Round one to Congress

Print edition : April 11, 2003

If the electoral success in Gujarat gave the BJP a boost to indulge in aggressive campaign, the party's defeat in Himachal Pradesh has arrested the trend. In this sense, it may be "Round one to Congress" (March 28). In order to win in further rounds and in the final one, the parliamentary elections, the Congress should cobble together a united opposition against the BJP and its allies.

A. Jacob Sahayam Karigiri, Tamil Nadu

The excavation order

The excavation order of the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court is bad in law ("The excavation order", March 28) . The court seems to have taken cognisance of a notional fact relating to the year 1528, and ignored the demolition of the Babri Masjid at Ayodhya in 1992. Are we to believe that reprimanding the accused in the 1992 drama is not in any way as important as condemning an the act committed by a Mughal Emperor more than 450 years ago?

Dushyant Mahant Received on e-mail

The employment scene

This refers to `The stark employment scene' (March 28) by Jayati Ghosh.

Today, the public sector is synonymous with monopoly of government institutions, paternalistic pattern of employment, corruption, tyranny of bureaucracy, under-performance and cross-subsidisation.

The process of economic LPG (liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation) does not mean selling of public sector units but finding a better way to run them.

The economic LPG has often gone hand-in-hand with integrating the global market mechanism. To a larger extent now the demands for international public goods and services are controlled and regulated by global rules and institutions such as the WTO and the IMF. This is not to suggest that the nation-state is dead.

In The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith argues: "The most opulent nations, indeed, generally excel all their neighbours in agriculture as well as in manufactures; but they are commonly more distinguished by their superiority in the latter than in the former." In the post-Smith era the world has evolved from manufacturing units to the servicing sector.

This is not to suggest that agriculture, the mainstay of India, does not need any attention. Record foodgrain production, surplus stock in FCI godowns and hunger deaths are well known. The solution is to tap the vast potential in the rural sector and increase the purchasing power of the farmers. The government must free exports of grain and other farm produce, allow private investments in agriculture so that even the small farmer can benefit from efficient cropping and irrigation practices. The government must open up the sector to the enormous possibilities that technology and value-added food processing provide. Providing soft loans to farmers, encouraging them to take up `informative agricultural practices' and creating alternative employment opportunities in rural areas would go a long way in solving the problems of rural India.

Trickle down is dead. India needs trickle up.

Shailendra Kumar Centre for Political Studies Jawaharlal Nehru University New Delhi

Anti-war upsurge

Frontline must be thanked for its excellent coverage of the anti-war upsurge (March 14), truly a planetary rebellion against neo-fascist governments set to launch a maniacal war. Especially poignant was the description of the spontaneous reactions in Western nations that have survived two World Wars, showing how aware ordinary people are of the horrors of modern war.

North America, in the last one and a half centuries, has not suffered the aftermaths of war within its territory - of shattered homes, destroyed livelihoods, people searching in pain and terror for their families, lost and orphaned children... True, American soldiers have physically suffered in Europe, in Vietnam, and in the Persian Gulf - but others who have stayed safely within the geographical fortress of the U.S. seem to wear arrogant blinkers. They are the people who made money out of the blood and destruction in Europe and elsewhere, like the tenacious gun lobbies.

George Bush is obviously one of them. He surely savoured the havoc he unleashed against the people of Afghanistan by, in his own words, "bombing them back into the stone ages"! He made them pay for being subjugated by non-Afghani hoodlums who, having been armed, trained and established by the U.S. itself, had dared to strike back at their mentors and undermine the U.S.' image of invincibility. Bush now turns to the one nation that his father roundly whipped but could not subjugate. It sounds like an archaic feudal response - the son must prove himself by completing the task his father left unfinished; I believe psychologists have a word for this sort of mania.

In Bush Senior's time, the Americans were raving about Nostradamus, and trying to prove that Saddam was the prophesied "anti-Christ" after Hitler.

Bush Junior must be seeped in this lore; having failed to collar Osama bin Laden , he is harking back to his father's bogey, wanting to charge in with guns blazing.

Does Bush have any right to lead his country into war?

Abha Choudhuri Mumbai

A conflict in the forest

"A Conflict in the Forest"(March 4) brings to the fore, the marginalisation of the Adivasis. The incident sends a clear signal that the strategies for natural resource management need reformulation. We have been taking a top-down approach to conservation based on scientific techniques and methodologies.

There is a need is to understand and assimilate the structural and functional dimensions of any ecosystem per se before attempting to find a sustainable solution to the problems it faces. Forest-dwelling communities are an essential component of this approach because they have an organic relation with the forests. It is a travesty of justice that the rights of such communities, that subsidise the world through their custodial services are not secured, while financial fortunes from the exploitation of forests accrue to private corporate interests and government treasuries, to merchants and middlemen.

Jyotiraj Patra School of Environmental Sciences Jawaharlal Nehru University New Delhi

Acts of courage

This is with reference to "Acts of courage" (March 14) by Kanta Murali. The position taken in the article came as a surprise to me, being a reader of Frontline for at least a decade. The writer has presented Andy Flower and Henry Olonga of the Zimbabwean cricket team as heroes, who "protested the oppressive regime of Robert Mugabe by wearing black armbands during the game to condemn the `death of democracy' in their country". It is noted that they did so "despite seriously risking their careers", bringing back "fleeting memories of a lost era of politically conscious sportspersons".

It is widely known that the struggle in Zimbabwe is regarding the land question, and the protests are against the land reform programme of the Mugabe government. The land question - the problem of extreme concentration of land ownership and use - remains central to solving the agrarian question in developing countries. It is also well known that land reform towards this aim can be achieved only through determined non-market interventions, such as what is happening in Zimbabwe. Land hunger is acute among the black population of Zimbabwe, who are supposed to be the major beneficiaries of the programme. Around the world today, Zimbabwe is the only country where a serious land reform policy is being implemented.

True, there have been protests against, and differences with, Mugabe's policies; but these protests and the actions against the protestors have to be viewed from the perspective of the struggle for livelihood of black farmers of Zimbabwe. As Mugabe said in an interview, "We had inherited as a legacy the issue of deprivation and deprivation in the area of land. Imbalances in the distribution of wealth and the issue of most of our people just being wage-earners and those who yesterday were our colonisers remaining masters and owners of the rich resources."

An earlier Frontline article on this issue by M.S. Prabhakara (October 26, 2001) had noted thus: "The immovable object - the resistance by the small community of powerful and resourceful white `commercial farmers' of Zimbabwe backed by their even more powerful and resourceful `kith and kin' in Britain, South Africa and elsewhere, to the government's land reform programme - meets the irresistible force, the determination of the government to implement the programme." It is in this background that one should view the ongoing political process in Zimbabwe.

Flower and Olonga have complained about the "death of democracy" in Zimbabwe. This complaint arises from a few incidents of violent clashes during land redistribution. Mugabe himself has responded to these complaints in the following words: "There are events which are happening of untoward nature. Where you undertake so a massive exercise you can't expect it to last without some incidents. Of people competing now over possession of pieces of land and deciding on boundaries. And others moving on to what they regard as more fertile land than perhaps the one they were originally given and wanting to take these and even pushing away other people. We have mechanisms for correcting all this under the Acquisition Committee - the national one headed by Vice-President Msika. We accept, yes, that the exercise had its irregularities but these are receiving attention and correction."

Over the last one year, Zimbabwe has been experiencing a serious problem of deprivation and starvation among its population. This was another important issue raised by Flower and Olonga in their statement. Is this problem a child of Mugabe's policies? Far from it. The problem of starvation in Zimbabwe today is closely linked to the economic embargo erected by the West, which in Mugabe's words, is a "method of gangsterism to try and economically throttle Zimbabwe". Apart from reneging on its promise to help Zimbabwe with monetary assistance to implement land redistribution (for providing compensation to white landlords), the United Kingdom has been bullying donor organisations to stop aid to the starving Zimbabwean population. So the Flower-Olonga protest should have been against the apathy of Western governments, not Mugabe's.

The "protest" by Flower and Olonga during the World Cup match was only an expression of the vested anti-government interests in Zimbabwe. The "protest" has only helped the anti-land reform groups in Zimbabwe.

To suggest that the "protest" was an act of courage, and more so, to draw comparisons between it and Muhammad Ali's protest against the Vietnam War or John Carlos' black power salute in the 1968 Olympics is an outright reactionary stance. There is absolutely no comparison between the Flower-Olonga protest and the above historic protests. The efforts of Flower to secure a deal to play domestic cricket in Australia is described by your correspondent as a "career move". Who could miss the point that the whole "protest" drama was enacted only to gain a more politically selling image of a player with refugee status?

R. Ramakumar Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata

Editor's Note: The writer of this letter makes an elementary mistake: mixing up the land question in Zimbabwe with a wildly speculative reading of the motivations behind the Andy Flower-Henry Olonga protest. Their explanatory statement, issued on February 10, 2003, must be taken at face value, unless the writer of the letter knows something about the ideology and politics of the two senior Zimbabwean cricketers - one white and the other black - that we do not. The situation in Zimbabwe, including its legacy of white supremacism and racism, and the external problems it faces, especially from the ex-colonial powers, are complicated. They have to be addressed carefully, on a progressive basis. There must be firm solidarity with the just aspirations of landless and land-poor Zimbabweans in the face of reactionary white supremacist efforts to thwart the land reform programme. However, this solidarity must not degenerate into justification for authoritarianism and heavy-handed rule confronted by democratic opposition. The Flower-Olonga statement, which is reproduced below, does raise key issues of mass starvation, unemployment and oppression as well as the suppression of democratic freedoms under the regime of Robert Mugabe. It does not provide any clue on the cricketers' attitude to the land reform programme. It pointedly avoids support to the boycott moves sponsored by the political establishments of England and Australia, which expressed vested interest opposition to the land reform programme in Zimbabwe, among other things.

Andy Flower is widely acknowledged to be one of the world's best batsmen. With this act of unusual personal protest, he has virtually played himself out of international cricket for his country. It certainly could not have been an opportunist or self-serving career move. Henry Olonga was unjustifiably dropped in most of Zimbabwe's World Cup matches, a clear victim of his decision to speak up. Both Flower and Olonga have announced their retirement from international cricket and the latter is reportedly seeking political asylum in the United Kingdom. To speculate unjustly on the motives of Flower and Olonga, to assert that their protest was "only an expression of the vested anti-government interests in Zimbabwe" and designed to help "the anti-land reform groups in Zimbabwe"; to brand Flower's decision to play domestic cricket in Australia as a "drama enacted only to gain a more politically selling image of a player with refugee status"; and to brand any appreciation of their action as a "reactionary stance" is completely over-the-top.

Statement of Andrew Flower and Henry Olonga

Issued 9-30 a.m., February 10, 2003, at the start of Zimbabwe's opening World Cup match against Namibia.

It is a great honour for us to take the field today to play for Zimbabwe in the World Cup. We feel privileged and proud to have been able to represent our country. We are, however, deeply distressed about what is taking place in Zimbabwe in the midst of the World Cup and do not feel that we can take the field without indicating our feelings in a dignified manner and in keeping with the spirit of cricket. We cannot in good conscience take to the field and ignore the fact that millions of our compatriots are starving, unemployed and oppressed. We are aware that hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans may even die in the coming months through a combination of starvation, poverty and AIDS. We are aware that many people have been unjustly imprisoned and tortured simply for expressing their opinions about what is happening in the country. We have heard a torrent of racist hate speech directed at minority groups.

We are aware that thousands of Zimbabweans are routinely denied their right to freedom of expression. We are aware that people have been murdered, raped, beaten and had their homes destroyed because of their beliefs and that many of those responsible have not been prosecuted. We are also aware that many patriotic Zimbabweans oppose us even playing in the World Cup because of what is happening. It is impossible to ignore what is happening in Zimbabwe. Although we are just professional cricketers, we do have a conscience and feelings. We believe that if we remain silent that will be taken as a sign that either we do not care or we condone what is happening in Zimbabwe.

We believe that it is important to stand up for what is right. We have struggled to think of an action that would be appropriate and that would not demean the game we love so much. We have decided that we should act alone without other members of the team being involved because our decision is deeply personal and we did not want to use our senior status to unfairly influence more junior members of the squad. We would like to stress that we greatly respect the ICC and are grateful for all the hard work it has done in bringing the World Cup to Zimbabwe. In all the circumstances we have decided that we will each wear a black armband for the duration of the World Cup. In doing so we are mourning the death of democracy in our beloved Zimbabwe. In doing so we are making a silent plea to those responsible to stop the abuse of human rights in Zimbabwe. In doing so we pray that our small action may help to restore sanity and dignity to our Nation.

Andrew Flower-Henry Olonga

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