|E D I T O R I A L
P A G E
Friday, December 18, 1998
attack on Iraq
nation under anaesthesia
from the Imperial Conference
Condemnable attack on Iraq
NOBODY is surprised, not even the bleeding and battered Iraqis, at the US missile attack. For one thing, the Americans, true to their gun-slinger tradition, have been threatening punishment if Iraq does not obey their orders conveyed through a complaisant UNSCOM (UN Special Commission). They are usually as good as their words when it comes to firing first and asking questions later. Two, the USA has massed a frightening armada and arsenal in the vicinity with its finger ready on the button. It was evident for some weeks that this time the USA wanted a bit of action from the nature of UNSCOM commands to Iraq. It one day raided the office of the ruling Baath Party, wanting to inspect the records. Then it demanded submission of all papers relating to the Iran-Iraq war. Only UNSCOM and its masters pulling the wires from Washington could understand the relevance of these political and ancient documents to its task of searching for and destroying chemical, biological and nuclear weapons! And to think that the group has been at its job for the past eight years. It has placed surveillance equipment and cameras at dozens of places which could be even remotely connected to research, storage and manufacture of weapons. It has barged into President Saddam Husseins palaces and asked for the keys to Defence Ministry buildings. Even slight sulking by the Iraqis would provoke UNSCOM to complain to the UN (read the USA) that President Saddam Hussein was not offering unconditional cooperation. And the USA would threaten destruction and even shower missiles as it did in 1966 and as it has done now.
Russia and China have
condemned the unwarranted attack. France, the other
permanent Security Council member, has expressed its deep
regret. The UK, as is its wont, has squeaked its
admiration and has also joined the fun of dropping a bomb
or two of its own. A dozen or so American citizens
mounted a symbolic protest outside the White House.The
undemocratic Security Council, where minority decision
prevails, will once again talk of the nine-year-old Iraqi
intrusion into Kuwait and the war that followed and
demand compliance of its resolutions. It is a weary drama
mechanically played out every six months or so when the
time comes to review the crippling economic sanctions
imposed on Iraq. It wont do. Sane and sober people
must intervene. Iraq is being driven to medieval times,
its territory vivisected into three parts, with two of
them having no government worth the name and depending on
US air protection, with its people denied their right to
food and medicine, with its civic services the
best in the region at one time pushed to the brink
of irrepairable collapse. All because it invaded its
neighbour for a few days! The country and the people have
been punished in a brutal fashion and the civilised
section of the world owes itself a duty to decry this
sentence of death on a whole people. Like in the past
when Indians would loudly and repeatedly protest wherever
and whenever people were denied their rights, the Union
Government has come down heavily on the US bombing. In a
statement in Parliament, Prime Minister Vajpayee has thus
recaptured that moral and humanistic elan. That is the
soul of this ancient civilisation.
Muslim womens agenda
THE 19-point agenda for social and religious reforms adopted by the Muslim Womens Council should prove useful in clearing the politically motivated confusion about their genuine concerns. The other day Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav and his supporters caused avoidable din in the Lok Sabha over the presentation of the Womens Reservation Bill by demanding reservation within reservation for Muslims and members of other underprivileged communities. Had the Muslim women supported the demand for reservation of seats for them in Parliament and the State Assemblies they would have included it in their comprehensive charter for reforms. There is not even a passing mention of the issue which Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav would like to sell as the betrayal of the interests of the minorities. The concerns of Indian Muslims, and women in particular, are not even remotely related to the issues being raised in their name at the national level for instance the issues mentioned in the 19-point charter including facilities for women to pray in mosques, ending the misuse of the system of purdah and triple talaq, review of the mehr law and abolition of the joint family system. There may be some disagreement on the demand for abolishing the joint family system because across the globe the evolution of the nuclear family is being seen as the root cause of many social and emotional maladies. Yes, for an unlettered society the joint family system invariably generates gender inequalities. But spreading the base of education can help the joint family system emerge as the most potent source of emotional and social comfort. As far as the other issues mentioned in the charter are concerned, they reflect the determination of Indian Muslim women to force the clergy to introduce the long overdue religious reforms.
The President of the
Muslim Womens Council, Mrs Safia Iqbal, has urged
the Muslim Personal Law Board to evolve ijma
or consensus for reviewing the un-Islamic practice of
triple talaq. The charter presented at a
symposium in Delhi also raised the question of how to
manage the money collected through zakat
(giving of alms to the poor as a percentage of the total
annual earnings of an individual). In the absence of a
organised system for the disbursement of
zakat funds, they are unevenly and
individually distributed, thus rendering them ineffective
in reducing the incidence of poverty among Muslims. The
charter suggested that the community should create
city-based centres for the collection of
zakat and efficient management of the funds
for the general welfare of under-privileged Muslims.
Maternity homes, managed and manned by women, should be
established with the help of zakat funds, for
there is an acute shortage of healthcare facilities for
Muslim women. The most notable development over the past
few months is that Indian Muslim men and women have now
realised the importance of self-help and religious
reforms for pulling the community out of the abyss of
backwardness. A few weeks ago a conference in Hyderabad
emphasised the need for better management of Muslim Auqaf
(waqfs) for raising funds for opening educational and
social welfare institutions for members of the Muslim
community. Recently, the Seventh International Convention
of American Federation of Muslims of India was held in
Aligarh. It urged members of the Muslim community to set
up talimi jamat (education centres) in every
mohalla of the country for providing free education to
the poorest among the Muslim community. The convention
appealed to religious leaders, scholars and imams of
mosques to propagate the importance of modern education
and suggested that madarsas (religious
schools) should also provide technical and formal
education so that students do not face difficulties in
making career choices after leaving school. These are
signs of positive change and all that the political
leadership needs to do is not to raise non-issues for
confusing the Indian Muslims.
A TOTTERING SYSTEM
THE national political scene is getting murkier day by day. The BJP-led coalition is tottering not because it does not have a national agenda. It can, of course, derive some satisfaction from the fact that it could introduce two controversial measures the Women's Reservation Bill and the Insurance Regulatory Authority Bill in the Lok Sabha in the face of stiff opposition from different groups. Still, the bitter truth is that there are no signs of coherence and coordinated thinking within the government. So, the net result is that its popularity rating after the nine-month rule is minus zero.
The government has lost its credibility, if not legitimacy. Several observers of the national scene, however, even question the legitimacy of the Vajpayee government.
Technically, its legitimacy remains so long as it manages its survival on the strength of a majority in the Lok Sabha. But the moot question is: how long will the BJP be able to retain its present advantage? It is better not to hazard a guess, though the writing on the wall is clear.
Political circles in New Delhi these days are working overtime, mapping out the latest details on likely toppling games. In the atmosphere of drift that prevails in the national Capital, facts and fiction get mixed up easily. This reflects poorly on the state of the nation.
Some harsh facts must be faced. And certain facts stand out and are even accepted by the ruling elite.
First, the system of governance is collapsing at all levels. Since politics has become an end in itself, every segment of national life has got politicised and communalised.
Second, the spirit of service which once guided public men is no longer there. In Delhi and the state capitals a new class of middlemen and power brokers having links with the underworld a la Romesh Sharma has emerged as a force to be reckoned with. They get anything done. In fact, the maximum advantage from India's open policy and red-tape bureaucracy is being derived by middlemen and unscrupulous personal assistants operating openly from the corridors of power in collusion with their foreign and local collaborators. This has not only queered the pitch of administrative functioning but has also brought to the surface the unholy nexus between politicians and criminals.
This new culture of manipulation seems to dominate the thinking and working in the corridors of power. And since every favour granted or extracted carries a price tag, the exercise of power in the ruling coalition is often prompted by considerations other than merit.
Take the latest case of the sacking of the Air-India and Indian Airlines boards. There are rumours galore for this "brave act" revolving around the selection of aircraft for these national carriers. Were the board members made to pay a price for not going along with the wishes of the Aviation Minister in the choice of aircraft?
Lobbying for such purchases has thrived because of the inherent weakness of the system and the murky atmosphere prevailing in the corridors of power. These are actually the byproducts of the power broker culture which has been part of the Capital's scene for years together. No wonder, the civil authority has come to be eroded by the combined onslaught of vested interests.
What is worse, the state machinery these days is impervious to the voice of the common citizen. This is mainly because mafia leaders and a political coterie seem to successfully subvert the system with the aid of slush funds.
What is regrettable is that the national alternative of the BJP has not proved to be much different in running the affairs of the nation. The party seems to be thriving on adhocism and populist measures without making any serious efforts to correct the system and improve the quality of governance. The BJP's UP government is a living example of the saffron party's vulnerability.
A systemic erosion sets off its own chain reaction and waves of demoralisation. For, over a period of time, even the most active and dynamic officers lose their initiative and idealism, and console themselves with "an excessive concern for the trappings of their authority."
The question of demoralisation reminds me of the case of an IAS officer belonging to the Maharashtra cadre. He exposed a large-scale racket involving the Employment Guarantee Scheme (EGS). During his routine check he found that the money meant for rehabilitating the poor and the unemployed was being pocketed by politicians and middlemen.
When his superiors were told about it, they preferred to look the other way. And when in sheer frustration he quietly passed on the information to the Press in Mumbai, he was transferred!
Ironically, the then Chief Minister of Maharashtra called it "a promotion" and blurted out, "let him go and make mischief elsewhere"!
Several such examples can be cited of honest persons who are debunked as "mischief-makers".
How can we improve the system in such circumstances? How can ordinary citizens keep their faith alive in the fair play of the system if operators and mafia leaders are to influence sensitive decisions of transfers and posting of upright persons?
Former Union Home Secretary R.D. Pradhan once stated: "The administration has become an almost unbearable burden on our financial resources. The country is groaning under its size and weight. Unless corrective action is taken at this stage, there is a real danger of the collapse of the administrative structure and perhaps of the democratic framework."
Mr Pradhan should know what it is like in a system where senior civil servants are increasingly getting "aligned with individual politicians" and where concerted efforts are made to demoralise the civil and police services through large scale transfers and punishment postings which strike "at the very concept of neutrality".
The credibility of the system of governance suffers if it is used for personal, family or partisan gains. For such exploitation of the system undermines the legitimacy of authority in the public eye.
We need to arrest the erosion of whatever is left of the established institutional authority and take steps to reverse the process of drift.
Unfortunately, our parliamentarians are party to this drift. Most of them seem to be the least bothered about the goings-on in the system. They are supposed to be functioning as policy-makers and guiding the nation in the right direction. Instead, what do we see? A crude exhibition of muscle and lung power. They obstruct the proceedings of the legislatures at the slightest provocation, hardly realising that they are playing with the tax payers' money.
Amidst the shoutings and counter-shoutings in recent days in the two Houses of Parliament, one notices that quite a large number of MPs are even ignorant of the basic issues facing the nation. For, their priorities are non-issues emanating from mundane petty personal, caste, communal and vote bank considerations.
How many of the MPs know about the implications of the Insurance Regulatory Authority idea ? Have they done any homework? Have they been properly briefed by their party bosses on the short-and-long term fallout of this move?
The Vajpayee government is surely under pressure from vested interests at home and abroad. It wants to bail itself out of the economic mess it has created in anticipation of foreign money flowing in abundant measure.
It is a pity the nation is not being taken into confidence about this most vital step towards the opening of the economy to foreign interests.
Of course, we ought not see national interests in ideological terms alone. But official communications with the people should be in a transparently honest manner so that a proper balance-sheet could be drawn from the IRA Bill and other measures.
A nation under anaesthesia
OVER the past few months events of huge importance to the country have taken place. To name a few, India exploded a series of nuclear devices; the consumer price index soared; the law and order situation nosedived and water and power shortages have become endemic. Against the backdrop of these mega happenings, events such as major train accidents, the unprecedented levels of food adulteration, and a report in the foreign press that only 50 per cent of the fighter aircraft of the Indian Air Force are functional seems like small beer.
As the scenario has unfolded over the past few years, one is not surprised at such a depressing chain of events. What, however, is beyond comprehension is the equanimity with which the parties in opposition and the populace at large have accepted them. It would seem that the ultra-materialistic culture ushered in by economic liberalisation has made us oblivious of any major problem unless it affects one personally. We have stopped taking an overview of what is going wrong a situation brought about more by apathy than by ignorance. For, the Indian population is not ignorant. From the first year college student to the superannuated morning walkers, discussing politics is staple diet. Even in the villages, running down or eulogising politicians is a serious hobby.
It has already been accepted as a painful reality that the politicians who are in charge of guiding the ship out of the maelstrom are, in fact, plundering it. The kleptomaniacal tendencies have steadily increased over the years, and are now assuming dangerous proportions. Worse still, the malady afflicts all political parties. Added to the all-pervasive graft is the matter of the gross ineptitude of the politicians. The process of due diligence seems to have vanished into thin air. There is no application of mind before taking major decisions. However, all is quite on the western front! The morning walkers, the fiery students, the long suffering housewives and the know-alls at paanshops are stoical as some of the ancient Greeks.
It needs to be noted that the damage to the nation is not only being inflicted at the political level. There are any number of bone-chilling establishments in the form of utility services, municipal corporations and communication establishments which thrive on corruption, inefficiency and, above all, the blatant harassment of the common man. Try and get the feedback from a poor consumer who has been issued an electricity bill, which is more than his lifes savings, or a person who has been grievously wronged but is afraid to lodge an FIR.
The professions which at one time were considered the keepers of the countrys conscience are in total decay. The referral racket in the medical profession alongwith other malpractices would make Hippocrates turn in his grave. The legal or accounting profession is in the same league. Add to this the time it takes in the courts to obtain a judgement. Civil or even criminal cases can last years. Yet, overall, the silence is deafening.
The problem at hand is to create an environment which would generate instant protest against inept and corrupt governance. All over the world, spanning over centuries, such protest has been initiated by intellectuals, taken over by the university campuses and then passed on to the masses. Are we now to assume that these are extinct species? If not, where is the support for Anna Hazare or the public revulsion against innumerable atrocities against women? Who is to lead a movement against the sadistic bureaucrat or the insouciant politician?
There are well-known
intellectuals who in the past have rendered service
beyond the call of duty in fighting corruption and
injustice. It is about time they got the adrenalin
pumping again and joined issue against the tormentors of
the nation. They will be surprised at the support they
AN old adage about ability extended to wisdom would read: Wisdom is rare but much rarer than wisdom is the wisdom to recognise wisdom and put it to proper use. Obviously, if wisdom is uncommon, unwisdom is a common trait. Probability of coming across a person endowed with wisdom is small, and odds are definitely in favour of unwisdom. It is apparent statistics like humanity has no inclination towards wisdom.
Anyone can count persons with unwisdom upto any number but one finds it difficult even to make a beginning when it comes to counting persons blessed with wisdom. After starting the count in the later category one does not go very far.
The reason for this skewed distribution against wisdom is not difficult to see. The difference between a person bestowed with wisdom and another one lacking it is not much. The former does things perfectly whereas the latter does things almost perfectly. Falling into the trap of unwisdom is easier and more likely than leaping out of the trap to the zenith of wisdom.
Persons born with wisdom learn from the mistakes of those not lucky enough to have the gift of wisdom, but the unlucky ones do not learn even from their own mistakes. To make things worse for everybody, those without wisdom repeat their follies over and over. That is why the follies outnumber the acts of wisdom many times over.
Seventeenth century Spanish writer Gracian has put ideas about wisdom very clearly. One of his maxims says, Be wise yourself or listen to someone who is wise. Gracian is convinced about the indispensability of wisdom, and asserts that it is difficult to live without wisdom, either ones own or borrowed. However, reliable oracles are rare, says Gracian, and they lead idle lives because nobody consults them.
Not recognising wisdom has its consequences, but not recognising unwisdom can be disastrous. Recognising wisdom puts an individual in an advantageous position because one has hit a treasure-trove which can be made use of in hour of need. Recognising unwisdom, on the other hand, puts one in an unenviable position because recognised unwisdom has to be avoided and dealt with extreme caution. Otherwise the outcome can be explosive. Wisdom has the art of discretion, but unwisdom always tries to overshadow everything with indiscretion and spreads its tentacles. This trait of unwisdom makes the act of shunning it difficult.
Wisdom is the true essence of life in its purest form and its functioning in society. There is only little scope for improvement. Law of addition works differently for wisdom and for unwisdom. Two units of wisdom added together give 1.1, but two units of unwisdom put together yield 11. The third unit of wisdom added to two shall result in 1.11, but the third unit of unwisdom added to two gives rise to 111.
Foreign campers have won at last
THE foreign campers have won at last. Their long vigil has been rewarded. Insurance has been thrown open to foreign MNCs.
There was never a more determined media blitz. It was unprecedented. Such mobilisation of propaganda has never been witnessed before. Presidents, Prime Ministers anyone who is a somebody in the West intervened on behalf of the foreign insurance MNCs to stake a claim for a slice of the Indian pie. Their Indian friends acted the consummate drum boys.
Of course, profit was not the only attraction. These foreign MNCs are in a bad shape in their home turf. World insurance premia growth had fallen to less than 1 per cent. Profit margins are falling. It was a different picture in developing countries. In India, LIC was growing at the rate of 15-17 per cent against 6.7 per cent in Asia, 3.4 per cent in Europe and 1.4 per cent in the USA. Profit margins are not bad in developing countries. Potential life insurance in India is put at 200-250 million. Capital investment is low not more than Rs 100 crore in India. This was the real attraction. But India had reservations on the entry of foreign insurance companies.
India had taken the stand that it would not permit entry of foreign MNCs in the consumer market. But steadily it has given way. At last, we took a stand on insurance and the financial sector. But over 30 foreign banks are already well entrenched in India. As many as five of them appear in the list of top 10 banks! Their profits are relatively highest. Then, why do we object to the entry of foreign insurance?
Almost all political parties were opposed to the entry of the insurance companies. Yet in 1992 five foreign insurance companies allowed to open their liaison offices by the Congress regime! Was this not an insincere act? The plea was: their expertise in health insurance was needed. But this was to permit them back-door entry. Our people were being taken for a ride.
The UF splinters were also opposed to foreign insurance. Yet, in 1996, one more foreign company set up its office in India. Today more than a dozen foreign insurance companies have already entrenched themselves. And they are all giants with assets worth hundreds of billions of dollars. They can buy up politicians and the media.
Entry into India was important. Insurance companies thrive by spreading the risk. The wider the coverage, lesser the risk. Of course, the foreign MNCs were confident that they could force the country to open the insurance sector. They have friends here. They had won over all the apex business organisations. They recruited some key Indian players by paying fabulous salaries. And they spent lavishly on media publicity. It was almost impossible to resist the onslaught. In the meantime, they chipped away the resistance of the political parties. The volte face of the BJP is perhaps the most dramatic. There is a lesson to be drawn from this: politicians are not to be trusted with these matters. (BJP leaders did not know that LIC and GIC had 52 branches abroad in 27 countries!)
The MNC claim was: they could bring in much needed funds, provide better service, introduce competition, new product lines, new technology and management skills. Above all, it is claimed that they can mobilise $ 40 billion for infrastructure development. Such claims are bogus. On this later.
What is it that attracts foreign companies to the insurance sector? It is because it secures long-term capital for investment. It is like licence to print money. In no other industry, except banking (for short-term capital) one can hope for such advantages. This also explains why our Indian business houses are keen to enter the field.
The LIC is not only providing long-term capital to the Five-Year Plans but also steadying the volatility of the stock market. About 75 per cent of the money generated by LIC and GIC goes into public projects. Apart from subsidising the insurance cover of rural poor (50 lakh rural poor pay only 50 per cent premium). They also lend SEBs and PSUs at less than commercial rate of interest. Yet politicians did not permit LIC and GIC to raise the premium. As a result, in the last three years GIC incurred a loss of Rs 1500 crore because of the low premium on motor insurance. No foreign insurance company is going to absorb these social obligations or incur such heavy losses. But once the foreign players are let in, the LIC and GIC will insist on a level playing field.
Let us look at our experience in banking. There are about 39 foreign banks in India already. They have picked up the most lucrative business, especially in the urban areas. They refuse to accept the social obligations that are imposed on nationalised banks. What is more, they have failed to mobilise any substantial money for development. In South-East Asia, where the foreign insurance companies are already well entrenched, not more than 5-10 per cent of the population is covered by insurance. The LIC, which was nationalised in 1956, has been able to book so far not more than 77.75 million policies for a sum assured of Rs 3.44 lakh crores. This is out of a population of 950 million! So, hope of mobilising huge funds should be taken with a pinch of salt.
It is claimed that the foreign insurance MNCs will not be permitted to invest premium money abroad or to repatriate profits. This is yet another deception that is being played on the people. True, you can block investment of premium abroad. But how can you block repatriation of profit when you allow it in every other field? Foreign banks remit about Rs 1000 crore yearly.
The immediate impact of the entry of foreign insurance will be on the 5000 or so insurance agents. They will be lured away by the MNCs. This will be a big blow to LIC and GIC. Through heavy advertisement the foreign insurance companies will take away a good part of the business of Indian players. They will control savings and even pension and provident funds.
The US companies with their huge capital can undercut LIC and GIC and bear losses for years till they can cripple the Indian companies. Then they will raise premia and exploit the market.
The Insurance Regulatory Authority (IRA) has been given powers to check abuses. But from what we have seen in other cases, there will be no way to do so. And these foreign insurance giants are too big to be intimidated.
The BJP has not done its homework. It is yet to go into the problems of distortion that the insurance system has gone through in the long years of socialist dispensation. Premia is not based on risk factor. Similarly, there is a great deal of cross-subsidy. Mortality tables have not been revised for years.
But will the IRA be able to clean up the mess? Not likely. As it turns out, power will remain with the Ministry and not with the IRA. Only one provision is to be lauded: that an Indian promoter cannot sell his interest without following a set formula. This is to prevent them from selling their stakes at fabulous prices as happened in telecom and soft drinks. We do not want trafficking in licences, says IRA Chairman Rangachary.
So, what is the final
conclusion? I believe that when the country has allowed
foreign companies in almost every other field, there is
no point in blocking entry into insurance. Let them come.
They cannot do worse damage than what others are doing.
Perhaps they can do some good too. For example, break the
government monopoly of insurance. It is the ultimate
damage to a country.
Withdraw from the Imperial Conference
WE are sincerely pleased to find that Mr Sesagiri Iyer has, on behalf of the Democratic Party, of which he is the recognised leader has sent a cable to Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru requesting him to withdraw from the Imperial Conference owing to the Kenya decision.
That this is the only manly, straightforward and patriotic course open to our distinguished countryman we, for our part, have not the smallest doubt.
The course he is actually
following will either lead to the same goal by an
unnecessarily devious path, or will lead to a position
which, on reflection, Dr Sapru himself will, we are
convinced, be the first to regret.
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