Editorial 1/Moonstruck
Editorial 2/Wobbly wahid
Too close for comfort
Letters to the Editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1/MOONSTRUCK 
 
 
 
 
Mr Anil Biswas, the secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), has all the attributes of a communist in a bad agitprop play. He is pompous, cocksure and has an absurd opinion about everything. He has brought his knowledge and sagacity into full play by demanding that the United States consul-general in Calcutta, Mr Christopher Sandrolini, and his wife should be withdrawn. The special Mr Biswas touch lies in the reason that he has given for this extraordinary demand. He has said that the consul-general had collected information on the killings in Nanoor and this, according to Mr Biswas, was “highly irregular and amounts to interference”. Mr Biswas alleged that two analysts of the political wing of the consulate had gone to Nanoor to collect information. What Mr Biswas has glossed over is that both officials were Indian passport holders and therefore had as much right as Mr Biswas or any other Indian citizen to visit any part of India. India, despite the wishes and efforts of communists, remains a free country where movement is unrestricted for citizens. By making this kind of fantastic claim, Mr Biswas has also displayed ignorance about the functions of the diplomatic corps. Among the many duties that diplomats have to perform all over the world, collection of information is an important one. Information sent in from a country serves as the basis for formulating policy. Anybody who knows anything about how the world functions knows about this role of diplomats. But Mr Biswas is a special breed who knows nothing outside his party doctrine and Alimuddin Street.

Violence has escalated in the districts of West Bengal, and there are many different versions doing the rounds about what actually happened.The US consul-general in Calcutta was only doing his duty by trying to find out about the incident in Nanoor instead of depending on what was being dished out by political parties. This is not acceptable to Mr Biswas and his ilk because they believe that there is no truth outside of what the CPI(M) says. Everybody should only accept the CPI(M)’s official version. Unfortunately for Mr Biswas, “the party is always right” is a doctrine that went out with Joseph Stalin’s coffin. There is another absurdity to consider. Mr Biswas, whatever be his own sense of self-importance, is only a party functionary. He holds no government post and therefore his demand to have Mr Sandrolini withdrawn has no relevance. This kind of request can be made only by the chief minister to the prime minister. Unfortunately for all concerned, Mr Jyoti Basu has chosen to revive his anti-American clichés and be a party to the absurd drama.

Mr Biswas’s reaction, despite having all the elements of the bizarre, has political undertones. The rise in the popularity of Ms Mamata Banerjee and the Trinamool Congress has made the CPI(M) a little more than uncomfortable. The CPI(M) realizes that its base and its hold over the rural world are under threat from a challenger who is willing to beat the CPI(M) at its own game. Through his inanity, Mr Biswas has rather clumsily expressed his party’s growing nervousness. There are lines, not always visible, that separate nervousness from paranoia and the latter from lunacy. Mr Biswas should watch those lines. His pronouncements, if unchecked, might make the unknowing think that the I and the M in CPI(M) stand for insanity and madness. This may not worry Mr Biswas, but lunatics have no right to rule.    


 
 
EDITORIAL 2/WOBBLY WAHID 
 
 
 
 
On the occasion of his first address to the people’s consultative assembly and the completion of nearly a year as Indonesia’s president, Mr Abdurrahman Wahid, apologized for his failings and fell asleep while his speech was being read out. Indonesians would see this as being characteristic of his reign. The archipelagic country is wracked by three major problems. Most prominent has been the secessionist movements in two provinces and sectarian violence that has claimed thousands of lives on other islands. The economy is still struggling to get out of recession. Even the currency, which had at one point seemed stable, took a plunge just before Mr Wahid addressed the assembly. The economy’s problems are intimately linked to the third problem. This is a fractured and fractious political elite that spends more time squabbling than determining policies. It does not help that Mr Wahid, blind and ailing, can count on only 10 per cent of the assembly’s votes. He rules with the support of three other parties who cannot seem to decide whether they are allies or rivals. Mr Wahid will survive the assembly session because there is no alternative. Indonesia’s vice-president, Ms Megawati Sukarnoputri, the parliamentary speaker, Mr Akbar Tandjung, and the assembly head, Mr Amien Rais, have promised to not topple Mr Wahid during the present session. However, this sounded a little strange given that they lead the other parties of the ruling coalition.

Mr Wahid’s speech promised action — something notably lacking so far during his reign. The rebellious provinces of Aceh and West Irian were to be offered autonomy. He did not seem to have a solution to the sectarian violence in the Moluccas. Mr Wahid has rejected international intervention but cannot trust the powerful Indonesian military to play a neutral role. The economy will not recover without the return of investor confidence. But investors have stayed away because of Mr Wahid’s own shakiness and Jakarta’s inability to curb corruption, especially in government contracts. Indonesia’s problems have at least kept rivals from seeking Mr Wahid’s overthrow. But it is hardly encouraging that no politician in Jakarta seems to have an idea of how to tackle the fledgling democracy’s mounting headaches.    


 
 
TOO CLOSE FOR COMFORT 
 
 
BY J.N. DIXIT
 
 
The prime minister of Nepal, G.P. Koirala, was in New Delhi from July 31 for a three day visit. Koirala has come to New Delhi after a gap of nearly four years. His visit is timely. Indo-Nepalese relations are in doldrums with undercurrents of anxiety and suspicion. Relations have been a Kafkaesque phenomenon of attachments flavoured with emotional hostility and complexities. Commonalities of religion, language and culture generate impulses of apprehension and disappointment on the part of Nepal towards India. Conversely, there is emotional and political frustration in India about Nepal’s not being an uninhibited partner and supporter of India despite the many ties that bind Indians and Nepalese.

Indo-Nepalese interactions have always been animated by a deep Indian responsiveness towards the wellbeing and aspirations of Nepal’s people. At each successive stage of Nepal’s political transformation, a process which India helped along, relations between New Delhi and the successive power structures in Kathmandu have been subject to tensions and alienation. India helped the Nepalese monarchy free itself from the feudal and oligarchic hold of the Ranas. For nearly two decades relations between the monarchy and India remained adversarial. India supported democracy’s revival in Nepal in the early Nineties. But successive elected Nepalese governments have had problematic relations with India.

It is necessary to contrast the current dilemmas affecting relations with the benefits of uninhibited cooperation in certain spheres.

Five broad problems affect Indo-Nepalese relations.

One, restructuring the macrolevel political terms of reference of the relationship. Two, fashioning a relationship in the context of Nepalese perceptions about the regional balance of influences which would serve Nepalese interests. Three, resolving territorial disputes, taking into account Nepal’s views on its identity and India’s strategic concerns. Four, coming to equitable and fair arrangements about the use of the water resources of shared river basins. Five, resolving issues affecting the internal security of both Nepal and India arising from terrorism, secessionist movements and Nepalese immigration to Bhutan. Finally, finding practical solutions for Nepal’s economic and commercial anxieties rooted in its being landlocked.

When it comes to restructuring the terms of reference, there have been incremental demands from Nepal to revise the 1950 Indo-Nepal Treaty of Peace and Friendship and some of the guiding principles about bilateral trade contained in the 1950 Treaty of Trade, Commerce and Transit. Both these agreements, while diluting the assertive role envisaged in the previous Anglo-Nepalese treaties, still provide for a special relationship. Though the treaties with independent India have benefited Kathmandu, Nepal feels the 1950 agreements militate against their national identity and freedom of options.

Now, after a seachange in world and regional politics, India should be responsive to Nepal’s sensitivities. There should be no objection to renegotiating the friendship treaty. Nepal wishes to modify or amend articles 2 and 5.

Article 2 stipulates, “The two governments hereby undertake to inform each other of any serious fricton or misunderstanding with any neighbouring state likely to cause any breach in the friendly relations subsisting between the two Governments (of India and Nepal).” Article 5 says, “The government of Nepal shall be free to import from and through the territory of India arms, ammunition or warlike material and equipment necessary for the security of Nepal. The procedure for giving effect to this arrangement shall be worked out by the two Governments.’’ Kathmandu feels these clauses restrict its sovereign discretion in conducting its foreign relations and fashioning its security policy.

Nepal has not been inhibited by India in exercising its sovereign discretion in these matters. The only negative dimension has been India’s concerns about certain aspects of Kathmandu’s security and economic cooperation with China over the last half a century.

India should not be averse to renegotiating the 1950 friendship treaty given the present geostrategic environment. A certain chemistry and symbiosis in bilateral security, political and defence relations would stand diluted and India will have to pull back from some aspects of this special relationship to balance this dilution. Nepal should accept this as a consequence of its keenness to revise the treaty.

India should be willing to initiate discussions for revising the treaty. If agreed upon, a logical consequence would be for India to stop being overanxious about Nepal’s relations with China. The less anxiety India expresses, the less Kathmandu will feel it can play a China card against India and an India card against China. This does not mean New Delhi should not watch out for an extensive Chinese presence in Nepal.

India’s approach should be to acknowledge Nepal’s right to exercise options. But it should send categorical and clear messages that India would take remedial actions to redress excessive Chinese involvement inside Nepal. That India would do whatever is necessary for its security in the way of strategic, diplomatic and defence planning. The activities of Pakistani intelligence and Northeastern secessionist groups in Nepal has become a matter of increasing concern to New Delhi. More importantly, these activities effect the internal cohesion and security of Nepal even more.

At the formal, governmental level, Kathmandu has given repeated assurances the past decade to cooperate with India in this matter and take effective internal steps. But the situation leaves much to be desired. India’s case needs to be categorical, backed up with facts and details. Nepal’s tendency to question Indian anxieties and describe India’s claims as unwarranted is also wrong. The two countries need to remember they share a substantive mutuality of interests in this problem.

As far as trade and transit goes, India must be as accommodating as possible to Nepal’s requirements and provide additional transit routes and port facilities. In the era of globalization, free flow of goods and the forces of modernization, the old anxieties India has about commerce and trade, are irrelevant at more substantive levels. India needs to help Nepal achieve its full international, economic and trade potential.

The two sides should avoid static negotiating positions on Kalapani — which is what seems to have happened. Some via media should be found by which India acknowledges Nepal’s de jure jurisdiction over the area while Nepal acknowledges India’s security concerns by allowing a de facto Indian presence in the area, at least until the Sino-Indian boundary dispute is resolved.

Cooperation in using river water resources shared by the two countries can benefit both countries economically. Talks have not taken off because of Nepal’s inhibitions and because India has adopted a strictly technical and commercial negotiating stance. Agreements on the Tanakpur hydroelectric project and the Mahakali project still exist only on paper. If these resources are exploited, 85,000 megawatts would be available for Nepal, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and northern West Bengal.

A creative and innovative approach must underpin the policies of both countries in this important sphere of cooperation for mutual benefit. Though among the smaller of India’s neighbours, good relations with Nepal are of high strategic importance. New Delhi should seek to consolidate this relationship despite the complexities and pressures involved. India should convey assurances to Nepal about India’s desire to have a stable partnership on the basis of equality, mutual respect and benefit.

The problem of Nepalese migrants to Bhutan, though a bilateral matter between two other countries, merits assistance from India. The national security advisor, Brajesh Mishra, visited Nepal earlier this summer. Koirala’s visit raises the discussions to the highest political level. It is reasonable to anticipate that these problems must have been discussed between the two prime ministers. Hopefully, the discussions were animated by a spirit of reasoning and give and take.

The author is former foreign secretary of India    


 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Mothers at work

Sir — If nearly 49 per cent of women in the country are opposed to breast-feeding and nearly 72 per cent of the working women do not want to breast-feed their babies, then one should think that women are not inhibited any more in speaking their minds, even though it means prioritizing work over motherhood (“Work first, babies next”, August 7). But the question that remains unanswered is whether society, particularly women’s employers would accept and respect this view. Swati Bhave, at the seminar organized by the Indian Academy of Paediatrics, recommended provisions made at offices for breast-feeding mothers, and also an increasing maternity leave from 12 weeks to four months. But what about the commercial cost of these changes? Employing women means giving them extra benefits that can be avoided. Hence, these changes may end up bringing down the number of women being employed, since they are likely to be perceived as economic liabilities.

Yours faithfully,
Sweta Das Gupta, Calcutta

Boxful of mindlessness

Sir — It would not be too harsh to describe Avijit Pathak’s article, “Black magic box” (July 31) as entirely one-dimensional. Explaining the evolution of an “apolitical, despiritualized, non-reflective, market-friendly middle class” only by means of an irrepressible television addiction is too simplistic a point of view to be noted. A better explanation might be found in the instinctive human enthusiasm for change.

Change is integral to human life and it is the key to survival. For survival, we have moved from silent gesticulations to words, from ignorance to a deluge of information, from printed to audio-visual knowledge. Any worry that this deluge also brings unwanted triviality and non-reflectiveness due to repetition and temporality ignores the natural human ability to separate grain from chaff, in other words, to assimilate only the information that is necessary for him.

Television may not be the greatest human invention, but when the global market has been divided into the information technology and non-IT spheres, television is the most indispensable in our daily existence.

Yours faithfully,
Susanta Kumar Biswas, Calcutta

Sir — Avijit Pathak makes a pithy summary of the pernicious influences of the idiot box. Any mind which hasn’t yet been desensitized by the impact of television would agree with him. Television provides the viewer with innumerable channels to choose from. He exercises his power to choose by the constant switching of channels — an action which symptomizes his brain deadness. Unable to avoid the bombardment of images, sound and information,the modern viewer, sitting alone in the couch or bed, cut off from the world, becomes a victim of the hyper-real world. He becomes static, stoic and “comfortably numb”.

There has to be a movement to make people conscious of the adverse effects of the information revolution. If we lose our ability to think for ourselves, it might be the end of civilization.

Yours faithfully,
J.C. Mukherjee, Calcutta

Sir — Avijit Pathak condemns television advertising. But these advertisements attract viewers to buy the product once. If the product itself is not appealing or useful, the viewer is not going to buy it again. Advertising also provides a mechanism for comparing products. Pathak assumes the viewer to be a gullible person who is entirely and uncritically absorbed in what he is watching. In reality, most adult viewers only spend a fraction of their leisure time watching TV.

Yours faithfully,
Shyamal Pain, New Jersey,

Dying by numbers

Sir — Sasanka Sekhar Adhikary in “Man’s polluting touch” (June 29) has sounded the alarm, though belatedly, on population growth and environmental damage. The point that needs to be understood, however, is that it is uncontrolled population growth that has a directly adverse effect on the environment. Though India has made giant strides in technological growth and is a de facto information technology power, this has not resulted in a better quality of life for its citizens nor has it improved the lot of the poor. The fruits of development can be enjoyed by the people only if the population is kept under control. For India, this has not happened.

India’s population growth is a natural result of a number of factors. One, the absence of an effective population policy. Two, a bad reservation policy that has led to brain drain and inequitable distribution of resources. A majority of the upper classes from the south are in the United States, Europe, Australia or west Asia. Three, the lack of compulsory and universal education. In fact, education appears to have been a subject of least priority for the government during the last half century. Unless a law is enacted, making it mandatory for couples to fulfil certain criteria like the ability to feed, educate and clothe their offspring before they produce them, there is no future for the country.

Yours faithfully,
S. Ramakrishnan, via email

Sir — Population is the sole reason for India’s socioeconomic problems. Resources in the country have not increased in proportion to the increase of population. A quarter of a century ago, the country had initiated vigorous steps to contain the boom. However, the misuse of the programme by some over-zealous politicians prevented it from being successful.

Political parties that came to power at the Centre and states eventually did not pursue the programme for fear of a public outcry. Further, they were more preoccupied with their internal squabbles and with retaining their gaddi than concentrate on the welfare of the country.

Our neighbour, China, has been hugely successful in controlling its birth rate. That is one reason it has emerged as a superpower today. India’s policymakers must understand the gravity of the situation. Otherwise, the Malthusian nightmare might soon become a reality.

Yours faithfully,
E.M. Adithyan, Edapal

Sir — The Bharatiya Janata Party ideologue, K.R. Malkani, is right in saying that Indians should “multiply to save the nation”. The money wasted on population control should be spent on the welfare of mothers and newborns. The government has done enough to make Indians aware of the dangers of a population explosion. The brutal means developed by today’s medical science for population control have only led to more foeticide and abortions.

The affluent in our society look for excuses for their hedonism. It is really shameful that one can have two dogs, but not one more child. Our planet has enough resources to accommodate and nourish billions, provided the ecological balance is retained.

Yours faithfully,
Tameemuddin Humble, Gaya

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