Editorial 1 / Caps off
Editorial 2 / A city defaced
Whither Indian aerospace?
Book Review / Taste the sweet and sour strategy
Book Review / Protected areas
Book Review / Modernity confronts tradition
Book Review / Flowering of a civilization
Bookwise / A change in reading habits
Paperback pickings / Biography as partisan worship
Letters to the editor

The commerce minister, Mr Murasoli Maran, has just announced that the government will soon lift all sectoral caps on foreign direct investment in order to attract investment flows of $ 10 billion. Once the government does indeed remove the current restrictions which are in place in some sectors, the foreign investment promotion board can be wound up for all practical purposes. This will signal the end of the regime of “case-by-case sanctions”, which has been one of the obstacles in promoting a larger flow of foreign direct investment into the country. Hopefully, the commerce minister will be able to take the last couple of crucial steps necessary to scrap the FIPB. This reminder is not misplaced because the government has often faltered at a penultimate stage in the process of implementing controversial reforms. The Indian record in attracting FDI has been quite dismal. Comparisons with China are inevitable. India attracts only a fraction of the flow into China. A major problem seems to be the low ratio of actual inflows to approvals. This is particularly true of the infrastructure sector, which has seen a fair amount of FDI approvals, but a pitifully small quantum of actual inflows. Perhaps, the bottleneck has been the absence of complementary reforms. In particular, private investors, whatever their origin, will invest only if they are ensured a reasonable rate of return on their investment. This is not always guaranteed in the absence of an appropriate level of user charges.

But the most important reason for the small inflow of FDI into India has been the rather ambivalent stance of successive Central governments on the role of FDI in promoting growth. Is it a good thing or is FDI an evil influence whose role should be curtailed as much as possible? The answer has typically depended on which minister one encounters. This is unfortunate because most developing countries have realized that FDI is a highly attractive source of private capital inflow, and so exert considerable efforts to induce greater inflows into their economies. For instance, foreigners need to be paid returns on their investment in any project only if the project makes profits. This is in contrast to projects which are financed by foreign debt, since interest obligations have to be honoured even if the project incurs a loss. FDI is also much more attractive than portfolio investment since the latter can be suddenly withdrawn as the Mexicans found out to their cost.

Another advantage of FDI is the possibility of technology transfers by multinationals. Of course, some people levy the accusation that multinationals have brought in second-rate technology into India. This allegation may be true in some cases. But, surely the question one needs to ask is why the multinational or the joint venture can survive the competition from domestic firms if it has to depend on second-rate technology. And the answer is also immediate. The second-rate technology of the multinationals must be several leagues ahead of the technology used by the hitherto pampered domestic firms. The best example of this is in the automobile sector in India. Various models of the Maruti were not latest versions from the Suzuki stable. Nevertheless, Maruti virtually captured the domestic automobile sector because the Ambassadors and Premier Padminis were vastly inferior. Another allegation against multinationals is that their actions are guided by short-term profit considerations. Unfortunately, there is no reason to believe that the majority of domestic entrepreneurs are more farsighted.


Ugliness has many faces in Calcutta. So does lawbreaking. The defacing of boundary walls with advertisements has now become part of Calcuttan local colour. Graffiti — more garish the better — may be the postmodern urban artform par excellence, but the fact remains that it is a strictly punishable offence which violates the rules laid down by the Calcutta Municipal Corporation. Offenders can be sued and fined, and it is also mandatory to seek the permission of the owner before using private property for such purposes. Most people never bother to complain (there are exceptions to this) and it seems to be quite beyond the CMC to think about being stricter about such matters. Both attitudes stem from an indifference to civic aesthetics that has led to Calcutta’s visionary dreariness.

But the situation is more complicated. There exists an entire network of collusion among the various firms who advertise illegally, the advertising agencies they employ and the civic staff who are to make sure that the rules are not violated. Corporation officials are bribed by agencies employed by private firms, who in turn save money by breaking the law. Illegal advertising space is far cheaper than authorized hoardings. As a result, not only has the defacement of private property become common in the city, but the corporation is also losing several crores in earnings from advertising space. But this particular offence has a certain pedigree in Calcutta. The tradition of graffiti has always been part of the political life of the city, started by the campaigning zeal of the parties, providing a substantial section of their cadre with an occupation. This practice was then taken up by the commercial sector, leading to a pervasive decline in the city’s appearance. The entire illegal network must be rooted out through the vigilance of citizens and civic bodies. There are many legitimate and innovative means by which tasteful advertising can actually brighten up the city and its spaces.


Curtains rose on the third biennial international air show, Aero-India 2001, in Bangalore on February 7. It is billed to have a record number of over 100 participating companies from 15 countries. The show, inaugurated by the defence minister, was also attended by air force chiefs of some 10 countries. While India was primarily being represented by various laboratories of the Defence Research and Development Organization and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, other laboratories and institutions that have played a major supporting role were also represented.

The backdrop to the entire event was undoubtedly the justifiable pride that was evident among the Indian aerospace community for having successfully completed the first flight of the light combat aircraft. This singular achievement gave this event the buoyancy that has singularly been lacking in the previous events.

Decades ago, when aircraft, both military and civil, were still relatively inexpensive and knowledge and technology about aerodynamics and engine materials was rapidly evolving, nearly every company had new designs on the drawing board and it is these that were unveiled with much fanfare at the annual Farnborough and Le Bourget air shows. Every show had new aerospace technologies, aircraft and engines to unveil and both the civil and military users struck aircraft deals. The success of the shows was determined by the value of the contracts concluded during the show. Such was the commercial attraction of the shows.

Over the years, the environment has changed. The Farnborough and Le Bourget shows are still the premier air shows, but they are now held in alternate years. Many other countries now hold their own shows, though on a much smaller scale. There is, however, a significant change. Evolution of airborne platforms now is a very slow process. Most significantly, research and development costs are exorbitant and costs of aircraft and systems have outstripped inflation. Economies of scale therefore become crucial drivers of this industry.

Modern aerospace technologies have added life to airframe and engines, thus reducing the demand for frequent replacements. Defence budgets have shown a decline. While the picture on the civil aviation side is rosier because of the continued expansion of civil traffic, here again aircraft have longer fatigue lives and companies prefer the update route rather than a de novo design.

These emerging challenges have led in recent years to considerable consolidation and rationalization of Western aerospace industries. Much of the change in the United States was overseen by Jacques Gansler, under-secretary of defence for acquisition and technology in the Bill Clinton administration, who, as early as 1980 when outside the government, had said, “In order to understand the economic operation of the US defence industry, it is first absolutely essential to recognize that there is no free market at work in this area and that there cannot be one because of the dominant role played by the federal government. The combination of a single buyer, a few large firms in each segment of the industry, and a small number of extremely expensive weapons programmes constitute a unique structure for doing business.”

This aptly sums up the challenge to governments and their aerospace industries across the globe: how to keep this unique structure for doing business finely balanced between free markets on the one hand and state control on the other. No longer can the government, the services and the national aerospace companies think strictly in institutional and compartmentalized terms. And yet, the links must be sophisticated enough to afford adequate freedom to each to face diplomatic, operational and indeed, market forces.

Emerging challenges offer opportunities to those at the helm of affairs to look at change. Aerospace industry, by virtue of its technological edge and security applications, is a crucial strategic industry. National governments in the West have long recognized this link and continue to evolve policies that both support the industry and retain its competitiveness. So far, no such urgency has been visible on the Indian aerospace scene.

Successive governments have held the view that public ownership automatically safeguards national strategic interests. Policies during the heyday of non-alignment discouraged arms exports, thus insulating the Indian defence industry. Today the industry lacks marketing knowledge and skills while facing selective technological apartheid. Such flawed policies, coupled with political, bureaucratic and scientific control, have progressively led Indian aerospace to the brink.

India is one of the few developing nations that can boast of an aeronautical industry dating to World War II. Yet today the international map eludes it. For too long the Indian public has been brought up on the untenable philosophy of self-reliance. Yet facts indicate that no successful aircraft of Western origin is truly national, it consists of components and systems from across the international market. The only exception was the erstwhile Soviet aviation industry and it has been compelled to change.

Recent statements made by the defence minister, George Fernandes, however, provide a ray of hope. Talking to reporters after the first flight of the LCA, he is reported to have said that there was now no looking back any more as far as the aeronautics industry was concerned. Addressing the valedictory function of IMTEX 2001, he said that the defence public sector would soon see disinvestment. While appealing to the private sector to participate in defence production, he admitted that one of their reservations to join defence production was their concern for economies of scale.

He also gave assurances that the antiquated industrial policy resolution would be amended shortly. Further, he expressed the view that foreign collaboration was necessary for the commercial production of the LCA, the advanced light helicopter and the main battle tank. Finally, addressing the parliamentary consultative committee attached to his ministry, he underlined the need for the interaction of HAL with leading aeronautical organizations of the world to become a globally competitive aerospace company.

Taken together, it would appear that the government is finally beginning to shed its age-old inhibitions with regard to the defence production sector in the face of global challenges. With liberalization and globalization of world economies now well under way, much depends on how the Indian aerospace industry will adjust. Surely remaining cocooned, hiding behind the skirt of self-reliance, is not of relevance any longer. Indian aerospace can either look to the future, building on its strengths and shedding its weaknesses or remain ostrich-like and perish with its head truly buried. The imperatives to look at change were never so crucial.

Areas that can no longer be ignored are divesting some governments holdings, freeing management decision-making of bureaucratic and scientific interference, forming strategic partnerships with both the private sector and foreign companies, rationalizing and consolidating the existing infrastructure and human resources towards cost-effective aerospace activities and shedding the rest. These are major issues, but ones on which the very survival of a strategic industry rests. The Indian government needs to recognize that India has to define its own unique structure of doing business and then introduce institutional reforms.

On the eve of the last aero-India show, the writer, while appealing for such reforms, had ended by saying that time was of essence. Two years down the road, the only tangible progress is positive statements by the defence minister. For a nation that boasts of being in the front league of super sonic combat aircraft design, this snail like progress towards reforms does not bode well.

The author is a retired air marshal of the Indian air force    

By Sumantra Ghosal, Gita Piramal and Christopher A. Bartlett,
Viking, Rs 495

Written 15 years back, the book would have been dismissed as an ambitious, but irrelevant exercise. Even today, Managing Radical Change means more for the future than the present. A product of intensive, case-based research, it goes beyond the confines of academic theorization and matures into an agenda for radical restructuring.

Within 350 odd pages, the authors have tried to package a new corporate culture for Indian companies. Strategies and alignments, vital for moving ahead in a fast-changing and globally integrating corporate environment, have been driven home with remarkable simplicity and conviction. The ideas have been supported by quality evidence.

The book does not concern survival. Rather, its focus is on healthy growth. With markets becoming more efficient with every passing day, companies cannot afford to be complacent. There were times when cheaper products sold more. Quality was secondary to price. But today the rules are different. Stronger markets have changed consumer perspectives.

For remaining capable of determining their own destinies, companies have to grow faster than markets. Otherwise, sweeping developments can marginalize even strong enterprises.

The authors forcefully argue the importance of matching the strength of growing markets. The necessary ways to do so are by enhancing managerial capabilities and diversifying productively.

Improving managerial skills however, does not imply inducting branded managers from top business schools at high premiums.

The book looks down upon corporate India’s bias towards public school English and savvy dressing skills as “a leftover of India’s colonial legacy”. There are illustrative examples of recruitment policies of new generation companies like Infosys, focusing more on “learnability”, rather than on background.

The book is remarkably clear in advising strategies. It stresses upon a couple of basics. The first is improvement of resource productivity and the second, creation and exploitation of new opportunities.

Summing up the objectives as “a sweet and sour strategy” the authors recommend improvement of labour and capital productivity, and greater operational efficiency, for rising above “satisfactory underperformance”.

They are sceptical about indiscriminate shedding of employees as a cost-cutting measure, unless it improves labour productivity. The core strategy, according to them, should involve identifying areas of sub-optimal returns and taking appropriate measures.

The book regrets the lack of vision on part of Indian companies, barring a few. Companies are found to be obsessed with growth without paying heed to productivity improvements. Otherwise, they take to unplanned restructurings by throwing out employees or winding up businesses.

The authors emphasize upon distinguishing clearly between rationalization and revitalization. The bottomline is to realize their mutual complementarity. Meant primarily for managers and management students, the book would be of interest to others too.

One of its major plus points is the easy, ambling, story-telling style. Anecdotes on cult figures of contemporary business (Jack Welch, Dhirubhai Ambani, Rahul Bajaj, N.R. Narayana Murthy, Keki Dadiseth and many others) punctuate the text at random intervals.

The biggest contribution of the book is in demolishing a number of currently popular, “result oriented” corporate strategies. Modern managers would do well to pick up tips from the book. The best way to do so would be to start doing what they believe in and not otherwise.


By Vasant Saberwal, Mahesh Rangarajan and Ashish Kothari,
Orient Longman, Rs 150

This book addresses some major conservation issues of today. The lucid expositions will satisfy the general reader while the fine documentation will excite the curious. The authors look at the highly controversial issue of an exclusionary versus inclusive (human use of resources) approach to protected areas, the authors firmly favouring the latter.

The discussion is presented triptych-like in three panels framed by an editorial preface, introduction, and conclusion. In the first panel (chapters 2 to 4) Mahesh Rangarajan diligently researches the story of conservation in the past from “above and “below”, starting from the Mughal period. That the absolute ruler or a ruling class should control the use of land and claim privileges is understandable. It has a long history going back to the Arthasastra, which,among other things, recommended the setting up of royal game reserves. On the whole, privilege balanced responsibility in the older way of thinking in India. Princely India carried on the tradition of special game reserves, tending to ignore the responsibility part of the bargain. The most interesting section of Rangarajan’s research probes the goings on in the princely states.

The British came with a different mindset shaped by their experience at home: enclosure of the “commons”, commercialization of land with an attempt to exploit land as a source of wealth rather than as a means of subsistence, — “a more absolute notion of property”, as Rangarajan puts it, intolerant of competing users.

We move to the present in chapter 5 by Saberwal, the theoretical core of the book. The recurring caveat is that all consumptive use in protective areas may not be compatible with conservation objectives, but some are. He explores the philosophical underpinnings of the present-day “exclusionary” approach to conservation: the old, romantic primitivism of the school of Rousseau as well as the modern Biophyllia Hypothesis of Kellert and Wilson — that man requires nature for his well being. This is based on the debunked myth of a “pristine wilderness”. Saberwal rejects the orthodox, static, equilibrial model of community structures based on the theory of “climax” and “niches”, to embrace the rival, dynamic, non-equilibrial model, with disturbance, natural or man-made, as forming a part of the model. This is central to the book’s argument.

In the third part (chapters 6 and 7) Ashish Kothari looks to the future, and sees participatory/joint management, sharing benefits and creating stakes, as the solution to conservation problems. A wider review of the past experience of forest management would have helped. Ironically, only reserve and protected forests exemplifying an exclusionary approach survive in large parts of India today even though undergoing large-scale encroachment at places. Grassland biome, once the dominant ecosystem in the sub-Himalayan and riverain north and northeast India with its teeming populations of ungulates and predators, exists now patchily only in some protected areas managed with extreme exclusionary zeal. The Sixth Schedule of the Constitution left the management of forests, other than the reserve forest, to the tribal councils in northeast India. The result has been less than salutary. Most of the “B class” reserves in undivided Assam permitting consumptive use, incredibly rich in wildlife, have disappeared.

The experience of the United States funded $69 million India Eco-development Project, ongoing at seven selected sites, has not been happy despite the best of intentions and the soundest of theories. On the other hand, protection of 12,646 square kilometres of forests (1996-97) by 19,190 non-governmental organizations in Orissa and joint forest management in southwest Bengal are conspicuous success stories.

We are faced with an extremely complex management problem, where a fiercely “territorial” managerial approach, crudely exploitative attitude of some communities, especially their leaders, the burgeoning pressure of human population, lack of economic growth, and the increasing pulls of the market are prominent rubs. A graded system of protection elaborated in appendix I, not yet law though, could be a useful experiment. Only experience can tell.

The real test will be in practice, not in theory. The tightly-packed slim volume is an introduction to current debates over conservation, which NGO groups and professional managers should find very useful.


By Nirmal Verma,
Centre for the Study of Indian Civilization and IIAS, Rs 300

The volume under review, edited by Alok Valla, assembles some select essays of the renowned Hindi novelist, Nirmal Verma. Quite a few of them are English translations. The conflict between tradition and modernity in the Indian context is the staple of most of the essays. They critically discuss contemporary political and literary trends.

Verma’s disenchantment with “modernity” has led him back to the sources of Indian traditions — myths, words and symbols and their innate meanings, which go a long way in sustaining us in periods of spiritual crisis. Verma argues that after more than 50 years of independence we find ourselves uprooted from our moorings because we have squandered away the priceless legacy of our tradition.

Verma argues that India’s economic penury under British domination was accompanied by a sense of spiritual desolation as centuries of traditional learning were gradually replaced by the European system of education. “The cleavage which Europe had caused in the Indian consciousness — one part submerged in tradition, the other trying to cast itself in the image of the European man — generated a kind of bad faith which gnawed at the consciousness of both the Hindu traditionalists and the neo-Hindus.” Meanwhile, Indian nationalism, which evolved out of a culture where various creeds and faiths could co-exist, became the casualty.

Verma’s work is like a curate’s egg, excellent only in parts. The reader has to plough through passages of abstract, sometimes even abstruse, reasoning. Some of his comments however are insightful. Verma points out that although Marx had used his critical, scientific thinking to come up with a fine analysis of capitalism or bourgeois democracy and its contradictions, one was at a loss when confronted with the economic disparity and social injustice that flourished under Soviet communism.

Even during the darkest phase of Czarist rule, it was possible for Tolstoy to write and publish his works. In contrast, the communist authorities came down heavily on dissi- dent writers like Solzhenitsyn and Sakharov.

Talking of British influence on Indian culture, Verma piquantly observes: “The roots of Indian civilization were so deep and its proprieties at the level of the entire society were controlled to such an extent that Britishers could not completely demolish it. They did however succeed in spoiling and mutilating Indian civilization so that the self-image of Indian society began to fade.”

Verma’s views on art, literature and culture are stimulating. In the essay, “The writer and his audience”, Verma explains the artist’s isolation from the community. While the artist’s avenues of communication have widened as never before, the very agents in the process — popular education and the print and electronic media — have created a situation which renders any meaningful communication between him and his audience increasingly difficult.

Verma is in his element when he talks about his favourite novelist, Premchand, whose works reflect the unique tension and contradictions of a society which, while remaining traditional to the core, was passing through a most painful period of colonial devastation. “It is precisely this damaged self of a common Indian, neither purely traditional nor completely colonised — a lacerated soul — which became the most sustained, poignant theme of Premchand’s novels and short stories.” It was in the agony and helplessness of the Indian that Premchand saw the hollowness of the Western civilization.

“The partition of the country was perhaps the most horrendous thing that happened to us,” says the concluding essay in the volume. An unalloyed truism indeed.


By Abraham Eraly,
Viking, Rs 495

This is not a history of the Indian civilization. Rather, it is an overview of the times from the Indus Valley civilization to the “clockwork state” of the Mauryas. Thus it cannot be read as a chronicle of dynasties or even events which changed the course of history. The emphasis, as the book unfolds, is more on teachings — of Buddha and the thoughts contained in Kautilya’s Arthasastra. The author has obviously taken Romila Thapar’s plea to look at “regional history from a comparative perspective as well as its integration into the history of larger areas” very seriously. In the process, the author has given the lay reader an enjoyable insight into the culture of the Indus Valley, the Vedic times, Alexander’s forays in India and the orderly states of Asoka and Chandragupta Maurya.

“In the beginning there was no India. All the landmass of the earth then lay huddled together in protocontinents in the lap of the idling primeval sea. Around 170 million years ago this cluster of continents began to break up and drift apart... Eventually...it docked into the soft underbelly of the sprawling Asian landmass, to become the land that would be known many eons later as India” is how the book begins. The author details the physical features of the country before speculating on the evolution of the early man in India and his racial make-up. Abraham Eraly believes that prehistoric Indians were definitely a polyglot people.

Moving on to Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa, the author tries to recreate the times and tells us the fascinating story of the finding of the sites. The twin cities were not rustic settlements, but were built according to well-established precepts of town planning. The civilization ultimately decayed and the cities were overrun “most probably by Aryans, in the middle of the second millennium BC”.

Eraly draws on the Rig Veda in support of the Aryan invasion and presents a number of extracts from hymns which give glimpses into religious beliefs and the conditions in those days. The author notes that the “Vedas, though scriptural works, are a cornucopia of data on life in ancient India.” However, the Vedas came down by oral tradition and were written much later. Even the dates of these scriptures can only be conjectured. The philosophical tenets of the times are discussed in detail and should be of interest.

Much of the book deals with ancient philosophies and the proponents of major philosophical streams like Mahavira and Buddha. In doing so, the author does his readers a service for at no time can the understanding of India be separated from its religious beliefs.

The author is on surer ground when he moves on to the empires on which more source materials are found, as in the case of Magadh. It is Alexander in India who really draws upon the imagination. The author follows Alexander and his conquests right upto his departure from India. It is one of the quirks of history that “India would soon forget Alexander entirely, just as it would forget Porus and many others of its own great kings, preferring to honour mythical rather than real heroes.”

It has been said that in India temples to the gods endure while the palaces of great rulers are swallowed up by time. Thus no trace remains of the great towers built by Alexander on the Beas. And though Porus was well known to Europeans, he was entirely unknown to India till recent times. Alexander’s campaign may not have found a place in ancient Indian history, but his conquest had a far-reaching impact. For one, it provides historical information as opposed to myths. Following Alexander’s India invasion, the country’s trade with the West expanded and this led to greater prosperity and urbanization. Above all, it “facilitated the establishment of the Mauryan empire.”

A look at Chandragupta Maurya’s reign brings into focus Kautilya, the king’s Brahmin advisor, who is supposed to have masterminded Chandragupta’s rise to power. Kautilya’s Arthasastra deals with just about every aspect important to a king.

It is but natural that this work which encompasses the Mauryas should focus on Asoka. It is here that the author could have given his readers a more exhaustive picture. Given the details of other events, the Kalinga campaign in particular, seems to be sketchy. Yet we know that this campaign was so meticulous that it has often been compared to the moves in a game of chess.

On the whole though the book appears to be readable. It provides a wealth of information on diverse topics. Anyone hoping to get familiar with ancient Indian times should take a look at it.



Publishing today includes a wide brace. No longer the printed word in books, newspapers, magazines and journals, it now includes the world of cassettes, film videos, satellites, under-the-sea fibre optic communication cable networks. And after the huge marriage between America-On-Line and Time Warner last year, publishers have been saying that the internet would emerge as the central platform for the accelerated convergence of the news, entertainment and communication industries. Recent takeovers of American conglomerates by multinationals like CBS and Bertelsmann have merely confirmed that publishing has become a part of the communications industry.

Hence the question: would books be integrated with the larger technological processes at work? Would they become an adjunct to the audio-visual cassette or would the cassette be a part of the package along with the book as is the case with Samuelson’s Economics or several classical texts in philosophy and the social sciences?

One thing is sure. The book, especially the educational text, per se, will not be enough. It will have to be accompanied/supplemented with the cassette to attract the potential buyer who is more interested to see and hear rather than read in solitude. Otherwise, the book will have to be internet-linked or internet sites be provided where the subject could be studied.

Take for instance the recently published The Usborne Science Encyclopedia addressed to the 12 to 17 age group. The topics in the eight sections cover the core concepts in physics, chemistry, biology and computer sciences at the school level. All these concepts are linked to 1,000 recommended websites. Though the encyclopaedia is a complete self-contained reference book on its own, the websites supplement and even clarify the concepts because they are illustrated from different points of view. In such a scenario, the publisher would need to be technologically-savvy, apart from being market-savvy.

There could be two objections insofar as we are concerned. First, the technological buzz applies to Western markets because the traditional book is enough to see us through. Second, the web is confusing and there aren’t enough computers and internet connections for students to access the information they require. Both assumptions are wrong.

The internet can easily be accessed, even in India. The traditional book, sufficient as it may be, can always be supplemented with other reference materials. Extra reading is required and the web provides the cheapest and most efficient method of doing it. Moreover, every school now has a computer lab, apart from the cyber cafes that are mush- rooming everywhere. Even a student in a small mofussil town can access the net now.

More important, the web is a lot less mystifying than all the talk around makes it seem. It does not require highly complex skills. Its various “search engines” allow access to information sources ( libraries, books and so on) that will supplement rather than replace books.

What all this means is that the new technology is not an enemy of print but its ally. Just as the discovery of television did not kill the the movie industry — the latter on the contrary became bigger — much the same can happen to the book world, even if it compromises a bit with its technological cousins.


By Bal Raj Madhok
(Rupa, Rs 195)

Bal Raj Madhok’s Portrait of a Martyr: A Biography of Dr Shyama Prasad Mookerji is a feat of completely uncritical worship. Its value probably lies in capturing a rather archaic hagiographic style: “Like a true karma yogi, he lived as a soldier, and died a martyr. He was great in life, greater in death.” Madhok had been associated with Mookerji since the Forties and has led the Jana Sangh (Mookerji was its first president). Therefore, if one wanted a critical account of Mookerji’s political career and ideology, Madhok would be the last person to turn to. This account places Mookerji in the lineage of a new nationalist spirit of “intellectual resistance symbolized by Swami Dayanand Saraswati”, which felt “cheated of the fruits of the long struggle for self-assertion against the alien Turkish and Mughal rulers by the new invaders”. The Saraswati lineage is then placed in opposition to the Rammohan-Nehru lineage on the one hand (Roy “was swept off his feet by the glare of the British glory”) and the position of the Muslim elite on the other (“as alien to the Indian soil as the British trespassers”). It is no wonder then that this biography is also an apologia for the Hindu rashtra, which Mookerji argued was a “noble concept”. There is interesting material in the book on his interactions with Savarkar, Nehru, Sheikh Abdullah and on his role in the partition of Bengal. There are also dark hints about his unexplained death in a Jammu prison. A significant history of a disconcertingly persistent strain in Indian politics.

By R. raj rao
(HarperCollins, Rs 195)

R. Raj Rao’s One Day I Locked My Flat in Soul City looks like a very mixed bag of really short stories. The “soul city” is Mumbai, but the stories range freely from India to Trinidad, Greece, UK, America and Bangladesh, and across a dizzying range of sexual preferences and permutations. There are sustained allusions to R.K. Narayan, Rushdie and other Indian writers. Some of the stories are striking, some clever and some rather mindlessly outrageous. The blurb coyly talks about “a fascination bordering on love for those who dare to defy middle class conventions”.

By Guy Sorman
(Macmillan, Rs 325)

Guy Sorman’s The Genius of India is a French new liberal’s unabashedly Orientalist account of how the capitalist West can look towards the East for wholeness. Inspired by Tocqueville and Romain Rolland, Sorman does a tour of the Indian intellectual, political and cultural landscapes and comes to the conclusion that contemporary India “is being pulled in two directions: between an ancient democratic tradition at the grassroots and staunch supporters of a strong state at the top; between those who wish to preserve Gandhian thought and those in favour of progress based on the Western model.” His thoughts on caste as antidote to absolutism are dodgy.



Half a win onwards

Sir — The emergence of the Likud candidate, Ariel Sharon, as the 11th premier of Israel, has intensified doubts all over the world regarding the future of the west Asia peace process (“Power pangs for winner Sharon”, Feb 8). And not without reason, given Sharon’s well-known hardline stand on the issue. However, it would be wrong to label Sharon as the overwhelming choice of the Israelis, from the mere fact that he defeated the erstwhile premier, Ehud Barak, by a margin of over 25 per cent. This is because this election witnessed one of the lowest turnouts in the history of Israel’s politics. This figure can actually mean that the Israeli electorate is apathetic towards, rather than eager to rally round, Sharon and the ideals he represents. Sharon would do well to avoid being misled by the verdict and work upon moderating his stand on Palestine and its leader, Yasser Arafat. No one expects him to toe the same line as Barak, but with a little effort, he can win millions of more hearts than he has won in this election.
Yours faithfully,
Abhijit Roy, via email

Hill breezes

Sir — Pankaj Anand, in his letter, (“Which came first”, Jan 25), was not factually correct. The record needs to be put straight. The Temple Mount was built by King Solomon around the 10th century BC. It stood there till 587 BC when it was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar-II of Babylon. Then the Romans conquered Jerusalem in 63 BC. The Roman ruler, Herod, rebuilt the temple following Jewish laws during his rule from 40 to 4 BC. This was the Jerusalem that Jesus knew. In 66 AD, the Jews revolted against Roman rule and the Roman emperor, Titus, crushed the rebellion in 70 AD. He destroyed the city and the temple and the Jews were forbidden to live there or visit the temple site. The Roman emperor, Hadrian, built a new city on the ruins and built a new temple for Roman gods.

The Arab Muslims came much later into the picture in 638 AD, when the Arab Muslim, Hazrat Omar, the second caliph after Muhammad, ousted the Romans. At that time the original temple was no longer there. The structure, known as the Dome of the Rock, was built in 691 AD. The mosque near the Dome of the Rock and known as Al-Aqsa mosque was built in the 8th century AD.

Yours faithfully,
Dabira Sultana Ahmed, Guwahati

Sir — At long last, the Assam state pollution control board seems to be playing a positive role — by ordering the closure of a giant paper mill at Panchgram in south Assam the effluents from which have been causing diseases (“Pollution board orders paper plant closure”, January 31)

But similar action needs to be taken in the case of other units that have also been flouting pollution control norms. In the Adabari-Tiniali area in Guwahati, the chimneys of a factory have been spewing smoke into the air of a residential area for quite some time. The groundwater of the area has become polluted with chemical releases from the factory. The Northeast Telegraph supplement of December 26, 2000, had published a report in this connection.

It is unbelievable that a factory in the heart of the capital should violate all norms of pollution control. How does the company manage to renew its licence? If this happens in the capital of Assam, what is the plight of residents in other areas of the state? Are the pollution control bosses listening?

Yours faithfully,
Panna Lal, Guwahati

Sir — Why the authorities governing medical education in Assam are not willing to allow the use of calculators in the selection tests beats logic. Isn’t it strange that candidates appearing for the joint entrance examinations can do so though they are supposed to have more expertise in calculation?

Yours faithfully,
Tarif ul Ameen, Guwahati

Sir — Tezpur in Assam is a haven for visitors who live in megapolises. Its sylvan setting is soothing to the eyes and all the senses. My favourite spot in the town is Agnigor. Unfortunately, over the last year, the place has become a sad example of the damage human beings can cause to nature.

Agnigor has become a dumping ground for plastic bags and garbage. There is graffiti all over the benches and boulders. There is also the beginning of a cement structure that stands out like a sore thumb in the middle of the sylvan surroundings.

Tezpur is a town of caring people. This is evident in the beautiful planning of Chitralekha Vatika, formerly Cole Park. It is a delight to walk down the curving paths of the park. There is no evidence of plastic bags or any other garbage in the entire park. All the waste is neatly dumped into compost pits.

I hope that during my next visit Agnigor will be a transformed place and will reflect the care and aesthetic sense of its residents.

Yours faithfully,
Syeda S. Hameed, Tezpur

Sir — It is a shame that when lakhs of people were either dead or dying after the Gujarat earthquake, a cabinet minister of Karnataka, T. John, ruthlessly remarked that the catastrophe was “god’s way of punishing the people for ill-treating Christians and other minorities”.

It is our misfortune that such heartless men are elected as ministers in India. And it is this kind of acrimonious speech that triggers communal disharmony. This is not a remark that should have been made in the assembly.

Yours faithfully,
Dipankar Roychoudhury, Dhaligaon

Sir — It is disheartening to see that a section of people is fuelling Majuli’s woes. Often a victim of natural calamities, Majuli has now also become a communal cauldron. I can say from firsthand experience that Christian missionaries have done tremendous service for the uplift of the people of the area.

The kind and revered satradhikaris too were instrumental in this. It is strange that they have turned against the missionaries. They can be suspected to have been brainwashed by some obscurantists harping on conversion, a word that has by now lost its meaningfulness and effect.

If the missionaries are at fault, why don’t their detractors build schools, provide medical care and organize constructive services? They have neither the courage, nor the will to do it, because they have no love for the downtrodden.

The people of Majuli do not need the wisdom of fanatics to choose what is best for them. They will surely opt to protect their benefactors.

Yours faithfully,
Rajen Perme, Sadiya

Sir — The devastation unleashed by the earthquake in Gujarat has not yet faded from public memory. What has made the sufferings worse is the near-embarrassing handling of the situation by the government. Deploying the army to conduct relief operations is only normal. But should the country not have a trained team of individuals to tackle the post- disaster scenario? Or is India really too poor to have such a team of disaster- managers?

This is not the first time such utter mismanagement has been witnessed. During the supercyclone in Orissa too, the government appeared totally at a loss.

Will the powers that be pay heed to public opinion for once? This should not be too difficult, since a look at the letters written to the editors of the national dailies is enough to form an idea about the views of the people on the matter. It is time the government took notice and not let the suggestions in the letters go in vain.

Yours faithfully,
S.P. Singh, Shillong

Letters to the editor should be sent to:

The Telegraph
6 Prafulla Sarkar Street
Calcutta 700 001
Email: [email protected]
Readers in the Northeast can write to:
Third Floor, Godrej Building,
G.S. Road, Ulubari, Guwahati 781007

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