Editorial 1/ Violent legacies
Editorial 2/ New outlook
The outsider’s dream
Fifth Column/ Automatic route for foreign investor
Book Review/ In the chambers of light
Book Review/ War and its strange remedies
Book Review/ Danger round the corner
Book Review/ Fertile land of renewed debates
Bookwise / No blitz like media blitz
Letters to the editor

The bifurcation of Bihar also means — inevitably, for this is Bihar — the duplication of patterns of violence. But with significant variations and inversions. On September 13, Maoist Communist Centre activists killed nine people, believed to be members of the Ali Sena, in Narkopi village in the Ranchi district of Jharkhand. This mirrors, and laterally inverts, the earlier killing, in Bihar’s Bhojpur district, of several supporters of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) by the Ranvir Sena. The Ranvir Sena in Bihar is the upper-caste landowning militia whose violent conflicts with the Naxalite extremist outfits have a long, bloody and unresolved history in rural Bihar. The Ali Sena, victims of the later Jharkhand massacre, is the Muslim equivalent of the Ranvir Sena. It was formed in 1996 to stem the MCC backlash in Hazaribagh, Ranchi, Gumla and Aurangabad, where there is a substantial minority population. Since 1998, the MCC has been targeting Muslims, which is unusual, given its original lack of a religious bias. A conflict that is traditionally motivated by land and caste in Bihar takes on, in Jharkhand, a new communal colouring — a dimension which the original Bihar could pride itself in having kept at bay.

With the formation of the new state, a power struggle between the MCC and the Ali Sena is becoming noticeable in the Ranchi and Gumla regions. The MCC’s new identity in this mineral-rich state is gradually becoming that of an industrial mafia force. For instance, it has recently looted a Hindalco bauxite mine in Gumla. Its Bihar and Bengal coordination committee has set up new bases in Singhbhum district, near Jamshedpur, and in Ghatshila, both areas industrially well-developed through the Tata and Hindusthan Copper plants. This identity is also prompted by a new desperation. It is common knowledge in Bihar that the MCC had the tacit support of the Rashtriya Janata Dal. But after the bifurcation it would lose this political benefactor, which also implies the loss of funding and arms and necessitates a search for new sources of sustenance. This might mean a rise in kidnappings for ransom, lootings and the growth of the black market in arms and minerals. Another focus of communal tension is the kendu trade in Hazaribagh, which the MCC commands and in which Muslim cultivators have high stakes. What emerges from these new trends, then, is a new brand of terrorism with communal and industrial inflections. This, ironically, is the obverse of precisely those features which are going to be the resources of the new state, particularly its mineral wealth. Senior police officials in Bihar, after the latest Ranvir Sena massacre in Bhojpur, have declared their helplessness regarding the “festering wound” of caste conflict which will “infect every new generation”. The new state of Jharkhand also seems to have been denied the luxury of a clean slate.    

It is always heartening to find that an ideal situation is in the making. The all India Muslim personal law board has proposed certain changes in the Muslim divorce law, some of which are intended to give women a greater say in divorce than at present. This is the promise of change from within the community. Given the tensions that surface every time civil authorities or reformist organizations recommend changes in the personal laws of minority religions, nothing could be better. The prevalent practice of verbal triple talaq by which a man can unilaterally divorce his wife has long been cause for concern. The argument that in many Islamic countries this practice has been modified has not cut any ice with a community which is a minority in a Hindu-dominated country. On the other side, women’s organizations, lawyers’ bodies and the government have hesitated to push for change to avoid the unrest that would inevitably arise from perceived heavyhandedness.

The provisions suggested by the AIMPLB work out into a two-pronged remedy. On the one hand, they restrain the husband from getting rid of his wife instantly by repeating one word three times. Instead, the word has still to be pronounced three times, but with a month between each pronouncement. This would make the divorce final if there is no cohabitation during this period. The amendments also suggest restrictions on polygamy, once again a practice that has been abandoned in many Islamic countries. While these suggested amendments deal with one aspect of the problem of unequal status, there are others which apply directly to the wife’s situation. The nikahnama or marriage contract, which has always been one of the most progressive features of Muslim marriage law, is being redrafted with the rights of women in mind. More important, it has been suggested that women be given the right to claim divorce or khula, and five grounds have been enumerated for them. This is perhaps the most significant section of the recommendations, because these grounds contain the seeds of true modernization. They include cruelty, desertion for two years, refusal to provide maintenance for one year and separation for one year. Additionally, a wife can ask for divorce if the husband is of unsound mind or suffers from a contagious venereal disease. If implemented, the suggested changes, especially the grounds for divorce, would make Muslim personal law comparable to civil law in some very important areas. This would not only mean a better deal for the women, because the personal laws of all faiths are rough on women, but would also blunt the easy criticism of Muslim personal law that tends to make the minority community over-sensitive. In other words, these reforms, if they come from within the community, would be a step towards improved gender status as well as better inter-community relations.    

There is a vision of India given to us most eloquently by Jawaharlal Nehru in his writings, particularly his autobiography, and in his actions as India’s first prime minister. It is given to very few indeed to be able to articulate a vision, and then to have the opportunity to translate it into physical entities and functioning institutions. But this comes with the peril of losing in the translation much of the vision — and of the vision itself being based on imperfect assumptions.

One of the vital contributions Nehru made had to do with governance, that is, the two institutions of the president, who embodied, in law, the power of the state, and the council of ministers headed by the prime minister who actually wielded that power, subject to the council of ministers being collectively responsible to Parliament.

As long as he was prime minister, Nehru tried to establish these institutions as firmly as he could. He scrupulously upheld the supremacy of Parliament, even when his party, the Congress, had a large majority in both houses, and he dutifully briefed the president every week on all important matters of state. This was, after all, a system modelled virtually with no change at all on the British system, and he followed all the conventions that were followed with respect to parliament, and to the monarch as head of the state.

But he was the outsider. Even though he threw himself completely into the freedom struggle, went to jail several times, led numerous demonstrations and agitations, and finally was one of those who fashioned India’s independence, he remained an outsider: the man whose ideas were shaped in Harrow, Cambridge and the Inns of Court, by debate and discussion in Britain, not in India or in Indian institutions of learning.

He espoused the Westminster pattern of governance as ardently as he did the freedom movement; clearly his belief in the one was as strong as it was in the other. The people responded to his leadership in the freedom struggle with passionate enthusiasm; and the fact that he was obviously chosen, so to speak, by M.K. Gandhi helped immensely. It was Gandhi who read the mind of the Indian people, the underlying common responses and values — which appears impossible today; it was Gandhi who perceived what would draw them to the movement, and he obviously presented Nehru as the leader, almost the embodiment of the struggle itself.

None of this worked as well with the institutions of governance for a variety of reasons. Gandhi was assassinated, and while the institutions grew and worked well enough as long as Nehru remained prime minister, it did not take long for distortions to set in.

But consider his commitment. Those who were close to the politics of the time say he had chosen his successor, even though he repeatedly denied that he had, and maintained that the party would choose a leader after him. He had chosen Lal Bahadur Shastri.

On the face of it, an astonishing, inexplicable choice, but not if one looked at the choice dispassionately. He clearly saw Shastri as the one man who would carry forward the establishment of the institutions of governance in the way that Nehru had dreamt they would be, and he knew enough of all the others to realize that they would lose no time in dismantling the structures to suit their own political ends. But then Shastri died, and the powerbrokers moved in.

It needed a leader whose instincts were totally rooted in the essential and abiding Indian consciousness to transform the institutions Nehru had nurtured, notwithstanding exposure to British ways and British institutions. It needed Nehru’s daughter, Indira Gandhi. She recognized, even if she did not express it in those words, that India needed a leader, a monarch, not a coterie of old men relying on their past actions as freedom fighters. And that is what she gave India. She stood forth as the monarch, and had all the trappings — a sycophantic court, secret advisers, and the ability to ruthlessly eliminate anyone who seemed to aspire to leadership, whether in the Centre or in the states.

Her disastrous miscalculation was in not seeing the shift away from the Congress, for the need for a local leader, could not be denied. As one political analyst put it, it was Indira Gandhi who, more than anyone else, helped create leaders like MGR, N.T. Rama Rao, and Jyoti Basu. Had she not shorn the state committees of anyone who had leadership potential and put her yes-men in as state Congress committee chiefs, things might have been quite different.

But it may be premature to read an elegy on Nehru’s vision and ideals. Distorted though some of the institutions have become, some have roots that have gone deep, and there have been some determined political leaders who have made the most of it. Elections are now formidable destroyers of monarchs and would-be chieftains; true, the vote cast is not always cast with hope and expectation but often in anger, but the effect is, often enough, salutary.

Then there is something Nehru did not really consider as very important: communication. The press has grown into a formidable body of opinion, which is usually “agin’ the government” because that is the role it revels in. To this must now be added the growing importance of television news. These media now actually create personalities, build up fables around them; Laloo Yadav is one example, and more recently, and more distastefully, Veerappan.

A political thinker of the 19th century, most probably Alec de Tocqueville, wrote contemptuously that the English people were free once every five years. In India, our very volatility means more frequent elections, and while this is in itself not very desirable, being fearfully expensive and diverting administrative personnel from their regular work, it does have the virtue of making any aspiring monarch realize that he is always just that close to being de-bagged, and his actions will, consequently, take on less of the imperial trappings and character than they would have otherwise.

Besides, the president is no longer the symbolic head, moving puppet-like when the prime minister pulls the strings. He is developing a role that had not been foreseen when the Constitution was framed, but one which most agree is necessary. And the media have emerged as a major force, of which would-be wielders of power are not just wary, but often fearful.

And yet, the urge to look up to a leader who is considered a monarch is deeply ingrained. It is this which gives some leaders dynastic ambitions, which are not just foolish but contain within its foolishness the seeds of mischief, of division and irrelevance, a fate worse than death to any politician with ambition.

The new century will see more changes in institutions, and one senses the emergence of a reliance — fearful, at times frantic — on them. Somewhere in all this the outsider, the dreamer, the Harrow and Cambridge man with the red rose, will stand vindicated, but in a manner he himself could never have foreseen.

The author is former secretary, ministry of information and broadcasting    

Recently the Union cabinet has further liberalized foreign direct investment in the country, permitting full FDI through the automatic route by foreign investors, nonresident Indians and overseas corporate bodies in special economic zones and some areas of telecommunications, such as internet service providers, voice and electronic mail.

The government has also fixed the payment of two per cent royalty for exports and one per cent for domestic sales in the automatic route on use of trademarks and brand names in foreign collaborations not involving technology transfer. Payment of a royalty of eight per cent on exports and five per cent on domestic sales by wholly owned subsidiaries to offshore parent companies would be permitted unrestricted in the automatic route. During the last nine years of economic reforms, India has found it difficult to attract an average of $ 3 billion per year by way of actual FDI inflows, compared to a total annual investment of $ 100 billion.

The government has an ambitious target of $ 10 billion actual FDI inflows a year. To achieve this, actual inflow must be raised to FDI approvals. Actual FDI as a proportion of FDI approved is much higher in the south east Asian countries than India’s 21.7 per cent.

History of reform

When liberalization began in India, the P.V. Narasimha Rao government did expect the FDI flows to bring about a dramatic transformation of the economy. Even while affirming that the inherited “export pessimism” would need to be jettisoned, Rao’s government did not strategize FDI as a powerful catalyst for export promotion.

The United Front, which came to power in 1996, showed greater awareness of the situation, despite opposition from its left constituents to the concept of opening up the economy to foreign capital. It set up a target of $ 10 billion in FDI inflows per year. The policy framework for drawing large FDIs in the economy could not be put through by the H.D. Deve Gowda and I.K. Gujral governments.

The axiom of the new economic perspective of the National Democratic Alliance government was that FDI would prove an ill-chosen strategy for developing the Indian economy, as opposed to a strong and coherent policy of economic nationalism. The argument was that FDI was too minuscule a portion of investment in the economy to be glorified as a critical factor. The NDA has now emerged as a confident votary of FDI.

The Confederation of Indian Industry, just before the prime minister’s visit to the United States, published its strategic report, India-USA: Looking Ahead, in which it has set the target of FDI flow of $ 15 billion from the US within the next five years and $ 25 billion within the next 10 years.

Building confidence

This ambitious target is difficult to meet given the current trend of trade relations between the two countries. The volume of Indo-US trade constitutes only one per cent of the US’s global trade while US exports to India account for nearly 12 per cent of India’s non-oil imports. The US is the destination of 18.9 per cent of India’s exports. According to the CII, meeting the US investment targets will require a high push from both the industry and the government, with greater emphasis on the services sector.

India’s poor performance in terms of competitiveness, infrastructure and availability of skilled and productive labour are the main factors deterring FDI flows. A recent CII study says, “Creating a conducive atmosphere for business goes much beyond offering mere incentives to attract investment. The key to attracting investment is in building investor confidence.”

Of late, states have recognized this fact and have started competing with each other. Relatively fast-moving reformers have attracted higher investments from foreign and domestic investors. In the long term, however, India’s future lies in export-led growth in goods as well as services. India’s continuing ambivalence on FDI exacts a heavy toll on the economy in terms of billions of dollars of FDI lost to its neighbours each year. There is no reason why India should settle for a mere $ 3.2 billion in FDI while China achieved actual FDI inflows of around $ 45.3 billion in 1997, when the former provides the largest market after China in the developing world.    

conditions of visibility: writings on photography in contemporary india
By R. Srivatsan,
Stree, Rs 450
The photograph not only tends to erase the traces of work that have gone into its making, but one also tends to forget, in its ubiquitous regime, its very materiality — the fact that it is placed in the real world and is not an extension of the latter. From supplement to truth, to the truth itself, it has usurped a number of functions that makes it emblematic of the modes of knowledge and belief in the modern world. A logical culmination of the visualizing drive of capitalist modernity, photography inherited a highly formalized mode of representation from painting and the stage in the West. It came to India within years of its invention, but as a technology it had to find its specific place in our cultural context. A combination of tools becomes a “machine” only when its social inscription is in place, when it is assigned a specific function by a culture.

Early examples of the difference in Indian uses of photography can be found in the way the essentially secular space of the photograph was painted upon to incorporate icons as well as human beings as subjects, or things were stuck on it. The photograph could become another sacred object, or a thing that stole the spirit from the body , thus giving it back the “aura” that Walter Benjamin saw vanishing from such mechanically reproducible items of culture.

Hence it becomes all the more necessary to develop an account of the specific career of photography in our context, to place it within the imperatives of our modernity, not simply of our tradition. Where critical discussion on photography is itself rare (since Judith Mara Gutman’s important catalogue book of 1982 nothing much has been produced), R.Srivatsan’s work already responds to the call for an advanced semiotic investigation. Along with another recent publication, Chris Pinney’s Camera Indica, his book will come to address an area too long gone unnoticed.

Classical semiotics argued the necessity to read the whole range of representational activities as so many sign systems. But as one of the major critics in the tradition, Roland Barthes, said in his book, Camera Lucida, it is difficult to consider the photograph as a sign because of its coextensive status with what it captures. Unlike the word, it does not begin with an abstraction. This “amorous or funereal immobility” prompted Barthes, like it did his friend, Susan Sontag (On Photography), to speak largely in experiential, phenomenological terms about photographs.

But Srivatsan starts his investigation of contemporary photography in India from the premise that the very resistance which Barthes talks about should be a provocation to launch a semiotic project. He studies what he calls the “condition of visibility” on mainly two registers: by analyzing the particular configuration of meaning that a photograph becomes, and by uncovering the very determinations that allow particular things to enter the realm of visual representation.

In its more perceptive passages the book also proposes an account of the photograph as a currency working in the symbolic social transactions that make knowledge and recognition possible. Srivatsan looks at advertising images from the contemporary period and from the Sixties, Cartier-Bresson photographs of Indian life and events, film publicity images in conjunction with film hoardings as well as news and police file pictures as examples of visual events. They constitute moments where social, political and cultural force-lines intersect with the perspectival lines of the eye. Hence, hardly anything in these photographs is considered self-evident, hardly anything is independent of the structures of recognition that we perpetuate through and beyond the moment captured by the camera.

Identification, confirmation, pleasure — these are what Srivatsan keeps in focus as he tries to understand the ballast, the ideological support that “reality” receives in order to get validated in a photograph. So, what looks like an innocuous “everyone” in a “Sail” ad, or the gesture, “this is him”, in a rowdy-sheet photograph kept by the police, or a normative “modern woman” in a magazine image is subjected to a scrutiny which lays bare the specific contract that the photograph enters into with the viewer.

In the process, Srivatsan often discusses the relationship of the image and the words accompanying it to say that they penetrate each other and help anchor what could otherwise be a more uncontrolled dissemination of information and value. He is often lured into a hermeneutic exercise, an interpretation that tries to pin the image to its hidden message.

Srivatsan’s reading of the advertisements smack too much of the ideology-critique that became a pastime in the Seventies. But as he attends to the dispersal of the photographic object into a wider space — like the peculiar dynamics of the painted poster based on film stills in its relation to the photographic posters, or the desire to “capture” the criminal by closing the circuit of knowledge between him and his photograph — his discussion becomes more complex and fruitful.    

edicine and modern warfare
Edited by Roger Cooter, Mark Harrison and Steve Sturdy,
Rodopi, Price not mentioned
We often do not realize that many life-saving devices such as the electro-cardiograph and blood transfusion machinery are essentially byproducts of organized human slaughter. The electro-cardiograph machine, for instance, descended from the radar, which was discovered by British scientists in 1940 during the Battle of Britain. And the blood transfusion technique was introduced by the Wehrmacht in Russia in 1942. The interrelationship between the evolution of medical science and the emergence of modern warfare is similar to the double helix of the DNA and Medicine and Modern Warfare attempts to describe this interactive evolution. Most of the contributors are associated with the Wellcome Institute in Britain, which specializes in the history of medicine.

Mark Harrison, lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University asserts in his introduction to the edited volume that the medicalization of warfare constitutes one of the crucial components of “total war”. Totaler Krieg which involved the complete mobilization of all elements in the society, reached its apogee during World War II. The genesis of “total war” from the middle of the 19th century onwards, also witnessed simultaneous proliferation of the medical personnel in the planning and administration of warfare, along with the introduction of new medicines and hospitals owing to military demands. Harrison has named this process the “medicalization of war”.

One of its key features is the rise of doctors to positions of authority. J.T.H. Connor, one of the essayists, claims that the medical men in the American army always demanded increased power, prestige, autonomy and equipment from the government. Meanwhile, during the Cuban War of 1898, 76 per cent of the United States’ military casualties resulted from malaria, typhoid and yellow fever. All these factors led to the steady and continuous rise of the medical professionals to power.

This, in turn, brought about newer roles for the doctors. They began commanding an authority over the soldiers by linking good health with hygiene and discipline. Claire Herrick, another contributor, writes that the doctors of the British army argued that the prevalence of enteric fever was due to the indifferent attitude of the soldiers towards sanitation and the intake of the new creosote pills.

Ian R. Whitehead discusses an interesting development and writes that the concern of the military doctors was not the welfare of the individual, but state security. Hence, during World War I, the British doctors in France were not supposed to show excessive sympathy and concern for the military personnel.

The greatest violation of the Hippocratic tradition occurred in the Dutch army, where the doctors, writes Leo van Bergen, had the right to categorize and punish ill soldiers as malingerers.

Harrison expresses a contrary view and argues that, occasionally, the troops themselves demanded medical intervention. The sepoys’ expectations about medical care when they served in France during 1914-15, were exceedingly high. Medical care was a crucial integer of the “moral nexus” between the sahibs and the sepoys.

However, the book, by neglecting colonial wars, misses out crucial dimensions in the evolution of this nexus. After all, during the British raj, the Indian army’s demands led to the establishment of the medical colleges of Calcutta and Agra and also the introduction of floating hospitals. But the contributors ought to be congratulated for enunciating a paradigm shift and describing how organized killing and medical science have become permanently enmeshed.    

The Monstrous face of isi
By Bhure Lal,
Siddharth, Rs 375
Although under the overarching control of the Pakistani army, the Inter-services Intelligence of Pakistan virtually works as a parallel government — a state within a state. The ISI really came into its own in General Zia-ul-Haq’s regime. It has come to be identified with Pakistani terrorism mounted against India in various forms. The author of this well-chronicled, copiously informative book lists these forms as “proxy war, low intensity conflicts, communal disharmony, sub-conventional war and economic destabilization.”

Pakistan sponsored terrorism in India, according to Bhure Lal, has already claimed about 30,000 civilian lives and over 5,000 security personnel. Jammu and Kashmir apart, the ISI has been active in Delhi, the Punjab, the northeastern states, Gujarat, Bihar and Rajasthan. It has set up training camps in occupied Kashmir, promoting several terrorist groups.

According to Lal, the ISI has infiltrated many organizations within India and it has also set up several front organizations for greater manoeuvring space. It has established links with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, United Liberation Front of Asom and other subversive and insurgent outfits. It has set up bases in Nepal and Afghanistan as well.

The ISI is directly involved in arms trafficking in India. It has been pumping in arms and cash to several militant organizations. It regularly smuggles explosives into India to continue the series of terrorist bomb blasts.

Lal claims that the funds which finance such subversive activities are usually generated through drug peddling and smuggling. The largest movements of narcotics are from Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad. There is a narcotic-smuggling network along the Indo-Pakistani border which is used by the ISI for pushing arms and explosives into India, especially in Kashmir.

According to Lal, the ultimate aim of the nefarious Pakistani game is the balkanization of India which will ostensibly avenge the loss and humiliation suffered by them in the Bangladesh war. Lal also asserts that by keeping the “hate India” campaign alive, the ISI can manage to divert the attention of the Pakistani populace from internal issues. The appalling conditions of the Pakistani economy are thus kept shrouded from public attention.

The book also describes the economic terrorism that is being unleashed through the circulation of fake currency and goods dumped in India.

In Lal’s opinion, the ISI tends to recruit the young and unemployed, and those who have turned towards petty crime. After a period of training and indoctrination, these men are sent to India. They are trained in handling explosives and inciting communal disharmony.

Lal makes several recommendations in his book. He suggests that India should have a sound electronic intelligence system. Important positions, especially along the Pakistani border will have to be manned throughout the year even during winter. India should develop and maintain an intelligence infrastructure which can preempt a bomb explosion. Security forces feel hampered by a lack of coordination among various agencies. Counter-intelligence about the activities of the daring and desperate insurgents should also be tightened.

Lal’s investigative work owes its appeal to the blow-by-blow account of the bomb blasts, killings, kidnappings and other atrocities allegedly conducted by the ISI.    

The long transition: essays on political economy
By Utsa Patnaik,
Tulika, Rs 595
Karl Marx was a classical economist. Unlike others of his ilk, Marx’s teachings found little support from the neo-classical. Twentieth century economics got sharply polarized into Marxist and non-Marxist traditions. The chasm widened with the growth of development economics: the most fertile field for Marxian theoretic application. In India, Marxian thinking, in conflict with popular thoughts, led to several lively debates, with “mode of production” in Indian agriculture being one of the most memorable ones.

Despite its influence on contemporary political and economic thinking, Marxism hardly figured in policymaking, whether it be in West Bengal and Kerala in India, or in the erstwhile Soviet Union, eastern Europe and pre-reforms China. The basic tenets of Marxism were often conspicuous by their absence from the “socialisms” practiced by these various regimes. One wonders if Marx was policy-friendly at all !

Notwithstanding limited policy applications, debates between mainstream thinking and radical constructs have continued and The Long Transition is a valuable addition to this. In the true Marxian tradition, the author questions the patterns of development in advanced and poorer nations. Readers, familiar with Utsa Patnaik’s writings, will find little new in the book, given that most of the articles are reprints (except “Commercialisation in Colonial Conditions”).

To others, particularly researchers, the work will be valuable from the historical, analytical and academic perspectives. The book encapsulates almost all the major issues focused upon by the Marxist political economists with regard to the Indian economy.

Spread over four sections, the volume has 13 articles, written over a span of 25 years, beginning in 1972. In three of the sections, Patnaik focuses on the differences between neo-populist and Marxian schools of thought, the importance of appropriate statistical methods for analysing agricultural data and specific themes from economic history. Two short, but incisive pieces, deal with the mounting contradictions in the Soviet and Chinese economies after the dismantling of controls.

The Long Transition, like most other works on the Indian political economy, is devoted considerably to the agricultural and farming sector. Farm-size productivity, marketable surplus of agricultural produce, peasant classes and agricultural labourers, are a few of the issues Patnaik looks into. Apart from highlighting contradictions in neo-classical views, she investigates parameters quantitatively. Quantitative analysis is one of her strengths and she puts it to good use in some of the articles.

In two contributions of relatively recent vintage, the author’s ability to extend sketchily observed trends to their larger implications is clearly underscored. In “Export Oriented Agriculture and Food Security”, Patnaik points out the shortcomings of the Bretton Woods system, working to the disadvantage of developing nations. Elaborating the “dependency” syndrome, she discusses the import dependence of developing nations as a cause for concern and the dangers to food security arising out of a shift in cropping patterns towards importable crops.

Elsewhere, she draws attention to the incipient pre-famine conditions in the Indian economy, owing to the concentrated growth of economic power across classes and regions.The book has been both inappropriately and appropriately timed. Inappropriate because, these are difficult times for Marxism. The setbacks suffered in recent times have eroded the popular appeal of Marxist ideas. The book therefore may not get the attention it deserves.

It may also be called appropriate because it can revive the flagging interest and can be a shot-in-the-arm for the once-vocal Marxist ideas. Irrespective of the reactions the book generates, the Indian political economy requires debates and this work is a good stimulant.    

The hype is beginning to gather momentum. Every new book by a celebrity is launched in a five-star hotel, and is followed by speeches by other celebs, TV talk shows, interviews in the national press and dotcoms about how the book got written and that angst that compelled the author to put it all down. But launch parties and all that hullabaloo cost money, which in turn, raises three questions: “What makes a celebrity?”, “Who foots the bill for the party?”, and, “Does all that jazz help to sell more than the anticipated sales of the book?”

First, the definition. A celebrity is a person who is known for his “well-knownness”. But celebrities spawned by the mass media to sell papers, magazines and books are different from those who achieved fame, say 40 years ago. The American historian, Daniel Boorstin in his book The Image defined this difference as the difference between well-knownness for its own sake ( today’s modern celebrity) and fame as the product of greatness ( the old-fashioned heroism).

“ The hero is distinguished by his heroism,” Boorstin said, “ the celebrity by his image.” In Boorstin’s understanding, fame rooted in achievement is enduring; just being famous, which depends almost entirely on media manipulation, doesn’t quite last.

If you accept this argument, there are some clear implications. First, once a celebrity has achieved fame, he or she has reached the summit. Thereafter, it can only go downhill. Celebrity lives are based on images — images in photographs (print and visual media) — are perishable. Images are disposable. New images are constantly shunting old images aside, not only in the media but in our minds too.

The publisher who has commissioned or accepted a celeb’s work knows how perishable their lives are. No matter how deeply a celebrity has been stuck in the national consciousness, time will, sooner or later, unstick him.

What makes his popularity all the more precarious is the ever-expanding pool of celebrities who are all vying for public attention. When a publisher is convinced that a celeb’s book has a lifespan of not more than 60 days, he makes sure he doesn’t have to pay for the bash. He “persuades” the author to pay, who, in turn, gets some sponsor to do so. The hotel, because of the presence of VIPs who would also attend the launch, offers concessions that would normally not be extended to others. In the three-way relationship between the publisher, author/sponsor and the hotel everyone is a winner: the publisher and author get free publicity and the hotel the “goodwill”.

But after the candles are blown and the party is over, what happens? Do more copies sell? Strangely, statistics do not indicate that any more than the anticipated sales take place. In fact, there is a “write-off” because VIPs expect complimentary copies to be given to them. Sooner or later, publishers fall back on their traditional methods of selling: higher discounts to booksellers, longer credits with “full returns”, that is, the extension of the necessary credit and the guarantee that if copies do not sell after 60 days, they could be returned.

But let us not scoff at the whole exercise. It has its advantages. Through the act of anointing celebrities, the glitterati is allowed to bask in a mysterious glory; it not only feels that it belongs to a special club, it also gets the exhilaration of, at least apparently, wielding some kind of power over this cultural set-up. But, a caveat must be added here. In the end, the public giveth and the public taketh.    


Holmes’s unfinished case

Sir — “It’s a queer case though, and I know your taste for such things.” This is what Gregson of the Scotland Yard said when he sought Sherlock Holmes’s help in A Study In Scarlet. But unfortunately, the successors of Gregson and Lestrade at the Yard cannot turn to Holmes to solve the queer case they are now faced with: to find out if Arthur Conan Doyle had murdered his friend, Bertram Fletcher Robinson, or not (“Holmes creator prime suspect in Baskervilles murder”, Sept 11). Unravelling the mystery 70 years after the prime suspect is dead is difficult indeed. But the charges are ridiculous, since all writers are known to pick up ideas from among their milieu. Conan Doyle based his detective on his teacher, Joseph Bell, and made no secret of this. With Fletcher too, something similar may have happened, which makes the case even weaker for the Yard. It goes without saying that the results of the investigations will hardly be able to make an impact on the popularity of either Conan Doyle or Sherlock Holmes.
Yours faithfully,
Debjani Kundu, Calcutta

All around the Northeast

Sir — The surrender of the former leader of the United Liberation Front of Asom, Lohit Deuri, cannot be taken at face value. It smacks of a latent design on the part of the ULFA to salvage its present image of a degraded organization. This image resembles that of the anti-social gangs of Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh that thrive on loot, abductions and killings.

Deuri’s statement after his surrender reflects his effort to save the ULFA leadership’s face regarding the killing of the social worker, Sanjoy Ghose (“Ghose killer in ULFA solitary confinement”, Aug 18). This is substantiated by Deuri’s “certificate” that the top brass of the ULFA does not lead a lavish lifestyle.

It is certain that Deuri’s emergence is part of an ULFA gameplan. Once his mission of salvaging the outlawed outfit’s present image is accomplished, he will go underground again.

Yours faithfully,
Rajendra Saikia, Guwahati

Sir — The statement of the governor of Assam, S.K. Sinha, on the need for a referendum regarding the Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunal) Act seems to have upset political equations in the state on the eve of the forthcoming elections. Whether this bodes evil or good for Assam’s polity is debatable. What is surprising is that the governor of a state should have made such a blatantly political statement. And, if a referendum is held, can we be sure that it will favour the repeal of the discriminatory act? Are we sure that the Assamese are still a majority in the state?

Yours faithfully,
Ranjit Gogoi, Guwahati

Sir — Prafulla Kumar Mahanta is a master of the game called politics. After hemming and hawing about the IMDT Act for so many years, he has suddenly become vociferous about its repeal. Has he finally realized that the minority community is not going to support him in the coming elections? Or is he demanding the repeal as the first step in wooing back the estranged Assamese community? Whatever his plan, it has been well thought out. Looking for loopholes in it would be difficult.

Yours faithfully,
Rashid Ahmed, Guwahati

Sir — It is learnt that the Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council is fighting for a separate Khasi land. I would suggest that these militants fight for a separate Khasi-Jaintia homeland as the Jaintia region also falls within the purview of Hynniewtrep. Otherwise, it will only create confusion and misunderstanding among HNLC’s Jaintia sympathizers.

It is also learnt that the Meghalaya People’s Human Rights Council has condemned the recent killing of three young men by the security forces, alleging that such killings are “targeted to silence the democratic voice of the people”. Will the MPHRC clarify what type of “democratic voice” the people of Meghalaya have expressed, and when? People always support the “democratic voice” if the demand is genuine and within the ambit of the Constitution.

Yours faithfully,
Rubent Nongrang, Shillong

Sir — The report, “140 schools likely to be disaffiliated” (Sept 11), in Assam is shocking. Should this come about, students will suffer the most. Is there any proposal to admit the displaced students to alternative schools?

Secondary school education in India is atrocious. The syllabus is heavy and lacks vision. It kills the desire to learn. So let all types of schools thrive. Let entrants decide on enrolment and boards restrict themselves to grading the schools. There should be four classes of 45 minutes duration a day. Vocational and sports classes should be held to help all round development.

Yours faithfully,
Sush Kocher, Calcutta

Sir — Although a year has elapsed since the office of the vice-chancellor, North-Eastern Hill University, Shillong, fell vacant, no appointment has been made. The Central government took no time to appoint vice-chancellors for the Aligarh Muslim University and the Delhi University. Why is there so much delay in the case of the university in Shillong?

In all Central universities in the eastern and northeastern regions, only persons belonging to the local linguistic or ethnic group have been appointed vice-chancellors. So we demand that only a Meghalaya tribal is appointed to the post in NEHU. This is not narrow parochialism. Due recognition and fulfilment of legitimate local aspirations will go a long way in integrating the tribal areas with the Indian nation.

Yours faithfully,
Daptang Kamar, Shillong

Sir — The news that the Assam state electricity board is in financial crisis is cause for grave concern. Reportedly, industrialists in Madhya Pradesh steal power to inflict losses on the Madhya Pradesh state electricity board. In Assam, too, mini steel plants like melting furnaces and rolling mills are stealing power with the help of some employees or officers of the ASEB. Steel units are not even paying for 10 per cent of the actual power used. Something must be done to stop the theft of power. Persons guilty of such thefts should be treated at par with traitors.

Yours faithfully,
Saurav Gogoi, Guwahati

Sir — The programme, Kaun Banega Crorepati, on Star TV is no doubt interesting. But it is having an adverse effect on growing children. It is inculcating in them the desire to earn easy money by answering a few not-too-tough questions. Also, crores of rupees are being spent on the awards to participants, and probably double that on advertisements. Where is this money coming from? Is it not from the buyers of the products which sponsor the programme? Instead of spending money on a select few, the prices of these products may be reduced to benefit more Indians.

Yours faithfully,
N. Debnath, Duliajan

Sir — Most citizens are voiceless against the arrogance of some of their own countrymen. Passengers in buses curse their fates while it halts to lure more passengers. A minister’s cavalcade brings the traffic to a virtual halt. Why don’t we speak out? If an intern in the United States can sue the president of the country for misdeeds, why can’t we penalize violators of human rights?

Yours faithfully,
Ranjit Barman, Nalbari

Sir — Readers of the Northeast are glad that The Telegraph has started its Guwahati edition. This means greater coverage of the region. But the newspaper covers only upper and middle Assam. Lower Assam, especially Bongaigaon and Kokrajhar, is being neglected. The Telegraph should not ignore this part of the state.

Yours faithfully,
Victor Rakshit, Bongaigaon

Letters to the editor should be sent to:

The Telegraph
6 Prafulla Sarkar Street
Calcutta 700 001
Email: [email protected]
Readers in the Northeast can write to:
Third Floor, Godrej Building,
G.S. Road, Ulubari, Guwahati 781007

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