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Letters to the Editor

The Mexican revolution preceded the Bolshevik one. And the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, that the revolution spawned outlived other sprawling, patronage driven, third world political parties � including the Congress party in India. But the PRI�s 71 year run came to an end this week with the candidate of the rightwing Party of National Action, Mr Vicente Fox, being chosen as the country�s next president. Mexico�s PRI was a remarkable third world political survivor. Like many other nationalist movements turned political parties in the developing world, the PRI stitched together a coalition of interests using patronage and backroom deals. It used a mix of police repression and material cooption to keep dissenters in line. Many such regimes, riddled with corruption and prone to highly centralized state structures, failed to ride out the liberalization revolution of the Nineties. The Congress in India failed to do so, even though it initiated the reform process. The PRI was more agile, even surviving the Mexican peso crisis of 1994 and the dislocation caused by signing the North American Free Trade Agreement. But its comeuppance was inevitable. Mr Fox�s party, with its stress on conservative morality and decentralized political authority, was the antithesis of the PRI�s scandal ridden and statist policies. Another third world dinosaur, albeit one that tried to evolve with the times, has bitten the dust.

A similar state of affairs also occurred in Zimbabwe. The president, Mr Robert Mugabe, was a revolutionary who earned popular support by defeating the racist white regime of Rhodesia. After 20 years in power, however, Mr Mugabe is now more known for browbeating all possible political rivals. His socialist policies having ruined the economy and his party having sunk into cronyism, Mr Mugabe became more and more desperate to stay in power � at all costs. Before the polls he land grabs on white farmers to divert attention from the murder, beating and rape of opposition activists. Despite an election marred by intimidation and every form of electoral malpractice possible, the opposition Movement for Democratic Change was able to capture 57 of the 120 elected seats. As Mr Mugabe personally selects 30 other parliamentarians, his being defeated was never likely. But Zimbabweans, like Mexican voters, have suddenly realized that their individual actions can render the one party regime that has ruled their lives for decades, vulnerable. Mr Mugabe must either quietly begin sharing power or further go down the path of despotism.

The Nineties were the decade of democracy. Nearly all the military regimes in Latin America were swept away. An equal number of generals and dictators were overthrown in Africa. In their place have come new leaders, most of them believers in an open polity and an open economy. The regimes that have resisted these changes have tended to be one party regimes like Mexico and Zimbabwe. Many have a legitimizing history behind them and have evolved well oiled blend of bribes and bullying. However, the impact of globalization and international intolerance for overt forms of repression have made it harder for such regimes to survive. With seven decades of rule under its belt, its officials in every nook and cranny of the country, the PRI was considered one of the toughest authoritarian nuts to crack. That Mexico�s forever party has been driven from office is only evidence that, in the end, popular sovereignty must have its say.    

The Calcutta High Court has stopped the playing of cricket at night on the streets of Calcutta. The court was responding to a petition filed by Mr Rajen Sen who lives in north Calcutta. Mr Sen should be complimented on his initiative. There is hardly anybody in the city who has not suffered the menace posed by night cricket in Calcutta. This particular variety of cricket, played under lights, in lanes and even on major thoroughfares, brought traffic to a standstill and even hindered the movement of pedestrians. Moreover, as Mr Sen rightly pointed out in his petition, night cricket posed a threat to private property. Night cricket in Calcutta was an organized phenomenon as it involved the setting up of lights which cost money and on occasions the matches were accompanied by a running commentary over the microphone. Night cricket, because it was organized, had behind it local muscle power. Those who tried to assert their rights to use the roads on which cricket was being played were often hissed at, threatened and intimidated. Mr Sen has shown physical and moral courage. The city�s history will remember him.

One can already hear the populist arguments against the High Court prohibitory order. The city of Calcutta, it will be said, does not have enough parks and playing fields for its youth. Street cricket, it will be asserted, has been a tradition in Calcutta. Objectors to the court order will do well to remember that the order does not object to street cricket but to night cricket on the streets which disrupted life. Cricket can still be played on the streets in the afternoon or even on Sunday mornings as it used to be in the past. Street cricket � as distinct from night cricket � was not an organized phenomenon. Local youth play cricket on the streets in the afternoon but they do not stop other people from using the streets. On the contrary, they stop playing when cars or people pass. Night cricket, by becoming a kind of hooliganism, had transgressed some unwritten codes of civic life. There are other similar transgressions too: disruption through political meetings in the middle of the road, for one. It is time the court turned to check the hooliganism of those who should know better.    

Beyond a point export pessimism is indistinguishable from growth pessimism. The consequence is more confusion piling upon confusion that was already there.

There is actually a pattern which depicts how pessimism gathers strength. Let it be assumed that the prayer of domestic devotees for foreign investment is adequately answered. Foreign investors arrive on the scene with loads and loads of investible capital. They are expected to set up new factories embellished by latest technologies and raise prodigiously the level of production. This process will mean the death of local industries in various sectors. Domestic consumers will cross over from the consumption of locally produced goods in traditional industries to products that are the fruits of foreign investment.

It is however not enough that production by local producers is substituted by production by foreign investors. What the foreigners produce will, it is hoped, prove to be competitive in the international market, thereby raising the country�s exports and foreign exchange reserves.

The pessimists will chip in at this point. There is no a priori ground, they will argue, for assuming that exports will soar automatically. True, if the foreigners bring in the latest technology, it will be a major gain. On top of that, they will have the advantage of cheap labour that is locally available. But as realists we have to admit that the imported technology will have a modest labour content; in any event, domestic wages for skilled labour will exhibit an upward trend, so much so that the advantage of engaging local workers will not be as attractive as initially thought.

Even if these apparent trivialities are ignored, one major issue cannot be bypassed. Foreign investors will have to seek working capital from the local banks. The prevailing rate of interest in a poor country such as India is easily double or triple of what the rate is in the United States or any other advanced country. In the circumstances, it is altogether doubtful whether the output generated by foreign investment will be able to compete favourably in the international market with similar or identical goods produced in the advanced industrial countries. The scope of additional exports is therefore likely to be extremely limited despite the generous inflow of foreign capital in the form of direct investment.

Those who persist in dreaming rosy dreams will join issue at this stage. Since so many concessions have already been accorded to foreign investors, why should not the native government decide to subsidize heavily the rate of interest for working capital borrowed by foreign investors? Again, let us hypothesize that this indeed is what is going to happen. But the very moment the decision is taken to subsidize heavily the interest rate for borrowings by foreign parties, there will be a fresh crisis, and not just on account of heartburn among the domestic producers. The banking sector itself will be caught in a jam. If foreigners are to be offered subsidized credit, there is bound to be a sharp drop in the profitability of the banks.

It is even conceivable that, other things remaining the same, the profitability of some of the banks will turn negative. The government of the country will be greatly embarrassed and come under pressure to redress the situation. It might perhaps be compelled to send a directive to the banks that, to compensate for the subsidy to the foreign companies, they should further raise the rate of interest for the local manufacturers.

Can we foresee the outcome in case such a measure is enforced? The unit cost of production of domestic output will increase sharply across the board. Not only will domestic consumers suffer as a result, the rate of inflation in the country will be pushed further up. This will of course act as a damper to exports; that apart, it will have grave social consequences too. With inflation rampant in the economy, conditions of instability and social discontent are likely to spread all over the country. And in case this should be the denouement, foreign investors will take fright and leave the country along with their capital. We will therefore be back to the low level equilibrium from where we started.

But let us be fair. There is no convincing reason why the line of reasoning adopted by the export pessimists will rule the roost. This is largely a matter of specific circumstances prevailing in the country. We have to take into account the hard datum. Take, for instance, the developments in India in the course of the past decade. With all the efforts our government has put in to entice direct foreign investment, the record of achievement is disappointing. Official sources have themselves let out the fact that aggregate foreign investment during the decade was well below the foreign investment that has entered China in a single year in the recent period. Injured innocence will scarcely be of any avail here.

Till as long as the socioeconomic situation in India compares unfavourably with China�s in the judgment of Western investors, there will be little prospect of foreign direct investment entering India attaining the level of foreign direct investment flow into China.

At this point, economists will perhaps be joined by sociologists, anthropologists and others. They will hold intense consultations amongst themselves to ferret out the reasons for the inferior attractiveness of India to foreign in vestors relative to China, Indonesia and the Philippines. An earnest graduate student from an American university, what do you know, could even rush with a PhD dissertation on the theme and offer umpteen speculations about how the cookie crumbles in different under- developed countries. Please do not be unduly concerned if he or she comes up with, for example, what is to him or her a credible explanation for dissimilar magnitudes of capital ingress into India and China.

In China, corruption is not unfamiliar as it is not unfamiliar in India. However, when a corrupt person is caught redhanded in China, he or she is summarily executed. In our country, the individual will perhaps be chosen to stand for elections, be elected to the Lok Sabha, and sworn in as a minister.

Another plausible explanation is the vastly more efficient administrative set-up in China in contrast to the near-anarchy prevailing in India. Much worse, there is a tendency to idolize this near-anarchy. Many of these suggestions, some will say, are sanctimonious nonsense. Indians will have an altogether different point of view. Theirs is, they will claim, as much god�s own country as the United States is; all it lacks is a quantity of direct foreign investment.

Does it not sound like a parable on vicious circles? Round and round we go, but, at the end of our strenuous exertions, we find ourselves exactly at the same spot where we began. This is stagnation par excellence, did you say? In a free democracy, you are entitled to your own opinion.    


Double roles

Sir � Playacting and histrionics are perhaps what unite generations of politicians in the country. No wonder Sitaram Kesri should now be all praise for Mamata Banerjee, notwithstanding the fact that her exit from the Congress was once attributed to the politicking of the Congress veteran (�Kesri doffs Gandhi cap at Mamata�, 29 June). �Friends� and �foes� are nebulous terms when it comes to forging or breaking political ties. Both Kesri and Banerjee have amply demonstrated they earnestly believe in this. The latter�s alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party at the Centre, state and municipal levels followed despite her severe criticism of the BJP as a �communal� party. The recent victory of the Trinamool Congress in the municipal polls must be ascribed to Banerjee�s understanding of this quirk of politics and her willingness to put that to use. Would it be bizarre to speculate that Banerjee too might now come up with something nice to say about Kesri?

Yours faithfully,
Gurupada Guha, Calcutta

Identity crisis

Sir � The autonomy resolution passed by the Jammu and Kashmir assembly is an attempt by Farooq Abdullah to divert public attention from his record of misgovernance and the embarrassment following the recent release of All Party Hurriyat Conference leaders. Another reason for Abdullah�s adventurism might be the home ministry�s taking up of the issue of the misuse of Central funds given to the state for the modernization of its police force. Abdullah�s track record in protecting the state�s Hindu and Sikh minorities and generating confidence amongst the people of Ladakh, Leh and Jammu is miserable.

Jammu and Kashmir is part of the territory of India as defined in Article 1 and the 15th state mentioned in the first schedule of the Constitution. Successive Congress governments are to be blamed for the lawlessness in the state since they neglected to take measures to integrate it properly with other Indian states. Even Indira Gandhi negotiated with the Plebiscite Front, a pro-Pakistani party of Sheikh Abdullah who was appointed chief minister of the state in July 1975. Her government continued with the special provisions of Article 370 of the Constitution under which the �power of Parliament to make laws for the said State shall be limited to those matters in the Union List and the Concurrent List which, in consultation with the Government of the State, are declared by the President to correspond to matters specified in the Instrument of Accession governing the accession of the State to the Dominion of India�.

Though the framers of the Constitution qualified Article 370 as a temporary and special measure, �secular parties� like the Congress and United Front always shied away from abrogating it. The Bharatiya Janata Party, on the other hand, has always advocated its abolition and wanted the state to be governed like any other Indian state by all the provisions of Part VI of the Constitution. Granting autonomy to Jammu and Kashmir will initiate a chain reaction with states like Punjab and Assam too wanting autonomy. This might be the first step towards the disintegration of India. Parliament should reject this resolution. Dialogue with APHC leaders, within the framework of the Constitution, should be continued and serious efforts made to bring an end to militancy so that Kashmiri Hindus can return safely to their homes once again.

Yours faithfully,
Rajesh Sengupta, Calcutta

Sir � The Jammu and Kashmir chief minister, Farooq Abdullah, is trying to emulate his father, Sheikh Abdullah, who passed the resolution seeking optimum autonomy, declaring at the same time that Kashmir was an integral part of India. Now his son has indirectly asked for a separate identity for Kashmir and is misleading people by making such demands under the guise of the quest for autonomy.

The demand for a separate flag, prime minister, the authority to draw up fundamental rights and the restriction of the Centre�s power to impose president�s rule in the state are but separatist tendencies. The autonomy demand, quite conveniently, excludes defence, foreign affairs and financial authority. This might satisfy opposition leaders like Sonia Gandhi and Mulayam Singh Yadav, but it is tantamount to dividing the country. The National Democratic Alliance government should steer clear of the autonomy report. Every citizen should come forward to thwart it.

Yours faithfully,
Nand Kishore Agarwala, via email

Sir � The secret desire of every politician is to become the prime minister and Farooq Abdullah has devised a new strategy for it � �ask for autonomy for your state�. The Jammu and Kashmir chief minister is now trying to realize his dream of making Kashmir an autonomous state by getting it to acquire its �own� flag and constitution. Abdullah must have forgotten that India�s retaliation to Pakistani infiltration in Kargil was to retain Kashmir as its �own� territory. Abdullah�s demands are meaningless, since by allowing autonomy to the state, India will lose its grip on the Kashmir question in international fora. Besides, it does not augur well for national integrity.

Yours faithfully,
Sailesh Karnani, via email

Sir � There are some issues over which no compromise can be made, nor should any be brooked. These include the integrity and sovereignty of the country. The Atal Behari Vajpayee government is in a quandary over Farooq Abdullah�s proposal for autonomy for Kashmir and it is trying to camouflage the tension with a tough stand.

Kashmir has increasingly been in focus in recent times. The year long celebrations to mark S.P. Mukherjee�s birth anniversary from July 6 will rake up matters. Even earlier, Karan Singh�s energetic campaigning in Lucknow, Vajpayee�s parliamentary seat, had brought Kashmir into national perspective. And now Abdullah�s demand has powerfully focussed attention on Kashmir. Keeping in mind the sacrifices made by our soldiers and our politicians, the bluff perpetrated first by Sheikh Abdullah and now his son needs to be called soon. Or Pakistan just might have the last laugh.

Yours faithfully,
Jitesh Sonee, Calcutta

Baited hook

Sir � I fully agree with the editorial �Colour of Cricket�(June 23). In cricket, the English have always had a hegemonic authority. But now, cricket has been appropriated by the people of the third world. Because of its ever growing popularity here, the corporate sector has come to finance the game. A survey shows that 67 per cent of television sports time goes to cricket.

It is significant that after a successful tenure as the International Cricket Council president, Jagmohan Dalmiya, has taken the initiative to set up an Asian Cricket Federation to reduce the monopoly of the ICC in this part of the world. But it is also possible that this will bring about a split between the Asian cricket playing nations and those from the rest of the world. Yours faithfully Soumick Nag, Serampore

Sir � Rudrangshu Mukherjee in his article, �Game is the thing� (June 25), puts the onus on the Board of Control for Cricket in India to rid Indian cricket of its evils. But do these administrators themselves have enough credibility to throw out a player on the basis of suspicion alone? Who will probe into BCCI�s wheeling-dealings? The writer also wants the �men sitting in the Lord�s Long Room� to hook the current crisis surrounding cricket out of the ground. The hook, I believe, is a shot of indiscretion. To bring back the game�s credibility a straight bat is required, not cross-batted shots.

Yours faithfully,
Nikhilesh Bhattacharya, Santiniketan

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