Editorial/ Bleak house
Dangerous polarities
This Above All/ Rapists and narcissists
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL/ BLEAK HOUSE 
 
 
 
 
Several adverse macroeconomic indicators in the United States of America indicate that recovery has probably been pushed back to late 2002. Europe and Japan do not offer any solace either. This has implications for India. The downturn in India really dates to 1997-98, when industry began to slow down. If this was not immediately felt in the slowing down of gross domestic product growth, that was primarily because of the growth propelled by exports and the service sector. Global non-recovery means exports will continue to perform miserably and there are also indications that service sector growth is slowing down. If exogenous variables are unfavourable, a growth stimulus is still possible through internal factors. This year, despite the downturn, Chinese GDP will grow at more than 7 per cent. Unfortunately, domestic growth stimulus requires reforms, not the half-baked Keynesian pump priming that some people advocate. Despite some initiatives on disinvestments, substantive reforms promised in the budget . in agriculture, labour and downsizing government . have disappeared from the screen. Consequently,GDP growth of more than 5.5 per cent seems unlikely, with industry (not manufacturing) at around 4 per cent, services at around 7 per cent and agriculture at around 4 per cent. Much is expected from agriculture, both because of the low base last year and a better monsoon. However, agricultural input prices have increased, so the value added component of agricultural growth is likely to be lower than volume growth. The government has no immediate solution beyond a slashing of interest rates.

There are structural problems and interest rate cuts are not sufficient to increase investments. Banks prefer to dabble in government securities, there is not much demand for investments and a large chunk of loanable funds continues to be pre-empted by the government. Consumer demand is also down, despite low inflation and expected reductions in interest rates. Not only does the government have no solution to the economic malaise, it has no solution to the fiscal problem either. Most budget projections have gone for a six. This includes revenue (and net tax revenue) receipts, plan and non-plan expenditure, the fiscal deficit and the primary deficit. It is just as well that the fiscal responsibility and budget management bill is likely to disappear. Expressed as a percentage of GDP, with the denominator lower because of reduced GDP growth, the picture looks bleaker.

Mr Yashwant Sinha has always been a lucky finance minister in that he has been able to find convenient bogeys in cyclones, earthquakes and wars. No doubt, next year’s budget speech will make much out of September 11 and its aftermath. But the fact remains that India is now stuck on a new Hindu trend of 5.5 per cent and the government cannot get out of the rut, apart from the obvious statement that when the world recovers, India will do better.Very few budget promises have been met and the imminent budget preparations will presumably concentrate on how figures can best be fudged. Mr Rakesh Mohan has finally been retained as adviser. He is generally credited with having drafted this year’s budget speech, with rave ratings of 9/10. It is in the fitness of things that he now draft a speech for next year, explaining why things went wrong and how they can be fixed.

   

 
 
DANGEROUS POLARITIES 
 
 
SUNANDA K. DATTA-RAY
 
 
What began as Infinite Justice and became Enduring Freedom is beginning to look like Bloody Vengeance. Five weeks into the undeclared war on Afghanistan, little remains of the sophistication with which George W. Bush Jr and his advisers initially rallied sympathy and cut off funding for the terrorists. They have fallen back on brute force instead of addressing the roots of the grievances that fanatics and fundamentalists exploit. No less disturbing is the subtext that Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Vladimir Putin provided in Moscow. One’s concern is Kashmir, the other’s Chechnya, both Muslim-inhabited regions.Add to that Jiang Zemin’s support for Bush because he is worried about Xinjiang, another Muslim-majority area.

Each of these leaders will reiterate, as Bush repeats ad nauseam, that there is no conflict with Islam. To prove it, they will wear fezzes on ceremonial occasions, attend end-of-Ramadan parties, visit Muslim centres and send emissaries to Muslim heads of government. Further to demonstrate that the campaign is not anti-Islam, they will seek out Islamic regimes that have historical, scriptural or territorial differences with the adversary and cozy up to it.

Of course, the war is not against Islam. The United States of America is not engaged in any kind of civilizational or religious contest. It is merely hitting out savagely, as the biggest kid on the block feels entitled to do, at some barefoot urchin who happens to be Muslim and who had the temerity to pinch its bottom. That description of the September 11 outrage is not intended to minimize it but to place events in proper context. Valuable real estate was destroyed and about 5,000 people killed. Sad though it was, compare that with millions of Soviet casualties in World War II or the devastation of Vietnam where Operation Phoenix alone targeted 50,000 lives. About a million Indonesians died when the Americans helped Suharto overthrow Sukarno, and more than 17,000 Lebanese perished when another US protégé, Israel, invaded in 1982.

Americans lack a sense of history and, therefore, the perspective that would have allowed them to take a realistic view of the attacks. That enfant terrible of Western journalism, John Pilger, quotes Richard Falk, professor of international relations at Princeton, as saying, .Western foreign policy is presented almost exclusively through a self-righteous, one-way legal/moral screen (with) positive images of Western values and innocence portrayed as threatened, validating a campaign of unrestricted political violence.. Operation Desert Storm was one such. Now we have another. As seen from outside the narrow ambit of Western commitment, it looks as if Hindus, Shintos, Buddhists and communists, Confucianists or whatever else China’s more than a billion non-Muslims might be have made common cause with Christendom (Orthodox Russia, Protestant Britain and Germany, Catholic France and non-denominational America) to inflict suffering on Muslims.

Protests that are spreading across the world and an article that Salman Rushdie wrote recently indicate that this unfortunate and inaccurate image already grips the Muslim imagination. Many Islamic leaders will no doubt propagate it for their own cynical purposes.

Unchecked, this could lead to a dangerous polarization in international affairs. Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei would not allow the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum’s Shanghai summit to go all the way with Bush. The Organization of the Islamic Conference and the Arab League are walking a painful tightrope. If the bombing persists, it will only succeed in antagonizing the entire Islamic ummah into rising one day against profit-driven local leaders who are US clients, and rallying to co-religionists like Afghans who are seen to be at the receiving end of Western punishment.

Countries like India and Russia, that might hope that bombing Afghanistan will also solve their own security problems, are only deluding themselves if they think that the bombardment will lead to a reasoned and effective international campaign to root out all terrorists. If it did, Washington would have to muster the courage and confidence to revert to the slower sophisticated diplomacy that Bush initiated at first and address Muslim conditions throughout the world. It would have to undertake a major reorientation of political, diplomatic and military priorities, and replace short-term expedients that involve only American muscle power with constructive long-term strategies.

This approach would oblige the US to identify and isolate countries that exacerbate Muslim grievances and use violence to deny their rights (Israel), pander to terrorists to serve domestic political ends (Pakistan) and whose autocratic regimes suppress civil and political rights (Saudi Arabia). In spite of assurances to Vajpayee, it is unthinkable that Washington would jeopardize strategic and economic self-interest by moving against three key protégés.

September 11 was a godsend for Pervez Musharraf, turning the poacher into gamekeeper.With his own agenda within the Great Game, the Pakistani ruler has since won international respectability and mended fences with the US to be rewarded with handsome bilateral and multilateral funds.At home,he has done a deal with Benazir Bhutto and made a great show of restraining the taliban from being heard. His ostentatious demand that bombing should be suspended during Ramadan . which even an outright critic of the war like Malaysia’s Mahathir Mohamad says would be neither here nor there . is only intended to refurbish his Islamic credentials for the benefit of the faithful. Even without such gimmicks, the oil-rich Gulf regimes live in too much dread of their own Muslim radicals to take him to task for helping the war.

Enabling the taliban to seize power was a stroke of Pakistani one-upmanship in the subcontinental stakes. America’s ‘six plus Two. formula will enable Musharraf to achieve that same goal at the expense of the Northern Alliance and India when the war ends. Pakistan’s first Mohajir ruler needs to live down his immigrant origins and the blow he dealt to democracy. He also has to exorcise a four-year-old’s memory of escaping with his family on the last train to Pakistan. Inflexibility at Agra won him plaudits at home. Kashmir would convert him into the instant hero who wipes out the national humiliation of 1971 . Kargil’s failed purpose.

He expects a grateful Washington to enable him to deliver. .Each and every individual Pakistani. supports Bush, he told an interviewer, going on to praise the Republicans for being even-handed in south Asia. Not surprisingly, India’s support for nuclear missile defence provoked anger and the not-concealed fear that even the Republicans might change tack. He will do everything to prevent that possibility, no matter what it costs him in credibility. Bush’s ground rules, recalling John Foster Dulles’s simplicity, tells him what to do.

What all this overlooks is American operational ineptitude without which hostilities would not have dragged on for so long with no end in sight.We were given to understand that US intelligence had knowledge of Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts and that smart bombs could reach him in his secret headquarters. It is now clear that US intelligence is as uninformed today as it was on September 11, and that it does not even know where the taliban head, Mullah Mohammed Omar, might be. Al Jazeera television crews are probably better informed. As for technology, carpetbombing is the most obvious admission of the failure of so-called smart bombs.

So, we are in for the protracted agony of another Vietnam. If Afghanistan is brought to heel, it will be subject to permanent hostile surveillance like Iraq or under constant threat of American attack like Sudan or Syria. If perchance bin Laden is removed, some other bigot will take his place. If one wing of the al Qaida is amputated, another will flourish. There will be no peace until fanatics and fundamentalists have been deprived of causes to feed on. Only then might weaker nations look to the Lone Superpower for succour in the New World Order of which Bush’s father used to speak.

   

 
 
THIS ABOVE ALL/ RAPISTS AND NARCISSISTS 
 
 
KHUSHWANT SINGH
 
 
A year ago, some women caught pickpocketing were branded by the Punjab police with the words, jeyb katree, tattooed on their foreheads. It was a criminal act and policemen responsible for it were punished. But the idea was a good one. I believe that the most appropriate punishment for some crimes is public humiliation. But care should be taken that persons penalized are first pronounced guilty by a judicial authority: the police can only charge persons with offences, not judge them. And the penalty imposed should not maim the offender for life. If those women were convicted of pickpocketing by a magistrate, he should have been empowered to sentence them to carry placards reading .I am a pick-pocket., and be paraded where they committed thefts and around the locality where they lived. Thus humiliated, they would not repeat their crimes.

Such powers are granted to judges in many states in the United States of America. Shop-lifters are often made to stand outside the departmental stores from which they stole goods wearing the stolen articles on their persons, with placards reading .I stole this cardigan, muffler, bra [and so on], from this store.. Statistics show that people thus subjected to public humiliation are less likely to repeat their crimes than those fined or sentenced to imprisonment.

There is one other misdemeanour for which public humiliation will prove a more salutary deterrent than imprisonment or fine. This is molestation of women in streets, buses and trains . what is known as eveteasing in Indian journalism. But this requires a spirited public. Instead of leaving it to the victim to report the matter to the police, eyewitnesses should catch hold of the culprit, give the fellow a few tight slaps and then, if necessary, hand him over to the police. The magistrates trying such cases should be empowered to sentence the guilty to stand at bus stops, outside railway stations or in public thoroughfares for a few hours bearing placards reading .I molested a woman, I am sorry..

I have written many times about changing the penalty for rape from longterm imprisonment (or death) to a mandatory sentence of surgical castration.A rapist should be deprived of his ability to repeat his crime. It will prove a far stronger deterrent than any other form of punishment. Men dread losing their manliness.

A more pressing need is to change the existing punishments for people who take part in communal riots. Unfortunately when fined and imprisoned, people indulging in violence against another community emerge as heroes in the eyes of members of their own community. It is imperative that communal violence should be quelled swiftly and the guilty be punished on the spot. For this, the administration should depute magistrates to set up courts at the site, hear witnesses and the police in the absence of lawyers and pronounce judgments at once. They should be empowered to order flogging of culprits, but it should be carried out in full view of the public with the culprits. bare bottoms exposed. Nothing deprives a man of the image of macho heroism more than to have his buttocks exposed to public gaze.

Storm between the covers

Sherry is in love with herself. But that does not prevent her from loving men and women provided they are good looking, rich,well-mannered and lusty. Religion, caste, language, province no bar. Only a slight prejudice in favour of Muslims because she is a Muslim, and in favour of Biharis because she is one.

Sherry has good reason to be in love with herself because every time she looks at her reflection in the mirror on her wall, it assures her she is the fairest of them all. Her confidence in her looks is further boosted by compliments paid to her by beautiful women and men who eat her up with their eyes and are eager to bed her. Sherry never says no because she loves to be taken to bed.

However, such generosity towards herself and everyone who likes her creates problems when Sherry decides to tell her life-story and cover it with a veil of fiction. Names and locations are changed, but the reader can discern that the author of The Torrid Zone is none other than Shireen Imam Kumar, born to the well known Imam family of Patna. She has written for Ananda Bazar Patrika and National Mail, specializing in fashion, beauty and glamour. She broke with her family to marry a Hindu fighterpilot in the Indian air force. They have two sons.

Not everyone can praise one’s own looks with as much rapture as does Shireen alias Sherry. .I stood transfixed before the ornate mirror in all my nakedness admiring myself generously.My fair creamy body was near perfect with a dark brown beauty spot much below my navel.Well-proportioned thighs, a generous bust line, and not at all a wide waistline but beautifully curved.My wellrounded body was endowed with a slightly fleshy tummy. I soon discovered I possessed a deep groovy cleavage too: I found nothing wrong in admiring my body. I just felt comfortable that way. There was nothing crude about it you know! .

My raven-black thick silky tresses caressed my uplifted buttocks.My cheekbones accented the depth of those .comehither. eyes and my lips were like Cupid’s bow.My slightly up-tilted straight nose like Marilyn Monroe gave me that snooty air and my tweezed shapely eyebrows were like the crescent moon upside down!

I possessed the power to drive men crazy. Manipulating celebrities, playing with the emotions of the rich and famous, then suddenly leaving them in the lurch became my prized hobby. Seeing stout, rotund, balding politicians clamour for my attention gave me immense pleasure as I ignored them deliberately. They were left gaping and I moved on to fresher .conquests...

When Sherry speaks, it is a torrent of words, relevant and irrelevant. She writes about her background: .I am an English product born of Muslim parents, a .hybrid. so to speak (my father was a Bihari,my mother a doeeyed Bengali)! Totally raised on delicacies like wafer-thin chicken sandwiches,mutton bouillon with lemon sauce, grilled fish, Mexican spaghetti with Mangel Wurzel toppings, potato-broccoli mayonnaise, Mulligatawny soup in gleaming tureens, Baked Alaska and Marchpanes, ah! Those exotic flavours tickled my tastebuds galore!.

With the title The Torrid Zone, I expected to read about a lot of torrid sex encounters. She makes a promising start at the age of fourteen with a lesbian affair with a girl a couple of years older than her. She grows into a bisexual creature getting the best of both sexes. But there is not too much of it in the novel. She would have been more readable and lovable if she had been a little less in love with herself.

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Stand by your man

Sir . It is not only in the United States of America that wives of politicians stand by them through thick or thin.A prime example of an Indian pativrata wife is Jayashree Goswami-Mahanta, the wife of the former chief minister of Assam, Prafulla Kumar Mahanta (.Mahanta’s present clean slate., Nov 6). Although barely a few days ago Goswami-Mahanta had filed a complaint of assault against her husband, she is now denying it. Could this volte face be because Mahanta is planning to take up the reins of the Asom Gana Parishad in the future? Besides, it is true that a lack of privacy comes with a political life. But even if he had assaulted his wife, the incident does not qualify as news, let alone front-page fare.
Yours faithfully,
Ratna Gulati, Jaipur

Tainted drink

Sir . Do the more than 300 Muslim hoteliers in Mumbai who have decided to stop serving Coca Cola and Pepsi in their restaurants believe that the boycott will have any effect on the government of the United States of America (.War backlash on soft-drink bottles., Oct 31)? They must realize that the US government has no stake in these multinational corporations. The hoteliers should also spare a thought for the Indians who work in the bottling plants of these soft drink companies. How would they feel if all these workers lost their jobs as a result of the MNCs leaving India?

Trade and politics must be kept separate in this time of globalization and recession. The head of the Association of Hotels and Restaurants in Mumbai has refused to back the boycott because he views it as a political move (.Mumbai hoteliers split on war boycott., Nov 1). Even the poster-boy for all things swadeshi, Pramod Mahajan, has refused to back it. No government is supporting the taliban and even Islamic countries which might be sympathetic to the taliban are quiet. All countries know that the US holds the purse strings of the International Monetary Fund. Being foolhardy will only worsen the state of the Indian economy.

Yours faithfully,
Manoranjan Das, Jamshedpur

Sir . After the attack on the Coca Cola plant in the Guntur district of Andhra Pradesh by the People’s War Group, in an apparent attempt to shed the shackles of imperialism, it is now the turn of the Muslim hoteliers of Mumbai to boycott American and British food (.War backlash on soft-drink bottles.). One wonders why the hoteliers who have suddenly started sympathizing with the people in Afghanistan, have never protested against the continued atrocities perpetrated on the people of Jammu and Kashmir? The hoteliers should be careful that their decision to boycott these soft-drinks is not misinterpreted. Many feel that the move is a show of solidarity with the terrorists involved in the September 11 attacks. But these hoteliers had not protested against the killing of almost 7,000 people in the US then. It was only when Afghanistan and the taliban were attacked that they spoke up. The boycott will also result in further damaging the already ailing hotel industry.

Yours faithfully,
Harmeet Singh Chawla, Haldia

Young winners

Sir . The Indian hockey team’s victory in the junior world cup matches has made our country proud (.India best in the world., Oct 22). The spirited effort of the young side against the experienced Argentines brought the coveted trophy home. Inspired by the hattrick by Deepak Thakur, the one-sided final saw the Indian side winning the cup for the first time. This brings to mind the golden era of Indian hockey, with stars such as Dhyan Chand and Roop Singh. The brilliant performance of the junior players should be a source of inspiration for the senior hockey side.

Yours faithfully,
Abdul Aziz, Cuttack

Sir . The beginning of the junior hockey tournament saw many critics writing off the inexperienced Indian side. By defeating the Germans in the semi-final, and routing the Argentines in the finals, the players have proved that consistency is their virtue. But the media and the government have not honoured the team in the right way. It would be heartening to see the government provide monetary and infrastructural assistance to the senior and junior hockey teams. This would make a real difference to Indian hockey.

Yours faithfully,
Kamal Sidhu, Chandigarh

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