| || |
| || |
What is implicit in the foregoing analysis is the impossibility of living outside history. Whatever be the name by which Calcutta is officially called, its history cannot be erased by an official diktat. Calcutta has little or no history that predates the coming of the British. It grew from a small village to a sprawling metropolis under the British aegis and with the help of wealth generated by the British presence. The city�s golden age, such as it was, was reached under British rule. To call Calcutta by its assumed indigenous name, Kolkata, because the latter has no colonial overtones is to deny a most vital part of Calcutta�s history. This denial may bring political dividends but it may also turn out to be a meaningless and somewhat irrelevant exercise. Kolkata is inextricably linked to Calcutta. The colonial history of Calcutta cannot be denied. Mr Bhattacharjee may find history to be a tough enemy to defeat. He would be well advised to get on with the task producing changes in Calcutta and West Bengal that are more fundamental than changing a name.
| || |
| || |
In West Bengal, the government�s distaste for saffron and its ideological commitment to that most platonic of ideals, the people, determine most of its rhetoric of self-congratulation on achievements in education. Even as the chief minister celebrates the providing of universal elementary education in the state and a 75 per cent literacy rate, a group of non-governmental organizations is drafting a report on primary education in Bengal that exposes most of these official claims to be false. The number of primary school teachers has been going down steadily, most of the government schools do not have proper buildings and basic equipment, the drop-out rate remains alarming, and only 15 per cent of the surveyed children who cannot go to a proper school manage to reach a non-formal education centre (the rest remain illiterate). The state and Central governments� long and brutal unconcern is, of course, part of a larger and ancient indifference. A range of inequalities � of economic resources, of gender, of social opportunities � has now become a natural reality: tragic, but unavoidable, like a cyclone. A combination of abysmal poverty and inadequate legal protection perpetuates every form of child labour, naturalized and rationalized in different ways in almost every stratum of society that can avail itself of the services of children. This sense of normalcy in the face of pervasive deprivation and abuse is at the root of this situation. Political apathy is the obverse of a general blindness to the most obvious and heinous form of violence that a society, and a polity, could perpetrate on its most vulnerable members.
| || |
| || |
The IEG has now come out with its monthly report on the state of the economy. This essentially corroborates the main conclusion reached by the DSE-IEG team. The new report forecasts that Indian industry may pull out of the recessionary phase by January. The index of industrial production was expected to grow by six per cent in December and 6.6 per cent in January. The report also indicates that the remarkable performance of the export sector in the first quarter has actually been maintained for the first three quarters. For the year as a whole, the growth in exports will exceed that of imports. This is a rather unusual phenomenon in India.
Of course, projections about the future path of the economy have to be based on assumptions made about a large number of �parameters�. Obviously, the nature of government policies is an important factor in all countries. For instance, crucial parameters such as increase in money supply, the levels of taxes and government expenditure are �fixed� by the government and not decided by the markets. Economies which are in a transitional phase are particularly dependent on actions which can only be undertaken by the government. This makes the task of forecasters particularly difficult since governments have their own agendas � often these are not even revealed to the layperson.
The increasing globalization has also added to the complications of forecasting future growth paths of any economy. It no longer makes sense to focus largely on domestic conditions. Macroeconomic models must now incorporate a fairly detailed description of international linkages. For instance, forecasters in India must take into account the nature of responses of India�s competitors in global markets. Will they be in a position to compete aggressively with India in world markets? For that matter, the gradual lowering of tariff barriers means that international competitors can even capture large chunks of domestic markets.
However, it is extremely difficult to construct forecasting models which can cope with all the intricacies of international linkages. Much of the time, one is forced to fall back on somewhat heuristic arguments when it comes to evaluating the consequences of international factors on a specific country�s prospects of growth.
Unfortunately, there are some indications that developments in the international economy may have negative consequences for India. Perhaps the most worrying feature is the possibility that the American economy may be heading for a slowdown. Americans have witnessed an unprecedented long spell of relatively high growth rates. Each quarter, there is talk that the boom period has to come to an end. Somehow, subsequent events prove that these predictions were unduly pessimistic and the American economy keeps on growing.
There is again a lot of talk that the United States economy has reached a plateau. Of course, this may be a false alarm all over again. But, if the prediction turns out to be right, then the entire world economy may go into a tailspin. The US economy is simply too big and the world economy too interrelated for such a major event to have only local effects. The repercussions of a fall in US growth rates will have large ripple effects and affect all countries. Developing countries whose export sector is relatively large, compared to the size of their overall economy, will be particularly hard-hit since world markets will shrink.
Fortunately, the export sector in India is quite small when compared to the overall size of the economy. So, at least the immediate effect may not be very devastating in India. However, the gradual shrinking of markets in developed countries may force foreign companies to explore possibilities in developing countries at a subsequent stage. Thus, there will be increased competition in Indian markets too. While this will benefit Indian consumers, there will be an obvious adverse impact on domestic industry. Of course, if the slowdown in the world markets is a temporary phenomenon, then the Indian economy may escape unscathed.
Another development in the international economy is the gradual recovery of several east Asian economies. Thailand, Malaysia and South Korea have all recorded impressive growth rates during the last year. The consequences of this on the Indian economy are more difficult to predict. Companies in these countries are probably better equipped to explore favour- able conditions in international markets than Indian companies � the former have been exporting for a considerably longer period. The easing of supply constraints in their own countries may make them more dangerous competitors. On the other hand, the recovery process in these Asian countries may itself have a positive �enlarging� effect on markets. After all, the east Asian meltdown was also accompanied by a worldwide slowdown. If the world economy itself expands as a consequence of the recovery process in east Asia, Indian companies have less reason to fear the consequences of increased competition from competitors in east Asia.
Perhaps the most unfortunate factor for Indian companies is that they cannot expect much help from their government. The government seems to be completely devoid of ideas about what to do in order to accelerate the rate of growth in the economy. There has been absolutely no evidence of any policy initiative during the last couple of months. Even in areas where a policy decision has been undertaken, the actual implementation of the decision has been painfully slow. The best example of this is in the sphere of disinvestment. The budget for the current fiscal year projected a figure of Rs 10,000 crores as the sum that would be raised from disinvestment during the year. But the government has been dragging its feet on the issue and the final amount collected through the year will be a mere pittance.
The Bharatiya Janata Party�s desire to hold on to power at all costs has meant that it has yielded to its regional allies on a whole host of issues. The latest example of this was the procurement of substandard foodgrain in Punjab. There is little doubt that the actual food subsidy bill will be significantly higher than the targeted amount. It has also been shying away from taking any hard decisions such as cutting down the size of the government. There is a strong possibility that the fiscal deficit will again exceed the targeted amount. The financially crippled government faces obvious difficulties in trying to put in place a package of measures which will revive the economy.
The author is an economist at the Indian Statistical Institute, New Delhi
| || |
| || |
First, the ostensibly �secular� Indian academia and media have always rejected the RSS�s claim of being a historical offspring of an indigenous ideological movement in the 19th and 20th centuries. Second, its brand of Hindu cultural nationalism is also excluded from being a participant in any ideological discourse in the country. Enormous amounts of literature, produced by organizations like the Sampradayikata Virodhi Committee, is replete with anti-RSS agitprop.
Nevertheless, the RSS has continued to grow both vertically and horizontally. Its appeal at the grassroots level gives it an enormous strength. After its formation in 1925, the first task which the founder sarsanghchalak, K.B. Hedgewar, assigned to it was the organization of Hindus as a national community. It does not view politics as its telos but wishes to influence and correct the way it is conducted through its moral authority and as an overseer of the collective conscience of the nation. It has never been interested in high-sounding ideals, but silently attempts to translate them into action.
Caste outThe present state of national politics and the Bharatiya Janata Party, which owes its ideological commitment to it, is deeply unsettling for the RSS. Caste has become an important factor in the BJP�s preferred political culture. This grounding would deprive the RSS its national character. After it was created, the RSS was without a name for about six months. Its founder rejected the popular suggestion that it should be named as Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh. The motive behind using the word �rashtriya� is explained by him. This would enable the mobilization and organization of Hindus and give the RSS a national, rather than a communitarian, character.
For Hedgewar, the cultural content of the Indian civilization could be expressed more appropriately through the use of the word �Hindu� and this is why he called India the �Hindu rashtra�. The RSS neither aspires to build a theocratic state, nor does it ignore the existence of other religious communities. Unlike other Hindu organizations and some prominent Hindu �sangathanists�, the RSS leadership, whether in the hands of Hedgewar or of M.S. Golwalkar, had never demanded a nation solely for Hindus. During their time, the demand for a separate Muslim state was gaining ground.
Give them a chanceThey stressed that a common history bound communities. Says Golwalkar, in Bunch of Thoughts, �There are some who imagine that the concept of a Hindu nation is a challenge to the very existence of the Muslim and Christian citizens and they will be thrown out and exterminated. Nothing could be more absurd or detrimental to our national sentiment . It is an insult to our great and all embracing cultural heritage.�
He echoed the inherent pluralism in the Hindu ethos. Religious persecution is anathema to Indian culture. Religious dialogues, debates, sects, philosophies with a semi-religious content � all of these form the basis of Hindu dynamism. That is why the RSS consistently rejected the two-nation theory. Religious cults do not make a nation. It is a cultural bond alone which makes the nation indestructible and negates Ernest Renan �s dictum that a �nation is a daily plebiscite�. K.S. Sudarshan�s recent appeals to minorities to accept �Indian roots� is only a continuation of the belief that communities within the same nation do not have separate national histories.
This is not majoritarian tyranny. The accusations against the RSS is that this belief in a common history, shared by the various Indian communities, works unfavourably for the minorities. But this is not true. It is unfortunate that the media is creating this hullabaloo about the issue of the swadeshi church. But this idea was first mooted within the Christian community in the Sixties. In this context, it would be sensible for right-minded Indians to ignore the baseless criticisms aimed at the RSS and make their own assessments.
| || |
| || |
Saloni Devi had seven sons and two daughters. The eldest died a decade ago in a clash between the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Unity and the Ranbir Sena near Bhojpur in central Bihar. The second one perished in a fire at a rice godown in West Bengal�s Burdwan district, while the third died of tuberculosis. Three others died under diverse circumstances � including a road accident and a bout of brain fever.
Saloni Devi has not seen her daughters for the past 19 years. She does not even know if they are alive � and neither does she care to. Their dowries had milked her family dry. The little plot of land, registered in the name of her husband 35 years ago under a bhoodan scheme during Karpoori Thakur�s reign in Arrah, is parched. It stretches along a dry irrigation canal in cracked filaments.
Saloni Devi�s �lifeline�� was Babua, her youngest son, who migrated to Assam with six other �lads� from the village as a daily wage-earner in the late Eighties. He sent her money in fits and starts. The money orders, though erratic, helped. Saloni Devi managed two dry chapatis and some boiled lentils a day. Now she would probably have to starve to death unless the Assam government agreed to compensate Babua�s �untimely� death.
Members of the Arrah Janata Dal (United) district youth wing have demanded an ex gratia payment of five lakh rupees each for the next of kin of the Bihari migrants killed in Assam. In a meeting in Arrah town last week, Janata Dal (United) members sought a Central probe into the massacres and advocated stringent action against the Assam government for �failing to protect the lives of Bihari migrants in the state.� Local members of the All-India Students� Federation and the youth wing of the Kunwar Sena burnt effigies of the Assam chief minister, Prafulla Kumar Mahanta. Echoing the demand of the United Liberation Front of Asom, the student leaders clamoured for president�s rule in the state. The outrage spilled over to neighbouring Bhojpur and Dumrao as well.
In a knee-jerk reaction, the Bihar chief minister, Rabri Devi, shot a missive to the Union home minister, L.K. Advani, seeking Central intervention. She even warned of �retaliatory�� violence as the �people of Bihar were distressed by the systematic ethnic cleansing.�� So far, more than 120 Bihari migrant labourers have been killed in Assam since October 21.
Though several theories are doing the rounds regarding the �Bihari maaro abhiyan�� in Assam, the most convincing one is that of an ULFA-Inter-Services Intelligence nexus. According to Mahanta, the Pakistan-based ISI is helping the ULFA carry out attacks against the Hindi-speaking people to �foment an anti-outsider sentiment and discredit the government on the eve of the assembly elections in May.��
But why only Biharis? Nearly a dozen Marwari traders in Nalbari were gunned down in a pre-Diwali mayhem in October. But the phenomenon, belying the prevailing trend, was �transient�. The Marwaris have a �sizeable stake in Assam�s general economy�� and monopolize the trade in hardware, textiles and automobiles. Besides, they also man the grocery outlets in the urban centres.
In contrast, the economically-repressed Biharis, sequestered in the scattered pockets outlying the oil and tea towns in Upper Assam, are defenceless and hence deemed expendable. They can be used as pawns in the political tug-of-war between the ULFA and the Mahanta government in Assam.
The ULFA favours president�s rule in Assam. Killing Hindi-speaking people is the easiest way to attain the objective as this linguistic group is perceived to be the Bharatiya Janata Party�s vote bank. Any �onslaught�� on the men is bound to rattle the saffron-led alliance at the Centre. This theory was bandied by an ULFA activist, who surrendered early this month. The insurgent claimed that he was one of the three ULFA top brass who masterminded the killings. The ULFA, however, denies its involvement.
The state government, on the other hand, seems to be convinced that the ISI is behind the killings. The police say a tall bearded Urdu speaking �character�� was in charge of the Tinsukia operation where 28 Biharis were killed. The ISI-baiters buttress their argument with the fact that no Muslim, particularly illegal migrants from Bangladesh, has been touched. But the defence minister, George Fernandes, discounts the claim.
Whatever the design, the killings have certainly affected the migration pattern in central and north Bihar. Fear is palpable among the villagers in Arrah, Chapra, Ballia, Madhepura, Sitamarhi, Muzaffarpur and Siwan districts, from where bulk of the exodus takes place. According to a rough estimate by a non-governmental organization in north Bihar, migrants contribute Rs 80 lakh to Muzaffarpur�s thriving money order economy every month.
But a diaspora seems imminent. If the Assam governor, S.K. Sinha, is to be believed, the attack on Biharis could abet the influx of Bangladeshis. As the local Assamese people are �reluctant�� to do the chores performed by the Bihari migrants, the Bangladeshis will be only too glad to fill in the slots, if the Bihari settlers decide to move elsewhere.
A study by development economist Ben Rogaly on seasonal labour migration in eastern India shows that while the major cause of seasonal migration is lack of jobs in the source area, other factors like family dynamics, social standing and individual behaviour also influence migration. While male members migrate in groups from West Bengal, in Bihar, labourers migrate with their families.
Poor irrigation, recurring floods and inherent poverty trigger largescale migration from Bihar every year. According to Nawal Kishore Yadav, a Janata Dal (United) member of parliament from Sitamarhi, at least 2,000 people leave the district every year because of crop failures. Though Union water resources minister, Bijoya Chakrabarty, claims that the Centre has granted Rs 119 crore for irrigation and flood control, the inability of the Bihar state government to cough up its share of funds has stalled work on key projects. Moreover, the Nepal government�s reluctance to begin work on the proposed Kosi-Gandak flood control project has compounded matters.
A careful study reveals that the migration pattern in rural Bihar has undergone drastic changes over the past three decades. With the closure of the jute mills in West Bengal and consolidation of leftist trade unionism in the rice mills of Burdwan, Bihari labour has turned northward. Over 10,000 Biharis have migrated to Assam since 1975 through the Kishanganj-Barauni corridor to work as �cheap labour� in the Oil and Natural Gas Commission�s oil fields, tea estates and at construction sites. They constitute the menial workforce and also cater to the domestic dairy needs by supplying milk and allied products.
The Bihari migrants, for the time being, have adopted a wait-and-watch attitude. But things may soon snowball into a demographic upheaval on the eve of the assembly polls if the Asom Gana Parishad government fails to pull its act together.
| || |
| || |
Portrayal of violence on television and films is on the rise and the impact of such an overdose on impressionable minds is detrimental. But not only shows like WWF and Shaktiman provoke kids into violence, cartoons also have a part to play. A cartoon character who eats spinach to acquire enormous strength and beat the daylights out of his adversaries would obviously have an effect on tender minds.
A National Council for Educational Research and Training study has linked rising aggression among children to television programmes replete with not just violence but also with jealousy and other kinds of aggression. A study by the United Nations educational, scientific and cultural organization has identified 759 distinct acts of violence across five channels over a period of nine days. This also explains why kids today go for toy guns rather than the toys considered fascinating by previous generations?
Right guidanceHowever, to put all the blame on the electronic media would be unjustified. The media is only the fourth most important influence in a child�s life. The first three are parents, teachers and peers. Undoubtedly, the media has to act more responsibly and the portrayal of violence checked. Overexposure to horror and blood-letting make children immune to violence. Deriving enjoyment out of violence could have dangerous psychological effects. The glorification of sadism, no doubt, encourages a child to indulge in it. In some recent cases, children have drowned their classmates in the swimming pool or even smothered elderly relatives in bed with cushions.
Parents should teach their children to understand that violent depictions on the screen are not real and are actually mock fights. Moreover, regulating TV viewing for kids is also necessary . Psychologists believe that growing juvenile violence show attention deficit disorder with hyperactivity symptoms. Children suffering from ADDH fail to cope with the pressure of studies and feel alienated. They resort to violence to seek attention. Parents should note ADDH symptoms in their child, if any, and help him to handle failures and conflicts.
| || |
| || |
Two weddings and no pressSir � Last week saw the weddings of two celebrities, one in a faraway castle in Dornoch, Scotland, and the other in India�s garden city, Bangalore (�Broken hearts, wish me well�, Dec 21 and �Baptism before walk up the aisle�, Dec 23). Both Madonna and Hrithik Roshan got married amidst tight security, much to the disappoint-ment of millions of fans. Interestingly enough, the press was banned on both occasions. Madonna�s determination to keep the tabloid press from photographing her wedding, coupled with the landmark judgment of a British court in favour of preserving the privacy of the rich and the famous, has made her marriage significant. Such a ruling was long overdue, and will no doubt put the ubiquitous papparazzi firmly in its place. It is a small but effective victory for celebrities like Madonna and for all those who have been campaigning for greater privacy in public life. Indian celebrities too must be wishing for the same, but without much luck.
Could the firing ever cease?Sir � When the prime minister, A.B. Vajpayee, declared a unilateral ceasefire starting from the holy month of Ramadan, the militant groups and Pakistan were not enthusiastic about it (�Pervez troops pullback on Atal peace push�, Dec 21). The situation has changed. International pressure from the security council has forced Pakistan to become part of the peace process. New Delhi�s adamant stand that dialogue with Pakistan can only resume in �a suitable environment�, seems to have paid off. The task ahead is daunting. Only a solution that is acceptable to India, Pakistan and the militants will succeed in resolving this dispute. It is important that the two neighbours take the initiative of breaking the ice by resuming talks. It is also time the government updates its surveillance techniques. This will help stop infiltration in Kashmir and in the Northeast.
Sir � This is the second time in the last few months that the government of India has declared a unilateral ceasefire against the terrorists (�Sandwiched between guns, truce dawns�, Nov 28). The first effort came to nothing because the militant groups wanted to involve Pakistan in their talks with India. It is difficult not to view this second initiative with apprehension. Militancy in Kashmir has already claimed the lives of so many civilians as well as defence personnel. One hopes that New Delhi will tread with caution this time.
Sir � One cannot help but question the wisdom of the government�s decision to declare a unilateral ceasefire. The current mood of reconciliation is unfathomable, given that the declaration of the ceasefire was greeted by a blast that claimed several lives. The repeated attacks on army personnel will only serve to lower the morale of the armed forces, which have the unenviable job of securing our borders. No peace initiative should have been taken without ensuring the protection of the minorities in the valley.
Sir � Can India can build up a trusting relationship with Pakistan, post-Kargil? It is difficult to understand the rationale behind declaring a ceasefire on the occasion of Ramadan though. Why drag religion into decisions that affect the security of the country?
Work to ruleSir � It is heartening that Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has started his chief ministership with the resolve to tone up the administration, weed out corruption and make government employees more responsible (�Buddha to crack the whip on shirkers�, Nov 18). His uncompromising stance is evident in the suspending of two officers of the Indian administrative service on charges of corruption and malpractice. If Bhattacharjee succeeds in cleaning up the administrative machinery, he will be able to win the confidence of the common people. Bhattacharjee presents an interesting contrast to Jyoti Basu, who did nothing to check corruption in high places. Perhaps Basu became complacent towards the end of his long tenure. One hopes Bhattacharjee will continue the good work that he has begun.
Sir � Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has tightened the rules on state government employees� attendance at work. This is not the right way to encourage a better work culture. Bhattacharjee is treating the employees like school children. Instead, if they are given more responsibilities and made accountable for their actions, they might perform better. How much work one does in a week is more important than when one comes in and leaves. His idea of keeping a record of the work done is excellent. It would be better if the records are kept on a weekly rather than a daily basis. Each employee should be assigned tasks with specific deadlines and should be asked to complete the task within that period. Missing the deadline a number of times should be punished by a deduction from the salary. Only those employees who interact with the public should be made to report to duty punctually so that they can devote more time in addressing the grievances of the public.
You�re the topSir � Sourav Ganguly has retained the top position in one day internationals for the second time in two years (�Kirsten fails to catch up with Sourav at No 1�, Dec 18). That he has managed to do so despite the pressure of being the captain of the Indian team shows his talent and commitment. In the aftermath of the matchfixing scandal, India needs a captain who can lead by example and win back the confidence of millions of fans who had lost faith in the game.
Sir � The Indian team under the leadership of Sourav Ganguly has managed to win the series against Zimbabwe. But winning on Indian soil is not enough. The team has to prove its credibility by defeating teams like Australia on foreign soil. It is good that Ganguly has developed a rapport with the newly appointed coach, John Wright. The real test will come when Australia comes to India in less than a month.
Sir � S. Ramakrishnan�s letter, (�One match ban on Sourav�, Dec13), invokes mixed feelings in the reader�s mind. Sourav Ganguly�s behaviour during the Kanpur one day international was, no doubt, improper, but the matter needs to be viewed from a much wider perspective. International cricket has become competitive during the last few years and the Indian team, led by weak captains, has borne the brunt of bad umpiring decisions and sledging.
While condemning Ganguly�s actions, one has to admit that for the first time in many years, India has an aggressive captain. Legendary fast bowlers like Dennis Lillee were known for their belligerence and are still regarded as the heroes by fans and former players.
Futhermore, cricket has never really been a gentleman�s game and the Australians, who are currently the world champions, have always played aggressively. Ganguly should put this unpleasant incident behind him and concentrate on his game.
Letters to the editor should be sent to: