Editorial 1 / Clio’s fair
Editorial 2 / Marooned in chaos
Carving up the nation
Fifth Column/ They that have power to disobey
Start at the very beginning
Know how to build from scratch
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1 / CLIO’S FAIR 
 
 
 
 
The Indian History Congress is the best known body of professional historians in the country. It will not be unreasonable to assume that its annual sessions represent the interaction between historians. Those who do not know the Indian History Congress and were present at the inauguration of the 61st session in Calcutta on Tuesday would have had reasons to question the assumption. On the stage, at the inauguration ceremony, was present one chief minister, a former chief minister and a Nobel prize winner in economics. The three principal speakers, therefore, had little or nothing to do with history writing. A group of self-respecting professional historians did not need Mr Amartya Sen to tell them that distorting history and taking myths as history are very bad things. Mr Sen, in his inaugural speech, raised far more significant issues relating to history as “an enterprise of knowledge” trying to establish truth and eradicate falsehood. But these were lost in the political din and were also beyond the ken of most of the delegates who treat the Congress as an annual jamboree. Philosophical issues have never been the strong point of historians and Mr Sen will be justified in feeling that he rather wasted his erudition in the desert air. To an extent, Mr Sen himself is responsible for his own plight. Ever since he became a Nobel laureate, he has allowed himself to be a victim of the West Bengal government, which has used him to inaugurate functions which have nothing to do with Mr Sen’s chosen field of excellence.

The presence of Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and of Mr Jyoti Basu is suggestive of a lot of things. First and foremost, it indicates the support that the Indian History Congress is receiving from the Left Front government of West Bengal. This is not surprising since the single most important person of the History Congress and one of In- dia’s most famous historians, Mr Irfan Habib, is known for his proximity to the Communist Party of India (Marxist). But what those who run the History Congress should realize is that the presence of politicians at the inaugural function reduces the value of the gathering and takes away from its academic seriousness. What kind of history should be written is a matter that should be decided by historians in their individual capacity as scholars. The state or the government and even political parties should be kept at more than an arm’s length from the historian’s craft. The experiences of Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany are enough to teach any historian of the dangers inherent in the state’s involvement in the work of historians. At a more pragmatic level, historians like Mr Habib should recognize that the presence of Messrs Basu and Bhattacharjee today erodes the moral ground to object to a Bharatiya Janata Party leader’s presence at the inaugural function of a subsequent session of the History Congress. History has a way of catching up with those who refuse to learn from history.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2 / MAROONED IN CHAOS 
 
 
 
 
Manipur is collapsing. It has been collapsing for the last twenty years. The state was declared a disturbed area in 1980. Since then, it has been under Central rule six times. If Article 356 is slapped on again, it might be pertinent to ask what the president will be ruling over this time. There is shipwreck everywhere. Every sphere of the polity and of civil society has succumbed to what the governor, Mr Ved Marwah, has described as a “vicious circle”. Vicious circles are known to have their own fatal momentum, kept up, in this case, by the mutually sustaining relations between secessionist violence and economic depletion. Mr Marwah earlier and, more recently, the chief minister, Mr W. Nipamacha Singh, marooned in chaos, have been to see the home minister in New Delhi to work out a “comprehensive action plan” for bringing back a semblance of order, perhaps also to forestall president’s rule.

The United Liberation Front of Manipur and the People’s Liberation Army are ravaging the state in their fight for sovereignty. The Kuki outfits of the hill districts, aided by Naga militants, are battling on for a separate Kuki state. The dividing line between insurgency and mainstream politics is appearing to be alarmingly blurred, as a number of ministers and politicians has been siphoning out government funds to aid the militants, leaving the state entirely bankrupt. The state is almost Rs 500 crore in the red. Most government employees, from the governor downwards, and the Manipur Rifles battalions have not been paid their salaries for months, since the Centre froze all funding. The security structure is therefore completely dysfunctional, following a series of protests from the disgruntled battalions. Politically, the ruling coalition, the United Front of Manipur, is on the brink of dissolution. Members of the Congress, once lured away by the chief minister from the opposition, have been steadily crossing the floor to return to the opposition, for whom president’s rule is far from being a disinterested prospect. The role of lucre is definitive here as well. The collapse of the ruling coalition, initiated by the no-confidence motion against it in early December last year, has been accelerated by the speaker’s siding with the Bharatiya Janata Party-led opposition. The Congress president remains non-committal about the possibility of her party joining hands with the BJP to topple the state government. Civil society, interminably in the shadow of the “Black Law”, the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, struggles to avail itself of the most basic services — drinking water, power, health, education. This shocking state of disorder is what the Centre or the state government, whatever its eventual make-up, will have to confront. A chaos that has weathered Central rule six times can only be tackled with some very drastic emergency measures.

   

 
 
CARVING UP THE NATION 
 
 
BY BHASKAR GHOSE
 
 
Inevitably, and as foretold, the three new states, Uttaranchal, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, have sparked off demands for other states. Some of these have been voiced for a fairly long time; to these, however, some new and unlikely ones have been added. The demand for Vidarbha, for example, is an old one, with which perhaps even those who are asking for it have come to terms. But now there are some others; Gorkhaland is not that old, nor is Bodoland, though the demands for them are more strident and, for the latter, many have already died.

There is yet another demand now requiring attention, for Kamtapur, consisting of the northern districts of West Bengal. This could have been and, indeed, has been, dismissed in recent years as a little less than frivolous. But an armed group seems to have emerged, working with the militants demanding Bodoland. Arms can always make a difference if the state is lethargic and casual because even though the people with arms are a handful, they can create fear, which is their greatest and most potent weapon.

In the north, Kashmir remains an open wound, allowed to fester because of an astonishing level of incompetence in handling that issue; but it is, in essence, no different from the demand for Kamtapur, or any other demand that may come up for a separate identity. That really is the issue — identity, and it comes up because for some reason or reasons it is being slowly eliminated, or those involved perceive it as being eliminated.

It’s a rather strange thing, this demand for a separate identity. If the members of the community or group concerned were affluent, busy making money and expanding their trades and professions, then the question of identity becomes less of a life and death issue. It’s when there is widespread unemployment and no prospect of the situation improving, when poverty spreads among those belonging to that group, that the question of identity suddenly assumes very critical proportions.

Take the Marwaris, for example. They are very conscious of being Marwaris, certainly, and many of them have done a great deal for the welfare of their community. But they aren’t fanatical about being Marwaris, demanding a separate homeland, killing innocent people who they perceive as foreigners and doing all the things that the terrorists are doing in Kashmir or in Assam. This is also true of the Sikhs, and I say this in the context of the terrible killings that took place in Punjab only a few years ago. A few people took to arms, and spread terror, till they were given their own medicine, and peace returned to the state. But beyond Punjab, Sikhs have lived peaceably in practically every state of the country, and done well for themselves. They take pride in being Sikhs, but don’t slaughter people to prove it.

Neither the Marwaris nor the Sikhs — now — have demanded a separate homeland; they have their homelands right here where they are. Even those demanding Gorkhaland have stopped short of killing innocent people; such killing as there has been has been between rival factions. They’ve burnt down houses, but mainly state-owned buildings. The few private houses that have been destroyed were, the leaders claimed later, a mistake and not a part of their plan of action.

So why do some groups think they can protect their identity only by murdering and maiming innocent people? It cannot be to assert some kind of difference. In Kashmir, more Kashmiri Muslims have died than members of any other community, so what identity does that establish? It isn’t their identity that’s involved; it’s the identity of those they perceive as the enemy, the oppressor, the “others”. That’s what killing is usually meant to do; although tragically, it does not.

There have been responses, but these have often been muffled by wranglings and arguments. And it needs to be admitted that there is no easy solution to the demands made for separate identities, however small the community or the state demanded. Gorkhaland is about the size of one subdivision of a district in the plains; and an existing state, Sikkim, is one-third the size of what the votaries of Gorkhaland want. Why not have a whole lot of small states? Kashmir is slightly different in terms of demands, but the argument holds good nonetheless. Why not, for argument’s sake, three fully autonomous states of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh? And why not Gorkhaland, and Bodoland, and Vidarbha, and any other state that may be wanted by a community which sees itself as separate from others?

It’s a scenario which would not be, in one sense, satisfactory for the Centre. You have a whole lot of unviable little states, all clamouring for funds to develop, and you have a benign, all-powerful Centre which pats one state on the head and hands it a little more, and pulls up another and shows its displeasure by cutting its share of the cake. A recipe for stability, some would say; it would mean a strong Centre, and states too, to be anything more than a nuisance; only the degree would vary.

It would take true foresight and the vision of a statesman to see beyond clamourings for separate states, to what really binds and strengthens the country and, in time, takes it forward. Not a country divided into a clutch of little states; but one which has strong, powerful states that mould the policies the Centre must follow. That is true federalism, and the basis of a democracy that is permanent and strong. Jawaharlal Nehru had great visions of India, but in this one respect, he was tragically wrong. The establishment of linguistic states was a calamity which will end up with India fragmented into small, ridiculous units. And all because of the concession made to the idea that a state should be divided on linguistic lines.

If the earlier large states, Bombay, Madras, Bengal and the others, did not reflect the identities and provide for the future of all the people within every one of them, the fault was with the leadership of those states. This was the problem that needed to be addressed, not the breaking up of the states. And it was this problem that overcame the leaders of the time; they failed and gave in, not realizing perhaps what the inevitable outcome of their actions was going to be.

A large number of small states will mean, finally, a weak country, because the Centre would inevitably become more and more removed from ground realities. The realities of a multitude of little regions, each immersed in its own problems, will not create and establish the larger picture for anyone. A passionate adherent of Kamtapur will not become a staunch Indian merely because he is in some position in the Centre.

It is this that will weaken the Centre bit by bit, and result in the country ceasing to be anything more than a clutch of squabbling little units unable to frame coherent national policies. All one can hope for is that some time, somewhere, some leaders will see this, and try to turn the tide.

The author is former secretary, ministry of information and broadcasting    


 
 
FIFTH COLUMN/ THEY THAT HAVE POWER TO DISOBEY 
 
 
BY SASHANKA SEKHAR BANERJEE
 
 
It has been reported that the Jamaat-e-Islami chief, Qazi Hussain Ahmed, has asked the second rung Pakistan army generals to remove General Pervez Musharraf from power if “they want to save the country from a foreign conspiracy and restore the prestige of the armed forces”. The significance of the outburst cannot be lost on Pakistan watchers.

If entirely true, such a statement ought to be treated as seditious, once put in its historic perspective. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the Awami League leader of former East Pakistan, was treated as a traitor for demanding autonomy for East Bengal. He survived because of the timely intervention of India. The case of Nawaz Sharif, the former prime minister of Pakistan, was different. But he, too, had to be exiled. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was sent to the gallows on charges of treason. Given this, the crucial question is: can Musharraf take action against the Jamaat-e-Islami chief as he had done against Nawaz Sharif? If Musharraf decides to move against Ahmed, one fears for his future. If Ahmed has not actually said what was attributed to him or retracts if he has actually said it, the speculation that certain Lahore newspapers were indulging in still remains significant. Can it be the first stirrings of yet another coup in the country?

Civil malcontent

This time, however, a civilian coup seems the most likely. If Ahmed assumes power in Islamabad, the stigma of an abhorrent military dictatorship will cease to be associated with Pakistan, without altering the fundamental military-controlled power structure of the country.

Two other aspects must be considered. First, Ahmed has spent a few months in Washington recently. The United States state department’s embarrassment with the military dictatorship in Pakistan is not unknown. A civilian facade in Islamabad is what is required for the US to restore normal relations with a tested ally. In talibanized Pakistan, there cannot be a better candidate to lead a civilian government than the Jamaat-e-Islami, led by an obscurantist Ahmed.

Second, Musharraf has now become expendable. He is a Delhi-born mohajir who cannot be trusted with the interests of the Punjabi establishment — the ruling elite of Pakistan. He is also not acceptable in India because of his involvement in the Kargil misadventure. Worse still, he has reacted positively to New Delhi’s “suspicious” unilateral Ramadan ceasefire decision. The fear is that this may end up losing the Kashmir war to India for good.

Wait and watch

The Pakistani political logic is not very difficult to understand. From Yahya Khan to Zia ul Haq, all of Pakistan’s military leaders have launched and fought wars against India. Zia ul Haq fought wars on two fronts — participated in the US’s Afghanistan campaign of 1980 and later launched the effective low intensity war against India in 1991. Musharraf was rewarded for his Kargil plan with rulership. The hanging of Bhutto by Zia ul Haq was Bhutto’s punishment for signing the Shimla agreement with In- dia. Musharraf’s positive response to the Indian offer of unilateral ceasefire might cost him his job.

India’s decision to extend the ceasefire along the line of control beyond Ramadan is also not free from controversy. The one month period may have given the terrorist outfits time to regroup and replenish their resources. In that case, the good work done by the Indian army’s counter-insurgency operations may be lost forever.

The Indian foreign policy establishment needs to watch whether the taliban will become a partner in the Jamaat-e- Islami’s bid to take over Pakistan’s governance. A nuclearized Afghanistan-Pakistan confederation can emerge as a powerful force and the key player in central Asia. It will have the potential of becoming the political epicentre of a resurgent Islam aspiring to a status of great power. If this is a possibility, India needs to establish a direct dialogue with Ahmed for he may be the person who will matter most in Pakistan in the near future.

Jamaat-e-Islami may not have won an election in Pakistan, but neither has the Pakistani army, which has, nonetheless, ruled the country for more than 25 years. What matters most in Pakistan is that an orthodox ideology wields power. And the Jamaat-e-Islami fits the bill better than anyone else.

   

 
 
START AT THE VERY BEGINNING 
 
 
BY VANDANA SINHA
 
 
We have moved from the age of industrial revolution to that of knowledge and information technology. Just as the industrial revolution had ushered in an age of prosperity and improved the quality of life, the age of information is expected to bring a lot of benefits to humankind. A nation’s ability to convert knowledge into wealth and social good through the process of innovation is going to determine its future.

But for the information technology revolution to become a reality, it is imperative that people become literate. The growth of literacy has had a very positive effect on the application of technology, on productivity and the growth of the gross domestic product in some Latin American and African countries. Unfortunately, almost half of India is illiterate. In this era of information, the price that a developing nation has to pay for this in terms of learning, technology and human resources development can well be imagined.

Even more galling is the fact that while India has a literacy rate of about 52 per cent, countries like South Korea, Phillipines, Thailand, Sri Lanka and Vietnam have rates of more than 90 per cent. India cannot even dream of an industrial and technological surge if close to 400 million Indians remain outside the ambit of literacy. It was only in 1991 that the number of literates in India exceeded the number of illiterates for the first time.

Ironically, the country today boasts of the second largest English speaking pool of manpower in the world and produces 70,000 computer professionals every year. India has the best computer brains in the world and many Indians are doing remarkably well in the Silicon Valley of the United States and in other countries. According to a World Bank survey, India has been identified by 82 per cent US companies as their top destination for software outsourcing. In India itself there is a deluge of dotcom and other information and communication companies.

Unfortunately, not even one per cent of the population is making use of the benefits of this revolution directly. The simple theory of market dynamics suggests that the information technology industry cannot sustain this handicap of the market. After all, who are going to be the consumers of the products of the knowledge revolution? People who cannot read and write cannot be expected to click the mouse to gain knowledge. The nation cannot afford to ignore this reality.

The knowledge revolution can be said to be the latest addition to the process of modernization, which can be described as a continuous way by which individuals change from the traditional way of life to a more complex, technologically advanced one. Literacy aids in the modernization process by opening up new vistas, creating new aspirations and making people confident, innovative and knowledgeable. It frees the individual mind from narrow constraints. Thus without literacy, the modernization process ca- nnot go on and, it goes without saying, the knowledge revolution will be ineffective.

For almost five decades the government of India has borne the enormous burden of trying to bring literacy to the masses. To be fair, one has to say that a great deal has been achieved, though it cannot be termed as sufficient. Since 1951, there has been consistent improvement in the literacy percentage which has jumped from 18.33 per cent in 1951 to 52.21 per cent in 1991.

From 1959 to 1977, various sporadic and uncoordinated efforts were made to spread literacy in India. These include Gram Shikshan Mohim in Maharashtra, farmers’ functional literacy projects during the era of the green revolution and programmes for workers’ education and non-formal education for youth.

The first nationwide and concerted attempt at the eradication of illiteracy was made through the national adult education programme in 1978. Thereafter, the national literacy mission took over the national adult education programme in 1988. This mission was started with the objective of imparting functional literacy to 100 million illiterates in the age group of 15 to 35 by the year 1999 and achieving full literacy by the year 2005. Literacy implied self-reliance, awareness of the causes of deprivation, improvement of skills and imbibing values to promote national integration, conservation of the environment, women’s equality and the small family norm.

The national literacy mission followed the “centre based approach” as was done in the case of the adult education programme. This approach consisted of one literacy project for 300, 200 or 100 centres. Each centre run by one paid instructor was to cater to 30 learners.

This approach failed because of the following reasons. Community involvement was lacking. In fact, the entire implementation mechanism was centralized, hierarchical and bureaucratic. Political and administrative support of the state governments and panchayati raj institutions were not forthcoming. The quality of training was poor. The instructor acted more like a nitpicking teacher than an individual dedicated to his work.

There was no provision for continuing with the education programmes. Hence the rate of lapse into illiteracy was very high. There was unsatisfactory substandard teaching material. The monitoring system was not credible. It took inordinately long to make a person literate which implies that concerted effort was lacking. The cost per learner was very high. There was a massive misuse of funds by various voluntary agencies many of which existed only on paper.

In view of the deficiencies observed in the centre-based approach, a “mass campaign” approach was adopted by the national literacy mission. This approach has already done wonders in Ernakulam district of Kerala. Ernakulam was declared the first fully literate district of the country in 1990. This experiment replicated elsewhere also proved to be largely successful.

During the early years of the national literacy mission, only the districts with somewhat high literacy rates were targeted, whereas the real problem of illiteracy lay in the low literacy rate districts in the northern belt of the country, especially in Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. These states, together with Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and West Bengal constitute the majority of illiterates in India. Between 1990 and 1993, only 33 projects out of a total number of 138 planned projects were sanctioned to the four major Hindi speaking states. But once again, the campaigns were pushed in the high literacy districts.

It was only from the year 1993, that the trend really shifted from high literacy rate districts to the low literacy rate Hindi speaking districts. In such districts the voluntary work was carried out by various organizations like the Zilla Saksharata Samiti which consisted of social activists, government officials, women activists, representatives of the panchayat samitis, district boards, teachers and other leading members of the community.

Post-literacy efforts and the continuation of education plans have been an evolving strategy. Each project has to take into account the specificity of the district, achievement levels of learners in the literacy phase, learners’ needs and aspirations, keeping in view their social and living conditions as well as resources which are available and can be mobilized for the project. Out of a total of 600 districts in the country, 448 districts have been covered under literacy campaigns. Around 234 districts have entered the post-literacy phase and 60 have entered the next phase where the education drive is continued.

Different evaluation studies have revealed that the majority of participants are women. The demand for primary education and the enrolment of children in primary schools have been noticed in many districts. Social cohesion and communal harmony have improved in those districts where these campaigns have taken place. A large number of these efforts have also involved the participation of government servants particularly of the revenue, development and education departments. About a decade of concerted effort by the national literacy mission has yielded good results on the front of literacy. However the achievement of full literacy by the year 2005 seems a distant dream.

A strong political commitment to the concept of literacy and education is necessary for all sections of the society. The education and mobilization of women — and their empowerment — may provide the key to the basic changes in attitudes, as well as social relationships, and may usher in a transformation of the Indian society into a steadily progressive one. The implementation of the 73rd and 74th constitutional amendments is likely to aid such mobilization.

The government must devote more resources on education. It has assured time and again that six per cent of the gross domestic product would be invested in this sector. It should utilize the benefits reaped from the information technology revolution to usher in the literacy revolution in India since one cannot exist without the other.

   

 
 
KNOW HOW TO BUILD FROM SCRATCH 
 
 
BY RADHAKRISHNA RAO
 
 
Traditional building technology, with its undue stress on costly materials like steel and cement, is clearly beyond the reach of most Indians. This has led to the mushrooming of shantytowns in cities. The ambitious plans of successive governments to provide a decent roof over the heads of all citizens has also remained a pipe dream.

In the area of low-cost housing, Kerala has emerged as a sort of trailblazer. It was Laurie Baker, a British-born architect who made Kerala his home, who inspired Keralites to go in for low-cost housing technology based on the traditional Kerala architecture. This architecture leans heavily on the concept of sloped roofs which allow for the quick draining of rainwater and are ideally suited for heavy rainfall areas. Baker feels that local building designs make use of locally available materials and suit local taste and environment.

It was a proposal to build low-cost houses for the poorest of the poor in each parish that launched Baker on his passionate mission of evolving low-cost building techniques.

Bare minimum

Baker reduces cement and steel to the barest minimum. He uses the “filler slabs” technique in which a pair of tiles, one on top of the other, is placed at regular intervals with iron rods running between them and concrete laid over it.

Unlike the usual concrete roof, these tile filled roofs are better insulators and provide a cooling effect. The roof contributes to a drastic reduction in the cost of the load-bearing structure. To span a wall, Baker uses an elegant and inexpensive method of brick corbelling in which each row of bricks projects beyond the one below till they meet in the middle.

Equally significant and cost effective are Baker’s ideas of employing various kinds of arches instead of conventional concrete lintels. In between the arches the walls are reinforced by the use of suitable locally available materials. Baker, who believes that lime and mud are as hard as cement uses these two materials for bonding the bricks going into walls. His innovation starts right from the foundation that literally uses random rubble along with mud, mortar and laterite. Plastering, which consumes 10 per cent of the cost is abhorred.

Using the wastes

Interestingly, in Kerala, a low-cost housing movement called Nirmithi continues to innovate technologies for putting up elegant, robust but inexpensive buildings. The movement began in a modest way in the Kollam district of the state when in the mid-Eighties a devastating monsoon destroyed a number of houses owned by the poorer sections of society. There are today Nirmithi Kendras in all the district headquarters of Kerala.

V. Sriram of Delhi’s Development Alternatives believes “people need to switch to materials made of industrial wastes like stone mason bricks, blended cement, red mud brick, roofing sheets and gypsum board”. Coal ash produced in the thermal power plants has also been projected as a substitute for bricks and concrete. Coal ash is also believed to be a good material for making pavements and rain embankments. Incidentally, Coal Ash Institute has supplied ash for buildings like the Haldia Petrochemical complex, the approach road of the Okhla flyover in New Delhi and the stack yard at Haldia.

The red mud waste produced by the aluminium industry is now being used to manufacture bricks and roofing tiles. Earlier, the red mud wastes used to be disposed of in ponds causing serious groundwater contamination. But its use for making bricks, tiles and corrugated roofing sheets has given a boost to low-cost building technology in the country.

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Colour of violence

Sir — Quite clearly, India hasn’t got over its colour bias. Five years after the infamous Purulia arms drop case, almost all the white men who gravely offended the Indian law and threatened its sovereignty stand exonerated of their crime (“Ball set rolling for Bleach release”, Jan 2). The five Latvians have already been sent home happy. The remaining Englishman, convicted for life and being tried under several sections of the Indian Penal Code, will soon be released with full honours if the Union home ministry has its way. Will the Indian government, as well as the president, care to explain then what wrong have Inter-Services Intelligence agents working in India done to be hated with such passion and treated with such disdain? They too are, in most of the cases, foreign nationals employed by their organization to undo the sovereignty of this nation. How are they different, other than in colour, from these six foreigners? Will the government remit their sentences if Pakistan makes a “formal request” for their release?
Yours faithfully,
J. Sen, Calcutta

The Chinese factor

Sir — In “Takeover phobia” (Nov 27), S. Venkitaramanan misses the point in explaining why nations are flocking to invest in China. Lax labour laws are hardly the reasons. If low salary and laws favouring the employer were important, Europe and the United States, where salaries are high and labour laws are strict, would not have attracted any foreign direct investment at all.

Venkitaramanan also touches a raw nerve when he talks about China’s “permissive ways of dealing with labour law violations”, as if to say the enforcement of such laws in India was better. It should be mentioned that Indian courts enforce laws if they are for the stronger party. Consumer and labour courts hardly work in this country and give miserable compensations. The point Venkitaramanan misses is about political hooliganism and labour unionism serving as the major impediments to FDI in India.

China attracts FDI because it is more powerful and stable than India and Russia. There is minimum corruption. There is also the US policy to bring communist China into the capitalist mode. Remember, China is no Cuba.

Venkitaramanan proposes “policy measures” to check the dominance of foreign companies and for a proper competitive policy. In an unstable, corrupt and politically lecherous country, this would be impossible. A free market economy, speaking plainly, is not India’s cup of tea.

Yours faithfully,
G. Prasad, Jorhat

Sir — Ever since economic liberalization started in 1991, India has become an attractive place to foreign investors. In the last nine years, the Indian economy has surged ahead with its gross domestic product increasing at an average of 4 to 6.2 per cent every year. The GDP increase is expected to be between 6 and 8.5 per cent during the first decade of the new millennium.

Despite these positive economic indicators, many feel that India needs to do a lot more. The size of India’s market, growth rate and investment inflows are smaller than the corresponding figures for China. However, Indian reforms have a 10-year-old history whereas China began its economic reform process way back in 1978.

The Indian system of governance is more compatible with the Western countries. So India can expect more FDI inflows in the coming years. But for that the government has to take extra care to free the economy from the shackles of bureaucracy.

Yours faithfully,
Gautam Dasgupta, Calcutta

Sir — The recent government initiative in trying to reduce the governmental stake from 51 to 33 per cent in banks is a well thought out move, although it might take time to implement. This should have been carried out within five years of the start of the economic reforms. The government might seem to be taking a harsh decision now, but it is inevitable. The labour policy has not been scrutinized even after switching over to a market economy from the socialistic approach almost a decade ago.

Yours faithfully,
Dhrubajyoti De, via email

Give peace a chance

Sir — It was reassuring to hear that the government of Pakistan has reacted positively to the extension of the Ramadan ceasefire. The decision to withdraw some troops taken by the military regime in Pakistan must be applauded (“Pervez troops pullback on Atal peace push”, Dec 21). The events of the last few days have shown that both parties are eager to solve the dispute. Earlier when Atal Bihari Vajpayee had called for the Ramadan ceasefire then there was widespread concern that it would jeopardize the safety of the Indian troops in the Kashmir valley. Moreover, the killings in the first few days of the ceasefire had nearly upset the peace process and had proved to be a big embarrassment for Vajpayee. Now, the situation is changing. With both countries letting go of their bitterness, the militant outfits should stop killing innocent civilians. They should try to solve the Kashmir issue by means of bilateral talks.

Yours faithfully,
Shadab Ahmad, Bokaro

Sir — The decision of the prime minister to extend the Ramadan ceasefire seems to have paid off. By deciding to allow leaders of the All-Party Hurriyat Conference to meet Pakistani officials, the government of India has once again reiterated its commitment to a peaceful resolution of the Kashmir dispute (“Green signal to Hurriyat”, Dec 29). This move will help secure the confidence of the militant groups who have always doubted India’s sincerity. Pakistan too seems to be taking the initiative towards peace by declaring that it would no longer insist on tripartite talks. If the military rulers of Islamabad are sincere, then there is reason for hope for the people of the valley who have witnessed endless violence and bloodshed. While New Delhi must learn to trust the Hurriyat leaders, its apprehensions about Pakistan and other militant groups like the Lashkar-e-Toiba are understandable.

Yours faithfully,
Devnath Thakur, Calcutta

Bovine impositions

Sir — Vandana Rathi in her letter says that the nation’s interest would be furthered by banning cow-slaughter (“Animal rites”, Dec 18). One wonders how. Most people are non-vegetarian and it is obvious that animal slaughter will have to continue to provide food to this vast majority. Is it Rathi’s mission to turn everybody into a vegetarian or does she just love cows? Why only ban the slaughter of cows and not that of chicken or pig or other animals. Rathi must understand that she should not try to impose her values on everybody else.

India is a democratic country and everybody here should have the freedom to live his or her life without disturbing the lives of others. Enough damage is being done to this nation by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad goons, who force their medieval values on people. We need to raise our voice against this madness, not add to its strength.

Yours faithfully,
Debabrata Das, Minneapolis, US

Sir — The Indian prescription against cow-slaughter is incorporated as a directive principle in the Constitution. While the saffron government is indifferent to other directive principles like ensuring the right to primary education for all, it seems overtly keen to enforce this particular one. The reason quite obviously is not so much sympathy for animals as sympathy for the sentiments of the majority community.

Yours faithfully,
Maloy Biswas, Calcutta

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