Editorial 1/ Beyond the crisis
Editorial 2/ Carnival time
Scenes from economic life
Take the workers along
Document/ Business of creating the right environment
Fifth Column/ It pays to be a rebel at times
Letters to the Editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1/ BEYOND THE CRISIS 
 
 
 
 
It is now becoming increasingly clear that the involvement of the great powers in south Asia is going to continue beyond the recent India-Pakistan crisis. Reports from Washington indicate, for instance, that the United States of America may be in the process of constructing a “collective security apparatus” to prevent a future India-Pakistan crisis from breaking out into war. The US has apparently been having discussions with Russia, China, Japan and the European Union on the modalities of such a security regime. All those in New Delhi who may have imagined that international engagement would end once pressure on Pakistan to stop sponsoring terrorism succeeded, are obviously in for a rude shock. However, India could well turn this sustained international concern into an opportunity to further its interests.

The recent crisis has generated widespread international concern about the possibility of hostility between India and Pakistan escalating into a nuclear war. While these fears are admittedly exaggerated, these are bound to persist in the absence of a restraint regime in south Asia. Moreover, loose statements by important officials in both India and Pakistan have accentuated these fears. India must address these concerns if it is to be recognized as a responsible nuclear power. One way forward is to revive the Lahore declaration of February 1999 made by Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Mr Nawaz Sharif as well as the memorandum of understanding signed by the foreign secretaries, Mr K. Raghunath and Mr Shamshad Ahmad. These include a wide variety of nuclear confidence-building measures including declaratory, transparency, communication, notification and consultation measures. India and Pakistan had agreed in Lahore to take immediate steps for reducing the risk of accidental or unauthorized use of nuclear weapons. They had also committed themselves to discussing their respective nuclear doctrines. They had further agreed to provide each other with advance notification with regard to ballistic missile flight tests, and introduce national measures to reduce the risks of accidental or unauthorized use of nuclear weapons under their respective control. A recommitment to these measures and a movement towards implementing them by India and Pakistan will go a long way in assuaging the international community.

Another issue that will invite international attention is Kashmir. An indication of this is the recent United Nations seminar on Kashmir in Mexico. Although New Delhi has taken umbrage at the invitations to the seminar, it will have to recognize that the Kashmir issue has become almost as internationalized as it was in the Fifties. Indeed, Mr Joseph Biden, chairman of the US senate foreign relations committee, recently called for a conversion of the line of control into the international border. He explicitly stated that if “India is willing to make substantive changes in its policy towards Kashmir, Pakistan must be willing to accept the LoC as a border and end its support for insurgency.” The challenge for New Delhi is to initiate an imaginative and forward-thinking policy for the people of Jammu and Kashmir.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2/ CARNIVAL TIME 
 
 
 
 
The love of football taken beyond a certain limit could become a deeply uncivilized phenomenon. From Manchester to Moscow, hooliganism has always been part of the history of the game. Calcutta displayed a version of this unsavoury link on the day of the World Cup match between Brazil and England. The city’s capacity for self-induced and self-glorifying paralysis at the drop of a hat — the legendary bandh syndrome — was proved yet again. And there was, as always, a violent aspect to the standstill. It certainly must have been intensely infuriating when, in parts of greater Calcutta, the cable connection failed a few minutes after kick-off, and remained so for about an hour and a half. But the fury of some of the fans vented itself in a manner that speaks of a shocking disproportion between passion and occasion. Bent on taking their anger out on the cable company which had let them down, a crowd of a few thousand frustrated viewers went on a rampage, attacking the local control room, damaging property, beating up staff, smashing up a police vehicle and putting up a number of roadblocks. In certain areas, the violence was further aggravated by unfounded rumours that the blocking of the beam was because of unpaid dues. In all these instances, there was a total absence of any rationality in such a mass response. The cable authorities who were being targeted by these mobs were unable to make anybody see sense on this matter. This is perhaps unsurprising in a city bred on the ways of people’s politics, and on a long tradition of passionately sentimentalized allegiances to rival football teams.

This violent excess had its non-violent, but equally questionable, counterparts. Premier schools in the city closed early, succumbing to student pressure. From the Writers’ Buildings to Lalbazar, there was an air of license and suspended normalcy, which quite naturally projected itself as the indomitable spirit of carnival. This sense of a wonderfully energetic city coming together in collective passion and sentiment could be occasionally heartwarming. But the lack of a sense of proportion tipping into uncivil and destructive behaviour takes the entire matter unpleasantly, inconveniently and often dangerously beyond the realm of sport and play.

   

 
 
SCENES FROM ECONOMIC LIFE 
 
 
BY S. VENKITARAMANAN
 
 
Closely following on the publication of I G. Patel’s interesting memoirs has come a similar yet different series of reminiscences from N. Narasimham, who succeeded I.G. Patel as governor of the Reserve Bank of India in 1977 for a brief period of two years, after which he left for Washington, where he worked in the World Bank and subsequently in the International Monetary Fund as executive director. In 1983, he returned to the government of India as the finance secretary. After his voluntary retirement from the post, he was vice-president of Asian Development Bank for a period of three years. Narasimham has been in the thick of the financial business of India and international bodies for more than four decades. No wonder his reminiscences are of interest as they deal with many critical episodes in India’s economic history.

.In 1965, Narasimham went to France to study its financial system. One of the results was his suggestion to set up a credit authorization scheme, under which the central bank would have to approve all loans above a certain level. The scheme had to be dismantled, to reduce bureaucratic intervention. That Narasimham was impressed by the dovetailing of the French Central Bank with the needs of national planning is obvious from his advice on the setting up of a national credit council, which would bring credit disbursement separately in line with plan objectives. The credit council appears to be an idea worth reviving, especially in the current context of low credit off-take.

Narasimham’s contributions for the evolution of financial policy included the introduction of priority sector credit, in an attempt to ensure that adequate credit went to the neglected sectors of agriculture and small-scale industry. Ironically enough, Narasimham as chairman of the seminal Narasimham committees I and II recommended dilution of the priority sector system. In a modified form, the priority sector concept persists, expanded to include exports and housing. Its economic role is, however, controversial.

In 1972, Narasimham began an interesting tenure as additional secretary to the government of India in the ministry of finance, department of economic affairs. It was perhaps the only case of an RBI official breaching the civil service barrier and entering government service as a direct recruit at a senior level. He left his indelible mark on the government’s policies during his short but active tenure as additional secretary, from where he moved as secretary, banking. Narasimham had close interactions with the finance ministers, ranging from R. Venkataraman, Pranab Mukherjee and the late C. Subramaniam and including the late Indira Gandhi and the late Morarji Desai, who held additional charge as finance minister.

As additional secretary, Narasimham had a great deal to do with Indo-Russian economic relationships and control of defence expenditure. Narasimham played an important role in the evolution of Indo-Soviet financial arrangements, and particularly the rouble-rupee relationship. Russian economic counterparts could be very sticky at times in spite of the good diplomatic relationship with India. Ultimately, the Russians are hard bargainers, and as Narasimham cites in a number of instances, hard bargains had to be struck.

During his tenure as additional secretary, finance, Narasimham suggested the system of a basket of currencies to which the rupee was to be linked for the purpose of determining its exchange rates. This policy reform was a necessary step in the evolution of the exchange rate system of India, from a pegged rate to the market-determined system introduced by Manmohan Singh.

Narasimham’s tenure as executive director of the IMF was notable for his piloting the 1981 loan for India from the IMF. This loan became necessary because of balance of payment difficulties, as a result of oil price crisis of the late Seventies. Narasimham graphically describes the close networking among his colleagues in the IMF and the helpful attitude of the then managing director of the IMF, Jacques De Larosiere.

The situation was particularly sticky because the government faced stiff opposition from the left. Ashok Mitra had produced a strong critique of the proposed drawal from the IMF. He had an unlikely ally in his criticism of the loan, namely the United States of America’s administration itself, which was against any loan being given to India. The US treasury was strongly under the influence of its financial sector giants and of the view that India should take commercial loans from the international financial community instead of from the IMF. Countries which followed its advice, like Mexico and Brazil, faced serious consequences in the years ahead. Narasimham piloted the loan with his customary competence, which drew the admiration of both the IMF leadership and the government of India. He says he could use Ashok Mitra’s critique with great effect in persuading the IMF management not to insist too much on its customary conditionalities.

I remember that Jacques De Larosiere, whom I met in 1991-92, recalled with pride the 1981 loan to India as one of the achievements in his tenure as IMF chief. That India came to the IMF well in time before the crisis took full shape, was indeed creditable. He paid rich compliments to Narasimham and the then political leadership of Indira Gandhi and R. Venkataraman, for taking the loan at the right time.

Regarding Narasimham’s move to the ADB, I have an interesting anecdote. Fujioka, the then president of the ADB, was extremely keen on Narasimham being the Indian candidate. It helped that Fujioka had known Narasimham from his early days in the IMF when Narasimham led a delegation to review the financial situation of Japan, which was just emerging from its post-war problems. Narasimham had impressed his Japanese counterparts even as he had left a strong positive impact on his colleagues in the IMF. He and the Japanese ministry of finance had immense faith in Narasimham. Narasimham’s tenure in the ADB was naturally eventful, where he impressed every one with his abilities and dedication. His tenure was marked by the extension of the ADB’s lending to both China and India.

Naturally, Fujioka was very keen that he continued in the ADB, but Narasimham stuck to his decision to return to his preferred destination, the Administrative Staff College of India at Hyderabad, where he continues to serve with distinction as principal.

Narasimham quips that India responds to every crisis with a committee. Many have been the committees Narasimham himself has headed. Of these, the most important were the Narasimham committees I and II, which were set up in the Nineties. Their recommendations on the financial sector of India are almost a bible of reforms for the Indian financial system — the banks, the financial institutions and the government of India.

Narasimham draws particular attention to yet another committee of importance, which he headed in the late Eighties. This committee, which had a distinguished membership —two of its members became governors of the RBI later — looked into the possibility of substitution of physical control by tariffs. Its report unveiled a bold plan of liberalization of India’s economy with its suggestion for the removal of physical control in industries and trade and transformation to an open trade regime.

Narasimham rightly remarks that if these recommendations had been implemented, much of the subsequent reform process would have followed as a natural consequence. He remarks rightly that Manmohan Singh himself would have done well to cite this committee’s recommendation as the basis of his own reforms. This would have helped to mitigate the criticism that Singh’s reforms were based on “vidheshi” advice from the World Bank. That it had a “swadeshi” inspiration would have blunted the criticism. It is, however, difficult to understand the logic which lay behind Manmohan Singh’s failure to trace the continuity of the reforms he initiated to the backdrop of the Narisimham committee of 1985-86. Perhaps, the politics of the P.V. Narasimha Rao versus Rajiv Gandhi inheritance had something to do with this. Economic reformers have their own unstated compulsions.

Interesting as Narasimham’s memoirs are, they open many a window on incidents of India’s economic history, besides throwing light on the personalities who led India. They also throw light on what goes on behind the scenes in the international financial institutions, such as the World Bank, the IMF and the ADB. Narasimham’s lucid writing, with his characteristic touch of subtle humour, helps to relieve the otherwise dreary story of what goes on in financial negotiations and economic discussions.

In all, Narasimham’s reminiscences are a truly well-told story of a rich life fully lived and interestingly recalled. India’s economic historians owe a debt of gratitude to Narasimham.

The author is former governor, Reserve Bank of India

   

 
 
TAKE THE WORKERS ALONG 
 
 
BY DIPAK R. BASU
 
 
The Indian government has moved closer to labour law reforms by amending chapter V-B of the Industrial Disputes Act, making it easier for factory owners who employ upto 1,000 workers to retrench and down shutters. Earlier, employers who had more than 100 workers, had to take prior approval from the authorities to shut shop or effect layoffs. The new law will cover 75 per cent of the total Indian workforce employed by 99 per cent of the country’s factories and offices.

An exit policy is an integral part of a flexible labour market policy. Other features of the policy are: temporary contracts instead of permanent jobs, outsourcing, hiring of home-based workers and so on. The idea is for employers to save money by not paying pensions, medical benefits, leave entitlements and so on. Since the employees do not know each other and are afraid of losing their jobs, trade unions cannot organize and they are at the mercy of the employers.

In the Eighties, Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan had tried to establish a flexible labour market by using state power to destroy all protests and industrial actions. The rationale was that unemployment resulted from workers’ unwillingness to accept wages lower than what the social security system offered.

That argument does not work in India, which does not have social security. Here employers, taking advantage of the inefficient Indian legal system, can violate minimum wage laws, misappropriate pension funds and get away without paying severance money. There is always a large pool of unemployed workers ready to accept any job.

Proponents of labour market reforms claim that higher unemployment in west European countries is owing to the high level of protection for workers there. But there can be a different explanation in the stranglehold independent central banks in these countries and the European monetary system have over money supply and the exchange rate, thereby making European goods uncompetitive in the world market.

The British economy too suffered under the European monetary system until 1992. It started improving with a lower exchange rate and a flexible fiscal policy which stimulated the demand for labour. The United States of America follows a policy of high budget deficits to stimulate the demand for labour. Thus lower unemployment in the US and the United Kingdom has to do with traditional fiscal and monetary policies rather than labour market policies.

Nevertheless, advocates of economic reforms in India want an independent Reserve Bank of India and a flexible labour market. Their argument is that a “hire and fire” policy will be incentive enough for employers to increase investments and thus create more jobs. This is the new logic of “supply side economics”. Conventionally, economic growth is supposed to depend on investments. Tax rates need to go up to finance increased public investments. Interest rates too must go up to encourage savings so that governments can borrow more to finance investments. But for the “supply-siders”, tax rates as well as interest rates must come down to create incentives for private investors, even if they mean lesser revenues and higher public deficit. To control the latter, government spending must be checked. The revenue shortfall, say the “supply-siders”, can be made up for with foreign investments. A flexible labour market policy is an essential part of this gameplan. If an investor can reduce the cost of labour when demand is falling, he can maintain the profits.

India has been advised by international financial organizations to follow China’s example to attract foreign investments. China, since it began its economic reforms, has a flexible labour market, implemented by its ruthless state machine. Chinese workers have no trade union rights or any human rights for that matter. Much of the labour force comprises of young women, who come from the villages at the age of 15 or 16 and are forced to go back at the age of 30 when their efficiency has diminished from long hours of work with little food and under cramped living conditions.

The condition of workers in the special enterprise zone for Taiwanese and Korean investors is perhaps the worst. Shifts are 12-hours long, or more. Some factories do not even allow workers to leave the factory compound after work. One Taiwan-managed joint-venture factory employs more than a hundred guards for 2,700 workers, one of whom recently died while attempting to escape. Such abuses persist because many of the Chinese partners of these joint-venture firms are local government departments, who are eager to make money by overworking and underpaying migrant workers, and overlooking serious violations of law.

Economic reforms in China have led to large-scale unemployment among workers of state industries which no longer receive public subsidies, investments or even orders from public procurements. In 2001 the government expanded the scope of reforms by allowing state firms to go bankrupt. According to official estimates,at least 20 million will become jobless by 2003 as a result of this. The Chinese ministry of labour estimates that official urban unemployment is likely to triple from 6.81 million to over 20 million in four years. This does not include the 40 million xiagang (laid-off) workers from state industries or the estimated 150 million “surplus” workers in rural areas.

Displaced workers have few places to air their grievances for, after the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1992, all independent trade unions have been proscribed and their leaders imprisoned. However, many Chinese workers are defying arrest and persecution to protest. In May this year, 800 workers in Liaoyang, where 25 per cent of the working population is now unemployed, mounted a protest to demand the wages for 5,000 workers who had lost their jobs in a public sector factory. In Mianyang, Sichuan province, in July 2001, more than 4,000 workers rioted on the streets as their factory went bankrupt.

In the US and UK too, flexible labour laws have created a large number of low paid, part-time and temporary workers. Millions of decent paying jobs have been slashed in the US in the past few decades. The unemployment rate, currently, is more than six per cent. American workers lack the minimal legal protection against layoffs. In the past two decades, work hours have lengthened, wages stagnated, and health and safety standards have reached an appalling state. Female workers in the US have no paid maternity leave. Child labour is rampant. American employers are legally allowed to fire workers who form unions. Some US companies have professional strike-breakers on their rolls to physically attack or even kill striking workers. The proportion of workers in long-term jobs (lasting at least 10 years) has declined from 41 per cent in 1979 to 35.4 per cent in 1996. Sweatshops are common in cities with large immigrant communities.

And yet, the US has a higher rate of unemployment than Japan, which has very rigid labour laws. India is trying to adopt the Chinese system to impress foreign investors, but there is an alternative in the labour laws in Japan, Germany, Scandinavia.

The flexible labour laws in the West undermine the motivation of workers — they cannot be loyal to a company, which only wants to dispose of them when not required. The stress caused by the fear of unemployment, lower wages also destroys all motivation to learn new skills or improve performances. In contrast, workers are central to the Japanese system which promotes a friendly atmosphere within the company and also leads to the pursuit of improvement.

The consensual approach is also prevalent in western European countries where capital markets are restricted and the future of a company depends on its relationship with banks rather than the stock market, forcing companies to take a long-term view. Worker’s councils also help in this regard.

India wants to attract foreign investments by having the same labour standards as China. But what is the nature of foreign investments in China? Since 1992, China has received about $ 140 billion in foreign investment. Of this, about $ 22 billion is what the country got from the West and Japan; the rest is investments from the greater China area (Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan), the Chinese business community in southeast Asia and Chinese investments routed through Hong Kong to avoid tax. Growing unemployment and the miseries of the Chinese do not corroborate the picture of high economic growth projected by the government. India is thus trying to emulate a false hero. More important, it is possible to suppress dissent and the truth in a police state like China, not in a democracy like India.

Besides, foreign investment is neither necessary nor sufficient for economic development. Japan and South Korea achieved spectacular economic growth with very little or no foreign funds. A flexible labour policy and privatization are not enough to attract foreign investment. Western Europe, with its massive public sector industries and inflexible labour market, continues to be one of the most important destinations for American investments.

Privatization and downsizing do not always lead to economic revival. Some of the major British industries privatized after 1981 like coal mining, steel, ship-building and engineering hardly exist. The privatized British rail almost collapsed recently; and had to be rescued through backdoor re-nationalization. By contrast, public sector railways in western Europe are the most efficient in the world.

In China, high economic growth has not touched the majority of the people. In India too the economic reforms have not benefited the majority during the last ten years. A “hire and fire” policy, along with the collapse of the public sector, will create mass unemployment in a country where employment opportunities are scarce.

The author teaches economics at the Nagasaki University

   

 
 
DOCUMENT/ BUSINESS OF CREATING THE RIGHT ENVIRONMENT 
 
 
 
 
We reaffirm our commitment to the programme of action for the least developed countries for 2001-2010, adopted by the third United Nations conference on the least developed countries, held in Brussels from May 14 to 20, 2001, and the global programme of action for the sustainable development of small island developing states. International support for those efforts, including technical assistance and through UN operational activities for development, is indispensable. We encourage south-south cooperation, including through triangular cooperation, to facilitate exchange of views on successful strategies, practices and experience and replication of projects.

Private international capital flows, particularly foreign direct investment, along with international financial stability, are vital complements to national and international development efforts. FDI contributes toward financing sustained economic growth over the long term. It is especially important...to transfer knowledge and technology, create jobs, boost overall productivity, enhance competitiveness and entrepreneurship, and ultimately eradicate poverty through economic growth and development. A central challenge, therefore, is to create the necessary domestic and international conditions to facilitate FDI flows...to developing countries, least developed countries, small island developing states, and landlocked developing countries, and also to countries with economies in transition.

To attract and enhance inflows of productive capital, countries need to continue their efforts to achieve a transparent, stable and predictable investment climate, with proper contract enforcement and respect for property rights, embedded in sound macroeconomic policies and institutions that allow businesses, both domestic and international, to operate efficiently and profitably and with maximum development impact. Special efforts are required in such areas as economic policy and regulatory frameworks...including the areas of human resource development, avoidance of double taxation, corporate governance, accounting standards, and the promotion of a competitive environment. Other mechanisms, such as public/private partnerships and investment agreements, can be important.

To complement national efforts, there is the need for the relevant international and regional institutions as well as appropriate institutions in source countries to increase their support for private foreign investment in infrastructure development and other areas, including projects to bridge the digital divide, in developing countries and countries with economies in transition. To this end, it is important to provide export credits, co-financing, venture capital and other lending instruments, risk guarantees, leveraging aid resources, information on investment opportunities, business development services, forums to facilitate business contacts and cooperation between enterprises of developed and developing countries, as well as funding for feasibility studies.

Inter-enterprise partnership is a powerful means for transfer and dissemination of technology. Strengthening of the multilateral and regional financial and development institutions is desirable. Additional source country measures should also be devised to encourage and facilitate FDI flow to developing countries.

Businesses, for their part, are expected to engage as reliable and consistent partners in the development process. We urge businesses to take into account not only the economic and financial but also the developmental, social, gender and environmental implications of their undertakings. We invite banks and other financial institutions... to foster innovative development-financing approaches.

We will support new public/private sector financing mechanisms, both debt and equity, for developing countries and countries with economies in transition, to benefit in particular small entrepreneurs and small and medium-size enterprises and infrastructure. Those initiatives could include the development of consultation mechanisms between international and regional financial organizations and governments, with the private sector in both source and recipient countries as a means of creating business-enabling environments.

...It is important to promote measures in source and destination countries to improve transparency and information about financial flows. Measures that mitigate the impact of excessive volatility of short-term capital flows are important and must be considered. Given each country’s varying degree of national capacity, managing national external debt profiles, paying careful attention to currency and liquidity risk, strengthening prudential regulations and supervision of all financial institutions, including highly leveraged institutions, liberalizing capital flows in an orderly process, consistent with development objectives, and implementation, on a progressive and voluntary basis, of codes and standards agreed upon internationally, are also important. We encourage public/private initiatives that enhance the ease of access, accuracy, timeliness and coverage of information on countries and financial markets, which strengthen capacities for risk assessment. Multilateral financial institutions could provide further assistance for all those purposes.

To be concluded

   

 
 
FIFTH COLUMN/ IT PAYS TO BE A REBEL AT TIMES 
 
 
BY GWYNNE DYER
 
 
“The Beatles were outrageous at one time, and so was Mick Jagger, but you can’t remain at the top for five years and still be outrageous.” David Bowie said that exactly thirty years ago, but even he cannot have imagined that the day would arrive when Mick Jagger would be knighted.

Sir Paul McCartney? Of course; the man was born to be a courtpoet. But the “street-fighting man” himself? “Sir” Mick Jagger? It will take some getting used to, though Jagger, still on tour at 58, said he was “delighted” (presumably having not heard the British government spokesman describe him as “one of the great rock stars of the last century”).

There’s no real contradiction here, of course; just a clash of images. Mick Jagger has never been in a serious street-fight: he was a middle-class kid who went to Dartford Grammar School, and then on to art school. In fact, as Pete Townshend of The Who pointed out, “nearly all the truly innovative British (song)writers of the early Sixties had some sort of art-school background.” And thereby hangs a tale.

There are practically no British bands in the American charts now, but this is only the second extended period in the past forty years when that has been true. Britain is the second home of rock and roll, after the United States of America. But then, nobody else needed rock and roll as badly as the British.

Continental drift

America needed it too, in the sense that the US at the end of the Fifties was trying to escape from three dreadful decades of depression, World War and Cold War that had drilled conformity and obedience into most of a generation of Americans. Rock and roll was more a symptom than a cause of the cultural rebellion that followed, but Americans certainly needed to break out, and rock helped. In Britain, however, it was far more crucial to change. The British were so mired in the culture of deference created by a vicious class system and two centuries of running a world empire that they practically had to tunnel out — and they might not have made it without rock and roll.

I was born and raised in North America, but I have lived in England, at intervals, for about half my adult life. I know the other parts of Britain less well, but I would say that the speed of social and political change in England has been about three times that of the US during that time.

America needed less change, of course, as it was already a much freer and more egalitarian place at the start of the Sixties. But it has also got less change than it needed or deserved: I have spent at least some time in the US every year since then, seeing it each time with a visitor’s eye, and what strikes me most is how little basic attitudes and relationships have changed.

Mixed emotions

England, by contrast, was a wretchedly cramped and envious little place in the early Sixties: past glories gone, but the whole package of national arrogance and class deference still in place. Then came the rock and roll explosion, bigger and louder than in the US (where it was half drowned out by the Vietnam war). The English rockers weren’t afraid to use words that meant something, and they knew exactly what their target was: the petty, cowed culture they had grown up in.

There is still the usual quota of whining and moaning in England, and an elite who think they are god’s gift to the human race, but the English are in better shape today than they ever have been. They actually treat each other reasonably well, and they have a lot more fun, too. They are the first and so far the best of the post-modern societies.

I cannot prove it, but I believe that the music and the words made a difference. I even believe they still do. So arise, Sir Mick. As Keith Richards said, you’re “so respectable” now — but then it’s hard to be a rebel when you have a house on Mustique and you’re friends with Princess Margaret. (Strangely, Keith Richards, though also richer than god, has never gone respectable — as Peter Blake, also knighted in this honours list, remarked: “It would be nice to have a Sir Keith too, but I don’t expect that’ll happen.”) But you did spend your time in the trenches, and it wasn’t wasted at all.

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Letting them get away

Sir — You can keep the Vishwa Hindu Parishad down for a while, but you can’t keep them out of the game for too long. The VHP has decided to play the Muslim card yet again and to go against the Supreme Court order to maintain status quo in Ayodhya (“VHP roars to break temple lull”, June 23). According to the party, if Muslims do not toe its line, they will have to stay in refugee camps like those in Gujarat. It also claims that the court order to stop shila daan in the temple grounds in Ayodhya led to terror and mayhem across the country, and as reparation, the disputed land in Ayodhya should be handed over to the Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas. That a party can go on making blatantly communal remarks and threaten to go against a Supreme Court order and is still not taken to task is ridiculous. As long as the court does not take any action against such anti-secular parties, can one blame the VHP alone for carrying on its anti-Muslim propaganda?
Yours faithfully,
Rinku Sharma, Jamshedpur

The face-off

Sir — What Rudrangshu Mukherjee calls “Midsummer madness” (June 16), I would prefer to describe as the left’s “foolishness”. The left would have done better to maintain silence about the entire issue of A.P.J. Abdul Kalam’s candidature in the presidential elections, instead of fielding another candidate. Kalam might not have the requisite political experience, but he is an eminent figure whose contributions in the field of missile technology have made sure that India today belongs to an elite group of nations with advanced weapons systems. Compared to Kalam, few people know about Lakshmi Sahgal, the left’s nominee. Besides, Sahgal is 88 years old and has not been involved in the politics of independent India.

By fielding its own candidate, the left has forced a contest for the presidency, knowing full well that it cannot win. This will dent its image. It might think that it is taking a “principled stand”, but in effect it is only digging its own grave. It seems ridiculous to me that the left, which until a few years ago did not favour Subhas Chandra Bose, is projecting his trusted lieutenant as its presidential candidate. Opposition for the sake of opposition, seems to have become the hallmark of the left.

Yours faithfully,
Diptimoy Ghosh, Calcutta

Sir — Malini Bhattacharya is one of those who proposed Lakshmi Sahgal’s nomination and who, until a few years ago, had nothing but the choicest of invectives for Sahgal’s mentor, Subhas Chandra Bose (“Voice of Sanity”, June 19). Has she been conned into becoming the left’s sacrificial lamb, or is she giving in to the lure of publicity after being fossilized for so long?

Yours faithfully,
R.H. Putran, Calcutta

Sir — The communists used to once set the agenda for the ruling party. Both Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi were close to the left. Indira Gandhi ditched her own party’s candidate, Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy, to ensure the success of V.V. Giri, an independent candidate supported by the left, in the 1969 presidential elections. This eventually led to a split in the Congress. Under left influence, Indira Gandhi nationalized banks, abolished privy purses and coined the slogan, “garibi hatao”. The communists, in those days, were the backseat drivers of the Congress government at the Centre. They continued to set the agenda for opposition parties on the floor of Parliament in later years. Many a time, they have sidelined the leader of the opposition in Parliament, Sonia Gandhi.

Yet, no other party has come forward to support Lakshmi Sahgal, save the former prime minister, H.D. Deve Gowda. The communists stand completely isolated today.

Yours faithfully,
V.A. Gopala, Bangalore

Sir — The left candidate, Lakshmi Sahgal, has lowered her dignity with her remarks on A.P.J. Abdul Kalam. What message, she has asked, will India be sending the world by having a nuclear scientist as president at a time when India is facing a tense situation on the border? But won’t Kalam’s becoming president be appropriate for that reason? The world has not acted to dethrone a dictator like Pervez Musharraf. India must stop worrying about the world’s reaction.

Yours faithfully,
Udita Agrawal, New Delhi

Sir — Lakshmi Sahgal, 88-years-old, is the candidate proposed by the left which wanted to steal a march over the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress. In a speech, Sahgal has said that science and technology have not solved the real problems of the country like poverty, illiteracy, lack of access to potable drinking water which continue to plague us. But these problems have been created by greedy and criminal politicians, and not by science and technology. Everyone knows how industries in Kerala and West Bengal have suffered because of left-sponsored trade unions, and development has suffered. The fact that almost all parties have supported A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, a distinguished non-political candidate, shows the maturity of the Indian democracy.

Yours faithfully,
B.S. Ganesh, Bangalore

Unwelcome callers

Sir — A number of consumer goods companies have taken to direct sales without realizing that this is quite a dangerous practice. Travelling salesmen from these companies usually make their calls between 12 noon and 4 pm, when only women are at home. Other callers are the representatives of courier companies. None of them carries any identification papers and, therefore, there is no way to verify their credentials. With the increasing number of murders and dacoities in Calcutta, the police needs to regulate such callers. Such callers must not be allowed into homes and consumer goods and courier companies should be asked to stop this practice.
Yours faithfully,
B. Roy Chowdhury, Calcutta

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