Editorial 1/ Good Start
Editorial 2/ Chugging Along
Advice from distant shores
Book Review/ The bandit king
Book Review/ Closer focus on enemies within and without
Book Review/ He taught them to think for themselves
Bookwise/ In the beginning was the footnote
Paperback Pickings/ What has he to do with Holmes?
Fifth Column/ Politics in the three services
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1/ GOOD START 
 
 
 
 
A quiet transition is often more reassuring than a boisterous break. In his first 100 days in office, Assam’s chief minister, Mr Tarun Gogoi, has not introduced any spectacular changes either in policy or in governance. But the tentative steps his government has initiated in several areas suggest that he not only has his priorities right but is going about his task earnestly. When the people voted him to power last May, they wanted him first of all to stop the insurgency-hit state’s drift into endless cycles of violence. Whether a rise in the number of people attending night shows in cinema halls is a good enough indicator of improved law and order may be debated. But there is general agreement that the veil of fear that shrouded life in the state has been lifted, at least partially. In a bold departure from the past, Mr Gogoi’s government has demonstrated its intention — and ability — to crack down on the surrendered United Liberation Front of Asom militants, locally known as SULFA. Pampered by several previous governments, these erstwhile insurgents had increasingly become a menace to public safety because of their involvement in extortion rackets and other unlawful activities. The bigger issue of fighting the ULFA has to be addressed, however, jointly by the Centre and the state government. Mr Gogoi has done well to pick up the thread from the previous Asom Gana Parishad government and urge the Centre to consider a unilateral ceasefire with the ULFA.

In his election campaign, Mr Gogoi had accused the AGP government of bringing economic development to a halt. Citing the example of Punjab in the days of Sikh militancy, he had argued that violence would only get worse without development. The chief minister has nothing much to show as new initiatives that could unleash forces of economic growth. It was a happy coincidence, though, that the Centre’s decision to finally delink Namrup Fertiliser from Hindustan Fertiliser came on Mr Gogoi’s 100th day in office. Even the AGP government had pleaded with the Centre for this because the profit-making Namrup unit had long had to bear the burden of Hindustan Fertiliser’s losing units at Barauni in Bihar and Haldia in West Bengal. The timing of the Centre’s decision is important because the Namrup unit is set for a big expansion in three phases. One failure of the Gogoi government was its inadequate handling of the food poisoning tragedy in Barpeta. But the AGP was mired too deep in its own mess — created by allegations of the secret second marriage of the former chief minister and AGP president, Mr Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, and the sex scandals involving two other senior AGP leaders — to embarrass the government much on the issue. Mr Gogoi cannot afford to lose the early initiative if he is really to make it a new beginning for Assam as well.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2/ CHUGGING ALONG 
 
 
 
 
There is a quaint appositeness in the hike of rail fares a day after Ms Mamata Banerjee returned to the National Democratic Alliance. During her tenure as minister for railways, Ms Banerjee, against all sane economic advice, had refused to raise passenger fares. This had left Indian Railways tottering on the brink of a financial crisis. The present railways minister, Mr Nitish Kumar, has averted an immediate crisis by raising fares albeit he has had to do it through a safety cess. Passenger traffic has never been a paying proposition for Indian Railways and Mr Kumar’s decision, whatever be its disguise, must be welcomed by all who have not surrendered their common sense to the ubiquitous god called populism. The argument that fare hikes adversely affect the poor is a totally spurious one. The poor in India cannot afford to travel by train in any case and when they do they are prone to travel ticketless. Thus the pro-poor stance of politicians like Ms Banerjee who oppose the raising of rail fares has no basis in reality.

The welcome extended to Mr Kumar’s measure must of necessity be muffled because his priorities are somewhat odd. He has followed the time-honoured policy, passing on the burden of the fare hike to the upper class passengers. This only makes the fare structure more askew than it is at present. Second class fares constitute more than 80 per cent of the railways’ passenger revenue and they are heavily subsidized and thus need to be raised more. This was one of the recommendations of the Rakesh Mohan committee which Mr Kumar had himself appointed. At present the ratio between first and second class rail fares is 14 to 1; the committee recommended that it be brought down to 9 to 1. It would be odd if Mr Kumar undermined the recommendations of a committee which he had formed for the improvement of Indian Railways. Most experts have also been pointing at another anomaly inherent in the fare structure. Fares in Indian Railways are determined by distance. Fares have nothing to do with which area or network is being serviced by the railways. Yet by definition, railways is a network service. There is thus a good case for introducing differential pricing in railways: fares can be made to vary according to volume of traffic, profitability and even seasons. Some aspects of this kind of flexible pricing have already been introduced by airlines, including the state-owned one. Indian Railways should not lag behind. The principle of flexible fares, driven by demand and supply, will also make it impossible for politicians to use rail fares as an electoral ploy. The necessary condition for achieving this is to treat Indian Railways as a business venture outside the shackles of political pressure and patronage. One suspects that neither politicians nor railwaymen are quite upto this challenge.

   

 
 
ADVICE FROM DISTANT SHORES 
 
 
BY ASHOK MITRA
 
 
They have a double billing, émigrés as well as economists. Safely ensconced in distant shores, they are ceaseless in their pontification. India, in their view, can survive only by opting for more and more free trade and liberal policies. They have heard distressing stories about how the Indian middle class has been taken for a ride by the helmsmen of liberalization. The Unit Trust of India’s flagship, the US-64, has already gone down. Come 2002, the monthly income plans, reportedly facing a huge deficit of around Rs 12,000 crore in their accounts, might also sink.

Things are not any better with the two major development finance institutions, the Industrial Finance Corporation of India and the Industrial Development Bank of India. They have, in the course of the past decade, generously lent money to bogus and infirm companies which have failed to take off, or, having taken off, have come a cropper. Most of these companies, it is now feared, would soon end up with the Board for Industrial Finance and Reconstruction. The number of such companies exceeds 500; their total outstanding bad debt to the two financial institutions amounting to as much as Rs 7,000 crore. Grim tidings indeed.

Were there no liberalization and norms of lending were not lowered, at the behest of politicians and others, for fly-by-night private parties who supposedly were conversant with the magic of growth because they belonged to the private sector, the financial institutions would not have come to such a sorry pass; the Indian middle class would not now have their back to the wall either. Liberalization has provided the carte blanche for according generous treatment to crooks of all hues. And yet, listen to the expatriate economists beaming their noble message across five oceans and seventy seas: the antidote to such wickedness bedevilling the financial institutions is more liberalization and at an accelerated pace; for heaven’s sake, eliminate government control over these institutions.

An expert, who does not know, is any guy ten or fifteen thousand miles from home. Our culture has taught us to revere such experts. Even the most distinguished economic and financial journals in the country therefore echo the thoughts of these sages settled overseas: the cure for the evils of liberalization is greater liberalization. To the illiterate millions who constitute the overwhelming majority of this country’s population, a statement of this nature might appear to be a non sequitur. Non-sequiturs coming out of the mouths of non-resident personalities are nonetheless worth their weight in gold.

Let us translate into ordinary parlance the gist of the message conveyed from overseas by both noble expatriates and international financial agencies. According to them, the evils the financial institutions are suffering from will be easy to get rid of in case these institutions are handed over to private persons. Do these eminences comprehend the import of their advice? Machinations by the Harshad Mehtas and the Ketan Parekhs have been mainly responsible for the present plight of institutions such as the UTI.

We are being advised that, never mind, to make these institutions disaster-proof and ensure the security of the money placed at their disposal by the middle classes, the Mehtas and the Parekhs should be rewarded further. They should be allowed to exercise total control over the funds of the UTI, the IDBI, the ICICI, the Life Insurance Corporation of India and so on; they should decide where these funds are to be invested and on what terms; the government, besides, should henceforth pursue a strict policy of non-interference with respect to their acts and activities. The substance of the external advice transmitted to this nation in other words, is as follows: the financial institutions should be converted into crooks’ operas.

Pardon our saying so, this piece of advice is not just inane, it is altogether insane. The government currently presides over these institutions. Elements inside the government are hand in glove with crooks; the floodgate of foul play and hanky-panky is thereby opened. To remedy the situation, hand over the institutions to the crooks; that would make them super-efficient, thereby safeguarding everybody’s money.

The learned ones from overseas are unable to perceive the core of a simple reality: till as long as the structure of the polity is not changed, the crooks would continue to reign supreme; it would not matter whatever whether it is the Indian National Congress or the Bharatiya Janata party which holds the rein of power, and whether the institutions belong to the public domain or are privatized.

The crooks are in the habit of buying up politicians, who love to be bought. Till as long as politicians of different hues still belong to the same oligarchy, the crooks have nothing to worry about; things would actually be a shade better for them if, because of external pressure, they themselves are anointed kings of the financial institutions.

Films exploring the interrelationship of lies, falsehoods and sex abound. It is a pity no producer has yet thought of making a film on the grand theme of lies, illusions and national degeneracy. The venerable professors of economics, holding tenured jobs in American universities, or even nearer, are however not to be deterred. Privatization apart, they have other bees in their bonnet. They are not tired of asserting that free international trade is the gateway to rapid economic growth and eradication of poverty; those who talk of protection and high tariffs are, in fact, enemies of the poor.

These scholars have delved into selective scriptures, they have read Adam Smith and David Ricardo, but not Friedrich List. Britain crossed over to the doctrine of free trade only after she had developed her industrial base through the help of spoils squeezed from the empire, gaining a tremendous comparative advantage over others; tariff walls from then on proved to be a barrier to British aspirations for further empire-building in finance and industry, and therefore had to be opposed. On the other hand, Germany, the United States and Japan have a different story to relate; these countries mostly grew behind the fortification of high tariff walls.

Even today, the US protects domestic agriculture to the extent of 70 per cent of its cost of production. A running battle is being waged between the US and the European community on the ethics of tariff protection they maintain against each other. The same sort of battle is on between Japan and the US.

The Americans know their oats. They continue to stall the untrammelled entry of our textiles and leather products into their country. The academic émigrés have one advantage. They do not have to live in India and suffer the consequences of the advice they render. They can afford to be copycats of the foreign masters. For politeness’ sake, we would not call them forgers. In any event, their counterfeit products are likely to have a progressively diminishing market in the country.

This column will now appear every alternate Friday

   

 
 
BOOK REVIEW/ THE BANDIT KING 
 
 
BY RESHMI SENGUPTA
 
 
VEERAPPAN: THE UNTOLD STORY
By Sunaad Raghuram,
Viking, Rs 395

The biography of a man, who is elusive and inaccessible by nature, is perhaps best read with a pinch of salt. More so, if he is swathed in layers of rumours, blown-up media reports and conjectures. Sunaad Raghuram seems to have diligently sifted through all these to flesh out 54-year-old Koose Munniswamy Veerappan — India’s most wanted criminal — by piecing together police records and information gathered from villagers, forest personnel, the bandit’s hostages and several others.

Eliciting “the untold story” of a fugitive for more than two decades is certainly a tightrope-walk for any writer. Woven on the lines of a thriller, Raghuram’s compelling account is strikingly shorn off sympathy and justification for his subject.

Born into a lower-middle class family in Gopinatham, a hamlet skirting the forest, Veerappan fast graduated from poaching and smuggling sandalwood to extortion, robbery, ambushes, abductions and killings, consumed with the sense of power that ruthlessness commands.

The first snare in documenting Veerappan’s life is the tendency to lionize him. Because, for the villagers in the fringes of the Malai Mahadeshwara hill ranges, the bandit has morphosed into a messiah. Dressed in battle fatigues, the gun-toting Veerappan exerts an incredible influence on them. His rebelliousness and volatile temper mingle with generosity to project an image of invincibility. He provides the poor with money, settles local disputes and punishes the offender. Or, anyone who dares to threaten his monopoly.

The Karnataka and Tamil Nadu police have been pitted against a strong network of informers and the fear of reprisal among the locals if they help them in nabbing Veerappan. In the Nineties, the special task force formed by the Veerendra Patil government in Karnataka considerably weakened Veerappan’s manpower and arsenal. But the vengeful bandit was faster than his counterparts and mowed down committed police and forest officials. The hatred was mutual and the spine-chilling saga of mayhem and retaliation continued unabated in the treacherous terrains of the Western Ghats.

The numerous articles that Veerappan’s exploits have spawned over the years attributed the police’s failure to the lack of political will and a concerted effort from the two states. Raghuram’s findings evince the charge is not without basis. Both the governments were scared of jeopardizing their vote banks, as for a large number of the village youth Veerappan was “a role model”. And police atrocities on harmless villagers had already antagonized them.

As a fugitive’s life among the hills began to strain him, Veerappan began a series of abductions to pressurize the two states to consider his demands for surrender. When none of the attempts clicked, he hit upon the most ingenious idea — kidnapping the Kannada film icon, Rajkumar. For once, Veerappan was successful in upsetting the political ballgames in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, the abductor being a Tamil and the abducted, a Kannadiga.

The two states reeled under the fear of an ethnic backlash, while the infamous law-breaker had the Mysore court and the governments of S.M. Krishna and M. Karunanidhi dancing to his tunes. Veerappan’s ten-point demand seemed shocking, malicious and politically-engineered. Before long, his links with Tamil extremist groups were unearthed. A long-drawn legal battle between Karnataka and the Supreme Court ensued over his charter. Raghuram’s detailing of the ramifications that could have followed the acquiescing to the demands, which were ignored by the Karnataka government in order to save its skin, are specially rivetting.

Interspersed into the narrative are candid shots of Veerappan’s personal life — his relations with wife, Muthulakshmi, and brother, Arjunan. His romance with Muthulakshmi, whose torture in police custody might have spurred his avenging spirit, is arresting too. The insightful vignettes represent a man extremely sly and shrewd, his madness defying all methods.

   

 
 
BOOK REVIEW/ CLOSER FOCUS ON ENEMIES WITHIN AND WITHOUT 
 
 
BY NOVY KAPADIA
 
 
CRICKET’S MURKY UNDERWORLD
By Kishin R. Wadhwaney,
Ajanta, Rs 245

G. Rajaraman’s book, Match-Fixing, The Enemy Within, which was published a few months ago, gave an account of the genesis of matchfixing, the cricketers involved and the findings of the investigation committee. Now the former sports editor of the Indian Express, Kishin R. Wadhwaney, in his customary acerbic style has exposed the role of money, the underworld, conniving officials and greedy players in the matchfixing imbroglio.

While Rajaraman’s book concentrated on the facts, Wadhwaney is more philosophical in his approach. He traces the decline in the ethics and traditions of the game from the rise of crass commercialism to the mercenary attitude of the players.

In the second chapter, “Nothing but the Truth”, Wadhwaney reveals instances when Indian cricketers (during the tour to South Africa in 1992) demanded money for appearances in parties and social functions. The lust for money is the catalyst which led to the decline of nationalistic feelings and ultimately to matchfixing.

Wadhwaney also draws parallels between matchfixing and the menace of drugs in the Olympics. Both are part of an overall syndrome in which sports has become a vehicle for quick bucks. He cites an instance of how India was nearly barred from taking part in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics for playing a “fixed” goal-less draw with Malaysia to edge Canada out of contention.

He traces all such aberrations, whether in cricket, hockey or in the International Olympic committee, to corrupt officials, rampant nepotism, favours in granting television contracts and the failure to impose discipline by setting the right examples. He boldly calls the International Cricket Council a racial body and describes the apathy of the Pakistan Cricket Board in dealing with this issue. The nefarious politics of the Board of Control for Cricket in India, the rivalry between Jagmohan Dalmiya and I.S. Bindra, their links with World Tel, are presented with typical candour.

The finest chapter in the book is “The Art of Cultivation”, in which the author shows how the bookies and punters switched from horse-racing to cricket owing to greater profits. He describes their modus operandi and links with underworld dons. He also traces the rise of Ashraf Patel, his gifts to Azharuddin and Yukta Mookhey, and his subsequent murder.

The murky dealings in the satta markets of the metropolitan cities and in Ahmedabad, Jaipur and Kanpur are also revealed. The author feels that minor deterrants like imprisonment for a six month period or fines of Rs 2,000 have to led to an increase in the number of people involved in betting scandals.

The closing chapters disclose the tax raids and the fall of Azharuddin, Kapil Dev, Manoj Prabhakar and Hansie Cronje. This ambitious book attempts several exposures, some of which facts do not support. It makes for lively reading because of the anecdotes and information.

   

 
 
BOOK REVIEW/ HE TAUGHT THEM TO THINK FOR THEMSELVES 
 
 
BY RUDRANGSHU MUKHERJEE
 
 
SONG OF THE STORMY PETREL: COMPLETE WORKS OF HENRY LOUIS VIVIAN DEROZIO
Edited by Abirlal Mukhopadhyay
et al, Progressive, Rs 600

In the galaxy of the Bengal Renaissance, the most controversial and, therefore, the most interesting personality is that of Derozio, whose works four teachers and an ENT specialist have put together in this book. Derozio died when he was 22 years old. But in his short life, he successfully shook up the caste and superstition- ridden upper echelons of Calcutta society. He did this primarily through his teaching. His prowess as a teacher is the stuff of legend: the fact that he inspired so many bright young minds of Hindu College between 1826, when he was appointed, and 1831, when he was forced to resign, is the main evidence there is for the conclusion that he was an outstanding teacher.

Except for his writings, chiefly poems, and fragmentary recollections of his students, there is very little known about Derozio and his mercurial personality. In 1904, E.W. Madge wrote a biographical sketch of the man which is very sensibly reprinted here. (One wonders though why T. Edwards’s account of Derozio’s life in 1884 is not reprinted here, even though the book’s title page is reproduced.) All of Derozio’s poems are reprinted. They reveal a sincere and sensitive young man learning to write poetry and heavily influenced by the late 18th century English poets. His verses, not surprisingly, bore the imprint of his time and education. None of his poems, however, quite promise greatness, not even the oft-quoted “Sonnet to my Pupils’’ and “Independence.’’

Derozio’s prose output was meagre. He wrote an essay on Kant which was praised by the then principal of Bishop’s College, but this essay is now lost. There was a posthumously published essay on the philosopher Maupertuis to which Edwards referred. This is not in this collection, per-haps because it can no longer be traced.

Derozio’s writings therefore cannot be the basis of the reputation he enjoyed in his lifetime. About his teaching even less is known. His pupil, Pearychand Mitra, wrote: “He used to impress upon his pupils the sacred duty of thinking for themselves...to live and die for truth.’’ In his letter to H.H. Wilson (reprinted in the collection), Derozio said that he had introduced his students to Hume’s scepticism which argued against theism, as well as to Reid Stewart’s refutations of Hume’s position. There was probably an impulse towards free-thinking in Derozio’s own mental make-up, but to his students he imparted the cardinal importance of doubt and thinking for one self. “Doubt and uncertainty besiege us too closely to admit the boldness of dogmatism.’’

Radical doubt once imbibed by students was too much for the Hindu College authorities, especially the Indian ones, to accept. Not even the redoubtable David Hare, known as a free-thinker, opposed the move to force Derozio to resign. It was a great miscarriage of justice.

   

 
 
BOOKWISE/ IN THE BEGINNING WAS THE FOOTNOTE 
 
 
BY RAVI VYAS
 
 
Sisir Gupta, a professor of the School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, used to tell the story of an MPhil candidate who, when asked to write on any three leaders of the Russian revolution, turned up with an essay on Lenin, Stalin and Kremlin! Apocryphal as the story may be, it raises serious doubts about the quality of students preparing for a doctoral degree and, more importantly, whether brilliance and originality by themselves would qualify a thesis for a doctorate without the heavy technical apparatus of learning, that is, copious footnotes.

The existence of virtually thousands of PhDs and second-rate academics raises the question whether footnotes are at all necessary in India. After all, they have been relegated to the back of the book — the conversion of footnotes to endnotes — and there are many books that do without them.

In fact, if publishers had their way, there wouldn’t be any footnotes at all. First, there are production problems like setting up footnotes in smaller type size and accommodating them within the page itself. Simply put, they increase the cost of typesetting. Second, they require the checking of the references in the main body of the text with the footnote entries within the page.

With new mechanized and computerized processes that allow one to take sections of the text back and forth, the first is no longer a consideration. But the editorial tedium of checking and re-checking text references with the footnotes remains. It is not necessarily a serious problem but takes time and requires an eye for details, which is not always possible given the dearth of editorial talent. Moreover, publishers would rather get the job over quickly.

However, footnotes are necessary for scholarly books, and publishers cannot act according to their own convenience. Footnotes permit the reader to check the author’s sources, facts, annotations, inferences and generalizations. In other words, they make the author accountable to the reader. To do away with them, would give rise to indifference in checking vital data, which would in turn lead to an indifference to content and such details as accuracy and relevance. With academic standards at rock bottom, the elimination of footnotes would reflect heavily on the quality of books.

It has also been argued that footnotes are only a partial guarantee of the integrity and accountability of the author. After all, it is not easy to determine whether an obscure quotation (or any other data) has been accurately transcribed and whether the source contains the facts attributed to it or whether the source or quotation is itself accurate, adequate or relevant. All the same, they do make things easier for the intelligent reader while making it harder for the author to distort the source or fudge facts.

But there are more compelling reasons why footnotes are important: they could open the doors for the curious reader to more reading. A footnote can set off a reader on his own voyage of exploration, from one book to another to another. Can we then say that, for the reader at least, in the beginning was the footnote?

   

 
 
PAPERBACK PICKINGS/ WHAT HAS HE TO DO WITH HOLMES? 
 
 
 
 
TELLER OF TALES: THE LIFE OF ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE
By Daniel Stashower
(Penguin, £ 5.99)

Teller of tales: the life of Arthur Conan Doyle by Daniel Stashower is the award-winning biography of an extraordinary — and extraordinarily self-effacing — literary creator. The man who gave the world Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson described his own life as one “which, for variety and romance, could...hardly be exceeded...I have sampled every kind of human experience”. Born in Scotland into an Irish family, Conan Doyle looked like the walrus in Alice:“a great, burly, clumsy man...with hands like Westphalian hams, and a nervous halting voice whose burrs recalled the banks and braes of Scotland.” When asked by The Strand in the Twenties which literary character he would most like to have created, he chose Thackeray’s Colonel Newcome because the colonel was “an ideal English gentleman”. But Conan Doyle’s life was far from parochial. He had served as a medic in the Boer War, travelled as doctor to a whaler in the Arctic and the west coast of Africa, championed the cause of divorce law reform and spoken out against atrocities in the Congo. Stashower, a “cordial disbeliever”, treats with sympathy the most intriguing chapter in his subject’s life — his profound interest in spiritualism and the paranormal. Conan Doyle referred to this as a belief in “psychic revelation”. And there is, of course, Holmes and Watson, who were for their creator “a monstrous growth...come out of what was really a comparatively small seed”. This is a fine study of a complex man who died, in 1930, in a chair, looking out on the Sussex countryside. His last words were addressed to his wife: “You are wonderful.”

THE PENGUIN BOOK OF FIRSTS
By Matthew Richardson
(Penguin, Rs 295)

The penguin book of firsts by Matthew Richardson offers its readers the “amazing record of the world’s great ideas, discoveries, inventions, feats and follies”. This is an absorbing book which presents a dizzying range of materials (over 1600 entries) in an entertaining and well-ordered form. The categories include science, sports, society, philosophy, food, literature, religion and numerous other subjects. From the bikini to croissants, steroids to communism, artificial harbours to general anaesthetics, the Sung dynasty to ancient Greece, this book also rectifies many “popular mistaken firsts”. Just the right book for GK-hungry readers with short attention spans.

CALM FOR LIFE
By Paul Wilson
(Penguin, Rs 295)

Calm for life by Paul Wilson systematically drives one to cherish one’s worst neuroses with a sort of desperate zeal. From the calming colour schemes and the relentlessly calming drone of instruction, this hefty volume’s mission to spread calm — sustained with unruffled determination — has a steadily nerve-wracking quality. Wilson starts, “Soon you’re going to understand everything you will ever need to know about becoming calm for life.” One is then promised a quiet sense of inner peace, sound health, wealth and success, rich and long-lasting relationships, boundless energy and more time, an ongoing sense of optimism and adventure, and finally, nothing less than spiritual fulfilment. “You can have them all.” After such inane battering, the brittle joys of living on the edge of a nervous breakdown suddenly comes upon one like a savage apocalypse.

BRANDED BY LAW: LOOKING AT INDIA’S DENOTIFIED TRIBES
By Dilip D’Souza
(Penguin, Rs 200)

Branded by law: looking at India’s denotified tribes by Dilip D’Souza is a slim, but powerful, study of a number of Indian nomadic communities and individuals senselessly criminalized by British colonial rule (the Criminal Tribes Act of 1871). Their persecution continues in independent India through unjust legislation, police abuse and general ignorance.Combining historical background with personal encounters, D’Souza builds his account around the not-very-encouraging conviction that the only weapon to fight prejudice is one’s solitary sense of social responsibility.

THE EVENING GONE
By Suguna Iyer
(Penguin, Rs 200)

The evening gone by Suguna Iyer is a laudable, if not wholly successful, experiment showing the author’s familiarity with the writings of Iris Murdoch, C.P. Snow and with a range of Indian writing. It uses C.V. Raman’s work on the scattering of light to weave a layered story about the human rewards and costs of the pursuit of knowledge. Set in the Twenties, Iyer provides a nuanced account of the spaces within Tamil Brahmin conservatism, through the unfolding of individual lives driven and thwarted by a scientist’s single-mindedness.

   

 
 
FIFTH COLUMN/ POLITICS IN THE THREE SERVICES 
 
 
BY P.K. VASUDEVA
 
 
Infighting between the service chiefs of the army, navy and air force over the election of the chief of defence staff has cost the services dearly. This decision will be announced soon by the prime minister. On the recommendations of the Subrahmaniam committee report on Kargil for the appointment of a CDS, the government appointed a task force under the former rajya raksha mantri, Arun Singh. The group of ministers, under the chairmanship of L K. Advani, wanted the appointment of the CDS in rotation, and the defence secretary was recommended for the principal secretaryship.

The government has finalized the basic structure of the CDS set-up, which will revamp the top defence management. The setting up of a defence intelligence agency and the tri-service Andaman and Nicobar command under the Indian naval vice admiral has also been approved. The new apex set-up will promote the joint planning and execution of military affairs.

The CDS will be a four-star officer assisted by a vice chief of defence staff and four deputy chiefs of defence staff, who will all be three star officers from the three services. The four deputy chiefs will look after the functional areas of operations: intelligence, medical and planning respectively. The director general of armed forces and medical services is likely to be re-designated as DCDS (medical). The naval chief of personnel, Vice Admiral Arun Prakash is tipped to be commander-in-chief of the first tri-service command known as Andaman and Nicobar Command.

Pool resources

Details of the tri-service strategic force command, comprising the nuclear forces, are yet to be finalized. The commander-in-chief of the strategic forces will be the principal military adviser to the government and would report to the CDS. Training establishments like the National Defence Academy and the National Defence College will function under the CDS.

The DIA will pool together the intelligence resources of the three services through the coordination and sharing of information. The DCDS (intelligence) will be an adviser to the defence secretary, defence minister and the Union cabinet, to ensure that intelligence inputs reach the decision-makers well in time. However, the three services will continue to maintain their own intelligence network.

While the decision of the CDS is awaiting clearance from the ministry of finance, the air chief marshal, A.Y. Tipnis, has played a spoilsport in its formation. Informed sources indicated that he had written to the defence minister, Jaswant Singh, to put the proposal on hold because the IAF view was ignored. The copy of the letter has been sent to the defence secretary also saying that the proposal should not be sent to the finance ministry for clearance. This came as a surprise for Jaswant Singh who had already cleared the CDS proposal after the three service chiefs had given the green signal.

Settle amicably

The IAF is opposed to the CDS structure because it could reduce the force’s control over its own resources whereas the “IAF Vision 2020” document envisages centralized control of all its resources and air defence assets. The opposition of the IAF is also regarding the control of the intermediate range ballistic missile, Agni II. The government has decided to hand over the Agni-II IRBM to the army, which has been asked to raise a strategic rocket command to handle surface-based nuclear weapons.

A lot of bad blood has been generated. The air force feels that the setting of targets thousands of kilometres away is not the function of the army. But the army insists that it has the wherewithal to fire surface-based ballistic missiles and has expertise in rocket gunnery. Then there is concern over nuclear safety. The entire process of handling and securing the Agni on trains is manpower-intensive, requiring about 150 soldiers on each train. The IAF lacks the manpower and the expertise to do so.

The navy may also steal the nuclear thunder. India is likely to have the submarine launched ballistic missiles, sooner than expected. The IAF is unnecessarily fighting with its back against the wall to keep its assets secure. No one should have doubts about the bias of the government, because the CDS is to be appointed from among the three service chiefs in rotation. This issue has unnecessarily been raised by the IAF and should be settled without making it public. Why can’t this be sorted out at the national security council meeting?

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Good boys in the house

Sir — It is heartening to know that the Jharkhand legislators, led by the chief minister, Babulal Marandi, have decided to formulate a code of conduct for themselves, and have agreed to abide by it when the assembly is in session. This will set a good example for the other states to follow. However, it would be even better if the MLAs agree that anyone flouting the code would have his membership of the house cancelled. This will ensure that an individual will think twice before violating the norms of the house. There is no doubt that enforcement of discipline will lead the assembly to run smoothly, and earn the legislators greater esteem. Jharkhand, being a new state with a largely cosmopolitan identity, should try to shake off the bad name sticking to it while it was still a part of Bihar’s jungle raj. And what better way to do this but by showing the country how to behave in the house? If they are not too far gone already, the members of the Lok Sabha might also learn a thing or two from this.
Yours faithfully,
S. Balakrishnan, Jamshedpur

Losing credit

Sir — Responding to the downgrading of India’s credit rating, the finance minister, Yashwant Sinha, asked, “What is new?” and added for good measure, “I am not worried”. But unlike him, most responsible Indians are.

The growth rates of India’s industrial production, exports and gross domestic product have slowed down Agricultural output is virtually stagnating. Privatization of public sector units is frightfully slow. Fiscal deficit is 10 per cent. Aren’t all these worrying enough for Sinha?

The grounding of the Dabhol power project put at stake India’s credibility for the dozens of prospective investors and international financial institutions. AES — the American power major, which invested Rs 48 crore to establish Central Electric Supply Company with Orissa’s Grid Corporation of India Limited for power distribution — has piled up liabilities, thanks to the Orissa government’s irresponsibility, of nearly Rs 500 crore. It has gone bust, being unable to pay its staff since July. The Orissa government has appointed a bureaucrat “in public interest” to run it. In Karnataka, Cogentrix has abandoned its investment of over Rs 100 crore out of sheer frustration.

The confidence level in industry and trade is at its lowest ever. Foreign direct investment, which peaked at $ 4.6 billion in 1997, is not likely to cross $ 3.5 billion this year. This may be contrasted with the increased FDI of $ 50 billion grabbed by China this year. “I did not know”, had been Sinha’s response to the scandals involving various financial institutions. The price the government had to pay in each case has been to the tune of hundreds of crore. The Centre spent twice its earned revenue between April and June this year to meet its own upkeep and India’s parliamentarians are busy giving themselves a 300 per cent hike.

In 1991, the six-month “cash and carry” government of Chandra Shekhar — Sinha was the finance minister then too — left India facing its worst ever economic crisis. India had to not only pledge its gold to get direly needed foreign exchange loans, but also actually physically transfer that gold to the lender country. Following the downgrading, what India urgently needs is an honest and determined introspection. This is admittedly a tall order under the prevailing circumstances.

Yours faithfully,
N. Narasimhan, via email

Sir — The current trend in the area of bank rates as set by the Reserve Bank of India is one of progressive decline. The main objective of reducing the interest rates is to make available cheaper credit to the industries for their expansion and diversification. Following the directives of the RBI, the banks have reduced their prime lending rates. Consequently, to conform to the norms of asset-liability management, they have had to reduce the deposit interest rates for their own commercial survival, which has severely affected the interest-income earners.

But the question is whether the industries, for whose sake this drastic step has been taken, have increased their output. Unfortunately, the answer is no. The demand for industrial products is slowing down. The few blue chip companies that need funds depend more on public offers and private placements for meeting their needs than on bank credit.

These are signs of an industrial recession. But what is the reason behind the slowdown in industrial output? Till now, Indian industries have grown up in a secure and protected market, which has now been opened out under the World Trade Organization regime. They are neither prepared to handle the tough global competition, nor has the flagging demand for industrial products helped them build their confidence.

Also, the infrastructural facilities have not been given the right kind of priority by the government. As a result, the small scale industries are in a shambles. Besides, the nascent information technology sector has claimed a major chunk of the government’s attention and funds.

Finally, the purchasing power of the people is dwindling, and might not look up in the immediate future. Japan is a classic case where a reduction in the interest rates has hardly produced the desired effect in boosting the sagging industrial output and economy. What the government must realize is that there is no inevitable correlation between industrial output and interest rates in a given economic scenario unless other contributing factors vary accordingly.

Yours faithfully,
P.N. Pal, Calcutta

Sir — The news of the Centre financing the Madhavpura Cooperative Bank was shocking (“Rush to rescue Advani vote bank”, Aug 15). After economic liberalization, first came Harshad Mehta, followed by several others. Madhavpura bank is the latest in the list of economic scandals. Public money has been played around with at ease, often in connivance with political bigwigs. Few have been punished, because of the loopholes in the legal system.

Mismanagement, lack of accountability, the absence of a penal system and a lack of political will have aggravated the insecurity of the small investors. And now, L.K. Advani is trying through the finance ministry to divert taxpayers’ money to the bank which has swindled its clients. Why should the ordinary tax-payer help bolster Advani’s vote bank? Draconian measures are the only answer to save helpless investors from the capital market sharks

Yours faithfully,
M. Akhtar, via email

No reply

Sir — I want to expose the image-enhancing gimmicks of the West Bengal chief minister, Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee (“Pen a line to Buddha, reply he will”, Aug 23).

My 69-year-old disabled elder sister, Renuka Pal, is a resident of Shondanga village in Nadia. She is the only Hindu in the masjid para of the village. She has been persecuted by the “minority community” for some time now. I have to call her regularly to find out if she is safe.

I advised her to write to Buddhadeb Bhattacherjee narrating her plight. My sister wrote to Bhattacharjee and sent the letter by registered post. She did not receive any response at all from the chief minister, not even after a reminder.

I dare say that the votes of the minority community are too precious for Bhattacharjee’s party, or for that matter any party, to entertain any complaint against them. My sister has also pointed out the serious crimes committed in the village, like the widespread stealing of electricity and the illegal slaughter of cows.

Combating crime and protecting the constitutional rights of the citizens are the responsibilities of a democratically elected chief minister. I have been forced to conclude that in West Bengal democracy has died long ago.

Yours faithfully
Sunil Kumar Pal, via email

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