Editorial 1/Labour pangs
Editorial 2/gender surprise
Lost voice of the people
Letters to the Editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1/LABOUR PANGS 
 
 
 
 
The prime minister’s speech before the Indian labour congress was far from a clear road map for liberalizing the country’s rigid labour laws. However, Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee deserves credit for at least saying it is time the country grasp the thorniest nettle of economic liberalization. He argued labour laws have not kept pace with India’s rapidly changing economy. Mr Vajpayee diplomatically asked the labour unions to be “partners” in economic reforms. The scorn that met his proposals, not only from left and Congress unions but even from the sangh parivar’s Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, are evidence India’s unions are unlikely to ever play a responsible role in the reform process. Mr Vajpayee explained why during his speech. The present system of labour legislation heaps benefits and perks on organized labour. But, as he noted, it has proven “totally inadequate in doing the same for unorganized labour”. The truth is the two are linked: labour laws that lopsidedly provide benefits to organized workers automatically deprive less favoured labourers. The unions Mr Vajpayee addressed represent exactly this labour elite. Unsurprisingly they gave a thumbs down to even the hint of reform.

Indian labour laws are textbook examples of how to strangle the creation of new jobs, create a huge working underclass and ruin work ethic. There is always a trade off between the rights of workers who want security and high pay and the rights of employers who want flexibility and low wage bills. Socialist India happily loaded the legislative die in the workers’ favour. The result was that the private sector simply cut back on hiring, banishing the bulk of the workforce to the unorganized sector and outside the purview of the laws. The public sector did follow the laws. But, as Mr Vajpayee noted, the result was a section of the economy which subtracted rather than added to the country’s wealth. Indian public sector workers are among the most unproductive and unruly in the world. The worst statement regarding India’s labour regime is that of some 360 million workers, over 90 per cent are in the unorganized sector. Thanks to the present rigid laws, few workers can move from informal employment to varieties where they can enjoy full benefits.

Economic reforms have so far moved forward in areas where there is minimal political resistance. This is why the external sector was the first to see its doors thrown open. There has been progress in finance and other services. However, labour has been largely untouched. This makes life more difficult for industrialists. But they avoid the burden of the labour laws by buying machinery rather than hiring people. It imposes a far greater cost on the Indian worker. Millions of jobs are stillborn because employers are too scared to hire, preferring to invest in labour saving machines. The unions are unconcerned. Seventy per cent of the membership of central trade unions comes from the public sector. Their interest is to preserve these jobs, no matter how uneconomic and costly they are. As their response to Mr Vajpayee’s speech shows, they have no interest in the benefits labour reform would bring to the vast majority of Indian workers. Far from being heroes of the working class, the unions are lobbyists for a particularly perverse and privileged aristocracy.    


 
 
EDITORIAL 2/GENDER SURPRISE 
 
 
 
 
The secretary-general’s report for the sixth conference of Commonwealth ministers responsible for women’s affairs has some good things to say about India. This is a refreshing surprise. India routinely ranks towards the bottom of most lists produced by international bodies such as the United Nations, the World Bank and non-governmental organizations if the charts have to do with development, literacy or the economy. Although the bill for the reservation of women in legislative bodies is nowhere near being passed, the report mentions India’s efforts to include more women in the sphere of decisionmaking. But India is not among the top ten countries with the highest percentage of women in their apex legislative bodies. It is in the context of local government that India ranks third, with 33.5 per cent representation of women. Good though this sounds, these statistics will inevitably be touted by the women’s reservations campaigners for pushing through the reservations bill. It would be easy to disguise the fact that token measures like quotas conceal the lack of development at the basic levels of education and health.

Yet there are certain heartening features in the report. It takes note of the enforcement of guidelines on sexual harassment. The efforts to create gender sensitive employment for the rehabilitation of sex workers and their children in the voluntary sector also find special mention. These are breakthroughs, given India’s hidebound social system and deep-embedded traditional values, prejudices and religious practices. While it is true that statistics are a fallible guide to reality, serious attempts to create gender awareness and make the playing field level are being made by the courts and by women’s organizations, as the ongoing discussions regarding and amendment of anti-rape laws indicate. The report emphasizes the need of increased budget allocation for the implementation of gender policies. India is among the six countries analysing gender impact on the national budget. All this is certainly a beginning, and a good one, but should not be taken as anything more than that. India will have achieved something real only when it becomes possible to look around at Indian women and not feel that reports such as this one are determined to look solely — and rosily — at the brightest side of things.    


 
 
LOST VOICE OF THE PEOPLE 
 
 
BY BHASKAR GHOSE
 
 
Elections to the Rajya Sabha have usually been rather formal affairs; since the number of members from a particular party in the state legislative assemblies determines how many candidates that party can “elect”, if that’s the right word, to the Rajya Sabha, one could tell even before the formal elections who the new members were going to be. But something rather strange happened this time, as we all know. The Congress succeeded in getting someone else elected, the Bharatiya Janata Party nearly did the same — their candidate, Sushma Swaraj, scrambled in, just about, with hardly a vote to spare — and in Uttar Pradesh, Rajiv Shukla, who belongs to a party with just three members in the legislative assembly defeated candidates from parties with much larger numbers in the assembly, and romped triumphantly in.

To some this might look like a good thing; democracy at work, legislators voting for the person they thought was best and so on. In a sense it probably is; a right to vote is being exercised, and those who have been elected can certainly say they have popular backing; they have a greater right to be there, it will be pointed out, than stooges of parties who get nominations either by salivating on the shoes of carefully selected netas, or by paying the netas certain sums of money, or by doing both.

But abusing or distorting a system doesn’t mean there is something wrong with the system itself. And the system, if one looks at it as it has been conceived, is one that does provide for the election to the upper house of Parliament of persons who have the confidence of those who have, in their turn, won the confidence of the people of different states.

The trouble is that the system is distorted almost regularly by the political parties whose candidates are voted to the different state assemblies. That is the key element. We have various political parties which profess to carry forward the ideals of democracy, freedom, equality, justice and everything else that is at once morally and politically correct. And yet it is these parties that are, within themselves, either the most rigid of oligarchies, like the BJP, or like the Congress, virtually a tribe ruled by a dynasty irrespective of the abilities of the ruler, or virtual dictatorships with harsh rules and punishments, where no dissent is permitted, like the Communist Party of India, Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the rash of left oriented parties to be found either in the east or the south.

Not a single party — and I make no exception at all — is run on truly democratic lines, with free and fair elections to their own positions from the ground up, elections that are truly reflective of the opinion of those who are its members.

This is where our systems fail. One would expect, quite logically, that those who preach freedom, equality, justice, and all the rest of the good things of our democratic way of life, would not just live lives embodying these qualities — some do, undoubtedly, which is very praiseworthy — but would belong to organizations which do the same: organizations, or parties, which function in a manner which is manifestly what they preach, and extol.

What would one say of an order of monks who preach a life of purity and virtue but, collectively, engage in licentious, immoral ways? Would we call that hypocrisy, and that order of monks depraved, to be avoided as a blot on society, or would we call them expedient, and realistic, living as the world is, because they have to survive in the world as it is?

The answer is obvious. But when a political party preaches freedom and equality, and, in its own affairs is devious, coterie-ridden and hypocritical, we call them expedient and realistic, even dynamic. These are the double standards we, all of us, live with, enthuse over, when we read the morning papers, and then go out and virtually adopt when we vote, perpetuating, we piously tell ourselves, India’s great democracy.

But morals apart, the nature of political parties subvert our systems in an even more insidious fashion. The manoeuvrings, lobbying for candidates, the whispered canard, the casually mentioned half-truth, all these take them away from what the members of the party, the grassroots members, the people, whom politicians prefer to call, condescendingly, the masses. The netas cease to listen, and then gradually become incapable of listening, acquiring a deafness that is irreversible. All they can listen to are the whispers of the coteries they surround themselves with — not just the Congress, but the BJP, the left parties, the lot. For a very good reason; the whisperings are pleasing to listen to — all flattery is — and what comes up from the ground, from the common people, is not always what one wants to hear.

And thus it is that when favours are to be dispensed — the odd post here and the odd chairmanship there, if the party is in power, and the odd ticket for this or that election if it is not — it is to members of the coterie, or the hangers-on, to those who fawn and bend in servility. They are never ever given to those whom the people want, however unpleasant this may be to the netas. If they did, they would have been upholding democracy within their party, but to them democracy is not something that can be what they say it is not. Democracy is what they say it is, because they are freedom loving democrats, no less.

A shrewd political analyst once told me that Indira Gandhi destroyed the Congress when she appointed her flunkeys and servitors as state Congress committee chiefs. That, more than anything else, led to the rise of regional leaders — M.G. Ramachandran, N.T. Rama Rao, Jyoti Basu and others. People looked to those who spoke for them, embodied their aspirations and sentiments, not to servants and peons sent from Delhi. And this is the disease that has begun to spread again,except that it has affected other parties as well. Why did Somen Mitra lose in the Rajya Sabha election from West Bengal? Why did Sushma Swaraj just about make it from Uttar Pradesh?

Why did Rajiv Shukla of the three member Bahujan Samaj Party win? Because various netas, reclining in their cushioned sofas in Delhi, chose to listen to the whisperings of their flatterers, to the coteries they have surrounded themselves with, and, like the badshahs of yesteryear issued firmans indicating who the candidates in the Rajya Sabha elections would be. The firmans were ignored, and the badshahs are now looking rather foolish. A serious view will be taken of cross-voting, they now say in grave tones, and the traitors will be brought to book.

Jawaharlal Nehru, the last real democrat we had, never anointed a successor, even though he may have had preferences. He, poor man, believed in the supremacy of the political system, as he did in so much else that died with him. Perhaps our present day netas will realize one day that if democracy is to stay in India it must rest on the firm pillars of parties that embody the best traditions of democracy. That means they must listen to the voice of their people, their members and cadres, and act in accordance with what they hear. And if that means getting out of their way, then that, sadly, is what they must do.

The author is former secretary, ministry of information and broadcasting    


 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Weighty question

Sir — Should the literati always consider it within its sacred rights to laugh at a bumpkin, even if his rustic wisdom beats that of the former hands down? If Sankarshan Thakur doesn’t get the message, let’s give it to him (“Atal’s garden-swing as hot as PM’s chair”, April 16). Sukh Ram, the “lone housekeeper” Thakur tried to get talking, is right in keeping his mouth shut about the prime ministerial holiday. Not so much because of his “loyalty” to Atal Behari Vajpayee, but because, much like Thakur’s readers, he cannot really find a “story” in what seems to be a very ordinary time out for a prime minister. The high security cordon Thakur seems so excited about has, for a long time now, become an adjunct to the hot seat Vajpayee occupies. It doesn’t particularly bother the people who have got used to seeing huge trees being rooted out to make space for helicopters carrying politicians and their securitymen. Politicians assess their weight in direct proportion to the security they are accorded. What’s so new about Vajpayee’s?

Yours faithfully,
Jay Sinha, Calcutta

Unfair and foul

Sir — Cricket is turning out to be an arena of grand farces and complicated dramas. Rumours and tales of matchfixing are, by now, not new to us anymore. What is new, however, is that it is no longer a question of fixing a match, but fixing every single ball and run. So that a player like Herschelle Gibbs, who thrashes out a superb innings one day, is mysteriously disappointing in the very next match. Experts believe that buying four or five players is enough to “decide” the outcome of a match. And if one can entice the captain himself, then the bet is as good as won.

The latest controversy around Hansie Cronje has exposed a “stiff upper lip” attitude among the white cricket playing nations. While the Shane Warnes and Mark Waughs are forgiven their crimes, the Wasim Akrams and Mohammed Azharuddins are considered cheats. Now that evidence against a “gentleman” of South Africa has come to the fore, the immediate reaction is that of disbelief. People first felt that this was an instance of the incompetence of the Indian police. It is natural for the South Africans to support their cricket heroes, but to snuff at the allegations as false outright betrays that colonial polarization is still very much part of cricket.

Yours faithfully,
Ajmal Hussain, North 24 Parganas

Sir — The former South African captain, Hansie Cronje, has admitted to receiving money from Indian bookies for matchfixing. No one believed that a player of Cronje’s stature could be “bought”. Everyone was largely holding the Delhi police responsible for what seemed like another instance of the Indian police’s innumerable bunglings. But it is true that politicians, businessmen, sportsmen, artists, and even spiritual leaders, who have money at their disposal, are also more often lured by mercenary temptations. However, Cronje should be praised because he admitted his offence and repented it. He should now expose all those cricketers and matchfixers who are involved in this dirty game. If they repent people might forgive them. But the point is, will they?

Yours faithfully,
J.N. Singhi, Calcutta

Sir — The recent betting and matchfixing allegations against Hansie Cronje and four other South African cricketers are appalling. Whatever the outcome, there can be no doubt that cricket is no longer a gentleman’s game. At least two decades ago, it used to be a much simpler game, in so far as sponsors and players themselves were concerned. In 1977-78, Kerry Packer stood against the cricket fraternity by organizing matches in Australia and luring the best players in the world. Thereby the term “pyjama cricket” was coined, since players dressed themselves in colourful clothes. Soon, there was the onslaught of night cricket, followed by players’ stakes rising higher. This inevitably increased chances of malpractice, betting and matchfixing.

Over-commercialization has been detrimental for the game, which is why the current crop of players are unable to follow the steps of Don Bradman, Gary Sobers, Sunil Gavaskar, Graeme Pollock and others, who have made cricket proud. This has markedly damaged the quality and standard of the game. One day cricket has gained dominance over test cricket over the years. This is, in effect, responsible for the undesirable events that are occurring on and off the field in recent years, of which Cronje’s admission of guilt is the most recent. It would be wise of the authorities if they arrange matches so a balance is maintained between test and one day cricket.

Yours faithfully,
A.K. Srivastava, Salboni

Sir — Hansie Cronje has indeed emerged as a great sportsman of our times. To err is human, but to accept the mistake when one’s career and pride are at stake, requires enormous courage and commitment. After all, every human being is bound to be tempted and also likely to succumb to pressure. The issue of matchfixing has always been met with denials from cricketers all over the world. Cricket is prone to various kinds of contamination and risks like any other sport. Why does it become difficult for us to realize and accept that? Players like Cronje must come forward and defend the dignity of cricket at all costs. He has taken the decision to come out openly and face whatever consequences his action might cost him. We should appreciate the honest sportsman. He certainly has true commitment towards the sport. In fact, there is room enough to cleanse the sport even now. Only the issue needs deeper and sensitive understanding by one and all.

Yours faithfully,
Ram Rakesh, Calcutta

Sir — People thought that Sourav Ganguly’s captaincy had brought back the winning streak to India, with a 3-2 win in the recently concluded one day internationals against South Africa. It pains all cricket fans to know that the Indians might have “won” the series not on their own merit, but because of foul play. It is difficult to imagine what more the cricketers could want. Earlier, Wasim Akram, Mohammed Azharuddin and many others were accused of taking bribes to throw away matches. Why would people watch cricket matches any more, if everything is already “fixed” before?

Yours faithfully,
M. Biswas, Coochbehar

Sir — One wonders what the definition of cricket would be after Hansie Cronje’s “confession”. The dictionary defines “cricket” as “an outdoor game played with bats, a ball, and wickets, between two opposing sides numbering 11 each”: related to gentlemanly behaviour and sportsmanship.

Should we now say: cricket, thy name is betting and matchfixing? Should we now contemplate cricket as a sport where anything is possible not only on the field, but off the field as well? The hitherto glorious uncertainties of cricket are being shaped into realities in dressing rooms, much before the match even starts off. Hansie Cronje has buried cricket in abysmal depths of infamy. Now it is no longer a gentleman’s game.

A former Indian cricketer had brought charges against the Board of Control for Cricket in India that a player had to pay a certain amount of money in order to be allowed to play in the national team. The board, it seems, has been maintaining a studied silence about this. If the International Olympic Association could take action against Ben Johnson because he had been on drugs, why should the International Cricket Council bosses not take a decision on a player who has admitted his guilt? Instead, the ICC, it seems, would now create two new positions, apart from match referee, to conduct the game — that is, the betting referee and the matchfixing referee, in order to penalize players for charges brought against them. The Delhi police should be thanked for bringing the former South African captain to book.

Yours faithfully,
Sankar Lal Singh, Calcutta
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