Editorial 1/Monomania
Editorial 2/Handled with care
Strategy in a straits jacket
Letters to the Editor

At the heart of the dynamism that has allowed capitalism to leave all other economic systems in the dust is competition. Competition is more important to capitalism than the issue of public versus private ownership, it is absolutely essential to ensuring innovation and efficiency. Competition is the source of what has been termed the “destructive creativity” that makes capitalism so successful. This is why the report of the S.V.S. Raghavan committee on competition policy was awaited with such high expectations. It is also why the report has so universally been dismissed as a complete flop. It should be no surprise that four of the nine committee members have filed dissenting opinions. The committee report has not been guilty of half measures. It is guilty of far worse. It has simply failed to grasp the problem of competition in India altogether.

The dissenting note of an economist, Mr Sudhir Mulji, correctly explains why the Raghavan committee has gone down a blind alley. India is emerging from 50 years of having the most oppressively regulated economy in the world. During this time, India’s corporations learnt that success lay in lobbying politicians and bureaucrats for licenses and permits. In the meantime, other countries’ firms honed their skills in developing new products, innovative marketing and keeping customers satisfied. Indian business almost lost the ability to compete on merit rather than connections. Now that liberalization is allowing light into this socialist darkness, the country needs to make up for lost time by saturating the economy with competitive juices. Even after a decade of liberalization, India’s economy is still a forest of red tape, anachronistic business practices, and its ranking on the global competitiveness indices still heads southward. Mr Mulji has argued competition policy in India should be about ridding the economy of obstacles to competition. The Indian market is still fettered with market restrictions, pointless rules and regulations, and oligopolies. These need to be cleared away. That is what a new competition policy should be concentrating on.

Instead, the Raghavan committee has been unable to shed the legacy of the redundant and incompetent monopolies and restrictive trade practices commission. It has focussed on preventing monopolies and putting together a bureaucratic body to oversee this activity. Battling monopoly is all very well, but it is only a small subset of the larger issue of competition. Anti-monopoly activity is not the same thing as a competition policy. By concentrating on the micro and ignoring the macro, the committee has helped ensure India’s second generation of economic reforms will be missing a crucial ingredient of success. The report seems quite blind to the requirements of a global economy. For example, it recommends the proposed competition commission would have to give a green signal for any merger in which the new company’s assets exceed five billion rupees — an absurdly small amount by any standard. The flip side to this obsession with regulation rather than liberalization is the greased palm. The MRTPC was a cesspool of corruption. Unfortunately, the competition commission has been granted so much power that it threatens to be a successor to its predecessors in this aspect as well. The new competition policy was meant to release capitalism’s destructive creativity. Unfortunately, it is more redolent with bureaucracy’s destructive stagnation.    

The Union cabinet is now the second largest in the history of independent India. This would not have been matter for comment had a large cabinet meant greater efficiency. But in India, a holdall of a cabinet signals the attempts of the biggest party in a coalition to keep its partners happy. Although the latest cabinet expansion has shown the prime minister, Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee, to be more confident than at other times. He has managed to make do with three inductions only and a few reallocations. Notably, aspirants from his own party have been ignored while two important partners have been accommodated. Neither Ms Sushma Swaraj, whose claim to induction was generally accepted if only because she tried to discharge the almost impossible assignments the party gave her, nor Ms Uma Bharti or a replacement for her was brought in. But Mr Nitish Kumar is back in as the minister for agriculture, after he had taken time off to attempt at playing Samata Party chief minister of Bihar. The other two new ministers are from the Biju Janata Dal, a partner the Bharatiya Janata Party would be loath to displease. Mr Arjun Sethi and Mr B.K. Tripathi are meant to fill the vacancies left by Mr Naveen Patnaik and Mr Dilip Ray. That Mr Vajpayee is anxious to keep the Orissa chief minister happy is clear from the alacrity with which Mr Ray, fallen foul of Mr Patnaik, has been replaced with another BJD member.

If the rationale behind the inductions is unequal but obvious, a slightly different principle emerged in the reshuffle of portfolios. The shifting of Mr C.P. Thakur, a wellknown doctor, from the water resources to the health and family welfare ministry, now upgraded to cabinet rank, indicates a wish to have an expert at the head of the appropriate ministry. The same principle seemed to have operated to some extent in the reshuffle of 24 secretaries. The prime minister appears to be looking for experts who might actually get things done. Firming up the administrative level would mean greater efficiency, even if a jumbo cabinet militates against it. It is a precarious tightrope Mr Vajpayee is walking, but the balancing act is worth trying out.    

As the battle for Jaffna enters a crucial phase its fallout on the Indian political, diplomatic and security canvas is there for all to see. While the formal Indian position remains one of not getting militarily involved, a pledge of humanitarian assistance on request is the official line. Press reports, not altogether denied by Sri Lanka, suggest this could be in the form of the evacuation of the beleaguered Sri Lankan garrison in Jaffna peninsula numbering some 35,000 to 40,000.

While the end may be humanitarian, the means will be military with all the possible consequences that this could entail. Undoubtedly, there is much that is not in the realm of public knowledge at this moment. How events unfold and what their implications will be on the future polity and security of India must therefore await happenings across the Palk Straits.

What is relevant is that in an area of vital strategic security concern to India, the country has again been caught unawares and forced to react to a fast deteriorating situation. Some proactive strategic planning and action could have prepared the security establishment, if not actually shaped events to India’s strategic advantage.

After all, ever since the Sri Lankan forces occupied the Jaffna peninsula in 1995, it was a foregone conclusion that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam would strike back.

Some respected commentators have said India’s long term interests will best be served through military help to Sri Lankan forces. This overlooks the Indian peacekeeping force experience when the Indian armed forces sent in to maintain peace in 1987 ended up fighting the LTTE. With a change in Sri Lankan government, the LTTE even received Colombo’s tacit support.

Having suffered over 1,200 dead and many thousands wounded, and no longer wanted, the IPKF withdrew. Such was the state of India’s internal polity that the Tamil Nadu government refused to receive the battleweary IPKF when it landed in Madras.

Given this history, the Indian government’s military standoffishness is eminently sound, no doubt prompted by a cautionary note by the Indian army.

A fter the much-publicized visit of the air chief to Sri Lanka, one would hope a plan to neutralize the LTTE primarily by Indian airpower is not being considered as an option. This will not only be an unproductive and costly mistake, as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization powers learnt to their dismay in Kosovo, but could also become the first innocent steps into the quicksand. The entire approach to the India-Sri Lanka peace accord of 1987 and its implementation did not show leadership across the Indian spectrum being guided by sound strategic considerations.

What else would explain Indian soldiers being killed at the hands of LTTE cadres trained by Indian security agencies? Or the army chief’s claim in 1987 that the army would finish the LTTE in a week’s time? Individual perceptions and ad hoc rather than institutional decisionmaking were then the order of the day. By taking on the LTTE, India lost considerable leverage for the future.

The only silver lining was the exemplary field leadership displayed by the armed forces in not letting this soiled chapter affect their morale.

Morale — India’s policymakers take this for granted. The question that comes to mind is whether the Indian security establishment has learnt appropriate lessons in the decade since, and formulated strategies to influence events so that they do not have an adverse internal or external security impact on India?

The formation of the national security council was announced in late 1998. The subsequent Gazette of India resolution recognized that national security management requires integrated thinking and coordinated application of the political, military, diplomatic, scientific and technological resources of the state to protect and promote national security goals and objectives.

The NSC was to advise the Centre on such matters. Further the NSC was to be assisted by a strategic policy group, that was to be the principal mechanism for coordination and integration towards the making of national security policies. A priority task for the special policy group was to undertake the long term strategic defence review.

One is left wondering whether this review has indeed been conducted and deliberated upon by the NSC. If so, where did the Sri Lankan ethnic conflict fit in India’s strategic canvas? What, if any, was the advice given by the NSC to the Centre given the fact the composition of the NSC and the cabinet committee on security appears to be similar? Chances are that the more things change, the more they remain the same.

While the Indian security establishment ponders over its options and continues a tightrope act, there is one universal lesson to be learnt. Do not take the morale of the forces for granted. People should wonder how some 40,000 Sri Lankan soldiers in the Jaffna peninsula have been reduced to a state where some 5,000- 7,000 LTTE cadres without even an air force have them completely on the defensive.

Clearly the defeatist signals emanating from Colombo are not actions of a nation from whose willpower and determination its armed forces derive their moral courage.

In the military world, the true potential of a fighting force is a quality so abstract it cannot be measured. Yet it is so overpowering that discerning leaders can feel it in their bones. This is morale. Clearly when morale deserts a fighting force neither its numerical superiority nor its superior hardware can mean much. And morale is not a commodity that can be purchased off the shelf or achieved by hollow promises.

That the morale of the Sri Lankan forces was low is evident from the large number of desertions that have been reported. Recently an amnesty for 25,000 has been granted. Yet if panic buying of weapon systems and other essentials is any indicator, the Sri Lankan government has hardly helped by not providing the military with even the wherewithal for the inevitable LTTE onslaught.

A recent report says a United Kingdom company, which had contracted to supply anti-rifle body armour to the Sri Lankan army, was planning to take Colombo to court. The report says half the money was paid and the equipment shipped. Yet the equipment has not been issued to troops and the balance not paid, supposedly because bribes are not being paid. Such reports, true or not, indicate national apathy towards a nation’s military.

Kargil is a year old. Few will recall that Indian forces were also faced with the absence of essential wherewithal to fight. Did we not send purchase missions scurrying? Tall promises were made that long stalled purchases for the services would be cleared. Has it happened? Not if reports that the army main battle tank purchase has again been put off are to be believed, not to mention many more service requirements that are caught in the bureaucratic labyrinth or the so called anti-corruption web.

While India’s leadership looks at ways to help a neighbour out of a self-created predicament, let it not overlook action in its own backyard.

The author is a retired air marshal of the Indian air force    


Boors at large

Sir — For a country that prides itself on its traditional hospitality, Indian politicians make terrible guests when they go abroad (“All the PM’s men on US odyssey”, May 27). How dare our leaders — not just one minister but almost the entire cabinet — just land up in the United States and Canada and expect those countries’ establishments to put aside other business and attend to them? And what appalling manners — T.R. Balu simply ran out of a ceremony organized in his honour, saying he wanted to throw up, and Tapan Sikdar nonchalantly cancelled an important meeting at the last minute. International relations is a delicate business and India is still new in it. It isn’t even that these countries are absolutely desperate to do business with India. Since most Indian leaders go to the West with begging bowls in hand, the least they can do is learn some manners. No more than a few scraps of largesse may come their way, but at least those they claim to represent won’t feel embarrassed at their boorishness.

Yours faithfully,
Bobby Garg, Calcutta

One state more or less

Sir — The judge, M.C. Mahajan, had visualized way back in the Fifties that states reorganization or creation of new states would have its own problems. It would give rise to a dangerously parochial mindset and its adverse repercussions. However, Jawaharlal Nehru and others went ahead and the Bombay presidency, Madras presidency and Assam were broken up into various states.The fallout of this should be obvious from the situation in the seven sister states of the Northeast.

Chattisgarh, Uttaranchal, Jharkhand — the new states proposed in view of regional aspirations and continued neglect mark merely the beginning. Demands for Bodoland, Gorkhaland, Bundelkhand and a host of others will wait to be met. The government has opened a Pandora’s box and henceforth will find it more difficult to close it.

In the Sixties, there was a demand to include Marathi speaking Belgaum in Karnataka, Goa, Daman and Diu in Maharashtra. There are demands, feeble now, to include Oriya speaking Seraikela and Rajkharswan in Orissa. Such clamours will never cease. The fiscal situation is bad and the creation of new states will worsen it. A new state will mean a new legislature, governor, chief secretary, inspector general of police and so on. Will this be of any benefit to the people of the regions and the country?

Yours faithfully,
Jitesh Sonee, Calcutta

Sir — The states’ reorganization bill might be stuck in Parliament, but the National Democratic Alliance after all has given its approval for the creation of new states (“Delhi nod to new states”, May 14).

It is natural for the people of these regions to demand a separate state, more so since there has been little development in those areas. But the creation of smaller states is unlikely to solve the problem. The states carved out of former Assam remain underdeveloped and economically backward. Instead of sanctioning new states, the government should take effective steps to improve conditions in the regions through the development of infrastructure, land reforms and promotion of employment.

Yours faithfully,
Dipankar Bhaduri, Calcutta

Sir — “Delhi nod to new states” is a healthy development . The devolution of power from the larger to the smaller states is certainly going to ensure more efficient governance. Hopefully, the level of corruption will also decline. Uttaranchal, Jharkhand and Chattisgarh, if the bills are passed in Parliament, will open a new chapter in the Indian eco-political context. The success or failure of these states will determine the further division or consolidation of states like West Bengal where the clamour for Gorkhaland is increasing every day.

In the process, we may see the Centre emerging more confident vis à vis its relationship with the states. This augurs well for national unity. Jammu and Kashmir can also split into Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh. Once this is done, Article 370 will lapse automatically.

Yours faithfully,
Sush Kocher, Calcutta

Sir — The Bihar state assembly has ratified the Vananchal bill with numerous amendments. But there is every reason to replace the word Vananchal with Jharkhand. Jharkhand is woven in with the sentiment of the people, while Vananchal is a political creation. Thousands have sacrificed their lives for the Jharkhand movement to set right the deprivation caused by the government, the giant public sector units and private companies, which have robbed and displaced people.

It is not the will of the Central or state government that has helped the cause of statehood, but the five decades old movement which has forced the powers that be to concede to the demands. Hopefully, the bill will safeguard the rights of the tribals of Chhotanagpur and the Santhal Parganas. Ninety per cent of the seats in the assembly of the new state should be reserved for tribals. Ranchi, the proposed capital, should be a reserve constituency for tribals, as should Hazaribagh, Dhanbad, Jamshedpur and Bokaro. Further, the government should recommend adequate reservations for the scheduled tribes in government service and public sector units of the region.

Yours faithfully,
Arol Sumit Roba, Bokaro

Truth of the matter

Sir — This is with reference to the article, “Unholy row over habitat” (April 20) in the “Metro” section of The Telegraph. Not only is the above article based on apparent facts which are far from the truth, the attempt made by the writer, Madhushree C. Bhowmik, to give an impression that the article was written after ascertaining the facts from me is against all ethics.

The reporter had just met me once in the doorway and the duration of her conversation with me was not beyond a minute or two. During this meeting, I had told her there were no comments to offer.

Having been based on erroneous facts, the article has deeply pained/hurt our community.

Yours faithfully,
Rt Reverend P.S.P. Raju, Bishop of Calcutta, Calcutta

Sir — The article “Unholy Row over Habitat” is, unfortunately, not based on facts. The Rt Reverend Heber had served during 1823-27. Thus he could not have possibly built the Bishop’s House in 1849 as claimed in the blurb of the article. But more surprising is the contradiction in the text of the article where it is claimed, “The Bishop’s House constructed in 1840 by the Church of England as the Lord Bishop’s abode.”

The Bishop’s House at 52, Jawaharlal Nehru Road was not built by the church or a bishop. In time, this privately-owned property was put up for sale by one W. Birds and the then Bishop Rt Revd Daniel Wilson bought this property.

As the current owners, the diocese should have the liberty to enjoy the right of the property.

Yours faithfully,
Biman B. Mondal, Pranatiprakash Mandal and others, Baranagar

Madhushree C. Bhowmik replies: One, Rt Revd P.S.P. Raju says he “had just met me once in the doorway...” I spent over two hours, between 11 am and 1 pm on Sunday, April 16, at his residence on the premises of the St John’s Church in Dalhousie. He spoke at length about his plans to convert Bishop’s House into a multistoreyed complex to generate funds for the diocese. This was reproduced in the article.

According to the Calcutta Municipal Corporation’s draft “Inventory of Heritage Building”, “The house was constructed in the year 1849. Bishop Heber, who spent money for the St Paul’s Cathedral, was the chief mover for the construction of the Bishop’s House” (Section B. History of Construction)”.

The discrepancy in the date is an inadvertent error. The correct year is 1849.

The report was based on facts drawn from documents and interviews and it was never the intention to cause hurt to anybody. — The editor

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

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