Small is not beautiful
India shines, at last
With love from a Pathan
Fifty years of Ray’s cinema
Small is not beautiful
Chief Election Commissioner T.S. Krishnamurthy’s suggestion at a conference in Chandigarh on Wednesday asking small political parties to align with national parties for purposes of contesting the Lok Sabha elections deserves a close look. His thesis that small parties are okay at the state level for the Assembly elections but not at the Centre because of their baneful influence on the quality of governance seems to be logical. The country was witness to various pulls and pressures from small parties during the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government. It faced problems from as many as 22 allies and Mr Vajpayee had to mollify them often and keep them in good humour. This was certainly affecting the day-to-day governance. The same experiment is being re-enacted in New Delhi today. Dr Manmohan Singh’s United Progressive Alliance government, with 15 regional allies, is not free from similar compulsions. Small parties per se are not bad for the country. But the question is to what extent their regional sentiments and approaches will help realise national aspirations and objectives.
Mr Krishnamurthy’s suggestions for democratisation of political parties with regular organisational elections, an expenditure limit on the parties themselves and not just candidates, and making their party accounts public are not new. The Election Commission, the Law Commission and the Dinesh Goswami Committee Report had recommended this, but their suggestions have not been implemented mainly because of the lack of political will.
Do we need over 600 political parties today? Unless their number is regulated by law, representational legitimacy of our legislators under a first-past-the-post system cannot be ensured. The norm that a political party will be recognised as a national party only if it secures at least 10 per cent votes all over the country should be strictly enforced. A piece of legislation is also urgently needed to cover issues like the setting up, recognition, de-recognition, funding and democratic functioning of the political parties.
Punjab is arguably the most prosperous state of India and yet it continues to bear the cross of having the most skewed male-female sex ratio. The state has only 897 women for every 1000 men. What is even more alarming is the fact that in the 0-6 age group this ratio dips to as low as 780. If it is any consolation, it happens to be 742 in the neighbouring Haryana. The sex ratio of women per thousand population of Sikh males is only 893 against the national average of 933. It is just 786 in the 0-6 age group. The reasons are not far to seek. Female foeticide has been going on for long despite the hue and cry raised over it. It will be wrong to single out any particular religion or community for perpetrating this ghastly practice because this is prevalent all over the region comprising Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan. The preference for the male child is maniacal. This used to lead to infanticide earlier. Now that science has made a lot of progress, it is being used to kill the girl child right in the womb. Officially, there is a ban on the practice but it goes on regardless. It is not too difficult to find willing medical practitioners.
One cannot help hanging one’s head in shame that Fatehgarh Sahib district has the lowest child sex ratio in the country, with 754 to 1,000. The sheer inhumanity of it all had moved Akal Takht to issue an edict on April 13, 2001, against the practice of female foeticide. Those who flout the order face ostracism. Yet, the fatwa has not yielded the desired results.
The fetish for male issue is centuries old. This desire has been accentuated by the present-day situation. The father of a girl has to spend a lot on her dowry and also never-ending ceremonies after her marriage. That is why quite a substantial number of parents do not mind becoming “kudi-maar” (daughter killers). Surprisingly, even mothers and grand-mothers abet this practice. Unless society rises as one against this inhuman practice it would continue to haunt us.
India shines, at last
But for Major Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore's silver medal the Athens Olympics were a fiasco for the bloated Indian contingent. Even the cricket season did not start on a happy note for India. However, it is still the game of cricket that provides some cheer. Thank you Rahul Dravid and Irfan Pathan for making the fans smile with muted joy by sharing three of the four awards for individual excellence instituted by the International Cricket Council. They have rightly been described as the Oscars of international cricket.
Dravid has done the country proud by bagging the Best Player of the Year Award for his Bradmanesque performance last season in both forms of the game. He also richly deserved the Best Test Player trophy for his superlative batting in 2003-2004. Universally acknowledged as the Great Wall of Indian cricket, Rahul Dravid has been a role model for cricket enthusiasts. He has the rare ability to dominate both fast and spin bowling and uses his bat as a weapon to blunt even the best attack. Pathan was rightly adjudged the Best Emerging Player of the Year. Within a short span of a few months since his debut in Australia he has astounded the pundits by spearheading the Indian attack.
Hopefully, the ICC awards would lift the morale of Team India that has been struggling for form after a long, but well deserved, break following the stunning performance in Tests and one-day series in Australia and Pakistan. The players looked completely out of depth during the Asia Cup and the ill-planned tri-series in the Netherlands. The last game of the Natwest series against England did provide some hope. If coach John Wright and skipper Saurav Ganguly between them are able to cover the hole in the batting line up because of Sachin Tendulkar's absence, the team has potential to lift the Champions Trophy, or the mini World Cup, beginning today in England. If that happens, the ICC trophies would become the icing on Team India's cake.
IT is now more than three decades since Germany-born economist and philosopher E. Fritz Schumacher wrote his seminal book, “Small is Beautiful”, with the sub-title: “Economics, as if People Mattered.” A sharp critique of Western economic thinking, the works of Schumacher (1911-77), who spent most of his working life in Britain, not only championed the cause of appropriate technology. After Karl Marx (another German who spent much of his life in Britain), he was one of the most forceful proponents of the view that capital should serve people and not vice versa.
Though many do not consider Schumacher’s ideas fashionable any longer, there are quite a few in India who support his contention that the government should be actively encouraging the establishment and growth of small-scale industrial (SSI) units, if for nothing else but to create more employment opportunities. Data from the 945 employment exchanges in the country indicates that the total number of job-seekers (not all of whom are necessarily unemployed) in February was of the order of 41.1 million, of which roughly 70 per cent were educated at least up to the 10th standard. The Planning Commission estimated in 1999-2000 that there were 19.5 million unemployed individuals in India — this number has certainly not declined thereafter, especially since the last few years have witnessed jobless growth.
On August 30, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh asked the Ministry for Small-Scale Industries to expedite the finalisation of a single law to govern the working of this sector and called for an end to the “inspector raj” that was constraining the functioning of small enterprises. He said the success of the SSI sector would be the “key to our success in employment” and acknowledged that the policy of reservation of items for manufacture in this sector would not be enough to protect small enterprises from global competition. “While reservation can protect (the SSI units) from domestic competition, it will not protect them from international competition,” Dr Singh observed.
Besides marketing support, technology upgradation and infrastructure development, the one factor that was plaguing this sector was inadequate credit. The Prime Minister regretted that despite various initiatives, including the Credit Guarantee Scheme and the Credit Linked Capital Subsidy Scheme, small enterprises were not receiving adequate credit despite the fact that banks were flush with funds. “Even as bankers exercise their commercial judgment, they must also pay heed to the development dimension of lending to small enterprises,” he said.
Speaking at the same function as the Prime Minister, Minister for Small-Scale Industries Mahabir Prasad had pointed out that although one lakh new SSI units were registered each year, only half these units open credit accounts with banks. In fact, the number of SSI units with credit accounts in banks have come down dramatically in recent years — from 2.6 million in 1999 to 1.7 million in 2003 — reflecting the acute shortage of credit being faced by small enterprises, the minister added. Such a situation is prevailing despite the fact that there are over 410 “specialised” bank branches all over India that are supposed to cater only to SSI units.
The policy of reservation of items for “exclusive” manufacture in the small sector has been severely criticised from time to time, especially by chambers of commerce and industry associations that usually represent the interests of big business houses. It has been argued that the reservation policy is not merely discriminatory towards large industrial enterprises but also prevents SSI units from becoming internationally competitive. However, this is only one side of the story.
Roughly, one-third of the country’s total exports come from small enterprises — Rs 86,013 crore out of a total of Rs 2,55,137 crore in 2002-03. Whereas the policy of reservation of items for manufacture by SSI units was first introduced by the government in 1967, it did not receive proper statutory backing till as late as 1984 through an amendment to the Industries (Development & Regulation) Act, 1951.
In 1967, the manufacture of only 47 items was reserved for the SSI sector but this number had jumped to 873 items by 1984. Subsequently, the number started coming down gradually and currently stands at 675 — in June 2003, 75 items were removed from the reserved list. However, the more important point to note in this context is that (contrary to popular perception) the policy of reservation does not bar large industrial units from manufacturing the items reserved for the SSI sector provided half the output of the concerned production unit is exported.
According to the findings of the third all-India census of small-scale industries that were released in January, out of the 1,15,22,000 SSI units in the country, as many as 99,68,000 units (or 85 per cent of the total) were unregistered. All these SSI units put together employed as many as 27.4 million individuals, according to the census. To place this figure in proper perspective, the total employment in the country’s public sector in 2002 stood at 18.8 million individuals while the number of persons employed by the organised private sector as a whole came to only 8.4 million. In other words, the total number of jobs in India’s public sector and private sector put together was lower that the number of those employed by small enterprises.
The SSI investment limits in plant and machinery have been rising steadily. Though this limit is currently Rs 1 crore for most items, the limit has been increased to Rs 5 crore for units manufacturing specific items in the hosiery, hand tools, stationery and pharmaceutical industries. A number of initiatives were recently announced to assist this sector. These include a Rs 10,000 crore Small and Medium Enterprises Fund under the Small Industries Development Bank of India (SIDBI), the identification of 60 industrial clusters for SSI units, the relaxation of norms under the Laghu Udyami Credit Card Scheme for borrowers with a good track record, the increase in loan limits and the enhancement of limits for doing away with the requirement of furnishing a collateral for loans.
But these initiatives have helped small entrepreneurs only marginally. As my friend, the late Shyam Sunder Singhania, President of the Kolkata-based Indian Council of Small Industries, used to often rue, there were too many hurdles placed in the way of those who wanted to employ themselves and in the process provide employment opportunities to others. Despite many tall claims made by ministers of all ideological hues, little or nothing has been done to encourage small entrepreneurs. The leadership, on the other hand, has bent over backwards to accommodate big business interests, simply because that is where the big bucks come from. Will this government be any different? Time alone can
With love from a Pathan
THOUGH I am Hindu by religion, ethnically I am a Pathan,” the gentleman told me with a touch of pride in his voice. He was tall but rather on the thinner side.
We were both waiting for someone in an office room. The Pathan groped inside his trouser pocket and brought out a packet of expensive cigarettes and lighted one for himself without offering me any.
Shortly before, the US had attacked Afghanistan suspecting Bin Laden to be hiding in that country. We were talking about Afghanistan when my companion made the pertinent point about his roots which was in the rugged terrain of the North West.
As the wait lingered, he told me about an incident that took place at the Khyber Pass. His father, a doctor in the British Army, was posted in Peshawar. The doctor had to go across Khyber Pass for some work and on his way back, he ran into what is most dreaded by travellers on this pass — a group of armed Afridis. They first thought him to be an Englishman, fair and grey eyed that he was, and wanted to shoot him.
But the mistake was soon cleared and the Afridis told him that they actually wanted his jeep so that one of their comrades, who received gunshot injuries during a clash, could be transported to a hospital. The good doctor revealed to the Afridis that if this was the case why not he be taken to the injured man at first to have a preliminary examination.
The Afridis took him to the injured man whose injury was found to be serious. This posed a problem. If the injured man was taken to a hospital in Peshawar, the local administration run by the British would come to know and most likely take him in custody. The doctor, however, knew of a Christian missionary who ran a hospital, who he thought could be trusted for such a case.
The man was brought by the doctor to Peshawar and quietly deposited in the hospital. Some of the man’s companions also came with them to look after their injured friend. The doctor forgot all about the incident but the Afridis did not. One morning the doctor sat in his garden at his Peshawar house, reading the newspaper, when he heard a horse approaching the house in full gallop.
The rider dropped something inside the compound, and then the noise of hooves making contact with the road gradually faded away. It turned out to be a family heirloom, an embroidered cloth used by the Afridis to offer prayers. For the inhabitants of Khyber Pass nothing could equal such a cloth to be offered as a present.
The story ended here. The gentleman for whom we were waiting did not turn up and the story teller and I parted company. I kept running into the gentleman occasionally but never got a chance to hear another account from him about the Afridis. Now that he has become the topmost bureaucrat of Haryana, there is still less chance that he and I shall be waiting in the same room for
Fifty years of Ray’s cinema
I am exactly the same age as Satyajit Ray’s “Pather Panchali”. In these 50 years, I have got to see most of his movies. “Pather Panchali” must have been viewed half a dozen times.
The first time I saw it, I was in college. Frankly, its slow pace bored me to sleep. After all, I was brought up on the staple diet of Bollywood masala and this rambling tale was too bland for my taste. But still, some of the scenes like Apu and Durga’s discovery of a train remained etched in memory.
On repeat viewing, the film unfolded differently. Slowly and surely, the Ray magic started becoming manifest. Many decades later, I was to realise that the slow pace was a true presentation of the life in a poor village in Bengal.
This experience is nothing unique. Almost everyone who has been a Ray fan has discovered new layers of meanings in his films on seeing them the second time. There are so many nuances packed in them that it takes a rare connoisseur to grasp them all at one go. That is what made him one of the greatest film makers of the world.
That he could achieve so much despite numerous limitations makes him all the more tall. Only he could transform utterly mundane into an adventure. His genius lay in making the world empathise with emotions which are abundantly Indian. Pathos of life in a remote village or a claustrophobic city moves viewers all over the world.
Ray had once commented that great cinema had the ability to “leave the regional moorings and rise to a plane of universal gestures and universal emotions”. His films did, making Akira Kurosawa, another cinema great, say: “Not to have seen the cinema of Ray means existing in the world without seeing the sun or the moon”.
Viewed in a single sweep, Ray’s cinema exudes some unique characteristics. Their style and content are quite the opposite of conventional Hollywood offerings. His characters are everyday persons, for whom perverted behaviour, violence and explicit sex are alien.
There is a meditative rhythm in his work. On the one hand, you can perceive the thinking and feeling of his characters without them uttering a word. On the other, there is an attitude of acceptance and detachment towards misery and tragedy.
To him, the best technique of film-making was the one that was not noticeable. Technique was merely a means to an end. His films always drew attention to their contents rather than style.
The woman characters in his films generally come out as more forceful and better-etched. Perhaps this has a lot to do with the similar tendency among the writers whose literary works Ray adopted to cinema.
He also had fascination for the crumbling feudal order which he portrayed with rare sensitivity whether in “Shatranj Ke Khilari” or “Jalsaghar”. Mind you, this was not sympathy. In his own words, these feudal lords were like dinosaurs who were hurtling towards their own destruction but did not know it.
His later films somehow did not have the same ethereal quality which the earlier ones like the Apu trilogy had. The heart-attack that he suffered during the making of “Ghare-Baire” forced him to shoot only in studios and this affected the quality of films like “Ganashatru” (1989), “Shakha Prashakha” (1990) and “Agantuk” (1991).
Perhaps the impossible odds against which he was making films also took their toll. In 1960s and 70s, Ray was accused of not showing a greater concern for the “Calcutta of burning trains, communal riots, refugees, unemployment, rising prices and food shortages”, as if a filmmaker is nothing more than a chronicler of real-life events. In 1980, film star and MP Nargis Dutt denounced him in Parliament for “exporting images of India’s poverty for foreign audiences”. Hindu chauvinists castigated him for being an “Orientalist” or “Westernised Indian who had renounced Indian culture”.
Yet, Ray was toasted and feted as among the three best film-makers of the world. It was expected that now that he had brought Indian cinema on the world map, it was only a matter of time before it grew roots there. But the fond hope never materialised, so much so that today there is no film-maker who can be considered a worthy successor to the great Ray. Some have made goodfilms but to step into his shoes, one has to display his sterling qualities in film after film.
It would have been impossible to find a multi-faceted personality like him who could take care of everything from scripting, casting, directing, scoring, operating the camera and art direction to editing, but surely it was reasonable to expect a large number of directors who could make world-class films. But these hopes were belied.
The failure perhaps lies in the fact that cinema has not really been recognised as an art form in India. Anybody who ventures into meaningful cinema knows it clearly that it would be nearly impossible for him to break even, let alone make money.
You see, if you are a down-at-heel but promising writer, singer or painter, you can still do your kind of work without going bankrupt. But making a film costs a lot of money, even if you are on a shoestring budget. Ray was even compelled to pawn his wife’s jewellery for making “Pather Panchali” (it cost all of Rs 70,000). He was lucky to get the support of the West Bengal government as well as Jawaharlal Nehru and some other patrons. But anybody trying similar experiments today - and wanting to do so repeatedly — would be a very disappointed man. Look at the way most promising makers like Govind Nihalani, Shyam Benegal and Mani Ratnam have opted out of the art track.
It is a harsh thing to say but Indian cinema today is nowhere on the world map. In general it is synonymous with escapist fare. Occasional films by Mira Nair and Gurinder Chadha are just not enough to make the international audiences change their view. Just as good sportsmen have to be nurtured carefully, good film directors also need an appreciative and encouraging ambience. That, unfortunately, is missing.
Not only the Left parties but also some UPA allies are conveying their disapproval of the remarks and actions of some ministers in the Manmohan Singh government. The PDP, for instance, is not happy about the “non-resumption” of the Centre’s talks with the Hurriyat Conference. The PDP leaders contend that some statements of Home Minister Shivraj Patil, which were later clarified, caused unnecessary confusion. They say that moderates among the separatists would be pushed into a corner if the Centre did not create enough space to continue talks with them. The PDP leaders have told the Centre that talks should continue both with the separatists in the valley and Pakistan to sustain the hopes of the people about normalcy returning to the state.
The PDP leaders contend that some statements of Home Minister Shivraj Patil, which were later clarified, caused unnecessary confusion. They say that moderates among the separatists would be pushed into a corner if the Centre did not create enough space to continue talks with them. The PDP leaders have told the Centre that talks should continue both with the separatists in the valley and Pakistan to sustain the hopes of the people about normalcy returning to the state.
A new young Turk
He may well turn out to be the new “young Turk” in the political firmament of Assam. Himanta Biswa Sharma, a young politician in his early 30s, has landed the plum portfolio of Finance, Planning and Development in the recent reshuffle of portfolios undertaken by Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi in the North-eastern state. Sharma, a former student leader and an alumni of Delhi University, has also been entrusted the onerous task of turning Guwahati into a better city in his capacity as Chairman of the Guwahati Development Authority (GDA). Sharma’s elevation is likely to cause a few heartburns, but insiders say, he enjoys the confidence of the CM. And with elections more than a year away, Gogoi has looked towards the younger brigade to turn things around.
He may well turn out to be the new “young Turk” in the political firmament of Assam. Himanta Biswa Sharma, a young politician in his early 30s, has landed the plum portfolio of Finance, Planning and Development in the recent reshuffle of portfolios undertaken by Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi in the North-eastern state.
Sharma, a former student leader and an alumni of Delhi University, has also been entrusted the onerous task of turning Guwahati into a better city in his capacity as Chairman of the Guwahati Development Authority (GDA).
Sharma’s elevation is likely to cause a few heartburns, but insiders say, he enjoys the confidence of the CM. And with elections more than a year away, Gogoi has looked towards the younger brigade to turn things around.
Caught on the wrong foot
The Prime Minister is generally perceived to have the last word on any issue. Perhaps not, if one goes by the clarification given by Petroleum Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar on the Veer Savarkar issue. With the Maharashtra elections round the corner and the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance making an all-out effort to cash in on the emotive issue among the people of the western Indian state, the Congress finds itself in a piquant situation. When scribes wanted to know what was the stand of the Congress on the Savarkar issue, party spokesperson Anand Sharma said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had made the party position clear and as far as we are concerned the issue is closed. Mr Aiyar claimed that his position was in conformity with the stand of the party. Caught in a catch-22 situation, the Congress wants to give a quiet burial to the Savarkar issue, but it seems to be raising its head once again.
The Prime Minister is generally perceived to have the last word on any issue. Perhaps not, if one goes by the clarification given by Petroleum Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar on the Veer Savarkar issue. With the Maharashtra elections round the corner and the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance making an all-out effort to cash in on the emotive issue among the people of the western Indian state, the Congress finds itself in a piquant situation. When scribes wanted to know what was the stand of the Congress on the Savarkar issue, party spokesperson Anand Sharma said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had made the party position clear and as far as we are concerned the issue is closed.
Mr Aiyar claimed that his position was in conformity with the stand of the party. Caught in a catch-22 situation, the Congress wants to give a quiet burial to the Savarkar issue, but it seems to be raising its head once again.
Honoured or humiliated?
About 300 teachers invited to a dinner at the Pragati Maidan by Union HRD Minister Arjun Singh were surprised when an officer of the ministry started telling them how to conduct themselves in front of President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam at the award-presentation function at the Vigyan Bhavan recently. Without applying his mind to his choice of words, the officer said that they should neither embrace the President nor touch his feet. He told the teachers: “Naaa to koi gale milega, naa pair chhuyega. You are lucky enough and privileged to get an award from the President”, Deputy Secretary Kamal Chowdhery told the dumb-struck
teachers. Further, he stressed that the whole show “has to be completed within 45 minutes.” Later, when the teachers had queued up for dinner, the officer was seen telling a woman in a harsh tone that there was food for everybody and she need not crowd around. It left one thinking whether the teachers had been called to be honoured or to be humiliated thus. Contributed by Prashant Sood, Gaurav Choudhury, R. Suryamurthy and Tripti Nath.
About 300 teachers invited to a dinner at the Pragati Maidan by Union HRD Minister Arjun Singh were surprised when an officer of the ministry started telling them how to conduct themselves in front of President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam at the award-presentation function at the Vigyan Bhavan recently.
Without applying his mind to his choice of words, the officer said that they should neither embrace the President nor touch his feet. He told the teachers: “Naaa to koi gale milega, naa pair chhuyega. You are lucky enough and privileged to get an award from the President”, Deputy Secretary Kamal Chowdhery told the dumb-struck teachers.
Further, he stressed that the whole show “has to be completed within 45 minutes.” Later, when the teachers had queued up for dinner, the officer was seen telling a woman in a harsh tone that there was food for everybody and she need not crowd around. It left one thinking whether the teachers had been called to be honoured or to be humiliated thus.
Contributed by Prashant Sood, Gaurav Choudhury, R. Suryamurthy and Tripti Nath.
O how I hate shams and prejudices: how I hate all sectarian narrowness, all provincial limitations of vision and purpose, all the arrogant sophistries of man-made divisions and differences. How tired I am to death of the reiterated resolutions that have become almost meaningless by lip repetition: uncorroborated by the heart’s conviction and unsustained by practical action. — Sarojini Naidu As a person abandons worn-out clothes and acquires new ones, so when the body is worn out, a new one is acquired by the Self, who lives within. — Sri Krishna in Bhagavad Gita Be the change you want to see in the world. — Mahatma Gandhi God is unfathomable, unperceivable. He has neither any form nor outline. But when I searched and sought, I found Him permeating every heart. — Guru Nanak
— Sarojini Naidu
As a person abandons worn-out clothes and acquires new ones, so when the body is worn out, a new one is acquired by the Self, who lives within.
— Sri Krishna in Bhagavad Gita
Be the change you want to see in the world.
— Mahatma Gandhi
God is unfathomable, unperceivable. He has neither any form nor outline. But when I searched and sought, I found Him permeating every heart.
— Guru Nanak