Editorial 1/Figure conscious
Editorial 2/East wind
Malignant globality
Letters to the Editor

There are any number of significant features to be discerned in the results of the West Bengal municipal elections, depending on the point of view. That the Congress has put up a fairly respectable showing — officially 15 out of 78 municipalities — could be a starting point. This can be seen as a decline compared to the 34 municipalities it won in the 1995 polls. But that was the undivided Congress. Since Ms Mamata Banerjee departed with her Trinamool Congress contingent in 1997, the Congress in West Bengal has been less than a shadow of its former self. So this year’s figure is heartening for the party, especially in view of the fact that the Left Front has held on to only 34 municipalities of its 42 in 1995 while the Trinamool Congress-Bharatiya Janata Party has not managed to exceed 10. The last is a feather in the cap for the Congress, although the Congress-Trinamool Congress performance together still does not add up to the 1995 total. The bad news for the Left Front is the large number of “hung” verdicts. To the greater joy of the Congress however, Ms Banerjee’s party is unlikely to go places in West Bengal without a partnership with it, while the BJP appears to have failed to create a meaningful toehold. Confusingly enough, these facts can be used in favour of two conflicting but equally strong opinions within the Congress. The state Congress president, Mr A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury, and his followers, in favour of the mahajot, would point out that an undivided anti-left force could effectively put an end to the Communist Party of India (Marxist)’s antics. But his party rival, Mr Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, is already claiming that the Congress performance has proved the party’s independence, and the fact that the left has won in almost all the areas where the mahajot idea was in the air is indication of the people’s rejection of it.

Yet there may be some substance in the idea of a divided opposition. Among municipalities the Trinamool Congress wrenched from the left are Nabadwip and Englishbazar, while from the Congress it took away at least six. For the CPI(M), though, these results are proof that a united opposition would have been as toothless as this divided one, because the Left Front is still far ahead in clear majority. The fun and games have been reserved for the “hung” municipalities. Each party is confidently announcing that it is the decisive factor for each of these 21. Many of the boards will be formed through partnerships, and here the Congress-Trinamool Congress equation will have to move on a step or two. For Ms Banerjee, the time is crucial. Her reasons for not dropping the BJP at the moment are politically sound. At the same time, she will have to balance priorities and time schemes between New Delhi and West Bengal with the state assembly elections in 2001 in view. The West Bengal Congress has suddenly found itself in a position to push a little instead of begging. These elections have slightly altered equations. Not that the CPI(M) seems to be worried about an imminent catastrophe yet.    

-The week long visit of the Indian president, Mr K.R. Narayanan, to China formally marks the end of the two countries’ post-Pokhran bitterness. The two countries went out of their way to stress issues in which they shared views. They skirted the many differences that bedevil their relationship. India’s main policy goal since 1998 has been to ward off an incipient Asian cold war, a threat that followed New Delhi’s letter to Washington blaming its nuclear tests on the need to deter a Chinese threat. The Chinese president, Mr Jiang Zemin, had publicly expressed surprise and dismay at this claim. The slow but steady improvement in ties that began with Rajiv Gandhi’s 1988 visit was under threat. This presidential visit is designed to send the signal that India remains committed to the overall policy of normalizing relations with China. The hasty comments following Pokhran II notwithstanding, there are no reasons for hostile relations between New Delhi and Beijing.

China also put as positive a spin as possible to the visit. For the first time, it agreed with India on the need for greater international cooperation to combat terrorism. It would have been too much to expect it to agree to a specific mention of Pakistan. India iterated that Tibet was an integral part of China. Beijing expressed its appreciation of the tact with which New Delhi handled the karmapa lama’s defection. The two countries also spoke of their common desire for a multipolar world. This was also more sentiment than substance. Neither country has shown the slightest signs of coordinating their respective policies against the United States. They also agreed the United Nations security council needed to be more representative. However, Beijing did not endorse India’s permanent membership. This tentativeness is not a surprise. The two Asian giants have major bilateral differences that need to be bridged before they can claim to be strategic brethren. The two presidents spoke of their intention to find an amicable and mutually acceptable solution to the border problem. A greater concern, about which neither spoke publicly, is the degree and depth of China’s military cooperation with Pakistan. This, even more than 1962, continues to cloud bilateral relations. India’s letter to Washington represented a genuine school of thought in New Delhi, a school inspired by the Chinese connection in Pakistan’s missile and nuclear programmes. There is no Sino-Indian honeymoon in the offing. The two countries barely even trade with each other. Mr Narayanan’s visit was about the two once more agreeing that while they did not have too much in common, their differences were not too great either. And that both countries were agreeable to moving forward on the common concerns rather than the differences.    

It will be foolhardy to let the current hype about the rise of mini-Silicon Valleys in the southern states, the prospect of the country’s emergence as an information technology superpower and the boom in the demand for the services of Indian software engineers abroad cozen the national ego. The sharp ups and downs in the values of info-tech scrips on the stock exchange, their extreme sensitivity to developments in the countries at the cutting edge of the ongoing digital revolution and the wider context of the national economy ought rather to make policymakers keep their fingers crossed as they think about the future.

This is not to underestimate the dramatic growth in software exports or its role in easing the balance of payments difficulties, and the many ways in which advances at home in the info-tech field can in the long run help upgrade other sectors of the economy and make their products more competitive in the world market. Nevertheless, only a deeper understanding of both the visible and invisible hands of the global superbazaar can enable the government to cope with the forces which, though they affect the nation in many ways and shape its future, are often beyond its control.

The globalization process, as a contemporary German thinker, Ulrich Beck, explains in a recent book, is no longer what it used to be in the first age of modernity. It could then be understood “within the territorial compass of state and politics, society and culture”. In the last few decades its character has altered radically. In what Beck calls the second age of modernity, “we live in a multidimensional, polycentric, contingent, political world society in which transnational and national actors play a cat-and-mouse game with each other.” It should not be too hard for a third world society like India’s to apprehend its place in this game.

The irony of the new cat-and-mouse game between transnational and national actors is that it is by no means poor countries alone which find themselves among the rodents. Even many affluent nations partially lose control over their internal affairs, unable to deal with the “disorganized capitalism” which is as much a product of the globalization process in its new phase as a world society without a world state. As Beck argues, “it is not a question of demonizing world economic activities. Rather, the primacy and diktat of the world market, as promulgated in the neo-liberal ideology of globalism, has to be exposed for what it is: an antiquated economism projected on a gigantic scale…a social revolution from above passing itself off as non-political. It is the glint in the eyes of the neo-liberal world improvers which can really give one a fright.”

In diagnosing the thought-virus of globalism, Beck often leans on the discoveries made by the founding fathers of sociology. Max Weber, for instance, had warned long before the dawn of the info-tech age that “the world economy of the doctrine of free trade is a utopia without a world state and full equality in the cultural level of mankind”. Beck’s attack on neo-liberalism is directed largely at its demand that “everyone and everything—politics, science, culture—must be subordinated to the primacy of the economic”. The ideological irony here, as in the case of making a fetish of new technologies and ever higher productivity levels, is the meeting of contraries.

Referring to the primacy of the economic, Beck contends with tongue in cheek: “In a way neo-liberal globalism thus resembles its arch-enemy, Marxism. It is the rebirth of Marxism, as a management ideology—a kind of New Ageism, a revivalist movement whose apostles and prophets, instead of handing out leaflets at underground stations, preach the salvation of the world in the spirit of the marketplace.” The trouble with this spirit in its new avatar which informs all parties and institutions in most parts of the world is its very omnipresence. It is as hard for any country to get rid of it as to opt out of the world market.

It is well nigh impossible for a developing society like India, which is desperately short of investment capital, dependent on access to new technology and arms, and under extreme pressure to step up its exports to keep its trade deficit within manageable limits, to do so. Things being what they are, autarky is a mirage. A more realistic diagnosis of the thought-virus that makes the globalization process in its present form so threatening is necessary to get a clearer idea of what the country is up against.

“We are lived by powers we pretend to understand,” a poet warned us back in the Thirties. These powers have acquired a more seductive as well as a more sinister look in the intervening years and we need to comprehend them in all their ramifications before we can hope to cope with them.

The symptoms of the disease with which these powers have infected the world are all too obvious except to those spellbound by the means of instant communication, the power of the new media as a source of entertainment and as a means of giving viewers the feeling of being present wherever the scene of action may be. It is chipping away the welfare state in the affluent societies and boring holes in the mantle of sovereignty of poor nations, restricting their freedom in their own territory through new hegemonic structures, adverse terms of trade, economic sanctions and curbs on transfers of technology.

If even powerful states like Germany cannot heal the wounds inflicted on them by globalization and by technologies of work without labour, resulting in an increasing number of unemployed, it is not too hard to imagine the plight of third world societies, most of which are losers in the new global game. India’s decision to acquire a credible nuclear deterrent may be right or wrong. Yet, it can no longer be under any illusion in regard to its staggering costs in both political and economic terms. It is being daily reminded by the United States that even in matters concerning national security, it is not free to go by its own perception.

Beck’s main charge against the winners in the game of globality is the cynical way in which they reduce the complexity of the new forces at work to a single dimension which itself is conceived in a linear fashion as a “constant expansion of the world market” to the exclusion of ecological risks, cultural hybridization, political polycentrism and “the emergence of transnational spaces and identities”.

The chicanery of the whole business lies in the fact that the subvertors of social solidarity are precisely “those whose handkerchiefs are not large enough for the tears they shed in public over the loss of community”.

Beck exposes the hypocrisy of the claim that globalism is the best answer to the many social evils confronting the world. Free trade will even protect the environment, it is contended, since “competitive pressures force actors to be sparing with resources”. The bitter truth, on the contrary, Beck points out, is that “high unemployment in the third world and post-communist Europe forces the governments there to pursue an export-oriented economic policy at the price of poor social and environmental standards” and compete for foreign capital with “pitiful working conditions and no-union zones” at home.

Few apart from the winners in the cat-and-mouse global game will dismiss lightly Beck’s radical critique of the new malignancy which entrusts the future of mankind to the continued expansion of the world market. Nor can the causes of the malady he diagnoses so carefully be understood by invoking the old ideological divide and indulging in what he calls leftwing or rightwing nostalgia. What needs to be grasped is the “structurally revolutionary dynamism” of the globalizing forces at work everywhere and the impossibility of countering it with action by individual states in their own separate ways.

The point which Beck tries hard to drive home to those who can see how globalism is jeopardizing the world’s future is that the kind of transnational challenges the new forces at work pose can be met, if at all, only through concerted international action on a scale which assumes the organization of something approaching a transnational state. “The question of why states should merge is best answered by reference to state egoism,” he argues. “Only then can they renew their soverei- gnty within the framework of a world society.”

To call it a quixotic proposition is not to cast doubt on Beck’s sincerity of purpose or the acuity of his critique. The point is that to wish away the conflicting interests of a hundred states at different levels of development is as good as to hope against hope that the malign dynamics of the globalization process will somehow take a benign turn one day.

Even if the second Enlightenment Beck dreams of materializes, how can we be sure that it would have a global reach and that the rationality it fosters would acquire a moral edge which the first miserably failed to?    


Her husband’s voice

Sir — Manoj Prabhakar’s wife Sandhya seems to be cherishing “their” moment of triumph — as long as it lasts that is (“What’s the reaction in Dhaka, asks wife”, May 29). It appears that after undergoing an excruciating time over the past six years, it is time they rightly proved that every dog has his day. In her jubilation for giving others a tough time — notably Indian cricketers in Dhaka desperately trying to “concentrate” on the Asia Cup — is she aware that it may only take another disclosure to make the winds blow against Prabhakar’s favour? In his ostensible bid to exonerate cricket from muck and filth, it won’t take long for Prabhakar to get hit hard. Already, the grapevine has it that Prabhakar himself is a prime suspect in matchfixing allegations. Sandhya Prabhakar may be convinced her husband has done something to make cricket proud. But she should beware that the heartiest laugh is by those who laugh last.

Yours faithfully,
Priya Sehgal, Calcutta

Sir — No one believed Manoj Prabhakar’s repeated allegations that matchfixing was widely prevalent in Indian cricket and that many cricketers and offcials were in the know and involved. But after watching the secretly shot videocassettes that Prabhakar recently showed at a press conference there can be no doubts that Kapil Dev, Mohammed Azharuddin, Ajay Jadeja and Nayan Mongia are involved in matchfixing. And that Jagmohan Dalmiya is their kingpin.

Some people have questioned the value of the cassettes as evidence. They should recall that in the United States, “Monicagate” broke with the secretly taped conversations of the White House intern. Even in India, the courts accepted videocassettes as evidence in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case. One thing the cassettes do is give prima facie proof of crime. The government should divest Dalmiya of his position, institute an inquiry by a judge other than Y.V. Chandrachud, whose earlier report was an eyewash, direct the income tax department to take action and remove tainted players from the team until they are proved innocent.

Yours faithfully,
Ravindra Pateriya, Calcutta

Sir — For years I was an avid fan of one day internationals, ignoring my other passion — group theatre. I allowed myself to be conned. Both sets of actors — on the pitch and on the stage — play to scripts given them. The only difference is that the latter don’t cheat. Manoj Prabhakar and I.S. Bindra are no angels but they have the advantage of being insiders with the grit to fight.

Congratulations to Prabhakar for the tehelka.com website story that, to me, was a clincher. How can a game prosper when the man who could not even successfully complete a World Cup semifinal in his own backyard, messed up the multimillion rupee opening ceremony (the imported design engineer did not make allowances for breeze from the river and the anchorperson got the team names wrong, much to the participants’ annoyance) and cheated Doordarshan to enrich his friends in WorldTel is allowed to run the entire show and manipulate his way to the top spot of the International Cricket Council? I don’t want to know whether the Asia Cup is washed out or which team is nominated champions in a clandestine hotel room parley. It is a pity for the sponsors who will find many viewers put off by the television advertisements that continue to be aired.

Yours faithfully,
Aroonava Dasgupta, Calcutta

Sir — And the national award this year for best acting goes to...cricket icon Kapil Dev. He could have been as accomplished an actor as he was a cricketer. “I am ashamed to be a sportsperson” was Kapil Dev’s comment after Hansie Cronje confessed to involvement in matchfixing. Perhaps Kapil Dev was ashamed of Cronje’s confession, not of his involvement. During Kargil, it was Kapil Dev who emphatically urged India to stop playing Pakistan. How could the same person ask Prabhakar to underperform in a match against Pakistan in the 1994 Singer Cup? Kapil Dev obviously has immense histrionic potential. He should make a move towards Bollywood.

Yours faithfully,
Amarjeet Singh, Calcutta

Sir — In a country where most politicians, bureaucrats and traders are dishonest, why do Indians look for honesty in cricketers? Cricketers are a part of society and can only be as honest or dishonest as everyone else. They have numerous opportunities to make a fast buck, the chances of investigation and punishment of culprits being nil. This itself is a great incentive for dishonesty. If all the dishonest are put in jail, who would mind the gates? Besides, who would pay money to the Indian team to lose? It is something that comes naturally to them.

Yours faithfully,
N.M. Pisipati, via email

Sir — Most people have damned Manoj Prabhakar for accusing Kapil Dev without enough evidence. The defenders of Kapil are propelled by the “he can do no wrong” syndrome and forget the truth is often much more subtle.

The right approach, in light of the videocassettes, would have been to keep an open mind. It should be asked why he kept stalling when it came to providing evidence, while continuing with his accusations against the high and mighties of Indian cricket. The episode should instead be viewed as a cleansing act. Anyone willing to remove the filth should be supported.

The lesson to be derived from this is the importance of objectivity, the exercise of which would have saved a lot of embarrassment.

Yours faithfully,
Sunjay Somani, via email

Fencing facts

Sir — The West Bengal government’s attention has been drawn to the news report, “Bengal hurdle in border fence plan” (May 24). The report was incorrect. The government of India has sanctioned 507 kilometres of fencing, of which 481 kms have already been completed as of November 1999 by the central public works department. The CPWD, which is the executing authority of the project, expects to complete the task by March 2001.

No proposal to acquire land for fencing is pending with the state government. Land acquisition for the border roads has been completed, except for a few small stretches because of court cases, adverse possession and so on.

West Bengal has already proposed fencing the entire border. Subsequently, the government of India has agreed to sanction additional 888 kms stretch of fencing, but the formal approval is yet to be received. The allegations that the state government “is going slow” and not “following ministry’s guidelines” are baseless.

Yours faithfully,
T.P. Ghosh, director and ex officio joint secretary, department of information and cultural affairs, West Bengal government, Calcutta

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

Maintained by Web Development Company