Party to reform
E-myopia
Blow cold in the valley
Letters to the Editor

 
 
PARTY TO REFORM 
 
 
 
 
It is never too late to learn. The Congress party has been so used to mouthing socialist platitudes and so adept at dishing out populist policies when in power that it has been uneasy with the economic reforms unleashed by Mr Manmohan Singh and Mr P.V. Narasimha Rao. One of the principal spokesmen of the Congress, Mr Pranab Mukherjee, has recently admitted that despite reforms, the mindset of the party had not changed and because of this, the message and the importance of reforms could not be taken to the people. According to Mr Mukherjee, this was a political failure which perpetuated the myth that the reforms were anti-poor. Implicit in Mr Mukherjee’s admission is a rebuttal of the view that links the Congress’s debacle in elections to its advocacy of economic reforms. The poor showing of the Congress in elections has nothing to do with economic reforms: it is related to Congressmen’s refusal to jettison an antiquated and a discredited ideology. This also created an opportunity for some Congress leaders to paint Mr Singh, the author of the reforms, as some kind of villain who had destroyed the party’s image. There is nothing better than a scapegoat to hide one’s own faults and failures. But the Congress is beginning to learn, admit its mistakes and is in the process of shedding its socialist skin. The Congress has taken 10 years to recognize that the new era in India began under its stewardship in 1991.

Mr Mukherjee’s disarming honesty has reassured all those who were alarmed at the setting up of a committee to review the Congress’s economic policy. It was feared that such a committee, from which Mr Singh was absent and which had a fair number of anti-reform Congress leaders, would recommend a return to socialism and thus drive the party to suicide. It is now clear that the committee has no intentions of abandoning reforms. Mr Mukherjee has been emphatic about not putting the clock back. The prevailing global political and economic situation makes a return to pre-reform economic policies impossible. Ranters on the left and in the Swadeshi Jagran Manch may not accept this, but realism dictates that this situation be accepted and policies tailored accordingly. For over four decades when the Congress was in power, it strangled the economic potential of India by government controls. In the name of garibi hatao, it increased and intensified poverty. It can now undo those wrongs. The present government under the Bharatiya Janata Party has shown that it is more than committed to deepening and extending reforms. It is now upto the Congress to reiterate its own commitment and to stand beside its rival as far as the reform process is concerned. Political parties should now realize that economic development is much more important than the settling of political scores.    


 
 
E-MYOPIA 
 
 
 
 
The Centre has notified the cabinet’s earlier decision to allow 100 per cent foreign equity in business to business electronic commerce. It deserves two muted cheers for this decision. But only because it saw off the fervent and uninformed opposition of the Swadeshi Jagran Manch to such a move. New Delhi had already crimped the development of e-commerce in India by conceding that there should be no foreign equity in business to consumer e-commerce. On the third variety of cyber retailing, consumer to consumer, New Delhi is simply mum. These concessions were all the more unfortunate given the absurdity of the swadeshi advocate’s arguments. First, the SJM argued foreign equity was unnecessary in e-commerce because it was not a capital intensive sector. India benefits from foreign investment not only in terms of money. India also benefits because of the technology and expertise that follows from foreign companies hiring and training Indian personnel in their methods. In e-commerce, knowhow is everything. Foreign participation would have allowed Indians to be trained in the best and brightest e-commerce methods of the world. The ban on foreign equity in business to consumer e-commerce already ensures India will lag behind in this field. Second, the SJM recycled the Luddite argument that encouraging e-commerce would reduce jobs in traditional retailing. However, e-commerce generates its own jobs. More importantly, it promotes consumption, which has an enormous employment spillover. So weak is its critique that many industry observers feel the SJM has taken up the cause at the behest of Indian business houses who want to monopolize the e-commerce market for themselves.

E-commerce is part of the third wave of the infotech revolution. India missed the first wave which centred around hardware. It was able to ride the crest of the second, software driven wave to economic success. However, its ability to be on top of the service based wave is being hampered by economic isolationists like the SJM and the Indian left. New Delhi, for all its talk of being cyber friendly, has only partially resisted these pressures. Infotech is an economic sector that moves so rapidly and so unpredictably that any attempt by a national government to try and control it only guarantees failure. Indian e-commerce ventures are already handicapped by poor transport and financial infrastructure. Being cut off from foreign competition, knowhow and involvement will only kill the latest goose that lays silicon eggs. In cyberspace, what exactly is Indian and what is foreign is uncertain. For example, many “foreign” partners in Indian infotech firms are often overseas branches of Indian firms who cross the oceans looking for technology and capital. At the behest of the SJM, New Delhi has banned Amazon.com from India’s shores. Further moves on this path will only ruin India’s hopes of being competitive in e-commerce.    


 
 
BLOW COLD IN THE VALLEY 
 
 
BY ASHOK MITRA
 
 
Flip flop, flip flop. The prime minister has not exactly covered himself with glory by the contortions he has gone through while responding to the Jammu and Kashmir assembly resolution seeking a return to the pre-1953 status for the state. He started out by suggesting that there was nothing to worry about, what the resolution proposes is within the ambit of the Constitution. This was soon followed by another statement emanating from the prime minister’s office: nothing to worry, the resolution could be discussed in Parliament during the monsoon session. At this stage, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh-Bajrang Dal claque took over; any change in Kashmir’s status, ensuring greater autonomy for the state, could take place only over their dead bodies.

The home minister, going by media reports, was also in a similar frame of mind. The prime minister backtracked; the storm brewing inside his party and its associates was capable of dislodging him from his position as head of the country’s government. The cabinet was convened at a special session; it unanimously rejected the resolution sponsored by the Jammu and Kashmir assembly at Farooq Abdullah’s initiative. There was therefore no further question of referring it to Parliament. The sectarian crowd roared in approval.

But the infinite variety in the prime minister’s attitude surpasses imagination. In another couple of days he had condescended to meet Farooq Abdullah, presumably to discuss the cabinet decision; this was followed by yet another statement by the prime minister to the effect that, after all, no harm would result if the resolution were discussed in Parliament. What the point is of such discussion in view of the cabinet’s categorical rejection of Farooq Abdullah’s proposal has yet remained unanswered.

Nonetheless, given the wellknown stance of the RSS-Vishwa Hindu Parishad combine in the matter, the denouement is the least surprising; we-hold-what-we-have and let-devil-take-the-hindmost constitute its dominant philosophy, and the prime minister’s private predilections are therefore of negligible consequence.

Those who run the government from behind the scene are unfortunately bereft of any awareness of the datum that there are more things in heaven and earth than are admitted in their philosophy. Farooq Abdullah and his National Conference, they hardly realize, are practically India’s last gamble in Kashmir. Sheikh Abdullah’s son is literally running for his dear life. He is hemmed in on all sides. The overwhelming majority of the valley’s population is disenchanted with him. Even the government secretariat building has been infiltrated by the so called militants, gory deaths are taking place everyday, snipers are around to avail of the first opportunity to blow away his head or body with a flurry of Kalashnikov bullets. The Hurriyats and other hostile elements are continuously baying for his blood. To add to all this is the ceaseless striving on the part of the Inter-Services Intelligence agents to create a situation even more chaotic on this side of the line of control than it is at present.

In the circumstances, Farooq Abdullah has to prove that he is no puppet of New Delhi: an assertion of the right of the Kashmiris to the kind of autonomy they enjoyed prior to 1953 would, according to his line of thinking, even at this stage, allow the National Conference to regain some of its lost credibility with the people of the valley.

But, obviously, the prime minister and his colleagues are even more concerned with the chain reaction Farooq Abdullah’s proposal has created across the country. The dissident Akalis, led by the formidable jathedar, Gurcharan Singh Tohra, has lost no time in demanding a similar arrangement for Punjab as Farooq Abdullah has claimed for Kashmir; that section of Akalis presiding over the state administration has perforce fallen in.

At the other end of the country, the Jammu and Kashmir assembly resolution has provided the opportunity to Assam’s chief minister to suggest a re-drafting of the Constitution so as to shift a substantial proportion of power and resources to the hands of the states. Somewhat of a surprise, West Bengal, which, 20 odd years ago, was the major mobilizer behind the campaign for reordering Centre-states resolutions, had initially kept quiet in the matter. This is not seemingly logical but perhaps account has to be taken of a number of short term exigencies, such as the concerted attempt in Tripura by insurgents, adventurers passing as Congressmen and Trinamool Congressmen and foreign agents to destabilize the Left Front regime in the State.

Without considerable assistance from the Centre, it would be impossible for the left to retain its hold on Tripura. Those reservations must be over, and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) politburo has now gone on record that Farooq Abdullah’s representation deserves a serious appraisal, since the demand for autonomy is not a brief for separation. This has been followed by an even more forthright statement by the party’s general secretary.

The government in New Delhi will clearly not agree. The psychosis it is suffering from has actually made the Bharatiya Janata Party-led regime extraordinarily coy in its approach to the Sri Lanka-Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam imbroglio. Its three coalition partners from Tamil Nadu notwithstanding, and despite the ground reality of Sri Lanka government forces being on the run and the LTTE on the verge of a decisive victory in the civil war, New Delhi’s sympathies are exclusively with the Colombo administration.

This is on the face of it puzzling; Rajiv Gandhi’s dastardly assassination should be of no particular consideration to the BJP. The crucial issue however is the implication for India’s domestic affairs of a ceasefire in Sri Lanka which in effect would concede sovereign status to Tamil eelam. The analogy of the Sri Lanka settlement would conceivably be drawn by Kashmiris to refurbish their demand for autonomy and the fever might then contaminate Punjab, Assam, the other north-eastern states and, who knows, some of the southern states as well.

Hence the home minister’s public pronouncement that the government of India will not countenance the breakup of the island republic into two sovereign entities. Is it however any business of the Indian home minister to decide whether Sri Lanka remains united or splits? Such extra-territorial breach of international civility is of course induced by the apprehension that the unity and integrity of India is bound to be severely affected by a prospective partitioning of Sri Lanka to accommodate the aspirations of the LTTE.

The prime minister and his government are walking on a tightrope. To be too overt in their expression of anti-LTTE sentiments involves the risk of setting Tamil Nadu in turmoil, which could easily lead to the collapse of the shaky coalition the prime minister is heading. In any event, a realignment of Centre-state relations, with a consequent weakening of the Centre, appears inevitable given the hybrid character of the coalition regime, whatever the BJP’s reservations in the matter.

Only the Congress, ensconced in its ancient tenets, could have come to the support of the BJP in case it chose to deny the states what they consider to be their legitimate due. But the Congress, almost everybody will agree, is an endangered species. It would be folly to plan one’s future on the assumption of support from this moribund party.

And suppose the American admi- nistration all of a sudden decides to shove the Indian government off the tightrope?    


 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Hands down

Sir — So what’s special about A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury’s wanting to step down from the post of the West Bengal Congress president (“Ghani offers to quit in pique”, July 17)? He is a veteran in Indian politics and probably realizes, one hopes, that it is time to pass the mantle to the younger lot. That however is not the case. Behind all the raving and ranting is his obvious hope that he be disallowed from resigning. Had Khan Chowdhury been a little more perceptive he would have guessed that his presence is no longer welcome. He has been ignored consistently in important party matters. He is yet to live down the embarrassment over the defeat of the Congress candidate for the Rajya Sabha. The tiff with the party high command over the much hyped mahajot yielded nothing. In all, Khan Chowdhury has been unable to project himself as a charismatic leader who could have salvaged the state Congress. So why is he now peeved for being “sidelined”? Were his old hands ever able to hold the reins properly in the first place?

Yours faithfully,
Arundhati Chaudhuri, Calcutta

Dog day twilight

Sir — The grisly incident of a four year old girl’s marriage to a dog in this age of modern technology has made India a laughing stock in the eyes of the world (“Four year old married to a dog”, July 14). While women in cities exult in fashion and beauty contests, women in rural corners still languish in claustrophobic patriarchal confines. Feminists should take up the cause of these victims of social injustice.

Yours faithfully,
Kasturi Sinha Ray, Calcutta

Sir — Misfortune is being born to parents who marry you off to a dog. Misfortune is being born in a society when people agree to participate in such an event. Misfortune is when people exist physically in the 21st century and mentally a hundred years back. Misfortune is when people mix up tradition with primitiveness. Misfortune is when intelligent people shrug away all that is wrong instead of working to set it right.

Yours faithfully,
Purnima L.Toolsidass, via email

Sir — The picture of a four year old girl married to a dog on the front page of The Telegraph (July 15) was nothing short of disgusting. The act should not only be condemned in the strongest of terms, but the father of the child should also be taken to task. One wonders what would have been the case if the child was a boy. Would his parents then have liked to have a bitch as their daughter-in-law? No prizes for guessing why the country is going to the dogs. It is because of people like these.

Yours faithfully,
Purnima Vasudeva, Calcutta

Sir — Do astologers like Badal Bhattacharya and men like Subal Karmakar and Barun Dutta realize what impact the incident instigated by them can leave on the innocent mind of a child? On top of that, there were another 300 people who attended the so called wedding without word of protest. All the persons complicit in this incident should be immediately put behind bars.

Yours faithfully,
Sushma Jalan, via email

Fable of hero and villain

Sir — Considering that the Muslims have shown a preference for the Congress in the recent Calcutta Municipal Corporation elections, Buddhadev Bhattacharya’s decision not to attend the birth centenary celebrations of Shyama Prosad Mookerjee may be seen as another desperate gimmick to woo Muslim voters before the assembly elections. This is not without basis, since the leftists are known for appeasing the minorities. But the Muslims have now found that the Bharatiya Janata Party and its allies are openly communicating with them and allaying their fears. Bhattacharya might think he has pleased the Muslims no end by refusing to attend the birth centenary celebrations of a man close to Hindu ideology, but only the assembly elections will tell.

Yours faithfully,
Satya Prakash Singh, Calcutta

Sir — Buddhadev Bhattacharya certainly had his reasons for giving the birth centenary celebrations of S.P. Mookerjee a skip, that his party did not agree with Mookerjee’s political ideology. But what ideology has Bhattacharya been following? To the best of one’s knowledge, communism is an egalitarian philosophy, and if Bhattacharya is unable to bridge the gap with rival ideologies, then he had better ask himself whether he is following communist ideology, which propagates treating all human beings as equals.

Jyoti Basu, the chief minister of West Bengal, and Bhattacharya’s immediate senior, has, in the recent past, called the BJP a party of barbarians. What does he have to say now about the “civilized” act of his deputy?

Yours faithfully,
Amrita Mukherjee, Midnapore

Sir — The communists of West Bengal are well within their constitutional rights to express, by words or action, their ideological differences with others. But in the case of Buddhadev Bhattacharya’s controversial decision, the prime minister of India was the first invitee of the function. It was but natural that on the prime minister’s visit to a state, an important member of the state cabinet should accompany him during the day’s programmes. S.P. Mookerjee’s ideology is entirely irrelevant here.

Bhattacharya may have received accolades from his comrades, but he has fallen irredeemably in the esteem of the people. At the same time, he has lost an opportunity to improve the state’s relationship with the Centre.

Yours faithfully,
S.C. Banerjee, Ranchi

Sir — The recent tirade against Buddhadev Bhattacharya is quite amusing. S.P. Mookerjee launched a massive campaign in 1947 against united, independent Bengal, which resulted in the destruction of the basis of Bengali culture as understood by Rabindranath Tagore, Nazrul Islam and others. Mookerjee also fanned the rise of Hindu religious nationalism in India. Bhattacharya must be lauded for his refusal to be a hypocrite and attend the celebrations organized by power-hungry politicians.

Yours faithfully,
Surajit Dasgupta, Calcutta

Sir — “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” The first two categories are easily applicable to S.P. Mookerjee, while the remaining one fits Buddhadev Bhattacharya perfectly. That he could not rise above his narrow political beliefs to honour a great leader comes as a surprise to no one.

Yours faithfully,
Govinda Bakshi, Budge Budge

Forgotten world

Sir — It is painful to note that The Telegraph has not bothered to publish an obituary of Vasant Chowdhury. This, despite the goof up following Kanika Bandyopadhyay’s demise and the flurry of letters that condemned the attitude of the newspaper. All this confirms the step-motherly treatment the newspaper usually metes out to icons of the Bengali cultural world.

Chowdhury was not only a fine actor, but a distinguished figure in the world of art. Yet, the passing away of this colourful personality evoked little response from The Telegraph. Contrast this with the attention Bollywood personalities get. Valuable newsprint is wasted on Bollywood actors. The premiere of the film of a debutant who happens to be the son of a former star makes front page news.

The newspaper either doesn’t consider the cultural achievements of Bengalis good enough to deserve adequate space, or it is playing to the gallery, particularly to the non-Bengali section which has taken over Calcutta.

Yours faithfully,
Kajal Chatterjee, Dhanbad

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    
 

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