Editorial 1 / Head prefect
Editorial 2 / Blood omens
A decade of reforms
Fifth Column / What they will say when the ceo comes
Appeasement and treachery in high places
Letters to the editor

There is something rotten in a state that tries to curb the activities of scholars in the name of security. The Union home ministry has decided to vet foreign scholars coming to India to attend seminars and conferences. Indian scholars going abroad for the same purpose will have to get a clearance from the home ministry. The latter is an old regulation that had lapsed because it was not used, but now the government has decided to enforce it. This set of rules puts a full stop on all scholarly exchange. Knowing the pace at which bureaucrats and clerks work, no scholar will get a clearance at the right time. But there is a larger point involved. Why should scholars be forced to undergo this kind of a humiliating vetting procedure? The home ministry’s answer is provided by that bogey called “security”. Apparently, foreign scholars undermine India’s security when they come to participate in seminars on “sensitive” subjects. The word, “sensitive”, is left as vague as possible so that the home ministry can use its discretion against academics it does not like or approve of. This harks back to the era of “reds under the bed”, or its Indian avatar, the CIA agent. The home ministry is here clearly interested in monitoring and regulating the activities of scholars and academics. Curbs on their travelling will make Indian scholars more insular by cutting them off from global intellectual currents. This should please a few hearts in Nagpur. The home minister, Mr L.K. Advani, should decide whether his ministry exists for the country or for the sangh parivar.

The outrage of the academic community has been voiced by the chairman of the Indian Council for Social Science Research, Mr M.L. Sondhi, who is not known for his enmity to the Bharatiya Janata Party. Any academic, with a modicum of self-respect, will also resent and oppose the home ministry’s efforts to restrict scholarly activities and intellectual interchange. This has nothing to do with this or that ideology. It boils down to a simple question of freedom. The BJP, unable to slough off its extremism, has tried to curtail freedom in a number of ways: cultural policing has been its principal weapon. This latest move against academics is a more direct move to police the very ground on which ideas are created and debated. It is a move to freeze discussion so that ideas can then be put into an ideological strait-jacket. Totalitarian regimes at different times and in different parts of the world have tried to do the same thing and have failed. The BJP’s move will also fail but in the meantime, scholars will be harassed and humiliated by petty bureaucrats who will bend over backwards to please their political masters. Foreign scholars are not a threat to India; the real threat is represented by those who are against ideas, and against debate and discussion. The fundamentalism of the BJP lies in its opposition to debate and to the pursuit of global excellence.


Saturday night’s bomb blast at the ruling Awami League’s office at Narayangunj, in which at least 22 people were killed and over 100 others injured, is the worst example so far of the politics of violence and murderous revenge that has been the bane of Bangladesh for so many years now. Most observers of Bangladeshi politics would link this and three other explosions earlier this year, as Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed has done, to the parliamentary elections due in October. In fact, Ms Wajed has directly accused the opposition of masterminding the Narayangunj blast. The opposition parties, she has argued, have taken to violence fearing defeat in the elections. Her accusations may have provoked the backlash by Awami League supporters who allegedly attacked a convoy of cars in which the opposition leader, Begum Khaleda Zia of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, was to travel to some southern districts. Forced to cancel her trip and return to Dhaka, she did what she has done umpteen times in the past four years — call a 48-hour nationwide hartal. Although she has called for a judicial probe into Saturday’s blast, it is clear that the BNP and its allies will use the tragedy as fodder for their poll-eve politics of confrontation.

The roots of the country’s political malaise actually go much deeper. In a sad irony of history, much of Bangladeshi politics and society is today deeply divided on attitudes to the country’s 1971 liberation war as well as to the legacy of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his family. Ms Wajed’s unrelenting attempts to bring to book the leaders of the 1975 coup, which killed her father, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, and many others in the family, have only added to the desperation of the suspected groups and their leaders. These groups are known to have enlisted the support of fundamentalist and terrorist groups at home and abroad to try and hit back at Ms Wajed and her government. The arrest of two Freedom Party sympathizers for alleged complicity in the Narayangunj blast once again exposes these forces. The party was launched by some of the 1975 coup leaders as they tried to come overground and legitimize their entry into the country’s political scene. It is no coincidence that only earlier this month, the cabinet enacted a law giving Ms Wajed and her family members life-time protection at government expense. For the people at large, however, the grim reality is that the dark shadow of violence looms , not just over Ms Wajed, but over the entire nation.The latest tragedy thus must have come as a bad omen to the people for whom the prime agenda in the coming elections must be an end to the cult of violence — and of hartals that have badly hit the nation’s economy.


Even a short visit abroad is enough to convince anyone about how insignificant India is on the world map. Several weeks can pass without any reference to India in foreign newspapers and magazines. One exception in the last few weeks was when Paul Condon published his report on matchfixing in cricket — Indian bookies captured headlines in the sports pages. Another exception was a recent article in Newsweek about the plight of Indian software engineers in the United States. But, even here, the focus of the article was really the state of the US economy and its imminent downturn — the misfortunes of the Indian software engineers happened to be a convenient way of describing the human tragedies accompanying the US economic slowdown.

That is why it was a big surprise to see The Economist carry a rather detailed survey on the Indian economy. Perhaps the timing explains this seeming deviation from the norm. After all, it is now exactly ten years since June 1991 — the month which marks a watershed as far as the Indian economy is concerned. The Economist is well known for its conservative views. Its strident advocacy of the market mechanism often makes the average Indian pro-reformer seem an extreme leftist. Against this background, one might have expected the magazine to launch into a harsh criticism of the erratic reform process in India during the last decade. Surprisingly, both the survey and the accompanying editorial are fairly objective and balanced.

Of course, it is easy to point out the positive features of the reform process. India is one of the few countries in the world which have managed to achieve an annual growth rate of six per cent during the entire decade. There are many who will say that after decades of virtual stagnation, the economy should have been able to grow at a substantially higher rate. But it should also be kept in mind that the east Asian crisis meant that the external environment was quite adverse for several years during this period, and this did slow down the growth momentum.

Other positive features have been the virtual elimination of the balance of payments crisis and the remarkable price stability enjoyed almost throughout the decade. In June 1991, we were on the verge of defaulting on our external debt service obligations. Today, we have over $ 40 billion in foreign exchange reserves and a current account deficit of only two per cent of the gross domestic product. The rate of inflation has hovered around the five per cent mark for much of this period.

These quantitative characteristics tell only a part of the story, and perhaps a small part at that. There has been a dramatic change in the manner in which the economy functions today. Undoubtedly the most important piece of reform has been the dismantling of the industrial licensing system. Indian entrepreneurs no longer have to bribe government babus to procure the licences without which they could not produce virtually anything. Increased domestic and foreign competition have increased both the quality of Indian manufactures as well as the overall efficiency of Indian industry. There has also been significant improvement in both the direct and indirect tax regimes. Although financial sector reforms have lagged far behind, there has been a growing awareness of the need for financial restructuring, and some progress in strengthening the banking sector.

Unfortunately, there is also the strong apprehension that the reform process has ground to a halt. All the soft options have been exhausted. The remaining areas where change is needed are those where vested interests are most firmly entrenched. They have firmly opposed any tinkering with the status quo. The crass opportunism of the various political parties as well as the weakness of coalition governments ruling at the Centre have aided their cause.

Perhaps the most important area crying out for drastic change is the pattern of government revenues and expenditures, both at the Centre as well as in the various states. That the reform process has failed to change the nature of government budgets is evident from the fact that the combined fiscal deficits of the state and Central governments as a proportion of GDP is more or less what it was prior to June 1991.

As far as the Central government is concerned, it has to slash its expenditure on unproductive subsidies as well as its salary bill. The public distribution system has outlived its usefulness because of the huge leakages from the system. While some of the poor do get some of the subsidized foodgrains, the lack of targeting means that each rupee of subsidy to the poor costs the Central exchequer several rupees.

A similar story is true as far as the fertilizer subsidy is concerned — the major beneficiaries happen to be the large farmers. State governments must focus on improving their revenues. The state governments supply a wide array of economic and social services. The virtual absence of efforts to charge break-even prices has meant a gradual deterioration in the quality of these services. Clearly, the bankrupt state governments cannot continue on this path in the long run.

The woeful state of government finances is acting as a severe constraint on future growth prospects. Perhaps the most important area that has been affected by lack of public funds is infrastructure. Our road system is more in tune with the 19th century. Erratic power supply and inadequate port facilities are other obvious examples of trouble spots. There is no hope of the various tiers of government itself being able to generate the funds required to improve these facilities. There have been some effort to attract private sector investment. Coincidentally, the same issue of The Economist carries an advertisement issued by the Uttar Pradesh government calling for joint ventures to construct a toll expressway between New Delhi and Agra. But the recent fiasco with Enron must have created some apprehensions amongst potential foreign investors about the profitability of investing in India.

“Back to basics” may not be an inappropriate battle cry at this point. The“basics” in this context is the agricultural sector. Despite shrinking in relative size, agriculture still employs more than 50 per cent of the labour force and roughly 25 per cent of national income. Progress in agriculture has been restricted largely to foodgrains and the dairy sector. The absurd system of procurement prices has artificially bolstered prices for farmers (read large farmers). Farmers have not been provided with any incentive to diversify to fruits, vegetables, flowers — a wide array of agricultural products could have been introduced profitably. This would have increased rural incomes and also improved government finances by enabling it to slash the food and fertilizer subsidies.

Will second-generation reforms succeed? This year’s budget seemed to hold out the hope that the government was determined to push ahead with reforms. Unfortunately, there has not been progress in so far as implementation is concerned. The finance minister, who is the leading proponent of reform, often seems to be in a very small minority even in his own party. The prime minister, who has usually backed the finance minister, will play the crucial role. The future of the reform process will probably depend on whether Vajpayee puts his personal reputation on the line.

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


Since the day the Indian prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, sent an invitation to General Pervez Musharraf, the chief executive of Pakistan, for a political dialogue on all outstanding issues between the two countries, including Jammu and Kashmir, the Indian army is looking forward to making major gains in that strife-torn region. It is hoping that violence in the state may drop in the coming months after the talks.

Many in the army believe that there is a need to engage Pakistan politically on two counts. First, Pakistan’s military forces continue to exercise decisive control over the militants. Pakistan’s corps commanders still have the final say in determining the activities of the insurgents, including those of the pan-Islamic jihadis.

Moreover, Pakistan cannot be ignored since it is a prime player in Kashmiri insurgency. The Indian army feels that it is necessary for India to engage Musharraf in any dialogue that is held between the two countries despite the fact that he has differences with the Pakistani corps commanders. The assessment here is that Musharraf exercises full control over his subordinates in the absence of serious internal dissension. It is also unlikely that he will be seriously challenged either by the jihadis or by Pakistan’s civilian political leadership in the near future.

Second, Musharraf has indicated in the past that he would be willing to rein in the pan-Islamic insurgents after India agreed to hold talks with him by inviting him for a dialogue. New Delhi has fulfilled the general’s pre-condition. It is now up to the chief executive to see that the militants operating from Pakistani soil are dealt with effectively.

Profit margin

Most military officials are of the opinion that the six-month long ceasefire, which has preceded the invitation to talk, has yielded some positive results. One of the major gains of the ceasefire is that firing across the line of control has virtually ceased. However, infiltration has not been curbed. If Musharraf is able to control infiltration and reduce violence in the future, peace will prevail in the Kashmir valley.

Both India and Pakistan stand to benefit from Vajpayee’s proposal for dialogue. The peace initiative will help the Pakistani military regime acquire a much-needed political legitimacy and thereby silence critics at home and abroad.

Musharraf would also like to consolidate his rule in Pakistan while forcing India to come to terms with him and his policies. He has acquired a higher ground from where he can address the challenges from jihadis and Pakistan. After Vajpayee’s letter, Musharraf can launch an effective counter-campaign against organizations such as the Jamaat-i-Islami which have accused him of being soft towards India.

Summit of hope

The paramilitary forces, on the other hand, feel that the unilateral ceasefire declared by India has caused serious damage to the innocent civilian population while giving the militants an opportunity to consolidate their gains and prepare for a full-fledged assault on India.

The militants have mingled with the civilian population and taken advantage of their friendship. They have also misused religious places like masjids to carry out their anti-India propaganda.

There had been far too many massacres of civilians and explosions which have hurt the civilian population. This is one of the reasons that during discussions with L.K. Advani, the Union home minister, at the unified command meeting at Srinagar, the ceasefire was lifted and Musharraf was invited for further political dialogue to sort out pending issues, including Jammu and Kashmir.

The army is very hopeful of this summit between the two heads of states. The general will certainly like to clinch the issue and come out with various permutations and combinations in order to go some way in resolving thorny issues. India should also discuss this intricate issue with an open mind.

One of the issues that can certainly be resolved is that of the withdrawal from the Siachen glacier. This would save thousands of soldiers from dying deaths through exposure in the high altitude, in one of the most hazardous battlefields in the world. Neither country is gaining anything by deploying their troops in an area in which not even a blade of grass can grow.


In mid-1997, the I.K. Gujral government arrived at a ceasefire agreement with the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah). It was not a comprehensive ceasefire. It extends only to one — albeit the main — insurgent group. Its territorial spread was limited to Nagaland, although the activities of the insurgents extended to other parts of the Northeast, not only Naga-majority enclaves in neighbouring states like Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, but also through the linkages which the Naga insurgents established with non-Naga insurgents in other states.

Moreover, the ceasefire was just that — a ceasefire, not a political settlement. A few months after the ceasefire, the Gujral government fell, there were fresh elections, and in March 1998, the first National Democratic Alliance government under Atal Bihari Vajpayee was sworn in.

It is now three years, that is over one thousand days, since Vajpayee became prime minister with his self-proclaimed Sardar Patel, Lal Krishna Advani, as home minister. Till last week, they did nothing. Now, by submitting to the NSCN(I-M) demand that the ceasefire be extended to all parts of the Northeast where Naga insurgents are disturbing the peace, Vajpayee and Advani have sent up all of the Northeast in flames. Manipur is paralysed. Assam is infuriated. Arunachal is angered. Tripura is incensed. And there is no joy in Kohima. What the Vajpayee government have secured is not peace but craven appeasement.

The historical parallel is Munich, September 1938. Hitler had invaded and annexed Austria. He now demanded the return to Germany of Danzig and Prussian lands in Poland, the vivisection of Czechoslovakia to secure what he regarded as “German” Sudetenland, and the incorporation into the German Reich of vast areas of Slav-inhabited east Europe as “living space” for the expanding German Aryans.

The NSCN(I-M) is demanding the annexation to Nagaland of the Manipur districts of Tamenglang, Ukhrul and Senapati; the return of Naga villages on the Nagaland-Assam border; the vivisection of Tripura; and “living space” for Nagas in Arunachal Pradesh. Instead of resisting these insidious demands for “Greater” Nagaland, Vajpayee and his cohorts, whose role model in the rest of India is Hitler, have, in the Northeast, preferred to play Neville Chamberlain, not standing up to ridiculous claims (which include the relinquishment of Indian sovereignty over all Naga-majority areas of the Northeast) but surrendering, as Chamberlain did to Hitler, in the illusory hope of bribing their way to peace.

Even as history mocks Chamberlain for believing, as he proclaimed on his return to London, “I’ve got it...It is peace for our time”, so will the nation rue the Vajpayee-Advani appeasement of the Naga insurgents unless the duo is stopped in its tracks. They have not got us peace. They have only paved the way for the surrender of most of the Northeast to forces they have neither the will nor the wit to control.

From March 1998 to date, the Vajpayee government has entrusted negotiating responsibility to a former Union home secretary, K. Padmanabhaiah. He has no political credentials. Nor any political experience. He has not been entrusted with a political mandate. His job has been strictly limited to keeping the ceasefire going — whatever its violations by the NSCN(I-M), whatever the excesses committed by the insurgents, however widespread their depredations, however nefarious their links to other insurgent groups. The costs have been enormous.

The NSCN(I-M) has made a fine art of hoodwinking the Indian government on the surrender of arms. Kidnapping, extortion, exactions and gun-point murder continue unabated. The Nagaland chief minister, S.C. Jamir, was saved only by good fortune when ambushed on the Dimapur-Kohima road. Jamir’s plea for a political initiative has fallen on deaf ears in North Block.

The ceasefire has been maintained only for the Indian security forces to cease fire, not to build peace on the ashes of torched villages and on the graves of butchered innocents. Neither has the Centre responded to the political demands of the insurgents, nor has it formulated its own terms for a political settlement. Indeed, the Centre underlined its reluctance to embark on a political path by persisting with Padmanabhaiah long after Jamir pleaded for a political interlocutor to undertake a political dialogue.

Now the Centre has moved — but in the wrong direction. Instead of bringing all insurgent Nagaland groups within the ambit of the ceasefire with a view to moving to the negotiating table to hard talk the way to a final political settlement, the Centre remains stuck in the groove of a ceasefire without political initiative, but further appeasing the Naga insurgents by extending the ceasefire to non-Nagaland areas of the Northeast, thus signalling, whatever its protestations, a willingness to consider a Greater Nagaland with insurgents whose bottomline demand is Greater Nagaland, which can take an even larger slice of India out of India’s sovereignty. In one silly, stupid — I would go so far as to say, treacherous — act of appeasement, the Vajpayee government has jeopardized decades of patient and courageous integration of the Northeast with mainstream India.

The irresponsibility of the NDA with regard to the sensitive Northeast was demonstrated in the political games it played in the Manipur assembly. With virtually no members of their own, the NDA first abetted the Samata Party in engineering defections to proclaim Radhabinod Koijam (elected on a Congress ticket) as chief minister, only for the NDA’s den of thieves to then fall out in the endeavour to get the “Samata” chief minister replaced by another defector, this time a legislative horse traded to the BJP.

Having thus alienated every Manipuri — Meitei, Kuki or Naga — the NDA government has added insult to injury by first buying democracy and on its grave placing the sepulchre of Greater Nagaland, primarily at the expense of Manipur, which stands to lose more than half its hill territory if the worst were to happen. President’s rule has been declared in Manipur. It is even more important that president’s rule be declared in Delhi — before the Vajpayee government sells out the Northwest to Pakistan and the Northeast to the enemies of India’s integrity.



Structure outside law

Sir — L.K. Advani is either very shameless or completely out of touch with democratic norms. Take for instance, the recent comments he made before the Liberhan commission (“Advani demolishes Ayodhya litigation”, June 15). He has now gone to the extent of saying that this dispute cannot be resolved through the judicial mechanism. Does he know what he is talking about? The whole essence of a parliamentary democracy is that there is a rule of law and that there is a standard and recognizable process which can be employed to punish offenders of that law. All citizens are supposed to abide by this law — and this is the contract that binds the polity together. By saying that a dispute like the Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid one cannot be resolved through the legal procedure and that members of the two religious communities have to come together for a negotiated settlement, he is encouraging a face-off in order to come to a resolution of a conflict. Someone has to tell him that this proposition is ominous.

Yours faithfully,
Vinayak Raja, via email

Degrees of value

Sir — The article, “CPM goodbye to cheap degrees” (June 16), which reported that education in the state is finally going to become dearer, had a misleading title. The word, “cheap”, could be misconstrued to mean the quality of the education that the universities in West Bengal impart.

However, it is good news that the relevant authorities, along with the ruling party are considering the increase in college/university fees. This decision has long been in the pipeline but no serious step was being taken. The present fees are ludicrously low and all the student demonstrations and protests against the hiking of fees are based on completely unreasonable demands.

This illogic is reinforced by parents and guardians too, who should be actively attempting to familiarize their children with the fact that these fees have not been revised in years and that something has to be done about it. The salaries of teachers and staff have been raised from time to time. Maintenance costs have also risen. Even the average monthly income has gone up for the Calcuttan. It is sad that the poor and the rich alike seek absurd subsidies from the government for years on end.

Yours faithfully,
C.R. Bhattacharjee, Calcutta

Sir — The initiative of the chief minister, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, to form a committee in order to start the teaching of English from class I (“Buddha’s IT language: English from start”, June 12) is another indication that he is determined to undo all the mistakes the Left Front government of the last 24 years have been accused of making.

During Jyoti Basu’s tenure as chief minister, English was abolished, although it has also been reported that by the end of his chief ministership, he was in favour of introducing the teaching of English from class III. The result of this abolition was that the state produced thousands of graduates every year who had little or no command over English.

The leftists always realize things late. That their 1987 decision to remove English from primary education was a mistake, has finally been recognized. Nowadays, they have also become staunch supporters of computerization which they had once scoffed at.

Yours faithfully,
A. Bose Chowdhury, Barrackpore

Sir — Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has hit the nail on the head by pointing out that for West Bengal to get information technology-friendly, it is necessary to reintroduce English in class I. In fact, this has been a much-debated issue and earlier, the Pabitra Sarkar committee had merely washed its hands of the matter. That Bhattacharjee has insisted on getting his party around to his viewpoint is commendable.

Yours faithfully,
Rahul Sinha, Berhampore

Sir — It is heartening to note that the significance of introducing English early in school as well as its relevance to the information-technology world have finally dawned on the chief minister. He is right in observing that it is because of the language handicap that students of the state lag behind in the dog-eat-dog world of competition. The other plan to restructure the Madhyamik syllabus will also have a positive bearing on the state’s education set-up. It will help students gear up for the all-India competitive examinations at the secondary level.

Yours faithfully,
Ahtesham Ahmad, Andal

Dirty talk

Sir — Over the last few days, there has been a lot of talk and media coverage about the issue of “obscenity” in Calcutta. The stupidity surrounding the entire episode was well-depicted in the editorial, “Dirty pictures” (June 14). This morning, I happened to be near the crossing where Ballygunge Circular Road meets Lower Circular Road. There is a hoarding with the relevant advertisement there. I looked at it and found nothing obscene about the advertisement campaign at all. What angered and embarrassed me instead was a neighbouring billboard advertising a departmental store which depicted a young person relieving himself against the trunk of a tree, while some others looked on. This was truly offensive. This advertisement, hoisted against the wall of a leading educational institution, is the sort of campaign the mayor-in-council should be ranting against and not the one which has Raima Sen in it.

Yours faithfully,
Hubert Robin Gomez, via email

Sir — It is unbelievable that the Calcutta Municipal Corporation has objected to the advertisement featuring Raima Sen in the Spice Cell ad campaign. This is one of the finest campaigns Calcutta has had in a long time and also features the likes of Sourav Ganguly and Usha Utthup. It appears that the mayor-in-council, Mala Roy, is determined to go the taliban way by becoming the self-appointed moral guardian of West Bengal.

Next we will be stopped from visiting places like Konark, Khajuraho and so on, lest we offend Roy’s sensibilities. There are many other serious problems that Calcutta faces as a city. Why doesn’t the corporation look into all that instead of wasting its time on non-issues such as this?

Yours faithfully,
B. Dev Varma, Calcutta

The firing may not cease

Sir — It is ridiculous that the Central government should give in to the threats of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) and extend the ceasefire to the entire Northeast under the rubric, “all contiguous Naga-inhabited areas of the Northeast” (“Naga truce extension protest”, June 16). It is as if the Centre had its back to the wall and the extension of the ceasefire was the only way to stop Nagaland from seceding from Indian territory altogether.

Yours faithfully,
Biswapriya Purkayastha, via email

Sir — The government of India’s latest extension of its ceasefire with the NSCN(I-M) to other areas in the Northeast “without any territorial limits” is bound to be met with severe reactions. One wonders whether the government of India has really taken into consideration the situation that exists in the other states that are involved in this matter. To appease one group, if the government makes this liberal concession, then it will encourage other groups to act in the same manner. This is going to have an adverse impact on Manipur. These ad-hoc policies of the Centre will get us nowhere.

Yours faithfully,
Joshua Thomas, via email

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