Editorial 1 / Key largo
Editorial 2 / Back to the future
The power to hurt
Fifth Column / Join the dots by land and water
Playing politics with the dying
Letters to the editor

The president�s speech to inaugurate the budget session of Parliament is important not because it records the achievement of the government in power but because it is a statement of intention. The president sets out what the government wants to do and where it wants to take the country. This is why Mr K.R. Narayanan�s address to both houses deserves scrutiny. The key in which Mr Narayanan�s speech was composed was reform. He made it clear that the reform process is an ineluctable one. Successive governments since 1991, whatever be their ideological rhetoric, have not been able to abandon the agenda of economic reforms. From this premise, the speech suggested ways through which the reforms can be made more broad-based. He argued for a more holistic approach towards reforms instead of restricting them only to the economic sphere. Economic reforms to be successful and effective must be backed by radical changes in administration, judiciary, education, labour and so on. The highlighting of these aspects in the president�s speech is indication enough that the National Democratic Alliance government is thinking on the right lines. It may not achieve all that it wants to do but its intentions are bona fide. Between the desire and its fulfilment falls, however, the shadow of politics.

It is in his discussion of political problems that Mr Narayanan signals the government�s confusion and lack of firm direction. Violence in Kashmir is escalating and no purpose is served in lashing out at terrorists and at Islamabad. These are well-known postures which inspire very little confidence among Kashmiris and even, one suspects, in other parts of India. What sits very uncomfortably with the president�s enthusiasm for reforms is his unqualified endorsement of the women�s reservation bill. He urged political parties to arrive at a consensus to enable the bill to become law. A market-based economy which forms the basis of a reformed and free society offers equal opportunities to all. The reforms programme of which Mr Narayanan appears to be an advocate harks forward to a society based on merit and achievement. Reservations and other forms of positive discrimination are obstacles to that kind of society. A society driven by market forces and by economic growth would, through the sheer circulation of abundant goods and resources, remove the existing inequalities. It would not require reservations to achieve this. The Indian experiment with reservations has demonstrated that such a policy is to a large extent self-defeating. Reservations hardly ever benefit those for whom they are intended. Reservations only serve to create another pampered class in society whose members are nurtured by state munificence and tend to take it for granted. Introducing quota for women can hardly aid the development of a democratic and dynamic society. A repetition of platitudes fulfils a ritual need but slows down rigorous thought and is no guide to intentions.


If not Bihar, then let it be Manipur. The Samata Party seems to have made it, at last, to forming a government. Whether Manipur is an enviable arena for its political debut is quite another question. Mr Radhabinod Koijam, the leader of the Samata Party�s legislators in the state, has been sworn in as Manipur�s new chief minister, the 24th in 29 years. Since being declared a disturbed area in 1980, Manipur has been under Central rule six times. These figures are a telling indication of the instability that has now become chronic in this state. The build-up to what one feels hesitant to call a resolution, in any stable sense of the word, had its own outrageously comic elements. The rising pitch of confusion in the assembly, with Article 356 hanging over its head, and the random, lucre-driven movements of the various legislators, in various formations, across the floor of the house frustrated every attempt at logical prediction. The rivalry between the former chief minister, Mr W. Nipamacha Singh and his party colleague, Mr T. Chaoba Singh, also a Union minister, created a strange rift within the Manipur State Congress Party, across which these rival factions were arbitrarily � and absurdly � expelling each other. After a mind-boggling game of numbers, the main factions now seem to have worked out some sort of a compromise. Mr Chaoba Singh has even claimed that this compromise is disinterestedly for the sake of stability. But the sudden burying of a whole armoury of old and new hatchets looks so blatantly like angling for ministerial berths that Mr Koijam, now heading the newly assembled People�s Front, is seeking the advice of his party leader, Mr George Fernandes, and of the Union home minister, Mr L.K. Advani, regarding the formation of his ministry.

It may be a good thing for Manipur to have its links with the Centre strengthened through the mediation of the Samata Party. The state might just be taken a little more seriously by New Delhi now, and this may, in turn, help in tackling militancy in Manipur. With the emergence of the Samata Party in a traditionally Congress area, perhaps a new consolidation of right-wing political forces could also be on the cards in the region. But for any of this to happen properly, the state government needs to show some sort of rudimentary stability, and there is no reason yet to believe that this will happen. Meanwhile, the ordinary people of Manipur are the worst affected by this protracted farce. A state depleted by insurgency and economically ravaged by every kind of disorder badly needs the restoration of an infrastructure that could help it utilize the various �packages� thrown its way by the Centre. The prehistory of this new regime does not at all inspire any such optimism.


Here is a story which the new United States secretary of defence, Donald Rumsfeld, recently told an audience, among them India�s national security adviser and principal secretary to the prime minister, Brajesh Mishra. Speaking at a conference on European security policy in Munich, Germany, the 69-year-old Rumsfeld said that on his flight to Munich, he had read some eight newspaper articles, some of which reminded him that he was US ambassador to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization 28 years earlier; others told him that he was America�s youngest secretary of defence 25 years ago, but now he is the oldest.

Rumsfeld continued: �My wife, Joyce, has read so many of these articles in recent days that when I wake up in the morning now, she rolls over, looks at me, and says, �Well, old timer, do you think you are going to be able to make it out of bed?�� The anecdote has far greater significance than what Rumsfeld intended to convey to his audience. Rumsfeld acknowledged in Munich that �Europe today is different from the Europe that I lived in as ambassador to Nato�. So is the world. If Rumsfeld is aware of what these changes have meant to humanity � as he well seems to be � it can only be positive for American diplomacy and the international community.

But herein lies the problem. And countries like India are going to be at the receiving end of the problem. Even as the new US secretary of defence freely acknowledges that he is dealing with an altogether new world in his second tour of duty at the Pentagon, he genuinely believes that he has played a historic role in making this new world possible. �I approved the M-1 tank and that is the main battle tank�, Rumsfeld has said on record more than once since he returned to the Pentagon last month. �I was at the roll-out of the F-16 aircraft, and the F-15 was brand new, and I approved the B-1 bomber. That is all 25 years ago. These capabilities are what we have today in large measure.�

Rumsfeld is on record that �the world has changed dramatically since most of the capabilities of our current military were fashioned.� It is a matter of deep conviction for Rumsfeld that because he ordered and supervised the building of these capabilities, �we do not get up every morning and expect the Soviet Union to come back to life and come racing across the north German plain or to be poised with a ballistic missile attack against the US�.

No wonder that Rumsfeld�s second tour of duty as secretary of defence is often described as �back to the future�. No wonder at all that Rumsfeld said what he said about India last week. To briefly recapitulate, the new secretary of defence remarked on one of America�s most-watched television news programmes that sale of weapons technologies to India, North Korea and Iran was a major proliferation problem facing the George W. Bush administration, that these technologies in the hands of Iran, North Korea and India �are threatening other people including the US, western Europe and countries in west Asia�.

Much as South Block, smitten by the US, would have liked to have pretended that Rumsfeld never made those comments, the US state department made this impossible for the mandarins of Raisina Hill. Spiking rumours of differences of opinion between Rumsfeld and the new secretary of state, Colin Powell, the former said a few days ago: �That is utter nonsense...there is no daylight between Colin Powell�s views...and my views�. As if to prove this point, within 48 hours of Rumsfeld�s outburst against India, Powell�s state department called upon Russia to halt shipments of nuclear fuel to reactors in Tarapur. It now turns out that during the transition from Bill Clinton�s presidency to that of George W. Bush, the US had led the effort among the 39-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group to stop Russia from supplying nuclear fuel to India. Unsuccessfully as it turned out.

Two questions are relevant in the context of these early signals from the Bush administration of a low level of comfort with India. First, is this administration against India and do these statements mark a return to the pre-Bill Clinton era when the world�s most powerful democracy and the most populous democracy distanced themselves from each other?

Second, is there anything that India can do about it? There is nothing so far to suggest that the Bush administration is in any way inimical to India. Quite the contrary. In fact, Bush said after his telephone conversation with the prime minister that the call to 7, Race Course Road would have been made even if the earthquake had not occurred in Gujarat. But the fact remains that the Republican White House needs a whipping boy or several whipping boys in order to go to a near-evenly divided congress and get money for the horrendously expensive national missile defence system which Bush is committed to.

And the favourite whipping boy, as far as one can see, is going to be Russia. But this is not to say that India is only incidental to the process. There has been great rejoicing in New Delhi that the Bush administration will not resubmit the comprehensive test ban treaty to the US senate, which refused to ratify it during the Democratic presidency.

There are people in South Block and sections of the National Democratic Alliance government who have equated this reluctance by Republicans to ratify the CTBT with some sort of empathy with India�s own principled opposition to global test ban the way it is structured now. The truth, though, is very different.

The Bush administration�s commitment to non-proliferation is deep. Unlike in the Clinton administration, there are no two views on relations with India in the context of non-proliferation in the present White House. Those in New Delhi who think that the Bush administration will turn a blind eye to India�s pursuit of nuclear deterrence are living in a fool�s paradise. Of course, it is another matter that the White House is quite helpless about it: that there is very little it can do to roll back or eliminate India�s nuclear strength.

The Republicans now in power see proliferation of weapons technologies as being at the root of insecurity and instability in the post-Cold War world. They see America�s vulnerabilities in future as stemming from the access which Washington�s enemies have to such technology. India may not fit into the description of an enemy of the US the way Iran or North Korea does, never mind the fact that the Republicans do not consider New Delhi as an ally either. But in the Republican world of black or white � with no room for grey � India is a proliferator of weapons of mass destruction.

New Delhi is not a signatory to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty which the Bush administration is sworn to uphold. New Delhi does not accept comprehensive safeguards by the International Atomic Energy Agency for its nuclear installations. New Delhi is also a missile proliferator, and as the Bush administration sees it, promotes instability in Asia through an arms race with Pakistan. In Rumsfeld�s world view, which is rooted in the time when he was Gerald Ford�s secretary of defence, an impending deal between Moscow and New Delhi for leasing a Russian nuclear submarine may be yet another �provocation� on the highway of a grand conspiracy against America, which Cold Warriors made the most of in Washington for many decades.

This is a scenario which India can do without after its recent bonhomie with the US. But in order to avoid any slide-back in relations, urgent steps are needed on South Block�s part to balance the administration�s actions. Stepped up activity on Capitol Hill is one way of checking the Rumsfelds in the new administration before the gains of the Clinton presidency in terms of Indo-US relations are negated.

The record of Indian government activity in recent weeks certainly does not inspire confidence. That the leaders of the India caucus on Capitol Hill have gone to south Asia � to India as well as to Pakistan � in search of an inevitably elusive solution to the Kashmir dispute is a sure indication that complacency is setting into New Delhi�s America policy after the dizzying successes of the last two years.


It has been reported that several tugs and barges of the Central Inland Water Transport Corporation have remained stranded near Patna and Varanasi on the Ganges. Also, nearly 2,600 employees of the CIWTC had not been getting their salaries regularly for want of funds.

The World Bank estimates that India�s annual highway spending will quadruple soon to four billion dollars a year and foreign firms stand to win most of the contracts as the Indian road-building industry is too young to handle such large projects. The World Bank and the Asian Development Bank together are expected to lend four billion dollars over the next three years for the projects.The government is also depending on the diesel cess of one rupee per litre, fetching one billion dollars a year.

Indian Railways, on the other hand, faces a financial crunch with declining budgetary support from 100 per cent in the first five-year plan to 30 per cent now and with the private sector showing little interest in taking up railway projects. Important projects like electrification, gauge conversion, modernization and strengthening of safety-related rail communication system are getting delayed because of the shortage of funds.

The prime minister recently announced the decision to connect Kashmir to Kanyakumari and Silchar to Porbandar and to widen the national highways joining Delhi-Calcutta-Chennai-Mumbai at a cost of Rs 58,000 crore. The other modes, such as railways or inland waterways, were not even mentioned, although either of them is far more fuel-efficient than road transport.

Network problems

A transport committee report informs that electric traction consumed 84.6 British thermal unit per tonne-km, diesel traction consumed 255.6 BTU per tonne-km, a 1,000 tonne barge consumed 182 BTU per tonne-km and a 1,500 tonne barge consumes 117 BTU per tonne-km. While inland waterways and railways are in dire need of financial support, highway projects are being taken up with gusto.

The railways already have a vast network spread over the country connecting the north with the south and the east with the west. It would have been far less expensive to raise the capacity of crucial rail links where the infrastructure already exists, than to go in for new highway projects at an astronomical costs, especially so in view of the skyhigh diesel cost.

Inland water transport is in a worse situation. The Ganges connects the ports of Calcutta and Haldia to central West Bengal, north Bihar and eastern Uttar Pradesh. If navigability can be maintained along the river channel and if modern cargo-handling facilities are provided at the important halts, then this inland-water route, along with the Calcutta-Haldia port complex, can offer cheap transportation for the cargo of its hinterland which no other port of the country can possibly offer.

Use the river

Unfortunately, herein lies the rub. Modern cargo-handling facilities have not yet come up at the halts, there is no arrangement for night navigation resulting in doubling of the transit time and even the minimum draught is not maintained in the dry season making the vessels immobile.

Inland Waterways Infrastructural Authority in New Delhi is supposed to provide and maintain the infrastructure. It has substantial budgetary allocation. However, precious little has been done and each year funds are being returned because of non-utilization.

It is in this context that the decision to spend so much on highway projects alone needs to be seen. Recently, the prime minister himself has directed the concerned ministry to complete the Rs 27,000 crore golden quadrangle project by the end of 2003.

This was slated to be completed by December, 2004. Such haste can affect the road quality and will benefit the foreign contractors besides the foreign manufacturers of road construction machinery who are saddled with surplus capacity. In other words, India would take huge loans from the World Bank and ADB, and the money will go out with our own money (diesel-cess fund) in foreign exchange, all in the name of �development�. This will have serious repercussions later and we may get another diesel-cess in future because not much can be recovered from the users, if the past is any guide.


Afghanistan has overcome tremendous odds before, but never has it found itself in such a difficult situation with no friends to bank on.With its infrastructure ruined by the incessant fighting over the past two decades, the prolonged drought conditions that has rendered its lands barren and the United Nations sanctions that has made the nation a pariah, Afghanistan is tottering at the brink.

Since the imposition of fresh sanctions on Afghanistan from January 19, 2001, largely on account of the taliban refusal to hand over Osama bin Laden to the United States, there has been a virtual stampede of Afghan refugees trying to gain entry into Pakistan. The same thing happened when the Red Army invaded Afghanistan in 1979 and there was a mass migration to neighbouring countries like Iran and Pakistan. What is shocking is that this time the refugees are being stopped at the Pakistan border.

Abdul Salam Zaeef, the taliban ambassador to Islamabad, has urged Pakistan to accord brotherly treatment to the Afghans. A UN representative in Peshawar has also called on Islamabad to open its borders to the hungry and fleeing Afghans. But Pakistan is unwilling to do so, no matter how strongly it may feel for the Afghans. The state is already playing host to nearly two million Afghan refugees who entered the country after the Soviet invasion.

The message from Pakistan is that it cannot share the misfortune of the Afghans alone and that others, such as the UN, must step forward. There is a general feeling in the country that the UN sanctions are more directed at Islamabad than at Kabul. This assumption is, of course, debatable. But it remains a tight-rope walk for Pakistan since any misreading of Islamabad�s act vis-�-vis

Despite all that, Pakistan is sending foodstuff worth more than Rs 100 million to the Afghans, arguing that while the UN sanctions hold, it cannot be a spectator to human misery. It may be mentioned here that Pakistan is one of the three countries � Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates being the others � who have recognized the taliban regime in Afghanistan.

It is apparent that the parties responsible one way or the other for the Afghan crisis are now reluctant to pay their share of the cost. There cannot be two opinions that there would have been no Afghan crisis had the Russians not invaded Afghanistan. Also, the crisis would have been resolved had the Americans, after bleeding the Soviets to death in the terrains of Afghanistan, not left the country to its fate. The two are in the arena again, this time not as adversaries but as compatriots. This should ring alarm bells both for the taliban and Pakistan.

Diplomatic circles in Islamabad believe that Russia is exploiting the taliban bogey to maintain and extend its influence over the central Asian states, whose resources are vital for its economic development. A diplomat from an east European country in fact could not fathom how the so-called rebels are finding their way into Tajikistan despite the presence of Russian troops on the Tajik border.

Evidently, everyone has an axe to grind. The Russians may need the taliban, but in an unstable form, for justifying its armed presence in one or more central Asian states. It is not certain whether after resolving the bin Laden issue, the US interest in Afghanistan will wane. For the time being, the US relief goods are welcome to the Afg- hans. Pakistan might �fine tune� its Af- ghan policy following the envoys� conference recommendations, but it is difficult to predict what this might entail.

The Northern Alliance in Afghanistan has been pushed by the taliban to the very northern fringes. But with Moscow, New Delhi and Tehran supplying it arms and Washington extending it the required diplomatic support, the alliance remains an effective force, capable of causing trouble to the taliban. Even the North Atlantic Treaty Organization appears hostile towards the taliban. The secretary general of Nato recently did not rule out a Nato operation against the taliban, saying �the Nato charter binds it to any resolution passed by the UN security council,� adding that the �members of Nato are members of UN also�.

However, in view of an unprecedented human disaster looming on Afghanistan, politics and military considerations should take a back seat. The scale of human sufferings within Afghanistan is unimaginable. After the imposition of sanctions, the value of the Afghan currency has crashed, kicking up the prices of essential goods beyond the reach of even those who have money. Due to years of fighting, nothing has been left intact. There are no roads, the social sector is non-existent, the irrigation network is in tatters, there are no jobs, and above all, no hopes for the future. Immediate steps are needed to avert a catastrophe. The West has both the financial resources and the political will, but won�t apply them in the case of Afghanistan.

The problem is that the Afghan crisis is being viewed through tainted political glasses. That the taliban have caused concern to the international community on more than one count goes without saying. Their unconventional methods of statecraft, their harsh treatment of women, their attempts to export their social, religious and political philosophy to the neighbours, have caused offence. But they also enjoyed a great deal of legitimacy, not only because they controlled 95 per cent of the territory, but because they had established their writ as well, which is a rare achievement in the prevailing situation.

The magnitude of the calamity that has hit Afghanistan is not being measured correctly. In the past few days, some 600 Afghans, mostly women and children, have died due to cold in makeshift camps in Herat. In all, over 500,000 Afghans have been displaced due to civil war and drought. They are likely to perish, if not provided with shelter and succour.

Sadly, the UN is far from shouldering its responsibilities. Erick De Mul, UN coordinator for Afghanistan, has said that �Afghanistan is not a pretty site for setting up camps�, adding that �we do not have enough funds to look after the people inside Afghanistan�. But the point is that the camps have to be set up if the UN genuinely wants to help the drought-stricken people. Secondly, if the UN does not have enough money for relief work, the poor countries of the area have none. Quite obviously, Afghanistan is very low in the UN priority-list.

It is neither advisable nor morally right to play politics with the taliban on dead bodies. Shanghai-Five, which at the moment has confined itself to monitoring the political and military developments in Afghanistan, can play a positive role in helping avert, or at least lessen the intensity of, a human disaster in Afghanistan whose consequences can easily spill over to the backyards of the big powers as well. Leaving the Afghans to count their dead will be an ominous message to the region as well as the world.



Struck off

Sir � The unprovoked air strikes jointly by the United States and the United Kindom on Baghdad have rightly been condemned by most countries of the world. This is the first air strike on Iraq by the US army after two years. Coming just after his assuming office, this partisan act of George W. Bush has once again threatened the peace process in west Asia. This, together with the election of Ariel Sharon as the Israeli president, pose a major threat to international security. It is ironic that the US and the UK should call themselves the envoys of peace to the world. No matter how powerful the two nations are, the smaller nations have no reason to be scared to voice their dispproval of the act. In fact, it would be welcome if the world leaders get together and collectively propose some measures against these countries. By now, it has been clearly understood that no chastisement would be forthcoming from the United Nations, which becomes a mute spectator as soon as the US decides to intervene in any matter.
Yours faithfully,
Danish Anwar, Arrah

House of excess

Sir � The budget session of Parliament has begun. Since the last session, there has been severe criticism of the behaviour of some of its members. These members have been accused of showing disrespect to the house, constitutional procedure and of violating the minimal decorum of gentlemanly behaviour. There has been a huge loss of public money owing to the wastage of time and the consequent delay in passing important bills. Recent incidents in the West Bengal assembly during the inauguration of the budget session also send out signals that opposition parties, being unsuccessful in getting the mandate of the people, are bent on disrupting proceedings of the house. It is difficult for a democracy to function properly with such men as the people�s representatives. Had there been a reasonable level of awareness among voters, they would refuse to elect these people to power. This budget session is important and must proceed in a business-like manner. The leaders of the parties must educate their partymen about the seriousness of this session.
Yours faithfully,
C.R. Bhattacharjee, Calcutta

Sir �Members of parliament have been demanding enhanced salaries in the range of Rs 21,500 to Rs 49,500 per month and tiffin allowances in addition. Apart from this, they are entitled to free air and rail travel with attendants, free telephone calls, medical treatment, free accommodation and free cooking gas facilities. This is an unfortunate event at a time when the Indian economy is in a pathetic condition and over 70 per cent of the people are abjectly poor. More than half of these MPs do not do any work at all and are merely present when Parliament is in session. The former prime minister, I.K. Gujral, once lamented that only about 10 to 15 per cent of the MPs have a minimum education and know parliamentary decorum. But this regret is not enough. Some action needs to be taken so that MPs can be made more accountable to the electorate.

Yours faithfully,
Naren Sen, Howrah

Sir � The prime minister has recently advocated a 10 per cent reduction in the staff employed by the government, thereby encouraging a culture of the �golden handshake�. While it cannot be denied that the government desperately needs to downsize a huge bureaucracy, it should also be noted that superfluous staff also exist in the cabinet. This is a major area of non-productive expenditure where cuts can be made. Besides, coalition politics, even at the state level, is creating jumbo ministries. This means additional salaries to these ministers and a whole lot of other expenditure. This needs to be curtailed as well.

Moreover, if the ministers are prevented from getting cars, the government will end up saving a lot of money. Let them all use public transport because most of them are idle anyway.

Yours faithfully,
Dines Kumar Mukhopadhyay, Midnapore

Sir � The hike in the salaries of MPs is shocking. Their daily allowance has been increased from Rs 400 to Rs 500. But how far do the MPs do their duty? Do they really keep the promises made at the election campaigns? Apart from gross misbehaviour in the house, they contribute very little in the form of proper debates. Many districts do not see their MPs except before the elections.

Yours faithfully,
D.V. Vamsee Krishna, Bhubaneswar

Securely retired

Sir � Yashwant Sinha will have the business and industries lobbies thanking him for slashing the interest rate on bank loans. Unfortunately, he has not thought about those who have to meet all the expenses of their families from monthly interests on fixed deposits, which will also be drastically cut with this reduction. There is every reason for the finance minister to go ahead with his scheme, but he could also introduce a parallel scheme by which retired persons are not deprived of the 15 per cent interest on their monthly income schemes.
Yours faithfully,
Dipendra Nath Moitra, Calcutta

Sir � This government has come up with a well-reasoned step by reverting the retirement age of Central government employees to 58 (�Central retirement age on rollback table�, Feb 6). The biggest beneficiaries will be the large numbers of unemployed young people in the country. At the same time, the government should ensure that its retired employees are provided with all the superannuation allowances as soon as possible after retirement.

Yours faithfully,
Kali Shankar Das, Murshidabad

Sir � The editorial, �Retired hurt� (Feb 7), provides a timely warning that the Centre�s indecision over the retirement age of Central government employees will serve no purpose in the end. The Gujarat earthquake has little to do with this move, though the government insists that after the earthquake it has become more important than ever to cut down on expenditure. Cutting down expenditure in some areas without controlling the waste of money in others will not bolster economic progress.

Yours faithfully,
K.R. Venkatasubramanian, Calcutta

Parting shot

Sir � It is good news that the Prevention of Anti-social Activities Act has been invoked for the first time against R.S. Shah and N.N. Shah, two builders of Gujarat (�Goon law slapped on quake builders�, Feb 17). In every city, there are builders who construct buildings illegally against whom no action is taken.

This step against the Gujarat builders will give this lot of dishonest builders a warning of sorts. As far as Indian legislation is concerned, this first case under the PASA will set a very important precedent.

Yours faithfully
Rajarshi Ghosh, Calcutta

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