Editorial 1/ Oily problem
Editorial 2/ Flooded by surprise
Unhistorical claims
Fifth Column/ Running after the mirage of peace
Book Review/ A genius for living
Book Review/ Given out, pen before wicket
Book Review/ To an exceptional lady, with love
Book Review/ Essential and local dignities
Book Review/ England hath need of thee
Letters to the editor

Global oil prices show no signs of easing below $ 35 a barrel. Traditionally, increases in oil prices have implied balance of payment problems for India, since a substantial chunk of imports is crude. This time round, unlike the Seventies or 1990-91, there is no BoP problem. Reserves are considerable and if the rupee has been under some pressure, other factors have also played a role. Problems with the hike in global prices lie elsewhere. Prices at which petroleum products are sold domestically are administratively determined. Hence it is possible for the government to maintain a gap between cost of petroleum products and their prices through the cushion of a subsidy paid to oil companies. This is the oil pool account deficit and its effects are no different from the ordinary budget deficit — either the government borrows and exerts upward pressure on interest rates, or monetizes the deficit and pushes up inflation. The cumulated oil pool deficit for this financial year is around Rs 9000 crore now. Projections about the entire financial year are a function of what happens to global crude prices and what happens to an expected petroleum-product price hike. Given the double uncertainty, projections thus vary between Rs 15,000 and Rs 20,000 crore. This is insignificant, compared to the overall budget deficit. Therefore, it is possible to argue, as National Council of Applied Economic Research has done, that nothing need be done now, until global prices stabilize. In a narrow sense, this argument has some validity. But it misses the broader point of reforming the petroleum sector and rationalizing subsidies. The global crisis can be used as a trigger to bring about these changes.

Pricing of petroleum products is not transparent. There are import duties, Central and state-level indirect taxes and commissions and distribution charges. However, it is obvious that of the four major petroleum products (petrol, diesel, liquid petroleum gas, kerosene), petrol prices are higher than what they ought to be by about Rs 2.50 a litre, to cross-subsidize other products. A hike in petrol prices is not the issue. There is a subsidy of Rs 3 per litre on diesel. In November 1997 a decision was taken to remove this subsidy and diesel prices were to be revised every month. Unfortunately, this decision was never implemented. The government should thus hike diesel prices by Rs 3 a litre and this will translate into Rs 4.50 a litre at the retail level. Admittedly, this feeds inflation. But one-shot inflation is preferable to creeping inflation through monetization, especially when the inflation rate is low by any indicator. The subsidy on LPG is around Rs 160 a cylinder. This should also be removed. Subsidized household cooking gas is diverted to run cars and since cylinders for cars are meant to be thicker, this is also unsafe.

Now that the prime minister and the petroleum ministers are back from their sojourns, some decision on petroleum prices is expected. However, the government is likely to chicken out on hiking LPG prices by more than Rs 30 a cylinder. It will also chicken out on hiking kerosene prices (subsidy of Rs 6 a litre), even though the poor rarely obtain subsidized kerosene. Instead, subsidized kerosene is used to adulterate diesel or siphoned off to Nepal and Bangladesh. But hikes in diesel and LPG prices are imminent and the government will try to cushion the impact through reductions in import duties, resisted by the finance ministry because of revenue compulsions.    

Those who run West Bengal are remarkably weak in both history and geography. They refuse to learn from either. Had they taken the right lessons in time, some of the terrible destruction that is now taking place in the flood-hit districts of the state may have been contained. No one can withstand nature’s fury, but events like depressions can be predicted and necessary measures adopted. This period in the year is a particularly dangerous one for the eastern states, when the monsoon winds begin to change, causing fluctuations in temperature which lead to depressions. There is nothing new in this, it happens year after year. There have been reports about the plan for an early warning system, yet the project has never got off the ground. Such a system would not only benefit West Bengal but other vulnerable states like Orissa and Andhra Pradesh. It is unfortunate that these states have not put enough concerted pressure on the Centre to push the plan through. Even such an up-and-doing chief minister like Mr N. Chandrababu Naidu has not really gone beyond demanding aid from the Centre. But the West Bengal government, although not backward in asking for Central aid, is peculiarly lackadaisical in making preemptive arrangements within the state, which Mr Naidu is not.

That the five suffering districts have been inundated by the release of water from dams together with the breaching of river banks is not a novel event. A lethal lack of coordination dogs disaster management in West Bengal. There are never anything more than hand to mouth measures taken, and the whole affair is relegated to the past the moment things are under control. The deaths and destruction of property, much of it state property, do not ever prompt the administration to find the means to control the misery the next time. Neither can it be expected that the tragic magnitude of the floods this year will reduce the callousness and politicization which always permeate the distribution of food and aid. It is not enough to blame nature’s cruelty, the indifference of human beings in charge is as much to blame.    

Kashmir has been a matter of continuous concern to India, particularly since 1989, when the current phase of terrorism and violence afflicted this state of special strategic and security importance to India. The patterns of violence, mercenary terrorist intrusions and the pernicious process of destabilization organized with Pakistan’s active support are wellknown and need no repetition. The situation was compounded by the alienation of the youth of the valley who became militants due to their frustrations. The world at large and even public opinion in India and Pakistan tend to perceive the problems related to Kashmir unidimensionally through the prism of India-Pakistan confrontations on the issue.

The historical background of Kashmir as a territorial and sociocultural entity and the current situation do not usually form part of the political discourse assessing the prospects of a solution. The second limitation on the process of thinking through solutions to the Kashmir problem is that all the analyses refer to the latest events of violence or the initiative for some sort of a dialogue.

This event-specific approach is relevant only to the extent of taking into account the most contemporary reality but it does not serve the purpose of structuring a durable solution responsiveto the aspirations of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. Other facts must be recalled.

First, the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir which consisted of Jammu, the Kashmir valley, Ladakh, Mirpur, Gilgit and Baltistan with adjoining areas paying tribute to the maharaja of Kashmir, has an integrated territorial identity of about 150 to 160 years only. Therefore, the Jammu and Kashmir as it is discussed today was a creation of the Dogra imperium of the maharaja, Ghulab Singh, backed by the British East India Company and then the British government.

Then, the areas or sub-regions of the state of Jammu and Kashmir have distinct ethnic, religious and linguistic identities and different portions of the state of Jammu and Kashmir were governed by the Tibetans, Mughals, Afghans and Sikhs till the fourth decade of the 19th century.

Before the advent of Muslim sultanates and empires to India, Jammu and Kashmir had a recorded history of roughly 2,000 years when its civil society was influenced by different sects of Hinduism and Buddhism. Even during the Muslim period, Kashmir had a distinct religious and cultural identity permeated by Sufism and a tolerant Islam. Kashmir became a bone of contention between India and Pakistan because it was a Muslim majority state.

The point in recalling these facts is that India’s claiming Jammu and Kashmir as an integral part of the Indian republic and Pakistan questioning this claim are based on India and Pakistan being succession states to the British Indian empire. The division of the territories of this empire between the new entities of India and Pakistan was done on the basis of political decisions and legislation passed by the British parliament. So Pakistan putting forward any long term historical claims on Jammu and Kashmir cannot wash because Pakistan itself is an entity which came into being long after Jammu and Kashmir itself had achieved a composite identity.

Seminars and academic discussions on the contemporary situation in Jammu and Kashmir have led to some conclusions. First and foremost, for the last 50 years Pakistan has continuously indulged in a two pronged strategy to gain control over Jammu and Kashmir. The first element in this strategy has been to convert what is essentially a political issue into a military one by resorting to military force to resolve it. The second is to use the created military situation to campaign for international pressure on India to give up Kashmir to Pakistan on the basis of advocacies of tension in south Asia.

India is engaged in two conflicts in Jammu and Kashmir. First, neutralizing Pakistani aggression and intrusion and second, winning back the confidence and reviving the sense of belonging to India among the people of Jammu and Kashmir.

The Kashmir issue is not, at the most fundamental level, a law and order problem. Nor is there any validity in dealing with it as a bilateral problem between India and Pakistan because Pakistan has no locus standi to discuss the future status of Jammu and Kashmir and the destiny of its peoples. The Pakistani claim based on the two-nation theory is not relevant, politically or legally.

Before speculating on how best a dialogue can be undertaken on the subject, other factors which negatively impinge on the situation in Kashmir must be considered. The violence in Kashmir is underpinned not entirely by an indigenous movement. It is now underpinned by pan-Islamic extremist jehadic ideology. Allowing such ideology to succeed would strike at the roots of not only regional peace and stability but international stability, as this ideology now generates pressures on all pluralistic civil societies and the states.

We have got used to talking about Pakistan conducting “intrusions” and a “proxy war” in Jammu and Kashmir. In fact, the conflict situation is more than these two phenomena. It is actually a war planned on the basis of long-term strategies by Pakistan to erode India’s territorial unity. It is a war of attrition which requires determined resistance, even preemptive action by India.

Latest assessments indicate that the all round military capacity of Pakistan-supported militant groups, both indigenous and mercenary, has increased. These groups are now equipped with winter weapons, anti-aircraft wea-pons, state of the art communication equipment, night vision and telescopic targeting capacities. Pakistan has the ability to abort any dialogue with indigenous Kashmiri militant groups, if it feels that the peace process will take off, marginalizing Pakistan’s claims to be involved in discussions on Kashmir.

Yet recent developments in Jammu and Kashmir indicate that the people are tired of violence. They are alienated from the militants and equally disappointed with their elected government. They are also exhausted with the presence of Indian security forces. Their inclination is to revive a dialogue aimed at ending the violence and fashioning a political compromise on the basis of which normalcy, peace and stability could be established in their region.

Despite elected governments in Jammu and Kashmir since 1996, the state government lacks credibility among the people. It is in this context that India’s policies regarding Kashmir have to be fashioned. No definite prescriptions are possible regarding the initial steps India could take but realistic possibilities should be explored.

India should welcome any revival of the ceasefire and possibilities of a dialogue. We should be willing to talk to all opposition political and militant groups which indicate a willingness to desist from violence. We need not insist on their surrendering their arms, nor need we stipulate that only solutions conforming to the Indian Constitution can be discussed. No negotiation can take off if it is governed by specific pre-conditions. Those among the militant groups which insist that Pakistan should be a party to a dialogue, may be told that India has no objection to their consulting Pakistan in formulating their negotiating stance and that India will respond to their negotiating stances in a practical manner.

We may also indicate that India is not averse to having a separate dialogue with Pakistan on those aspects of the Kashmir issue in which Pakistan is involved in a manner where that involvement affects Indian interests. There would be international pressure on us to discuss the Kashmir issue with Pakistan. We should convey a policy approach on the above lines to the international community, suggesting that it persuade Pakistan to move away from the path of interference and violence. While initiating any journey of reasonableness on these lines we must be decisive and effective in neutralizing Pakistan’s violence and war of attrition which it is conducting against India.

The author is former foreign secretary of India    

Participation of 158 heads of state and governments in the historic United Nations millennium summit at New York has not generated much hope for a peaceful world. Although its declaration on September 8 reiterated the UN’s pledge for peace, security and development, the world leaders and the UN secretary-general have not seriously examined the root causes of an unjust international order. In other words, the issue of control of few over all, which is a kind of global feudal order, remains unchallenged.

Unipolarism and globalization are now synonymous with American hegemony. On the one hand, the United States and its regional security arrangements have undermined the working of the UN, on the other, it has misinterpreted provisions of the UN charter to resort to invasion in the name of pro-democratic interventions.

The millennium summit should have come out with concrete proposals of how to contain the big powers. On the contrary, the US got a safe passage. In fact, it is not the UN but the US which has been pursuing its own firmans since Operation Desert Storm, 1991. Last January the US senator, Jesse Helms, said at the UN security council that it is the US and not the UN which was competent to establish an international order.

In other words, the UN has become vulnerable to the US. The UN security council’s controversial role in imposing sanctions against nine sovereign countries has compromised the prestige of the UN as an international organ to ensure world peace and security. Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the former UN secretary-general had acknowledged that the moral authority of the UN, particularly the security council after the Kuwait war, was in question and needed “democratic”, including multinational, buttressing.

Battle for supremacy

The UN charter prohibits the use of force in international relations except in self-defence. Chapter VII and VIII of the charter provide for the use of force and establishing regional organizations. But in order to change the situation to its own advantage, the US played its cards well. At the inaugural conference for the UN in San Francisco in 1945, the senator, Arthur H. Vandenberg, and a young assistant secretary of state for Latin American affairs, Nelson Rockfeller, drafted provisions , that is, article 51 of the charter, that permitted the creation of politico-military blocs outside the charter.

After the end of World War II, dual arrangements were made in the name of peace and security. From the beginning itself, there developed considerable tension between the world body and regional entities. Articles 33(1) and 52(2) of the charter seem to allow regional organizations’ priority of action with regard to managing regional and local disputes; yet, articles 34 and 35 together with powerful general charter authorizations of articles 24 and 39 appear to give the UN, especially the security council, the preeminent role and supremacy, if not ascendancy. Under chapter VIII, regional agencies are to be subordinate to the UN at least in the matter of “enforcement action”.

Insecure feeling

According to R.A. Kindele, “the constitutional history of the UN shows that there has been a de facto revision of the charter law of universal-regional relationships in favour of greater autonomy for regional organizations”. The unilateralism of American-west European sponsored regional organizations has changed the course of international relations through time.

These developments have proved to be antithetical to the principles of establishing peace and security by collective effort. The League of Nations had had a similar experience. After the signing of the Atlantic Pact on April 4, 1949, H.V. Evatt, then deputy prime minister of Australia and heading the UN general assembly, had warned that the League of Nations failed to prevent war because certain governments in the world did not support the league.

At present, both the general assembly and the security council stand poles apart on crucial issues. Similarly, the US’s objectives contradict the UN’s goal. As a result the world has entered a dangerous phase of global crisis. Yet the West finds in the post-Cold War era liberal millenarianism and speculates a worldwide consensus in favour of liberal democracy and capitalist economies. Francis Fukuyama describes this as the “end of history.” .    

By Saul Bellow,
Viking, £ 16.99

Like all masterpieces, Ravelstein, by the Noble Prize winner, Saul Bellow, is really just about love, life and death. Abe Ravelstein is a charismatic professor at a famous Midwestern university — a large (and larger than life) figure, whose girth is matched by his largesse. Bellow based Ravelstein on a (deceased) colleague of his at the University of Chicago, clearly also the model for the university, but the character could equally have arisen from the ashes of Oscar Wilde.

Here is another homosexual, scintillating all who meet him with his wit and learning, bristling with energy, a man in love with his luxuries, often in debt, yet always generous, adored and vilified, full of foibles but never given to pettiness. An über of a man but one who is also, ultimately, all too human — Wilde lived out his final days in Paris, penniless, friendless, a pitiful shadow of the icon he once was; Ravelstein has succumbed to the inevitable decay of the flesh and slowly dies of AIDS.

But above all, Ravelstein, like Wilde, has a genius for living — possessing an indomitable, all encompassing presence that affects all who meet him. The question then posed upon the death of such men is how to retain their flame, how to communicate the experience of being with Wilde or Ravelstein, how then to keep them alive when their flesh and their talk have gone? Wilde mythologized himself in his writing, but Ravelstein, an academic, needs Chick — friend, colleague and admirer — to do the job for him.

Ravelstein is told through the voice of Chick, talking about his friend. And so we are introduced to the central conceit of the book — its pose as the rough cut of a memoir of a fictional person. To add to the complexity, our Boswell is a fervent admirer of his subject. The question isn’t how objective Chick’s account is (of course it isn’t), but how subjective. For a man who completely takes over a room, dominates every conversation and has the upper hand in every relationship, can Ravelstein be the “noble” spirit that Chick insists he is? Is this memoir or panegyric, is Chick a critical friend or an adoring lackey?

Doubts arise constantly. Bellow flirts with lifting the conceit to reveal the “truth”, but all we are left with is the disconcerting feeling that underneath the talk (and there is a lot of it) the book is actually about something quite different altogether. Ultimately, Chick does shrug off the biographer’s invisible cloak to come centrestage. And it is then that Ravelstein enigmatically and smoothly shifts its mood, entering the hallucinations of Chick as he lies in hospital, dangerously near to death.

Chick recovers, believing that it is his unfinished biography of Ravelstein that has kept him alive. And so it is that we finally return to Ravelstein. Bellow may have tantalized us with half promises through the book, but he ends it exactly where he began.

Looming over all our questions of fact and fiction, Ravelstein’s character has towered over us, absolutely real in all his complexities. He appears to us through anecdotes and conversations, arguments and hearsay, of stories that repeat themselves but never feel superfluous. Saul Bellow is a master at drawing characters (even the peripheral characters come to us in razor sharp, Dickensian summaries) and here he has, quite literally, built up a marvellous portrait through countless layers.

So in the end it is possible to say, as Chick says continually and diffidently throughout his narrative, that “there was Ravelstein for you”. The essence of the man stands whole before us, almost tangible, completely human. Bellow is acutely aware that writing can only represent a life. That one can never actually describe a man once he is actually dead. And Chick’s memories have given the dead (and for us, fictionalized) Ravelstein an impossible flesh-and-bloodness, conveying his very presence to us. And it is this that permeates the novel with deep, quiet optimism and warmth.

For in the end, we are left with something much bigger, much simpler to understand. Chick maybe a complex, unreliable narrator caught in the tangle of memory and bias. But he has loved Ravelstein, seen him die and then been at death’s door himself. These are real enough. And it is because the novel has been able to communicate all of this with such clarity and intelligence that it transcends to greatness. For Bellow has made Ravelstein come breathtakingly alive, which is surely what Ravelstein, were he truly real, would have wanted    

sir vivian: the definitive autobiography
By Vivian Richards,
Michael Joseph, £ 16.99

In the genre of ghostwritten autobiographies of cricketers, Sir Vivian, The Definitive Autobiography, will rank somewhere in the middle. Bob Harris, who has co-written this book, is known for his skills in covering football and the Olympics. Before this, he has co-authored several quickies with the likes of Bobby Robson and Kevin Keegan. This is Harris’s first foray into writing cricket, and it shows.

A fan of Sir Vivian will find all the information he is looking for in this book. But that is about it. Harris’s account is a soulless compendium, an exercise in tedium. In fact, he almost makes Viv look a bit like Chris Tavare.

The book smells just like those factory-formatted autobiographies churned out monthly by seasoned journalists in England. The problem with it is that the narrator is not the man who ruled the game between 1974 and 1991, nor the man who was voted by Wisden among its five greatest cricketers of the 20th century.

But despite the tedium, some glimpses of the real Viv does come through — at moments when he explains that his much talked about swagger is only because he is trying to concentrate very hard, as he slowly makes his way to the crease.

One of the more interesting accounts in the book is that of Viv’s most cherished test inning. Despite all the majestic hundreds he has scored, the one knock he would like to remember was in an almost forgotten test match at the Sabina Park in Jamaica where he scored 61 off 32 balls and sculpted the Windies win.

Among the interesting revelations is the fact that King Viv would go off to sleep before he was to go out to bat, and would have to be woken up every time. Which habit left him around two minutes to put on his cricket gear. But how he managed to remain so unflappable and calm when he finally strode out of the dressing room still remains a mystery.

He does admit to knowing about the intimidating effect he had on his opponents when he walked into the middle or even chewed gum furiously.

He talks about a huge spat with the Aussies in New South Wales. And how he was riled enough to go charging all the way to the dressing room of the rivals. The clever Aussies had, of course, forewarned the press that something of the sort was going to happen.

Since Viv belongs to the old school of cricketers, he seems to take fierce pride in not wearing an helmet. The apparatus made him feel caged and “my fear of failure was stronger than my fear of getting hurt”. He was well aware of the fear which rival batsmen reserved for the West Indian fast bowlers.

Viv’s tribute to Andy Roberts runs like this: “He was lethal in every way, and I have never seen any individual in world cricket who could hit the batsman at will the way he did. Andy had the knack of really hurting batsmen…The first time I saw it was when he hit David Hookes in a World Series Cricket match and broke his jaw. The Australian Golden Boy was wired up for weeks and couldn’t eat anything solid for a while...He was always accurate. When you missed, you were hit — and not just on the fingers and thumbs.”

Long sections of the book are devoted to Viv’s friendship with Ian Botham, though the practical jokes of the English all rounder become predictable after a while. An incisive look is provided into the decline of Caribbean cricket — the inter-island rivalry and pathetic officialdom, which have now made a mockery of the West Indian cricket team.

The importance, or the lack of it, that Viv Richards attaches to this book is evident from a single incident. When the publishers of the book wanted to throw a party to publicize the book, he did not take up the offer. It seems that the laid-back Sir Viv couldn’t care less. All the publishers wanted from him was a guest list. But he could not produce one.

The most probable reason seems to be that Viv Richards does not like his ghostwritten autobiography very much. Neither do we.    

Kasturba: A Life
By Arun Gandhi,
Penguin, Rs 295

There must be a surfeit of some emotion in a well-written biography. In the case of Kasturba: A Life, the emotion is love. Not only because the author, Arun Gandhi, is a grandson of Mohandas and Kasturba Gandhi, but also because of Kasturba’s quiet but firm influence on her illustrious husband at a time when the woman’s role in the society was minimal. It is impossible not to love someone who displayed determination and innocence at the same time.

This eminently readable book provides valuable insights into what was once India’s best known household. However, there are no references to sources and there is a dearth of material on Kasturba’s early life. This implies a fair amount of reconstruction. The author himself says that in view of natural calamities destroying Kasturba’s family records, certain assumptions have to be made to present a picture of the Kasturba’s early life. There are evidences indicating that she was born into a wealthy family in Porbandar in 1869, the same year as Gandhi. Kasturba was married to him at the age of 13. There is little that is remarkable about the fact except that Gandhi became the Mahatma and Kasturba also had to bear her share of the burden as well as the fame.

The major part of this burden was the frequent uprootings, enough to try the patience of any woman. These were also accompanied by cultural dislocations. For example, the society in Durban was totally different from that in Porbandar. In fact, the violent welcome received in Durban must have filled her with apprehension, but she carried on with fortitude. It was also not easy for a Vaishnavite to stay with a Parsi family who ate meat, fish and fowl. This tested her inner strength but she emerged a winner.

Mohandas Gandhi decided to set up a legal practice in Johannesberg, which had an Indian population of around 12,000. Soon after, a plague swept through the Indian community and when Mohandas plunged into community service, Kasturba volunteered eagerly. In Arun Gandhi’s words, “ultimately...it was not new-found friends or allies who had made the deepest impression on my grandfather during the plague. It was the one closest to him: his own wife.”

The story of dislocation continued beyond South Africa. Kasturba also experienced the austerity of ashrams in Sabarmati and Wardha — and that of the British jail. It was in the Aga Khan Palace jail that she died of a heart attack.

The book dwells on the sexual intimacy between husband and wife but never makes it a focal point. Rather, it stresses the mental bond between them. The tragedy of their son, Harilal, is also explored, including the extremely poignant episode of his visit to the Aga Khan Palace when Kasturba was dying.

Even at her end, Mohandas and Kasturba were together. The Times of India described her as “a brave woman with a large and kind heart... known to India’s worshipping millions simply as ‘ba’ — mother.” It was ironic that the sandalwood used at her cremation had been originally bought by the government for perusal, in case Mohandas died during his 21-day fast.

The author gives glimpses of several touching moments like this and in the process, reveals his own intense love and admiration for his grandmother and grandfather. What makes the book stand up is this love for the subject, for there is little else which is particularly new. And it is also what makes trivial the intrusion of the private into the public.

The easy chronology of events makes for easy reading. The book’s greatest achievement is perhaps in selecting a person who has been marginalized by most historians of the Indian freedom struggle. In her own right, Kasturba was her true partner. As Arun Gandhi puts it, “While Mohandas experimented with truth, Kasturba experienced it.”    

Women and human development: the capabilities approach
By Martha C. Nussbaum,
Kali for Women, Rs 400

If gender justice is the end in view, then the means to that end may vary from the adoption of universalized policies to that of principles formed within a local paradigm. Martha C. Nussbaum opts for the former, in Women and Development, where she studies human capabilities that are essential to the basis of “fundamental political principles” by focussing on the lives of women in developing countries.

Nussbaum is aware of the perils of political philosophy, which, more often than not, is restricted to theories and to specialists. But Nussbaum targets the non-specialists as well, especially for the application of her ideas to international development policy. Her argument for universalism is assuring: “Certain basic aspirations to human flourishing are recognizable across differences of class and context, however crucial it remains to understand how context shapes both choice and aspiration”. Here, she also leaves room for pluralism.

Nussbaum’s concerns in this project are the conditions of women in developing countries, particularly in India — “vulnerable people in a time of rapid economic change”. She is well aware of the fact that feminist philosophy has not been congenial to “universal normative approaches”. But she clarifies that this lack of faith is grounded in the belief this approach is at odds with, and indeed, insensitive to the “cross cultural norms of justice, equality and rights…[and] local particularity”. Nussbaum brings in all these possibilities and sets up some basic principles to be adopted by any government wishing the well being of its people, especially of women. At several junctures, she compares her own propositions with Amartya Sen’s approach on functioning and capability.

In her project, therefore, Nussbaum focuses on “human capabilities”, which, according to her, are, “what people are actually able to do and to be — in a way informed by an intuitive idea of a life that is worthy of the dignity of the human being.” She goes on to list the “central human capabilities”, which are based on the “principle of each person as end”. Nussbaum goes on to show how the capabilities can form the basis of “central constitutional principles that citizens have a right to demand from their governments”. She examines the capabilities and explains how it is not sensible, or even possible, to attain one in the absence of the others.

The notion of central human capabilities derives from the principle of treating human beings with dignity. The absence of this would then make them lead a life unworthy of human beings. This then makes the case for universalism strong enough, since the essence of human dignity itself, Nussbaum holds, is crosscultural.

In effect, she forms the vision of a society where subordination and exploitation are considered heinous and the principles of love, care, dignity and respect for each other are held as the basis. To prevent this from looking like a vague, impractical, unapproachable and utopian construct, Nussbaum uses, at every stage, examples to indicate how these have relevance to our everyday lives and can remarkably change people’s thinking, once they have actual access to these advantages.

Deprivation and penury makes women feel that they are “meant” to lead life that way. But once they are provided with options, and are made to feel that they have a right to choose, it goes on to improve their self worth. Nussbaum’s chief purpose, therefore, is not to suggest that these principles be thrust upon them, but to make them decide for themselves what is best for them. She simplifies this by drawing a parallel with the difference between starvation and fasting.

While the concept of putting forward a set of principles might mean limiting the freedom of some others, when it comes to a conflict of interests, Nussbaum argues against paternalism saying that, “a commitment to respecting people’s choices hardly seems incompatible with the endorsement of universal values”.

Nussbaum sensitively observes that traditional religious cultures often end up exploiting women. Certain personal laws, which are exploitative and practised under compulsion, should be more egalitarian in nature.

Her ideas are, in her own words, a set of moral guidelines that could be incorporated in a legal framework of implementation under the existing laws of the state: “Especially in an era of rapid economic globalization, the capabilities approach is urgently needed to give moral substance and moral constraints to processes that are occuring all around us without sufficient moral reflection”. And hence, the need for a “moralized globalization”.

Nussbaum’s project is laudable, given that her principles have a moral and emotional basis, while they are also rooted in practical sense. Nonetheless, one has to admit that the principles still are, often, results of a rather sentimental mode of analysis. However, that does not mar the beauty of her ideas, nor the compassion that lies behind them. Though not exactly easy reading for “non-specialists”, the book would primarily benefit those actively involved in women’s projects. Since Nussbaum raises some very pertinent questions, her discussion will suggest new perspectives to the policy framework, if the state allows debate on the relevance of Nussbaum’s principles to its policies.    

the romantics: england in a romantic age
By E.P. Thompson,
The New Press, $ 15.95

The historian, E.P. Thompson, till he became involved in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in the Eighties, produced one major book every ten years. In the early Fifties, he published his study of William Morris, a study of how the designer poet moved from being a romantic to being a revolutionary.

In the Sixties came The Making of the English Working Class, a pathbreaking examination of the actions and beliefs of popular radical movements in the early industrial period and the working environment in which they occurred. In the Seventies, in his Whigs and Hunters, he used one political Act to illuminate aspects of the social and intellectual life of large sections of the population.

Two other themes occupied his mind. One was the customary popular culture of the 18th century and the other was the Romantic movement of the 1790s. The first theme he addressed in a collection of essays called Customs in Common. The second subject was covered only in scattered essays, lectures and reviews. Yet, it lay close to his heart. To him that moment in the cultural life of England was significant because it was “the moment when the received culture was challenged [when] all conventions were called into question, and the great humanist aspirations were abroad, but when sharp experience had shown that the periods of the philosophes were inadequate — it is exactly within this conflict that the great romantic impulse came to maturity’’.

The dissent inherent in the Romantic movement of the 1790s appealed to Thompson. One part of his study of the Romantics went into his book on William Blake. This collection, edited by Edward’s wife Dorothy, brings together many of his other essays on the subject.

The essays here cover a range of personalities from Wordsworth to Coleridge to John Thelwall to William Godwin. He looks at the intellectual influences on them and at the political and intellectual context in which they worked.

But as one has come to expect from Thompson, his handling of the ideas of the thinkers are not drawn only from their texts but also from the social fabric which came to embody those ideas. Thus the dominant themes of these essays are paternalism, authoritarianism and respect for tradition and custom. The French Revolution and the Terror form the context since they informed the actions of the state and of the elites in society as well as the beliefs of intellectuals who had initially welcomed the Revolution.

These essays show Thompson at his best: the effortless ease with which he read literature and used it creatively as a historian, his imaginative reconstruction of the social milieu and, above everything else, his passionate commitment to radical dissent in the 18th century.

Thompson’s scholarship and his life as an intellectual have larger moral and cultural lessons. He refused to allow his voice to disappear into the anonymity of the market or into monotony of dogma.

All his life he questioned and refused to succumb to any kind of control or hegemony. He upheld in his work those that had suffered the condescension of history and those that had the courage to question. He lived his own life by the same principles.    


Bad connection

Sir — The interminable strike by the telecommunication workers and their premeditated decision to hold the country to ransom in order to get their demands met by the government bespeaks a most disgraceful state of affairs. Apart from rain, which seems to play havoc with telephone lines only in India (as if it does not rain elsewhere), the junior telecom engineers and a particular group of sub-divisional and divisional engineers are crippling normal life throughout the country. Long distance calls, local calls and the internet have become essential components of everyday life for many. If these facilities cannot be provided by the state with any reasonable degree of predictability, why does the government not entrust the department of telecommunications, and indeed the entire telecom sector, lock, stock and barrel, to private corporate houses? The iron fist of the capitalist machinery will at least ensure the availability of such services despite rain or agitation by workers.
Yours faithfully,
Ritabrata Gupta, via email

Retire unhurt

Sir — It was shocking to find a report as speculative as “Surjeet persuades Basu to defer bowout” (Sept 10) flashed on the front page of The Telegraph. Why is the media so hysterical about the retirement of Jyoti Basu? Basu neither heads the country nor is he the main leader of the opposition. He is the chief minister of a state who has always contested from a safe seat without accepting the challenge of his main political adversary, Mamata Banerjee. No political vacuum will be created with Basu’s retirement, nor will it send the stock markets crashing. Neither will his retirement allow West Bengal to regain its lost glory.

There are more important things happening in West Bengal itself which deserve the attention of the media. There is poverty, unemployment, illiteracy, industrial backwardness and corruption among others. The violence and terror in the state have not received as much coverage as they should have.

News about Basu’s retirement will be officially known through the party organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) — Ganashakti.Why the hypotheses then? If Basu goes, another leftist will takeover to continue the misrule.

Yours faithfully,
Sankar Lal Singh, Calcutta

Sir —No escape for Jyoti Basu. That Harkishen Singh Surjeet had to come on a secret mission to West Bengal to prevent Basu from stepping down on the eve of the assembly elections is proof of how great a threat the left considers the Trinamool Congress. There is no denying that the rapid march of Banerjee’s brigade has the leftists in jitters.

The left has lost its preeminent position in both Kerala and Arunachal Pradesh. West Bengal is the only state where the CPI(M) rules the roost. Holding on to the state is therefore as important a matter to the party as it is to opportunists like Surjeet, whose political future depends on the CPI(M)’s winning the stakes here. Jyoti Basu is crucial as, without him, the party will be unable to project a united front to the electorate.

The CPI(M) is no monolith. It has layers of dissidence very cleverly covered up by Alimuddin Street. Basu’s departure will force these fissures out. Besides, the succession question is still unsolved. The party, face to face with its main rival, is in no position to deal with it, certainly not before the crucial assembly elections. So Basu has to stay, puffing and panting as he may be, to provide the party with a face.

Yours faithfully,
Manobendra Sengupta, Calcutta

Sir — The editorial, “To go or not to go” (Aug 20), has rightly castigated the chief minister of West Bengal. Jyoti Basu has turned himself into a laughing stock by his contradictory statements. He talked of bad health and his desire to retire. People were dumbstruck when this ailing man made apparent his wish to be prime minister. He termed the party’s refusal to be part of the United Front government as a “historic blunder”.

Basu should depart with dignity. Both P. Sundarayya and E.M.S. Namboodiripad have in the past resigned from party posts of their own accord and turned to academic matters.

Yours faithfully,
Govinda Bakshi, Budge Budge

Sir — We have been hearing of Jyoti Basu’s retirement for some time now. He would have us believe that despite his earnest desire, he cannot leave the chief ministership until he gets a green signal from the party. A person holding a seat of power has no freedom to relinquish it? Isn’t this hypocritical?

Yours faithfully,
S.N. Mukherjee, Calcutta

Disarmed by disillusion

Sir — Ever since the K. Subrahmanyam committee’s report on Kargil came out, there appears to be a concerted attempt through the press, to malign the military in general and the image of the army leadership in particular. The latest instance has been a series of articles carried by a Calcutta English daily against the present army chief, V.P. Malik, and the recent exposure in another Indian daily of the 1965 war report, where the then army chief has been blamed for the “lost victories”.

Such reports, even if they have an element of truth in them, have a negative impact on the morale of the army fighting a life and death battle on our borders, and its faith in the leadership. But in our country, the army cannot hit back as its voice is stifled by bureaucrats and politicians who have banned military officers from speaking to the press.

Let us accept the cruel fact that over the years our politicians have debased most of our revered institutions, except the judiciary and the army. Lately, the former is also being challenged. Which leaves the army. If the army’s standing is undermined, our nation will die an untimely death.

Yours faithfully,
N.B. Grant, Pune

Sir — Although the Constitution promises equitable pay, the principle doesn’t seem to be working in India. The Assam Rifles cadre officers as well as jawans operating in the hazardous terrain of the Northeast are expected not only to fight like the rest of the army, but also to assist the civil administration if needed. Yet, the contradiction in the salary and promotion prospects of the servicemen of Assam Rifles is tremendous. This is particularly true in case of the Assam Rifles cadre officers and technical categories like pharmacists, cryptographers, radio mechanics, wireless operators and so on. The Supreme Court direction to pay the next higher scale for servicemen in the stagnant ranks of B,C and D groups has not been implemented because of the dilatory attitude of the executive authority.

Yours faithfully,
Anita Roy, Guwahati

Watch that caption

Sir — The caption for the front page photograph in the “Metro” section of The Telegraph on August 31 is incorrect. There are two Omers in the executive committee of the Mohammedan Sporting Club. One is the general secretary, Mir Mohammed Omer, while the other is Mohammed Omer Khan, the assistant general secretary. The supporters of the club have voiced protest and displayed banners against Sulaiman Khurshid, the president of the club and Mohammed Omer Khan. This has nothing to do with Mir Mohammed Omer, who is mentioned in the caption.
Yours faithfully,
Mohammed Taiyab Ali, former club official, Mohammedan Sporting Club, Calcutta

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