Editorial 1/Phoney ethic
Editorial 2/Prayed upon
Letters to the Editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1/PHONEY ETHIC 
 
 
 
 
The Indian prime minister, Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee, had developed the image of a political leader willing to stand firm against economic populism. In okaying Mr Ram Vilas Paswan’s plan to give free phone calls to telecommunications ministry employees, Mr Vajpayee has shown himself to be cut from the same profligate cloth as scores of Indian leaders before him. His fiscally irresponsible predecessors are the reason India today staggers on the edge of an internal debt chasm. The prime minister had been projecting a vision of austerity and long term fiscal stability. “The government cannot afford to waste a single investible rupee,” he recently said. Though he has made the odd concession to various lobby groups, Mr Vajpayee showed mettle in resisting demands from the ruling National Democratic Alliance to roll back increases in the prices of kerosene and ration shop grain. For him to now surrender to Mr Paswan’s pointless largesse is inexplicable. First, providing free telephones and calls to telecom ministry employees is a subsidy wholly lacking any merit. It constitutes pandering to 320,000 middle class employees and passing on the costs to consumers. Second, the actual cost of this subsidy is unknown. Mr Paswan is bandying around figures of Rs 680 million a year. The Union finance minister, Mr Yashwant Sinha, has put the annual figure in the region of four billion rupees. Working out the economic costs of services is a complex business. At the very minimum, a determination of the costs was needed. Mr Vajpayee gave a green signal without having any idea how much damage Mr Paswan’s scheme will do to the exchequer.

The prime minister may have opened the floodgates. At least three other NDA allies — notably Ms Mamata Banerjee, Mr Sharad Yadav and Mr Manohar Joshi — have fought a determined guerrilla war against the privatization of public sector units and various subsidy cuts. Bharatiya Janata Party members are not immune. Mr Ram Naik’s promise of 10 million concessional cooking gas cylinder connections may cost the government Rs 22 billion. The other monster that has been aroused is demands from other public sector workers for similar privileges. Similar special deals for employees have helped drive Air India and Indian Airlines into bankruptcy. The petroleum sector unions are demanding cooking gas cylinders be given away to them. Subsidies inflict a cost on some other part of society — in the form of inflation, in the building of less schools or hospitals, in higher taxes. Public sector employees are the least deserving group when it comes to subsidies. Which makes it all the more unfortunate Mr Vajpayee should transfer money to them from the rest of the population, gift wrapped and carrying a card signed with the compliments of Mr Paswan.

Churches with high security arrangements are a shameful comment on the state of freedom in the country. But this is happening. The explosions in four churches in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Goa five days ago came as a change in the unbroken chain of attacks on Christian schools, missionaries and clergy. A priest had been murdered in Mathura the day before and a missionary was found murdered in Chandigarh three days later. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India has decided to meet the prime minister with a delegation of archbishops to request him to look after the security of the minority communities in the country. This is not the first time an official Christian body is meeting the prime minister on this issue. But nothing has happened to improve matters over the last three years that the attacks on Christians have accelarated.

The church blasts raise a number of questions. They are remarkable for having occurred in south India, a region so far almost free from attacks on Christians. Besides, the style of the attacks is uncharacteristic of the thuggism of the militant branches of the sangh parivar and those criminals who have jumped on the saffron bandwagon in order to loot, rape and burn. Synchronized bomb blasts are not quite their style. This is the reason behind speculations about interstate extremist groups having set off the explosions — two of the churches were in Andhra Pradesh — and also about the possible involvement of the Inter-Services Intelligence. It might be recalled that an explosive device had been placed in a temple in Vijayawada while the blasts hit the churches. That the device in the temple did not go off need not necessarily suggest that ultra-Hindu forces were behind this little spree of destruction too. Their responsibility lies elsewhere. If extremists of various persuasions or even destabilizing elements from across the border are to blame for the church explosions, it is clear they are fattening on a cleavage that has been created in Indian society. As long as a minority community is made the target of unchecked bullying by criminal elements masquerading as representatives of some kind of religious ideology, other disruptive and predatory elements will have a field day. For the National Democratic Alliance government, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party, this is a serious failure. Perhaps the fact that the attacks this time have been concentrated in Andhra Pradesh will serve as a shake up. Mr N. Chandrababu Naidu is too valued an ally, and Mr Naidu is unlikely to go easy when minorities in his state are threatened. The saffron brethren may have a free run of Uttar Pradesh since the BJP is confident of having the state in its pocket. But if it fails to penalize violence against Christians this time, it may find that the going is getting rougher.    


 
 
EDITORIAL 2/PRAYED UPON 
 
 
 
 
Churches with high security arrangements are a shameful comment on the state of freedom in the country. But this is happening. The explosions in four churches in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Goa five days ago came as a change in the unbroken chain of attacks on Christian schools, missionaries and clergy. A priest had been murdered in Mathura the day before and a missionary was found murdered in Chandigarh three days later. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India has decided to meet the prime minister with a delegation of archbishops to request him to look after the security of the minority communities in the country. This is not the first time an official Christian body is meeting the prime minister on this issue. But nothing has happened to improve matters over the last three years that the attacks on Christians have accelarated.

The church blasts raise a number of questions. They are remarkable for having occurred in south India, a region so far almost free from attacks on Christians. Besides, the style of the attacks is uncharacteristic of the thuggism of the militant branches of the sangh parivar and those criminals who have jumped on the saffron bandwagon in order to loot, rape and burn. Synchronized bomb blasts are not quite their style. This is the reason behind speculations about interstate extremist groups having set off the explosions — two of the churches were in Andhra Pradesh — and also about the possible involvement of the Inter-Services Intelligence. It might be recalled that an explosive device had been placed in a temple in Vijayawada while the blasts hit the churches. That the device in the temple did not go off need not necessarily suggest that ultra-Hindu forces were behind this little spree of destruction too. Their responsibility lies elsewhere. If extremists of various persuasions or even destabilizing elements from across the border are to blame for the church explosions, it is clear they are fattening on a cleavage that has been created in Indian society. As long as a minority community is made the target of unchecked bullying by criminal elements masquerading as representatives of some kind of religious ideology, other disruptive and predatory elements will have a field day. For the National Democratic Alliance government, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party, this is a serious failure. Perhaps the fact that the attacks this time have been concentrated in Andhra Pradesh will serve as a shake up. Mr N. Chandrababu Naidu is too valued an ally, and Mr Naidu is unlikely to go easy when minorities in his state are threatened. The saffron brethren may have a free run of Uttar Pradesh since the BJP is confident of having the state in its pocket. But if it fails to penalize violence against Christians this time, it may find that the going is getting rougher.    


 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Women on top

Sir — It is surprising to find that some people are expecting a “qualitative change in the functioning” of the corporation on account of 51 “women” councillors, like Archana Bhattacharya or Chandrima Bhattacharya, and mourning the lack of any (“Talk about a revolution”, June 11). Should we support women’s reservation with the notion that better female representation will ensure a less corrupt government, going by the cliché that women are less corrupt than men? Such simplification is built upon crass stereotypes. One might then assume that the women’s reservations bill, still waiting to be passed in Parliament, will ensure 33 per cent less corruption, as well as 33 per cent better functioning of Parliament. Better still, since the country is suffering from the doings of dishonest parliamentarians, it may be considered whether the entire house should not be represented by women. Is it this logic that made the writer say “women councillors barely make any difference”?

Yours faithfully,
Sweta Das Gupta, Calcutta

Healthy competition

Sir — As a member of the high level committee on competition policy, I am responding to the points made in the editorial, “Monomania” (May 30). The editorial says that the committee is focused on preventing monopolies. This is not true. In fact, the committee has repeatedly emphasized that it wishes to encourage dominance. It has also emphasized the need for Indian companies to grow much larger to meet foreign competition. The committee was only concerned with the need to control the abuse of dominance. The abuse of dominance is controlled and regulated all over the world.

The committee has also recommended repealing the Monopolies and Restricted Trade Practices Act, a proposal which has been widely welcomed. However, the MRTP Act contains important provisions relating to restrictive trade practices which cannot be altogether omitted if the existing act is repealed. That is why it has suggested that those provisions be transferred to the proposed competition act and those relating to unfair trade practices be transferred to the relevant consumer protection laws.

The editorial is right in emphasizing that anti-monopoly activity is not the same as a competition policy. However, the committee’s report goes far beyond the attempt to control monopoly. The positive recommendations of the committee do not appear to have been recognized. For example, the possibility of easy but not necessarily cheap exit.

The proposal to repeal the Sick Industries Act and disband the board for industrial and financial reconstruction. The proposal for more open and non-discriminatory trade policies. The proposal to remove discrimination in favour of the public sector and the proposal for gradual dereservation of the small scale sector.

Competition is an attitude which cannot be promoted by legislation alone but legislation is necessary to rid the economy of anti-competition obstacles.

We definitely need to prevent the formation of cartels and the abuse of dominance. We need an authority to ensure fair and proper competition along the lines of the referee in a sporting contest who ensures adherence to the rules of the game without participating in it. Thus the recommendation for an independent and autonomous competition commission. The proposed commission is not a bureaucratic body but has been conceived as a quasi-judicial one. It has not been given excessive powers. Like the referee in a sport, it will not participate in the game but surely the game cannot be played without a referee. The competition commission is certainly not obsessed with the need to control monopoly as the editorial suggests.

In a note, I did not object to the possible need for a scrutiny of mergers if they were anti-competition. My objection was only to the need for pre-notification of mergers. As was pointed out by Tarun Das, director general of the Confederation of Indian Industries, the proposed competition policy is only the beginning — after a long period of economic repression. This effort should be encouraged and facilitated.

Yours faithfully,
Pesi M. Narielvala, via email

Sir — The Microsoft break up contains a lot of lessons for India. For one, no company is above the market or consumer. This is especially relevant in a country where the government has a stake in many businesses, from making steel to running hotels. Two, now that India is opening its market it needs to be careful that its own domestic industries are not harmed by unfair business practices by foreign multinationals with deep pockets. Above all, the interests of workers need to be safeguarded. It is hoped the new competition policy keeps all these issues in mind.

Yours faithfully,
Saheli Banerjee, Calcutta

Face of cruelty

Sir — The report “Police torture cripples 26-year old” (June 1) rightly deserved to be put on the front page. One feels ashamed to be an an Indian living in a country where such atrocities among the police have become the order of the day. More shocking is the fact that even after the matter was taken up by the national human rights commission, nothing much has actually been done. The Uttar Pradesh government has been asked to arrange for Rakesh Vij’s medical treatment. It is not surprising the authorities have refused to comply with the request.

The Telegraph has done well to highlight this sordid episode. A fund collection drive can be organized so that concerned readers can make contributions to ensure Vij recovers from this traumatic experience. One might ask why Vij should get special attention among numerous other victims of the same malevolence. But Vij’s story is particularly touching. We ordinary citizens may not have the power or the resources to change the way things are or punish the perpetrators of this crime. But we can do something for the victim, as has been proved by the overwhelming response to the Kargil Fund.

Yours faithfully,
Ranjan Guha Majumder, Calcutta

Sir — The horror story of Rakesh Vij is ample testimony to police atrocities on the innocent. The third degree methods often adopted by the police to extract confessions should not be allowed under any circumstances. Shouldn’t the police be prosecuted for having tortured Vij without a shred of evidence or justification? Words will fail to bring solace to Vij and his family. I appeal to the government to introduce a legislation that will stop the sadistic aggression of the police.

Yours faithfully,
K.R. Venkatasubramanian, Calcutta

Sir — So what happened to the policemen who performed the heroics on Rakesh Vij? Their plum jobs weren’t taken away. What at best could have happened is a suspension, which anyway is not considered a punishment among government employees. For a start, the policemen can be made made to foot his entire medical bill and make good his family’s economic loss.

Policemen from the lower rungs may be “unreasonable”. But what about their cultured bosses who carry the Indian police service badge? Could they not have intervened to save Vij?

Yours faithfully,
Arta Mishra, Cuttack

Sir — The police force has turned into a major instrument of terror. The inhuman torture of Rakesh Vij is a rude shock to our senses. When the Pakistan government returned the mutilated bodies of some of our soldiers, Indian blood had boiled in rage. Yet the same kind of brutality within the country has never evoked the same response. And what are our nongovernmental organizations and national human rights commission doing?

Yours faithfully,
Piyali Manna, Calcutta

Sir — Rakesh Vij’s torture shows the psychology of violence that permeates Indian society. This violence and sadism are reflected in the films as well. And some people imitate reel life in real life. The police in Vij’s case were probably doing just that.

Yours faithfully,
Rajeev Bagra, Naihati

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