Editorial 1 / Changeover
Editorial 2 / No time for peace
Where it now stands
Fifth Column / The worst that could happen
Quest for the moderate taliban
Document / Deregulation is the magic word
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1 / CHANGEOVER 
 
 
 
 
The Bharatiya Janata Party is determined to get its act together in its most prized states. It is busy getting rid of non-performing chief ministers. Evidently convinced that Mr Rajnath Singh has managed to rescue Uttar Pradesh from slipping completely into the hands of the opposition — which it certainly would have done under Mr Ram Prakash Gupta — the party repeated its jettisoning exercise in Gujarat recently. It is too soon to say what Mr Narendra Modi can do to keep Gujarat in the BJP’s pocket that Mr Keshubhai Patel could not. But now the BJP is moving quickly. In Uttaranchal, Mr Nityanand Swami, the chief minister of the state since its creation a year ago, is being replaced by Mr Bhagat Singh Koshiari, the former power minister of the state. The first assembly elections of Uttaranchal are a few months away. That the BJP high command should feel desperate enough to make a change now exposes its growing insecurity. Mr Koshiari obviously has his work cut out for him. To turn the electorate around within these few months if it is no longer interested in returning the BJP is not going to be an easy task. It is strange that the BJP leadership had not paid attention to this problem earlier. The new states, Uttaranchal, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, began their careers with governments carved out from the state assemblies of the original undivided states. This anomaly went unheeded, even though the whole point of creating new states was that the inhabitants of those regions had wanted to separate themselves from the larger states.

That the politics of the day had hijacked what had been once people’s movements was made most clear in the chief ministers each party chose for the new states under its command. Mr Swami was an outsider, an old Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh man, and had nothing to do with the original Uttarakhand movement. Neither was he a very high profile doer. If the BJP high command had expected him to work wonders, it obviously was not paying very much attention to the issue. Nothing remarkable in terms of development or satisfying to the population has happened since Uttaranchal came into being. The BJP has to face the reality of the ballot in a now independent electorate’s hands. Mr Koshiari is a local man and also an RSS man, who was educated in Almora college and was involved in the Uttarakhand movement. This is a distinct improvement on the strangeness of Mr Swami. Evidently the leadership felt it important to have a politician already placed in the state as the new chief minister, instead of politicians from the Centre, some of whose names had been proposed as possible incumbents. The whole exercise looks like a rather hasty patch-up job. Perhaps the people of Uttaranchal will make sure they get an attentive government.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2 / NO TIME FOR PEACE 
 
 
 
 
Talking to insurgents can sometimes be as tortuous for a government as fighting them. The Centre’s interlocutor in the Naga peace talks, Mr K. Padmanabhaiah, must have realized this once again during his latest round of talks with the National Socialist Council of Nagalim chairman, Mr Isak Chisi Swu, and general secretary, Mr Thuingaleng Muivah, at Amsterdam recently. The NSCN(I-M)’s demands, which reportedly included separate citizenship for Nagas, their own currency and passports and recognition of their indigenous culture, must seem both unpalatable and disastrous to New Delhi. Although the outfit did not mention sovereignty or the right to secession in the latest talks, its demands come dangerously close to its decades-long aspiration for a sovereign Nagaland. In fact, no Naga rebel group has asked for so much in negotiations with the government since the Shillong accord of 1975, although the NSCN(I-M) has routinely described its demand for sovereignty as “non-negotiable”. Mr Muivah cannot be unaware of the fact that the Centre would have no choice but to reject the demands out of hand because these militate against India’s sovereignty. Similar demands formed the core of the Akali Dal’s Anandpur Sahib resolution during the height of Sikh separatism. Obviously, no such demand was met when the Rajiv Gandhi-Longowal accord was finally signed. While the NSCN(I-M) demands have been referred to a home ministry panel as well as to the solicitor-general, it is difficult to see how even a mutually acceptable compromise on the demands can be worked out.

The apparent impracticality of the demands raises the question as to why the rebel outfit came up with them at all. Raising such demands does not reflect a spirit of accommodation that marked some earlier rounds of negotiations. This obviously signals a hardening of the NSCN(I-M) attitude. One possible explanation is that Mr Muivah is using these demands to get even with the Centre after the fiasco over extending the ceasefire in Nagaland to Manipur and other Naga-inhabitated areas of the Northeast. The rebel group had accused the Centre of “betrayal” after it was forced by a violent agitation in Imphal last May to abandon the idea of the ceasefire’s territorial extension. It was clearly New Delhi that was responsible for the Manipur muddle; but Mr Muivah was upset that the Bangkok agreement on the ceasefire extension could not be implemented. It is understandable that the failure to have the ceasefire extended beyond Nagaland came as a setback to his plans. But to ask for separate citizenship for Nagas, their own currency and passports looks suspiciously like demanding sovereignty for Nagaland in another guise. It could well be the rebels’ latest ploy to mount fresh pressure on the government. The Centre has no option but to try and persuade the NSCN(I-M) to see sense. But it needs to be more cautious than it had been while agreeing to the controversial ceasefire extension.

   

 
 
WHERE IT NOW STANDS 
 
 
BY MAHESH RANGARAJAN
 
 
The 50th anniversary of the foundation of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh was a time to celebrate the ascendancy of the Hindutva movement in the polity. Atal Bihari Vajpayee struck a discordant note in the general air of self-congratulation, underlining again the challenges that lie ahead, for the Bharatiya Janata Party is at a crossroads in more ways than one.

The contradictions were laid bare in the speeches of its two most significant leaders, each sticking to the role he had carved out over the decades. Not that this masked the contradictions of tone and tenor. For Vajpayee, stability in governance was the key, with some accommodation of ideology being the centrepiece of any strategy.

For Advani, the Ram temple movement was the high point of Hindutva, for it made it a force at the centre-stage of Indian politics for the first time. Vajpayee seemed to evoke the spirit of 1977, with a non-Congress alternative being the touchstone. Each coalition partner had to pull back on some demands and his own formation was no exception to this general trend.

The contradictions between ideological purity and the compulsions of coalition building have so far been papered over. But they loom ahead for a variety of reasons. The external environment in the neighbourhood seems conducive for fresh mobilization on the plank that minorities are simply not to be trusted. Insurgency in Kashmir can well be grist to the mill of Hindutva precisely the way a smouldering Punjab was to the Congress of Indira and Rajiv Gandhi.

More seriously, the non-performance of the regime on a variety of fronts makes the Ram temple card an attractive proposition. Even if it yields dividends — and even that is not certain — it will only bring to the fore the contradictions in the ruling National Democratic Alliance and in the double act of the BJP.

The slowdown in the economy, particularly in industry, and the widening revenue-deficit makes any fresh round of investment in infrastructure, so essential to reviving growth, highly unlikely. Even the bumper crop expected later this year would only make the problem of the disposal of surplus grain that much more difficult. The new Sampoorna Gram Rozgar Yojana does try to link the grain surplus to job generation in a more ambitious way, but it is yet to take concrete shape on the ground.

On the political front, the leadership is counting on the division in opposition ranks to see it home and dry in the all-important state assembly polls in Uttar Pradesh. Never has so much hinged on so little.

Uttar Pradesh, the stronghold of the party through the Nineties when it consistently emerged as the single largest party, is not a stable base any longer. The revised reservation package may have helped the party, but not quite as much as it hoped for. Rajnath Singh has indeed given the government a sense of direction, but he faces the wages of anti-incumbency.

It is in a mood of desperation in the saffron family that the Vishwa Hindu Parishad has re-opened the Ram agenda. This alone can unify a dispirited and divided cadre, push to the background its internal caste conflicts and personality clashes, and infuse them with energy in the coming battle for the ballot.

For now, the dilemma is that the Ram card has to be played by the Parishad and not the party. The former will sow what the latter hopes to reap. But the difference between now and the 1983-86 phase is that the BJP is now in power in both New Delhi and Lucknow. If matters get out of hand, it is Vajpayee’s government that will be in danger, no less. That may be too high a price to pay and there is no mistaking the prime minister’s warning at the anniversary. Whether or not “the stable and able” regime continues in power hinges as much on the sangh parivar as on the regional allies of the party.

The problem is that having built expectations in its own camp sky-high, the party will not find it so easy to walk away either. In 1992, after the demolition of the Babri Masjid in open defiance of the law of the land, the sangh coined a new slogan, “Mandir hai or wahin rahega” (“It is a temple and it will stay where it now stands”). The next step is to build a grand edifice in place of a makeshift structure.

The Ram mandir in Ayodhya would be to Hindus what Mecca and Medina is to Islam, or at least that is what the mahant, Avaidyanath, of the VHP prophesized. Only, things have not turned out according to that script. The Ram temple plank on its own has only once won electoral approval and that too was prior to the demolition.

Since 1996, every single time Vajpayee has taken the oath as prime Minister, it has been on the strict understanding with his allies that the issue will be in the deep freeze. Now, as prime minister, he speaks in the language of a V.P. Singh or a Narasimha Rao, insisting that the issue can only be resolved through a consensus or court verdict. Unlike them, he has to handle fires in his own backyard, and his elbow-room is limited. This is why he takes a step sometime in one direction and another time in the opposite one.

The BJP itself, no less than its leader, is at a crossroads. It took the champions of Hindutva almost three decades to become part of a ruling bloc in 1977, but the experiment ended in a shambles. Only in 1991, did it become the spearhead of the non-Congress opposition. Over the last five years, it has emerged as the single largest party in three successive Lok Sabha elections and been in office for much of that period. But it is yet to make up its mind on whether it wants to govern on the NDA platform as mere expediency or as medium, if not long-term, strategy. Every time the latter seems the case, a fresh round of events drives home the ideological salience of the party.

What is serious about the present denouement is the cost the country as a whole will pay in the process. A fresh polarization, even if of the middle classes, on communal lines will exact a heavy price on the economy and the social fabric. It will deepen the sense of insecurity caused by a brush-fire war in the region, and it will give fresh impetus to simmering antagonisms.

The links between local and national levels are what count. They make a local riot only one of a series of explosions. They limit the ability of diversity to act as balm and thread together many conflicts into one. The early Nineties were a time such like that, with conflagrations, once local in character, acquiring a linkage across regions for the first time.

All this helped to broaden the base of the BJP, made its ideology acceptable to more people and stood it in good stead when it came to striking useful alliances with other parties. The difference is that the party is now in power. Many will hope that office will restrain passions. But the party’s history shows that when in doubt it tries the card it knows best. The wider movement needs the shield of power, but now seems to want to use it to score a swift knockout blow.

The general inability of the government to deliver the goods only heightens the pressure to reopen the sectarian agenda. There is little doubt the political temperature will soar in north India in the coming months. This will also show if the NDA is truly a rainbow combine for all Indians of every hue or simply a Trojan horse for the sangh.

The author is an independent researcher on ecology and political affairs and former fellow, Nehru Memorial Museum Library,New Delhi

   

 
 
FIFTH COLUMN / THE WORST THAT COULD HAPPEN 
 
 
BY GWYNNE DYER
 
 
As the Rent-A-Threat analysts expound their ever more ingenious scenarios for new kinds of terrorist attacks on prime-time television, it seems fitting to ask: what is the worst that can happen? It certainly isn’t “bio-terror”. We have had weeks of saturation publicity about “anthrax attacks” throughout the United States (the vast majority of which are actually talcum powder, baking soda and cocaine attacks). Only one person has died, but most of the other 275 million Americans, if you believe the media accounts, have turned into panic-prone wimps.

Perhaps it’s because their knowledge of statistics is inferior to that of the average New Guinea highlander, so the infinitesimal risk of being infected by anthrax frightens them more than the far greater dangers posed by their neighbour’s driving and their neighbour’s handgun. Even Canadians (who have not had a single anthrax case) have taken to running out of buildings at the drop of a hat in what one Canadian journalist called “panic envy”.

So if bio-terrorism is not the worst that can happen, what is? Nuclear terrorism, maybe? The time for stealing nuclear weapons is past, thanks largely to the decade-long effort (subsidized by the US congress) to track down and render safe every nuclear weapon that belonged to the old Soviet Union.

Panic envy

Terrorists of the ilk of the al Qaida cannot make nuclear weapons on their own, lacking the specialized scientific personnel and the sophisticated equipment that would be needed. The most they could manage, given access to lots of fissile material, is a sub-nuclear explosion that scatters radioactive material over an area with a radius of one kilometre or so.

Even that is very unlikely, but imagine for a moment that terrorists did get their hands on a real nuclear weapon, smuggled it into a major Western city, and set it off. (Go on, pour your money down the ballistic missile defence rat-hole. None of your real enemies cares.) It would be a calamity that would dwarf the attacks of September 11, or indeed anything else that has happened to the citizens of an industrialized country in the past half-century. But it would not be the end of the world.

Such an attack could kill hundreds of thousands of people, maybe even half a million. But it would happen once, in one place, and then it would be over. If it were to happen in the US, it would be a loss equivalent to four or five month’s population growth — and life would go on much as usual for everybody else. Making these calculations and comparisons may seem a bit cold-blooded or even ghoulish, but there is a reason for it. The point is that the very worst attack that terrorists could plausibly make would cause no more casualties than any single month of the World War II. And it would not cost as many lives as the opening five minutes of World War III.

A question of numbers

A sense of proportion is always useful in times like these. Imagine what it would be like if the current military operations in the Persian Gulf region were taking place just a dozen years ago, when the world was still divided into two rival blocs bristling with nuclear weapons. With American aircraft bombing within earshot of the old Soviet Union’s border, we would probably already be deep into a crisis as bad as the Cuban missile crisis of 1962. One false step, and hundreds of millions could die.

There are serious risks in the current crisis: more terrorist attacks are possible, and violence could spread to other Muslim countries in the west Asian region if the coalition strikes cause large numbers of needless Afghan civilian casualties. But compared to the scale of risks we lived with all the time until only ten years ago, these dangers are very small potatoes.

We have emerged from a long period of deadly peril, when the great powers were perpetually ready to go to war with one another and blow half the world up. We now live in a period so safe that the worst threat is mere terrorism, and it is practically impossible to imagine a scenario in which the great powers could drift back into that kind of confrontation. Yet very few people seem to understand how great the change has been, or how lucky we are. In fact, if historical ingratitude were a crime, the entire chattering classes of the West would be serving life sentences with hard labour.

   

 
 
QUEST FOR THE MODERATE TALIBAN 
 
 
BY MANVENDRA SINGH
 
 
At first it was l’affaire Muttawakil, and now it is the name of Haqqani that is doing the rounds. The similarities are striking, if only for the simple reason that Pakistan is once again at its old game of raising a favoured Pashtun leader from within Afghanistan. And only to dump him when the going gets rough. There is a history to this phenomenon, and before long, Pakistan is certain to change tack, horses and policy. Discarding the taliban is only the most recent and glaring example of betrayal as policy by Pakistan vis-ŕ-vis the Pashtun.

The new cover for this is the story that “moderate” elements within the taliban are to be part of a new government in Kabul once military operations under Operation Enduring Freedom are complete. The visit of Colin Powell, the American secretary of state, to south Asia recently saw this theory raised to the matter of a policy agreement between Islamabad and Washington. Powell demurred to Pakistan’s pleas that the “moderate” taliban, whatever that may mean or be in terms of ideological moorings, be part of a broad-based government in Afghanistan. That this policy plea flies in the face of the Pakistan foreign minister’s assertion that foreign interference in Afghanistan has only produced disasters for the meddlesome is a matter which Islamabad could quite comfortably ignore. After all, this has been the basis of Pakistan’s Afghan policy since the last three decades.

Mullah Mohammed Omar, the spiritual head of the taliban movement and self-styled Amir-ul-Momineen, was all that Pakistan had been looking for since the past half-century. An Afghan Pashtun, deeply anti-monarchy, and with a world-view that visualized his impoverished country as the repository and rest-house for all the most extreme Islamist political movements around the world.

This suited Pakistan very well, more so since Mullah Omar had been born and brought up in a refugee camp in the shadow of the line that divides the Pashtun. Since the departure of the Red Army from Afghanistan in 1989, Pakistan saw itself emerging as the vanguard of such movements around the world. Particularly since this was an item that would always find an export market.

The September 11 attacks and the appearance of an American gun on Pakistan’s head changed all that. Within a couple of telephone threats, Mullah Omar was history for Pakistan. The same person whom Rawalpindi had expended so much effort to build up was now a “centre of gravity that needed to be taken out”. He could no longer be of any benefit to Islamabad, since Pakistan had changed its role to being in the vanguard against international terror. Moderation was the new buzzword.

Wakil Ahmad Muttawakil, the taliban’s foreign minister while on tour of the Gulf, was rumoured to have defected and could form the pivot around which the moderate taliban would gravitate. So the world media were made to believe by Pakistan’s ubiquitous “sensitive” agency. The leaks were traced back to ever-eager spooks, and nothing came of it. Not least because the subject himself may have something against the principle. Muttawakil denied any intention of betraying his taliban kinsmen, and that is how the first efforts to find “moderates” came a cropper. He is just another in a long list of Pakistan’s Pashtuns.

During the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, and the international jihad that was set up through Pakistan, most of the covert funds were channelled into the favoured Pashtun groups by the “sensitive” agency, Inter-Services Intelligence. There were many favoured Pashtun leaders, but leading amongst the favourites was, of course, the page-one mujahedin, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. That he had personally never really taken part in any operations against the Soviets was altogether another matter. He was hosted in Peshawar, as he had been since the early Seventies, and found himself becoming the darling of the freedom-loving. The ISI ensured his pre-eminence in Afghan politics, even if it was on account of his proximity to the paymasters.

That was to change the moment politics in Afghanistan underwent a transformation with Mohammed Najibullah’s departure in 1992. Bested by Ahmed Shah Masood in the race to Kabul, Hekmatyar let loose a barrage of fire on the hapless city. He could quite easily be labelled as the destroyer of Kabul, whatever anyone might like to believe about the groups within the Northern Alliance.

When it became obvious that Hekmatyar was not going to deliver Kabul to Pakistan, he was history in Rawalpindi. The search for his replacement, after much scanning, focussed on to Mullah Omar, then just simply a religious teacher. After a little more than a decade, it is time to jettison Mullah Omar, and find a “moderate.”

After Muttawakil, the search is coming around to Jalaluddin Haqqani, the taliban’s minister for tribal affairs. A former warlord, himself from a splinter, group of the Hizb-e Islami, and one of the key figures in the Khost-Nangarhar areas, Haqqani is now being promoted as one of the moderate taliban who can be expected to provide a partnership to a broad-based government in Kabul. As many an Afghan have said so repeatedly, “There is no such thing as a moderate taliban”. Even if that may be so, to believe that a warlord who switched sides to the taliban to save his skin could provide moderation services defies even the most imaginative of human minds. But such is the state of desperation in Pakistan that anything goes, so long as it is Pashtun, and beholden to Rawalpindi.

Pakistan’s obsession with a favoured Pashtun leader stems from its inability to, first, resolve the Durand Line issue with Afghanistan, and second, give a mythical strategic depth to military hardware should there be a war with India. The taliban was supposed to deliver the latter, but many in Pakistan wonder as to which of the two countries was providing strategic depth to the other. The taliban was also expected to deliver on the former, but like all Pashtun groups, realized the suicide latent in that decision and refrained from making any commitment.

Amongst the Pashtun tribes, the Durand Line is like the Berlin Wall, and Pakistan’s appearance on the map as a country that divides the tribes causes a periodic need for unity and mobilization, ideas which are dangerous enough to cause sleepless nights to endless military planners in Rawalpindi. So Pakistan’s efforts continue to achieve what it has not been able to over the Durand Line — a Pashtun confirmation of the line. Hence the constant replacing of a favoured one by another, until that elusive goal is reached.

Whatever Haqqani may say at the present moment, the fact is that negotiations have begun to promote him as the “moderate” alternative. Pakistan would like the world to accept him as a moderate, although he is publicly held responsible for one of many ethnic cleansing actions. Through an act of treachery, he may well come to be accepted, but then he would only be replicating the betrayals of his found-again friends in Pakistan. Such treachery and betrayal is all part of the battle-winning formulae in this part of the world. All for the sake of a line that exists on a map, but not in the mind.

   

 
 
DOCUMENT / DEREGULATION IS THE MAGIC WORD 
 
 
 
 
Sustained poverty reduction depends on rapid growth in both quantity and quality of labour demand. In turn, rapid growth in labour demand depends on rapid output growth. There is a strong association between output growth and rising real wages in agriculture and manufacturing… Economic growth has also promoted labour shifts from low productivity, informal and self-employment in agriculture and services, to higher productivity, higher wage, formal employment in industry and services… Of course, broad-based human development, inclusive of females, is needed to maximize the impact of rapid growth in output and labour demand on poverty reduction, as well as to sustain rapid growth. These relationships are illustrated in the rapidly growing east and southeast Asian economies, where poverty fell sharply and labour incomes rose rapidly, as education became more widespread…The recent crisis in southeast Asia...was small relative to the long history of benefits from growth, and left the vast stock of infrastructure and education in place. Moreover, since the crisis, growth has rebounded surprisingly fast in most of these countries.

Poverty reduction also depends on the labour intensity of growth — a sustained increase in labour demand per unit of the gross domestic product. Little additional labour demand comes from capital-intensive growth fostered by protection of inefficient industries and subsidized investment. Moreover, such a development strategy eventually slows investment and growth because of the limited size of the domestic market and the lack of competitive pressure to upgrade capital…At the same time, such a strategy forces consumers to buy low quality/high cost goods, and producers of potential exports to use high cost inputs. Such concerns were major factors in India’s reforms in the ... Nineties. However, (i) tariff and non-tariff barriers in India still remain very high, making it one of the most protected economies in the world; (ii) labour market flexibility in the organized sector remains low and has discouraged the creation of formal employment, while the dominant unorganized sector remains outside the purview of labour legislation that regulates work standards and social security benefits to workers; and (iii) agriculture, which employs 62 per cent of the workforce, remains the least deregulated sector in the economy and subject to inefficient and unsustainable public spending. These factors contribute to constraining the growth of labour demand.

Thus, from the standpoint of poverty reduction, a key issue is the combined effect of growth and its labour intensity. In that regard, labour demand is unlikely to be stimulated by specific policies supporting labour, such as those favouring small-scale industry or workers in the formal sector, when the overall incentive and regulatory framework encourages capital-intensive growth. A more effective approach to reduce poverty and increase labour demand in general is likely to be a deregulated, general incentive framework that encourages economy-wide growth and makes the best use of India’s abundant labour.

It is being examined, along these lines, how India can use further deregulation to increase growth in labour demand and output in three key areas: encouraging more exports, and imports, as a percentage of GDP, since India’s exports tend to be more labour-intensive than import substituting industries; increasing labour market flexibility to stimulate the general growth of labour demand, and increasing growth in the agricultural and rural sector, which still provides incomes for 73 per cent of the population.

Despite improvements, India’s trade and industrial policies continue to impose a heavy cost in terms of slower export growth that feeds back into slower growth in labour demand, output and productivity. This section discusses how increased export growth, with its consequent benefits in terms of poverty reduction and higher growth, will depend on a second phase of reforms that includes reducing protection, reducing bureaucratic transaction costs and logistic delays for exporters, eliminating small-scale industry reservation, and improving the environment for foreign direct investment.

Increased trade is positively related to growth according to numerous studies that use a variety of methodologies. Moreover, international trade also increases the demand for labour in areas where it is best able to compete internationally and raises real wages in the manufacturing sector. Increases in exports and imports shift resources into industries where productivity is higher ...thus generating a higher national output. In addition, higher exports allow firms to exploit economies of scale. Higher exports and imports encourage competition and innovation; together with FDI, they encourage technology transfer, all of which contribute to a sustained increase in growth.

The east and southeast Asian countries provide an example of the benefits associated with rapid export growth. Moreover, it is worth noting that their export growth reflects a massive shift in the nature of exports — from primary products to labour-intensive manufactures to hi-tech and capital goods — a steady progression up the technology ladder that was associated with a steady rise in labour demand for an increasingly educated labour force.

To be concluded

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

From the hands of babes

Sir — The president of the United States, George W. Bush, has come up with a novel way of convincing the Islamic world that his country’s war against terrorism is not a war against Muslims (“US has no beef with Muslims”, Oct 26). He has urged schoolchildren in the US to spread this message by choosing a pen friend in the Islamic world. It is unlikely however that Bush’s “Friendship through Education” programme, aimed at bridging the gulf between American and Muslim cultures, will succeed. Not only have civilians been the worst casualties of the US sponsored war against terrorism, the president’s harebrained plan will find very few takers outside domestic politics and will, in all probability do little beyond boosting his ratings in the next opinion polls. Given that this is not the first attempt made by the president to enlist the help of children — he had earlier asked youngsters to earn and donate $1 to their counterparts in Afghanistan — it is quite obvious that things have not been going the way the US wants them to.

Yours faithfully,
Joyita Saha, via email

Reserved for trouble

Sir — Even though the Reserve Bank of India has slashed the cash reserve ratio by two percentage points from 7.5 per cent to 5.5 per cent, which is the second cut in the last six months, such a move is unlikely to have the desired result: provide the much-needed boost to the Indian economy (“Cash kick to sluggish growth”, Oct 23). As has been mentioned in the report, this will put an additional Rs 6,000 crore in the hands of banks which can be used for lending.

It is, however, doubtful whether this will be of much help to the private sector given that banks are more comfortable lending to governments than to them. Even though the RBI has taken similar measures in the last few years, banks have not utilized the funds that were made available to them. The editorial, “On the debit side” (Oct 25), has rightly pointed out that despite the lowering of bank interest rates, it might still be difficult to jumpstart the economy.

The global slowdown has had an adverse effect on industry, with the “production” sectors in pretty bad shape. With the government unable to implement the reforms that would encourage infrastructure-building, these measures are unlikely to have much of an impact. The finance minister, Yashwant Sinha, and his colleagues, have been guilty of taking some foolhardy decisions, all of which have badly affected the economy. This has also been true for the industrial finance sector. The government must tread cautiously in the coming days.

Yours faithfully,
Padma Venkatramanan, Calcutta

Sir — Recently, the Central government reduced bank rates in order to provide cheaper loans to industry and thus improve the overall economic scenario in the country. But a two per cent cut in the CRR seems an unnecessarily drastic step that may not pay off in the long run. While a reduction in prime lending rates will place a surplus amount of Rs 8,000 crore at the disposal of the banks, it would be a mistake to think that greater liquidity will facilitate further economic growth by jumpstarting the economy.

Unless the government is able to encourage investments in both private and public sectors, greater liquidity will not be of much help. Moreover, the government will find it very difficult to justify another reduction in interest rates that is bound to follow and which will hit the middle classes pretty hard. Fixed deposits, which are considered to be the safest mode of investment in banks, will also be affected by a lowering in interest rates. In other words, the poor will become poorer as the result of this.

While government sources have claimed that the rate of interest on fixed deposits is higher in our country in comparison to that in the international markets, such a comparison does not make much sense given the state of the Indian economy. As has been pointed out by the editorial, “On the debit side”, the situation is not exactly the same for Bimal Jalan as it is for Alan Greenspan.

Yours faithfully,
Mahesh Kapasi, New Delhi

From the pulpit and beyond

Sir — It is good that internal debate among the Muslim intellectual community has taken a bold stand in regard to the comments on Shabana Azmi, reputed actress and Rajya Sabha member, made by the shahi imam, Ahmed Bukhari, of Delhi’s Jama Masjid.

Some of the clergy still have the mindset of the medieval era. They feel their authority over the community is non-negotiable. Recently, the imam has said that it was obligatory for every Muslim to support the jihad announced by Osama bin Laden. Muslim intellectuals failed to refute the imam’s stand. But the actress and activist, Shabana Azmi, should be appreciated for her condemnation of Bukhari for his pro-jihadi stand. Her strong statements led Bukhari to criticize her. This became an important issue among Muslim intellectuals. Many of them extended their timely support to Shabana Azmi through the media. Those who stand out are Mohsina Kidwai, the general secretary of all India Congress committee, Sayeeda Hamid, the convener of Muslim women’s forum, Maulana Wahiduddin Khan, the noted Islamic scholar, and others. This protest by the intellectuals should continue.

If plurality is accepted in all regions, there will be no need for either crusades or jihads.

Yours faithfully,
V.A. Gopala, Bangalore

Sir — Recently, there was a debate shown on a news channel about the Indian Muslims’ reaction to the terrorist attack on the United States of America and the US bombardment of Afghanistan. The shahi imam, Ahmed Bukhari, also participated. Shabana Azmi quite rightly asked him that, since he has given the call to all Indian Muslims to fight alongside the taliban in the jihad against the US, why he does not set the example himself by going there first.

In return he said, “Main nachne gaane walion ke sawaalon ka jawaab nahin deta (I will not answer the questions of a singer and dancer)”. This, to say the least, was in bad taste. Where was he when Shabana Azmi was out in the streets tending to the injured and destitute during the Bombay riots? These are the very issues he should have been addressing in the first place instead of urging his community to go and fight alongside the taliban.

The most unfortunate part is that the media laps up every utterance of Bukhari and portrays it as the Indian Muslim opinion on that particular issue. Since he gets so much coverage in the media, the shahi imam, unwittingly, plays straightaway into the hands of the sangh parivar. This gives the parivar a chance to question the allegiance of the Indian Muslim towards his own country. The media should behave in a mature manner in such situations and should look beyond just getting a story.

Yours faithfully,
Azfar Alam, Chennai

Sir — The recent fiasco following the statement made by the shahi imam, Ahmed Bukhari, about the actress and Rajya Sabha member, Shabana Azmi, has a positive side to it: it has led Muslim intellectuals to promptly criticize his act. Bukhari’s irresponsible standpoint on the Afghanistan crisis had triggered off much controversy and the Indian Muslims had been unnecessarily blamed for it.

Bukhari should realize that his publicly expressed views result in unnecessary distrust among different communities for no fault of the minorities. As expected, the sangh parivar has been quick to latch on to every word of Bukhari. This obviously leads to the danger of possible communal disharmony and tension.

Yours faithfully,
Srinjan Maitra, Calcutta

Letters to the editor should be sent to:

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

FRONT PAGE / NATIONAL / EDITORIAL / BUSINESS / THE EAST / SPORTS
ABOUT US /FEEDBACK / ARCHIVE 
 
Maintained by Web Development Company