Editorial / Tactical concerns
Reinventing the radio
The Telegraph Diary
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL / TACTICAL CONCERNS 
 
 
 
 
India can take some comfort from the decision of the American president, Mr George W. Bush, to freeze the assets of the Lashkar-e-Toiba, one of the terrorist organizations believed to be responsible for the attack on Parliament on December 13. Earlier, the United States of America had frozen the assets of 27 terrorist organizations that were linked to Mr Osama bin Laden’s al Qaida. There is, however, bound to be some disappointment in India that Mr Bush has described the Lashkar-e-Toiba as a “stateless sponsor of terrorism”.

It does seem that Mr Bush’s statement is rooted in US tactical concerns. Its main priority is to secure the wholehearted support of Islamabad in its fight against al Qaida and to do nothing to undermine Mr Pervez Musharraf’s regime. It would, however, be most short-sighted of Washington if — at least, privately — it has not communicated to Islamabad the dangerous consequences of its continued sponsorship of terrorism in Kashmir. In the past, officials within the Bush administration have made it clear that they are interested in draining the swamp that produces terrorism, rather than merely dealing with the symptoms. Given this understanding, it should be clear that a selective targeting of terrorist groups, without identifying their sponsors, would be counter-productive. A small organization with a narrow sphere of operations, unless firmly dealt with, will acquire the global reach that would make it possible for it to mount the kind of acts which were witnessed in New York and Washington. It is becoming clear that no matter how strong the global coalition against terrorism, India cannot depend on others in its battle against militancy in Kashmir. Therefore, New Delhi must continue to exercise exceptional vigilance, and ensure that the security forces do not lower their guard or become complacent, given the terrorist acts of December 13. Moreover, forces within Pakistan’s establishment, given their new relationship of cooperation with the US, may now acquire the confidence to up the ante in the valley and beyond. Pakistan’s rulers may also find that pushing extremists into Kashmir would be a useful way of diverting their energies at a time when there is mounting criticism of Islamabad’s decision to cooperate with the US.

India should hope that south Asia will emerge a more stable region after the US-led campaign is over, while remaining prepared to fight a long and lonely war against terrorism. The US needs to realize that while Pakistan may be an important tactical ally in the fight against terrorism, the US’s long-term strategic relationship could be undermined if New Delhi perceives a tilt towards Islamabad even after the war against al Qaida is over. Washington must demonstrate to New Delhi that the relationship between the world’s two largest democracies goes beyond the politics of expediency. If Pakistan’s military regime does not clamp down on the terrorist organizations, New Delhi may have to revisit the policy of restraint so far exercised. This new policy, of course, must remain limited to diplomatic measures like withdrawing the Indian high commissioner from Islamabad or terminating land transport links with Pakistan.

   

 
 
REINVENTING THE RADIO 
 
 
BY BHASKAR GHOSE
 
 
In the summer of 1995 I was invited by the BBC to their engineering complex at King’s Mead in Surrey where they showed me the new radio broadcasting system they had, with some other European broadcasting networks, perfected. It was, they said, to the present radio broadcasting system roughly what a gramophone record is to a CD, both in terms of technology and in the quality of the sound. I helpfully suggested that what they were about to show me was surely like FM radio, at least in quality.

The engineers were all smiles. No it was not, they said; FM was to this, what audio cassettes were to CDs. I was quite mystified and very intrigued. What was this, then? It was digital audio broadcasting, DAB as it is known around the world. Unlike conventional broadcasting, DAB converts sound into millions of digital units which are then reconverted in the receiver. The receiver is, consequently, not actually receiving sound; it is reconstituting the sound itself by assembling all the digital units.

So what does all this actually translate into? I was shown exactly what, soon after. Two mobile vans, one transmitting in FM and the other in DAB set off in different directions, and their transmissions were fed into a receiver — once the FM transmission, then the DAB and so on. The difference was astonishing; not only was there absolutely no hiss or any background sound in the DAB transmission, the quality was as good as if the music was being played right in front of you. The FM transmission was not bad by any means — at times it sounded almost as good, but only at times, and the “almost” was what made the difference.

With FM, the sound occasionally faded, there was some amount of interference as the van passed through congested areas and past tall buildings; with DAB there was absolutely no difference in the quality at all. It stayed as brilliantly clear as it was when it started out. I began to realize that I was listening to a form of broadcasting that was eventually going to replace broadcasting as we know it today. Just as high fidelity replaced 78 rpm recordings, and just as stereo sound replaced single tracks.

There was one other feature about DAB that got me really excited. I found that DAB signals could be sent to a satellite and be received by a set on the ground with virtually no extra hardware; we could therefore transmit from Delhi, Calcutta or Chennai to any place anywhere in the country, or anywhere the footprint of the satellite reached. I was in fact seeing the emergence of satellite radio. What a world this would open up in India, I thought, of a person sitting in Arunachal Pradesh listening to a programme from his home town in Kerala.

Then I was brought to earth with a jolt. A receiver, I was told, a little apologetically, cost, at that time, about $1400. Fifty thousand rupees, nearly. End of dream, end of revolution in broadcasting. One thing we could certainly not do was to spend public money in setting up a broadcasting system to entertain the affluent, and in any case that lot had everything — television, VCRs, DVD players, home theatre systems, sound systems with power enough to blast the eardrums of all the neighbours. Radio to them would be passe, a toy that would bore them and we were not in the business of providing the rich with toys.

But the BBC officials spent a great deal of time explaining that economies of scale would eventually bring down costs, once the service caught on. But I realized that it was not for us; at least, not then. I returned home, time passed, and now one hears of a new private radio network which sounds as if it is DAB being sent through satellite. The receivers seem to cost less, but are still very expensive; the audience, the clientele, is very clearly the people who public broadcasters could not look at exclusively — the affluent, the ones who could afford to spend to get the quality of music they wanted.

So the new format is here, and is finding takers. Where does that leave All India Radio? For the present, it does not look as if AIR will, or, indeed ought to, move into this format. Its mandate is known, and its audience is one which has cheap transistor sets. That is what they will continue to have for a long time, and they will be the audience to which AIR will cater now, and in the future. True, there is FM radio in the cities; and, eventually, there may be DAB transmissions in the cities. It’s not that it can’t happen; it’s only a question of priorities.

What AIR’s excellent research and development unit can do is to see if the cost of the receiver can be brought down even more. There is a mean point where the desire for good sound will match the desire to spend money for it; not among the rich, but among the mass audiences who now listen to AIR’s programmes in the thousands of villages spread out across the country. It may just happen that such a set, relatively not very expensive, can be built and then marketed by commercial concerns. That is when DAB will come into its own.

The truly immense potential of being able to reach out to listeners literally everywhere, not through a complicated network of relay stations and transmitters but through a single transmission to a satellite will change the nature of broadcasting for those who have access only to radio right now. Even when they do get television, even if they have television now, the sheer excellence of the sound quality will make them think in terms of getting a receiver which gets the DAB signal.

Moreover, the AIR signal can then be sent far more easily across the world, and the external services will not remain restricted as it is today to some countries. This international signal can lead — indeed, will lead — to some problems in some countries, but they won’t be new. Television signals have been going out all over the world for quite some time now. Besides, the use of this new method of broadcasting is not to transmit news; that’s being done already by short wave radio and by satellite television networks. It is to use the superb sound qualities of DAB to transmit music, not just to the Indian diaspora, but to all lovers of Indian music all over the world. Classical, pop, devotional — of whatever kind.

If AIR can build up such services, both domestic and international, it can use them to knit music-lovers throughout the world together. In the Fifties, AIR began broadcasting classical music regularly, creating a love for it among millions of listeners. Something of that sort can happen again. True, there is competition. Private broadcasting networks will get into the act. Let them. If we start on the right foot here, it is possible that AIR will not make the mistakes that Doordarshan continues to make, floundering amidst the slickness and professionalism of private television networks.

The possibilities are immense and exciting. But AIR will have to proceed with a sound practical sense, and with some caution. If it does, it could hold its own against any private channel which may take up DAB. Not many will, given the costs, but even if they do, AIR can keep its listeners — if it plays its cards right.

The author is former secretary, mininistry of information and broadcasting

   

 
 
THE TELEGRAPH DIARY 
 
 
 
 

Security wrangles

Little more than a week after the suicide attack on Parliament, things have, very happily, moved back to normal. MPs remain as oblivious of security concerns as they are about the concerns of their country. So when the two houses met after the long weekend following Id, most parliamentarians reportedly were reluctant to show their ID cards at the gate. Even if the staff passed the test of identifying each of the 800 odd members, most of the legislators thought it unnecessary to go through the mandatory security check before entering the complex. The unconcern does not end here. Stickers with the mark “MP”, given to the legislators can still be found on vehicles which are not authorized to use them. Many MPs would still insist on bringing guests without getting the requisite entry passes for them, which meant even now strangers could roam the Parliament premises undetected. One could possibly guess the extent of contagion by one incident. A day or two after the attack on the legislature, the Delhi police on its drive against illegitimate users of red lights and flagmasts booked one vehicle for violation. It apparently belonged to the prime minister’s office and was at the disposal of a middle-rung official. Another vehicle caught on the week-long drive belonged to a Union minister of state from Bihar. Yet another vehicle held by the police belonged to a small-time businessman from west Delhi. It not only had a beacon light on top, but also sported a Delhi assembly car pass sticker. On questioning our quintessential businessmen confessed that his neighbour, who is a minor official in the assembly secretariat, had got it for him. Assembly chalo?

Someone’s behind it all

Another security problem. On December 13, while the fidayeens were at work in Parliament, someone had posted the army to guard the PM. When the national security advisor, Brajesh Mishra, tried to enter 7, Race Course Road, he was stopped dead in his tracks by army personnel. He was made to go back home and call the PM before being allowed entry. But who had done the dreadful thing that upset the SPG as much as it did Mishra? The PM feigned innocence. It turned out to be, allegedly, the handiwork of the raksha mantri, who, together with the home minister, forgot to inform the PM in the heat of the moment. The amendswere made with much alacrity. The army was withdrawn from PM’s doors as soon as they were sent. Whose handiwork was that?

In a blissful world

Not everyone is moved by what is happening to the rest of the world. Among this lucky few is Mulayam Singh Yadav. In a recent discussion in Parliament about the attack, Yadav seems to have displayed a complete ignorance of world events. For one, he was thoroughly confused about the identity of the fugitive taliban leader, Mullah Omar. He mixed him up with our own minister of state for foreign affairs, Omar Abdullah. Again, while speaking of Israel, Mulayam wasn’t sure whether it was with Palestine or Iraq that the former was engaged in a bloody battle. Surely, ignorance is bliss.

Sharing a plate

Political bliss in West Bengal. Mamata Banerjee having bitten the dust, the Marxists and the saffronites seem to be cootchie-cooing. Whenever BJPwallahs like to meet the CM, they are given an appointment without fail. Before Id, a BJP delegation supposedly went up to Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee to tell him that they be made a part of whatever Buddha was planning to do and in exchange, they would help lobby for him in New Delhi. Fair enough. The CM seems to have immediately warmed up to the gesture and invited the saffronites to partake on Id some of the biriyani his chaffeur, Osman, made on the occasion and which he always had every year. The saffronites, Muzaffar Ali among them, were apparently floored. Hope the festivities continue forever.

A different affair

Festivity unlimited. Union parliamentary affairs minister, Pramod Mahajan, was a satisfied man at the end of the winter session of Parliament. Apart from bringing a semblance of unity between the opposition and the governmnt, he had played host to eight weddings, besides that of his daughter’s, during the one month-long session. Pramod is a liberal man when it comes to lending out his premises to those who need it. According to him, each time a wedding took place, he felt as if he were bidding bidai to his own daughter. S Jaipal Reddy joined in while Pramod wallowed in affection. Yes, between the upper house and the lower house, Mahajan’s white house had played its bit. Quite so?

Change of chair

Of fathers and sons. The entry of Jyotiraditya Scindia into the Congress was a big affair, so big that some mistook the celebration as one signalling the entry of Priyanka Gandhi. Some others turned the occasion to suit themselves. The scribes, for example. The D Day was when broken furniture and crockery came to the light, much to the delight of journos. Subbirami Reddy, AICC gen-sec, who has recently refurbished his own room with Italian wood and airconditioner, has been asked to look into the matter. But Reddy might hand it over to Motilal Vohra, known for his stinginess. Good luck, journos.

Who’s faking it?

A new episode in Kyonki Saans Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi. The producer of the serial, Ekta Kapoor, and the reel life brother of a leading actress in the serial are reported to be romantically involved. Or will it turn out to be another fake romance like a fake pregnancy?

Footnote / Everything that is in her bag

The PM was scheduled to go to Santiniketan and to meet him at the Calcutta airport were a bunch of people, among them didi with her inseparable jhola. Pandemonium broke out when the security tried searching her bag. She tried to convince whoever cared to listen that this was just one of the ways the state government was harassing her. And with Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee present, it had to be a great Marxist plot. Her partymen were embarassed as they must have realized that in the security matters of the prime minister, the Marxists could not have had any say. Mamata Banerjee continued shrieking undaunted till she spotted Sudip Bandopadhyay. He was asked to look immediately into ways of getting the security officer transferred. Sudip quietly went away and apparently stood behind a group of men, then walked back to tell didi that he had found the officer in tears and rest assured, the man was on his way to Siberia. Even before Mamata could heed Sudip’s advice, the rest of her political rivals were out of the airport, possibly without their bags.    

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Prime time terrorist

Sir — It goes without saying that some “motivation” and some “money” could not have been enough to lead on Mohammad Afzal, the Indian connection to the Parliament attackers, to a crime he knew would be found out soon (“Under big brother’s eyes, Pakistan plot unravels on prime time”, Dec 21). There was enough money to lure Afzal and his Pakistani counterparts. The problem is that Afzal has turned coat and there is no way his crime can be proved to be more serious than the Pakistanis’. His TV appearance has many uses — it has humbled Pakistan while assuring some Indians that they can get away with murder.

Yours faithfully,
Jayanta Haldar, Calcutta

Right to improvise

Sir — Anshuman Bhowmick’s “Gurudev unbound” (Dec 14) addresses the question of extending the copyright over Rabindranath Tagore’s works at a most opportune moment. However, contrary to what Bhowmick would have us believe, the West has not been any more respectful to its own cannons than India has been. The former has always tended to violate them under the pretext of improvisation. Nahum Tate (1652-1715) , rectified what he thought was “wanting in the regularity and probability of the tale” in William Shakespeare’s King Lear. Tate twisted the story to give it a happy ending. This version, or perversion, was immensely popular and it held stage for more than a hundred and fifty years till William Charles Macready (1793-1875), a star actor and manager, returned to the tragic ending of Shakespeare.

Probably we need to remember what Tagore had to say, “What is meant to last will last, whether you push or pull.” It was most disconcerting to see how Bhowmick singles out Kanika Bandyopadhyay for “violating” the master’s tune and being a clever manipulator as well. Bandyopadhyay is remembered by discerning listeners for her amazing tonal perfection and her mastery in the tappaanga songs of Tagore. The Santiniketan legacy is safe in the hands of the likes of Mohan Singh Khangura and Swastika Mukhopadhyay, whose resonant voices typify two distinctive gayakis, rather than the affectations and mannerisms that Bhowmick highlights.

Yours faithfully,
Tathagata Sen, Calcutta

Sir — Visva-Bharati may lose the copyright of the works of Rabindranath Tagore on the last day of this year unless it is renewed. A lot of distortions, too, might resultantly creep into them thereafter. But, then, is a remix or a remake necessarily always bad? The answer is no. It is true, that some remakes or remixes sometimes do spoil the masterpiece, yet, there is another side to the story as well. Times have changed and it would be better to try and present Tagore’s treasures to the young the way they would like it. After all, a well orchestrated hi-tech version of Tagore’s songs would in no way be any worse than incompetent singers trying to sing Rabindrasangeet keeping to parameters fixed by another party. If we are not careful now, Rabindrasangeet, one of the major pillars of Bengali, or, for that matter, Indian music, will become extinct in another couple of decades.

Yours faithfully,
Arnab Roy Chowdhury, Calcutta

Sir — Ten years ago, the government of India, at the insistence of Visva-Bharati, had extended the copyright over Rabindranath Tagore’s works for another 10 years, which meant that public domain rights in literary and artistic works was increased to 60 years from the earlier stipulated limit of 50 years after the death of the author. One hopes Visva-Bharati will be able to produce enough evidence of how it has promoted Tagore’s works before it requests for another extension. My experience is that it does not even attend its mail.

Yours faithfully,
R.K. Mehra, New Delhi

Sir — That Visva-Bharati’s copyright will lapse soon is bad news. Tagore’s works will now be vulnerable to pilfering, piracy and a host of other crimes. The government could, in fact, consider tranfering the copyright to some other trust.

Yours faithfully,
J. Sen, Calcutta

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