Editorial 1 / Tax calamity
Editorial 2 / New use for the rod
Economy at a crossroads
Book Review / Giving artisans a place in the sun
Book Review / Division bell
Book Review / More than dreams on celluloid
Book Review / From the margins of valour
Bookwise / Who will win the battle of the books?
Paperback Pickings / There’s a god in the box
Letters to the editor

There continues to be confusion about the Gujarat earthquake and not just about its magnitude on the Richter scale. While the official death toll of around 10,000 is smaller than the unofficial figure of 20,000, we have an unofficial-official death toll estimate of 100,000 from the defence minister. A chamber of commerce has gone to town about national income loss of Rs 25,000 crores. Without downgrading the human tragedy, such figures seem grossly exaggerated. The Narmada dam is safe, damages to Kandla port are minimal. Reliance refinery complexes in Jamnagar and Hazira, Tata and Essar plants near Bhuj and airbases in Bhuj and Nalia have also escaped major damage. Other than loss of lives, the economic damage seems to be restricted to buildings in Bhuj, Patan and Ahmedabad. In a perverse Keynesian sense, given the present downturn and unemployed resources within that Keynesian framework, a trigger to construction and related multiplier effects through demand for cement, steel or transportation may not be an unmitigated disaster.

The government has made much of the resource issue, with the finance minister first arguing a calamity surcharge was unnecessary and the prime minister next stating that a harsh budget, fresh taxes and such a surcharge are inevitable, if not for relief, at least for rehabilitation. This is not convincing. Unlike Kargil and the Orissa cyclone last year, there is enough cushion this year, with government borrowings lower and the fiscal deficit under control, even though disinvestment will fall short of target. From within the country and externally, monetary and non-monetary aid has been forthcoming and rehabilitation for a relatively well-off state like Gujarat is not quite the same as that for Orissa. Contrary to the prime minister’s assertion, if resources are needed, they are necessary for relief.

With industry (if not the entire economy) in the midst of a downturn, the last thing one wants is a hike in tax rates, especially since end-use of this tax revenue is beyond the control of tax-payers and will be frittered away on wasteful government expenditure. While the prime minister is right in asking everyone to share the burden, surely the beginning should be through slashing surplus government employees. Even when government expenditure is ostensibly on disaster relief, there is enough evidence of leakage. The quality of administration indeed varies from state to state and in the past, Gujarat has exhibited resilience not only from drought, but also plague. However, generally, famine relief administration inherited from the British has not adapted well enough to efficiently handle natural disaster related relief work, except when the army is called in. The government’s inevitable reaction is to subsequently set up a committee, as was done with Latur in 1993 or Orissa in 1999. Ostensibly, there is a natural disaster management committee of secretaries, which couldn’t meet for seven hours after the earthquake. In part, this is because of turf battles about which ministry should be in charge of disaster relief, natural or man-made. In addition, local administration has progressively become less autonomous after independence, with unnecessary centralization and political interference. Arguably, the army performs well because it is autonomous. But as with the case of natural disasters in the past, none of these issues will be addressed and the bogey of the earthquake will be used by the government to impose a surcharge and ease its own fiscal pressures. Opposition to a Kargil tax would have been labelled unpatriotic and opposition to a Bhuj tax will be labelled heartless.


t could be heartening to hear that a teacher’s association is seeking a form of self-regulation. In its 29th annual conference, the West Bengal Government College Teachers’ Association asked the state government to identify teachers who neglect their duties and take disciplinary action against them. The general secretary has assured the government that the association will cooperate in this task. Such a desire for self-correction would have been laudable had not the proposal been riddled with absurdities. Perhaps the state government would find it more refreshing to chase errant teachers rather than robbers and murderers. A teachers’ association which willingly surrenders its self-respect and compromises the self-respect of its colleagues by inviting non-professional and bureaucratic monitoring could hardly be serious about the good of teaching. Or about its own identity. This can only be interpreted as pandering to the higher education department’s highflown — and completely muddleheaded — ideas about teacher accountability. It is not surprising that the WBGCTA is doing this. The association is firmly under the Communist Party of India (Marxist) umbrella and the duties records of some of its members do not bear looking into too closely.

The association’s suggestion is thus not heartening at all. The less than clean-minded would be inclined to think that the WBGCTA is thinking up ways to embarrass professional brethren not of the same political faith or without political allegiances. But most would not go that far. It is much easier to believe that the WBGCTA is unthinking rather than venomous. Very few teachers’ associations have shown themselves particularly thoughtful about serious reforms in the education system. Government teachers especially are concerned about transfers and rights that have little to do with teaching. A lot of concerned noises at an annual conference probably makes them feel good about themselves.


In less than four weeks’ time, Yashwant Sinha will have to announce the fourth successive budget. He has had a relatively long tenure as finance minister and so must be counted as an experienced professional. Unfortunately, experience does not count for much in this business. Each year brings forth its own special problems, calling for specific remedies. “Horses for courses” is a very apt rule of thumb in budget-making exercises in this country. This year’s budget will be presented against the backdrop of growing fears that the economy is at a crossroads.

Despite unfavourable external circumstances, the economy has been doing relatively well in the last few years, having recorded a steady growth rate of over 5 per cent per year. However, a large part of the credit for this must go to the agriculture sector, which has more often than not surprised everybody by producing yet another bumper harvest. Unfortunately, the scanty rainfall this year has virtually killed all hopes of even a moderate harvest. To the plight of the Indian farmer must be added the uncertain prospects of Indian manufacturers. Indian industry seems reluctant to rise from its slumber. Their problems may soon be aggravated when the full force of the more liberalized world trading hits them — there are already bitter complaints that the flood of Chinese imports will destroy a large number of manufacturing units, particularly those located in the small scale sector.

There is also the growing fear that the status quo cannot be maintained. The economy must either move forward vigorously or slowly slide back to a lower growth path. Along with this is the perception that the government has to play a more active role in reviving the economy. In some spheres, this involves the government playing the role of a facilitator — essentially allowing the private sector to grow rapidly by removing the institutional bottlenecks. But there are other sectors where the government has to be the main initiator of growth and development. A dilemma for the finance minister is that these roles are often in conflict with each other.

Consider, for instance, the government’s role as an active player in pushing up the growth rate. An obvious sector where the government must act immediately is infrastructure. It is a gross understatement to assert that infrastructural facilities in India are abysmal. Only a huge infusion of funds can result in any noticeable improvement. The India infrastructure report — chaired by none other than Rakesh Mohan, the current chief economic adviser to the finance ministry — pulled no punches in declaring that the only way in which the economy can hope to attain a 7 per cent rate of growth is if investment in infrastructure was increased to 8 per cent of the gross domestic product from the current level of 5.5 per cent.

A part of the required increase in investment can come from the private sector, provided the government promises sufficient incentives in the form of tax breaks. However, given the huge scale of most infrastructure projects, the break-even period is typically very long. Private investors in India also have to contend with political uncertainties. Who knows whether the tax breaks promised by the current government will be maintained by the next one? That is why it is unlikely that the private sector will provide more than a fraction of the required investment. So, the government will have to somehow invest vast sums of money in crucial infrastructure projects.

On the other hand, there is the demand that the finance minister help industry to recover from the recent slowdown by providing various tax incentives. The list of demands is endless. A small sample of them includes demands to lower the corporate tax rate, withdraw the minimum alternative tax, remove surcharge and double taxation of dividends, and make customs duties on raw materials lower than the duty on finished goods. If the government gives in to these demands, then that will force it to tighten its belt at a time when it is already severely constrained by the lack of funds. Obviously, this will also make it that much more difficult for it to raise investment in infrastructure. Of course, many will argue that the government itself is to blame for this sorry state of affairs. After all, the fiscal crisis is not a sudden phenomenon — the state of the public exchequer has been a cause for concern during much of the Nineties. Unfortunately, successive governments have simply refused to take the necessary corrective measures.

Sinha’s government has been no exception to this rule. At various times, Sinha and even the prime minister have warned us that the time for soft options was over and that the government simply had to bite the bullet. Unfortunately, the government has yet to implement a single “hard” measure. An unpleasant consequence has been that the fiscal health of the government has drifted from bad to worse as government expenditure has steadily increased without any commensurate increase in revenues.

This is sad because there was nothing inevitable about this process. Consider for instance the issue of downsizing the government. The last pay commission report had clearly stated that the increased pay scales for government employees was just one component of a package. The commission had also indicated that the government should be able to reduce its staff strength quite considerably over the course of ten years. Apart from the financial necessity for downsizing, there was a quite different logic underlying this. After all, the move towards a more market-oriented economy meant that there were fewer tasks which the government had to oversee. So, why should the government need the same number of employees to perform a smaller set of jobs? Unfortunately, there has been no or hardly any attempt by the government to cut back the number of employees on its rolls.

The government has also failed dismally to cut back the overall subsidy bill. But perhaps the best example of the government’s incompetence is the hamhandedness with which it has gone about the business of disinvestment. A policy decision was taken long ago to disinvest at least partly the government’s holdings in public sector enterprises. Several specific enterprises were even identified. The finance minister went so far as even specify a figure of Rs 10, 000 crore in last year’s budget as the amount to be obtained through disinvestment. However, the exercise has been a miserable flop — the government has only managed to sell off a bakery so far! Surely, the finance minister owes everyone an explanation as to why his estimates were so wildly off the target.

The Indian public must have set some sort of record in terms of gullibility. Clearly, past experience shows that government promises (and particularly pre-budget ones) should not be taken very seriously. So, we should discount all promises that the budget will be “investor-friendly”, “growth-friendly” and so on. The finance minister has very little room for manoeuverability. In all probability, the budget will be a strict accounting exercise, completely devoid of all frills.

The author is an economist at the Indian Statistical Institute, New Delhi    

By Tirthankar Roy,
Cambridge, Price not mentioned

Tirthankar Roy has produced a much-needed work on the role of traditional industries in the colonial economy of south Asia. Roy claims that his preoccupation with traditional industries in the colonial period arose from a dissatisfaction with the artificial distinction between “traditional” and “modern” industries and the resultant treatment meted out to traditional industries. Similarly, his treatment of the artisan was motivated by a desire to correct the one-sided and cursory treatment the artisan has received in south Asian historiography.

He rightly points out: “The experience of the artisan has long been used to illustrate opinions about the impact of British rule on the economy of British India and, therefore, has been a controversial topic in Indian historiography. The evidence on the artisan, however, is ambiguous” (my emphasis). To redress the balance on both counts, Roy traces the perpetuation of the traditional industries of weaving, decorative embroidery (jari work), brassiere, leatherware and carpets within India’s colonial economy. The period studied is between the 1870s and the Thirties and the author does a commendable job in bringing to academic light innovations and structural changes within these industries.

To illustrate his point, Roy starts with an account of developmental models and a critique of the received view(s) on the historiography of industrialization in south Asia. In doing so, he stumbles into the theoretical trap awaiting those who seek to replace a model of dependence in a colonial context with a factually justified, theoretically tenable and academically acceptable alternative. Instead, Roy is faced with a major problem in the selection of a set of conceptual categories to justify his argument. His work suffers resultantly from a plethora of needless material, startling factual and bibliographical omissions, and the futile search for an alternative model of development.

Since the period studied is between 1870 and 1930, Roy is faced with some tough choices. He has to debunk de-industrialization, turn around the impact of free trade on the south As- ian economy, and gloss over the effects of the depression on Indian industries. The result is a curiously antiquated view of one sector of the Indian economy and its transition into the 20th century.

Roy’s discontent with dependence theories and the received view of the fate of south Asian industries under colonialism is clear. Far from seeing de-industrialization as the dominant theme of the period, he emphasises the “creative impact” of colonialism on south Asian industry. To bolster his argument, he sees “commercialization” as a “significant tendency” in traditional industries and shows that “productivity can and did increase within the crafts.”

Roy seems unaware that commercialization under colonialization is by nature intrinsically different and is always generated through different imperatives. This leads Roy to such bizarre assertions as “(My) book disputes an influential belief that exposure to free trade destroyed or devitalized the Indian artisan, and, in this way, was regressive in its impact on the economy of colonial India”. But persistence, innovations within a colonial framework and limited change does not dispute the wider generalizations of economic historians of colonial south Asia.

Roy cites the cases of Europe and East Asia to “see south Asia in a larger context” while drawing lessons for studying context-dictated industrialization on south Asian soil. And again Roy mentions that the proto-industrialization theory is “largely incompatible with Indian material”. Answers, according to him, must be sought in the specific conditions of south Asian soil. Then why devote so much space to comparative development, proto-industrialisation et al? To ensure that the reader is familiar with the European and east Asian experiences of industrialization?

So what is more important ultimately—comparison or context? What methodology is Roy following?


By Tai Yong Tan and Gyanesh Kudaisya,
Routledge, £ 20

With 18 million people — the figure that Tai Yong Tan and Gyanesh Kudaisya give — forced to take to a pit- iless road, Partition was one of history’s biggest diasporas, and certainly the most bloody. No statistics can do justice to an enormity that inflicted such grim death and disaster and which, even 54 years later, still not only sears the lives of a billion and a half south Asians, but also affects the stability of the region and makes a profound impact on many aspects of life in places as far apart as Malaysia and California.

Justly, but unwittingly, the authors indict the reason for this traumatic upheaval. “Far from resolving the ‘communal’ problem, Partition aggravated the difficulties of minorities in several instances”, they say, in a casual aside of momentous import that goes to the heart of the sectarian politics that destroyed the India that was. For, if the two-nation theory failed to deliver to Muslims the promised paradise, and, in fact, worsened their plight, then obviously those who clamoured for vivisection were monumentally mistaken. Was India’s unity shattered on the hollow altar of Mohammed Ali Jinnah’s vanity or of his wickedness? Was he only a catspaw, conscious or ignorant, in the hands of powerful sinister forces?

Those questions, hovering over the events that lead to Partition, might lie outside the authors’ remit. Their pride is to deal not with cause but effect. It is a valid purpose, but, then, they should have tried to come to grips with the even more daring conclusions that follow from their own dismissal of the two-nation theory. One — and Hindu fanatics would love this — is that Partition failed because, in the absence of a complete transfer of population (as between Greeks and Turks), the stranded minorities to whose plight Tan and Kudaisya draw attention remain unwanted irritants in the body politic of inhospitable host countries. Another is that a prescription that aggravated the malaise instead of curing it deserves to be thrown away, meaning that the two-nation theory should be given an ignomi- nious burial, and India restored to its old unity.

Such suggestions would undoubtedly alarm the authors, one ethnic Chinese, the other Indian, but both teachers at the National University of Singapore. Inevitably, their scholarship is to some extent hostage to political correctness — which is unfortunate for they are enviably placed to pronounce on many aspects of subcontinental politics that the region’s own analysts may not be able to view dispassionately. They have read extensively, consulted a large number of unpublished sources, and gone to extraordinary lengths to elicit details of relatively minor events like the unhappy adventure of Marichjhanpi. The dense text of 243 pages (excluding glossary, notes and index) is meticulously researched, but arguments are not carried to their logical conclusion, and the reluctance to hazard opinions that scholarship such as theirs is expected to foster could suggest either circumspection or that insight does not always match information. In the outcome, one suspects that within the covers of this book lurks a much more significant analysis.

But Tan and Kudaisya must also be complimented for taking the story of Partition beyond insalubrious refugee camps and the bruised psyche of middle-class Bengalis who have created more zamindaris out of nostalgia than ever existed east of the Padma. The legacy of Partition is reflected, they say, in the Sikh and Sindhi diaspora and in Karachi’s mohajir unrest. It influenced the left’s ascendancy in West Bengal (where “at least eight million” refugees account for “one-sixth of the population”), vests the grandeur of Islamabad’s presidential palace with political significance, and transformed sleepy Dhaka into a bustling metropolis.

More ominously, “the possession of nuclear capability is seen by both Indian and Pakistani political leaders as crucial symbols of national sovereignty, revealing the bitter legacies of conflict which were engendered by Partition and which have been festering like a wound ever since.” New Delhi would disagree, for the official case is that China — not Pakistan — is the nuclear adversary. The claim that Partition reinforced Pakistan’s “powerful civil-military bureaucracy which was able to usurp state power in the new country, and which remains the real force in Pakistan’s politics to this day” also prompts questions. Why has parliamentary politics so easily and so repeatedly been brushed aside in Pakistan when it flourishes so lustily in India?

Presumably, there is a less childish explanation than the one advanced by Pakistan’s high commissioner in Singapore. Asked on CNBC about the failure of democracy in his country, he blamed India for denying the Pakistani military its rightful share of divisible assets at Partition.

The authors seem to pamper this kind of self-deluding stupidity with the bland description of Kashmir as “the primary cause of continuing hostility” between the two neighbours. Even a perceptive Pakistani, Gowher Rizvi, whom they quote, acknowledges that Kashmir is more effect than cause, because it “reactivated all the issues and the traumas which Partition was intended to stop.” As a state that is desperately anxious to be a nation, Pakistan can assert some sort of identity only in antithesis to India. Kashmir happens to be the most useful instrument for that exercise. On a factual point, India’s water treaties with Pakistan and Bangladesh demonstrate that practical problems are not as intractable as the authors think.

They end on a note of hope, citing the 1996 Calcutta meeting of the Pakistan-India Peoples’ Forum for Peace and Democracy which was inaugurated in Lahore two years earlier. Worthy though the effort was, the subcontinent is not the Philippines where people’s power can bring about far-reaching change. Such contacts are significant not for defying the diktats of New Delhi and Islamabad but for suggesting that the two governments are prepared to discuss informally what they denounce formally.

That byzantine process might yet help to heal wounds. Meanwhile, and shortcomings notwithstanding, the book contains a wealth of useful information and is worth keeping for reference, though not at this absurd price. It would be realistic to print a much cheaper edition.


By Yves Thoraval,
Macmillan, Rs 450

From Mughal-e-Azam, to Sholay to Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, we have liked them all. There are only a few who have not been fascinated by Indian cinema but for the rest it has been a kind of “collective fantasy” built around a “fairytale on celluloid”. Indian cinema has remained a universal force of entertainment cutting across the multi-variate differences among people. While viewing cinema can be quite a relaxing engagement, writing a meta-narrative on the evolution of Indian cinema is surely a Herculean task. Yves Thoraval has the rare courage to unravel the complex plurality of India’s many cinemas.

A comprehensive chronological guide to the world of Indian cinema, from 1896 to 2000, this book is of indispensable referral value. Born a century ago, almost at the same time as in the West, Indian cinema is today the world’s largest cinematographic industry. It was in 1905, that Jamshedjee Farmjee Madan, introduced the first bioscope company, which was mainly concerned with the distribution and regular screenings of foreign films. Soon, professionals in the field of traditional entertainment, as well as those working in the new field of cinema, felt the need of making fiction films in India. The National Film Archive of India has a record of about 1,313 silent films produced in India between 1912 and 1934.

According to Thoraval, these 30-40 minute-long films dealt with themes from a shared cultural substrata of the Indian population, like religion, mythology, nationalism and social values. The Thirties witnessed the “talkie” revolution in India. Apart from dialogue, song and dance of the jatra tradition also appropriated space. The veritable “explosion” in language and sound touched the entire subcontinent and remains the secret of success even today. However, the problem of language that had not existed during the silent era began to surface. Hindi, the relative lingua franca, spoken in northern and western India, drew upon the dynamism and infrastructure of Maharashtra and became the popular medium of films. After 1933, production grew steadily and so did regional films in Tamil, Telegu, Bengali and Marathi. Besides Bombay, Calcutta and Madras became major production centres, creating a “national industry”. From the Sixties, films in colour became the norm of commercial cinema. Never before was entering the movie hall such a colourful delight. By this time, cinema had become a lucrative profession bestowing money, fame and cult status to a lucky few.

The overriding importance of cinema in the lives of the Indians gave birth to the “star syndrome”. Thoraval observes that for a population straddled with illiteracy, poverty and so on, hero-worship became a powerful source of temporary transportation to a make-believe world of opulence and happiness. Thoraval sketches successful directors, megastars and mega movies of the pan-Indian cinema. He also devotes a considerable part of his work to the rise of “new Indian cinema” or the “auteur cinema”. Not so much commercial profiteering, but art, aesthetic freedom of thought and expression became the aspiration of this new genre of cinema. Here also the author discusses in detail the context, institutions and successful men and women behind parallel cinema. The author does not confine himself only to Hindi cinema, but also covers films made in ten other principal regional languages.

While not so much an academic exercise, this book is definitely a carefully researched work of reference which will act as a vantage point for those interested in obtaining a historical overview of Indian cinema.


By James Lucas,
Cassell, £ 18.99

Military excellence of the Wehrmacht is a fact accepted by scholars and even by the American, British and Russian soldiers. Without any technical edge in weaponry and despite numerical inferiority, Hitler’s army swept over Europe and then, against all odds, fought the world. The operational skills of Hitler’s paladins are still taught in the Western military academies. This in turn generated intense academic interest among the historians to analyse the genius of the German general staff. James Lucas, a British historian, attempts to unravel the mystery behind the German army’s military expertise.

Scholars like Correlli Barnett and Lucas himself have tried to study the German generals. But the focus remains on men like Heinz Guderian and Erwin Rommel. Lucas, in this book, shifts the focus from the top echelons of the German military command to the mid level officers. He asserts that military effectiveness of the army was also dependent on the quality of these relatively junior officers. However, these officers did not possess private papers or interrogation reports prepared by the Allied forces in 1945. Lucas toured Germany, taking interviews for preparing this book.

Lucas provides the social background and military profiles of 14 German commanders. Many of these officers like Heinrich Eberbach were from lower social background. Eberbach’s father was a small salesman of Stuttgart. Generally, men of such background were not allowed to join the armies in pre-1939 Europe. But, the Third Reich encouraged men from economically and socially marginal backgrounds to join the army. Also, unlike the British or the French armies, promotion in the German army was purely on the basis of merit. Eberbach, who led the armoured assault to Moscow in November 1940, rose to become a Panzer General.

Hitler was aware of the opposition which these non-Prussian lower middle class soldiers faced from their aristocratic seniors. So he created the SS, an elite army within the army. This allowed men like Otto Kumm and Kurt Meyer, who came from working class families, to reach senior positions. Given the opportunity of upward mobility, these men served Hitler with a loyalty and courage that was unique in the history of warfare.

The most interesting essay is the one on the SS Major General Hermann Fegelin, Hitler’s brother in law. Till date, there is no account on Fegelin. Hugh Trevor-Roper mentions him casually in Last Days of Hitler. Fegelin was the son of a subaltern; he later joined the police. The Third Reich absorbed him in the SS and he spent the war in anti-partisan activities in Russia. Fegelin was a brave and much decorated officer. Doom was approaching him when Fegelin was attached to the Führer’s Berlin bunker. As the Russian tanks approached Berlin in April 1945, Fegelin vanished from the bunker. The Gestapo got him and brought him back to Hitler, who ordered him to be shot dead on the charge of cowardice.

Lucas must be thanked for turning the limelight on hitherto unknown military figures and the policies which the Reich followed regarding them. Lucas’s study of the German military strengthens David Schoenbaum’s theory that Hitler initiated a “social revolution” by destroying the monopoly of the Junkers in the army and allowing upward mobility to the lower middle class by throwing the “state” open to them. Hitler’s success in widening the social base of the officer corps enable him to raise a three million strong army that became the terror of Europe.


It doesn’t matter whether dotcoms are coming up or going down, but the question of who owns the rights to reproduce articles in the new electronic media has plunged authors and “publishers” into a bitter battle in recent months. It is pitting authors against publishers and causing the industry to rewrite contracts for authors.

When an author signs a contract, he gives the publishing rights to the publisher in return for a stipulated royalty against the sales of the book. These rights include, inter alia, the right to print, market and sell the book within a certain defined territory; to give reprint rights to other publishers in different parts of the world; to offer translation rights in different languages at home and abroad; to offer serialization rights to newspapers and magazines; to offer film, television and dramatic rights.

By and large, authors who have published earlier and know the tricks of the trade or have negotiated the contract through their literary agents do not surrender all of these rights. For instance, they could offer marketing rights only for certain parts of the world. They could also reserve translation, serialization and visual media rights and offer these bit by bit to other publishers in different parts of the world. Dotcoms have added another dimension to the market.

The heart of the matter now is whether authors should get a share of the proceeds if their work is reproduced on CD-ROMs, databases, online services or any other electronic media outlet. This is the crux of the fight now on between publishers and their authors. Publishers have come out with contracts so that, in most cases, they can retain full electronic publishing rights. Some even contain a clause granting themselves the right to include material without compensation to the author in any type of media and technology “whether now known or hereafter developed.”

The right, these contracts stipulate, is accorded to publishers “in perpetuity throughout the universe.” Multimedia lawyers have advised publishers not to count on traditional contracts to protect their rights in electronic publishing. They have been told “to ensure that they obtain broad enough rights in new material…to exploit it in the new media.” Hence the new contracts. Right now, no one is certain about how much money is involved. But the battle is about the possibility that in future, significant amounts of money may be at stake.

Two questions arise. First, what should the author do? Second, is the situation too far-fetched for India? The answer to the second question is no because any serious book on any subject will be published today only if there is some export potential. The domestic market isn’t sufficient to make it a viable business proposition. A globalized market means that the Indian publisher will have to fall in line with global market terms. It could also mean that internet publishing rights are available for negotiation.

As far as authors are concerned, a lot depends on the kind of clout they have. If it is Salman Rushdie, or V.S. Naipaul or some other big name, they could call the shots and get what they want. But the second string will simply have to give what publishers want. The big question then is: will authors stand to gain to find their work on the world wide web? In financial terms, they may not, because any one can download without paying a fee; but in terms of exposure it would be a boon. And that could lead to spin-offs in many different ways.


By Arvind Rajagopal
(Cambridge, Rs 495)

Arvind Rajagopal’s politics after television: hindu nationalism and the reshaping of the public in india is about the work and influence of the media on the career of Hindu nationalist mobilization in India during the late Eighties and early Nineties. Rajagopal begins with the violation, in 1987, of a decades-old taboo on religious partisanship, when the state-run television began broadcasting Ramayana. This resulted in the largest political campaign after independence around the symbol of Ram, led by Hindu nationalists, which brought the Bharatiya Janata Party into prominence. Simultaneously, Hindu nationalist leaders were embracing the prospects of neoliberalism and globalization. Television was the device that hinged these processes together, reshaping the context in which politics was conceived, enacted and understood. Ending with the international context within which nationalist groups mobilize, this study highlights the differences between their expatriate and indigenous constituencies. This is a sophisticated study, but written in a language that may put off non-academic readers. In this it may be preaching to the converted. But perhaps this is too optimistic a view of the Indian academic readership.

By Anupam V. Kapil
(Penguin, Rs 200)

Anupam V. Kapil’s numerology made easy would manage to marshal little justification for being reviewed here, given the benighted triviality of its contents. The only justifiable reason for this condescension would be to point out the sad debasement of a prestigious and renowned brand name. Penguin packages this “comprehensive introduction to numerology” as “the one book that anyone interested in numbers absolutely must read”. Poor Wittgenstein — with his obsession with numbers — missed out on being taught how to calculate his karmic compound number, quickly.

By Liza Dalby
(Vintage, £ 7.99)

Liza Dalby’s geisha is a delightful account of a famous Japanese institution. In the Seventies, the author — presumably driven by ethnographic rigour — went to Japan and turned into the geisha, Ichiguku, in Pantocho (Kyoto). This book is a personal, but anthropological, account of her experience. (One wonders though whether, as an American geisha, she got quite the authentic picture of the connoisseur Japonaise). As biographer of the great Japanese writer, Lady Murasaki, and as Spielberg’s consultant on his film, Memoirs of a Geisha, Dalby would no doubt be the best person to go beyond the simplistic Western view of geisha as chattel in an “egregiously male-dominated society”. But perhaps Dalby’s most original contribution is in bringing to Berkeley, California, the immensely sophisticated geisha concept of iki, a certain type of chic, bold yet alluring, that implies an aesthetic of understatement and a whole philosophy of life.



Visited by folly

Sir — The visit of the prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, to his home constituency during the Gujarat crisis shows an appallingly bad sense of timing and misplaced sympathies (“Lucknow cold to generous Atal”, Feb 1). It will not be too outrageous an assumption if one infers from this that the West is more sensitive to the calamity in Gujarat than our national leaders. In fact, from media reports in the last few days it has become very clear that the affected people in Gujarat would be better helped if the international agencies and volunteers are given a free rein by the bureaucracy. Perhaps the saddest thing about the disaster is the manner in which the government has pleaded helplessness about its failure to handle rehabilitation proceedings. On the one hand, Vajpayee accepts this incapacity and on the other, he travels to Lucknow and claims that he has brought with himself gifts like the electrification of the Lucknow-Kanpur railway line and a software park among other things. Is this the time for populist propaganda?
Yours faithfully,
Saptarshi Bhose, Calcutta

Scheduled for trouble

Sir — The report, “Expert defends Sixth Schedule” (Jan 3), which features an interview with B.K. Roy Burman on the issue of the sixth schedule of the Constitution makes one wonder whether Burman’s views would provide the best solution for a country like India where the largest contribution towards India’s economic development is made by the majority of countrymen in the mainstream. I would not contradict the fact that the Constitution should protect indigenous peoples and that its sixth schedule lays down the principle of self-government for tribals. But in a state like Meghalaya where the ruling clans have risen up in arms demanding a recognition of autonomous status by the Indian government through a review of the Constitution, such mighty principles are bound to be misused.

If the government of India could disband the privy purses of the maharajas, strip them of their privileges, why should it listen to some petty chiefs and review the Constitution to upgrade their status? The indigenous people of the state have their representatives in the state assembly who can easily pass legislation on whatever they need. They also have their representatives in the country’s Parliament.

While Burman’s comments on the growing movement of the Khasi chiefs to oust the Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council needs to be pondered on, it also needs to be asked if there is at all a need to have the office of the district council and the office of the ruling chief. Do these two offices serve their purpose or are these two offices instead mere time and money consuming elements which halt development? Many feel the indigenous people of the region will be able to stand at par with mainstream India and take the same strides only if these two offices are done away with. The people of the state probably need to listen to them more carefully.

Yours faithfully,
Raj Kumar and Balvindar Singh, via email

Sir — The recent quake in Gujarat has left behind a trail of destruction. Some of this destruction could have been avoided had builders of highrise buildings in the cities of the state followed rules. It is unfortunate that so many people have died or are now homeless because of the greed of a few.

Since sometime now soothsayers have been predicting a massive earthquake in the Northeast as well. Builders of multi-storeyed apartments in Guwahati and also in Shillong should learn a lesson from Gujarat’s tragedy and stop flouting building rules. Guidelines may seem useless at normal times, but nature strikes without warning and it does not take long for the situation to go out of hand.

Yours faithfully,
Sandeep Kalita, Guwahati

Sir — When the Assam state electricity board chairman recently spoke about reorganizing the board, which suffers from transmission and distribution losses amounting to almost 42 per cent, he probably did not take into account the huge loss of power due to theft. Some big power consumers, with the active help of ASEB officials, have been stealing power for a long time. There are umpteen instances of power theft in and around Guwahati city alone. But even after thefts were detected, no action was taken against the users or the ASEB personnel involved. One major cause of the ASEB’s losses is corruption. In the end it is the common consumer who has to bear the burden of bigger tariffs.

Yours faithfully,
Iftakhar Latif, Guwahati

Sir — If the instability in Assam continues for some more time, India will soon have another Kashmir on its hands. The influx of Bangladeshis into the state has risen by leaps and bounds in recent years. In many districts of the state, Assamese Hindus have become a minority.

It is however unfortunate that political parties are turning a blind eye to this state of affairs. According to these parties, there are no Bangladeshis in Assam. These parties are no less anti-Indian than Inter-Services Intelligence agents. If these parties can criticize the Ayodhya policy of the government why can’t they do so with the influx issue? Politicians who are selling out our country should be put behind bars.

Yours faithfully
Joydeep Roy,Kokrajhar

Sir — Will army operations to flush out United Liberation Front of Asom and Bodo militants from the jungles of Bhutan bring peace to the people of Assam and Bhutan? It must be understood that Bhutan is a poor country and is not in a position to entertain militants with financial or any other support. The arms and money that the militants are equipped with are supplied from Assam through the open borders. Therefore, the only way to solve this problem is to stop the arms and money support from within India. An army operation to flush them out will not be necessary.

Yours faithfully,
Tshering Dolma, Phuntsholing

Sir — I find the demand for a separate Kamtapur entirely justified. There has been no improvement in the economy and infrastructure of the region for decades. In fact, the whole of north Bengal has seen no improvement for a long time and after two decades there is little the people can expect from the Left Front government of West Bengal.

Are the people of south Bengal satisfied with the development in their region? The back of industry has been broken in the state. Unemployment and bandhs are now part of Bengali life. At this rate every area in West Bengal would soon be demanding autonomy.

The people of West Bengal are largely responsible for their pathetic situation. They have kept the same party in power for years. Let us not worry if Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee is a communist or Mamata Banerjee a populist. They are all the same. It is change and development that matter.

Yours faithfully,
R. Mukherjee, Mumbai

Sir — The people of Assam will welcome the visit of the home minister, L.K. Advani, to the state (“Advani to carry talks decision”, Jan 18). With the decrease in militancy and the surrender of militants from various outfits, the Centre will have to exercise its judgment in assessing the situation.

In Assam, the chief source of subsistence is cultivation and the people feel insecure at the influx of immigrants which has minimized resources. The failure of successive Congress-led governments to develop Assam economically had led to the growth of militancy. An economic package generating employment will help redress popular grievances. If poverty is not alleviated, peace in Assam will remain an illusion.

Yours faithfully,
Soma Sen, Calcutta

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