Editorial/ Towards Warmer climes
Printing money
The Telegraph/ Diary
Letters to the editor

While the precise impact of the visit of the Indian prime minister, Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee, to the United States will continue to be debated in the days to come, it is clear that India’s engagement with the United States is based on a pragmatic understanding of the convergence of strategic and political interests between the world’s two largest democracies. This was reflected in Mr Vajpayee’s speeches to the Asia Society and to the joint session of the US congress. What is heartening is that important constituencies within the US too seem to be beginning to recognize the merits of what the American president, Bill Clinton, described as “regular, sustained partnership” with India.

Apart from the focus on the importance of furthering the economic relationship, Mr Vajpayee’s speeches were striking for the attention they paid to three themes of common interest. Most important was the concern he expressed about the new wave of terrorism that was primarily targeting India, but which the US could ignore only at its own peril. Mr Vajpayee pointed out that no country had faced as ferocious an attack of terrorist violence as India had over the past two decades and — in an obvious reference to Pakistan and Afghanistan — he emphasised that “no region is a greater source of terrorism than our neighbourhood”. Further, he cautioned the US, “Distance offers no insulation. It should not cause complacence.” While some may be uncomfortable with the continued focus on Pakistan in Mr Vajpayee’s speeches, there is no doubt that the spectre of terrorism strikes a chord with the American policy community. In the recent past, the US has witnessed a spate of terrorist attacks on its missions abroad, some of which have been reportedly sponsored by the Afghanistan-based Saudi Arabian businessman, Osama bin Laden. In addition, terrorist outfits in Pakistan, including the dreaded Lashkar-e-Toiba, have threatened to wage jehad against both India and the US. While Washington may still not be willing to directly implicate the government of Pakistan, there is clearly room for greater bilateral cooperation against terrorism at multiple levels. Not surprisingly, India and the US have formed a joint working group to combat terrorism, and cooperation should get a fillip after Mr Vajpayee’s visit.

No less significantly, Mr Vajpayee expressed concern about the “future contours of Asia”, and the importance of fostering stability in the continent through a regime of cooperative security. The prime minister projected lucidly India’s vision of an Asia at peace with itself. He said: “We must create an Asia where cooperative rather than aggressive assertion of national self-interests defines behaviour among nations”. At a time when there is growing concern in the US over the rise of China as a great power, the manner in which Beijing is beginning to exercise its might in the Asia-Pacific region, and the possibility of a long term Sino-US confrontation, Mr Vajpayee’s assertions naturally found a receptive audience. Although, not many within the Democratic administration view India as a counterweight to China, there is growing opinion within the Republicans that New Delhi could emerge as one key balancer.

Finally, Mr Vajpayee addressed an issue that has caused tremendous strains in the bilateral relationship: the issue of nonproliferation. Understandably, Mr Vajpayee’s speech to the US congress brought out the common strands: the common commitment to the ultimate elimination of nuclear weapons and the voluntary moratorium made by Washington and New Delhi on nuclear testing. Most significantly, however, Mr Vajpayee stated that India understood American concerns about nonproliferation and did not wish to unravel American nonproliferation efforts. Earlier, at the Asia Society, Mr Vajpayee had made it clear that his government was attempting to evolve a consensus on signing the comprehensive test ban treaty. In sum, the prime minister, in his speeches, has identified common security concerns and made it explicit that New Delhi is willing to translate the natural alliance between India and the US into a strong strategic relationship.    

With the demise of Marxist states in the West, it has become a global truism that markets, regulated by authorities more neutral than the state, are the best available option for the economic wellbeing of nations. In the area of higher education, however, the rationality of bringing markets strongly into play is only just creeping up the horizon. India is notoriously slow off the mark in every sector: state monopolies will take long to be dismantled, and in the Indian world of higher education the market will perhaps seem “natural” only in some distant future when the Birlas no longer make Ambassadors and OK Tata are not synonymous with trucks. Meanwhile, there is some indication that the state’s deliberate policy of slow-starving universities and research centres is obliquely achieving what the state intends — driving such institutions towards fundraising and the private sector.

Teaching English to third world students for high, yet globally competitive, fees is one such fundraising idea. So far, this seems to have found few takers but the potential, under-marketed today, may have to be milked for badly needed funds when other options have shrunk dry. Another idea is to charge industrial houses for professorial faculty, naming the chairs so obtained after the cherished progenitors of those who have agreed to pay up.

With academic safeguards built into such arrangements, their success has been demonstrated for years in the West. At Cambridge, not long ago, a television rental company which had made it big endowed the university an entire college called “Robinson”. New Hall, a largely women’s college in the same university, managed to interest the ever-bowing Japanese to donate a hostel. Nearer home Delhi’s St Stephen’s College raised funds for a library extension through its influential Old Boys’ network, thereby aping what is considered a routine requirement among the affluent, autonomous universities of the United States. Medical and engineering colleges at home, similarly, charge huge capitation or entry fees, and a variety of colleges have raised their library fees upto twenty times the tuition fees, which remains the holy cow, the cat no one can bell.

Fund-raising efforts such as these are, however, almost trifling when seen in relation to a sector which has been traditionally exploited by certain successful universities in the West, namely the publishing wings of these universities, also known as university presses. This has in recent times become a fund-raising sector with colossal potential. Yet the notion of a professionally run university press never even seems to cross the minds of those who are scrambling desperately for ideas on how to fund our own universities and higher education institutes. A very long time ago, Calcutta University had a functioning press, the Calcutta University Press. It published some extremely distinguished books, including Hem Chandra Raychaudhuri’s Political History of Ancient India, a work which, with additional material, continues to sell as a textbook, but not through the defunct press which originated the book. It now sells through a press in the private sector, Oxford University Press, which makes good money by selling it annually to every new batch which studies ancient India.

This is only the tiniest example of what Calcutta University has lost and Oxford University has gained by running a hugely profitable publishing press. Three years ago, Calcutta University lost another opportunity to make good money when its English department farmed out a prescribed undergraduate textbook to the private sector. This anthology sold in excess of a lakh copies over the first two years: what the university made by way of royalty is a pittance in comparison with what it might have made had it possessed a well-oiled university press of its own. It does not require a visionary to point out the massive volume of textbook and related book business that India’s universities are collectively losing on account of their inability to operate their own potentially profitable publishing wings. Every university worth its salt in the West is running, or trying to run, such an operation.

In India, readers of general English fiction and serious prose are casually familiar with the names of a handful of international publishers. Penguin, Macmillan, McGraw Hill, Prentice Hall, John Wiley, OUP, Longman, Cambridge, Faber and HarperCollins have local associates or branch offices to import and reprint their books. The adaptation of foreign textbooks to local needs, the initiation and development of indigenous publishing programmes, and the encouragement of translations from regional languages into English are related activities prioritized to varying degrees by such presses.

Beyond these large multinational publishing organizations, a reasonably substantial terrain has in recent years been created by small presses of local origin. The names of some of these have become hazily familiar to browsers of books, competitively interesting to retail booksellers and authors, and concretely known to the invisible manufacturing world which lies behind every published book. Rupa, Sage India, Orient Longman and Manohar are the larger among these. Then there is Roli Books, Kali for Women, Seagull, Stree, K.P. Bagchi, Affiliated East-West, India Ink, Har-Anand, Katha, Konark, Natraj and many more. But among the 200 or so universities in the Indian subcontinent, there is not even one functioning university press.

Compare this with the UK, where there are nearly a dozen presses which yield good profits to the parent university annually, topped predictably by OUP and Cambridge University Press. It is not commonly known and therefore staggeringly astonishing that Oxford’s press is the single largest contributor to the coffers of the university. Not surprisingly, the press is now single-mindedly driven by accountants who have both eyes open not for books but balance sheets.

The academic scandal which followed OUP’s “sacking” of its poetry list left the university’s chief representative within the press unperturbed. This representative, Keith Thomas, as president of Corpus Christi College, was urged by large numbers of British academics to apologize on behalf of the press for abandoning the academic principles for which the press was set up in the first place. Thomas would have none of this. Wearing his other hat, as finance delegate to the OUP, he made a national mockery of himself by defending the crass Thatcherite commercialism which led to the country’s largest university press to abandon the country’s finest practitioners of the English language.

Somewhere in between the new-found commercialism of the world’s largest university press and the pathetic non-existence of the Indian university press lies the academically prestigious and commercially viable status of the best university presses in the US. In North America there are currently as many as 125 university presses. Some of these are very large, others very small, yet others somewhere in between. Among the oldest are Cornell University Press (1869), the University of Pennsylvania Press (1869), Johns Hopkins University Press (1878), Chicago University Press (1891), University of California Press (1893), and Columbia University Press (1893). Among the youngest are the University of Arkansas Press and Galludent University Press (1980). Eight were established in the Seventies, including Carnegie Mellon University Press (1972); fifteen others were founded in the Sixties.

Would the country where god and the market are much the same thing encourage the creation of the university press unless its commercial viability were historically proven? The question is overwhelmingly rhetorical. At last count, Chicago University Press had 4,200 books in print, the University of California Press had 3,500 and Princeton University Press had 3,500. The last book published by an Indian university press went out of print so long ago that no one really remembers when it happened. Not even B.S. Kesavan’s monumental History of Indian Publishing records such a date.    


Keep the chin up

Madam by day, granny by night? It is not exactly known whether it is baby-sitting that takes over, but proud grandma, Sonia Gandhi, is refusing to attend to any official work after eight in the evening. An unsuspecting AICC member was in for a rude shock the other day when his pleasantries were cut short brusquely as the hour approached with a curt “the general secretary concerned ought to know this”. There is reason for the acid in the tone. Madam seemingly can’t digest reports that her election as the Congress chief is likely to be contested from within by Jitendra Prasada and K Karunakaran. The lowly reaching for the sky — could they think of doing this to Indiraji or Rajiv Gandhi? Anyway, Indian politics hasn’t been all that unkind to the bahu. For one, it has taught her when to smile. And smile (no, it was a laugh as reports come in) she did at this joke of Jairam Ramesh’s. This is how it ran. Natwar Singh and Romesh Bhandari were at a party. Bhandari being Bhandari, introduced his wife to his hosts as “please meet my wife. She is daughter of the maharaja of Patiala”. Natwar Singh, who was next in queue, introduced his wife as “meet my wife. She is daughter of the maharaja and maharani of Patiala”. Natwar and Bhandari are brothers-in-law. Keep it up, Ramesh.

In through the out door

Natwar again, but no smiles here. Part of madam’s “wise council”, he, together with Arjun Singh make up a gang. The duo are terribly unpopular in the party and under their skin, the two know it. That is the reason they do not really relish the prospects of contesting the Congress working committee elections to be held in Jabalpur in November. Both Arjun and Natwar in fact had opted out of the Lok Sabha polls in the 1999 general elections. Now they hope to avoid AICC delegates as well. The wise men have a plan. The CWC polls, an astute Natwar argued, should be contested by all those below 60. You have under this category heavyweights like Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, Kamal Nath, Girija Vyas, Ambika Soni, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Salman Khurshid, Ajit Jogi and a few others. The catch is, while these people battle it out among themselves, Arjun, Natwar, Narain Dutt Tiwari, Vijay Bhaskar Reddy, Motilal Vora and Mohsina Kidwai take a cakewalk and land CWC berths in the nominated categories. And you thought the grey hairs were for nothing?

Waiting to be adopted

The please-all, genial, viewer-friendly BJP general secretary and party spokesman, M Venkaiah Naidu, might soon need a shoulder to cry on. His problem is that neither Atal Behari Vajpayee nor LK Advani trusts him any more. When Vajpayee crowned Naidu’s rival, Bangaru Laxman, as all India chief, he promised him the information and broadcasting portfolio in his cabinet. But not sure of his decision, Vajpayee asked both Laxman and Advani what they felt about the commitment made. Advani, without remorse, hushed up the move, saying, “Let him remain in the party. The party needs him more.” Trouble is, party president Laxman doesn’t.

Therefore he is all set to clip Naidu’s hurt wings further by elevating Narendra Modi and Jana Krishna Murthy by giving them charge of the media along with Naidu. Venkaiah will now have to share his glamour with two party seniors. Moreover, he will allegedly not be given any additional charge except that of Andhra Pradesh. And here too, predictably, it will be Laxman’s writ that will run. Any soothers for crying babies?

Protective covering

With enemies like these, who needs friends? Remember the famous CPI(M) hoodlum, Badsha Alam, who masterminded the attack on Mamata Banerjee in 1992 which enabled her to sport a bandage for months? The man has joined the Trinamool bandwagon and, hold your breath, will reportedly be assigned to look after didi’s security after his formal induction into the party. The party, which was already planning a suicide squad before George Fernandes came visiting, is now on tenterhooks after the defence minister alleged that the state government was not providing adequate security for Mamata. Alam apparently is terribly happy about the assignment and claims no one else could better manage didi’s security. No doubts about that. Who else but a former adversary, and a headhunter who almost got the head, can predict where dangers can be lurking for the lady?

Footnote/ Trace the faultlines

One thing is for sure. The CPI(M) is populated with leaders who never say die. Look at Jyoti Basu. And look at Subhash Chakraborty. The West Bengal transport minister and dissident leader was with Harkishen Singh Surjeet last week to pour his heart out against the alleged conspiracy being hatched by party leaders like Anil Biswas and Biman Bose. Chakraborty told Surjeet that he had no intentions of quitting the party unless he was driven out. Senior leaders , he alleged, were maligning him and had even implicated him falsely in the Beni Engineering case. The ignominy was intolerable and Chakraborty would have to resign from the party if the malice continued. What did the raving produce? No promises, but Surjeet has reportedly said he will look into the matter. Meanwhile, Chakraborty has been requested to bear with the party leadership in its moment of crisis. The grapevine has it that it was Basu who had asked Chakraborty to meet Surjeet and narrate his woes. High hopes. If the retiring patriarch found the matter too hot to handle, would a status quoist like Surjeet handle it any better?    


Gates of compromise

Sir — All gates in India were opened to welcome Bill Gates (“Bill logs in to Bharat”, September 10). But there is no mistaking that Gates’s real intention was expanding his business in India. The way the chief ministers went all out to woo him does not augur well for the image of the nation. Similar craving for shaking hands or getting a picture taken with the visiting dignitary was witnessed during Bill Clinton’s visit to India. India’s wealth of brainpower has made it the destination of the biggest names in information technology companies in the world. But foreign investment should only be welcomed when it does not involve a compromise with India’s national interest. Or else, the gates can remain shut.
Yours faithfully,
V.A. Gopala, Bangalore

Spot of school trouble

Sir — The editorial “Omnibus problem” (Sept 1) rightly points out that the assembling and dispersing of schools in the mornings and afternoons lead to traffic jams. The traffic headache is greater if the school is located in or is adjacent to busy thoroughfares. Such a situation is, no doubt, regrettable. But to suggest that the shifting of schools to less populated areas would solve the problem is incorrect.

For one, not all schools have school buses and, those that do, have only a fraction of the total population of school-goers using them. Since the less-populated areas, say, a spot on the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass, are not well connected by buses, the majority of students would find it difficult to reach school, at least initially till demand brings private buses flocking to these places.

Two, most schools, the lesser known ones especially, have students who mostly live in nearby areas. To shift the school far away would inconvenience them. Three, in the case of a number of students, both parents work. To have the children ready for school at an early hour, and then drop them to school in a remote area, would cause problems.

The solution, ultimately, lies with the police and the school authorities.The police should take a more active and responsible part in traffic management, specially in making traffic take a detour when schools assemble or disperse. Traffic constables are almost never seen in their assigned places. On the other hand, the school authorities should impress upon students the need to disperse quickly and in a disciplined manner. Discipline, in this context, is better than dislocation.

Yours faithfully,
S. Ganguly, Calcutta

Sir — With most of Calcutta being filled up by a concrete jungle, one cannot be entirely sure what the editorial, “Omnibus problem”, really means by “remote places” for location of schools. Even if schools were persuaded to move to these sites, where would the money for the new constructions come from? The students, presumably?

Yours faithfully,
Manish Rawail, Calcutta

Parting shot

Sir — Kapil Dev has landed a knockout punch on the Board of Control for Cricket in India by resigning. It was yet another example of the board’s amateurish handling of matters. This was highlighted in the way Mohammed Azharuddin, Ajay Jadeja and Nikhil Chopra were dumped even before the investigating agencies’ verdict. “Credible” people should be appointed to the board and it should be so structured that all are accountable.
Yours faithfully,
Avik Sinha, via email

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