Editorial 1 / The road back
Editorial 2 / Purse strings
Not that much time
Fifth Column / The only Way to lasting peace
Hope yet for labour
Document / Making travel comfortable
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1 / THE ROAD BACK 
 
 
 
 
The Congress is now the party in waiting. It is waiting to become the party in power in New Delhi. For the Congress, as it should be for most political parties in a democratic polity, the scent of power is the ultimate driving force. This is particularly true under the present circumstances because the Congress has been starved of power since 1996. After that, the oldest political party in India, considered for a long time to be India’s natural party of governance, was out in the political wilderness. That it is on the road back is explained by two things. One individual and the other conjunctural. The Congress president, Ms Sonia Gandhi, after a hesitant start, has been able to give to the party, as the session of the All India Congress Committee demonstrated, a semblance of discipline and a boost of confidence. The exact process through which Ms Gandhi achieved this is not clear but her imprint is now writ large on the present and the future of the Congress. Her quiet but stern presence and somewhat enigmatic personality have convinced her partymen that she cannot be taken lightly. Under her leadership the party has once again begun to win elections and rule the states. This success is related to what Ms Gandhi described as the “failure on all fronts’’ of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led coalition government. The failure of one is related to the success of the latter, and this success has contributed to the lustre of Ms Gandhi’s leadership.

The confidence and buoyancy evident in the Congress party at the moment are a reflection of the public mood. The violence in Gujarat and the apparent indifference of the government to it have left people frightened of the politics of communal hatred. The time worn virtues of the Congress — its commitment to secularism and its ability to speak for and to all Indians irrespective of caste or creed — once again appear attractive and better suited to the rich cultural diversity that is India. These virtues of the Congress are no longer as strong as they once used to be, but they are more entrenched in its ethos than in any other party’s programme. The Congress’s success should thus be in the context of its rivals’ failures. Today, the Congress rules in 14 states. This scent of success has added to the party’s confidence.

This should not convey the impression that the party’s path to power is without obstacles. The principal obstacle may well lie in the attitudes of Congressmen. The prevailing ambience within the Congress party is that of sycophancy. The object of this sycophancy is the Nehru-Gandhi family. The dynastic principle has become ingrained in the culture of the Congress party. It started at the time of Indira Gandhi and continues to this day as is obvious from the deification of Ms Gandhi. It is taken for granted among Congressmen that only a member of the first dynasty of the party can lead it. This sits very uncomfortably with the spirit of democracy. More importantly, it erodes criticism and breeds complacency. The Congress, to get back to power, must fight enemies without and within.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2 / PURSE STRINGS 
 
 
 
 
Assam’s financial crisis has clearly reached desperate proportions. The government’s inability to pay its employees salaries on time has threatened to bring the one-year rule of the chief minister, Mr Tarun Gogoi, almost to a standstill. He has reason to be worried further by threats by an employees’ union to launch fresh agitations next month if their salaries for April and May are not paid by this month-end. The indefinite “half-day ceasework” which four lakh government employees have begun will jeopardize development in a state where the lack of it constantly feeds all kinds of militancy. Recently, college and university teachers too were up in arms against the government for reducing their salaries by 10 per cent. Even the overdrafts from the Reserve Bank of India, which mounted to Rs 1,200 crore at one stage, now seem an inadequate tool for the financial firefighting because the RBI’s ban on payments by the government, lifted last week, may be imposed again. Given its precarious finances, the state will almost certainly have to depend on overdrafts in the foreseeable future.

The financial crisis may not be Mr Gogoi’s creation as he inherited the near-empty coffers and bankrupt policies from the previous regime of the Asom Gana Parishad. But it remains the single most important challenge to his new rule. He has been pleading for New Delhi’s help to tide over the crisis. Even if the Centre proves somewhat more generous than before, that can only bring a reprieve but no real solution to the problem. Mr Gogoi has no real option but to drastically reform the state’s employment and expenditure policies. Overriding populist pressures from his own party, the Congress, and the opposition AGP, he has to cut down heavily on non-essential expenditures and reduce the state’s workforce. Educational institutions need to be told in no uncertain terms that the time has come for them to generate their own resources so that the salary burden on the government can be gradually eased. Similarly, the government has to find ways to increase its revenues either through new taxes or by revising prices for municipal and other services which are offered at ridiculously low rates. It is time to realize that governments cannot afford to offer charity at taxpayers’ expense.

   

 
 
NOT THAT MUCH TIME 
 
 
BY ACHIN VANAIK
 
 
In the light of the shocking attacks in Jammu and Kashmir, which, of course, are to be totally condemned, two questions dominate our political horizon. Should India go to war against Pakistan? And will it? The answer to the first question is that it should not. It would be militarily dangerous, potentially disastrous (because of the nuclear factor) and politically foolish and unjustified. The answer to the second question may be bruising to Indian egos, but it is Washington not New Delhi that is almost certainly going to play the decisive role.

While many in India will assume that Pervez Musharraf must bear the principal blame for the Kaluchak attack (or even for the tragic assassination of Abdul Gani Lone), this is not the way the rest of the world sees it, although it can certainly collar Islamabad for not doing enough to stop cross-border terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir. What the rest of the world sees is a Musharraf government halfheartedly and even somewhat hypocritically engaged in a war against internal Islamic fundamentalist forces, but nonetheless the engagement is real enough with the latter determined to defeat this Pakistan government and usher in a far more fundamentalist regime.

They see a Musharraf government which is not in control of the country and is itself the victim of bomb blasts; a government which has immediately condemned both the December 13 and May 14 attacks in India, and even called for an international impartial investigation into them. They see no evidence provided by the Indian government linking these attacks to Musharraf’s orders, although obviously circles within the wider establishment, such as sections of the Inter-Services Intelligence, are very likely to be involved.

In fact, it would be utterly foolish of Musharraf to have wanted the December 13 or May 14 attack, which only put much more pressure on him, with the latest one diverting attention away from Gujarat and the world’s opprobrium of the Indian government on that score. It is far more plausible to see these attacks as carried out by forces fighting on two fronts, not just in Kashmir but also to undermine the Musharraf government. They would like nothing better than to provoke India to attack Pakistan, that is, turn matters into a war between the two country’s armed forces.

This would immediately benefit them politically by harnessing anti-Indian patriotism and jingoism (which they will do everything to fan) to their cause. Like our own religious extremists, they recognize that their anti-secular fundamentalist agenda can never have anywhere near the same public resonance as a stance of “defending at all costs the honour and sacred territory of the country”, that is through a nationalist chauvinism gone berserk. In fact, their shameful and cowardly terrorist attack is itself indicative that politically they are losing in Jammu and Kashmir, being ever more alienated from the public there.

For this sangh parivar-led government, anxious to rationalize away its own culpability in the Gujarat carnage, threatening war with Pakistan is the best way to divert attention from the fact that the greatest danger to the future of India as a secular, democratic and humane society does not come from outside but internally from the sangh itself with its pernicious ideology and aim of establishing a Hindu rashtra. Indeed, since the constituency for anti-Pakistan sentiments is much wider than for anti-Muslim and anti-Islam sentiments, one of the crucial cards the sangh must consider playing before the next general elections is precisely the provoking of a war situation with Pakistan. Such a strategy is all the more likely to work electorally if it can be combined with acts (such as more communal riots or a communally charged campaign again centred on Ayodhya) which can further polarize emotions in accordance with the Hindutva ideology of hatred towards Indian Muslims.

If, politically, it is religious extremism on both sides that will benefit, there is also the fact that not only will war not solve anything, including the issue of permanently ending cross-border terrorism, it is certain to make things much worse. A short-duration war will almost certainly be a stalemate with immense suffering on both sides (the Pakistan army is as battle-hardened as India’s) while a longer-duration war of attrition (in which India’s military “advantages” have more chances of surfacing) is almost inconceivable because of the international uproar and because of the much greater likelihood of Pakistan resorting to nuclear weapons if its feels it is losing — a response that is also perfectly conceivable in a short-duration war.

In such a nuclearized context, it is the height of irresponsibility for India to talk in terms of “calling Pakistan’s nuclear bluff”. The fact of the matter is that India’s tests in 1998 (followed by Pakistan’s) established a new situation where a terrible nuclear shadow was thrown over south Asia. But instead of acknowledging what a mistake this was and how it has dramatically reduced the space, militarily speaking, that India previously had, the bomb lobby continues desperately to pretend that there is no nuclear shadow but in fact, so much more sunlight!

But will India go to war or launch the kind of attack across the border that would almost certainly escalate matters to such a pitch between the two countries? It is not impossible for India to take such action. Indeed, both its current rhetoric in response to the May 14 attack and its previous policy of brinkmanship through massive and sustained mobilization of armed forces along the border (for longer than has ever been the case in peacetime since 1947) puts it into a corner where its non-military options become even weaker, if not closed. Moreover, the sangh, as pointed out, needs anti-Pakistan war hysteria for domestic reasons.

But it is still the case that the key actor is the United States of America not India, and that it will be very difficult indeed for New Delhi to buck Washington, if the latter says no to even a “limited” military strike on Pakistan. India’s plan is to get the US to agree to such a limited strike and restrain Musharraf from responding, though abstinence of this sort can seriously undermine his domestic position. The US needs Musharraf so much for its other purposes, not just for fighting al Qaida but for other geo-strategic reasons in central Asia, that it is very unlikely to go along with this Indian plea.

After giving due allowance for the unavoidable uncertainty factor which means that defying logic, reason, or the intentions of key actors, there could still be war, it would be fair to say that the balance of probabilities weighs against this. But the truly frightening thing is that this need not be the case the next time around or the time after that. Both conventional war and with it the possibility of escalation to nuclear exchanges are very real prospects over the next five to seven years, perhaps longer.

We now have to give our serious attention, first, to getting rid of nuclear arsenals in this region even before total global disarmament takes place simply because this is the region where such a nuclear conflagration is most likely; and second, to preventing a conventional war breaking out over Kashmir even if terrorist acts continue to take place. If we cannot resolve the Kashmir issue soon (which requires dialogue with Pakistan and representatives of Kashmiris on both sides of the border), then can we find practical ways of easing border tensions through exploring various creative measures, for example, by establishing an effectively patrolled and monitored demilitarized zone on both sides of the line of control?

In short, we haven’t that much time. But have we even begun, seriously enough, the process of thinking anew instead of constantly screeching as of old?

The author has recently co-authored the book, South Asia on a Short Fuse:Politics and the Future of Global Disarmament

   

 
 
FIFTH COLUMN / THE ONLY WAY TO LASTING PEACE 
 
 
BY ANURADHA KUMAR
 
 
Another round of consultations, preceded by usual statements of optimism, ended recently between the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) and the Centre’s interlocutors. The talks assumed greater importance as assembly elections in Nagaland are due next year. At the Hague last year, the Centre and the NSCN(I-M) had worked on a framework that promised to wrap up negotiations by 2003 to coincide with the polls.

While the talks remain mired in secrecy, the optimism does not seem to have been entirely misplaced. For one, the talks were held amicably despite the Centre’s decision last month to extend its ceasefire with another rebel group, the NSCN(Khaplang), for another year. Also, earlier divisions among prominent Naga leaders seem to be disappearing. The Nagaland chief minister had so long accused the NSCN(I-M) of wrecking unity moves. But on the eve of the talks, S.C. Jamir announced that he would step down if a solution to the Naga issue could be reached before elections.

The talks, it is believed, will pave the way for the visit of NSCN (I-M) leaders — general secretary, T. Muivah, and chairman, Isak Chishi Swu — to New Delhi in the future. The Nagaland government has already agreed to one precondition of the leaders — withdrawal of cases against them. Also, the Centre has offered safe passage to the leaders.

Extended meet

The Centre has also shown keenness to involve other key Northeast leaders in the negotiations. The Mizoram chief minister, Zoramthanga, who had earlier mediated with the government during the Mizo peace talks, participated in the Bangkok meet in early May. Zoramthanga’s task was to make rebel leaders conscious of their limitations.

The problem of involving all Naga factions in the negotiations however still remains. Rival Naga groups, divided on ethnic lines, have defeated long term ceasefire plans by targetting civilians to settle scores. Moreover, both factions of the NSCN(I-M) retain their links with militants in the region who persist with their links with other militant groups in the region and indulge in activities that range from extortion to running camps across the border. The Arunachal Pradesh government for example is the latest to protest against the growing influence of the NSCN(I-M) among the Naga Tangsa community in the state’s Changlang district.

For its part, the NSCN(I-M) wishes to maintain for itself its dominant role as sole spokesman for the Nagas. In December, it had questioned reconciliation efforts initiated by the Naga Hoho, an apex body comprising Naga leaders of tribal councils. Simultaneously, it organized its own series of consultative meets between different Naga groups. The third such consultation meet was held in Bangkok earlier this month.

Longer stretch

The Naga consultation meet, attended by various Naga organizations, including the Naga Hoho, church leaders, social workers urged Nagas to support the peace process. For the Naga groups, the meeting itself was crucial given the misgivings that had emerged last year over the ceasefire extension. Muivah was unsparing in his attack on the Centre, whose commitment towards the Naga people he described as unstable.

Suspicions however remain, especially on the part of Nagaland’s neighbours since several Naga groups still favour a Greater Nagaland. The most vocal opposition came from the United Council of Manipur, which has opposed the Centre’s initiation of talks with any armed group that could threaten the territorial integrity of Manipur. On the eve of the elections in February, a Democratic People’s Party rally in Imphal played up anti-Naga sentiments.

Getting the NSCN (I-M) to join the electoral battle next year may be a major coup for the Centre, but as the state government has long made it clear, any peace deal with one outfit would have minimum impact. All factions and organizations had to be included in the process. So till the underground remained divided, talks in foreign shores could only yield welcome sound bites. Which means the Centre would have to work harder to involve the rest in its peace initiative.

   

 
 
HOPE YET FOR LABOUR 
 
 
BY ALOK RAY
 
 
Economists have a few occupational hazards. One such is being bombarded with awkward questions on the state of the economy at social gatherings — questions to which there are no ready answers.

One of these questions is: now that the government is abolishing posts in the public sector and the new mantra is downsizing and cutting down on labour costs even in the private sector, where will the young generation find employment? So, are we entering a phase of “jobless growth”?

It is true that direct employment in a state-of-the-art industrial plant will be much less than in older plants which have the same amount of output of, say, steel. But that is not the full picture. Apart from creating a better work environment (ask any metallurgical engineer who has worked both in an old steel plant and a new one), more sophisticated machines generally require a higher level of skill to run them. Though a lesser number of people will be employed, each of them will normally earn a higher remuneration. So, the total wage payments may not be much less. Further, more machines require more people to service and repair.

The use of computers in a steel plant, for example, gives rise to many other firms which supply the machines, software, printers, spare parts, papers, ribbons, cartridges and so on, which in turn creates jobs outside the steel industry, often in the services sector. Computer hardware and software are in a continuous process of upgradation, which creates replacement demand all the time and offers opportunities for production and employment.

Of course, a person without the required skills would not be able to find jobs, even if new opportunities open up. The scope for computerization is still enormous in our country, for example in post offices, stores, schools, colleges, hospitals, doctor’s chambers, municipal and land registration offices, and so on, and this can absorb a great number of people, directly and indirectly. In public sector banks, trade unions no longer complain about loss of jobs due to computerization. Even though the total employment in public sector banks has remained stagnant, new private sector banks have led to employment opportunities.

In the industrial sector, food processing is an area which has a great potential for employment generation, particularly low-skill rural employment. Even though agricultural output remains stagnant, a lot of added value and employment can be generated through more processing activities. Diversification of agriculture activity from foodgrain to other products like fruits, vegetables, flowers, cashews, spices, and so on, which command better prices and have a high export potential can bring about year-round employment and greater prosperity in rural areas. This, in turn, would create greater demand for simple industrial con- sumer goods and employment in those industries.

But having said all this, we have to accept that the scope for additional employment generation in the manufacturing sector will be limited in future, unless we are able to corner a higher share of the world market in simple, labour-intensive consumer goods like textiles, toys, shoes, watches, pens, low-end telephone equipment and electronic products.

This is where China has succeeded while we miserably lag behind. The biggest potential for employment lies in the services sector, including self-employment. Today, more than 50 per cent of the Indian gross domestic product comes from the services sector. The average growth rate of employment in the manufacturing sector over 1994-2000 was 2.05 per cent, which is less than the growth rate of population (2.12 per cent). At the same time the average annual growth rate of employment in construction, trade, transport, storage and communication, and financial services has been between 6 to 7 per cent.

Construction and housing hold enormous promise for employment generation. The government will have to devote a higher percentage of expenditure on infrastructure development and maintenance — on roads, irrigation, schools, hospitals, ports, power plants, land development and building of new townships — with the resources saved from the sale of loss-making public sector units, by cutting down on other expenditures like interest payments and subsidies for the affluent, and by forcing defaulters to pay back long-standing loans to public sector banks.

Repealing archaic urban land laws and simplifying procedures should also bring in private land developers. A vigorous housing sector creates job opportunities for construction-related workers of various skill categories as also for maintenance specialists — designers, draftsmen, masons, plumbers, electricians, carpenters, interior decorators and even security guards, in addition to creating demand and employment in the cement, steel, bricks and paints industries. Ownership of houses also gives a boost to the insurance industry by creating demand for insurance against fire, theft and natural calamities.

With growing affluence and the use of various electrical and electronic equipment at home and in offices, there is scope for mechanics who can repair television sets, refrigerators, music systems, personal computers, air conditioners and, of course, two-wheelers and cars.

Tourism related activities have great potential in India. Moreover it is highly labour-intensive. India has the unique advantage of having high mountain ranges, thousands of miles of beaches, deserts, a rich heritage and enormous cultural diversity. But for various reasons — our slow transportation system, poor connectivity, the absence of moderately priced quality hotels for mass travellers and criminal activities in places of tourist interest — we have not been able to realize the potential.

Increasing urbanization will open up opportunities for more taxis, autorickshaws, buses and luxury coaches. More exports of flowers, fruits, vegetables and marine products will require a fleet of refrigerated vans for transporting the produce from farms to processing plants, ports and airports. All these will require the services of drivers and maintenance staff.

More retail sales outlets, supermarket chains and restaurants, entertainment centres (video game parlours, amusement parks and the like), media and communication channels (both print and electronic), education and training institutes will absorb a wide variety of people. The low-income group may not buy from upmarket department stores and restaurants but it will get the jobs of salesmen, delivery boys, cooks.

In Western countries, mega stores like Walmarts and fast food chains like McDonalds employ a great number of new entrants to the job market. With rising incomes, even if unequally distributed, the demand for eating out, leisure activities and one-stop departmental stores will go up, creating more employment opportunities for ordinary people.

Even as the era of life-time job security comes to an end, one will have to keep acquiring new skills and updating them to keep up with changing market demands. This would sustain a crop of training institutes to cater to the demand. A mushrooming of private medical, engineering, business management and polytechnic schools may result, but with time, competition will weed out the less efficient ones.

The steady rise in life expectancy means that the demand for health and nursing care will be on a rising curve. The aging population, together with the collapse of the joint family system, means there will be a need for more old age homes, geriatric hospitals, emergency services and paramedics. All these should provide more jobs for nurses, attendants and staff to run and maintain the homes and the hospitals. Given the much lower cost of nursing care in India, another promising area of business and job creation is setting up international standard old age homes for foreigners, preferably in some scenic tourist spot.

One may say that this is a very optimistic scenario. It is true that the potential will not automatically translate into reality. The government at the Centre and in the states will have to provide the infrastructure, a clear policy framework, a responsive and facilitating administration and a proper incentive structure to attract domestic and foreign private investment in these areas with the potential to generate employment.

Finally, no one can fully predict the technology and the businesses of the future. Remember the days when there were video parlours in every street corner? But then came cable television and the choice of watching 100-odd TV channels, and people no longer wanted to take the trouble of visiting video shops for films. Most video parlours disappeared, along with them gadgets like video cassette recorders and players. In its place cybercafes, beauty parlours and ISD-STD telephone booths have sprung up, catering to new demands and creating new job opportunities for enterprising young men and women.

   

 
 
DOCUMENT / MAKING TRAVEL COMFORTABLE 
 
 
 
 
Efforts are being made to make roads more friendly for users through a series of measures like widening of roads, construction of by-passes... strengthening weak pavements, replacement of level crossings by road over bridges, retro reflective road signs, provision of wayside amenities on high traffic density corridors and creation of awareness amongst road users.

Traffic efficiency of the railways is being achieved through the following programmes: use of more efficient locomotives; improving wagon productivity; increasing the axle-load; upgrading signal and telecom; and modernization of terminals.

The planning commission has constituted a high level working group to look into various aspects of road safety. In this respect, the following research project is sanctioned by the ministry of road transport and highways is in progress and the draft final report is under examination...Research Designs & Standards Organization is under the ministry of railways, which takes care of the research needs of the Indian Railways through mission programmes...

To reduce the use of fossil fuel, the government has launched a programme for alternative modes of surface transportation. The programme has demonstrated the use of electrical vehicles in major metro cities with encouraging signs of interest from a number of private companies who would like to manufacture such vehicles. A new programme to replace petroleum by methanol has also been launched...

The domestic funding of the transport sector can be either public or private. Historically, the investments in the transport sector, particularly in the rail, road, ports and airports infrastructure have been made by the state mainly because of the large volume of resources required, long gestation periods, uncertain returns and various externalities... associated with this infrastructure. However, the galloping resource requirements and the concern for managerial efficiency and consumer responsiveness have led to the active involvement of the private sector in infrastructure services...

In India too, considerable private investment exists in trucking, inter-city bus travel, shipping and lately in airline services. By and large, mobile transport units like trucks, buses, wagons, ships and aircraft lend themselves easily to private investment while the large fixed infrastructure has remained in the domain of public investment. However, statutory and administrative initiatives have been taken in recent years to involve private capital in the expansion and strengthening of infrastructure in the railways, roads, shipping and the airports... However, looking at the state of Indian capital markets, particularly for long term debt, it may not be realistic to expect any large-scale contribution from the private sector in the transport area...

The scope for private sector participation in providing rail infrastructure and services is limited. Attempts have, however, been made to involve the private sector in augmenting the capacity of the railway system in a number of ways. The “own your wagon scheme” was launched in the eighth plan in order to tap the private sector resources for augmenting the supply of wagons. The private sector firms would procure the wagons, own them and lease them to the railways with or without preferential claim on allotment of capacity for the firms’ own use. With the revision made in the scheme in February 1994, the response has been encouraging during the period 1994-95 to 1996-97...

It has also been decided to undertake some of the projects through investment by the private sector under the “build-own-lease-transfer” scheme. Private entrepreneurs and the financial institutions would where- by build/manufacture/finance the assets for lease to the railways. It is proposed to offer projects like gauge conversion, supply of rolling stock, electrification, doubling of existing single lines, and telecom projects under this scheme. However, the experience during the eighth plan has underlined the difficulty of enlisting private participation in such infrastructural areas on affordable terms. In order to attract larger private sector investment in the railways, maximize the efficiency and benefit from the synergistic effect of the private and public sector investment, restructuring of Indian Railways becomes inevitable.

Various fiscal and tax concessions have been offered for undertaking road projects on a BOT basis. The government has also assured help in land acquisition, environmental clearances and simplification of procedures. Some state governments have also taken significant steps like the setting up of dedicated organizations on the pattern of National Highways Authority of India to promote road development... Some small stretches of roads and bypasses have already been commissioned under these arrangements. The role of this device may become more significant once the policy framework including an independent regulatory system is put in operation and investors are able to overcome their apprehensions with regard to uncertainties of these long-term investments... The policy framework is sought to be kept flexible to permit allocation of risks on an acceptable basis and sharing of risks between the government and the private sector through grants or equity sharing.

To be concluded

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Voice of the people

People sidelined

Sir — The touching account of Muzamil Jaleel, “I have seen my country die” (May 26), demonstrates that it is the voice of the ordinary Kashmiri which is getting drowned amidst the war cries of India and Pakistan. A study of insurgency, be it in Kashmir or the Northeast, reveals the sheer apathy and irresponsibility of the Centre resulting in the deterioration of the situation. Indians should no longer turn a blind eye to the demand for autonomy of the Kashmiris. The Kashmiris do not feel that they belong to either India or Pakistan and the earlier this truth is accepted, the better it would be for both the hostile nations and the people of this troubled region. The concern of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government for the issue stems from the insecurity that giving in to the demands of autonomy would be a loss of face. Perhaps this is an oversimplification of the actual Indian agenda. War cannot be a solution for this crisis and voices of people like Jaleel should be given a fair hearing.

Yours faithfully,
Saheli Mitra, Calcutta

Another kind of song

Sir — Amit Chaudhuri makes oversimplifications in anticipating that the expiry of the copyright on Tagore’s works might “give us a more varied understanding of music” (“Tagore liberated”, May 19). He seems to suggest that the Tagore-song is the Bengali bhadralok’s burden which he should shed now to wake up to the charm of hitherto neglected musical treasures. Is it not naïve to imply that the copyright compelled us to listen to Tagore-songs to the exclusion of others? The article is founded on a flawed perception of the Bengali music scene. Far from being a predominant genre, Rabindrasangeet never enjoyed the popular appeal of film-songs or what is commonly termed “adhunik”.

One fillip was received by the Tagore-song during the centenary celebrations of Tagore in 1961. But even a fleeting glance at the latest catalogue of Bengali cassettes and compact discs (compiled up to May 2000) published by the Gramophone Company of India Limited would underline the preposterousness of Chaudhuri’s description of Tagore-song as ubiquitous. Of the 111 pages devoted to Bengali cassettes, Rabindranath occupies a mere 24 pages and of the 27 pages containing names of Bengali compact discs, Tagore features in a mere six, that is, around 20 per cent in each case.

Rabindrasangeet was doomed when, in the mid-Eighties, coincidentally, the cassette replaced the gramophone record, a dozen music companies mushroomed, piracy became the order of the day, the leading singers began to age and scores of flawlessly mediocre singers rushed in. All these factors culminated in the dreary scene that Chaudhuri sees today.

Yours faithfully,
Tathagata Sen, Calcutta

Sir — It is strange that Amit Chaudhuri wonders how the Bengalis allowed Tagore to be locked in a room for six decades — when one is aware that Tagore’s works were under the protection of the Copyright Act for six decades and thus the question of the Bengalis allowing or disallowing does not arise. Moreover, any question of imprisoning Tagore is ridiculous since the best renditions of Tagore-songs, films based on Tagore’s works, adaptations of and experimentation with Tagore, all took place within the period of “Tagore’s figurative imprisonment”.

Chaudhuri’s remarks on Suchitra Mitra, Kanika Banerjee and Hemanta Mukherjee are far from being complimentary. Besides the Rabindrasangeet singer, Hemanta Mukherjee, and the classical singer, Tarapada Chakraborty, are singers of two different genres of music altogether. Comparisons between them cannot and should not be made. Can Kanika Banerjee be compared to Gangubai Hangal or Ravi Shankar to David Horowitz? Fortunately, the majority of Bengali listeners do not endorse Chaudhuri’s views. Surely, it is not Hemanta Mukherjee’s or Debabrata Biswas’s fault if their songs are still being heard by generations and their sales far exceed the aggregate sales of all those whom Chaudhuri mentions.

Chaudhuri may have a penchant for Hindusthani classical music or raagprodhan songs but he should not express his personal views with such utter disregard of the context and relevance thereof.

Yours faithfully,
Supratik Banerjee, Calcutta

Sir — Amit Chaudhuri has messed up his argument regarding Rabindrasangeet with his skewed logic. The relaxation of Tagore’s copyright would unfortunately witness the barging in of young musicians into this domain violating the rules of Tagore-song. This would result in the distortion of Rabindrasangeet. A rendition of Tagore-songs according to the correct notations is desirable.

Yours faithfully,
Debal Kumar Chakravarti, Calcutta

Power at stake

Sir — The recent drastic hike in power tariffs by the CESC on the grounds that the private power utility has been running a loss of crores of rupees has come about thanks to a verdict of the high court (“Power rates up, arrears next”, May 24). However, it has been alleged by many employees of the CESC that the company’s accounts are fudged, it has never made losses and all claims of losses were “paper entries” to justify the hike. Although the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in West Bengal always criticizes capitalism, its activities with regard to the CESC speaks otherwise.

The CESC, enjoying the status of a monopoly in the power sector, must act responsibly or should be made to do so by the executive or the judiciary and its activities must not be solely based on commercial gains. This is because nearly two million consumers and industrial and commercial units would be more adversely affected than the CESC. The state government has not realized how much of competitive edge we stand to lose because of this decision. Nobody dares to ask the power utility company why its accounts should not be independently audited.

What is frightening is that all this should be happening in West Bengal which prides itself on upholding its sense of fair play and justice.

Yours faithfully,
Vandana Agarwal, Calcutta

Sir — The tariff hike by the CESC is another blow to the middle class, and the retired people who live on the meagre interest they receive from their lifelong savings (“Go-ahead for power tariff hike”, May 14). It is no surprise that the verdict declared the state electricity regulatory commission as “null and void”, and the CESC won the case. The worst hit is the middle class which has still not recovered from the blow of falling interest rates. There seems to be no one to look into the day-to-day problems of the salaried class whose members live on a stipulated monthly income.

Yours faithfully
Purnima Vasudeva, 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
All letters [including those via email] should have the full name and full postal address of the sender
   
 

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