Editorial 1
Editorial 2
Good old middle path
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1 
 
 
 
 

Protect the Infirm

When India began economic reforms in 1991, most domestic industrialists applauded the removal of trade and investment restrictions. As the government embarks on second generation reforms, many homegrown industrialists are starting to complain. This new protectionism is being painted with the colours of nationalism, even social justice. The primer underneath is the same — save the profits of India’s inefficient industries. Two Indian industrialists, Mr Rahul Bajaj and Mr Sanjiv Goenka, had last year been asked to provide a report on how India could minimize the risks of globalization. The report, which calls for curbs on multinational investment, seems designed to minimize the risks globalization poses to their own business interests. Another example of new protectionism is the most recent volleys of the Swadeshi Jagran Manch. The SJM has loudly denounced New Delhi’s plans to modernize India’s archaic competition rules. The SJM says India should avoid this “Western” concept. In essence, it advocated that India stick to the old policy whereby the market is restricted to Indian firms. The new policy would have allowed foreign firms to compete as wholly owned subsidiaries. The SJM, in short, was protecting the bottomlines of Indian businessmen.

The reasons for these sort of arguments is perfectly clear. The first stage of reforms allowed foreign firms to enter India, but weighed down with a host of restrictions. In particular, they generally had to form joint ventures with Indian companies. The Indian partner often had control, but got technology and new products from the foreign partner. For an Indian firm this was a perfect combination: foreign products without foreign competition. This policy had to change. First, no overseas firm will give its best knowhow to a joint venture. The Indian ventures would also not be plugged into the global production networks that drive international trade. This puts automatic limits on India’s export volumes. Second, limited competition comes at the cost of the consumer. The less competition there is, the more the Indian consumer must pay for products of lower quality. The best deal for the Indian consumer is for as many companies as possible to battle for the marketplace — whether they are foreign, Indian or Martian is irrelevant. Finally, competition is necessary to make Indian companies — made lazy and complacent under years of socialism — become globally competitive. Because reforms have not ripped down the shield that protects them from overseas competition, many Indian companies continue to spend nothing on research and development, and provide poor customer service. India’s global competitiveness in the world economy — a measure of its overall efficiency — continues to decline because of this sloth. Instead, firms find it cheaper to lobby for protection.

The Bajaj-Goenka report is full of fraudulent intellectual arguments against foreign firms. For example, it questions their commitment to the nation. The argument is irrelevant. Whether foreign or Indian, a company’s only commitment is rightly to its profit margins. The SJM similarly uses nationalistic arguments to denounce foreign firms. But its silence on the costs to Indian consumers is a clear pointer to its becoming an advocate of corporate interests — and possibly for reasons more than simply flag waving. Liberalization has thrown up two types of Indian companies. Some are trying to profit by competing in the world market. Others are trying to hide their inefficiencies and preserve their profits through protectionism. For the future of India’s economic success, New Delhi must firmly reject policies that aid the latter.    


 
 
EDITORIAL 2 
 
 
 
 

Hospital Trauma

However strange it seems, legally admissible evidence for one of the most violent of crimes is often the most difficult to produce. Which is why rapists have a fairly easy time of it. The countrywide effort by women’s and lawyers’ organizations to amend the rape laws is likely to result in some correctives. But till that happens, the victim has to depend on the understanding and sensitivity of the courts. The Supreme Court’s stricture to government hospitals about examining alleged rape victims without delay homes in on one of the most problematic areas of evidence for rape. Often a delay in examination is caused by the victim herself. She may be physically unable to get to the hospital, or simply unable to overcome the humiliation and guilt that accompanies rape in a shame culture. This is bad enough. But hospitals have no excuse to turn away rape victims. To insist that the police ask for the examination, as a lot of hospitals do, is to expose a bureaucratic finickiness equal only to pure inhumanity.

The context of the Supreme Court’s stricture is a case which proves the importance of the courts’ role in the absence of satisfactory provisions. The Supreme Court has restored the conviction of a person accused of rape who had been let off by the Karnataka high court. The medical report of the schoolgirl victim had been filed after two days, because the doctor the child had first been to refused to examine her. This was crucial in determining the high court’s judgment, since the external signs of rape had disappeared after two days. The Supreme Court not only considered the evidence of other doctors and staff nurses which the high court had ignored, but also cited the “social context” which makes rape such a difficult crime to even file a complaint about. It is too much to expect hospitals to change their attitude overnight. But the Supreme Court’s direction is cause for some hope.    


 
 
GOOD OLD MIDDLE PATH 
 
 
BY MAHESH RANGARAJAN
 
 
The crisis in Sri Lanka finds the ruling coalition deeply divided against itself. The premier party within it, the Bharatiya Janata Party, has publicly opposed the creation of a separate Tamil homeland or eelam. But two of the smaller partners in government from Tamil Nadu have exactly the opposite view. For now, there is little New Delhi can do but wait and watch. If nothing else, it is clear that any hasty Indian intervention, especially an armed one, will probably lead to the kind of dead end reached by the Indian forces deployed in Sri Lanka in the period between 1987 and 1990.

The historic imperative of Indian foreign policy over the last few decades has been to ensure that no hostile power plays a key role in any neighbouring country in the subcontinent. At odds with this is the deeply held conviction of virtually all the regional forces from Tamil Nadu that no Indian intervention in Sri Lanka should either directly or indirectly go against the basic interests of the island state’s beleaguered Tamil minority. The Atal Behari Vajpayee government has for now taken the middle path, eschewing any military assistance to the 35,000 odd troops trapped in the Jaffna peninsula, while arguing it will not remain indifferent to Sri Lankan concerns about keeping that country in one piece.

The foreign policy angle may be clear to some, but the bitter memory of the Indian peacekeeping force in the three year aftermath of the ill-fated Indo-Sri Lanka agreement in 1987 has yet to fade away. In its most extended engagement outside Indian territory yet, the Indian army and its sister forces found themselves in a no-win situation. The Tamil militants, who were saved from being ground down by the Sri Lankan army, turned against India, while the very powers at the helm of affairs in Colombo did all they could to sabotage the mission. The result was a stalemate. Indian forces withdrew in January 1990, but the experience remains in the background, doing much to restrain any knee-jerk response from New Delhi.

The political scenario in the country is also far removed from the one 13 long years ago. Rajiv Gandhi ruled a single party government with a steamroller majority. Tamil Nadu was under the iron grip of M.G. Ramachandran who backed the prime minister to the hilt, despite his own old links with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, especially with their leader, V. Prabhakaran. Today, the 22 members of parliament from the southern state, who are part of the ruling alliance but are not from the BJP, are a force to reckon with. No decision on the issue can move ahead if they do not consent to it. Further, three of the parties, especially M. Karunanidhi’s Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, have old links with the issues of the Tamils of Sri Lanka. Even if they stop short of supporting the Tigers, they cannot, at least in a pre-election year, be seen as acting in the interests of the Sinhala-dominated regime in Colombo.

The real tragedy in the tale is, of course, not in India but in the island nation. Through the Eighties, as things went from bad to worse, it was the then ruling outfit, the United National Party, which fanned the flames of the conflict. In contrast, Chandrika Kumaratunga had backed the Indo- Sri Lanka accord in public. Her husband, Vijay Kumaratunga, was assassinated by Sinhala extremists for favouring a dialogue in place of a confrontation with the Tamil minority. In 1994, she began with a mandate for peace and devolution, and opened talks in the very early days of being in power. Things never really got going.

There was clearly a huge gulf between the two sides. The Tamil Tigers were never going to settle for anything less than a sovereign state of both the north and the east of the island, the territories they refer to as a Tamil homeland or eelam. They have used all means possible, including assassination and terror to achieve their aims. For her part, the president was never fully convincing that she would accept a merger of the north and the east within the context of a federated nation state. This is the very least that could have won over even moderate Tamil opinion. The Tigers struck back in the way they know best, nearly killing Kumaratunga on one occasion. The Sri Lankan army and the highly influential Buddhist clergy pushed for a military solution to the issue.

The J. Jayawardene approach, in the absence of the late president, was back. Try for an armed solution to the issue. If things go wrong, turn to India to bail the Colombo regime. But this is not an easy rerun of history. Rajiv Gandhi was a relative newcomer to politics when he committed Indian forces to action on the ground in Sri Lanka. He did not appreciate the depth of the resentment among the Sinhala elite, which mistakenly sees India as the fount of what is essentially a homegrown failure at giving a minority the due share of power. Today, the foreign policy establishment in India notwithstanding, there is a grudging realization among the political class that cannot resolve a decade old political issue by rushing in where angels fear to tread.

The fact is that any bid to assist the Sri Lankan forces in the peninsula will end up ultimately in coming down on one side of Sri Lanka’s internal conflict. What India gains by doing so is unclear. It will end up alienating one side without really earning the gratitude or loyalty of the other.

While this country cannot extend recognition to eelam, there is no reason to go out of its way to prevent the Tamil militants from being a force to bargain with at the table when they eventually sit down to talks with the Colombo regime. It is true that the Rajiv Gandhi murder makes it impossible for a government in New Delhi to be on good terms with the Tamil Tigers. It is equally the case that Sri Lanka is not a firm ally of this country, to be bailed out on its own terms every time its leadership proves unable to rise to the admittedly difficult task of reconciliation.

Even while gung-ho intervention is ruled out, there are other voices raised about the possible dangers of Tamil separatism in Sri Lanka to this country. Such speculation misses a vital point; namely that Tamil Nadu’s political and economic position in the Indian union is vastly different from that of north and east Sri Lanka. If India can leave with a Bengali-speaking nation state on its eastern flank, there is every reason to believe the analogy holds true in the south.

The last decade has seen a deepening of the economic integration of the Tamil-speaking India with the rest of the country on terms highly advantageous to the former. Many senior local politicians are opposed to having to their south a militant-dominated state that may become a factor in regional politics. But if eelam ever does come about, its seeds will have been sown and nurtured by decades of neglect of legitimate aspirations by the leadership in Colombo.

The existence of a coalition in New Delhi has tempered Indian policy with a dose of realism about the limits of power. It looks unlikely that the Kumaratunga government can regain or hold onto the north, while the Tamil Tigers have been checkmated in the east.

While it is in India’s interest that Tamil aspirations and Sri Lankan unity be reconciled with each other, such an objective is a virtual non-starter in the present climate. There is nothing to be gained by rushing into such a situation, except as a mediator acceptable to all sides.

The author is a researcher on ecology and political affairs and former fellow, Nehru Memorial Museum Library, New Delhi    


 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

High above the muck

Sir — Ridiculous as the suggestion might sound, I believe it is time to wind up the Central Bureau of Investigation. A cursory look at the track record of the institution, and my suggestion might not seem so preposterous after all. Few cases involving prime ministers, chief ministers, cabinet ministers and other high profile public personalities have resulted in convictions. Years roll by, a series of adjournments is allowed, prosecution witnesses turn hostile and millions of rupees go down the drain. The Jain hawala scandal, Bofors and several others are cases in point. The recent investigations into the fodder scandal against Laloo Prasad Yadav have been exceptional, and even then, Yadav has been convicted on few of the 36 charges brought against him. As the saying goes, there cannot be smoke without fire. There must have been enough evidence against the politicians for the charges to be brought, and yet they are having the last laugh. Once, when I put the question to a veteran politician, he dismissed it, saying: “Oh, you won’t understand; this is high politics.”

Yours faithfully,
Biren S. Bader,
Calcutta

Fundamentals of trust

Sir — The bewildering call of the Union home minister, L.K. Advani, to Indian Muslims to wage a jehad against Pakistan reflects the paradoxes which face most Indians. Advani’s frustration over Kashmir and Pakistan echoes the feeling of all Indians, cutting across religious and ideological divides.

However, it needs to be pointed out that since independence, those at the helm of affairs have been walking a dead end street. Before calling on Muslims to “come to the aid of the party”, Advani will have to initiate the process of trusting Muslims. He will have to stop the police from routinely attacking innocents and branding them as agents of the Inter-Services Intelligence, calling them Osama bin Laden disciples, anti-nationals and demanding “their younger sisters at home”. The choicest communal abuses are now part of the police manual.

The need of the hour is not to sow seeds of disintegration. India is a reat nation and can survive the worst follies of its misguided sons. But Advani should remember that each word uttered, each action taken by leaders of his stature will have a far-reaching impact.

Yours faithfully,
Ghulam Muhammed
, Mumbai

Sir — Freedom of speech or action, even in a democracy has certain limits. In his “mazhab bachao” meeting on the Ram Lila ground, New Delhi, Bukhari is alleged to have described himself as a possible Inter-Services Intelligence agent and even challenged the government to arrest him and see the consequences (“Imam dons battle gear on ISI”, April 25). He has further blamed the government for masterminding the recent killing in Chattisinghpora.

This is not the first time Bukhari has indulged in anti-government and anti-national rhetoric. His utterances have often been grossly offensive to nationalist sentiments. He probably derives his courage from India’s votebank-based politics and the weakness of the government which is perpetually afraid of taking any action against him for the fear of hurting Muslim sentiment.

Yours faithfully,
R. Sharma,
Katihar

Sir — I fail to understand why Prasantha Goswami feels that the All India Jamiat Ulema rally was restricted to Guwahati (“On a minor key”, April 20). This was a clarion call to all politicians, irrespective of their party affiliations, to protest against policies implemented by the government on minorities. And this was not only with regard to Muslims living in Assam. Goswami, moreover, is not aware of what democracy means. In a democratic country, no one has the right to protest against any rally called by any group. He blames politicians for their double standards. Yet this was not a rally which criticized any particular community. His comparison of the Jamiat Ulema with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh is baseless. Such wrongheadedness can only hurt the sentiment of peace-loving people.

Yours faithfully,
Mansur Rahman,
Guwahati

Sir — Very often Hindu-hating secularists in India call the sangh parivar fascist Hindu fundamentalists. They don’t seem to understand the meaning of “fundamentalism”. The first major effort to define it was made by the Chicago University in the Nineties.

The editors noted that fundamentalism was more accurately attributed to the “people of the book” — Jews, Christians, Muslims to their first or distant cousins in the fundamentalist family like Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists and Confucians. Sacred texts do not play the same constructive role in south Asia and eastern traditions as they did in Abrahamic faiths. The scholars also concluded that fundamentalism is the product of unwavering loyalty to the only book and the only prophet, and the belief that the scripture is infallible. Hindus have subjected their Vedas, Upanishads and other classics to the minutest scrutiny by scholars from both within and outside the faith. Christians and Muslims however do not give the same freedom to the examination of their holy books. One can easily see who are the exclusivists, fascists and fundamentalists.

Yours faithfully,
D. Narasimha, ,
Hyderabad

Two sides to a story

Sir — My attention has been drawn to the report, “Unpaid bills in trail of Gowda Jr” (May 6). The report alleging that I have fled from Mauritius without settling huge hotel bills is baseless and also motivated. We never stayed in the hotel named in the said report. I deny all the allegations and charges contained in the said report.

Yours faithfully,
H.D. Kumaraswamy,
Bangalore

Our special correspondent replies:

The Telegraph stands by its story. Here are portions of the “Extract from Occurrence Book”, a form of first information report, filed at Belle Mare police station in the Moka Flacq district of Mauritius.

David Christopher Johnson, director of Vivendi Tours and Travels, who had arranged Kumaraswamy’s stay in the island nation, says in the complaint, “In December 1999, I proceeded to India to meet Kumaraswamy. He told me that he wanted me to make all the arrangements for him in Mauritius. In this regard, Kumaraswamy, the director of the film, one Mr Narayen and one Mr Prasad Baboo came to Mauritius along with me in March 2000 to locate the places for shooting...During their stay in Mauritius for one week, all the arrangements for accommodation, food and transport were done by my office. I then returned to India after a week in their company to personally accompany the film unit which was scheduled to visit Mauritius on April 10, 2000, during which time my office obtained a no-objection certificate from the Mauritius Film Development Corporation. The Vivendi director arrived with the unit in Mauritius on April 10.”

The complaint further says, “The said group was provided with four bungalows at Residence Thalassa at Belle Mare and at the bungalow of Mr Cassamallee. I was asked to make the necessary payments for all the requirements and that they would reimburse me as and when I claimed. I was not paid in time regularly. The total cost incurred by me during their stay in Mauritius was approximately Mauritian Rs 1.25 million. However, I was paid only Mauritian Rs 850,000 by them and the rest of the amount remained unsettled.”

On May 4, Johnson says he met the producer and asked for the unsettled balance and “he subsequently refused to pay me my money and they subsequently left the bungalow during my absence”

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The Telegraph
6 Prafulla Sarkar Street
Calcutta 700 001
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