Colour of cricket
Half a cake
Hard drive freedom
Letters to the Editor
Rule of science/Book review
Hot, dusty and not a little bothered/Book review
Against the grain/Book review
Fundamentalist blockbuster/Book review
Judging a book by its cover/Bookwise

Cricket is a white man’s game which has now been appropriated by the people of the third world who play the game. This might sound far fetched but is the truth. Money-spinning which is the other name of cricket these days is impossible without the popular enthusiasm associated with cricket in south Asia. Cricket frenzy in India and Pakistan brings in the sponsors and the television companies vying to buy rights for telecasting the matches — this is where the money comes from. Not from the few thousands of people who trickle in to watch a match at Lord’s, Headingley and Old Trafford. This shift in the balance of power within the world of cricket was reflected in the election of Mr Jagmohan Dalmiya as chairman of the International Cricket Council. Mr Dalmiya’s election was possible because he successfully brought together the various representatives of the third world countries — especially those from Asia to speak in one voice and to pursue a common agenda. The hegemony that the white man had over the affairs of the ICC was thus broken. Mr Dalmiya’s tenure was thus imbued with a certain political significance. His term is now coming to an end but Mr Dalmiya has ensured that the work he has started of keeping together the cricketing countries of Asia continues outside the domain of the ICC. Mr Dalmiya has floated for this purpose a body called the Asian Cricket Federation.

It is no exaggeration to say that in no sphere has the Anglo-Saxon world given a fair deal to its former colonies. Sports is no exception. Take the case of hockey. This was a game in which, even in the recent past, India and Pakistan excelled. Success in hockey then depended on deft stick work at which the south Asian players excelled. Under the supervision of white administrators, the game of hockey was transformed: rules were changed and even the surface. Success in hockey was no longer dependent on stick work but on fitness, stamina and long hits. An Indian game became a white man’s game and India lost its preeminent position. There is always the danger that the same thing might happen in cricket especially as the rise of India and Pakistan are relatively recent. The initiative to set up an Asian Cricket Federation is a step to safeguard against such an eventuality. It will provide a forum for the Asian cricket playing countries to come together to discuss their problems and even to organize their own tournaments. It will serve as an alternative power focus to the ICC. Its presence will ensure that the ICC does not become a pocket borough — as it had a tendency to become in the past — of the white cricketing nations. The sun set a long time ago on the British Empire. Shadows are now lengthening on Lord’s.    

If nothing else, the Group of Fifteen summits serve as a benchmark for Indian foreign policy. The other 16 members provide a rough gauge of thinking among the larger third world nations. India had two main interests at the agenda it took to the recent G-15 ministerial conference in Cairo, Egypt. It succeeded in rallying support for its position on terrorism. However, it found a cool reception to its hopelessly negative stance on a new millennium round of World Trade Organization talks. In preparation for the United Nations summit in September, India has quietly garnered support at various international fora for the UN convention against terrorism. Terrorism will be one of the issues at the UN summit and New Delhi clearly hopes to have cross border or state sponsored terrorism denounced internationally. This will not only serve to isolate Pakistan but also convert Kashmir into a terrorist issue, rather than one of human rights or self-determination. India has already been able to put together bilateral terrorist agreements with major countries like the United States and Russia. Getting the G-15 countries, which include four members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, to endorse the convention will make life diplomatically more difficult for Pakistan.

This success was partially offset by the repetition by the Union commerce minister, Mr Murasoli Maran, of the standard Indian government position on a new millennium round of trade talks. This begins with a litany of complaints. That pieces of the previous Uruguay round have not been implemented in the way India would have liked. That the rich countries never provided the special and differential treatment it was supposed to give to third world exports. They failed to grant the sort of market access for third world textiles, leather goods and so on that the South had expected. In addition, a whole fleet of new protectionist devices have been introduced the past few years. Finally, the rich nations are pushing for trade to be linked to a whole slew of nontrade issues like labour standards and environmental policy. Most of this agenda has little credibility. Promises of special treatment and market access mean nothing if they are not specified and on paper. New protectionist barriers keep coming up all the time. India is among the countries that use such devices. No country, rich or poor, is fully satisfied with the Uruguay round. That is exactly why so many countries are calling for a millennium round of negotiations — to tidy up loose ends, put new issues on the table and otherwise get things moving on all fronts. India’s opposition to new issues continues to find few takers among its G-15 colleagues. It is noticeable the summit could only agree on opposing labour and environment standards. A blinkered New Delhi continues to fear rather than welcome the opportunities provided by free trade.    

India’s electronic commerce and software sectors are jubilant that both houses of Parliament have passed the information technology bill, with two controversial provisions being dropped. Clause 73, reportedly the brainchild of the Delhi police, would have required cybercafés to maintain a list of all websites that their customers visited. Parliament rightly rejected this as being unconstitutional as well as unenforceable.

The other clause that was dropped would have required owners of all websites to provide detailed information to a registrar. In addition to being an infringement of privacy, this was unnecessary duplication since the applicant for a domain name has to provide identification to domain registrars such as InterNic or the National Centre for Software Technology. India thus avoided joining the company of Azerbaijan, Belarus, Myanmar, China, Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Libya, North Korea, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Syria, Tajikistan, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam. According to Reporters Sans Frontières, these are the only countries which require internet service providers and cybercafés to monitor the conduct of their subscribers.

Surprisingly, several Western democracies are proposing to enact laws much more restrictive of individual freedoms than the two clauses that India’s parliament rejected as a violation of fundamental rights. The British parliament is currently debating the regulation of investigatory powers bill which would force ISPs to provide complete information about all their subscribers to the police. The United Kingdom’s security agency, MI5, would install surveillance equipment at every ISP, permitting real-time monitoring of each and every email, website visited, and banking and e-commerce transaction.

Home Secretary Jack Straw stated: “We’ve seen the growth of very strong encryption codes, virtually unreadable, which are good for e-commerce security but can be used by criminals, terrorists and paedophiles…Under this bill, people who refuse to reveal their encryption keys to the police can face a two-year jail sentence.”

France’s parliament is currently debating a law which would require authors of internet content to identify themselves completely, just like publishers of newspapers. They could risk six months’ imprisonment and a 7,000 euros fine for providing false information. ISPs and webmasters would be required to maintain detailed information about their subscribers and provide these to the police.

Surprisingly, the British and French bills are supported by the co-inventor of the World Wide Web, Robert Cailliau of CERN Geneva: “All internet users should be licensed so that surfers on the information highway are as accountable as drivers on the road. Registration of servers and websites would help trace child pornography and racist sites.”

Economists have argued that the British and French bills would greatly harm the economies of these two countries by stifling electronic commerce. Proponents of free speech have also condemned them. Cormac Callanan, president of EuroISPA, the European association of ISPs, attacked the French bill: “A mistake made while registering a subscriber could land webmasters and ISP executives in prison for six months…Regulations framed under this bill may extend the policing duties of ISPs to monitoring individuals in chat rooms, bulletin boards and discussion groups.”

A major reason behind the British and French bills is that their security agencies are worried about software programmes like Freenet, developed a few months ago by a proponent of individual liberty, 23 year old Ian Clarke of Ireland. He developed Freenet for his undergraduate thesis in computer science at the University of Edinburgh and has already distributed 35,000 copies worldwide, free of charge.

Clarke explained: “Freenet provides complete anonymity both for those publishing information and those reading it, protecting users of the system from censorship of any form. Unlike newspapers and television, a person’s ability to publish and communicate information will not depend on his personal wealth or power. The worth of his ideas will be determined solely by how many people want to read them. Freenet spreads information around thousands of computers so that it is virtually impossible for any agency to destroy or forcibly remove a particular piece of information, or find out who is reading it, or who published it in the first place, making censorship impossible.”

Freenet uses the internet as a giant communal hard drive. Volunteers (35,000 so far) become Freenet nodes by installing the Freenet programme and agreeing to allot a certain number of megabytes on their hard drives for storage of Freenet files. When someone uploads a file, Freenet seeks another node at random to store it. The stored file is given a key, Freenet’s equivalent of a Web URL.

The identity of the person who uploaded the file is encrypted and made anonymous. The file is no longer on his hard drive, having migrated to another computer at random. The latter’s owners will also not know that they are storing that particular file on their hard drive because it has been encrypted. All they will know is that some unidentifiable thing is taking up space on their hard drive. When another person wants to download that particular file, he enters the key and the Freenet programme searches the nodes until it finds it.

It then downloads a copy of the file without identifying the recipient, or the storage site, or the uploader. The keywords used to search the network for files are also scrambled, making it almost impossible for anyone to find out who is hosting what, or who is looking for what particular piece of information. Even the act of trying to determine where a particular information is stored will result in that information moving to other nodes.

The entire process is done free-of-charge. Keith Akerman, Britain’s chief police officer handling computer crimes, attacked Freenet: “Freenet will provide a haven for criminals, terrorists and child pornographers. While I’m all for freedom of speech, Freenet will severely impede our ability to investigate cybercrimes.”

Roger Darlington, chairman of Britain’s Internet Watch Foundation, which monitors the internet for illegal material, agreed: “Freenet will be misused by criminals, terrorists and paedophiles, with no risk of getting caught.” Clarke did not dispute these criticisms, but clarified: “Freenet is a medium for freely broadcasting information to the entire world and does not make value judgments. While I hope that people under oppressive governments will use Freenet to describe their plight without retribution, it is certainly possible for a terrorist to publish on it.

“A document on Freenet is like an anonymous letter to the New York Times — but one that always gets published. Terrorists are unlikely to tell the entire world their secret plans. Pornographers gain no benefit from distributing their images for free. Freenet judges information based on its popularity. If humanity is very interested in pornography, then pornography will be a big part of Freenet.”

Clarke designed Freenet’s anonymizer and encryption features specifically to protect its volunteers against legal liability. The Federal Bureau of Investigation in the United States has admitted that judges would be reluctant to convict anyone even if the Freenet files that they hosted on their hard drives were proved to contain illegal material.

An FBI spokesperson, Ramiro Escudero, explained: “Clarke’s argument would go like this: Someone left a locked suitcase on my porch in my absence. I can prove that the suitcase doesn’t belong to me, I can prove that I don’t know who left it, I can prove I don’t have a key, I can prove that I have no idea what’s inside it. All I did was volunteer at a town meeting that any resident of the town could leave their belongings on my porch for safe storage. How was I to know that it contained cocaine or explosives?” Escudero added: “With these arguments, most judges would not hold you criminally liable.”    


A peg in time

Sir — A peg or two is hardly a great price to pay for a state’s economic prosperity (“Psst! Gujarat won’t mind a peg”, June 21). Gujarat is on its way to opening up the hitherto closed doors to liquor manufacturers, no matter how vehemently the state’s prohibition minister might want to enforce the liquor ban “in the land of Gandhi”. Let’s face the truth. Liquor has become a part of corporate life and bans on its sale deter multinational investments. The governments must grow up. And if Gandhian ideals are at stake, then one might ask to what extent these are adhered to in other spheres of Indian public life. The decision to close all liquor shops in polling areas a day before the elections is ridiculous. Calcutta is a recent case in point. Those who need their alcohol to create trouble build up their stocks from before and it is the moderate, social drinker who is victimized in the process. If it takes investment cuts to bring governments to change their liquor policies, so be it.

Yours faithfully,
Soumyadeep Chakraborty, Howrah

Short circuit

Sir — Renu M.R. Kakkar takes a positive, analytical approach to the West Bengal State Electricity Board’s proposal of raising bonds to settle dues of the National Thermal Power Corporation, Coal India Limited and other debtors (“State power board weighs bond option to clear arrears”, June 1). Bonds will help WBSEB discharge its liabilities to debtors without mobilizing its own resources out of receivables. But it is doubtful whether merely raising bonds on government guarantees without making any changes in the present management will help WBSEB achieve financial viability.

The restructuring of state electricity boards has been much discussed in recent times. The Power Finance Corporation initiated the idea of establishing the creditworthiness of SEBs about 10 years ago. Diagnostic studies were conducted at that time by various consultants which identified reasons for their sickness, posed ways and means to restructure SEBs and suggested remedial measures for weak links. But these were not acted upon.

The problems of SEBs are prolonged neglect of the distribution sector and failure to commercialize the operation at the grassroots level by ensuring stable power supply and regular realization of bills from consumers. Power can only be sold on credit for a period not exceeding 48-60 days and billing cycles need to be introduced accordingly. Non-payment of bills must be dealt with sternly. The general feeling that big consumers can get away while the smaller fish are penalized must be dispelled.

A hundred per cent billing through meters is a must for financial and technical accounting of the energy generated, sold and lost. The present line loss figures are by and large estimates. Apparently a bill is being enacted to take care of this issue. But where is the need for a new law since provisions in existing acts adequately cover this issue? A strong will, backed by some law enforcing agency, is needed to tackle the phenomenon of defaulting.

However, WBSEB too is tardy in its payments to the NTPC. The CESC, which faces similar problems in realizing bills from consumers, also keeps WBSEB bills pending. As power suppliers, the NTPC, WBSEB and CESC should deal with such delayed payments by prompt disconnection. They cannot expect customers to pay up if they are lax themselves. Besides, if the CESC were to clear its dues with the WBSEB, the latter could pay off its debts to the NTPC. Another consideration would be for the NTPC to waive some of the debts or convert surcharges to equity.

Yours faithfully,
C.R. Bhattacharjee, Calcutta

Sir — A nuclear power plant is not the answer to power shortage because of the environmental problems such a plant would give rise to as well as the formidable costs. It would be a better idea to optimize the production of existing plants and tighten their managements, so losses are minimal.

Yours faithfully,
S. Banik, Calcutta

Freeby jeebies

Sir — It is disheartening that the prime minister has okayed the Union telecommunications minister’s proposal to allot free telephones to about 3.2 lakh telecom employees, overruling the objections of the finance minister. One should be thankful that the finance minister realized the impropriety of funding a populist measure from the cash strapped exchequer. In a country where millions live below the poverty line, are illiterate, do not have access to drinking water and medical facilities, the priorities of leaders should be improving the living conditions. The temptation of populism is understandable given the fluid political situation. But a mechanism is needed which would prevent politicians from putting the vote bank before the interests of the nation.

Yours faithfully,
T.S.S. Nair, Calcutta

Sir — Ram Vilas Paswan has no right to buy himself cheap popularity with public funds. After all, the Rs 120 crore bill will be borne by the people and not the telecom employees. This proposal is also against the spirit of economic reforms being pushed forward by the Atal Behari Vajpayee government. It is disappointing that Vajpayee struck a compromise only to preserve his party’s coalition government.

Yours faithfully,
Bhaskar Himatsingka, Calcutta

Sir — Budgetary deficit and inflation are on the rise. Most public sector undertakings have become unprofitable. It is therefore difficult to understand how Paswan could play so free with public funds and how Atal Behari Vajpayee could allow him to get away with it. This bonanza for telecom employees does not make sense, especially in the light of the reduction of subsidies on kerosene, foodgrains, cooking gas cylinders and urea.

Yours faithfully,
Indu Bhusan Bose, Jamshedpur

Sir — Taking the cue from Ram Vilas Paswan’s charity to telecom employees, officials of other government departments can now lobby for exemption from paying for the service they render. Does a country which does not even have adequate funds to tackle emergencies like Kargil and the Orissa cyclone have the money to afford such a luxury? And what about the millions of dead telephones throughout the country? After all, it is consumers who help the telecom department make the profit which will finance the freebies.

Yours faithfully,
Provat Kumar Chatterjee,Purulia

Wrong exchange

Sir — I have an objection to the report, “Traders offer land, cash for phone exchange” (June 13). I had told your correspondent that a few lakhs of rupees were spent on the repair of telephone lines, renovation of the building and on electricity after fire broke out in the market in Rajakatra, Burrabazar. But the report only mentions that “the traders spent a few lakhs and laid underground lines, only after which could their telephones be restored”. The latter part of my comment has been ignored.

Yours faithfully,
Panna Lal Bhadra, secretary, Rajakatra Byabasayee Society, Calcutta

Letters to the editor should be sent to:

The Telegraph, 6 Prafulla Sarkar Street, Calcutta 700 001
Email: [email protected]

Readers in the Northeast can write to:

Third Floor, Godrej Building, G.S. Road, Ulubari, Guwahati 781007    

Another Reason: Science and the Imagination of Modern India
By Gyan Prakash, Oxford, Rs 545

For the general reader this may not be the easiest entrée into the field, but it certainly is one of the more engaging histories of science being written in the country. Engaging, because it affirms that science as a body of knowledge and a set of practices is always expressive of cultural context. For the author however, the point is simply assumed. In no part of the book do we find any serious reflection on the several “sociology of science” debates he quite obviously draws upon.

But this is a minor grouse. Gyan Prakash’s interest in the history of science in colonial India emanates from a different problem altogether. As an historian involved in mapping the identity and experience of Indian modernity he tries to understand how science as a metaphor for universal reason became integral to the imagination of the Indian nation. In speaking of India in this context, Prakash alludes to something more than a cultural entity. He refers to the India that emerged as a space assembled by a range of modern institutions and practices that “were in the last instance, legitimated by science”.

For Prakash, the idea of probing the forms of this legitimation holds out the promise of exciting debate. The story of the constitution of science’s cultural authority in India, for instance, leads him to conclude that though seldom acknowledged, Indian modernity is ultimately the product of an intensely charged relation between science and the nationalist imagination.

The beginnings of this could be found in the unfolding trajectory of Britain’s “civilizing mission”. The British saw the empirical sciences as universal knowledge, consecrated with the mission to “disenchant and rationalize” the world of the “superstitious native”. But the “use of universal reason as particular means of rule” proved to be a contradictory enterprise. For to function as a code of alien power, Western science had to negotiate the knowledge, practices and social memories of those it sought to “civilize”. It was forced to concede that its universal claims could catch fire only through a process of “translation”.

The outcome was often ironic. For translation profaned the terms of science’s authority and made it vulnerable before the abiding claims of magic and superstition. Prakash cites the telling example of colonial museums which purveyed scientific knowledge but were called the “jadughar”.

In the hands of the Western-educated indigenous elite, however, “translation” involved a zealous drive to produce a scientific tradition of their own. From Omkar Bhatt, a 19th-century jyotish, to Dayanand Saraswati and Prafulla Chandra Ray, the impulse was much the same. Prakash’s interest in these individual enterprises is more than evident. As a comment on science’s precarious habitat in the sphere of civil society this part of the book is rich in both insight and intuition.

Part two deals exclusively with science’s dwellings in the colonial state. Prakash discusses the substance of state power around the notions of governmentality and “technics”. Governmentality, in Foucauldian terms, means the exercise of a form of state power directed at the maintenance of the health and productivity of its “population”. Technics on the other hand represented the whole range of technologies used by the state to organize and rationalize its territorial bounds.

For Prakash, colonial governmentality like other colonial enterprises operated as a mode of translation and like them was ridden with contradiction. The British practised governmentality as imperial domination and instituted “pastoral care” through constraint and coercion. Yet the peculiar forms of colonial governmentality opened up the space wherein a new style of nationalist protest could take form. It was one that could at the same time challenge the claims of science as colonial imposition and draw upon its command to validate its own political aspirations.

In the context of the epidemics of the 19th century, for instance, the logic of protest against the regime of medical scrutiny and the purported control of the “Indian” body, led to a concerted effort to identify a “national therapeutics” in the form of a modern discipline. The turn to revive ayurveda, yunani on the one hand and the powerful advocacy of brahmacharya, by leaders like M.K. Gandhi on the other, were all part of the same attempt to evolve an alternative set of disciplines for Indians without rejecting the fundamental habits of Western modernity. In the case of specific technologies of government too, nationalists mounted their critique at the level of operations but rarely at that of structures. For R.C. Dutt as much as for Meghnad Saha or Jawaharlal Nehru, the political struggle against colonialism implied the gradual seizure of the functions of colonial governmentality in terms that were distinctively Indian.

Prakash is thus happy to conclude that the nationalist imagination operated strictly as a form of “reinscription”. The governmentalization of the colonial state set the background for the cultural imagination of the modern nation. As India surfaced in the territory welded together by colonial governance, “nationalists represented it as a sacred locus” — a natural home to its religious communities, cultures, regions and castes. Their ambition was to “rewrite India and Indian interests” in a space configured by colonial technics and legitimated by science. The “difference” in this quintessentially modernist enterprise, however, lay in their assertion that what defined India was not the modern apparatus introduced by the colonial government but the possession of a set of unique cultural resources which had the power to make this apparatus more integrated and humane.

Prakash’s insights are illuminating, but what readers may come away with is a pervading sense of thinness about the book. The flaw is neither in the logic nor in the imagination. It lies in the seeming disregard for substance. Admittedly, it is the poverty of its archives which makes the book a trifle disappointing. In every other way it is a good read.    

Climates & Constitutions
By Mark Harrison, Oxford, Rs 495

“Neither the commander, nor myself, were in any hope of surviving many days; neither temperance, the most sovereign medicine, nor the safest prescriptions in the physical art, could restore the weakness of our decayed natures. And that which thoroughly confirmed to us the unhealthfulness of the place we had lately loosed from, was the sudden desertion of our disease, and return of health.”

Thus remarked the East India Company chaplain, John Ovington, on his way from Bombay to Surat in October 1689. Like many other Europeans who came as travellers or as a result of the expanding colonial rule in India in the 17th and 18th centuries, Ovington stood in awe of the country’s climate that presented a sharp contrast to that of England — a climate that was a welcome change for some and a curse for others.

Historians have so far attributed European resistance to the idea of colonizing India to political factors. Most accounts speak of fears that an Indian colony would go the American way or that a large influx of European settlers would cause unrest among natives. But behind these lay more deep-seated biological factors that have often been ignored. The most important of these was the subcontinent’s climate that had an immense influence on British colonial expansion. The settlers were apprehensive of losing their racial identity and at the prospect of the moral and physical decline in an alien climate.

In Climates & Constitutions, Mark Harrison attempts to explain the effect of the Indian climate on imperial expansion between 1600-1850. Climate became the single most important explanation of cultural and racial differences. The book includes accounts of several European settlers, travellers and medical practitioners which reveal the effects of India’s climate on the life of the settlers. These accounts reveal that the British and other Europeans were in the beginning confident of building a permanent settlement and converting India to a “white colony”, but gradually the climate, the dirt and diseases led them to abandon the idea.

However, in later years, attempts were made to tame the climate and deal with disease by formulating new strategies. India was divided into medical topographies depending on whether the climate of an area was favourable for settlement and on the mortality rate of the British in that area. Such considerations also led to the establishment of hill stations.

Other proposals included strategies to acclimatize British troops before sending them to designated “unhealthy zones”. For instance, troops were stationed along the Malabar coast or in Madras for a few years before being sent to “unhealthy places” like Bengal.

Preserving the health of the large number of soldiers and administrators who were the backbone of the British empire in India was thus a major problem. Time and again British governors in India wrote to their counterparts in Britain on ways to maintain regiments and decrease the mortality rate.

Another fear among British settlers that came to the fore towards the end of the 19th century was the “loss of racial identity”. There was a great anxiety about the “degeneration of European children” raised in India. Due to prolonged exposure to the Indian climate, the looks and habits of settlers and their families were thought to change. Not even the salubrious climate of the hills could revive the “country-born”.

There was the general idea among the British that Indians respected their colonial masters because they were inherently superior. Though in earlier centuries, Europeans believed all men descended from the same race, towards the end of the 19th century, a sense of racial superiority was born.

On the whole, Climates & Constitutions successfully challenges many widely held assumptions about the nature of “colonial knowledge” and shows how the Indian climate played a peculiar role in framing the country’s colonial history.    

Public Support for Food Security: The Public Distribution System in India
Edited by N. Krishnaji and T.N. Krishnan, Sage, Rs 475

The book under review is the first volume in a series entitled, “Strategies for human development in India”. It addresses issues related to the working of the public distribution system in India and the policies associated with it. These are the fixing of support and issue prices of foodgrains, the quantities to be procured and distributed, how to manage stocks, the problems of extending PDS coverage, ways of targeting, the management of fair price shops to prevent “leakages” and so on.

J.V. Meenakshi’s paper examines trends in cereal consumption in six regions of the country among the quartile expenditure group. The author discusses changes in consumption patterns and relative prices over two decades ending 1993-94. He describes the nature of changes in diet composition and its implications for the extent of hunger in India. He also reviews the relations between the production and consumption of major cereal crops.

M.H. Suryanarayana examines issues regarding food security and the implications of PDS reform. The scope for reforming the PDS by commodity based targeting is limited in India, although the PDS, as it operates now, has a commodity composition consisting largely of wheat and rice. The options chosen and mechanisms considered for targeting depend on local conditions, institutions, the nature and causes of food insecurity.

The author profiles food security in 16 states. Inter-region imbalances in income levels have not come down despite policy emphasis on reductions them. Available data till 1987-88 indicates increased per capita variations in rural cereal consumption and a substantial decline in calorie intake.

In recent years, the government has been raising the issue price of foodgrain to control the food subsidy. This policy has had an inflationary impact, with two consequences: declining “off take” through the PDS and the accumulation of stocks held by government agencies.

Shikha Jha and P.V. Srinivasan reveal through simulation exercises how loosening government control and a greater role for market forces in the foodgrain sector would lead to the stabilization of prices and ensure producer and consumer welfare. They also analyse the domestic price situation in relation to world prices. The authors plead for the necessity to free external trade in foodgrains. Prices would then stabilize through taxes or subsidies, thereby avoiding the costs incurred in maintaining excess buffer stocks. The second issue is to do with the removal of controls on domestic trade. According to the authors, foodgrain requirements for PDS can be met through free market purchases.

The paper by S. Mahendra Dev highlights the problem of poverty and food security with particular emphasis on the PDS and employment guarantee schemes in Maharashtra and West Bengal. The authors conclude that in order to tackle poverty and enhance food security it is necessary to design a “mix of policies”, with PDS and employment generation schemes combined with other poverty eradication schemes.

The study on rural Maharashtra by Dipankar Coondo, Amita Majumdar and Kaushik Bhattacharya reveals that while employment generation directly supplements income of the poor, PDS is a price support scheme. The study analyses the nature and extent of household employment in rural Maharashtra, in order to ascertain whether employment deficient households are also poor from the point of view of consumption.

To examine food security across different regions and socioeconomic groups, S. Indrakant selected five villages in Andhra Pradesh with different levels of economic development, irrigation potential and crop patterns. Vidyasagar’s paper analyses the role and limitations of PDS in ensuring food security in Rajasthan while K.N. Nair describes the working of the PDS in Kerala. The objective of these surveys is to examine the pattern of foodgrain consumption in different villages and households; estimate the extent households depended on PDS to meet their requirements and to examine the influence of factors like employment and earnings on the utilization of PDS.

In the introduction, the editors clarify that the essays do not cover all aspects of India’s foodgrain economy. But despite these limitations, the essays highlight a number of crucial and long neglected issues. In particular, the editors’ suggestions for reforming the PDS at the micro level will help Indian planners redesign the PDS to better serve India’s ever increasing population.    

IC 814 Hijacked: The Inside Story
By Saurabh Shukla, Roli, Rs 295

The end of the Cold War did not result in the complete victory of capitalism. The expansion of globalization is checked by ethnic and religious strife, resulting in what Samuel Huntington calls the confrontation between Western and non-Western cultures like Confucianism, Hinduism and Islamic fundamentalism.

The emergence of this last phenomenon is mainly described as post-modern warfare. The key feature of such warfare is insurgency conducted by religiously motivated personnel unlike Marxist guerrilla warriors, who emphasized class struggle.

Islamic insurgency which spilled over to India took various forms: bomb blasts, kidnapping and hijacking. The last technique was exhibited in a most dramatic manner during the hijacking of IC 814 that took place just before the turn of the year.

The book under review gives a chronological account of the tragic drama that unfolded at Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan airport and ended after eight days in war torn Kandahar airport. Most of the details come from one of the chief protagonists — Anil K. Jaggia, and some of the missing links in the story are provided by the journalist, Saurabh Shukla.

Jaggia’s detailed account is written in the style of a Hollywood blockbuster. Whether he kept notes during his captivity is not clear. Generally persons who later recollect tragic events experienced under severe stress suffer from what in military parlance is called the “bull frog effect” and in academics is termed the “galloping horse hypothesis”. In other words, their subconscious memory coagulates with the “actual events” that occurred so that the “truth” vanishes just as a horse gallops away.

Shukla writes that many of the passengers suffered from “Stockholm syndrome” since they continued to maintain that the hijackers were kind to them, despite one of the passengers being murdered on board. Jaggia’s account raises the suspicion that he too has been affected by the same Stockholm syndrome since he talks about a sort of father-son relationship which evolved between him and the chief hijacker who is called Red Cap.

As soon as the Indian Airlines flight IC 814 became airborne on December 24, 1999, five militants took control of the Airbus. The aircraft landed successively at Amritsar, Lahore, Al-Minhad airports and finally at Kandahar, where the plane was kept waiting for seven days.

During this time, Indian foreign ministry officials clinched a deal with the hijackers: three dreaded terrorists were exchanged for the safe return of the 280 passengers. During the tortuous negotiations, the taliban regime played the role of the “honest broker”.

Was there any other alternative before the Indian government? Shukla and Jaggia rightly point out the continuous bunglings by Atal Behari Vajpayee’s government.

The hijacking could have ended when the Airbus touched down at Amritsar for refuelling. For 48 minutes, the plane was on the runway. then it could have been blocked by firetenders and ambulances.

But the airport authorities failed to do so. Worse, an aircraft full of national security guard commandoes arrived from Delhi to Amritsar when IC 814 was already in Pakistani air space. There was absolutely no coordination between the prime minister, the airport authorities and the crisis management group which was dominated by vacillating bureaucrats.

To sum up, this book is an excellent piece of raw material for those interested in studying terrorism in south Asia. Further, this account clearly points out that New Delhi is yet to evolve a proper contingency plan to prevent further hijackings in the future.

Why don’t we learn from past experiences?    

Packaging is the big buzz and without it (or so we are told) books can’t be marketed and sold. Packaged soap operas with pictures, backed by four colour covers, preferably with “arms and the woman” that juxtapose steely automatic and frilly panty, design and layout thrown in for easier viewing were what brought in “the stuff”. But how many copies were published, how many sold and what was the gross margin of profit were things we were never told. All we got from the marketing spin doctors was “the books are selling like hot cakes”.

Prima facie, the publishing philosophy was easy to understand: people wanted to see rather than read, to remember rather than think. To this was added the simple truth that people are similar in their prurient interests even if they are different in their civilized concerns. The formula for glitter and gloss was worked out to a “T” with the picture at the centre and the text woven around it. Increasingly, these heavy pictorials were computer designed which made them easy to manufacture with the software available.

But something went terribly wrong. Take the fate of the two leaders of packaging: Paul Hamlyn and Dorling Kindersley. Both have “merged” (an euphemism for sold out), more or less out of existence. What went wrong was simply that the market was no longer receptive to heavy pictorials. The reasons for this are as follows.

Heavy pictorials are essentially books for children in the eight to 12 age group when they are approaching the end of middle school. Given the flood of television channels, video games, the picture book no longer has any fascination. This was brought home to Dorling Kindersley when it published 10 million copies of a book on Star Wars. The Star Wars generation had graduated to adulthood while their children saw it all on the screens.

Two, heavy pictorials became increasingly more expensive to produce. The itemized cost structure, apart from editorial and initiation costs for commissioning photographers and editors, were prohibitive. It became impossible to achieve a low unit cost of production on which a price acceptable to the market could be fixed. So, publishers could either increase the number of copies to be printed or accept a lower gross margin of profit in the hope that in the next printing the margins would be achieved. Both were fatal errors: the market could not absorb more copies and lower gross margins that did not even cover overhead costs were tantamount to a loss.

Three, very, very few pictorials went into second reprint. (In the Hamlyn list it was the “Tell Me Why” series that reprinted time and again.) Almost all were one off deals that meant overhead costs could not be distributed over several printings. Reprints are what make money for publishers and if they don’t come about, “serious” money can never be made.

But apart from these reasons the simple fact is that the market has been changing all the time. On the one hand, many are interested in pictures alone but get these from the electronic media — TV, video games, the internet and so on. Sadly, the printed book is not attractive, or at least not “dynamic or interactive” enough to spend money on. On the other, there is a new class of critical readers which has the money but wants to browse, poke around to assess the book for its relevance and then put out the money to buy it. They know too much and just packaging will not con them into buying. They have been there and see through the hype.    


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