The Left Front has demonstrated once again the strength of combating as a united front the anti-left forces in the state. It needs to be emphasized that in terms of vote share the support that the anti-left parties muster is by no means negligible. But this is counteracted and overtaken because over two-and-a-half decades the left vote has never been fractured. With this is imbricated the election machinery of the left, especially that of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) which ensures that on the day that matters loyalty and commitment translate into votes. The left has never harboured the delusion that its position and power have ranged against it a body of opinion. Its cadre works overtime to marginalize this. Ms Banerjee, perhaps, by concentrating too much on her charisma and popularity neglected the organizational aspects that are crucial for success in an election. She failed to thwart the process of marginalization.
Driven partially by Ms Banerjee’s campaign and slogan-mongering, this election was seen as a vote for change. It would be a mistake to read the verdict of the people as support for the status quo. The people have voted for change but not the kind of change that Ms Banerjee and her claque of supporters expected. Voters have seen in Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee the face of change within the CPI(M). It is now incumbent upon Mr Bhattacharjee to honour the responsibility that the people have bestowed upon him. In his utterances as chief minister, the people of West Bengal have seen the vision of a new and industrialized state. His policies over the next five years should work towards actualizing this vision. By invoking this vision Mr Bhattacharjee has met and roundly defeated the challenge posed to the Left Front by Ms Banerjee. This may well turn out to be the minor of his many battles. The deciding encounter will be the one between Mr Bhattacharjee and his own party. He will have to carry his party with him in the formulation and execution of the policies that will enable him to realize his dreams for a new and resurgent West Bengal. This will be another and a different kind of battle between an individual and an organization. On the outcome of that and on the possible emergence of Mr Bhattacharjee as that rare historical figure hangs, somewhat precariously, the future of West Bengal.
For part of its woes is the size of the mandate against it. The United Democratic Front led by the Congress expected to win, and exit polls projected the size of the victory, but it is seldom that exit polls come so close to fact. The Congress can certainly celebrate in Kerala. For the moment. To carry out the responsibility given to it by the people, promises of a turnaround in the state alone will not do. To tackle the problems the left leaves behind it — some of them not caused purely because of the LDF’s policies or the lack of them — the Congress has to stay firmly together. Its habit of splitting has spawned four groups of the Kerala Congress, one of which is part of the LDF. Now the mother party has about six factions, and the tensions between Mr A.K. Antony and Mr K. Karunakaran almost rocked the boat. The question of chief ministership hangs in the balance. So far, no Congress leader in the state seems to want to say who will choose the chief minister, the party members in the assembly or the high command. Whichever way the ball rolls, the Congress will need to keep its appearance of unity in place, now that it has Kerala under its belt.
I wrote back to say that by ignoring Mamata Banerjee, the left ran the risk of underestimating the threat she posed and the growing disaffection against the Communist Party of India (Marxist). My friend replied with a one-liner to say that she was sure her comrades were doing no such thing. I detected then in the reply a note of complacency.
The results of the election have shown that even if Banerjee spoke for all anti-left aspirations, she was not really a formidable challenger to left rule in West Bengal. The results have also pro- ved that the CPI(M) had the measure of its rival and had not underestimated her. On the contrary, it used with even greater effect, its very sophisticated and super-efficient election machinery.
The efficiency of this organization is revealed by a passing comment made by Anil Biswas, the secretary of the West Bengal unit of the CPI(M). Talking on camera, when it was clear on Sunday afternoon that the Left Front would be back with a comfortable majority, Biswas said that the CPI(M)’s post mortem on election results, margins, vote share, losses and so on would begin from tomorrow. The flush of success would not keep the comrades away from what is perhaps recognized as the most important element for continuing in power.
Many observers say that party workers in every district and village know exactly who votes where. The success of the left, election after election, lends credibility to such an observation. This is not a mean achievement in a state like West Bengal. The CPI(M) does not begin preparations for election, like most parties, a few months before elections are due. It begins the work the day after the results are announced. From the post mortem of the results will flow actions which will influence the next round of voting. None of its rivals thinks like this, nor do these rivals have the organization and the grass-root network to carry out such an extensive operation over a long period of time.
The complacency I detected in my friend’s response is perhaps rooted in her confidence about her party’s organizational strength. At one level, this strength is admirable and perhaps unbeatable. But the unpleasant aspects of this organizational leviathan need to be reiterated especially when the party is dizzy with success. It can be shown from a study of the history of the Soviet Union, that this kind of organizational strength and a faith in its infallibility nurture smugness. It feeds the arrogance of power. It writes off all criticism as anti-party or anti-people. It justifies terror.
This might be difficult to accept for loyalists and for those who see in Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee a herald for change in CPI(M) policies for West Bengal. It is true that since he became chief minister, Bhattacharjee has been unrecognizable from his previous incarnation. That incarnation did not particularly endear him either to the general public or to the intelligentsia. The former saw him as too aloof and arrogant. The latter as a somewhat ridiculous poseur. This judgment by the intelligentsia, Bhattacharjee’s special constituency, was harsh but not without substance. He had after all been wonder-struck by the clean streets of London. He had spoken of translating Mayakovsky when everyone knew that Russian is not his strong point. Rumour had it that once, as Jyoti Basu’s representative to a meeting of industrialists, he had discussed Kurosawa’s films with a prominent industrialist who in his speech had talked of the “Roshomon effect” probably without ever having seen the classic film. At one time, Bhattacharjee’s intellectual pretensions had become the butt of jokes among sections of Calcutta’s intellectuals. Those who met him came away with the impression that here was a man who refused to grow out of the Stalinist confines in which his mind had been nurtured.
But all these impressions seemed to evaporate as soon as Bhattacharjee took over the mantle of leadership after Basu’s retirement. Overnight he was polite and willing to listen. He had dropped his intellectual postures. Capital, rather than culture, headed his list of priorities. Most important, he was willing to admit that his party and the government had made mistakes. Industrialists who met him came away charmed. To middle-upper-middle class people who saw him on the box, he appeared to be the epitome of the bhadralok. It seemed too good to be true. His quondam critics prepared to eat their words. It is the image of the new Bhattacharjee which has contributed to the left’s success and appeal among the bhadralok.
Has he really changed? This is the crucial question and the answer to it may very well determine West Bengal’s future. There are straws in the wind that the signs of change might be more apparent than real. The industry-friendly face of Bhattacharjee may not be ideology-oriented at all. It is probably a response to a situation of crisis that adversely affects the CPI(M)’s vote base. The success of land reforms — the CPI(M)’s major success in the rural world — has probably generated what may be called the crisis of rising expectations. Land reforms, relative prosperity and a sense of izzat have spawned a generation in the villages whose ambitions and aspirations can no longer be contained in the rural world. They are looking towards the towns and the city where avenues of employment have shrunk because of the neglect of industry. This generation can no longer see in the CPI(M) a coherent programme which can meet their expectations. The CPI(M) is thus in danger of losing their support. The drive towards industrialization must be seen in this context rather than as a product of Bhattacharjee’s good sense.
In the field of culture — Bhattacharjee’s chosen turf — there is a remarkable continuation of attitudes. In a television interview, Bhattacharjee spoke about the autonomy and freedom of the artist and he said that he was totally against the curbs and oppressions that artists in Nazi Germany underwent. He added that he felt sad at the treatment Boris Pasternak had received from the Soviet government. But Alexander Solzhenitsyn, he felt, had been rightly treated because he was anti-people. This is glib Stalinist talk. Who decides who or what is anti-people? “The party”, would be the stock answer. This suggests that Bhattacharjee has not changed his Stalinist spots. It would be optimistic to expect him to work outside the groove.
The verdict which sends Bhattacharjee to Writers’ Buildings carries within it the danger that he may not be allowed to be his own chief minister. The results are a clear statement of the supremacy of the organization and the latter may not allow the chief minister his own head. He may not also want to. Too much autonomy from the organization may lead to a conflict with the organization which a loyalist like Bhattacharjee would like to avoid. The crown he wears carries the emblem of change, but does he have it in him to do all that is required to change stagnation into growth? The smile on the beaming face may be shortlived.
They joined hands to organize successfully the Maharashtra bandh on April 25 to protest against the Centre’s economic policies, particularly the proposed changes in the labour laws. At the press conference, the new “allies” declared that they would organize similar protests in other states which would culminate in a massive march to Parliament later this year.
What are then the implications of this “convergence”? So far as Maharashtra politics is concerned, it is too early to presume that the near isolation of the Bharatiya Janata Party will have an immediate impact on the electoral alliances in the state or at the Centre. But issue-based divergence among the Hindutva allies has already appeared. This is different from the personality clashes which previously dominated divisions.
Crossing linesUddhav Thackeray claims that the Shiv Sena’s participation in the bandh reflects “the party’s commitment to the people and not to cabinet berths”. Bal Thackeray himself has asked his three cabinet ministers to vote against the anti-labour policies of the government. By doing so, the party seems to have prepared grounds for distancing itself from the unpopular policies of the NDA government in the event of a sudden election. In fact, if the sena ministers stand by their recent statements, it is difficult to see how they can continue in the cabinet. Yet, the ministers could not but have been a party to the proposed changes in the pre-budget discussions within the alliance.
But the Shiv Sena is not the only party finding itself having to do the tightrope walk on the changes in the labour laws, which will affect a fairly vocal section of the electorate. In early January, the Vilas Rao Deshmukh government had announced it own industrial policy. Most of the provisions in the Centre’s labour laws now under attack were included in this policy. Deshmukh must have been embarrassed when the central leadership of the Congress came out strongly against these very provisions as part of the budget. Despite the contradictions the Congress affiliated Indian National Trade Union Congress supported the April 25 bandh.
Meanwhile, left parties are busy congratulating themselves on the resurgence of the trade unions. But they should perhaps realize that theirs would have been a pyrrhic victory at best had their call for the bandh not been supported by the other parties.
Tough taskThe party to have gained the most is the Shiv Sena, which has now found a new cause to espouse. From their previous roles as strike-breakers, union-bashers and a marginalized political force during the textile strikes, the sainiks have reinvented themselves as staunch supporters of class struggle. It doesn’t require much intelligence to realize that the sena has its sights trained on the next polls.
But by shifting its focus from matters of race and religion to class and economic issues, the sena may find itself in a trap. It is one thing to have a militant, non-compromising approach to the minorities and other underprivileged sections, and quite another to take on the powerful industrial interests that are lobbying for the changes.
It can only strike a compromise with these lobbies at the cost of disillusioning its supporters. Of course, Thackeray is a shrewd and seasoned politician, who may well whip up another round of passions on “nationalist” issues to divert attention from class battles once the former issues serve their purpose — mobilization of support.
The bandh shows that the initial euphoria about globalization and liberalization is fading. There was no vocal opposition to the trade union action, in sharp contrast to the court cases, public meetings and shrill objections of the middle classes during a strike by municipal workers in Mumbai earlier.
It might be premature to predict a rupture in the saffron alliance because of the divergent stands taken on economic policy. But the overwhelming response to the bandh shows that this is a factor parties and planners cannot wish away.
Some were ashamed of their ancestors’ frank portrayals of sexuality; others tried to explain them away as spiritual exercises. This is nonsense. In most temples that have erotic sculpture, there is nothing spiritual or mysterious: all forms of sexual variations, homosexual, lesbian, even intercourse with animals can be seen. The one thing Khajuraho and Konark have in common is artistic excellence: the sculptures, however explicit, are extremely beautiful. We don’t have to apologize to anyone for having and cherishing them. I have no patience with the new “morality” in our country. Banning books, destroying paintings, censoring films because they offend prevailing religious prejudices, are unworthy of our liberal past. Europe has liberated itself from Christian puritanism. Modern Indian artists who like painting erotica but are nervous of exhibiting them in India are finding outlets abroad.
The prominent of these is in the heart of Paris, next to the School of Beaux Arts known as the Gallery Mohanjeet. Mohanjeet Grewal, who has a flourishing business in the garment industry, opened this art gallery eight years ago to give Indian artists opportunities to exhibit their works to Europeans. She started with Calcutta’s Shuva Prasanna.
Thereafter, she had Sunil Das, Raza, Balraj Khanna, Dhawan, Shakti Maira, Probir Gupta, Shahabuddin and Anjolie Ela Menon. Next week she launches a new series of exhibitions, “Eroticism in Contemporary Indian Art”, with paintings by Neeraj Goswami, Paresh Maity and Subbanna. They will be followed by Manu Parekh, Ranvir Kaleka, Shipra Bhattacharya, Sunil Das and Balraj Khanna. What these artists dare not show for fear of vandalism in the name of Hindu dharma by Shiv sainiks, Bajrang Dalis will be seen in Paris.
Never too old to work
I read about a lawyer in Haryana who has been in the profession for almost 80 years and still handling briefs of his clients. He is 102. I have no idea how he has been able to keep himself physically and mentally alert to this long age. Our ancestors who did not live as long as we do thought 50 was long enough for an active life. They prepared themselves for vanaprastha to be followed by sanyaas. The classic case that comes to my mind whenever I ponder over the problem of the age at which we should retire is of Sher Shah Suri.
When he defeated Humayun and became ruler of northern India, his one regret was that he was too old to rule such a large kingdom. In his memoirs he wrote, “Allah in His wisdom granted me the empire of Hindustan at the time of the maghreb (evening) prayer of my life.” He was then only 52. He died a few years later.
More startling was the case of the poet, Lord Byron (1788-1824). He was a handsome young aristocrat, a reckless fornicator and loved good living. In his classic, Don Juan, he summed up his approach to life:
“Let us have wine and women, mirth and laughter/ Sermons and soda-water the day after.”
He sensed the shades of mortality drawing close to him when he was barely 33 years old. He wrote in his dairy:
Eheu, fugaces, Posthume, Posthume,
Labuntur anni,(Alas! Posthumous, how fleeting years slip past)
But I don’t regret them so much for what I have done, as for what
I might have done.
Through life’s road, so dim and
I have dragged to three-and-
What have these years left to
Nothing — except thirty-three.
Three years later he was dead.
All said and done, what is important is not how long a person lives, but what a person puts in the years given to him or her. Sultan Sher Shah Suri is remembered as a great builder of tree-lined roads and serais along them.
Sher Shah Suri Marg, which runs across the country from east to west, is a living tribute to his memory. Lord Byron, who lived only 36 years, remains one of the most loved poets of the English language.
Love across the shores
Urdu poets recognize two kinds of love: divine love (Ishq-i-haqiqi) and love for human beings of the other sex (Ishq-i-majaazi). I regard love for god a spurious concept which borrows its vocabulary, at times even erotic, from genuine love between men and women. I read a lot of love poetry.
My raakhi-sister, Prema Subramaniam, who works in New York with Barnes and Noble, the biggest chain of bookstores in the world, keeps sending me poetry books which she likes. She also marks passages I should read. Her latest gift is Love Poems by Charles Ghigna. I had never heard of him, but he is apparently a well-established poet in America. From the short note about him, it would appear he is a black living with his wife and son in Alabama. his approach to love is refreshingly new:
Your eyes are the Sea
Upon which the ship
of all my dreams
When the beloved is away, he/she leaves a void which is hard to fill: everything reminds the lover of the missing beloved:
not this closet night,
not this need
to count them all;
not even this writing time
to kill this time
can fill your shoes,
your soundless steps
that walk this house
True love encompasses everything around one:
It would be Easy
to write of love
if I could build
in every poem
New reading of the Bible
A father was approached by his small son, who told him proudly, “I know what the Bible means!” His father smiled and replied, “What do you mean, you ‘know’ what the Bible means?” The son replied, “I do know!”
“Okay”, said his father. “So, son, what does the Bible mean?” “That’s easy, Daddy. It stands for “Basic Information Before Leaving Earth”.
(Courtesy: Indian Currents)
India has just become a member of the billionaire club in terms of population. Human resources, naturally, have a significant role to play in the development of the nation. This is an area where enough work has not been done. The country’s human resources are not properly utilized and are wasted. The poor physical health of Indians is the cause of low labour productivity, which, in turn, results in low wage rates, since wage rate, in most cases, is linked to productivity per head.
The health of a person refers to both his physical and his mental conditions. Physical health depends on external factors such as food, shelter, environment and medical facilities, while the development of mental health is dependent on factors like education and, of course, also on physical health. A major reason behind the neglect of health in India is the high rate of growth of population. The government has failed to provide medical facilities and education to the lakhs of people who are added to the population every year.
Poor health and education have made the people less productive. Population has grown from 1996 to 2001 in India at the rate of 1.62 per cent. This has lowered the annual productivity of the people. The annual productivity of agricultural labour in India is the lowest at $ 105, far behind Japan’s $ 2,265 and the United States’ $ 2,408 .
Environmental pollution affects human health to a considerable extent. The social cost of environmental hazards cannot be readily assessed. Use of chemicals in agriculture and industry, explosion of atomic bombs, deforestation and so on are the causes of ill health. The increase of diseases like cholera, cancer, AIDS, tuberculosis and diarrhoea is the cost of modernization. Several legislations need to be made to check pollution, but the allocation of money for this purpose is meagre.
The failure of the government hospitals and health centres to provide people with much-needed facilities has been a longstanding problem. Private hospitals and nursing homes have been coming up fast, but it is not possible for the common people to afford treatment at these private centres.
Expenditure on the social sector was only 7.8 per cent in 1998-99. It moved from 7.1 per cent to 7.8 per cent from 1996 to 1999. The health sector’s share in the gross domestic product was only 1.4 per cent and this share ranged from 0.9 per cent to 1.4 per cent during the same period. The expenditure on education was 2.8 per cent to 3 per cent of the GDP between 1996 and 1999. The total expense on public health was only Rs 22,824 crore in 1998-99, and the amount spent on education was Rs 48,281 crore.
Medical facilities have not reached most of the rural poor. Lack of proper nutrition has caused blindness and impairment of limbs. According to an estimate, 3,001 people per lakh are totally blind in the country, and the number of disabled persons is 639 per lakh. Blindness is highest in Andhra Pradesh — 5,984 per lakh, followed by Karnataka (4,900 per lakh), Maharashtra (3,534), Gujarat (3,266), Bihar (2,749), West Bengal (914), and Tamil Nadu (836). Many of them could have been cured, had proper and timely treatment reached them.
The plan outlay for public health services is insufficient compared to the requirements of the nation. Expenditure on health did not increase much from the first plan to the fourth. In the seventh plan, the outlay on health was Rs 3,993 crore, which was curtailed to Rs 3,553 crore in the eighth plan.
The expenditure on family welfare was reduced to Rs 2,962 crore in the eighth plan from Rs 3,256 crore in the seventh plan. The number of doctors, nurses, medical colleges and hospitals has increased during the plan period, but not as much as was necessary to keep up with the population growth. In India, there is, usually, one doctor for 2,467 people, one bed for 1,234 men, one medical college for 7,143,000 persons, one hospital and dispensary for 23,931 women.
Thus, health as a social sector is very important and its economics cannot be overlooked. Due importance has not been given to a healthy atmosphere and to the good health of labourers, essential for higher productivity. It is time to realize that expenses on a social sector like health is not unproductive, it helps boost economic development, directly and indirectly.
Too early for celebrationsSir — Richard Armitage has no doubt pleased the diplomats in South Block by just stopping short of calling Pakistan a rogue state (“US brackets Pak with rogues”, May 12). He is also acting as the emissary of the president of the United States, who has praised the initiative taken by the Indian prime minister to begin talks with Kashmiri leaders and has accepted New Delhi’s invitation to visit India. The undue importance that New Delhi seems to place on its relations with Washington has overshadowed its diplomatic relations with countries like China and Russia. Given that the US still does not endorse India’s demand that it be granted nuclear status, it may be a little early for celebration. The so-called tilt towards India in US foreign policy merely demonstrates an awareness of the fact that things have changed and the US now needs India’s support to maintain status quo in southeast Asia. Our politicians need to be reminded of the fact that it is Russia and not the US which had extended support to India during the Cold War.
Economic gloomSir — Contrary to the claims made by the Centre, the Indian economy is slowing down and the slump has been felt in industry, agriculture, technology, trade and commerce. Even though foreign exchange has been flowing in and there seems to be a lot of money in the banks and financial institutions, there are no takers who qualify for loans.
Investors are shying away from investing in both public and private sector companies. There are very few new companies with initial public offer shares. Very few rural development projects have been undertaken to solve the problems that are unique to the people in those areas, such as building new roads, strengthening community services through cooperatives and other welfare measures. Nor have sizeable investments in heavy industry and infrastructure been taking place. By storing foodgrains in large quantities and by appeasing farmers through subsidizing farm products, the government has reduced competitiveness.
The Centre has also failed to streamline the bureaucracy and concentrate on measures that will benefit the middle class. Unemployment has also risen sharply. Most people had expected the government to introduce reforms that would give a much-needed facelift to the Indian economy. For instance, the Reserve Bank of India has been forced to reduce the interest rates from time to time, despite the fact that this causes a great deal of inconvenience to pensioners and small investors.
Sir — The fiscal deficit has not really been reduced despite the fact that successive finance ministers have made repeated budgetary adjustments while proposing the annual estimates in Parliament. Last year, the opposition parties were afraid that the fiscal deficit would cross 10 per cent. Fortunately, this did not happen. Now, they are afraid that the fiscal deficit may end up at 5.3 per cent instead of the targeted figure of 5.1 per cent.
The Union government could cut down its expenditure and save a lot of money. The government has also failed to reach the targeted figure in revenue collection. The shortfall is said to be about Rs 9,000 crore, which is by no means a small amount. The corruption and nepotism are the main reasons for this failure.
Moreover, the government has been unable to stop borrowing from foreign countries. The much-touted disinvestment policy has also been a failure, with the government facing a great deal of criticism from its allies and the opposition for this. The government has also been carrying the burden of sick public sector units, which is a drain on the exchequer.
Sir — The Unit Trust of India has floated several investment schemes that benefit small investors as well as corporate investors alike. One such scheme is the monthly income plan which was introduced in the year 1995, and which had first announced a dividend of 13.5 per cent per year. The rate of dividend was subsequently scaled down to 10.75 per cent in the year 1999-2000 and finally to nine per cent in the year 2000-2001. Now in 2000-2001, it has been further slashed to a meagre five per cent. If interest rates are repeatedly reduced, the faith of investors will be severely shaken. The UTI must consider the problems faced by small-term investors many of whom are retired persons always hard-pressed for money.
Child of the timesSir — Recently a student was rusticated from the Air Force Bal Bharati School because he had allegedly created a pornographic site. The incident had raised a great deal of outrage and moral indignation among parents. It is unfair to blame the student for misusing the internet. It is time we accept the fact that times have changed and children nowadays are exposed to a lot of sex and violence. The lack of value education in the school curriculum, coupled with the casual approach of parents, is responsible for this.
The case could have been handled differently. Instead of handing him over to the police, the boy could have been asked to seek counselling. He could also have been asked to admit that he had made a mistake, and to apologize.
Sir — The editorial, “Boys’ own site” (May 2), is right in saying that “the rearing and education of children must result in the healthy accommodation of a wide and shifting range of freedoms and fantasies”. What most of us forget is that society has changed and we must change with it. Children nowadays are not only smarter, but are also more mature. With the right guidance and education most of them will be able to process the varied range of information that they are exposed to, on the internet and in the print medium.
It is difficult to understand the moralistic and “holier than thou” approach adopted by the principal of the school. By expelling the boy, she has displayed her ignorance of teenage psychology and her unwillingness to recognize the changing parameters of education.
Saints and taintsSir — It was shocking to read the news report, “Ramakrishna book backlash in House” (April 19). The reaction of the followers of Ramakrishna and the reservations of a member of parliament from the Telugu Desam Party are understandable. Some of the members had also described the study as scientific. While an author is entitled to present his point of view, he should always be careful not to hurt the sentiments of those who might be reading his book. J.J. Kirpal should not take for granted that most of his readers are going to be liberal.
The remarks made by Shabana Azmi are also objectionable. The internet site should make sure that the names of these two books are immediately deleted from their preferential reading list.
Sir — Some people would love to remove all references to sex from the teachings of Ramakrishna. Perhaps they are not aware of the fact that the Sayings of Sri Ramakrishna advises people to redirect their emotions and passions towards god and not to eliminate them. Even though Atmajnanananda has given a negative review of Kirpal’s book, he has also enumerated some of its positive aspects. There is no reason at all to ban the books.
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