Editorial 1/ Right of dissent
Editorial 2/ Caught in the act
Small talk on a tightrope
Letters to the editor
Race for the head of a new state
Groping for a helpline
Stop the marketing of knowledge

Like the word cleave, ideology can also have two opposite connotations. The common political perception holds that the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Bharatiya Janata Party have no common ground. Ideology divides them. Yet both the political parties have similar attitudes towards dissent. Here ideology forms a common bond between the two. Both parties believe that within the party there is no space for individual opinions. Commitment to the saffron flag and the red one demands that the loyalty should be total and the party should be placed before individual desires and views. Behind this is a monochromatic view of society which parties like the CPI(M) and the BJP project as a part of their Weltanschauung. Therefore, it is not surprising to find a veteran leader like Mr L.K.Advani and the leadership of the CPI(M) speaking in the same voice about dissent within their respective parties. Mr Advani has warned his party members that any dissident activity would be met with very strong disciplinary action. Significantly, within the ambit of dissident activities fall, according to Mr Advani, criticism of the party. This is exactly the same terms in which communists have always spoken all over the world. The CPI(M) in West Bengal has threatened to expel some comrades who have demanded that there should be greater democracy within the party structure.

The right of dissent is at the very heart of the idea of democracy because the latter envisages a society based on individuals and their wants. Thus it has to provide space for individual opinions and even for individual eccentricities. To erode this respect for individualism is to take the heart away from democracy and to render it completely meaningless. Neither the CPI(M) nor the BJP have any commitment to democratic ideals. They place the collective � read party � above the individual. Hence, the intolerance towards dissenters in both political parties. Dissent is the sign of a free spirit, of someone who refuses to accept the doctrine that the party is always right. Such a person refuses to accept dogma; he believes that ideological commitment should be mediated by reason. He thus represents a threat to the monolithic structures that dominate parties like the CPI(M) and the BJP. The CPI(M) makes all its members subservient to the decisions of the politburo and the central committee. The BJP makes its cadres swear allegiance to the principles of Hindutva and the discipline of the sangh parivar. An individual is thus made to surrender his individuality at the altar of the party. Any attempt to reclaim that individuality is labelled as an act of defiance and the �offending� member is sacrificed before the gods of loyalty and unity.

It is not surprising that the CPI(M) and the BJP find themselves facing problems relating to dissent. For one thing, the collective dream has proved to be illusory. For another, in an India of growing opportunities and rising expectations, individual desires and wants are also growing. Individuals are becoming more conscious and assertive about their beliefs, demands and rights. Monolithic parties are incapable anymore of containing these demands. The current of dissent is rising and the only instrument known to the CPI(M) and the BJP, because they are congenitally anti-democratic, is to suppress the current. This, as history has shown, is a self-defeating solution. The CPI(M) and the BJP if they do not want to become political dinosaurs need to rethink their attitudes towards dissent and democracy. A growing free market only encourages the tribe of free thinkers and free speakers.    

The Supreme Court has to be lauded for its tenacity. After almost a decade of exasperating delay, equivocation and political inefficiency on the part of both the Central and Assam governments, it has directed the Centre to repeal the contentious Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunals) Act by January next year. The apex court has also admonished the Centre for �passing the buck� of decision-making. The IM(DT) Act is in operation only in Assam and is widely regarded to be discriminatory in several ways. It unconstitutionally sets Assam apart from all the other Indian states in which illegal migrancy is dealt with under the Foreigners� Act. Further, the IM(DT) Act puts the onus of proof on the complainant, making it prohibitively difficult to establish the guilt of the allegedly illegal migrant. The �foreigners issue� was behind the original Assam students� movement and is the prime contributory factor behind the outbreak of insurgency in the state. It is now, in the guise of the repeal controversy, threatening the social and political unity of the state, perhaps irreparably.

Given its inextricable links with vote bank politics, the divisions over the issue may change political equations in the state catastrophically. Assam�s minority electorate will be justified in regarding with suspicion the ruling Asom Gana Parishad�s rather ignoble equivocations on the issue. After riding into power on this horse, the chief minister now �has no objections to either retaining or scrapping� the act. This will be to the advantage of the Congress, which vehemently opposes the repeal and could consolidate the minority votes for the elections. The United Minorities Front, the voice of 30 per cent of the state electorate, firmly believes in the protective powers of the act and will agitate against its repeal. Whether or not the repeal � if and when it comes through after the parliamentary formalities � makes any difference to Assam�s demographic anxieties, it certainly continues to destabilize the polity seriously.    

One day international cricket matches richly deserve to be brought down a peg or two, especially in the context of the goings-on in this subcontinent. Many of the shady deals involving cricket players and cricket officials, including matchfixing, are closely linked to speculation and betting on the outcome of these international fixtures. The government of India�s decision to call off the Indian team�s participation in the Sahara Cup tournament at Toronto might therefore seem to be unexceptionable.

On the other hand, it could be construed as a riposte to the termination of the Hizbul negotiations with India�s official representatives in Srinagar, presumably at the prodding of the military rulers in Pakistan. Whether two wrongs make a right is however a problematical issue. The directive of the Union sports minister has to be considered against the background of the impending visit of our prime minister to the United States. The American official spokesman has castigated Hizbul for walking away from the talks. India�s announcement not to send its cricket team to play Pakistan at Toronto could be regarded with similar disfavour by US officialdom. The authorities in New Delhi may not like it; the response to the decision within the country has also been somewhat mixed.

A strong body of opinion supports the point of view that sports should be separated from the turmoil of subcontinental politics. India�s fixtures abroad with Pakistan in hockey, football, athletics or, for that matter, kabaddi, it has been pointed out, have not been put under embargo. The invidious treatment meted out to cricket might well raise several eyebrows. The official rebuttal of such criticism has been along expected lines. In hockey, football and athletics, India and Pakistan constitute only a twosome among several competitors.

Cricket is on a different footing, particularly the competition at Toronto, since it was scheduled to be a contest exclusively between the two subcontinental countries � India and Pakistan � and there was a distinct possibility of tension rising to an undesirable pitch were the matches actually to take place. Viewed in this light, the Indian decision, it is claimed, is a blow for peace and tranquillity. These platitudes are perfectly all right for home consumption, but whether foreigners, including the American administration, are to buy it is altogether a different proposition.

The assumed advantage which India had banked upon in their interaction with the US state department on account of the unilateral withdrawal of the Hizbul delegation from the negotiating table is therefore in danger of evaporation, following the refusal to play Pakistan in cricket. In the eye of the American superboss, we and the Pakistanis are once more reduced to the same level of intransigence. The prospect of much good resulting from the prime minister�s impending visit to the US is, to that extent, rendered more uncertain.

That apart, a question mark will continue to hang with regard to the timing of the American visit. For all practical purposes, Bill Clinton is now a lame duck president; what he promises � or declines to promise � will be of little or no consequence. The Democrat as well as the Republican top brass will, in any case, be immersed in the election campaign, which is supposed to reach high noon by mid September, coinciding with the prime minister�s arrival in New York and Washington D.C. For courtesy�s sake, some of the leading politicians belonging to both parties may nonetheless set aside some time from out of their busy schedules to make some small talk with the Indian prime minister. This is unlikely to be of any serious import. What is worse, our prime minister too will have to walk the tightrope; he will not know which party is going to win the presidential and congressional elections and will have to be constantly on his guard lest he make an uncautious remark to a politician of one party which could be interpreted as either for or against the opposite party. The scope of misunderstanding is therefore bound to be high.

If the prime minister had to wait till the results of the elections were out, the mandarins of New Delhi could argue, it might turn out to be a long wait indeed. Irrespective of whether he is the Democratic candidate or the Republican one, the new president, once he is installed, would be busy at least for six months from January onwards for getting familiarized with the intricacies of office; he would have little time for visiting dignitaries, especially for the prime minister of, by now, a minor country such as India.

This, in fact, is the major problem. Despite attaining nuclear capability, India has currently little standing in international affairs. Accumulation of half a dozen nuclear bombs does not signify military strength of an overwhelming proportion. A nation�s economic performance, more than anything else, attracts international respect and attention. That we have refused to sign the comprehensive test ban treaty is a datum which will continue to be held against us by the world�s only superpower. True, Pakistan too has been hemming and hawing over the signing of the treaty. Once again, according to the American point of view, two wrongs do not make a right.

At the same time, the prime minister�s domestic constraints cannot be wished away. There are few signs of industrial recovery, agriculture is marking time, denationalization and disinvestment are creating havoc with employment. Because of the International Trade Organization stipulations, import restrictions have been generally scrapped so that imports have risen to dangerous levels, while the increase in exports is still of a modest order.

Growing political instability inside the country has been an additional contributory factor that has made even speculative investment from overseas unusually shy of late, on top of the constipative accretion of direct foreign investment. It is in the tradition to seek benediction from the Almighty when cornered from all sides. It is necessary to propitiate the American supergod in the hope that he would condescend to bail out the tribes of India�s ruling politicians.

Economic reforms, the prime minister has said from time to time, are irreversible. That is a disputable premise. What is irreversible is the slavish attitude of our unable-to-see-beyond-the-nose political leadership. Even assuming that, for pity�s sake, the US administration loosens its purse strings, that would, in all probability, be of little avail, for as price the Americans would demand further liberalization of the economy, thus deepening the domestic crisis. But, then, please pay heed to the adage: those whom god wants to destroy are first made imbecile.    


White House tales

Sir � So Richard Nixon beat his wife and had a psychiatric problem (�Wife-beater slur on Nixon�, Aug 28). Does Anthony Summers, author of Nixon�s recent biography, hope to shock the world with his discoveries? He ought to think again. White House occupants have lent themselves to more colourful tales and the current occupant merely proves this. Nixon not only appears dour in comparison, his revealed �secret life� in no way detracts from his public image. This is quite unlike the revelations of the secret lives of either John F. Kennedy or Bill Clinton, whose peccadilloes severely jolt the images of the �family man� they had portrayed before the electorate. JFK�s liaisons, including the recently revealed one with Marlene Dietrich, are an unfolding wonder, and Clinton�s jaunts with Monica Lewinsky are part of history. Ironically, these don�t seem to have had much effect on the political future of these men. JFK is still worshipped and Clinton survived the impeachment. Why should the Nixon revelations worry?

Yours faithfully,
Amitabha Maitra, Calcutta

Time for a roar

Sir � The president�s sermon on the eve of Independence Day and the prime minister�s roar from the ramparts of the Red Fort the following morning have become near rituals now. What, after all, is the meaning of this yearly ritual? Do these speeches have any impact on the lives and thinking of the citizens? K.R. Narayanan�s rhetoric on religious intolerance is praiseworthy, but he failed to suggest any solutions. The nexus between politicians and criminals also came under presidential criticism, but here too, he did not mention a way out of this unholy alliance. This was imperative given that many members of parliament and members of legislative assemblies have criminal backgrounds.

Kashmir, terrorism, the Inter-services Intelligence and Pakistan have become the main themes of the prime minister�s speech for the last decade, although there have been at least three different prime ministers during this period. And yet, while Kashmir is reeling under terrorist atrocities, there has been little firm action on the part of the government. The defence forces should be given a free run in curbing terrorism in Kashmir. Why do the speeches never mention these matters?

Yours faithfully,
Indu Bhusan Bose, Jamshedpur

Sir � In his Independence Day speech, the president, K.R. Narayanan, warned the media against the glamourization of hardcore criminals like Veerappan. It is hard to justify a criminal blackmailing an elected government into taking political decisions. If a lawful government cannot assert its authority and becomes a mute spectator, there is reason to believe that the stasis is intentional. Unfortunately, the public opinion in India is not strong enough to pressurize the authorities to undertake an active role. It is even more unfortunate that the media also appears to be insensitive and indifferent to the issue.

Yours faithfully,
Tarun Kumar Sarkar, Bokaro

Sir � K.R. Narayanan expressed concern about the atrocities on women, but surprisingly, made no references to the issue of the women�s reservation bill. The prime minister, on the other hand, mentioned it only perfunctorily. Both the heads of state, for some years now, have been expressing their firm determination to see the bill through. However, the failure of the A.B. Vajpayee government for a long time to introduce the promised bill in Parliament has created doubts about the sincerity of the government on the issue of women�s empowerment in the country.

Yours faithfully,
Madhu Agrawal, Dariba

Tunnel visions

Sir � Amit Roy sounds unnecessarily critical about the London underground�s performance while comparing it to Calcutta�s Metro Railways services (�Job swaps�, July 30). It would be unfair in the first place to compare the mode of underground conveyance of the two cities. Despite a sudden breakdown on the Jubilee line, the London underground has already attained a standard which is still a dream for its Calcutta counterpart.
Yours faithfully,
Pradyot Bandyopadhyay, via email

Sir � There is a proposal for renaming the Metro Railways stations of Esplanade, Park Street and Tollygunge after Abul Kalam Azad, Mother Teresa and Uttam Kumar respectively. They are indeed great personalities. But is it justified to change the present names of the stations which have by this time become popular? Throughout the world, stations are named according to the locality or after a nearby prominent landmark, which helps commuters. There is no reason why things should be different in this part of the world.

Yours faithfully,
S.M. Roy, Calcutta

Sir � Two Metro railway stations are named after Rabindranath Tagore: Rabindra Sarobar and Rabindra Sadan. One station is enough for commemorating the poet. In the centennial year of Shyama Prosad Mookerjee, Rabindra Sarobar station could be renamed after this dedicated academician and statesman.

Yours faithfully,
Debal Kumar Chakravarti, Calcutta

Sir � Metro Railways has recently doubled the number of ladies seats in each compartment of a train. Seats should instead be reserved for senior citizens, disabled persons and children below 10 years.

Yours faithfully,
T.K. Batabyal, Calcutta

Unmaking oral history

Sir � We, students of the department of history, Presidency College, could not appreciate, or even accept, what Rudrangshu Mukherjee says in his article (�Question of teaching�, Aug 18). Pegged though it is on Susobhan Sarkar�s (his name is, incidentally, inaccurately spelled in the article) birth centenary, it says lamentably little about the great man and his work. One is left with the feeling that Sarkar merely provides the pretext for a harangue on present day history teaching at Presidency College.

The article uses the �oral testimony� of a �young informant� for something amounting to slander. This we condemn. What we would like to put on record is that we do not see eye to eye with either the �young informant� as quoted in the article or the conclusion Mukherjee draws from his conversation with her. The writer mentions that he is a former (honorary) teacher of the department. One cannot accuse him of good taste in the comments he makes about those still in service. From the use he makes of a candid and casual remark of one of our teachers, it would seem that if he were to write a history of teaching in the department, all his evidence would come from canteen gossip. Quite understandably then, Dilip Biswas (who was contemporaneous with Ashin Das Gupta and Amales Tripathi), among many others, does not find mention in the article.

We would like to assure Mukherjee that we do enjoy reading history at Presidency College. Some of the teaching (the lectures on modern European history, for instance) can compare with the best anywhere. Mukherjee devotes considerable space to the inadequacies of Rajat Kanta Ray. He could have spared himself the effort � our teacher is still a delight to hear. We recall with particular fondness his lectures during the last teachers� strike.

Yours faithfully,
Jishnu Das Gupta and others, Calcutta

Sir � From Rudrangshu Mukherjee�s article it is evident the Left Front government has achieved what it always wanted to do to Presidency College � turn it into a mediocre institution.

Yours faithfully,
Maitri Guha, Calcutta

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Jharkhand is perched precariously atop the horns of a political dilemma. It is yet to hit upon an acceptable face to do justice to the top slot. The contenders are many, but none seems to fit the bill. The moot question is who will be the chief minister. A tough teaser, enough to send the founding fathers of the new state into elaborate huddles, washing a fair amount of dirty linen in public.

The name that hogs the maximum limelight is that of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha chief, Shibu Soren, or Guruji, as he is popularly known. Guruji�s claims to the hall of fame are many. But he is also on the police files. chargesheeted for the murder of one of his aides, Shashinath Jha, the self-styled tribal messiah acquired the dubious distinction of spending an �eventful� fortnight in the high-security precincts of Tihar jail, true to the time-honoured traditions of Indian politics.

The firebrand leader from Jharkhand�s Dumka district, who prides himself in being the driving force behind the statehood struggle, has been accused of nepotism by party colleagues. The former deputy, Suraj Mandal, quit the party in protest against Soren�s �bid to thrust dynastic rule on a democratic organizational set-up.��

Marginal chief

In the last Assembly polls, Soren fielded his wife and son from two crucial south Bihar seats much to the �astonishment and indignation�� of old timers. Favouritism apart, this former JMM MP was also an alleged recipient of �kickback� cash during the Narasimha Rao-led Congress regime. Though Soren is leaving no stone unturned to press forth his claim on the strength of the 12 legislators in his kitty, is he really the man capable of fulfilling Jharkhandi aspirations?

Not many seem to think so. The National Democratic Alliance, the dominant political player in the new state with 42 legislators, roots for a bit of charisma and experience. The name that tops the saffron list is that of the Union environment and forest minister, Babulal Marandi.

One of the new generation tribal leaders, Marandi scores over Soren in exposure to national politics and to the nitty-gritty of governance. An Union minister for over two years, Marandi has been handling his ministry with ease if not �lan. Fairly non-controversial, this relatively young minister has a clean image and a cosmopolitan outlook, thanks to his pan-Hindu benefactors.

Jharkhand, unlike its north Indian siblings, Chhattisgarh and Uttaranchal, has a peculiar demography. Despite being dubbed an �essentially tribal state�, majority of its population are migrants from all corners of the map. Towards the beginning of the last century, when the Tatas forayed into the hills of Chhotanagpur to set up their mega steel plant, they brought in cheap labour from the heartland. There was an influx of settlers from north Bihar, neighbouring Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, south India and Punjab.

Not exclusively tribal

As a result, the indigenous groups were marginalized and at present forms 30 per cent of the population. Hence the demand for a moderate chief minister not biased on ethnic lines. Another aspirant in the fray is the veteran BJP leader, Karia Munda, from Ranchi. Munda, who had been lying low all this while, has suddenly surfaced following the heat generated by the debate over chief ministership.

The low-key BJP leader took to the streets in Ranchi staking his claim to the seat with the veteran Congressman, Bagun Sumbrui. While Congress is in favour of the maverick Sumbrui, the saffron brigade is inexorably pushing Marandi to the forefront. That has left Soren out in the cold.

The BJP recently organized a conclave in Ranchi to deliberate on the issue. The exercise rubbed the JMM, an NDA ally, the wrong way. It was seen as a betrayal of sorts by the Morcha, which sided with the alliance hoping it would be given a wide berth in the new state. With the NDA distancing itself from Soren and his bandwagon, a new political axis is slowly taking shape. A secular front � comprising Laloo Prasad Yadav�s Rashtriya Janata Dal, Congress and the JMM � is gearing up to counter the BJP. For Yadav, it is a windfall. The man, who had retreated into a shell after the passage of the Bihar reorganization bill is back in the news again and is perhaps having the last laugh too.    

The world of small scale industries is in turmoil. While demands for complete dereservation of the sector is growing, the government has allowed the entry of various foreign goods into Indian markets to facilitate their direct competition with small producers. Recently, the Centre removed quantitative restrictions on 714 items like imported toiletries, cushions, footwear, glassware, wheat flour, plums, lichis and other delicacies. Most of these items were hitherto produced mainly by the small and unorganized sector. Restrictions on the remaining items are scheduled to be lifted next year. In addition, import duties on all items may be further pruned.

The obsession of a large segment of Indians for foreign products is well known. Goods from Western countries such as the United States, Germany, France and Japan are credited with a �country brand equity�. It is in these fields of branding, packaging and advertising that small scale units are most hamstrung. These industries complain that the government should have prepared the necessary protective mechanism at the same time it removed quantitative restrictions. Not only is it necessary to provide support and finance for marketing, branding and advertising for small scale units, technological changes also have to be introduced.

One way for small scale industrial units to survive free imports is the increasing ancillarization of the sector, whereby small manufacturers become sub-contractors for large businesses. This will hardly go down well with proponents of swadeshi and the original aim and purpose of small scale industries will be lost. This might in a way be inevitable, since the process of globalization and liberalization of the economy are now irreversible. But to do this, the government needs to dereserve items where the entry of big domestic companies is still reserved.

In July, a high level group on small scale industries recommended virtual dereservation of the small scale sector. It recommended that large scale industrial units should be allowed entry into all small scale sectors provided they agree to export 30 per cent of their output within three years. It also sought to hike the stake level which large companies can acquire in small scale industrial units to 49 per cent, two per cent short of total control.

The report also calls for 33 per cent reservation in government purchases of products of small scale industries. There is nothing new in these recommendations. The Abid Hussain committee a few years back had suggested total dereservation of the small scale sector. The report has been implemented in a piecemeal fashion, with the result that some products have been dereserved at different points of time.

In this way the Central government has been chipping away at the edifice of small scale industrial policy resting on the pillars of protection, reservation and subsidization for this sector. It dates back to the Fifties and is a product of the mixture of Gandhian and Nehruvian ideas. The original argument in favour of reservation was that India needed labour-intensive rather than capital-intensive industries, since unemployment and population growth have historically been high. To encourage rural industrial growth, 47 items which entailed high labour-capital ratios for their production were earmarked for small entrepreneurs.

Given India�s excessive bureaucratic interference, the list of reserved items grew until it touched 836 products. Large companies have been producing many of these for years now. Only 60 per cent of them account for most of the small scale industries� output. Complete dereservation is needed to streamline the sector but is politically very difficult.

Another factor has made dereservation of the small scale sector imperative. India is a signatory to the treaties under the World Trade Organisation, which become effective from April next year. Under these treaties the entire market, including products now exclusively reserved for small scale industries, will be thrown open to competition from foreign imports.

The small scale sector is resilient enough to meet these challenges. It contributes 40 per cent of our total manufacturing sector output (that is, 12 per cent of the gross domestic product), 35 per cent of exports and employs over 16 million workers or 80 per cent of the total industrial work force. The tiny sector � units with investments below Rs 25 lakh � accounts for 95 per cent of all employment by small scale units.

It is the tiny sector which will have to bear the brunt of competition from not only multinationals but competitors from other developing countries as well. It will have to be competitive in terms of cost, quality, technology and productivity. Between 1990-91 and 1998-99, the number of registered units in the small sector has gone up from less than 20 lakh to over 30 lakh, with their turnover going up by as much as 90 per cent.

But there is another aspect to this picture. The Reserve Bank of India says over 300,000 of the three million small scale industrial units have been declared sick. Only 18,692 of these are cases which can be potentially revived. This shows that while liberalization and market reforms have led to the growth of the sector, many units have fallen by the wayside as they have been unable to face the competition.

Following the Gandhian ethos of swadeshi and self-reliance, small scale industries have come a long way from the cottage, khadi and village industries. Now modern small scale industries produce everything from simple items to sophisticated goods like television sets and engineering products. They have become a fulcrum for economic development in backward and rural areas.

The Central government is well aware of the problems faced by the small scale sector but has done precious little for it. In the 1998-99 budget speech, the Union finance minister, Yashwant Sinha, had gone on record saying, �The commonest complaints of small-scale industrial entrepreneurs and associations are the insufficiency of timely credit and the harassment of the inspector raj.�

The Abid Hussain committee had identified credit availability as the most difficult hurdle for small businesses. It had asked for local area banks and credit rating agencies so that small scale units have access to cheap timely loans. Besides, the larger of the small scale producers gobble up most of the available bank credit, depriving the needy units.

This year�s budget took some steps in this regard �through promotional policies of credit and technology.� It dispensed with the requirement of providing collateral security for loans to the tiny sector upto five lakh rupees. Second, it enhanced the composite loan scheme limit to Rs 10 lakh. Furthermore, a Central credit guarantee scheme for the sector with a provision of Rs 100 crore was launched.

The Abid Hussain committee had also recommended that a separate law should be enacted for the small scale sector. This was aimed at dismantling the pernicious inspector raj and thereby curbing corruption at the grassroots level. In July, the ministry of small scale industry proposed a process of self-certification by small scale industrial units themselves to replace the inspector raj.

The prime minister is scheduled to announce a comprehensive package for the small scale sector, including fiscal incentives and a new policy for the tiny sector, at the first ever national conference for the small scale sector today. What the small scale industrial units really need now is investment in long term infrastructure such as roads, ports or power, instead of mere handouts or tax sops. They are at a disadvantage in these matters vis-�-vis large companies. For example, small-scale units cannot afford to set up captive power plants and are always at the mercy of state electricity boards.

It would be unfortunate if free imports and competition by multinationals lead to the closure of most small scale units. They have contributed in no small way to the national economy and the threat they are facing is very real. They need to develop popular brands and market them aggressively. If small scale units start closing down, it will lead to widespread unemployment and banks will be saddled with bad loans.    

Every year around this time youngsters who complete their schooling choose their career options and select the relevant courses in high school or college. In fact, the meanings they attach to their academic pursuits help us understand the state of higher education in the country. Most often these turn out to be purely instrumental meanings. Relevance is evaluated in terms of marketability.

For example, commerce as a branch of knowledge, as admission statistics reveal, has acquired high status; it seems to have reduced the importance of physics and, say, English literature as prestigious subjects.The reason is that a link is established between commerce and the emergent techno-economic establishment. But then, this argument proposes that the close affinity between knowledge and business, if not resisted, would damage the culture of learning.

Debased objectives

The ultimate objective of higher education is to �understand� life � the physical universe, the cultural landscape and the mental world. To fulfil this grand ideal, is to celebrate multiple systems of knowledge: from physics to anthropology, from technology to philosophy, from mathematics to literature. The noble ideal however is being speedily transformed. First, the act of understanding is being replaced by the instrumental rationale of material success. Second, knowledge as a mode of critical enquiry is replaced by know- ledge as a saleable skill. A major reason for this is the logic of power and money which colonizes every aspect of human existence, including the relevance of knowledge systems.

The consequences are disastrous. The culture of learning declines. The learner buys a saleable skill, the teacher becomes a salesman and the university no longer remains a sacred zone of reflection and meditation.

Notional efficiency

Second, the new notion of efficiency � complete a �relevant� course, enter the job market and earn money � deprives the learner of the chance to develop critical faculties. Those swho fail to get into the swing suffer from a kind of marginalization.

Is it possible to evolve an alternative culture of learning? It is certainly true that there is a political economy of education. Global capitalism transforms technology into a fetish, and makes the career conscious, upwardly mobile middle class eager to usurp opportunities the market has to offer.

The only method by which one can resist such a trend is by altering the structure of the economy. For this, we need a new movement, the chief objective of which will be to assert the necessity of critical enquiry and philosophic reflections. Without economic transformation it might be difficult. But we need to start now.    


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