only one humorist — me. I make jokes against myself, make an ass of myself and make others laugh.

Marriage of untrue minds

Everyone speaks in laudatory terms of love; rarely do people have anything nice to say about marriage. Love occasionally leads to marriage; occasionally couples who had not known each other fall in love after they get married — at least for some time. However, the general opinion of men who have written on love and marriage is that the two rarely, if ever, go together for too long. One of the most outspoken on the subject was the English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822). He was the eldest son of a landowning aristocrat and member of parliament. He was educated at Eton and then joined the University College, Oxford, from which he was expelled for propagating atheism. He was a very handsome young man whom women, young and not-so-young, found very attractive. He scandalized conservative English society by publishing his views on god, the church and the institution of marriage. He wrote: “Men’s laws pretend to regulate our natural sentiments. How absurd! When the eye perceives a lovely being the heart takes fire. How is it under man’s control to love or not to love? But the essence of love is liberty and it withers in an atmosphere of constraint. It is incompatible with obedience, jealousy, or fear. It requires perfect confidence and absolute freedom. Marriage is a prison.....”

Nevertheless, Shelley tried to persuade his sister, Elizabeth, to marry his friend Hogg, who had been expelled with him from Oxford. When she drew his attention to the contradiction, he exploded: “Marriage is odious and hateful. I am sickened when I think of this despotic chain, the heaviest forged by man to shackle fiery souls. Scepticism and free love are as necessarily associated together, as religion and marriage. Honourable men have no need of laws. For heaven’s sake, Elizabeth, read over the marriage service and ask yourself if any decent man could wish the girl he loved to submit to such degradation.”

“Yet, you want me to marry your friend Hogg?

“Yes, but not by a clergyman nor according to man’s laws, but freely and with love only as high priest.”

Shelley’s biographer, Andre Maurois, believed that men perpetually fall in love because they have in them a storehouse of love which they need to spend on desirable women. He writes: “When people are in love, they always imagine, quite wrongly, that it is because they have come across an exceptional being who has inspired them with passion. The truth is that love, existing already in the soul, seeks out a suitable object, and if it does not find one, then creates it.”

Shelley’s life was full of contradictions. While condemning the institution of marriage, he married twice and sired children through one before marriage. He was disillusioned by the experience of his first marriage to a girl of sixteen, the beautiful daughter of a tavern-keeper who, despite her earlier protestations of everlasting love, proved unfaithful to him, as he was to her. Very sadly he concluded that infatuations and pleasures were of short duration. He quoted the Scottish poet Robert Burns: “But pleasures are like poppies spread,/ You seize the flow’r, its bloom is shed;/ Or like the snow-fall in the river/ A moment white, then melts for ever.”

The greatly admired Lord Byron in the last years of his life was probably his closest friend and confidante. Their attitude towards women were quite different. Shelley respected them; Byron, who had the morals of a randy mountain goat, bedded anyone who came his way, countesses and fisherwomen alike, with marked preference for the married.

Rearside wisdom <

Written behind a Tata Indica in Mumbai: “If at first you don’t succeed, give up — no use being a damn fool!”

Sticker on a Hero Honda: “Where there’s a will, I want to be in it!”

Sticker on a van: “Make love not war — marry, and do both!”

Sign at a marriage bureau office in Mumbai: “The secret of a happy marriage remains a secret!”

An anti-smoking slogan: “It requires only will-power and not Wills’-power in the puff to quit smoking!”

(Contributed by Shashank Shekhar, Mumbai)    


Do it with doubles

Sir — P.V. Narasimha Rao has yet again stooped low before his party’s demands, which denied the former prime minister the new “role” — this time in a film (“Centre, party deny Rao film role”, April 11). Rao, on his part, must have been too eager to plunge into this new venture. After all, what could be a better way to remain in the public view than place oneself on the silver screen? Did the Congress deny Rao his bit role in Bavander because of his former designation, or because the party has plans for him in the pipeline? The Centre’s stand is clear, though. It would not want Rao to win more acclaim as an actor than their very own Vinod Khannas or Ajit Panjas. As a matter of course, Rao sent his “dummy”, his 65-year-old brother, Manohar Prasad Rao, who looks like him, to enact his three-minute role in the film — giving away a bravery award to a rape victim and delivering a speech. One must admit that Rao has been judicious enough to have handled the situation well. Will it be the same for his career in politics?

Yours faithfully,
Ria Das Gupta,

Interests in alliance

Sir — A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury is reported to have told the Congress president, Sonia Gandhi, that Mamata Banerjee has done much more than the Congress to drive the Left Front out. There can be no question about that. Banerjee had once said that the state Congress under Somen Mitra was the “B” team of the Communist Party of India (Marxist). Both Mitra and Khan Chowdhury have decided to join the grand alliance in order to oust the Left Front from power in the state. If the alliance is successful — and no one can say for certain that it will be — the question that would arise is, which party’s candidate will inherit Jyoti Basu’s chair? Neither Khan Chowdhury nor Mitra seems to have any chance. Banerjee may like to become the chief minister, in which case she will have to give up the Union railways ministry. The net result will be that Khan Chowdhury and Mitra will be offering West Bengal on a silver platter to the Bharatiya Janata Party. The mahajot holds all the possibilities of making two kills at one go, the CPI(M) and the Congress.

Yours faithfully,
Satyendra Nath Kar,

Sir — West Bengal Congressmen have hit news headlines around the country through their spineless, shameless antics. Politics is their bread and butter and the hand that feeds them is irrelevant as long as they are fed.

Mamata Banerjee’s doublespeak has also come out in the open with the proclamation of the mahajot. The same Badshah Alam, who was once, according to Banerjee’s allegations, employed by the leftists to kill her, is now one of her closest allies. So is Somen Mitra, the chief architect of her ouster from the Congress. It is also difficult to see why she is unable to figure out the difference between the state coordination committee and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or the similarity in the dress policing carried out in Ashutosh College by its leftist principal and in some Kanpur colleges by the sangh parivar.

Banerjee was hailed by the people of West Bengal as the lone voice of the state, but instead of living up to their expectations, she became another pawn in A.B. Vajpayee’s power play. Why, then, should the people of West Bengal settle for the combination of the “B” team of the CPI(M) and the “Q” team of the RSS? Instead, any honest mask will serve the purpose. Even if only as a mask, honesty will prevail.

Yours faithfully,
Hrita Ganguly,

Misunderstood militants

Sir — The chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Farooq Abdullah, has been making empty promises about facilitating the return of Kashmiri Pandits who have fled the valley. Moreover, Abdullah’s omission in providing security to the Sikhs of Chattisingpora was evidently based on the wrong impression that the militants had no enmity towards the community. Meanwhile, those responsible for the creation of peaceful conditions in Jammu and Kashmir should know that the main issue to be resolved here is whether the territory should be an Islamic state or a secular Indian one. And it is indeed naive to gloss over the killings of innocent civilians by attributing them to the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Toiba or to the Inter-Services Intelligence. Meanwhile, how long will the Centre and Abdullah’s regime refrain from taking action against the killings? In this context the Union cabinet’s latest decision to establish a coordination committee has hardly been fruitful. Unless militancy is curbed in the region, ethnic cleansing is bound to continue unabated. Besides, the imposition of president’s rule has been as ineffective as the ruling National Conference, and martial rule may be the only option left for restoring order in the state. Finally, the Centre and the Kashmir government should be reminded that the prevention of emigration from the region is not the remedy to the present crisis. The need of the hour is to give a green signal to free immigration into Kashmir. And the Union home minister, L.K. Advani, should stop sermonizing to the bereaved families of the 36 Sikhs who were recently massacred.

Yours faithfully,
H.C. Johari,

Sir — “Report reveals shifts in Jammu population profile” (April 1) highlights the evil gameplan of Pakistan vis-à-vis changing the demography of the Hindu-dominated Jammu region. It is not surprising that the Muslim population has increased by 75 per cent here after political parties have been indulging in patronizing the minority votebank. Moreover, the present scenario in the region reflects the myopic vision of the Centre that for decades has overlooked the ethnic shift.

In West Bengal, too, the lackadaisical attitude of the state government has led to nearly all the districts bordering Bangladesh being flooded by Muslim infiltrators.

Obviously, this state of affairs has not happened in a day. Certain policies adopted by the two state governments have encouraged infiltrators to pour in and upset the demographic balance. Assam is also being subject to infiltration where a number of Muslim militant training camps are operating in full swing in Cachar. Secularism in India is another name for hypocrisy, where political parties are pandering to a section of the populace that comprises a consolidated votebank. Votebank politics has reduced the credibility of the state machinery while increasing the risk of yet another division of our country, in the name of religion.

Yours faithfully,
Hrishikesh Chakrabarti,
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