Editorial\Sketch in India Ink
This tiger�s not for using
Letters to the Editor

Another United States president with a soft spot for India, John F. Kennedy, believed that democratic India and communist China were in a race for the leadership of Asia. Today China is so far ahead of India no one makes that comparison any more. This combination of expectation and disappointment has marked Indo-US relations since 1947. Liberal Americans who put their faith in India in the Fifties and Sixties were let down as India turned inwards on the economic front and emerged a textbook case of stunted development. Its foreign policy moved from neutrality to an overt security alliance with the Soviet Union.

The truth is US relations with Pakistan were never deep either. There were three periods during the Cold War when the two countries had intimate security relations. But Pakistan�s economy was as isolated as India�s and its democratic traditions weaker. As a whole, south Asia rated just above Africa in the list of US foreign policy priorities these past 50 years. Indians like to blame US arrogance and ignorance. But it is true a socialist subcontinent offered the world no incentives for engagement. As the present state department number three, Mr Thomas Pickering, recently regretted, south Asia has long been on the �backside of US diplomacy.��

It is easy to lose sight of the significance of Mr Bill Clinton�s coming visit to south Asia in the fog of differences over nuclear tests, nonproliferation, technology sanctions and intellectual property rights. But this is exactly what has been wrong about US relations with the subcontinent, and India in particular. With no overarching vision, no larger framework, policies were dominated by bickering over small issues pushed by even smaller lobby groups � from human rights activists to nonproliferation zealots. Even Islamabad�s US relationship has been unidimensional. When the Soviet threat was in eclipse, US-Pakistan relations were as acrimonious as those between the US and India.

Mr Clinton comes to south Asia when it is offering two diametrically opposite faces. One visage is India, a stable democratic regime that has surprised even itself by becoming a major centre for knowledge- based industries. On the other is Pakistan, a military dictatorship whose export basket includes heroin and emigrants include fundamentalist terrorists. There is no doubt as to which face Mr Clinton wishes to woo. He has personally pushed this visit because he believes India will be one of five or six key countries of the world. Mr Pickering lumped it with China and Russia as a �major power in transition��. The US president is also interested in a place in history. Hence his hopeful dangling of the bait that he would not mind facilitating a dialogue between India and Pakistan.

Washington and New Delhi are still at loggerheads, albeit politely so, on a wide range of security issues. Mr Clinton wants to bypass this obstruction by focussing on the areas where India and the US are moving ahead: knowledge based economic areas like software and biotechnology. This may seem less exciting than nuclear weapons. But they are far more important. They will be the determinants of national power and influence in the coming millennium. Pakistan also has a place in the US�s post-Cold War worldvision. But as a source of terrorism, drugs and high risk nuclear strategies. This requires US attention, but of a different kind. What Washington sees is that the largest chunk of the subcontinent shows signs of returning to the global fold after a decade�s long abstention. And it will do so as a technology driven economy and a pluralistic liberal democracy � not unlike the US itself. This commonality, in the end, is the ultimate reason Mr Clinton is ignoring the nuclear tests and other irritants and spending five days in India.    

The seizures of wild animal derivatives over the turn of the year have not elicited the kind of outcry they should have. In all, the raids in two centres in Uttar Pradesh in December 1999 and January of the new year have brought in a haul of big cat skins and claws that are the largest ever not merely in India but in the world. Add up the numbers and they result in the remains of an astonishing 37 tigers and over 1,100 leopards. What we are witnessing is the tip of the iceberg of a fresh assault not only on endangered species but, equally significant, on their habitats.

The unravelling of a web of life, the sustenance of which has been a major achievement of independent India, is no secret. So acute are the pressures that even members of the bureaucracy are being outspoken. The director of Project Tiger, P. K. Sen, went so far as to tell a conference at the India International Centre, New Delhi, �The tiger is dying.� This despite the fact that over 30,000 square kilometres of prime tiger habitat is protected in reserves under the scheme he heads.

This is perhaps the largest slice of tiger habitat in the world that is intact. Yet the drive to open up such lands for industry has gathered momentum and is being facilitated by the government�s preoccupation with other, more pressing matters.

One point of view is that all this hardly matters. Development does have a way of making short work of wildlife. The wolf and the brown bear had vanished from the British Isles even before the Industrial Revolution gathered force. All that the United States supports are hardly a few hundred grizzlies while wolves only exist in a couple of states. In much of western Europe the large carnivores only survive, sometimes barely so, in mountains and hill ranges that are in relatively remote tracts.

Such a viewpoint, alluring as it is, may also be misleading in the extreme. India�s wildlife has survived in the main owing to a conscious decision to preserve it in at least a fraction of the landscape. There were and are sound ethical reasons for doing so. Jawaharlal Nehru, India�s first prime minister and C. Rajagopalachari, the first head of state of independent India, were the first men in high office in centuries not to go out on shoots. Every British viceroy down to Louis Mountbatten had gone and �got� his tiger.

Nehru personally intervened to stop a scramble amongst the maharajahs to shoot lions in the Gir Forest, Saurashtra after their protector, the Nawab of Junagadh, fled to Pakistan. Rajaji waived the shooting rights that were a perquisite of his office in the forests of the Shivalik hills, which became a sanctuary of wildlife.

The idea was a simple one. India would set out a new ethic of peace, which would also extend to nature.

By the end of the Sixties, the limitations of this approach were evident. In any case, it was never thought through with any seriousness. The drive to fetch foreign exchange led ex-rulers like Vidya Chandra Shukla to run shikar companies. Anyone who paid Rs 30,000 was �guaranteed a tiger�. Indians with means were not far behind. A visitor to the palace of the maharajah of Vizianagram or Vizzy, the cricketer-prince, was aghast to be told of a stuffed tigress that she had marked yet another �century�.

The trade in tiger and leopard skins was still legitimate in 1968 when an enterprising forester with no love for the gun helped uncover the extent of the trade. The price of a tiger pelt had gone up from $ 50 to ten times that price in less than a decade. Kailash Sankhala would later write of a godown he visited: �I counted 22 tiger heads and all seemed to be laughing at us; probably they were mocking at our mission. There were hundreds of tiger rugs and I pulled out four and spread them on the floor�.

A year later the government banned the export of tiger and leopard skins. By 1973, a new act had been promulgated to help protect wildlife and new federally funded programmes were in place to safeguard at least a few select tracts.

The next major scare was in the early Nineties with the rise of the tiger bone trade in China. By July 1997, 118 tiger skins and over 363 kilograms of tiger bone had been recovered. It also became quickly evident that the killing in itself was not the only problem.

Most wild carnivores � and the leopard and tiger are no exception � can indeed recover rapidly provided they have enough habitat and prey. Many of today�s protected sites such as Sariska in Rajasthan and Chitwan in Nepal have been the scenes of huge hunts in the past. But the entire context has changed.

Prodded by concern from both within and outside India, the official machinery became a little more open and transparent. Volunteers were involved in tiger censuses. Many major states set up consultative mechanisms. Mainly because of the ring of protection around key habitats, the crisis passed. But, as is now evident, the relief was shortlived. For one, the underlying drive to open up the habitats never really slackened. Many state governments are bankrupt. One of the first victims of a freeze in hiring is the wildlife wing of the forest department. An estimated four of every 10 posts are empty.

Unlike in the Seventies, the Union government cannot browbeat the states, each of which wants to maximize revenues. Right now there is a concerted drive in Karnataka to harvest fallen trees from the national parks.

The timber lobby, not content with hacking trees in the rest of the state, is eyeing the rich stands in the two tiger reserves, Bandipur and Nagarahole. Protection of the entire ecosystem in toto is today being applied to a fraction of the landmass, barely one per cent of the country. It matters, not because tigers or panthers do, but because these lands are a repository of natural wealth.

Imagine the outcry if parts of the Konarak temple or Fatehpur Sikri were being hacked off and sold to the highest bidder. A better analogy is that of the library of ancient Alexandria, a repository of learning across the ages, burnt to cinders in a matter of hours. This is what the destruction of the natural landscape in India amounts to. After all, the forests, inclusive of their wild denizens and plants, their soils and waters, are as much a part of this country�s heritage as the monuments of yore.

In the past, even in times when there were other, pressing demands on the purse, conservation was given its due. This is as it should be.

Given the country�s size and its diverse and multilayered environmental movement, it is possible to work out ingenious answers to the current crisis. But there has to be a deeper sense of urgency. It would be a pity if short term interests left the best of our heritage a wasteland.

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


Politics of identity

Sir � While it may be true that �the BJP has no identity of its own�, that its agenda is the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh�s, it is also true that without the Bharatiya Janata Party, Hindutva would never have had the �legitimacy� it has now (�Sangh signals reform protests�, March 15). Neither would the change of the sarsanghchalak of a fringe organization make it to the front pages. K.S. Sudarshan would do well to remember this. And by going hammer and tongs at the Central government, Sudarshan and his brothers in khaki pants might be losing the only chance they have of pushing through their ignoble gameplan under a mukhauta.

Yours faithfully,
Manik Ray, Calcutta

Behind the visit

Sir � The forthcoming visit of the United States president, Bill Clinton, to India � especially Hyderabad � has generated tremendous publicity in the media. It was hoped that his trip would be intellectually stimulating and both the countries would benefit, especially in information technology business. However, Clinton will neither be visiting the information technology enterprises in Hyderabad nor will he be addressing intellectuals and entrepreneurs like he did during his trip to China.

Instead, the US president will be making a tour of tombs and forts of Hyderabad. It is indeed unfortunate that instead of being shown a progressive and modern India, Clinton will be exposed to the remains of a decadent past. Moreover, the fact that the US president will be making a stopover in Pakistan is hardly good news for New Delhi.

Yours faithfully,
P. Jhansi Lakshmi, Secunderabad

Sir � The media is going overboard over Bill Clinton�s visit to India. Although bilateral trade deals may be ratified during the American president�s trip, it is unlikely that any concrete long term political treaty will evolve within the next fortnight. The Atal Behari Vajpayee government must keep in mind that with the change of guard due shortly at the White House, US foreign policy is bound to be revised next year, after Al Gore or George Bush Jr takes over the reins.

Yours faithfully,
L.N. Kumar, Calcutta

Sir � The content of Atal Behari Vajpayee�s lecture at a university in Mauritius ought to send out clear signals that it is about time the US began leading by example to ensure fairer economic distribution of wealth among nations (�PM breathes business fire before Clinton visit�). Developed nations must take the initiative to silence critics of globalization, which is at present centred around the opening of undeveloped and developing economies to consumer goods manufactured in the West. Developed nations must ensure the setting up of manufacturing facilities to create wealth and employment; anything short of that is pure hoodwinking. Vajpayee must not compromise on this front.

Yours faithfully,
Sush Kocher, Calcutta

Sir � The attitude of the Indian government towards Bill Clinton�s visit is nothing short of shameful. Usually the host country decides the itinerary of the visiting dignitary. In this case it is the other way round. Just because he is the US president, Clinton seems to have the prerogative to decide whom to meet. The Pakistan lobby in Washington has even got him to make a last minute stopover in Pakistan. Indians have failed in making the visit a success even before Clinton has set foot in the land.

Yours faithfully,
Kousher, Calcutta

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