Editorial 1/ Shield for a sword
Editorial 2/ Modern times
Fulfilling growth potential
Fifth Column/ There must be something to defend
This above all/ Ageing with dignity and grace
Iron in the New Labour soul
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1/ SHIELD FOR A SWORD 
 
 
 
 
The recent speech of the United States president, Mr George W. Bush, outlining plans for developing a missile defence system, has, as expected, generated interest, concern and even alarm throughout the international system. Although the Republicans, even during the electoral campaign, had signalled their determination to build such systems, President Bush’s remarks, made during a speech at the American National Defence University, were the first official confirmation — at the highest level — that the new administration will seriously invest in efforts to construct an anti-ballistic missile defence system. The uncharacteristic warmth with which India has reacted to President Bush’s speech has generated surprise internationally, and shocked many domestically, but New Delhi’s response, although a trifle hasty, was rooted in the new realpolitik that has come to define its foreign policy in recent years.

On the face of it, and particularly from an ethical point of view, there was much to be glad about in Mr Bush’s speech. In essence, the president indicated that the US seeks to move away from nuclear deterrence, based on the morally unpalatable idea of mutually assured destruction, to developing, instead, a protective defensive guard against actual and potential threats. In other words, the US seeks to construct a giant shield that could, in theory, make it redundant for it to carry a sword. Consequently, the president also indicated that this new framework would lead to deep cuts in American nuclear forces. The ostensible strategic purpose is to protect the US from threats that come from rogue states and other countries of concern, which may be in a position to blackmail the US once they possess even a few missiles that can reach its territory. Or to guard against those who may not conform to the rational assumptions of deterrence. Why, it is perfectly legitimate to ask, should anyone object to a defensive shield, especially when there is a real promise to get rid of the swords? The criticism and scepticism is rooted in several factors.

Domestically, within the US, there are many, especially within the scientific world, who believe that the technology needed to construct these systems is still nowhere on the horizon. Recall that two tests of even relatively simple, land-based missile defence system last year, authorized by President Clinton, had failed. Bush’s plans are apparently more ambitious, although his speech provided few details, with missile interceptors on land, ships and eventually in space. Allies of the US, especially in western Europe, feel that they could be left out of the shield and this reinforces the concern that their security might be decoupled from the US. Russia and China believe that such systems could deeply destabilize the nuclear deterrent relationship, particularly since they are confident that not only will the US build a shield against their missiles, but continue to maintain the nuclear sword, which could decapitate them preemptively. India’s reasoning seems to be based on two factors. First, whatever the technological limitations, there is little doubt that the Bush administration will continue full force with developing these systems, no matter how much the opposition internationally. Second, if the system is based on boost phase interception of missiles, it could serve India’s interests as well. A constructive engagement with the US could help in such an effort. It is quite unrealistic, at least at this stage, to believe that American plans will destabilize south Asia or harm India’s interests. China is unlikely to challenge the US in an arms race; indeed Beijing has suggested that they might develop systems that can damage the interceptors, which is a far easier task.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2/ MODERN TIMES 
 
 
 
 
The point of teaching literature and history in schools is to teach good literature and sound history. A certain criterion of “Indianness”, whose exact connotations are conveniently unclear to most, is being invoked by the National Council for Educational Research and Training in deciding what is to be taught in these subjects. Relevance is being brought down here not only to a reductive nationalism, but also to an equally reductive notion of contemporaneity. A boy wonder whose poems are being broadcast by the BBC is deemed somehow more relevant than “Keats, Shelley and Wordsworth”. These poets also symbolize Indian liberal education’s colonial heritage, and the Indianizing drive predictably addresses this concern too.

The objections to this line of argument will have to begin with the fundamentals, with the entire question of the state’s involvement in determining what is going to be taught in schools. The insistence on Indianness will continue to appear dubiously ideological until the extent of the state’s intervention is reviewed. But the more alarming indications, in this case, are in the NCERT’s judgment on Munshi Premchand as a passé social realist, and therefore unfit for modern Indian schoolchildren. The exploitations of caste, class and gender in Premchand’s fiction “no longer exist”, and the council will be more “careful” in selecting his writings for the English syllabus. This view of modern India and its careful propagation are founded on a denial of reality that cannot be entirely disinterested. What is being restructured here is not only the syllabus, but also the representation of the Indian reality itself. This is far more dangerous than mere ignorance. A wearyingly familiar and regressive nationalism, impossible to engage with intellectually, is here using the progressive and feel-good language of modernization. This is the last thing modern Indian schoolchildren should be putting up with.

   

 
 
FULFILLING GROWTH POTENTIAL 
 
 
BY S. L. RAO
 
 
It is fashionable to say that we are a reforming economy. For those addicted to jargon, we should now be planning and implementing “second generation reforms”. This was probably an International Monetary Fund phrase, coined in the late Seventies and early Eighties when the IMF realized that fiscal stabilization measures were not by themselves enough to put an economy on the path of sustainable growth. Restructuring of the economic institutions and policies was essential as was balance of payments viability. These required a variety of policy changes. It is doubtful that there is a neat division possible between these two “generations” of reform measures.

In any case, what we have done in India cannot be called reforms. We have dismantled some of the onerous constraints largely relating to industry and services, opened up to foreign investment, and to easier imports with low tariffs. The rupee’s external value has become more realistic, we have rationalized our tax rates and begun the arduous process of making our capital markets more transparent.

But in 10 years we have had no policy to reduce deficits of the Central and state governments by cutting wasteful expenditures. We have done little to introduce efficiency in our expenditures, especially on social infrastructure. Instead, we have consistently reduced capital outlays of governments in order to accommodate rising current expenditures. In the process, capital formation has taken a beating. The maximum neglect has been of agriculture, which has shown poor performance throughout the Nineties. With crop acreage having reached limits of growth, productivity improvements are the only route to accelerate production of foodgrains as well as other crops.

By and large this has not happened. Instead we have misused price signals, which have distorted cropping patterns. Oilseeds are a good example. The 2001 budget substantially raises import duties on most of them, in order to save the marginal producer from being wiped out by more efficient and cheaper imports. By having identical minimum support and procurement prices, the government has had to buy all the foodgrains on offer. We now have over 46 million tonnes in poor storage, and the resulting ration prices are too high for the poor.

Yet, the relaxing of some of the restraints on competition and entrepreneurship have had results: gross domestic product growth for much of the Nineties being 1.1 per cent higher than in the Eighties. And this has been accompanied by rising foreign exchange reserves, moderate inflation, and better terms for rural products in exchange for urban products, greater choice for the consumer in terms of manufactured goods, along with improved quality at lower prices.

For the economy as a whole, productivity growth in the Eighties seems to have been superior to the Nineties. So-called reforms in the Nineties have not helped productivity. That is understandable, given the lack of improvement in power supply and quality, and the distorted tariffs, which have imposed a rising burden on railways, industries and commercial establishments. The corporate responses to all the changes in economic policies in the Nineties have been similar to the way in which government has brought about the changes. There has been little attempt to prioritize and sequence policy changes. There is little coordination. There is many times a failure to follow through. The temptation is always to look for scapegoats and for easy solutions. The results have been, by and large, unsatisfactory. The Indian corporate sector has not been able, with a few exceptions, to improve its competitive ability and its efficiency.

As the economy opened up to foreign goods and services and to foreign investment, we should have seen a restructuring of the corporate sector. This should have been in its financing, management and control, work methods and focus.

For a couple of years until the Harshad Mehta scandal we did see companies trying to restructure their finances by raising the proportion of equity to debt. In later years, some were able to continue this effort by attracting foreign investors. But debt continues to dominate corporate financing, with its implications for higher project costs and adverse effects on cash flows. Despite intensifying of competition both from foreign and domestic companies, most of the Indian corporate sector has kept control and management with family members. This may have been required in the days of high income taxation and little competition. Family members were given positions in companies under the family control. They could then be paid good salaries, given housing, cars, entertainment allowances, domestic and foreign travel, and status in society. They could be given this even when their competence did not match the superior talent that could have been hired from outside the family at less cost.

Since the company prospered because of its ability to corner licences and keeping out other entrants, the incompetence of family members was of little consequence.

All this has changed in the Nineties. Talented people are no longer willing to play second fiddle to less than competent family members. They want authority and responsibility as well as to be compensated accordingly. Foreign entrants and new domestic entrants do not have the constraint of such family baggage. In a large number of industries, Indian families have seen their business shrinking, or have sold out.

In the days of limits on production capacities, companies expanded by diversifying into unrelated product lines. When these restraints were removed and competition became common, capacities had to be expanded, technology modernized, costs brought down, consumer awareness had to be heightened about the company’s products, and quality had to be constantly upgraded. All this required large resources. Few companies could afford to do all this for all the diverse product lines that they had got into. Product lines had to be pruned. Many companies did not understand this imperative, and were badly hurt.

To keep pace with these changes, companies had to begin the work of building their brands, and investing in research and development. Another quick way to become more competitive was to acquire the production capacities, brands and distribution capabilities of other companies, or even to merge in order to create a more powerful corporate entity.

The Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, has tracked some of these corporate responses in the Nineties. They listed almost 400 mergers and acquisitions. Almost half the mergers were in the same industry or market, and three-fourths belonged to the same business group, now trying to consolidate. The multinational companies were involved in 32 per cent of the acquisitions and 8 per cent of the mergers, and most were responses to a merger or acquisition by their overseas parent.

The majority (among both domestic and foreign) was in beverages and spirits, financial and other services and in chemicals. Research and development expenditures did not grow any faster. Nor did they rise in relation to sales. So Indian companies were not getting better prepared with their own processes to reduce cost, improve quality and introduce new products. Neither did they significantly increase their expenditures on advertising or distribution. The IIMA data thus suggests that the Indian corporate restructuring was such that it was unlikely to improve their competitiveness.

It is clear that neither the Indian economy nor Indian companies have yet begun reforming in earnest. The economy has benefited because of the removal of some of the restraints. So have many companies. But this will not continue for either of them. Unless they speed up their pace of coordinated reforms, the economy will muddle along at lower rates of growth than its potential, and Indian companies will find themselves losing out to aggressive new entrants both from among domestic and foreign companies.

The author is former chairman, National Council for Applied Economic Research

   

 
 
FIFTH COLUMN/ THERE MUST BE SOMETHING TO DEFEND 
 
 
BY GWYNNE DYER
 
 
There is not one other government in the world that truly likes President George W. Bush’s plans for National Missile Defence, but when the sole global superpower goes off the rails at high speed, it’s a bad idea to stand right in front of it. So most governments have responded very cautiously to Bush’s repudiation of the doctrine of deterrence that has ruled the strategy of all the big powers since the advent of nuclear weapons.

From a strategic point of view, the whole enterprise is simply silly. It’s not so much that the system could never be developed far enough to intercept a few missiles. (The tests of the existing ground-based missile interception system, though shamelessly rigged in favour of the advocates of NMD, have mostly been failures.) Even if it worked perfectly, it wouldn’t make sense.

The “rogue states” like Iraq, North Korea and Iran that are allegedly the reason the United States needs NMD will probably have changed their governments and their policies (assuming that they really do want to commit national suicide by attacking the US with nuclear, biological or chemical weapons) long before those tests are complete. And they would never choose to deliver those weapons by ballistic missiles anyway. They’d just smuggle them in.

Wise men of the East

But if the NMD is fundamentally irrelevant and useless, just the biggest pork-barrel project of all time, then why is every other government so upset about it? Because they have such touching faith in American technological knowhow that they fear that some elements of the system might ultimately work. It still wouldn’t be any good against terrorists, and it would be utterly swamped by the several thousand warheads the Russians could throw at it — but it just might stop China’s mere 20 ballistic missiles.

While the US and the old Soviet Union each built over a thousand intercontinental ballistic missiles in the course of the Cold War, China showed greater restraint and built only enough to retaliate against a few cities in the event of a US or Soviet nuclear attack. Ballistic missiles are not that expensive to mass-produce, even for a relatively poor country like China, but it saw no point in going beyond what was needed for deterrence. Bush’s NMD project, however, might well be able to intercept the few Chinese missiles that survived an American first strike.

To protect itself from American nuclear blackmail, China will have to respond to NMD with a major missile-building programme. Then India, which sees China as a strategic rival, will have to respond with a major ICBM programme of its own. And Pakistan, which sees India as the main enemy, will reply with new missiles of its own.

Limit the damage

All of Asia will be pitched into a nuclear arms race — and very probably, India and Pakistan will end up with missiles capable of striking the US too. Even from a narrowly American point of view, NMD is self-defeating lunacy. But Bush has political debts to pay, so he has to come up with some sort of high-budget defence project.

There is a way out of this, and the rest of the world can help. Why not pretend to take the “rogue-state” threat seriously, and encourage the US government to develop only the sea-based, short-range parts of the NMD project that would let it intercept Iraqi, Iranian or North Korean missile launches in boost phase?

The US navy already controls the relevant offshore areas, the Persian Gulf and the Sea of Japan, and could thus control the “rogue state” menace without also threatening Russian and Chinese nuclear missiles that are based in the deep hinterland of those very large countries. As a bonus, the same ship-based, short-range missile interception capability would be available to Washington if a confrontation in the Strait of Taiwan looked like it was turning really nasty.

The sea-based system is not already fully developed, but it is technologically much less demanding than the other elements of NMD. It would violate the anti-ballistic missile treaty as currently written, but Moscow would probably be quite willing to negotiate an exception for this limited purpose. Maybe there would even be enough money in it to keep American defence industry happy. It’s worth a try, because SOMETHING is clearly going to get built.

   

 
 
THIS ABOVE ALL/ AGEING WITH DIGNITY AND GRACE 
 
 
BY KHUSHWANT SINGH
 
 
This April, two of my oldest friends’ birthdays were celebrated by their friends. One was the eminent painter-sculptor, Bhabesh Sanyal. He turned 100. The other was the equally eminent educationist, Prem Kirpal, who turned 92 on Monday, April 30. Come to think of it, I don’t know anyone else, friend or relative, who held out as long. Bhabesh is an imperious, grandly-bearded man who stands ramrod straight, wears no glasses, has no problems with hearing, memory or speech. His wife, Sneh, and daughter, Amba, are there to look after him.

Prem, although younger, broke his hip-bone a few years ago and spends most of his day either in his bed or in his arm chair. He has also become hard of hearing. Being a bachelor, he has been spared a nagging wife and if his friends become too garrulous, he simply switches off his hearing aid. He continues to write poetry (his latest collection was released on his birthday), he keeps refreshing his memory by going over albums of old photographs, has a lot of lady admirers including the rajmata, Gayatri Devi, who came all the way from Jaipur to felicitate him. And he enjoys his Scotch.

Being 100 must give a person a feeling of loneliness. All your contemporaries have died and there is not much to look forward to in life. Margaret Murray in her autobiography, My First Hundred Years, put it nicely: “At my age I stand as it were, on a high peak alone. I have no contemporaries with whom I can exchange memories or views. But that very isolation gives me a less biased view of that vast panorama of human life which is spread before the eyes of a centenarian, still more when those eyes are the eyes of an archaeologist. It is true that much of the far distance is shrouded in cloud and mist, but every here and there the fog thins a little and one can see clearly the advance of mankind.”

The most appropriate birthday greetings for Bhabesh Sanyal is “Stay in good health and enjoy yourself till the very end.”

For Prem Kirpal, I have a good quotation from Frank Buxton, once the editor of the Boston Herald from his memoirs At Ninety-six:

I never thought that I’d survive,
That I’d contrive to stay alive
and whoop it up at ninety-five.
But, damn it all, I find that I’ve
Increased the score
To one year more
wow!
And now, you know, it seems to me
That even one full century
Need not be necessarily
A real impossibility.

Unlike my friends, I feel like a teenager: I am only 86. Although my vision is slightly impaired and I am somewhat unsteady of my feet, I still relish the company of young and attractive women and relish my hefty sundowners. I keep a punishing schedule of work — 4.30 am to 7 pm, without getting tired. But I can see the end of the road drawing nearer and nearer. I don’t celebrate birthdays because I don’t feel there is any reason to celebrate them. I know I have not very far to go and remain a confirmed agnostic. I share Sir Winston Churchill’s nonchalance expressed at the age of 75: “I am ready to meet my Maker. Whether my Maker is prepared for the ordeal of meeting me is another matter.”

Look to the skies gratefully

People who watch games on their TV sets must have noticed how many players attribute their achievements to god who, they presume, lives up in the clouds. Tendulkar, Ganguly, Dravid, Laxman and other batsmen, as soon as they score 50,100,150, or 200, first take off their helmets to raise their bats in order to acknowledge the cheering of spectators, then look briefly upwards to give thanks to the ooperwallah. This phenomenon is not limited to cricket players. Before the start of a hockey match, you will notice rival teams huddle together at either end of the field, put their heads together and say a short prayer for victory. Likewise, tennis players like the Amritraj brothers and Leander Paes may be noticed kissing the crucifix they wear as necklace to lend more punch to their services and smashes. I’ve noticed players of some other nations perform similar gestures in honour of their deities: Pakistanis, Sri Lankans, Africans and Latinos. I have never seen Englishmen, Australians, New Zealanders or white Africans take much notice of the god of sports.

Then there are different modes of expressing joy. The wildest one performed by soccer players. No sooner a chap scores a goal, he is like one possessed. He will run like a mad man, waving his arms, yelling and performing some acrobatics. His teammates chase him, jump on him — all to tell him how much they love him for having kicked the football into their rivals’ net. Cricketers have their own victory ritual. As soon as an enemy wicket falls, the victors raise both their hands upwards, emit yells of triumph, and run towards each other to slap each other’s palms and embrace them. The most explosive of these demonstrations occur when bowlers or wicket-keepers demand the batsmen be ordered back to the pavilion for putting his leg before the wicket.

Having a mortal fear of the stone-hard ball, I refused to play cricket in my younger days. My mentor assured me that it was very simple: siddhi roke, dingee thoke — block the straight one, slam the crooked one. But what about the one which comes like a bullet towards your nose or the genitals? No thank you. Even hockey was for me safer than cricket.

This brings me to Harbhajan Singh, the lad from Jalandhar who few people had heard of before the Test series against the invincible Australian team but has now become a cricket celebrity. He doesn’t look like a sportsman: he is too thin and lanky. He does not look like an ace bowler: he twirls the ball around in his hand before delivering it with awkward movements of his hands and legs.

But he gets the wickets — once, three in a row. What I found most charming about him was that he can hardly speak any English. It is either doaba Punjabi or Punjabi-Hindi. And humble as they come. In his interview in Savaal aapkey, he parried all the flattering comments hurled at him by attributing his success to bhagwan.

Honour among thieves

An old preacher was dying. He sent messages to his doctor and lawyer, both church members, to come to his home. When they arrived, they were ushered up to his bedroom. The preacher held out his hands and motioned for them to sit on each side of his bed. The preacher grasped their hands, sighed contentedly, smiled and stared at the ceiling.

For a time, no one said anything. Both the doctor and the lawyer were touched and flattered that the old preacher would ask them to be with him during his final moments. They were also puzzled; the preacher had never given them any indication that he particularly liked either of them. They both remembered his many long, uncomfortable sermons about greed, covetousness and their avaricious behaviour that made them squirm in their seats. Finally, the doctor asked, “Preacher, why did you ask the two of us to come?” The old preacher mustered up some strength and replied weakly, “Jesus died between two thieves...and that’s how I want to go.”

   

 
 
IRON IN THE NEW LABOUR SOUL 
 
 
BY DEVDATT P. DUBHASHI
 
 
“What we’ve got now in the United States,” said the black leader, Jesse Jackson, “is one party, two names. We’ve got Republicans and Republicans Lite”. Not to be outdone, Tony Blair’s New Labour has served up for the British citizen a choice between Thatcherism and Thatcherism Extra. Indeed, one of his first invitees for “consultation” to 10, Downing Street happened to be Margaret Thatcher. Subsequently, he has often expressed his “admiration” for Thatcher and done his best to establish impeccable “I’m-Maggier-than-thou” credentials.

To understand the metamorphosis of Tony Blair, it is instructive to examine two policy documents released by the Labour party. In the first, the major cause of Britain’s economic problems was identified as the “concentration of power and wealth in the city of London” and the domination of “city values” and of the “interests of those who hold assets rather than produce”. By 1996, with Blair, Gordon Brown and Peter Mandelson, in charge of the party, the view had been reversed. In the Blair Revolution: Can Labour Deliver?, Mandelson and Roger Liddle, identified Britain’s economic strengths as its multinational corporations, aerospace industry (arms) and the “pre-eminence of the city of London”.

The Blair government appointments reflected this transformation. One of the first appointees was the minister of competitiveness, Lord Simon, who was chairman of British Petroleum and a director of Rio Tinto Zinc, two of the most successful multinational corporations, with well-documented records of human rights violations in Latin America.

The first budget of the chancellor, Gordon Brown, was hailed in the media as “brilliant” and “inspired”. The International Monetary Fund praised it as an “excellent start”. The contrast with the Keynesian policies of his Tory predecessor, Kenneth Clarke, was striking. Labour’s “iron chancellor” accepted all the economic premises and restrictions that Clarke had preached but not practised. He boldly went where no Labour chancellor had gone before.

Brown’s first act was to hand over to the Bank of England, the authority to fix interest rates, the most important economic power that any government faced with serious unemployment can exercise. Corporate taxes were reduced to the lowest for any major industrialized country. On the other hand, no attempt was made to create real employment.

A welfare-to-work scheme borrowed from the United States provided temporary, menial and demoralizing jobs. The wage was negotiable, and workers could be sacked even after six months of work, with no redress for unfair dismissal. The discarded worker would show up in the statistics as “short-term employed”. The scheme would work wonders on paper even if not a single job was created. Mandelson used the term “social exclusion” instead of “poverty”. As the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the austerity that Labour planned for a majority of the British people would certainly be far harsher than any during the Tories’ 18 years.

Predictable results followed: far from a “trickle down”, there was veritable gushing up of wealth. Data released by the department of social security in July last year shows that the number of people living in poverty has increased under Labour.

The Blair government has surpassed all previous records since World War II in its use of military violence outside United Nations control, flouting all norms of international law on at least three occasions. The death of half a million Iraqi children documented by the UN International Children’s Fund and other organizations is a direct result of the devastation caused by the US and Britain. The UN humanitarian coordinator in Iraq, Dennis Halliday, and his successor, Hans von Sponeck, both resigned in protest against the barbaric punishments inflicted on civilians by the sanctions imposed by these two states.

Why does the New Labour follow this pax Americana? Five senior members of the Blair government and his chief of staff have been members of the so-called “successor generation” of the British-American Project, a little-known trans-Atlantic network of selected politicians, academics and journalists.

Education is advertised as the Blair project’s “Big Idea”. One of the Labour government’s first decisions was to abolish universal free education and replace student grants with loans. No Thatcherite had gone this far. Universities will now be run on “market lines” with tuition increasing as the state of the economy worsens. Only the well-off will be able to afford an engineering education at a good university. In Britain, it is estimated that a working student will graduate with a debt of £ 6,480, more than double that of a student from a better-off background. This in itself will drive many less well-off children away from colleges.

Shortly after becoming Lab- our leader, the Blairs flew first-class to Australia as Rupert Murdoch’s guests where, as principal speaker at a News Corporation conference, Blair praised the two politicians who had successfully “met the economic challenge” — Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. Thus was the alliance forged with the media, which has later been called a “cultural Chernobyl”.

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Just too fast

Sir — The recent face-off between the law minister, Arun Jaitley, and the Supreme Court raises a number of interesting questions (“SC sees fast courts on slow track”, May 3). The ire of the chief justice, A.S. Anand, makes sense in view of the fact that the judiciary should have been consulted before the law minister announced his ambitious plan of setting up fast-track courts to expedite the judicial process. The setting up of such courts, their duration, the selection of judges and other officials should have entirely been left for the respective high courts to decide. This is only the first step though. Any proposal that quickens the legal process should be welcomed. For instance, a fixed period could be allotted to the police and the public prosecutor’s office to conduct investigations. Other changes could also be introduced — like a revaluation of the process of appeals that inevitably delay the dispensation of justice. A time limit could also be imposed to minimize the actual duration of trials in both criminal and civil cases.
Yours faithfully,
Vikram Kapoor, via email

Ancient stars

Sir — The Jawaharlal Nehru University has done the right thing by rejecting the proposal to introduce astrology as a subject for higher education (“Astrology has no future at JNU”, May 1). Astrology cannot be treated as a branch of science and technology. Any attempt to thrust it upon the students would be unfair. It is a ploy to perpetuate the dominance of a few privileged and upper class people. It is regrettable that the University Grants Commission has decided to comply with the wishes of the political mandarins from South Block. The bold decision of the JNU to stick to its guns on this issue will undoubtedly encourage others to do the same.
Yours faithfully,
Phani Bhusan Saha, Balurghat

Sir — Jawaharlal Nehru University has shown rare guts by not bowing to political pressure regarding the introduction of astrology as a subject in the university curriculum. The rationale behind the introduction of disciplines such as astrology defies logic. Why should astrology, of all subjects, be introduced? What our country needs more than anything else is a group of efficient doctors. Then countless lives could be saved.

This attempt to give undue importance to astrology on the pretext that it will help earn foreign exchange smacks of Hindu fundamentalism. One wonders how the UGC could have conceded to such a demand. Has the concept of Hindutva taken root among the UGC authorities? Will religious fanaticism decide the course of higher education? For the sake of India’s future citizens, one hopes not.

Yours faithfully,
Debasish Dey, Calcutta

Sir — Ever since the Bharatiya Janata Party came to power, it has been trying to inculcate the ideology of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh into the educational system of some states. Is the attempt to introduce astrology and vedic purohitya another way of manipulating the masses? One shudders to think what would happen if the BJP and the RSS have their way. They would destroy India’s plural and secular character.

Yours faithfully,
G. Hasnain Kaif, Bhandara

Sir — The introduction of astrology as a subject for higher studies would paint a negative picture of our country before the rest of the world. Similarly, the imposition of Sanskrit as a subject of study can lead to a demand for the introduction of other languages like Arabic, Persian, and Gurumukhi in the curriculum.

No one can deny the importance of Sanskrit in India. There are specialized institutions where it is still taught and it would indeed be unfortunate if this language decays and finally perishes.

Murli Manohar Joshi has no doubt dreamt up this scheme to suit his purposes. Abolishing the system of examinations in schools and replacing it with grades was another of his harebrained schemes. It is desirable that Sanskrit continues to be taught in specialized institutions which can keep people informed about Vedic literature and various aspects of Indian culture.

Yours faithfully,
D.V. Vamsee Krishna, Bhubaneswar

Power corrupts

Sir — It is really unfortunate that despite being a free country for more than half a century. India continues to be trapped in the vicious cycle of parochial politics. A corrupt bureaucracy, coupled with a culture of bandhs and frequent scandals, have sent the wrong signals to foreign investors. The process of liberalization and economic reforms that was initiated by Manmohan Singh has not borne fruit. Companies like Enron are thinking of winding up their business in India. All this does not portend well for all-round growth, which is a must if India has to compete with countries like China.

Recent times have witnessed the frequent disruption of Parliament on issues like Tehelka. Instead of resolving their differences through informed political debate, our legislators have wasted money as well as delayed important legislation by stalling the proceedings of the house. It is time to re-focus our attention on growth, lay emphasis on restructuring our economy and see to the basic needs of those living below the poverty line. A committee could be set up that would force our legislators to adhere to a proper code of conduct.

Yours faithfully,
B.L. Tekriwal, Mumbai

Sir — India is perhaps the only democracy in which the people enjoy their democratic rights only on the day of the elections. As soon as the elections are over, the needs of the electorate are forgotten. Our elected representatives conveniently forget all about the “authorized power” given to them by the people so as to ensure that there is scope for growth, peace and stability. Our politicians make a number of promises to the electorate, very few of which are carried out. Very few even remember to visit their constituencies once the elections are over.

The concept of parliamentary democracy in India has changed with the passage of time. Today very few politicians are willing to admit that they have made mistakes. The speeches made by our leaders are noticeably lacking in an account or analysis of the performance of the government that was in power. It is a fact that the common man is more interested in knowing why he cannot get two square meals a day. He is more concerned about the lack of cleanliness in Indian hospitals and does not really care about the ramifications of the Tehelka tapes.

For instance — will the government of West Bengal accept responsibility for the deteriorating law and order in Midnapore? Instead of blaming a rival political party, the government should take proper steps to ensure that the homeless can return to their villages.

Inefficient administration, corruption and greed have eaten into the core of our democratic system.

Yours faithfully,
Amar Lahiri Majumdar, Calcutta

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