Economic reforms

Published : Mar 04, 2000 00:00 IST

This refers to the Cover Story "The rocky road to Reforms II" (March 3). It is no surprise that the government is leaving no stone unturned to justify the second generation of economic reforms. Financial sector reforms and the opening up of the infrastru cture sector for private and foreign investors form the core of these reforms.

Economic prudence demands that the government assess the performance of the economy since the launch of the World Bank- and International Monetary Fund-driven economic reforms in 1991. All the major indicators of development show that the economic situat ion has deteriorated since then. Several studies have shown the debilitating effect of the reforms on the masses.

The reform process needs redirection as well as reorientation. Before marching on to the second generation of reforms we must ensure that the poor, who are in the majority in India, participate in and benefit from development. Also we must take steps to protect the economy from the kind of economic devastation suffered by Latin American and South-East Asian economies.

Sanjai Kumar Hazaribagh, Bihar* * *

It was an objective pre-Budget analysis of economic reforms. The Finance Minister's frequent talk of hard options indicates that his Budget will fleece the poor and the lower middle class. Slashing the subsidies on food and petroleum products and the imp osition of fresh taxes would make life more miserable for them.

The interview with M.K. Pandhe, general secretary of the Centre of Indian Trade Union (CITU), was insightful.

S. Raghunatha Prabhu Alappuzha, Kerala* * *

In "Development outlay disaster", Prabhat Patnaik hit the nail on its head when he said that "policy in India can and should aim at making poverty eradication the primary objective and obtaining higher growth its fallout". Whichever party was in power du ring the 1990s its economic policies were tied to the apron-strings of the "Washington consensus".

Patnaik is factual when he says that China's growth record is associated with high investment ratios and that its present economic regime can by no stretch of the imagination be called "liberal". What he has not mentioned is that China's economic growth and development was based on the firm foundations of democratisation of asset ownership, specifically land reforms. Unless and until land reforms are implemented in India effectively, any attempt to eradicate poverty, especially rural poverty, is bound t o fail.

K. John Mammen ThiruvananthapuramThe missing laureate

It is unfortunate that the Nobel Peace Prize was never conferred on a person of the stature of Mahatma Gandhi ("The missing laureate," March 3). His policies based on the principle of non-violence are unparalleled in world history. It is strange that the champion of world peace, to whom the whole of India and millions of people around the globe are indebted, was dropped every time from the final list of nominees.

Ravinder Saini Hisar, Haryana* * *

The article was thought-provoking and enlightening. In a way it is good that Mahatma Gandhi was never selected for the Nobel Prize. Even now it is wrong for any self-respecting Indian to expect or campaign for it. Even if his name is considered for the P rize posthumously, it should be considered an insult to Gandhiji and his philosophy. Gandhiji is beyond prizes and certificates. Let him remain a great and humble servant of the suffering and enslaved human beings of the past, the present and the future.

The whole issue must be looked at from two specific angles. 1. Gandhi believed in the simple principle that "ends do not justify the means". Therefore, he would criticise the source from which the huge corpus of the Nobel Foundation has emerged. The apos tle of non-violence cannot be honoured with money that is a byproduct of instruments of violence. 2. Gandhi had not only presided over the "liquidation of the British Empire", but also fought against all atrocities committed by imperialism, capitalism an d colonialism. Therefore nobody should expect that representatives of these three horrible systems would ever name persons such as Gandhi, Subhas Chandra Bose and Jawaharlal Nehru for international recognition.

E.P. Menon BangaloreDharmapuri incident

The picture of the burning bus ("A violent turn in Dharmapuri," March 3) in which three young women students were burnt alive was a ghastly representation of a fiendish act engineered by politicians. All political parties joined the chorus of condemnatio n later. A few leaders were conspicuously present at the place where hapless victims were consigned to flames once again. However, none of the parties has come forward with a suggestion to ensure that such incidents do not recur. The reason is not far to seek. All political parties call for road blockades and bandhs in support of their causes and get political mileage from them.

It is time the long-suffering public began to act. First, they should demand that politicians abjure agitational methods such as road blockades. The next course of action is to launch a campaign through the press against such methods and decide to vote o nly for candidates who would promise to work for a ban on rasta rokos and bandhs.

Air Vice Marshal S. Lakshminarayanan (retd.) Chennai

Growing intolerance

We would like to express our deep sense of outrage at some recent developments that point to a growing trend of resorting to violence in order to suppress dissent - the assault on Asghar Ali Engineer and the ugly demonstrations and outcry against the fil ming of Water. We are also distressed at the move against the books written by two eminent historians - K.N. Panikkar and Sumit Sarkar - by the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR), the lifting of the ban on government employees participat ing in the activities of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), and so on. These are signs of a deep malaise in society and provide hard evidence, if such evidence is necessary, of the true face of those in power who are bent on putting this country firm ly on the road to fascism and disintegration.

The silence of many leaders over these developments is ominous indeed. This is all the more reason for ordinary people to speak up and speak out - not just in the kind of forums that are traditionally associated with such public dissent but from wherever they happen to live. By this we mean creating opportunities to talk about the significance of these developments in our places of work and educational institutions and in the course of social interaction. This is the only way by which we can hope to cre ate a groundswell of awareness which, hopefully, will lead to a popular rejection of the hidden agendas of the few.

Admiral L. Ramdas Lalita Ramdas Alibag, Maharashtra

Wise counsel

Our system of democracy follows the Westminster model although Britain itself does not enjoy the luxury of a written Constitution as we do. The British system has worked well for several centuries, after the signing of the Magna Carta in A.D. 1215.

The British people are a disciplined lot and have a healthy respect for their institutions, traditions and conventions. The absence of a Constitution has been no impediment to the functioning of British democracy as a mature democracy. In contrast, India ns seem to be practising a sham democracy and have no respect for any kind of institutional framework.

The Constitution rests on the solid foundation of the rule of law, but as the years went by, the system became corrupt. Not even the judiciary carries much weight, unlike earlier.

Indira Gandhi, during the Emergency, amended the Constitution to insert the term 'socialism'. Today, with the advent of globalisation, nobody talks about 'socialism'.

President K.R. Narayanan is quite right in saying that we the people - including politicians - have failed the Constitution and not the other way round ("A presidential intervention", February 18). We may as well add that we, as a society, have to discip line ourselves a lot more before we consider ourselves qualified to tinker with that document.

Narayanan is one of the best Presidents this country has had - in stature, dignity and scholarship. Let us pay heed to his wise counsel.

Kangayam R. Rangaswamy North Carolina, U.S.* * *

That the leading newspapers of the country failed to give adequate space to our erudite and alert President's speech, delivered in clear, simple and unambiguous language, is astonishing and curious ("Iron in the soul and decay in the brain," February 18) . It does not need a herculean intellectual effort to grasp the import of the speech.

Is it not a shame that even today widows are burnt and women and Dalits are persecuted and exploited? There are instances of Dalits being prevented from voting and a Chief Minister publicly endorsing the caste system. The implication of the term "counter -revolution" that figures in the President's speech is obvious.

The phenomenon of intellectual bankruptcy may have sociological, political, historical and other explanations. However, the progress of liberalisation has witnessed a concomitant growth of fascist forces that are obsessed with "discipline" and uniformity . They are also great worshippers of the market. Perhaps it is quite natural that the editors of our leading newspapers believe that Indian Airlines or super- models deserve more space than the President.

In a situation in which the intellectual and political environment has reached its nadir, can we expect the politicians to bring out a more inspired and mature Constitution (in three months) than the existing one, which was laboriously and carefully prod uced (in more than four years) by statesmen of greater integrity and intellectual calibre?

The relative working flexibility of our Constitution and the parliamentary system is capable of meeting the needs and aspirations of different sections of the people.

Kamrul Haque GuwahatiIndia and Pakistan

It is amusing to see how India and Pakistan woo the United States ("Strategic games," February 18). The Indian government wants U.S. President Bill Clinton to visit India but not Pakistan. Both governments are ready to sign the CTBT (Comprehensive Test B an Treaty) for favours such as the lifting of the sanctions imposed by the U.S. after their nuclear tests.

It is a pity that the Indian government views the CTBT merely as an instrument to please the U.S. and to bargain for economic and military favours. The CTBT is to be signed on its merit; it seeks to prevent nuclear proliferation by banning explosive test s. Although it is not a perfect treaty for disarmament, even a small step in the direction of stopping the nuclear arms race should be welcomed. Had its predecessors signed the CTBT, the BJP-led government would not have been able to conduct the nuclear tests at Pokhran. The tests provoked Pakistan to conduct its own nuclear tests, leading to a dangerous nuclear arms race in the subcontinent.

The crusade for nuclear disarmament aimed at the nuclear weapon states should be conducted not by abstaining from the CTBT but by uniting non-nuclear weapon states and putting pressure on the nuclear powers.

Whatever may be the compulsions behind the Vajpayee Government's readiness to sign the CTBT, it should be welcomed as a measure against non-proliferation. Nuclear proliferation is not a threat to the U.S. or Russia, but to India and Pakistan.

N. Kunju Delhi* * *

There is absolutely no pressure on Pakistan from any quarter, especially as a fallout of the hijacking of Flight IC 814. Amit Baruah says U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Karl Inderfurth delivered a blunt message on terrorism to Pakistan's Chief Executi ve, Gen. Pervez Musharraf ("Pressures on Pakistan," February 18). The fact is that Inderfurth simply "conveyed" U.S. concerns about global terrorism as a whole and the threats it posed to Pakistan and the South Asian region in general. Asked to comment o n Pakistan's "support" to terrorism, White House spokesman Joe Lockhart said: "But the U.S. does not believe the Pakistani authorities had prior knowledge of the hijacking, or that they supported it" (The Guardian, January 26).

The writer says that "some information made available to Frontline" suggests that Musharraf asked for "time" to take action against the militant groups operating from Pakistan." It is mystifying that he does not mention his source for this importa nt piece of information or state that his source requested anonymity. He also quotes Selig Harrison's comments in The Los Angeles Times of January 18. Harrison's analysis is illogical and contrary to the ground realities in South Asia. The armed f orces have been playing an important role in the affairs of the state in Pakistan right from the country's independence. It is not correct to see a link between them and the extremist forces.

On Pakistan's help to the Kashmiris in their struggle against Indian injustices in Occupied Kashmir, let me quote Stephen Cohen, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institute in Washington: "One country's freedom fighter is another's terrorist." Experts on in ternational affairs have compared Pakistan helping the Kashmiris to India's support to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and the Arabs' support to the Palestinians.

M.N. Ahmed IslamabadNarmada

One of your readers does not seem to be aware that Arundhati Roy has already responded to B.G. Verghese's article (Letters, March 3). The article and the reply, along with Gail Omvedt's open letter and several responses to it, are on the Web site (http:/ / on its 'resources' page, and at one of the links.

If poor and helpless groups of people of a country continue to be expelled from their land in order to help privileged sections of society exploit that land and get richer and if successive governments of a country and even the highest courts of the land uphold such appropriation, surely that country can only be Apartheid South Africa, now extinct! That country cannot be the India of Mahavira, the Buddha, Kabir, Nanak, Gandhi and Tagore!

The reader says: "What prevents Arundhati Roy right now from using the right forums, such as the Grievances Redressal Authority, to air her views?" I would like to ask: What prevented the government from preventing the usurpation of the land of the peopl e in the Narmada valley? Have not the Narmada Bachao Andolan and Medha Patkar appealed to the highest courts? Should not the government protect its citizens?

What hurts one is the inhuman way the nation treats the poor, the helpless, the weak and the minorities, and attempts made by the intellectuals and the rich to justify such brutality.

Mohan Rao Brookfield, Wisconsin, U.S.* * *

Frontline and Arundhati Roy once again deserve congratulations for the eye-opening piece "The cost of living" (February 18).

The Supreme Court took exception to her criticism of its handling of the Narmada issue in her essay "The Greater Common Good", which you published as a Cover Story (June 4, 1999).

But it is clear from the course of events that the Supreme Court has failed to do justice to the issues raised by the Narmada Bachao Andolan, which represents lakhs of people who would be affected by the project. As Arundhati Roy has so convincingly argu ed, large dams have in general failed to deliver. The costs have largely been borne by the poor - they not only were displaced and deprived of natural resources but benefited little from such projects. The impression created in the country today that lar ge dams like Bhakra have increased food production and thus provided food security (if at all there is any security for the poor) is wrong and mischievous. As far as the benefit of electricity is concerned, it is well-known that 85-90 per cent of the Sch eduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe households have no access to electricity even as the rich and the powerful take most of it. The Supreme Court, unable to do anything to check this serious state of affairs, has chosen to attack the freedom of independent voices.

The people of the driest of regions of Kutch, in whose name the Sardar Sarovar Project is being justified, have moved the Gujarat High Court as they do not get the minimum benefits that were promised to them. Madhya Pradesh (and now Maharashtra) has dema nded a complete review of the project by a tribunal as it clearly sees the project not viable socially, financially and hydrologically. And yet, without looking into these basic issues, or even the issues of displacement and rehabilitation, the court las t year allowed the height of the dam to be raised. I hope better sense will prevail now and the court will at least order a complete review of the project.

Dr. N. Bhattacharya Delhi* * *

Arundhati Roy is far from being unpopular as she writes in her essay. In fact, she is far more popular than many so-called leaders. Unfortunately, our "popular politicians" have reduced themselves to caricatures and the onus of enlightening the people ha s fallen on those who hate to be called "politicians" and describe themselves as "unpopular".

True, there have been many vicissitudes in the process of development. And often it has gone haywire. The Narmada Bachao Andolan is fighting only one consequence of a human blunder committed in the name of development. It is really frightening to know th at what the NBA is fighting against is only the tip of the iceberg. The peaceful 'Gandhian' protests of today may turn violent if the warning signals are ignored.

Satya Sheel Vatsa PatnaGandhi on CD-ROM

In "The essential Gandhi on CD-ROM" (February 18), the reviewer refers to the omission of the name of Mahatma Gandhi's assassin. This should surprise no one. History is being rewritten in true Orwellian fashion and textbooks are recrafted. Now we are tol d that Akbar was a good ruler but the sting is in the tail - "despite being a Muslim". The BJP and its fraternal outfits sound much like the white supremacists in the U.S. who swear that non-whites are intellectually less endowed by birth.

R. Rajaraman ChennaiTiruvalluvar

Congratulations to the sculptor V. Ganapathi Sthapathi for having carved the 133-foot-tall statue of Tiruvalluvar, which was unveiled by Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi in Kanyakumari on January 1 ("Tribute to a scholar-poet," February 4). The C hief Minister and the people of Tamil Nadu also deserve praise. If this talented sculptor is available and willing, the people of Tamil Nadu could commission him to erect a statue of Kambar, another great Tamil poet.

Syed Abdul Khadir LondonRSS game plan

Thank you for the article "The RSS game plan" by Dr. Subramanian Swamy (February 4). Dr. Swami in his article unravelled the Saffron Brigade's blueprints for the implementation of its fascist agenda. He also questioned the safety of using electronic voti ng machines (EVM) which, according to him, can easily be programmed to transfer votes from one candidate to another. To justify his allegations he has brought it to our notice that the BJP and its allies won more than 75 per cent of the seats where EVMs were used while they secured only 53.6 per cent of the total seats in the 1999 elections as a whole.

We should not forget that many a government official and army officer have joined the BJP after retirement and many others are hobnobbing with the Hindutva forces even though they are in service. The fact is that the Sangh Parivar is now concentrating on penetrating government institutions as well as the armed forces. This is evident from the decision of the Gujarat Government to lift the ban on its employees participating in RSS activities.

Basab Basak Katwa, West Bengal* * *- Editor, Frontline
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