Editorial 1
Editorial 2
Colonization from within
Letters to the editor


Dream of dawn

Symbols too have their use. After 23 years of huffing and puffing, West Bengal and its youthful chief minister have finally got their petrochemical complex. In Mr Jyoti Basu’s own words, it was “the most important and visible symbol of success of the state government’s policies”. Few can deny he has earned the right to this moment of glory. It is due to the tenacity and optimism of Mr Basu, and Mr Basu alone, that the Haldia Petrochemicals Limited has taken off at last. That it should take off the year in which Mr Basu’s retirement has been announced vests the event with a different kind of sentiment.

Unlike politics, symbols do not a business make. Haldia, in common with other petrochemical complexes, will have two components. The first is the cracker which was commissioned on Sunday. The second is the host of factories which will buy this cracker’s produce. Unfortunately, however, while the cracker goes on steam the factories — known as the downstream projects — to use this produce are not even on the horizon. Many would argue that this arrangement is foolish. Not so — if one remembers that production without a selling arrangement was the hallmark of Soviet style economy. And despite the many deviations, Mr Basu and his party have yet to dissociate themselves from the Marxist path. Haldia intends to get round the selling dilemma by selling in the open market. While on paper this may appear to work, the practice could turn out to be a different colour of crude. Petrochemical products are inflammable: transporting them is expensive and certainly tricky. Exports thus may not be impossible but will certainly be difficult. Even worse news is the fact that currently there is a glut in the market. To be a seller in a buyers’ market is akin to an Indian batsman facing Shoaib Akhtar. Even to sell one will have to discount, that means selling below cost. Hardly the building stone of a resurgent economy. To worse confound the issue will be the presence of other producers. Indian Petrochemical Corporation Limited and Reliance have proven records of service and quality. It is not immediately obvious why somebody will change supplier only to add substance to an old man’s dream. Even if one overlooks the selling problem as transient, for Haldia to become a symbol of new Bengal much more than premature commissioning of a plant will be needed. Even at Haldia Mr Basu spoke about the need to employ the right type of people and said that the demand to use the local population will not be tolerated. Right sentiments but wrong occasion. By emphasizing the problem at a high profile function, Mr Basu’s warning only served to remind his audience of the problem of doing business in West Bengal. Irresponsible work force and an equally impossible party apparatchiki have made industrialization in this state unsustainable. If this state has to prosper its people need to rethink their attitude to capital and to labour. It is not enough to dream and it is worse to confuse hallucination with dream.    



Nothing succeeds like success. Like so much of the world, the nations of the European Union have watched the gravity defying United States economy with awe and envy. The EU nations know why the US is experiencing the sort of high growth, low inflation and low unemployment rates they can only dream of: the US’s fervent embrace of information based industries. The fragmented and heavily regulated European econo-mies have been slower to get on board the new economy boat. Europe lags behind in a wide range of fields ranging from electronic commerce to internet applications. US e-businesses already control a fifth of the European market. The EU’s concerns recently led their 15 heads of government to hold a two day summit in Portugal and draft a manifesto on how to harness the dynamism of the new economy. The 300 page manifesto carefully avoids making any reference to the US. But the manifesto’s two main backers, Mr Tony Blair of the United Kingdom and Mr Gerhard Schroeder of Germany, have made it clear the US is their model. Their message has been constant. Namely, the future lies in knowledge based industries and harnessing their potential requires enormous doses of internal economic liberalization. The manifesto thus calls for widespread deregulation of telecommunication, financial and transport markets.

The EU has had its share of e-successes. However, they have occurred on the continent’s periphery. Ireland is now the second largest software exporter in the world. The most valuable company in Europe today is Finland’s cellphone maker, Nokia. Europe also expects to jump ahead of the US in wireless applications. But the EU has so far been unable to convert these hotspots of technology into a sustained tide of prosperity as the US has done. Two of the key indicators that have undergirded the US’s new economy — productivity and job creation — refuse to budge in Europe. Productivity has stagnated in Europe for four years. Worse, almost no new jobs have been created. This is the missing piece in Europe’s information manifesto. Namely, the need to deregulate the EU’s red tape ridden labour markets. Because of their rigidity, the EU faces a shortfall of over a million infotech workers even as some 16 million European live off the dole. Germany is trying to compensate by introducing US style guest worker visas for software programmers — many are likely to go to Indians. Knowledge based industries are highly dependent on the optimal use of human capital resources. And such efficiency can only come about if workers are not cocooned from the effects of market forces. The EU has produced a lot of words. Until it matches its words with deeds, the new economy will take that much longer to take root.    

Everyone has a place in oneself for something considered precious, inviolate something one reveres, and from which one garners the bits and pieces that form the identity with which we confront society and events. This has been given different names at different times, and identified with relationships that range from the human to those which can be called, for lack of a more precise term, relationships with existences and beings beyond the human, beyond ordinary comprehension.

To many this stems from the primal relationship with the mother; that has been the most intense and intimate of relationships and the most easily transmuted into a metaphor for something beyond the merely human. To others it has been a personal devotion, a link with a greater existence, a more intense condition of being, and has found expression in private prayer, or meditation, or both. To some others it has been an invented ideology, one that has then been imbued with the trappings of divinity, and according to which the most valiant efforts have been made to refashion the environment in terms that conform to that ideology.

Most people have not cherished these because of a quest for deeper meanings, or greater knowledge and perception. In fact, it has been the opposite, for something so precious or intensely felt and revered is also something one does not and can never question. Consequently, it soothes, eases, calms, and helps one to cease thinking. Thinking, after all, is for most of us, the problem. Descartes saw only a part of it. It is not just that one is because one thinks; one is, to be sure, but because one is, one suffers, and that is what the most secret, intensely held and revered ideas, or relationships, or concepts prevent. There is a story that towards the end of his life the poet T.S. Eliot became a Roman Catholic and said it was because all the questions he had agonized over, and the answers he had sought, were given to him by that faith. This may well be apocryphal, but it serves to illustrate the point.

But only someone very foolish would conclude that these precious beliefs or relationships or ideas mean no one thinks about them at all. Certainly a great many do, and some who have, have been among the truly enlightened of thinkers. On the whole, however, societies have not engaged in mass introspection or intense mass study; that, simply put, is what one has been suggesting. This in no way devalues their private beliefs and sanctities; indeed, it is the fact that people have carried such personal faiths with them from generation to generation that has in a very unstructured, even disorganized, way given different communities, and the societies they constitute, their identities. The centuries have seen the most savage persecutions of people because of their beliefs, religious, political, or even personal, and yet, these personally treasured values, beliefs and relationships have endured.

One is not talking about religion, or, to be more precise, about religion alone. One is talking about beliefs about whatever may be precious — a relationship with someone or a set of ideas, be they to do with what is loosely called the supernatural or with the natural world. What caused such people as Galileo, Martin Luther, Chaitanya, Joan of Arc, Peter Abelard and a host of others to suffer for what they held dear.

And yet they suffered, as did others, because those who considered them to be heretics and dangerous to the security of the state wished them to recant, or to be tortured and finally to die. The attack on them was, so to speak, from the outside, from people of another order or way of living. Unspeakable and barbaric though such attacks were, they were a kind of cruelty the mind can accept, as it accepts both love and hate.

Much more terrifying is the fellow believer, the fellow seeker after truth, or the comrade in love who then proceeds to give this precious, most prized of all beliefs and ideas a glaring, aggressive identity and, most terrifying of all, a frenzied public revelation. The bigot who smears ash on his forehead, screams “Har Har Mahadev”, his bloodshot eyes filled with hate, and, by claiming to be a Hindu defiles the word; the bearded maniac who claims to be a zealous follower of Islam and who kills innocent people screaming “Allah ho Akbar”, and in so doing profaning those words, it is the use of terms like love, and compassion in the manic, debauched gyrations of purveyors of entertainment — these are the assassins of ideas and beliefs, who seek out the precious and the secretly treasured in every individual and anoint them in the filth of their own ideas. This is the newest form of assault, the assault from within, the assault that uses the names, symbols and terms held precious and sacred by persons individually, in their very private selves, and seeks to twist them into a travesty, a grotesque, obscene version of such ideas and beliefs.

There is, quite obviously, no perceptible manner in which this can be confronted; indeed, there would be those who would hotly contest the idea of confrontation, and trot out such catchy phrases as “living with the times”, “re-interpreting old ideas” and many others. One can only back shakily away, if one can do even that. It was not for nothing that poets are said to be prophets; W.B. Yeats wrote sadly, “The best lack all conviction, and the worst are full of passionate intensity.”

A whole army stands by while a mosque is pulled to the ground; another stands by as fanatics kill people whose only crime was that their most precious beliefs were different. And all the while sanctimonious fingers are pointed at someone else, or at something else, or over the border, when they should be pointing inwards at themselves, the onlookers, the ultimate cowards and hypocrites, professing compassion, understanding and much else, and doing nothing about it. Not because of incompetence; incompetence can be forgiven, but because of indifference, a profession of sentiment where none exists.

How many of us remember the burning quest for justice that destroyed so many buses and trams in Calcutta in the Sixties and the Seventies, the hartals, the rioting and the angry processions? How many young men and women were seduced by those slogans for a better order, and then, when individuals, each a mere employee somewhere or the other, were singled out and tortured for hours under the searing sun, denied water, forced to urinate in the open in front of a jeering crowd, and finally killed, were told that this was justice meted out by a justly angry people?

There, too, the initial appeal was ethical and moral; equality, justice for the exploited. And there too, those prized beliefs were callously used as instruments of control, to enable sundry bhadralok to loll in comfortable chairs in the Writers’ Buildings.

A shaky retreat, as one said, is all that is left, but with it, perhaps, a realization of what is actually being done — the colonization of beliefs from within. That realization may serve to preserve, in every individual, what is held to be most sacred and precious, preserved fearfully and secretly, and passed down to other generations while outside the bigots and fanatics shout fierce slogans about the sanctity of religion, of democracy and freedom.

The author is former secretary, ministry of information and broadcasting    


Different game, set and match

Sir — Tennis is no longer a sport, or a passion, but a business venture where individuals — primarily parents — use their children’s sporting talent as capital. This was most evident when Venus Williams’s father, Richard, revealed that Venus may soon hang up her gear. The reasons offered by Richard range from Venus’s having made enough money to making a “statement” about her need for rest and proper education. Richard Williams belongs to the new breed of ambitious tennis fathers who plan the careers of their daughters down to the last detail, that is, they arrange for their daughters to compete in tournaments offering the biggest prize money. Besides, there are endorsements and commercials to take care of. In the midst of business considerations and the father’s transferred ambition, what gets completely forgotten is the teenage girl. The results are often disastrous, as Mary Pierce’s rebellion against her father, Jim, showed. For girls like Venus, retirement may be the only way to break the patriarch’s shackles.

Yours faithfully,
Sreemoyee Mitra.,

Up in arms

Sir — Maleeha Lodhi has rightly been described as one of the most dynamic foreign service personalities of Pakistan in “Earning her stripes” (March 11). She even meted out a raw deal to the former Indian ambassador to the United States, Siddhartha Shankar Ray, during her first tenure in Washington when in 1995 she was instrumental in securing the Hank Brown amendment for Pakistan. The amendment helped Islamabad procure arms worth $ 368 million.

Interestingly, the amendment came through during the golden jubilee celebrations of the United Nations in New York. The then prime minister of India, P.V. Narasimha Rao, and the ex-foreign minister, Pranab Mukherjee, along with Ray, proved no match for Lodhi. Her faultless lobbying torpedoed the Indian trio’s empty drumbeating of India being the world’s conscience keeper. Although Lodhi was recalled from Washington by the Nawaz Sharif government, Pervez Musharraf has reappointed her as ambassador to the US.

In contrast, India’s foreign mission heads have no concept of the changing trends in international relations.For instance, the foreign minister, Jaswant Singh, and the Indian ambassador to the US, Naresh Chandra, ended up with egg all over their faces after their inane responses to the Kosovo crisis. We have always ensured that unsuitable candidates are appointed to key diplomatic posts — more due to political than professional reasons. Also, most foreign ministers are run of the mill politicians with virtually no expertise. Fifty-two years into independence and India’s foreign policy is still determined by three Nehruvian “isms”: surrealism, fabianism and bhai-bhaism”.

Yours faithfully,
J.K. Dutt,

Sir — Achin Vanaik does not reflect on the de facto status of India-Pakistan relations in “Till Clinton come” (Feb 25). The author has failed to discuss the main reason behind the longstanding enmity between the two nations: the fact that Pakistan was created by Muslims who feared domination by Hindus in an undivided India. And the primary cause for this apprehension can be traced to the discomfort among Indian Muslims regarding the tensions between Muslims and Hindus which began earlier. The Muslims felt that in an independent India dominated by Hindus, they may be put at a disadvantage. The Muslim League exploited this fear and created Pakistan.

Soon after, the minorities there were cornered. Today, the status of Hindus in Pakistan is undeniably worse than that of second class citizens. Tension between the two states can ease only if both countries mutually consent to compromise. This, however, is practically impossible in the near future.

It must also be pointed out that Vanaik’s statement, “A drift in Pakistan towards greater rightwing authoritarianism and religious extremism also helps justify a similar lurch in India,” exposes his inability to comprehend the proper dynamics of Indian politics. For example, the Hindu fanatics in India are a divided lot and have failed to react to the extremism in Pakistan. Further, could the author clarify why Pakistan has given a name like Ghauri to its missile? It might be mentioned that all these missiles were introduced by the “secular” governments of Nawaz Sharif and Pervez Musharraf.

Yours faithfully,
Hrishikesh Chakrabarti,

Sir — The bloodless coup in Pakistan has definitely harmed relations between Islamabad and New Delhi. And Pakistan’s mission of destabilizing India using terrorism as its tool is also amply clear. Some of the most obvious examples of terrorist acts are the recent hijacking of an Indian Airlines flight, the killings of innocent civilians in Kashmir and the brutal attacks on the security camps in Jammu and Kashmir.

Unfortunately, both these countries forget that they are still a part of the third world, and a full-fledged war between them would simply play havoc with their respective economies. And it is worthwhile to mention that India’s foreign exchange reserves have touched $ 37 billion and the industrial output has recorded a high growth rate as well.. Thus, if Pakistan attempts to play foul again as it did in Kargil, India should also invade and win back Pakistan occupied Kashmir. New Delhi needs to rectify its past mistakes.

Yours faithfully,
Nitin Hoskote,

Unfair share

Sir — There has of late been a hue and cry against the growing trend of Westernization. Wearing jeans or lipstick is banned in certain parts of the country. Interestingly, it is the women who are burdened with the task of carrying forward the national culture. Men apparently are completely free of responsibility in this. Yet it is the men in trousers who issue dictates to women. Boys in skin tight jeans, unbuttoned shirts, long hair and ear studs are a common sight. Grooms in three piece suits standing beside a traditionally dressed bejewelled bride are just as common. Since when has the suit and tie become part of “Indian tradition”? Propagating national values is welcome. But surely not as a pretext to discrimination. Moreover, the attire does not make or break a person. Last of all, we might not be wanting a Valentine’s Day, but then we must also not be wanting what goes on in the name of the Navaratri.

Yours faithfully,
Prashanta Goswami,

Sir — Despite great advances in the field of science and technology, it is sad to see our society still mired in age old superstitions, religious orthodoxy and casteism. Sukhviri Devi, a 23 year old Dalit woman, was savagely assaulted and killed by two evidently upper caste men for apparently having the temerity to cross their path with an “empty matka” (“Woman stripped, killed”, March 18). What is more upsetting is the complete apathy of the district administration which had “only heard” about the heinous crime.

Stringent political and legal action needs to be taken against the killers who now walk freely. Unless deterrent punishment is enforced, the human rights of the downtrodden will continue to be violated.

Yours faithfully,
Sasanka Sekhar Adhikary,

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