Editorial 1/Barren politics
Editorial 2/Flow chart
Food for thought
Letters to the Editor
Silence is golden as usual/Book review
By the pricking of my thumbs/Book review
Not god but a swastika/Book review
Of a different plumage/Book review
Time for some soul searching/Bookwise

 
 
EDITORIAL 1/BARREN POLITICS 
 
 
 
 
The prime minster, Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee, might appear to have been successful in forging some sort of consensus on the national response to the drought. Yet his appeal to the opposition to rise above partisanship seems to have achieved only a rhetorical consensus. Bickerings over technical points of definition — crisis or calamity? — bothers the Congress president, Ms Sonia Gandhi, whose concern is part of a larger web of factiousness seething under the apparent unity. The politics of discrimination and blame continues to complicate relations between the Centre and the affected states. Congress legislators in Rajasthan have been agitating against the Centre’s indifference, while the Congress opposition members in Gujarat blame the shortsightedness of the Bharatiya Janata Party government in the state for bringing on the crisis. Interested groups are also putting their own spin on the crisis. The Gujarat government and some farmers are now endorsing their point in favour of the Narmada project, and the rollback lobbyists see their apprehensions amply confirmed.

Huge funds are being magnanimously and ostentatiously released from the Centre, together with the mobilization of food and water relief. Apart from the belatedness of these moves, emergency operations seem to be mired in inane bureaucracy. The 24-hour crisis management group set up in New Delhi is a marvel of administrative redundancy. Set up on the basis of lessons learnt from the hijack crisis, this emergency cell uses officials from the agriculture ministry who have little experience in water management. So the water resources ministry is running its own cell, and the rural development ministry runs the drinking water mission using highly dated technology. The policies and technology behind these cells go back to Independence. The paraphernalia at the Centre are matched in the states, particularly in the remote rural areas of Rajasthan, by a complete collapse and, in most cases, the absence of the necessary administrative infrastructure required to target and distribute the funds and relief. Nongovernmental organizations and local voluntary workers report the utter dereliction, in the interiors of western Rajasthan for instance, where signs of governance and administration are totally missing. The gulf between the Central crisis management cell, equipped with telephone and e mail, and these vast tracts of sheer abandonment could not be more immense and unbridgeable. Deliberate governmental misrepresentation also prevails — regarding the actualities of migration, denied by most state governments, and in Gujarat, regarding the first few starvation deaths. Even if a consideration of the long term solutions to the problem of recurrent droughts are shelved for the sake of an immediate crisis, the management of this crisis will continue to be seriously, and most culpably, hindered if politics is not temporarily kicked aside.    


 
 
EDITORIAL 2/FLOW CHART 
 
 
 
 
A constitutional bench of the Supreme Court has rung down the curtain on the latest act of the Krishna waters dispute. A brief intermission can now be expected before Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, with Maharashtra as an interested party, are at it again. The dispute is now over a quarter of a century and still going strong. The bench had a little something for everyone. But it made two crucial decisions. First, it said the height of the Almatti dam could be raised to 519 metres. This figure is in between the dimensions demanded, respectively, by Karnataka and Andhra. This figure comes from an earlier attempt at a settlement by a committee of four chief ministers set up by the United Front government in early 1997. This committee’s expert report had suggested no harm would be done by raising the dam’s height to 519 metres. Second, the five judge panel declined to tell New Delhi to notify a scheme which Karnataka desired on the division of the river’s surplus waters. Raising the dam, by no matter how many meters, will please Karnataka. Having the surplus water scheme put on hold has made Hyderabad happy. In the end, the court concluded that these and other complaints, like Maharashtra’s concern about some land being submerged by the dam’s height being raised, are best handled by a new water tribunal to be set up under the Interstate Waters Dispute Act.

The reason for all this hectic lobbying and petitioning is that the 1976 Krishna water dispute tribunal agreement is up for review by the end of May this year. That agreement had more or less kept the peace between Karnataka and Andhra the past few decades. Each state is now putting forward various ideas designed to strengthen their hand in case the 1976 agreement is allowed to lapse. The height of the Almatti dam and the division of the surplus water have received the most publicity because the two states took the matter to the Supreme Court. By saying that the final word on all these issues must rest with a specialist tribunal, the constitutional bench has provided almost unstoppable momentum for the states to petition the Centre for the establishment of another Krishna waters disputes tribunal. Though such a tribunal will mean years of hearings and lobbying, it may be for the best. Karnataka has ambitious plans for a Krishna valley authority to monitor and regulate water throughout the basin. Andhra has a lot of large water projects which are being held up by the uncertainty over what to do with the river’s surplus waters. The 1976 agreement had many points in its favour. But the past few years have shown that the ambitions of the various concerned states mean that it is time for another look at the Krishna river.    


 
 
FOOD FOR THOUGHT 
 
 
BY BHASKAR DUTTA
 
 
One of the more important changes announced by the finance minister, Yashwant Sinha, in this year’s rather lacklustre budget was the restructured prices in the public distribution system. The main feature of the new price structure which has become effective from April is that consumers with incomes above the poverty line will have to pay the “economic cost” incurred by the government in supplying the foodgrains. The subsidy will thus be restricted to those with incomes below the poverty line. The allocation of foodgrains to those below the poverty line has also been doubled.

However, one of the ironies of the public distribution system is that the system is distributionally neutral. In other words, its customers are spread more or less uniformly across all income classes, although its essential purpose is to provide food security to the more vulnerable sections of society. This means the bulk of its consumers actually have incomes above the poverty line.

Thus, the increase in the rationed quota for consumers below the poverty line will probably have only a negligible effect on the total offtake from the public distribution system.

It is quite likely that the net effect of the restructured prices may actually be a reduction in offtake. This is because the relatively poor may not be able to take full advantage of the increase in their rationed quota because they may be constrained by their low levels of income — many of them do not have enough income to purchase the additional quantities of food grains. On the other hand, consumers above the poverty line will in all probability respond to the increased PDS prices by diverting their demand to the free market.

The possibility that offtake from the PDS may actually decline has caused a lot of eyebrows to be raised in pained surprise. From all accounts, the Food Corporation of India is today holding on to more stocks of grain than can be possibly consumed in the near future. Successive years of bountiful harvests have ensured the warehouses of the FCI are overfull. Food prices will almost certainly remain stable even if the next couple of harvests are relative disasters. So we have hungry millions without enough to eat coexisting with surplus stocks. Surely, to use a cliche,“this does not make much sense.”

How can India be producing too much food when we cannot provide even one square meal a day to roughly one third of the population? Amartya Sen would refer to his theory of entitlements and point out that the poor have very low entitlements. Put in every day language, the poor who do not get enough to eat are simply unable to pay for the food that they so desperately want or need. They are priced out of the market since they do not have the incomes or purchasing power with which to back their demand for food. So our total production of food today is too large relative to the market demand for food.

There has been a fair amount of discussion about ways in which the excess food stocks can be delivered to the poor. There are problems with the “obvious” solution of lowering the price of food grains sold through the public distribution system to the poor and increasing their quota even further.

First, the overwhelming majority of the poor are outside the ambit of the public distribution system. So, this will only ensure delivery of food to a relatively small number of the poor.

Second, even if there is a sudden drop in food production causing the excess stocks to disappear, no government will find it politically feasible to reverse the reduction in the price or increase in the quota of food supplied to the poor. Hence, an action taken as a short-term corrective measure can become a problem in the long-term.

Another possibility which has also found favour in some quarters is to channel a much larger volume of food grains in rural works programmes. The essential idea is to employ workers in the creation of rural infrastructure, using the excess food stocks to pay workers in kind. Rural works schemes of this kind have often been touted as ideal anti-poverty programmes because they are said to incorporate a degree of targeting. This is because only the poor and needy will agree to work in such programmes in view of the inadequate remuneration.

Unfortunately, this solution also has some fundamental problems. If the main purpose of such schemes is to provide additional employment or simply to use up the excess food stocks, then the projects which can be carried out must be highly labour-intensive. This places a constraint on the kind of infrastructure or assets which can be created. Typically, these will be assets which are not particularly durable — roads which are washed away during the first monsoon being a good example. This obviously implies a waste of the non-labour inputs used up in the programmes. One might as well ask labourers to dig up holes and then fill them up!

On the other hand, if primacy is given to the creation of durable assets, then the projects which will be chosen cannot be very labour intensive. So, for any given volume of non-food resources which the government is willing or able to deploy in the rural works programmes, only a small labour force can be employed. This will in turn imply that only a small fraction of the excess food stocks can be liquidated in rural works programmes, given the overall scarcity of non-food resources with the government.

Another possibility is to allow Indian farmers to export food. The usual argument against removal of export restrictions on food grains is that this will lead to an unduly large increase in domestic prices. Given the huge stocks available with the FCI, even a substantially generous export ceiling will have had a negligible effect on domestic prices. Typically, Indian governments have been unduly cautious in stipulating fairly conservative export ceilings.

But it is debatable whether even a generous export ceiling would generate a sufficient increase in demand. What is more likely is that farmers would be able to export only the superior qualities of food grains. Hence, there would still be overproduction of all other qualities of food grains.

The only proper long term solution is to increase the incomes of the poor. Our current level of food production will be just about adequate once the poor can back up their demand with purchasing power.

In the short run, the government must reverse its policy of caving in to the demands of the farm lobby and assuring farmers high procurement or guaranteed prices. The procurement price today is way above the market price. A lower guaranteed price would force farmers to allocate land in line with market demands, leading to diversification in favour of high value products.

In the short run, a smaller area of land would be devoted to food grains. A more prosperous agriculture would result in larger employment and increased incomes in the hands of the poor. An increase in incomes of the poor and hence in their demand for food grains would provide farmers the incentive to reallocate their land so as to enable them to supply the right quantity of food. Thus, the short term solution will actually merge with the long term solution.

The author is an economist at the Indian Statistical Institute, New Delhi    


 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Colour of money

Sir — Apartheid is dead, long live apartheid. Or at least that was what the comments of the South African cricket board chief, Ali Bacher, in “Bacher points finger at evil subcontinent” (April 13) seemed to infer. It was an Indian bookie who forced Hansie Cronje into making his “error of judgement”, ergo the Indians are the ones who are guilty. Cronje had no intention of taking part in match fixing or betting, he was merely a victim of a “subcontinental conspiracy”. Bacher also suggests Indians should look at themselves because South Africans are simply too white to cheat. Under the circumstances, extraditing Cronje really wouldn’t be a wise decision. Bacher would have to give Cronje a list of things that are inedible in India and too lowdown for him to be associated with. How can India and the rest of the world simply turn a blind eye to such evidence of South Africa’s continuing racism? After all, how many “coloured players” have found their way into the South African team?

Yours faithfully,
Kartikeya K. Singh, Howrah

Frontline between faiths

Sir — It is shocking three church run schools have been destroyed and the resident nuns and priests assaulted by “Hindus” (“UP alert with serial strikes on convents”, April 13). It is also unfortunate The Telegraph has trained its guns on the sangh parivar without giving any background to the incident or disclosing the identity of the culprits. In earlier reports on violent communal attacks in Gujarat, Orissa and Bihar, subsequent information proved that what was initially reported was wrong.

Partition should have solved the problem of communal hostility. This single act vested an Indian identity on all residents of India. Instead of promoting this idea, media and politicians have played on differences and divided the population into majority and minority communities. Hence the current instability and feeling of insecurity among different communities residing within India. Successive governments have singularly failed to protect victims and punish culprits whenever such violence has occurred. In this case, the focus has been conveniently turned on the Hindu right.

Media attention is curiously lacking when Hindus become the victims of communal frenzy. In Tripura, since the Eighties, Hindus have been kidnapped and brutally killed by mostly Christian insurgent groups. Barring Agartala and five small towns, 250,000 Hindus pass their days in other areas of Tripura in terror. In the past five years, insurgents have stopped Hindus from celebrating religious festivals, destroyed idols and killed organizers of religious functions.

Unless this discrimination is stopped, the Indian polity will be splintered into uncountable groups. Already in Tripura a front has been created that seeks to avenge the killings of Bengalis by insurgents.

Yours faithfully,
Ram Narayan Gupta, Calcutta

Sir — I condemn the violence against some schools run by the Christian community. This kind of fanaticism is gradually increasing in the country especially since the National Democratic Alliance government took over. The miscreants seem to be politically motivated and patronized by some vested interests. These goons should be punished for forcefully obstructing others from exercising their fundamental rights. I appeal to authorities to deeply think over the matter.

Yours faithfully,
Atanu Ghosh, Jamshedpur

Sir — Of late, there has been a spate of attacks on Christians in different parts of north India. They cannot just be passed off as minor incidents. The finger points to a planned attack by diehard fundamentalists who have one programme — to create fear and terror in the minds of peace loving Christians. Unlike other minority groups, Christians appear a weak target because they do not react violently. Their religion teaches them to be nonviolent. Physically attacking and manhandling nuns and priests bring no credit or honour to these misguided people.

The government must protect Christian lives and property just as it does of every other Indian. We are no more or less Indian than the rest. India’s leaders and patriots should voice their protest and ensure Christians are allowed normal and peaceful lives.

Yours faithfully,
Allen R. Johannes, Patna

Sir — “School for vandals” (April 14) gives a clear picture of what is going on in the name of “secularism”. It is painful to see missionary schools taking the brunt of merciless attacks by hoodlums. The incident will strike terror in the hearts of minorities. Yet, both the Centre and the states have a responsibility to protect the lives and property of minority communities. The track record of the Ram Prakash Gupta government in Uttar Pradesh in this regard is contemptible. With a benign state administration tacitly supporting the vandals, Christians have become vulnerable to a police not known for religious tolerance and impartiality. All right thinking citizens should come forward to put an end to this barbarism.

Yours faithfully,
Naren Sen, Howrah

Sir — It is a sad thing for Christians in India that they are wrongly accused of practising forced conversion and supporting militancy which misrepresents Christianity to the populace. Christians are not interested in forced conversions. They believe faith is a matter of the heart. The Bible says “if you believe in your heart that god raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). No external forces can implant faith in the heart of a man.

Christians are against rebellion and militancy. The Bible teaches to submit to the government authorities. “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which god has established. The authorities that exist have been established by god” (Romans 13:1). India is the motherland of its Christians. They have the spirit of Indianness. Patriotism is an integral part of the Christian faith. Any group of Christians who practise “forced conversion” and support militancy is against Christianity.

Yours faithfully,
S. Meghachandra Singh, Silchar

Nuclear punishment

Sir — It is a disgrace a junior scientist in a renowned institution like the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre has had to face such harsh obstacles in the pursuit of educational research (“Scientist blasts BARC with torture charge”, April 19). Successive governments sat on the matter instead of ordering an independent investigation and seeking justice. Hopefully the article will generate sufficient heat to take the matter to a logical conclusion. Since little help seems to be forthcoming from the administration, individuals could contribute to meet his mother’s medical expenses.

Yours faithfully,
Nabendu Pal, Louisiana

Sir — The treatment meted out to P. Sain by BARC authorities is sad. If he has become mentally unstable, it is possible BARC is partly responsible for his state. The statement issued by BARC that no one has complained about such things before is not entirely true. Many would recall the case of one Dharmadurai, who was employed in Kalpakkam . In the Eighties, he was arrested for sending letter bombs to his bosses in BARC. He too complained of persecution and maltreatment at work.

Yours faithfully,
Enakshi Bhattacharya, via e-mail

Sir — It is difficult to decide whom to believe in the face off between Prithwish Sain and BARC. It is simplistic to see BARC as the monster organization out to persecute a troublesome employee. But wouldn’t it have been far easier to just dismiss him?

Sain may suffer from a persecution complex and BARC’s insistence that he needs psychiatric help may not be too off the mark. However, it is really sad to see one so young and so educated to be in such desperate straits he has to sell his kidney to survive.

Yours faithfully,
Mrityunjay Banerjee, Calcutta
Letters to the editor should be sent to:
The Telegraph
6 Prafulla Sarkar Street
Calcutta 700 001
Email: [email protected]    

 
 
SILENCE IS GOLDEN AS USUAL/BOOK REVIEW 
 
 
BY ASHOK MITRA
 
 
Indira Gandhi, The “Emergency” and Indian Democracy
By P.N. Dhar, Oxford, Rs 545

One has come across the phenomenon times without number. If things go wrong and the role performed by oneself in the proceedings has been somewhat disappointing, the temptation is great to blame it on a so-called “systemic” failure. That perhaps helps to bail out one’s conscience.

P.N. Dhar, who headed the prime minister’s secretariat at the time the Emergency was declared, chooses not to be original. He too talks of a systemic collapse as accounting for the Emergency. He does not deserve to be taken seriously. The prime minister’s number one subaltern, the record shows, carried out the directives of the empress with a cool efficiency which had nothing to do with any systemic malfunctioning. Dhar nonetheless persists in making his point.

Most of Dhar’s comments on the issue are wrapped in bland, cold officialese. Chapter 10 of the volume sums it all up. Yes, Indira Gandhi was responsible for the Emergency, but then, Jayaprakash Narayan cannot be absolved of a part of the blame either; his threat to launch a massive movement forced Indira Gandhi to act. After such logic, what forgiveness?

There are other questions Dhar’s memoirs ought to have answered, but do not. Stories had been afloat about how both Indira Gandhi and her younger son, Sanjay, treated Dhar extremely shabbily during the Emergency days; his role, the gossip said was that of a feudal serf cowering before the masters. Those civil servants — P.N. Haksar the chief amongst them — who had allegedly conspired to prevent Sanjay’s emergence as the country’s industrial czar, were to be treated to a belated lesson. That was one major purpose of the Emergency. Haksar by then had moved out to occupy the harmless position of deputy chairman of the planning commission. What he was not allowed to escape was nemesis. Haksar’s octogenarian uncle owned a textile and handicrafts outlet in Cannaught Place. He was picked up on a trumped up charge from the shop, handcuffed, paraded on the streets and put in the cooler; the old man had to undergo humiliation and indignity of the worst sort, all because he happened to be P.N. Haksar’s uncle. The enigma remains: Haksar did not quit the planning commission following the incident. Once the Emergency was over, his wife Urmila, wrote in great detail a narrative describing the nightmare of Panditji’s arrest.

And yet Haksar did not walk out. Nor did P.N. Dhar. He was formally the head of the prime minister’s secretariat, but, as he frankly admits, once the Emergency was declared, the prime minister’s secretariat was eclipsed by the prime minister’s house where Sanjay ruled like a medieval lord. His very presence made everyone freeze with fear, including, as Dhar confirms, his own mother, the nation’s prime minister.

Given his academic background and the reputation he had built in different walks of life, it would have been natural to expect Dhar to quit office rather than put up with the treatment he was subjected to. Anti-climax: like Haksar, he too did not quit.

Was it a loss of nerves that shackled both Haksar and him? There is perhaps a little bit more in the puzzle than what this simple explanation offers, and which is linked to the continuing tragedy of Kashmir. At least going by the evidence adduced in this volume, Dhar did not share Haksar’s socialist ethos. Haksar was steadfast in his endorsement of Jawaharlal Nehru’s Kashmir dream even when the objective factors got totally transformed. The hard reality of 1947 — Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah leading his National Conference and the overwhelming majority of the valley’s population into the Indian mainstream — was no longer a credible notion in the Seventies. Kashmir formally remained a part of India. The actual relationship had degenerated though, into that of an occupied people and an occupying army. For Dhar, the problem was simple; what we once held, we must continue to hold. For Haksar, it was a more complicated issue; a commitment made to Nehru that Kashmir will for ever remain with India and the Kashmiri Pandits too will fulfil the role assigned to them by history. As the years rolled by, the bond of ideology thinned, but the official version lived on: Kashmir is an inalienable part of India and no power on earth could destroy this reality.

And that is the main trouble with P.N. Dhar’s memoirs. He gives the straight official line on Kashmir, on the Bangladesh war, on the Simla agreement and of course on the Emergency. That goes for his judgment on Cheddi Jagan too; Dhar was advisor to Jagan for roughly a year in the turbulent Sixties. Reticence presides over the successive chapters of the book.

The only other comment the present reviewer feels compelled to append will, it is hoped, not be considered as excessively uncharitable. Dhar plods through many themes. His narrative however betrays no passion for any cause. That apart, he goes out of his way to berate communists and their ilk on the slightest of pretexts. Is he, even at this late hour, trying to live down a reputation spawned by indiscretions committed in his undergraduate days?    


 
 
BY THE PRICKING OF MY THUMBS/BOOK REVIEW 
 
 
BY SARVEEN ABUBAKER
 
 
Beloved Witch an Autobiography
By Ipsita Roy Chakraverti, HarperCollins, Rs 295

Little Ipsita watched awestruck. It was another of those diplomatic get-togethers her parents were attending in Ottawa, but here was an imperious young woman loudly ticking off a valet for having brought out her fur coat because he thought she was getting ready to leave.

“Think less in future. When I wish to leave, I’ll call you... Do you follow?” Indira Gandhi, with father Jawaharlal Nehru looking on silently, was saying, “People like you have no sense.”

A keen watcher of humans since childhood, the nine-year-old picked up one crucial tip that evening: that if an Indian woman wished to do better than add another branch to the family tree, she would have to be a maverick, a rebel. She would have to go off the beaten track, be imperious and arrogant, else she would be reduced to a doormat.

Ipsita Roy Chakraverti declared her rebellion on a society she thought was obsessed with men by choosing to be a witch. “I was a rebel when I chose Wicca,” she says in her autobiography. Alongside the rebellion came revenge, supreme self-confidence, acute insight into the darkest recesses of human nature, and the insistence that she would not be denied.

Chakraverti began her study into the art of witchcraft in a chalet in the Laurentian mountains in Canada. As she delved deeper and deeper into it, she determined to avenge the wrongs done to women down the ages: Joan of Arc had been burnt at the stake because men thought she was evil; Luciana had had to flee Austria and disappear somewhere in Germany for fear of being hounded; and hundreds had been tortured because they refused to fall prey to the lust of men.

The beloved witch took her revenge by throwing down the gauntlet at society when she came to India. Living in Calcutta in 1988, she breathed fire at an establishment nonchalant about the killings of so-called witches in Purulia, giving interviews by the dozen to the media and exposing the injustice done to women down the centuries. To the extent that she forced a newspaper to scream one morning: “Calcutta witch blasts Jyoti Basu”.

Chakraverti’s trademark is her fearlessness. Political affiliations apart, she does not as much as flinch while describing the ruling chief minister as “an unsmiling, rigid, ambitious old man who headed a cold, ruthless team like a Nazi chief”. She knows that with the power of Wicca protecting her, no force on earth can lift a finger to hurt her.

Her ultimate victory lies in the fact that she does not feel the need to be hush-hush about her intentions. Right through the book, she comes across as a bold, gutsy and self-assured woman, standing her own and not cowering before anyone. She literally challenges men, who she claims do not have an affinity for strong women, by saying: “Look, I am a witch. You have taken to stoning, and beating and burning women because you say they are witches. If you are strong, brave men with conviction — do the same to me. I am here.”

She harbours no illusion about the grandeur or goodness of human nature. “I have only to look into a person’s eyes to know what he is, what he wants. And I do not like what I see,” she says. Claiming she likes dogs and horses more than people, she says: “If one looks into their eyes and picks up the waves, they speak more articulately than people.”

Part of her purpose in writing the book is to rid witchcraft of its stigma and dispel notions about the “wicked” witch. Even as she holds up the power of witchcraft to avenge and destroy, she brings to the fore its powers of healing, justice and wisdom. She also lists case histories of women she has healed, and touches on the work she has done to empower women in rural Bengal.

Written in a simple but hard-hitting style, the book is a testament to one of the guiding principles of her life — that every strong woman can be a witch.    


 
 
NOT GOD BUT A SWASTIKA/BOOK REVIEW 
 
 
BY KAUSHIK ROY
 
 
Hitler’s Enforcers: Leaders of the German War Machine, 1939-45
By James Lucas, Arms and Armour, £ 20

By the fall of 1941, Hitler reigned supreme in Europe. This was the outcome of an extraordinary German military prowess. Though after 1942, the tide of war turned against Berlin, the Wehrmacht conducted a brilliant defensive struggle against all odds for three years. One crucial factor behind the German military’s mind-boggling performance was the leadership displayed by its officer corps. James Lucas, a retired British army officer, focuses on this aspect.

Lucas agrees with the British historian, Correlli Barnett, who holds in Hitler’s Generals that as far as operational manoeuvres were concerned, the Nazi military leadership stood head and shoulders above its opponents. While Barnett and Samuel W. Mitcham Jr in Hitler’s Field Marshals concentrate only on the elite leadership, Lucas argues that to understand the military excellence of the Nazi war machine, it is necessary to study even the middle-ranking officers. This is because combined teamwork was responsible for the military superiority of the German armed forces.

The German military’s resilience can be traced to its ability to produce high quality officers in large numbers. This was possible due to the “social revolution” initiated by the Nazis. Lucas writes that while in the British and French armies, high social background was necessary for entry into the officer cadre, in Hitler’s army only merit counted. As a result, even a worker’s son like Sepp Dietrich could attain the rank of a Panzer general.

Lucas holds that unlike other armies, the Wehrmacht promoted many brave and skilled non-commissioned officers into senior ranks. Hence, the Nazi military could sustain the massive officer casualties between 1943 and 1945. This policy was similar to the Napoleonic Grande Armee’s proclaimed policy that “every private carried a potential field marshal’s baton in his knapsack”. This “open personnel policy” enabled both the Grande Armee and the Wehrmacht to destroy the “socially conservative” European armies of their times.

Other than the policy of upward mobility, the German high command was able to motivate individuals to fight and die for the fatherland through other sophisticated man-management techniques introduced by the officers. For example, the monocle wearing grim faced Walter Model, who opposed the British army under Bernard Montgomery at Arnhem bridge in 1944, understood the psychological impact of a song for boosting the morale. Following Napolean’s maxim that “in war, morale is almost everything”, Model arranged and even participated in choral competitions.

Despite functioning under an authoritarian state, the German military discipline was not characterized by overt violence. Lucas shows that contrary to popular belief, even the officers of Waffen SS cared for the welfare of their men. Officers like Ramcke and others were called “papa” by their men. The author challenges the dominant view propounded by Omer Bartov and the German historian Manfred Messerchmidt in The German Military in the Age of Total War, which portrays that fear of death forced the German military personnel to fight and die for their Fuehrer.

Lucas’s book makes an important intervention in the history of World War II by pointing out the necessity of reassessing the penal apparatus of Hitler’s war machine. It appears that instead of being a horror filled Wagnerian drama, welfare mechanism and paternal attitude of the officers towards their men characterized the functioning of the German military. He rightly points out that not merely technology or doctrine but “competitive-humanitarian personnel policy” enabled the Wehrmacht to function as the “genius for war”.    


 
 
OF A DIFFERENT PLUMAGE/BOOK REVIEW 
 
 
BY KUNAL SEN GUPTA
 
 
Enjoying Birds
By Ranjit Lal, Clarion, Rs 1,500

To most, those binoculared, solar-hatted people trudging around in shorts among the bushes and the trees are nothing but crazy coots. Indeed, bird watching is one such pastime that raises eyebrows and doubts about a person’s sanity.

But Ranjit Lal’s book delves into the joy that an apparently innocuous hobby like ornithology can bring. India has attracted ornithologists from all over the world. Names like Sir Julian Huxley and Horace Alexander are but a few of the great naturalists to have explored the avi fauna of many parts of the country. And these visitors from distant shores have left India with memories of many a good day’s “birding”.

Stalwarts like Salim Ali have, to a great extent, instilled interest among a band of bird watchers in India who have made it their business to keep alive the importance of amateur ornithology as a vital area of conservation. It is not uncommon to find an avid bird watcher in an otherwise haughty surgeon or a grumpy boardroom boss. These people shrug off a week’s drudgery to find a colourful diversion in observing birds in their natural habitat, a few miles off the beaten track.

Lal’s work, couched in humorous observations and easily understood detail, puts forth the intimate realm of the birder. From choosing a pair of binoculars to advise on jotting down notes, and choosing the right camera lens, the chapters flit from subject to subject with considerable ease. In his introduction, Lal describes his book as a “bait” for the totally uninterested and those with a “nascent interest” in ornithology. In order to get to the first group, Lal has tried to evoke interest by writing with wit and simplicity. Harsh, scientific jargon is avoided quite studiously.

For each species, the author has chosen descriptions not unlike what one would use while describing a ramp model or a crabby clerk. In no other book on birds would the spotbilled duck be referred to as the “film starlet duck.” An apt observation for the buxom waddler.

The birds’ descriptions are the author’s reactions to the looks and demeanour of individual species. The brief sketches are fiercely personal and many keen birders will differ with the author’s versions of some particular species.

An useful feature of the book is the list of local names of birds in a handful of Indian languages. But it is also obvious that Lal’s collection of regional names has remained constrained by his own accessibility to them. For instance, while he manages to provide the local name of the red-vented bulbul in seven regional languages, the whitenecked bulbul is given only three.

The book is in no way a complete insight into India’s bird life and nowhere does the author claim it to be so. In fact, it can be a very precious guide to those living in and around Delhi.

Most of the species described are those the author has met and keenly observed at Sultanpur and Keoladeo national parks close to the capital city. Interesting encounters, anecdotes and word-pictures of fleeting but enjoyable moments are scattered liberally across the pages, as are the photographs taken by the author.

The pictures, however, leave a lot to be desired. While some of them clearly shows off the plumage and markings, many are dull and not easy to discern. One of the most crucial aspects of a book on birds are the plates.

It would have been a better idea to use colour sketches in place of the photographs, which are not very bright. Even Salim Ali used coloured plates in his works. The poor quality of some of the photographs somehow does not go with the price of the book.    


 
 
TIME FOR SOME SOUL SEARCHING/BOOKWISE 
 
 
BY RAVI VYAS
 
 

Pressed for time and hungry for solace, many people feel their public and private lives are a series of traps. They sense they cannot overcome their troubles, and seek spiritual serenity in so-called meditation books that are proliferating in the inspiration and self-help sections of publishers’ lists.

Almost all self-help titles are paperbacks featuring short, up-beat reflections meant to be taken a page a day through the year. The titles cover a wide cross-section of readers — parents, brides, the over-worked, the sexually abused, former smokers and alcoholics, the recently widowed, divorced, et al. The books are pocket-size, about Rs 100 to Rs 125 each, with 200-odd words in large print, are portable and a very quick read.

Take some of the off-beat titles, instead of the more popular like Chicken Soup for the Soul, The Celestine Prophecy, The Art of Happiness, and so on, that indicate why some of them have sold over a million copies worldwide. Meditations for Women Who Do Too Much focuses on self-esteem, and opens with a quote from Rebecca West: “ People call me a feminist when I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat or a prostitute.” The meditation follows, beginning with, “When a woman believes she is equal, she is called uppity.” The page closes with the final thought: “Battering comes in many forms. My self-esteem is constantly assailed, yet it’s really mine when I get right down to it.”

Most meditation books specialize in handling stress. Readership of books like Sharing a Journey, represents a spiritual practice outside the bounds of organized religion and traditional private piety. They have echoes of the old daily prayer rituals, albeit in a contemporary form. They teach one how to apply, for instance the Bible, to daily life.

One speculates that the reason behind such a spurt of self-help titles is because of a rise of religious fundamentalism, or, a broad and growing fascination in all things spiritual. But publishers believe that it has more to do with the “recovery movement”, that is based on the methods used by Alcoholics Anonymous to bring people back on track. The recovery boom led to the spirituality boom and meditation books like Daily Reflections serve as a touchstone.

There is also the impulse for buying meditation titles. For instance, over a million copies of Gary Zukov’s Thoughts from the Seat of the Soul have sold. There is nothing new in it, except that it is beautifully packaged. Or the runaway success of Deepak Chopra’s books, along with compact discs like Ageless Body, Timeless Mind, The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, Quantum Healing and others. Publishers believe they know the reasons meditation titles are doing so well though there are no rational answers. People buy books above all, for a need. Here the “need” is to be “centred” or “focussed” in a rapidly changing world.

Two questions arise. One, do these books help? Two, will the boom last? If you believe in what has been written, the books certainly help to sort out life’s fitful fevers; obversely, if you don’t believe it the printed word helps to come to grips with the existential world, they won’t. Whether the boom lasts, depends on how you can manage stress. The signs are that things won’t become any easier. And if they won’t then meditation books would be one way to “stop the world and get off.”    

 

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