Editorial 1/Right and wrong
Editorial 2/Freely given
Six points that make sense
Letters to the Editor
State of despair/Book review
A simple case of mind over body/Book review
Eye on changing times/Book review
Uneasy tryst with modernity/Book review
Signs’ pendulum/Editor’s choice

 
 
EDITORIAL 1/RIGHT AND WRONG 
 
 
 
 
A correct decision can sometimes be taken for the wrong reasons. The Hindu Public Religious Places (prevention of misuse) Act of 1962 was a piece of legislation that was ill-conceived and antiquated. It represented an age when those in power in India, under the guise of building a socialistic pattern of society, believed that the state had a right to intervene in all aspects of society. The act sought periodically to review temples, religious trusts and other places of pilgrimage, like pithastan. The Uttar Pradesh chief minister, Mr Ram Prakash Gupta, has announced the scrapping of the act. But he has taken this decision not out of any belief that the jurisdiction of the state should be minimalized. He kowtowed to pressure from sadhus and from Hindu fanatics. The chief minister went to the extent of saying on record that “actually there is no point in angering sadhus”. He declared the act to be invalid because it was causing unnecessary anxiety to heads of Hindu religious organizations. This cannot be the basis of any decision in a secular democracy. Mr Gupta’s actions and statements are not devoid of political cunning and calculations. The next round of assembly elections in UP are due next year. The Bharatiya Janata Party, Mr Gupta’s party, and its ally, the Loktantrik Congress, are not willing to alienate orthodox Hindu opinion.

There is no doubt that the regulation of activities of temples and trusts is a dodgy affair. Many of these hold large resources in trust and these are not always utilized in accordance with the terms laid down in the original endowment. There have been instances in which interests other than the welfare of the deity have been known to prevail. Despite all this, there is a need to underline that one of the enabling conditions of secularism is the government’s indifference in all religious matters. If the government claims for itself the right to interfere in and take over Hindu religious trusts, it follows that it can extend this right to trusts and institutions belonging to other religions. Such a right can only destroy the fabric of India’s secularism. The act in question points to a paradox embedded in the very making of the Indian state. Jawaharlal Nehru advocated secularism but did not hesitate to enact legislations which were perceived by many Hindus as a direct intervention into their religious practices. But Nehru and all subsequent governments have stopped short of drafting a uniform civil code. Intervention in Hindu religious trusts is another facet of this paradox. But the context of this debate has now radically altered. In the Nehru era, it was fashionable to talk about the expanding role of the state; today, democracy has become synonymous with a minimalist state. Religious trusts must be left to be self-regulating with the hope that more democracy, rather than less, will bring forth enlightenment.    


 
 
EDITORIAL 2/FREELY GIVEN 
 
 
 
 
The quality of mercy may not be strained, but it certainly responds to changing conditions. The Indian government has fallen over itself to prove to the president of Russia, Mr Vladimir Putin, that its feelings of friendship are impeccably warm. Freeing the five Russian citizens serving life terms in the Purulia armsdrop case obviously seemed to the government to be the best welcome for the Russian president, who will be visiting India in October. This was a proof of enduring friendship which the Russian government had asked for. On a request from the ministry of external affairs, the Indian president, Mr K.R. Narayanan, used the powers conferred upon his chair by Article 72 of the Constitution to free five crew members of the aircraft which had dropped off a huge cache of arms in Purulia in 1995. India’s anxiety to reassure Russia that it remembers the latter’s helping hand in the past may be understandable. Less clear is why it should be equally anxious to convince Russia that the success of the visit of the American president, Mr Bill Clinton, did not mean it was forgetting old friends in the dazzle of the new. The signals from the home ministry suggest this last too is a reason. But what totally eludes comprehension is the actual act of pardon. It is not a question of sending back the convicted men to Russia where the processes of law will take over. It is pure clemency, shown after the men had been convicted for conspiring against the West Bengal government and under the Arms Act and the Explosive Substances Act. It is strange that a government should ask to have freed its citizens who were established by law to have been conspiring against a friendly country. Neither is it clear whether India wishes to send the signal that it is fairly wishywashy when matters of its internal security are weighed against shows of loyalty towards its foreign friends.

True, the Purulia armsdrop case has remained mysterious. With the kingpin of the operation missing, it was never clear who the end-users of the dropped arms were meant to be. That is a terrifying thought, because it can be imagined that there were people conspiring against their own country who got away scotfree. So it is even more surprising that Russia, professedly willing to cooperate with India in fighting terrorism, should make such a request. However much or little the five men now freed knew about the master plan, the point remains that the Indian court found them guilty, yet the government freed them. This is dangerous in a country as threatened with terrorism as India is. It is liable to blunt the edge of penalty for all terrorists, whether from Kashmir or the Northeast. Whatever the calculations of the foreign ministry, it is difficult not to feel there is a lack of coordination between it and the home ministry. It may not be possible to always contain mercy within politic bounds.    


 
 
SIX POINTS THAT MAKE SENSE 
 
 
BY AMITABH MATTOO
 
 
The histrionics that followed the passing of the autonomy resolution in the Jammu and Kashmir legislative assembly continue to distort the real debate. Even while Farooq Abdullah and Atal Behari Vajpayee seemed to have finally made up, or at least cuddled up to each other for photo opportunities, public hostility to the idea of the Jammu and Kashmir state autonomy commission report has never been stronger. Autonomy is being viewed as secession, a march towards azadi, and an idea whose fulfilment could lead to the balkanization and disintegration of India. This is an absurdity being perpetuated by those who are either tragically ignorant about the theory and practice of federalism or have a vested interest in perpetuating rubbish.’

Autonomy is about empowering people, making people feel that they belong, and about increasing the accountability of public institutions and services. It is synonymous with decentralization and devolution of power, phrases that have been on the charter of virtually every political party in India. In Jammu and Kashmir, autonomy carries tremendous resonance with the people because puppet leaders from the state colluded with the central leadership and gradually eroded the autonomy promised by the Constitution.

There is no contradiction between wanting Kashmir to be part of the national mainstream, and the state’s desire for autonomous self-governance. Separatism grows when people feel disconnected from the structures of power and the process of policy formulation; in contrast, devolution ensures popular participation in the running of the polity. Bluntly put, autonomy is the only recipe for good governance in the 21st century. If autonomy weakened states, the United States would have disintegrated many decades ago.

Restoration of autonomy in Kashmir, however, does not require elaborate reports or reference to past agreements and accords. They obfuscate rather than clarify the issue of meaningful self-governance. Autonomy can be achieved in the state through a simple six-point plan. One, restore the nomenclature. The terms sadar-i-riyasat and wazir-e-azam, which were used, until 1965, for the governor and the chief minister, still have important symbolic value for people of the state. Literally translated, they stand for head of state and prime minister. This nomenclature should be restored. In substance, this change will neither enlarge nor diminish the powers of the governor or the chief minster. This will also not lead to a shift in their order of precedence.

Two, give the state a role in the selection of the governor. According to Article 155 of the Indian Constitution the “governor of the state shall be appointed by the president by warrant under his hand and seal.” Until 1965, the sadar-i-riyasat in Kashmir was elected by the state legislature, but it was clear that he should be a person acceptable to the Centre and be appointed by the president. The governor is widely viewed in Jammu and Kashmir as an instrument through which the Centre — and more often the political party in power — has furthered its interests in the state.

The office of the governor, in whom the Constitution vests the executive power of the state should be above narrow partisan politics. The governor could be elected by the state legislature and be appointed by the president and, by virtue of Article 156(1), hold office at the pleasure of the president. Alternatively, the state government could submit a panel of names and the president would appoint as governor the person he finds most suitable from the panel, and would hold office at the president’s pleasure.

Three, prevent misuse of Article 356. This article deals with “provisions in case of the failure of the constitutional machinery in states”. The misuse of Article 356 is a matter that has caused widespread concern in all the states. The matter is being considered by the inter-state council and some agreed modifications and safeguards might emerge.

While some might argue that it would be imprudent and impractical to exempt Jammu and Kashmir from the purview of the article altogether (although the state was brought under its purview only in 1964), it is still possible to modify it significantly, to prevent its misuse, without compromising on measures that might be needed to deal with real emergencies. In case of a constitutional breakdown, provisions should be made for holding elections within a maximum of three months, and for the appointment of an eminent persons group from within the state to review the situation in case elections cannot be held within three months because of violence or other disturbances. The verdict of the group should be final.

Four, give state services more authority and increase the quota in the all India services. Part XIV of the Constitution, which deals with the services, did not apply initially to Jammu and Kashmir. But the provisions of Article 312, relating to the all India services were extended in 1958. Under the scheme, entries into the Indian administrative service and the Indian police service are both by direct examination and selection of promotees from the state civil service by the Union public service commission. In most states the state quota has been around 33 per cent, but in the case of Jammu and Kashmir this has been 50 per cent. The bulk of direct recruits to the Indian administrative service, Indian police service, Indian forest service is from just about 25 colleges and universities in India.

There is reason to expect that, as elsewhere, with improvements in the quality of education in Kashmir, the number of direct recruits from the state will increase in the years ahead. Even otherwise, that the Jammu and Kashmir selection quota (from within the state services) increased for a period of 20 years to 75 per cent, given the disruption that the educational system in the state has faced over the last decade. The Kashmir administrative service and the Kashmir police service have suffered severe neglect and marginalization over the last decade. Part of the problem to has to do with training but it is crucial that KAS and KPS officers are given promotions and positions of authority and have a career track similar to IAS and IPS officers.

Fifth, appoint a regional election commissioner for the state. The impartiality of the Election Commission has come to be gradually respected, despite certain past electoral aberrations, particularly in Kashmir. However, it would be prudent if a regional election commissioner is appointed for the state, as provided for in Article 32 (4) of the Indian Constitution, to assist the EC in conduct of elections in the state. This appointment should be made on the recommendations of the state government before each election.

Six, provide guarantees for the future. Many people genuinely feel that even if a package of autonomy is worked out, a future central government may, in collusion with the state’s political leaders, renege on an agreement that is made today. This is based on the past experience of the state’s relationship with the Centre. It is essential, therefore, that special constitutional guarantees are introduced to ensure that the state’s autonomy is not eroded. It may be necessary, for instance, to introduce a provision in the Constitution which would provide for a referendum in the state before any major amendment that would affect the state’s ties with the Union becomes a law.

This package of autonomy must, of course, be followed by devolution of power within the state: from Srinagar to Jammu and Leh and eventually to the panchayats. As the nation marks the 25th anniversary of Emergency, let us at least not forget the follies of over-centralization of power.

The author is chairperson, Centre for International Politics, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi    


 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Trouble unmakers

Sir — K.P. Nayar is in a hurry. Otherwise he wouldn’t have concluded in a huff that the big powers have realized “India cannot be bullied” (“Air on G-8”, July 26). As Nayar notes, foreign ministers don’t run countries. Political heads do. And the more seasoned heads put together have concluded that the best response to a nuclear south Asia is to wait and watch without pushing. As it is, there is little option besides this “pragmatism”. Pakistan is under military rule, although not a particularly offensive one. But it has burnt its fingers in Kargil. There is no way Pakistan can be played against India without risking public censure. India, meanwhile, might have a rag-tag government, but with a leading party that has a nuclear mind of its own. Big powers like the United States therefore consider the time inopportune to force anybody’s hand. Of course, there is China to see India and Pakistan don’t overstep their briefs. So if both a coupster and a potentially fascist brigade can be kept disciplined by a hands-off policy, so be it.

Yours faithfully,
Jayanta Deb, Calcutta

Crossed bats

Sir — The editorial, “Revival of the raid raj” (July 23), must be lauded for taking up the issue of the recent income tax raids in the houses and offices of Indian cricketers and the Board of Control for Cricket in India officials. No citizen is above the law. But the manner in which the raids have been carried out and the way in which they have been sensationalized are indeed disgraceful. While the Central Bureau of Investigation has kept all its findings secret, the income tax raids have been much too publicized.

One wonders whether it is proper to disclose such facts to the press so soon, when the guilty cannot be brought before the public. Do the raids indicate that the CBI has figured out who the guilty men are, and these are the ones whose houses and offices are being raided? At this stage, statements made by ministers too are uncalled for, since one is innocent till proven guilty. The prime minister should personally take up the issue and put an end to this kind of sensationalism. With respect to the recent events, severe action ought to be taken against the CBI, the income tax department, as well as certain sections of the media.

Yours faithfully,
P.R. Malakar, Calcutta

Sir — The opening of cricket’s can of worms has suddenly taken an unusual turn (“Jadeja chase takes sleuths to Jaitly home”, July 22)! One wonders at the lack of general knowledge of our law enforcers. They should have known what kind of powers Jaya Jaitly could wield before they dared to peep inside. Soon we find M. Venkaiah Naidu claiming it must have been an act of political vendetta hatched by the opposition.

Once again, Ajay Jadeja proved “smart” enough to evade the income tax officials with the right connection at the right places. Others unfortunately were not so lucky.

Yours faithfully,
Hrita Ganguly, Howrah

Sir — In “On heroes, hero worship and the heroic in history”, Thomas Carlyle says that the heroic can be manifest in any field of human ability. “The history of the world is the biography of great men”, he writes. The history which Carlyle visualized is reversed now with charges levelled against Indian cricketers. The editorial, “Price of being idols” (July 22) says that “the greatest cricketer ever, Garfield Sobers, in his entire playing career, probably did not earn a fraction of what a player with less than 25 per cent of his talents earn in a season today.” The acquisition of wealth, either by legitimate means or otherwise, is the motivation for most sportsmen, irrespective of the sport. This is true of all walks of Indian life. No wonder India is one of the most corrupt countries in the world.

Yours faithfully,
K.R. Venkatasubramanian, Calcutta

Sir — Better late than never, as they say. The income tax raids on the premises of Indian cricketers and cricket officials have resulted in the unearthing of a number of incriminating documents and undeclared assets (“Raid roar after long rehearsal”, July 21). The cricket lovers of the country want nothing as much as the punishment of the guilty.

Similar steps should be initiated against bank defaulters. It has been claimed by bank unions that the combined bad debt of all the nationalized banks run into Rs 58,000 crore. As a result, banks like the United Bank of India are in bad shape. The saddest part is that the government, instead of taking steps to realize the defaulted amount, is contemplating the privatization of nationalized banks. Just as in the case of the cricketers, the names of the bank defaulters should be splashed all over the newspapers and electronic media, for people squandering the country’s wealth have no right to a decent life.

Yours faithfully,
Kaushik Guha, Calcutta

Song sung blue

Sir — One must congratulate Angshuman Bhowmick and Nandita Sinha for their comprehensive critique of Jayatsen Bhattacharya’s article “Natural death” (July 14), on Bengali jibonmukhi songs, in the letters column, “In a different time” (July 18). Bhattacharya seems to be taking pride in himself as a clairvoyant, as he dares to “predict” the fate of modern Bengali music. But he only ends up exhibiting his myopic view.

His observations do not appear to have any serious intent. What artistes today choose to do in their spare time, whether it is anchoring a show or newsreading neither takes away nor adds to their capabilities as singers. To begin with, any critic should know that. Bhowmick in his letter could not have been more correct in underscoring the fact that jibonmukhi represents the “beginning of a process”. “Bengaliness”, Bhattacharya should know, is not a term to be placed in a watertight compartment. Artistes today believe that “live shows” are essential for creating instant rapport with the audience. Also, that it is essential to inspire today’s audiences to think differently in order to move forward. Or is “thinking differently” and the very idea of change totally opposed to the notion of Bengaliness?

One understands that the singers of yesteryear were offered lyrics and tunes on a platter, but that cannot devalue the more independent endeavour of writing and singing one’s own songs, which artistes today choose to do. Rather than encouraging the advent of this new breed of composers, Bhattacharya appears more keen to decry this positive approach that has got modern Bengali music finally “alive and kicking”. Is it not too premature to send jibonmukhi music to the gallows?

Yours faithfully,
Ramola Mitra, Calcutta.

Sir — Jayatsen Bhattacharya’s verbosity over jibonmukhi music is confusing. He does not clarify whether this genre of music had reached the prime of its life. Yet from there, according to the writer, it passed away, in spite of the contribution of Suman Chattopadhyay, under whom Bengali music has been Westernized. One cannot escape the fact that this new genre of music has reached millions of hearts through his brilliant performances. The pen that Chattopadhyay dips in gall in his songs is unacceptable, but it is also true that we have criticized jibonmukhi songs more than we have appreciated them.

On the other hand, Shilajit’s songs are more gimmicky and have little substance in them. Today of course, following these artistes’ steps are some new singers, who are more interested in making money than contributing to Bengali culture. Yet, before criticizing jibanmukhi songs, the writer should have remembered that listeners still love the old songs of the Sixties to Eighties. Whether jibonmukhi songs are alive or dead is not really the point of concern here.

Yours faithfully,
Samir Chakraborty, 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    

 
 
STATE OF DESPAIR/BOOK REVIEW 
 
 
BY WALTER HAUSER
 
 
The Making of Laloo Yadav: The Unmaking of Bihar
By Sankarshan Thakur, HarperCollins, Rs 295

Much has been written about Laloo Prasad Yadav in the ten years he has dominated the political life of Bihar. But no one, however good the occasional vignettes in the daily press or the weekly news magazines, has achieved the degree of critical sensitivity in defining Laloo Yadav as a populist politician and failed chief minister as has Sankarshan Thakur in The Making of Laloo Yadav: The Unmaking of Bihar.

This is not academic scholarship but in terms of its revealing thoroughness, this is a tour de force of reportorial writing. In saying this, one might wonder parenthetically why Laloo Yadav’s remarkable trajectory across India’s political firmament in this decade has been so little studied in the academy. Where are the political scientists and the historians when we need them?

After a brief initial phase when he was viewed as a rustic buffoon, Laloo after all was winning parliamentary and assembly elections in Bihar by dramatic margins. And by the middle Nineties, he was a major player at the Centre where prime ministers were being made and unmade. Indeed, as Thakur makes clear, it was Laloo Yadav’s unqualified support for V.P. Singh in 1989 that was critical in the political ascent of the Raja of Manda to the prime ministership, and to Laloo’s rise to the gaddi in Bihar and ultimately the presidency of the Janata Dal. Whether in populist jest or serious intent, Laloo was, alas, proclaiming to his constituents in the 1996 parliamentary campaign that he could make himself available for the highest elective office in the land. As it turns out for better or worse, for India and Bihar, that was not to be.

There was a small matter emerging into wider public consciousness in 1996, already well known in Bihar as the fodder scandal, which in the end would become a metaphor for the very nature of Laloo Yadav’s chief ministership, and to use Thakur’s apt phrase, the unmaking of Bihar.

In short, what the fodder scandal revealed was a state system in a condition of systemic dysfunction, literally across the board. Thakur provides in these pages a damning critique of a revolution for social justice and empowerment of the exploited backward classes gone wrong. Though Laloo was hardly the first to give voice to the oppressed, Thakur gives him full and legitimate credit for representing the poor and the powerless in a populist message of self-respect and political assertion.

If it was a message that had been heard before, it had never before been expressed with quite the populist brilliance which Laloo brought to the effort. It was a message that gave voice to the oppressed, no doubt, but for Laloo Yadav, the ultimate goal was to assure the empowerment of Laloo Yadav.

The cynical twist in the story is that maintaining Laloo Yadav in power became the only goal, inevitably to the detriment not only of his backward classes and Muslim vote bank, but for the 100 million citizens of India who are Biharis. The specific beneficiaries of Laloo raj are his intimate associates, most often his caste fellows, family, friends, contractors, and if one is to believe press reports, many of the mafia dons and criminal gangs of Bihar whom he is said to patronize, all of whom in effect have become alternate centres of power in an environment where normal structures of governance and administration were being undermined. What has been called “jungle raj” with reference to this emerging pattern and the absence of law and order, or anything approximating an effective policing system, might more accurately be described as “chamcha raj”, the rule of cronies and hangers-on of the main man, Laloo Yadav.

It is this pattern of highly personalized one man rule, quite independent of the normal mechanisms of administration which permits Thakur to refer to Laloo Yadav as a feudal lord. By this reading, he is chief minister as feudal lord with no sense or interest in the ultimate purpose of government, namely to govern. For Laloo Yadav, the very concept of infrastructural development is a joke as he has made clear time and time again. The result of course is that there is no policy and no development, meaning that all economic indicators have been in precipitous decline over the decade of the Nineties.

The fiscal system is in a state of collapse, which in turn makes possible a fodder scandal, and an infinite number of other scandals. Thakur reports that thousands of crores of Central government development funds directed to Bihar are unused, year after year. A secretary to Laloo’s government laments this as criminal, but nobody could do a thing. In mid-July of this year, the comptroller and auditor general of India has made the same charge. And a similar state of chaos exists in other critical areas, whether in medicine, as the response to the recent plane crash revealed, or education, or power, or roads, and so on ad infinitum.

Nothing confirms Thakur’s point about Laloo and the unmaking of Bihar more poignantly than Laloo Yadav’s response to the prime minister’s conference of July 15, on information technology and the computerization of India. What is information technology? What has it done? I am opposed to it, he was quoted as saying. What good are science and technology other than rendering skilled people useless. What technology? The coal will remain ours. We will take out the amount of coal we need and we are doing that. The Centre, the police and the officials are stealing and looting coal, and so on. In the meantime, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and other states, are moving forward to employ the revolutionary new technology in the interest of all of their citizens, especially those less privileged.

The tragedy of Bihar is precisely that the poor, unlettered and backward citizens of Bihar, who stand to benefit most from the new technology, are made to believe by Laloo Yadav’s fear of the unknown and his Luddite vision of the 21st century that remaining backward is an acceptable expression of assertion. It is not the first time in human history such logic has been employed to keep people on the farm.

It is a logic which stands the related concepts of izzat, development and a more generous quality of life squarely on their head. It is after all serious governance, development and everything that means in the year 2000, which might have given substance to ideas of equity and social justice to all of the citizens of Bihar. Regrettably, this logic is not a part of Laloo Yadav’s conceptual, social, or political lexicon. But the results of the 1996, 1998, and 1999 parliamentary elections, and the 2000 assembly elections, all of which showed Laloo Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal losing seats, suggest that the citizen voters of Bihar may be responding in different terms. That is their hope.

Sankarshan Thakur’s remarkable book helps us understand why that should be the case. It is a book that all observers of Bihar and of the Laloo phenomenon, especially those in the remote urban reaches of Delhi, Calcutta and other centres of political reflection should consider required reading. Sadly, the citizens of Bihar know the story only too well.    


 
 
A SIMPLE CASE OF MIND OVER BODY/BOOK REVIEW 
 
 
BY SAHELI MITRA
 
 
The Private Life of the Brain
By Susan A. Greenfield, Penguin, £ 12.99

“A drug, a dance, or a bungee jump temporarily obliterates your mind. But unalloyed by an idiosyncratic past or future, quicksilver consciousness still streaks through the brain, that no one else can hack into. And feelings are the most basic form of consciousness that actually occur as a result of shifting configurations of neurons within the physical brain.” Thus it is that tiny solid mass with its intricate tangle of neurones that ultimately build our unique minds.

Renowned neuroscientist, Susan A.Greenfield takes readers on a wonderful ride down the private life of their brains in The Private Life Of The Brain. Brain is perhaps the organ that common man has always regarded as an amazing creation without ever trying to understand it. Yet, it is the organ that dictates our behaviour and decides “who we are.”

Interestingly, Greenfield does not deal with difficult scientific explanations while exploring the complex ways in which the brain functions. Rather, she brings to the fore experiences of human emotions, anxiety, pleasure, nightmare and fear that show how our anatomically similar brains give rise to varying and completely unique personalities.

Greenfield observes: “Mind is a concept that cannot be catered to automatically by contemplating the physical lump of tissue between the ears. All our physical brains look pretty much the same, but one’s mind is quintessentially one’s own.”

Many scientists have tried to attribute different feelings to different parts of the brain. But Greenfield believes that no single brain region or a group of neurones can be identified with particular feelings like pain or pleasure. Otherwise, any part of the brain transported to a dish would have autonomously generated a specific feeling. And those attempting to construct a brain in silicon would have easily found the source of artificial intelligence.

But the main stumbling block to them is our unique consciousness that contributes to our mind. Greenfield believes there might be the presence of a garden-variety of neurones, not previously associated with any special function, which under the right circumstances contribute to a moment of consciousness.

An important section of the book has been devoted to explaining the effect of various drugs on the human brain and mind. The chapters make a detailed analysis of both the history of origin of such drugs as morphine, cocaine, LSD, heroin and opium and how they have been used over the years to induce extreme feelings that dramatically affect who we are.

Emotions always exist at the core of our consciousness to a greater or lesser degree. It depends on how much we are using them that dictates our behaviour at a particular moment. However, it’s not only external drugs that affect our brains. The brain itself has naturally occurring opiates known as enkephalins. Knowledge of the presence of these natural drugs in our brains was regarded as one of the most path-breaking discoveries of recent years. They were found to induce pleasure, as well as bring relief to pain.

The key concepts dealt with in the book are emotion — considered as the basic form of consciousness — and, mind, that develops along with the brain. Mind seems to be a personalization of the brain and it is the mind that finally shapes our “self”.

Thus The Private Life Of The Brain shows that humans are not fixed entities, but constantly change over the years. The different experiences of our life leave their mark on our existence. They even determine how we will interpret the experiences of our future.

As the mind evolves and man starts understanding more deeply, the control over what happens to him and what he does increases. He gradually becomes self-conscious. But the very idea of self-consciousness is also not fixed; it is related to the rise and fall of the emotions. Most important is that “we cannot expect, or even want, to be in a state of pleasure all the time. Such is the paradox of adult human existence — the private life of the brain.”    


 
 
EYE ON CHANGING TIMES/BOOK REVIEW 
 
 
BY KAUSHIK ROY
 
 
Security, Strategy and Critical Theory
By Richard Wyn Jones, Lynne Rienner, $ 49.95

Is the nation-state system coming to an end? The rise of hitherto marginalized groups like women and tribals and the resurgence of religious fundamentalism, along with the disintegration of the Cold War structure, have resulted in a fluid and fragile international scenario. This has forced political theorists to take stock of the traditional theories dealing with international relations.

The literature dealing with the world system can be categorized into two schools: the realist school and the culturalist school. The spokesmen of the former like Barry Posen argue that power-politics along with pragmatism or realpolitik shapes the behaviour of the polities in the global state system. In contrast, the culturalist approach — whose greatest exponents are Samuel Huntington, George Tanham and others — point out that cultural ethos modulates the policies of the state in the international arena.

Richard Wyn Jones, lecturer in the department of politics, University of Wales, in Security, Strategy and Critical Theory, introduces a new theory, which he calls “critical theory” for analysing the kaleidoscopic changes in the world order.

Jones starts by pointing out the limitations of the realist theory in order to establish the superiority of his critical theory. The realist school’s focus on the military dimension of inter-state conflicts appears as a grave limitation to Jones. He argues that in the present day world, largescale conventional conflicts or a nuclear Armageddon is unrealistic.

Moreover, due to the expansion of global capitalism in the guise of the multinational companies, the digital revolution and information explosion have resulted in the loss of credibility of the nation-states. In the near future, asserts Jones, not the nation- states but peoples’ power will reign internationally.

It is implicit in Jones’ book that his politics influences his academic formulations. Jones claims he is a Welsh activist protesting against the largescale “English” immigration in his homeland.

Interestingly, Jones writes that the local interest of the particular communities could never be protected by an overarching state structure. He continues that the polities instead of protecting their inhabitants tend to heighten their insecurity. The arms race owes its origin to the very existence of the polities.

Then why do the doctrinaires of the realist school always concentrate on the states while searching for techniques to enhance human security? Jones calls the realist scholars “watchdogs” of the state elite. He feels they have been bought with research grants and professorial posts. A true scholar, says Jones, should be an activist cum academician, in the mould of E.P. Thomson and his like. Only they can generate an innovative theory like the critical theory.

And what is this critical theory? It eschews statism and technology. The aim is to generate “emancipatory social movements”. How this aim is distinct from postmodernism is not explained. Jones eulogizes the Frankfurt school because, unlike the classical Marxists, they shunned the economic aspects of the class struggle. Max Horkheimer, the leader of this school in the Thirties emphasized the role of the individuals rather than the proletariat and the Communist Party.

This emphasis on the collective role of individuals constitutes the basis of the critical theory. Jones claims these ordinary individuals, through mass media and popular movements, could bring about a paradigm shift in national security policies.

To sum up, Jones’ book is a polemic against the realist school. Warfare continues to remain an integral component of the human life. The present world is ravaged by sub-conventional warfare and Jones’ theory completely neglects this aspect. He never engages with the strategic-cultural perspective. For the strategic-cultural approach, not the polities but social and religious values remain the key variables.

Further, this school already speaks of bottom-up radiation of the cultural ethos. Therefore this element is not an innovation introduced by the critical theory. The core of the critical theory, that ordinary human beings will become the prime movers and shakers in the world, is yet unproven. The rest of the theory, with its emphasis on environment, is an adaptation of the principles of the right wing movements like the “green movement”.

Jones is unnecessarily stalking a dead horse: Euro-cultural Marxism. However, all the scholars must read this book because Jones’ work ironically shows the inability of Marxism to explain the emerging global system.    


 
 
UNEASY TRYST WITH MODERNITY/BOOK REVIEW 
 
 
BY ARNAB BHATTACHARYA
 
 
Issues in Modern Indian History (For Sumit Sarkar)
Edited by Biswamoy Pati, Popular, Rs 400

Going by the notion of neo-historicism, history is not merely a concatenation of events, nor a value-neutral representation of authentic facts. Neo-historicists proclaim history to be a cultural discourse which, very much like literature, depends upon some linguistic and cultural variables operative within the power relations of the society that it seeks to represent. It follows from this argument that history, in its attempt to construct reality, deconstructs itself, and that an attentive reader of history should be perceptive to both the processes at a time.

This trend of thought is evident in some of the 12 essays in Issues in Modern Indian History, dedicated to Sumit Sarkar. The only essay whose approach seems to be incompatible with the rest is Srimanjari’s “War, famine and popular perceptions in Bengali literature, 1939-1945”. Despite its efficient analysis of Bengali literature as recording the reactions of Bengali middle class intellectuals to the social crises of the period, the essay relegates history to the background.

The essays deal with wide-ranging “issues”. The distinction between the words, “modern” and “contemporary” also becomes important, though a little more clarification would have helped the lay reader.

David Arnold’s “Disease, resistance and India’s ecological frontier, 1770-1947” is an intriguing delineation of “social history of disease and ecology”, which is germane to the theme of anti-colonial struggle in the “jungle mahals” of western Bengal, Khandesh and the hill tracts in the northern Circars of Madras. Arnold studies how the tribals’ supposed immunity to a deadly and “hyperendemic” disease like malaria created the colonial perception of the historical division between “the tribal/forest and plains/agrarian” society. It is this perception which substantially contributed to the British theory of Indian “wilderness” and the adoption of special imperialist strategies. Arnold presents the malaria syndrome as a key factor in sustaining the tribal’s ecological cum political resistance against colonial forces during the period between 1770 and 1946-47 and also highlights its role in “bringing about new patterns of social, economic and epidemiological integration.”

In “Slave-queen, waif-prince: slavery and social poverty in eighteenth century India”, Indrani Chatterjee and Sumit Guha refute the matrilineal bent of Indian historiography which undermines the dominant tradition of slave-matriarchy in Marathi history as embodied in the persona of Virubai, the slave-woman.

Amiya Sen, in his essay on Sri Ramakrishna’s Kathamrita as a typical late 19th century middle class discourse, refuses to endorse the views expressed by Partha Chatterjee and Sumit Sarkar, which emphasize the manipulative “appropriation” of the hagiographic text by the 19th century Bengali bhadralok community to profitably construct an anti-colonial discourse. Devesh Vijay, in “Ideology, culture and ethnicity” highlights the shifting focus of leftist writing on contemporary Indian politics.

Most of the essays merit separate reviews, based as they are on longer theses by the writers. The editing, though, leaves much to be desired. However, the book can be easily recommended on the merit of its contents.    


 
 
SIGNS’ PENDULUM/EDITOR’S CHOICE 
 
 
 
 
Kant and the Platypus: Essays on Language and Cognition
By Umberto Eco, Secker and Warburg, £ 11

Umberto Eco is nothing if not exasperating. What, one may well ask, is the similarity between Immanuel Kant and a platypus. Nothing, as Eco says on page one of the book. Kant could not have anything to do with the platypus. But Eco, as a tribute to Jorge Luis Borges’s ancient Chinese encyclopaedia, brings together the incongruous. This is also Eco’s style, playful, contradictory, a trifle arcane, tangential and incorrigibly exasperating. Those who like Eco’s writing are drawn by precisely these aspects of his writing.

He takes as the motto of this book a quotation from an 18th century author, Boscoe Pertwee, which he discovered: “I used to be indecisive, but now I am not so sure”. The six essays in this book are informed by a “spirit of indecision and [is] beset by numerous doubts”. They touch on problems of reference, iconism, truth and perception. Eco’s erudition is on full display as he moves from medieval history to cartoons to structuralism to obscure Latin texts.

Eco begins from the common sense: any theory of signs has to begin from reality since signs signify reality. In other words, there is a world outside of language. But the problem arises because that world cannot be comprehended without language. Eco says, “Without speech there is no more entity.” It is a familiar postmodern position that reality is a construction of human linguistic practices, in other words, of signs. In the beginning was the sign. But Eco is no longer willing to allow a totally free play of signs. Hence, he introduces the existence and importance of an extralinguistic reality which acts as a limit on interpretation. When one says, “This is a cat”, the meaning of the sentence is clear and rooted in a particular reality.

It would be misleading to present this book as only a philosophical tract, though that is its chief purpose. Eco likes to keep his theory and his story-telling separate. But in these essays, especially in the second, he interweaves stories with the theoretical discussion. He provides two reasons for doing this. First, “if, as they say, the era of ‘great narrative’ has passed, it might be useful to proceed by parables, which let us see something in textual mode without wanting to draw grammars from them”.

Second, because he adopted a questioning approach to the way humans perceive, Eco wanted to bring “an oft neglected character back to the stage, namely, common sense. And in order to understand how common sense works, there is nothing better than imagining ‘stories’ in which people behave according to its dictates. In this way we discover that normality is narratively surprising.”

Borges once described the platypus as “a horrible animal” because it was made up of pieces from other animals. The platypus thus has, according to Eco, an identity crisis. Eco inverts this and insinuates that the other animals were made from pieces of the platypus. This does not resolve the platypus’s crisis. But that is because it knows nothing of Kant.

If you are looking for straightforward answers to questions of philosophy, like the nature of truth and so forth, this is not the book for you. But if you are willing to go along with Eco, listen to his stories, become implicated in his doubts and queries and above all be a party to his eternal playfulness and sense of fun, then it is. Intellectually demanding, yes but never for a moment boring.    

 

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