The autonomy demand

Published : Jul 22, 2000 00:00 IST

By getting a resolution demanding autonomy passed in the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly, Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah has upped the ante and sought to steal the thunder from the All Parties Hurriyat Conference ("The autonomy demand", July 21). Except from the Left parties and from a few Chief Ministers, there is not much support for the demand. Those who think that the Gordian knot can be cut by granting more autonomy to the State are in a minority. It is only the vast silent majority in the State that ca n have the final say on the autonomy demand.

Farooq Abdullah's rule has seen many ups and downs. Militants rule the roost and the writ of the government runs only in the major towns. A sense of helplessness and alienation is making the lives of ordinary people miserable. They are caught between the devil and the deep sea. The inaction of political parties, including the National Conference, is conspicuous. There is hardly any people-government contact. And without the people's cooperation the fight against militancy is going to be a long and hard one. Blaming the foreign hand every time a militant group strikes does not give hope to them that they can live in peace. It is only by addressing their problems in a serious manner that the State government can win over the people. Sadly, the National C onference government has not distinguished itself by good governance.

A healthy debate on the issue of autonomy is welcome and there is no need to fear that it will lead to the disintegration of the nation. There are enough checks and balances in the system against such an eventuality. But even without more autonomy, State s can do better. They can improve their fiscal management instead of asking for grants and aid from the Centre, empower people by speeding up the process of devolution of power through the panchayati raj system; and pay more attention to health and educa tion, which are State subjects.

D.B.N. Murthy Bangalore* * *

The autonomy resolution once again underscores the fact that a large section of the people of Jammu and Kashmir, particularly those living in the Valley, are desperate for greater autonomy if not outright independence from India. The competitive ultra-na tionalism which major national parties such as the Congress(I) and the Bharatiya Janata Party are resorting to is unfortunate. It is for this reason that Indians who cherish democratic values should raise their voice against the perfunctory and summary r ejection of the resolution by the Union Cabinet in total disregard of the ground situation in Kashmir. They should call upon the Indian government and the political establishment to learn to honour the democratic aspirations and rights of all Kashmiris i rrespective of the regions and religions they belong to. The continued smothering of democracy in Kashmir in the name of national unity and sovereignty would only contribute to the erosion of democracy in India as a whole.

Sukla Sen Mumbai* * *

In spite of the nation's obligation under the Instrument of Accession and Article 370, the Union Cabinet has rejected Farooq Abdullah's demand. Its reasoning that the acceptance of the demand would "set the clock back" is unconvincing.

The autonomy given to Jammu and Kashmir at the dawn of Independence was only a "bait" to attract the State to the Indian Union because some Indian leaders wanted to embark on a venture of territorial expansion instead of pursuing the more important task of developing this backward country.

If the government refuses to restore the pre-1953 position in the State, it is not because it is "unconstitutional" but because that position was not conceived as a permanent benefit to the people of the State. Even before 1953 everything that was done w as in accordance with the Constitution.

K. Kumara Sekhar Eluru, Andhra PradeshHuman genome

The decoding of the human genome ("A new genetic paradigm", July 21) reveals the awesome dexterity with which the human cell is created. It is a pity that after finding the intricacies and marvellousness of the human genome, man boasts that he would make human beings live for a thousand years and more. It is not that easy as he thinks. Instead of praising God, he applauds himself.

G.E.M.Manoharan CoimbatoreThe Emergency

We were all opposed to the Emergency ("The legacy of the Emergency", July 21). The BJP has launched a campaign against the Emergency with a view to attacking the Congress(I). I have no sympathy for the Congress(I), but I am not convinced that the BJP is really opposed to the Emergency. If it is, it should work for the abrogation of Articles 352 to 359 of the Constitution and free people from any apprehension that another Emergency might be imposed at the behest of the International Monetary Fund if peop le's discontent grows because of the rise in prices. Let all parties opposed to the Emergency stand up and demand the deletion of these Articles which provide for the imposition of an Emergency and the suspension of fundamental rights.

Raj Narain Arya KanpurCommunalism

With the Sangh Parivar going ahead with its vicious campaign and plan to construct a Ram temple at the site where the Babri Masjid stood for centuries, the country's hapless minorities have cause for worry ("Raising the stakes on Ayodhya", July 7). It is unfair to accuse the hard-core Hindutva forces alone for this state of affairs. The so-called secular parties (excluding the Left) were silent spectators when the Sangh Parivar leadership was communalising the nation.

Aslam Vavoor Cheruvayoor, Kerala* * *

Under the compulsions of coalition politics the temple agenda of the Sangh Parivar was apparently played down for some time. It has been revived now. The decision of the Sangh associates to go ahead with the temple construction, defying the laws of the l and and the Constitution, undermines our secular credentials.

The article "An assault on Christians" (July 7) exposes the intolerance of the Sangh Parivar against the community. The BJP connives at the atrocities committed by other constituents of the Parivar on the minorities. The haste with which some BJP leaders alleged that the murder of Graham Staines was the result of an international conspiracy and that the series of bomb blasts in Christian places of worship were the handiwork of the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) is a sign of the depth of the BJP's gratitude to the RSS for its present status as the ruling party at the Centre.

The Vishwa Hindu Parishad leadership, which complains about Christian institutions taking foreign funds, does not have the courage to admit how much money flows into its account from the United States. According to Amrita Basu, a scholar of Amherst Colle ge, Massachusetts, the VHP-USA remitted about $1.25 billion between 1977 and 1993 to India ("Stifling dissent and debate" by Praful Bidwai, Frontline, November 5, 1999).

It is high time the coalition partners of the BJP in the National Democratic Alliance woke up to the reality.

Justin Jeyaraj Calicut, Kerala* * *

This has reference to "An assault on Christians" by Parvathi Menon. She has done a thorough job and puts the matter in perspective and substantiates her argument with appropriate quotations from various leaders.

Thank you for your continued warfare against communalism. At a time when writers are purchased to carry on a hate campaign, it is heartening to note that there are some courageous writers who write the truth and give a chance to the nation to look at fac ts as they are.

We sincerely appreciated a list of crimes your magazine published over a year ago ("A catalogue of crimes," February 12, 1999). Many more crimes of this nature have taken place since then and it will be great if you could carry a sequel to that.

Lion Sam Paul Received on e-mailAyodhya

This refers to "The tragedy of Ayodhya" by Neera Chandhoke (July 7). Anand Patwardhan's documentary "In the Name of God" has an interview in which a mahant of Ayodhya claims to have placed the idol of Ramlala inside the Babri Masjid. His claim puts to re st all theories about the sudden appearance of the idol in the mosque.

Kulwinder Adampur, Punjab* * *

It was a riveting story of the Ayodhya problem. One of the sentences Neera Chandhoke wrote offers a clue to the Sangh Parivar's game plan. It reads: "The important point is that large sections of Hindus came to believe that Babur had usurped the birthpla ce of Ram." The Germans under Hitler also "came to believe" that Jews were scum. Media reports reveal how the Sangh Parivar is getting Hindus to believe anything that serves its saffron purpose but not the truth.

A. Machado DharwarDecentralisation in Kerala

This refers to the feature on democratic decentralisation in Kerala ("Empowering women," July 7). The first step in this direction was taken in the State by the E.M.S. Namboodiripad government that assumed office in 1957. This first ever government forme d in the nascent State sincerely tried to delegate many powers to the panchayats. However, that government was dismissed in 1959 by the Centre for political reasons, but not before it introduced progressive legislation on land reforms and education. Many achievements the State has to its credit today have their roots in these laws.

The bill on land reform failed to bring about any major social change because its provisions were diluted by successive governments before it was passed in 1969. The Left Democratic Front government, which came to power in 1987, took a major step in dece ntralisation by constituting district councils and delegating to them adequate powers to oversee the district administration. But all these powers were taken away by the United Democratic Front government in 1991, before dissolving the councils in 1992.

The process of democratic decentralisation initiated by the present government is more comprehensive than earlier moves. The process, in spite of all its shortcomings, has already become a mass movement with the support of people from all walks of life, non-governmental organisations and community organisations. The government has institutionalised the process by making laws, amending laws wherever necessary, delegating substantial powers to local bodies, handing over to them the management of core area s, and providing them adequate staff and funds.

S. Pradeep Krishnan Kinassery, PalakkadThe President in China

President K.R. Narayanan's state visit to China has once again revealed the leader in him ("A successful atmosphere-building visit", June 23). He skirted controversial issues and strived for a better and meaningful relationship with China. Thus he set an example for the otherwise confused politicians of India.

China is a country which has become a 'global village' but its leaders have not compromised on its policies and principles, unlike the new torch-bearers of our democracy, who in their haste to become the architects of 'Indian economic renaissance' not on ly compromised on long-standing policies and commitments but showed the world a new low in flattery during the visit of President Bill Clinton.

Shashank Vikram KanpurAir-India

This has reference to C.P. Chandrasekhar's column on the privatisation of Air-India ("Specious logic," June 23). Regardless of who owns an enterprise (the state or private investors), the benefits of operating it must be quantifiable because public funds - those derived from taxation or those solicited as investments - are deployed. Any negative returns on investment constitute misuse or misallocation of these funds. Privatisation is not the cure for all ills. There are innumerable private companies tha t have made huge losses. The difference lies in management accountability and better organisational performance.

Rajesh Krishnamurthy Connecticut, U.S.* * *

C.P. Chandrasekhar's case against the privatisation of the airline sector is unpersuasive. He cites "the need to ensure adequate flights" connecting India to "the major airline hubs of the world" but fails to say at what cost. Also, he does not say which "major airline hubs" he thinks would be inaccessible to India after privatisation. Air-India has accumulated losses amounting to Rs.1,000 crores over the past five years. The taxpayers are paying this amount for an airline that now flies to only 19 dest inations, most or all of which are well served by other airlines.

As far as Air-India is concerned, Prof. Chandrasekhar argues that it is rational for a state to, when necessary, subsidise communication networks because such networks yield "substantial external benefits" in the form of reduced regional inequality. Howe ver, he gives no historical examples of such external benefits and he does not say how he knows them to be substantial.

Even if there are external benefits, it can be argued that it would be more effective to subsidise directly the passengers on such routes. Let us say the current cost of servicing a route is Rs.100 and that potential passengers will only pay Rs.60, thus requiring a subsidy of Rs.40. What if the state-run airline is privatised and the passengers on the route are directly given a subsidy of Rs.40? In this case, the route will continue to be serviced because the passengers will have enough money (the Rs.60 they were willing to spend plus the Rs.40 received from the state) to keep it going. But now, various airline companies will compete for their business and the most efficient airline - perhaps one that can run the service for, say, Rs.90 - will survive. This way, the route will remain viable and the subsidy will decrease to Rs.30 because of competition between potential service providers.

The point is that even if Prof. Chandrasekhar is right about the external benefits, the case for state ownership does not follow.

He also refers to the likely outflow of foreign exchange if foreigners gain partial control of the airline sector. But this logic applies to all sectors. Is Prof.Chandrasekhar opposed to all foreign investment? Sure, we could turn autarkic and do everyth ing by ourselves and thereby avoid having to spend any foreign exchange, but would we be better off as a result?

Prof. Chandrasekhar attacks privatisation by pointing out that private firms make mistakes too. Sure, they do. But that is beside the point. Even though law-enforcement does not eliminate all crime, it is still essential because it provides people with a n incentive to behave. Similarly, although privatisation does not eliminate all inefficiency, it is still necessary because private firms have a greater incentive to pursue efficiency than India's state-run firms do.

At one point in his article, Prof. Chandrasekhar is prepared to admit that the airline sector's problems may be because of mismanagement and at another point he doubts that there is any fat left to cut! Even if his second claim is true, it would not by i tself justify the subsidisation of losses. A commodity should not be produced merely because it is being produced at the lowest possible cost; the cost would also have to be less than the value of the commodity to society.

Finally, Prof. Chandrasekhar complains that privatisation implies the conversion of social gains to private profits. He does not explain the logic of his value judgment that private profits and social gains are distinct. Are the recipients of private pro fit not part of society? Would Prof. Chandrasekhar advocate the state takeover of all private firms? After all, that would, by his logic, convert all private profit to social gain!

I do agree with Prof. Chandrasekhar, however, on two issues. The privatisation process needs to be, and must be seen to be, completely open and fair. We do not need to create another Sukh Ram. I also agree with Prof. Chandrasekhar that the government's p lan to retain a substantial stake in the privatised companies is ill-advised. The government should have the courage of its conviction and wash its hands of the airline sector completely.

Udayan Roy Associate Professor of Economics, Long Island University New York

Speakers and writers

This has reference to William Safire's "The mark of the slapdash writer" (June 23). The lesson: Speak when you must. Write when you must. Do not speak when you write. Do not write when you speak. But when you do both, it is perhaps the written speech you speak.

K. Viswanathan ChennaiHyderabad and Kashmir

In his book review "A tale of two states" (June 23), A.G. Noorani recalls the illusions harboured by great leaders at a critical juncture of our history. It was known that but for the ego clashes between Jawaharlal Nehru and Mohammed Ali Jinnah, Indian u nity could have been preserved on the basis of the Cabinet Mission's plan of 1946, which was accepted by both the Congress and the Muslim League at one time.

Be that as it may, it is not clear why Jinnah refused to accept Lord Mountbatten's formula, iterated by Nehru subsequently, which would have resulted in plebiscites being held in Hyderabad, Kashmir and Junagadh to determine their accession to either Indi a or Pakistan. The result of all his miscalculation and mistrust in Nehru is that Pakistan lost all these three states except for about one-third of Kashmir. It is not clear why a clever strategist like Jinnah could not foresee that with Pakistan possess ing only about one-third of the former British Indian army and only a small air force and a few tanks, he could not have had his way. In fact, he had to rescind his order to march his army into Kashmir, which he passed on hearing about the princely state 's accession to India.

Did Jinnah expect that the Government of India's promise to treat Kashmir's accession to India as a provisional one until such time as the will of the people could be ascertained, would compel India to hold a plebiscite in Kashmir without a similar proce ss being followed in Hyderabad? Did he expect that Hyderabad could resist India's attack for long? Was he under the delusion that tribal people led by Pakistani army officers could stop and defeat the Indian military juggernaut in Kashmir?

The fact is that after the liberation of Hyderabad and Junagadh and the bulk of Jammu and Kashmir, India was in a strong bargaining position. It agreed to a ceasefire in Kashmir, with a provision for the holding of a plebiscite under conditions Pakistan would not accept. However, Nehru's hope of Pakistan agreeing to the status quo in Kashmir also lay shattered. His reported offer to cede about 2,500 square miles of additional territory to Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir, made after India's debacle in t he Sino-Indian border war, was rejected by our hostile neighbour, which is now under the notion that its nuclear arsenal has given it a sort of parity with India in causing mass destruction and an opportunity to get more.

Prem Behari LucknowCorrection
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