|E D I T O R I A L
P A G E
Saturday, July 31, 1999
It is fiscal mess
Advisers taking Sonia for a ride?
tatty new look
Yanks come calling!
It is fiscal mess
DESPERATE situations often throw
up desperate ideas as is the case with Finance Minister
Yashwant Sinhas call for a Constitution-mandated
ceiling on government borrowing. He feels that it is the
only way to control the burgeoning expenditure. His worry
is well taken as the outgo in the first two months of the
year has overshot the budgeted mark by a hefty margin.
But the remedy he suggests will not stop the financial
haemorrhage but will merely salve the conscience of a few
squeamy fund managers. It is all too evident that the
Minister thought of the statutory ban on the spur of the
moment, rather he has not given it his customary deep
thought. For, one country, namely New Zealand, has a
similar provision and it has not enthused any one to
accept it as a model, not even the USA when it was
running hundreds of billions of dollars as deficit for
more than a decade. The point is that keeping the
expenses down is a function of both waste cutting and
revenue boosting. In India over the years the practice
has been to boost wasteful expenses and shrink the
revenue. Populist measures come under the first category
as do benevolent concessions like the new telecom
package. The reluctance to tax the affordable sections of
society is phenomenal. The result is the perfect
financial mess the country finds itself in.Mr Sinha has
talked of an internal debt trap. But he is thinking of
the future as though there is much distance to go before
the country will reach the danger point. That is too
optimistic a view. As it is, fiscal deficit is running at
about Rs 100,000 crore, or fully 40 per cent of the total
revenue collection. More frightening is the fact that the
country is setting apart as high as 7 per cent of the GDP
in meeting interest charges on public debt. This is
unsustainable and cannot but wreck the financial health
of the government and hence the economy and the country.
There are two other points about a constitutional freeze
on borrowing. One, it will draw a Lakshman Rekha in an
arbitrary manner without any thought to the pressing
needs of the government of the day. That will be asking
the government to swim with one hand tied behind the
back. That is no solution. Two, balancing the government
account is an attitude of collective mind and not the
effect of any law, however welcome it might be. Finance
Ministers since the late eighties have both promised to
go in for some belt-tightening and also lamented the lack
of cooperation from political parties. This demonstrates
the ground reality. Calling for fiscal rectitude is
painless but enforcing it will cost votes. Mr Sinha has
opted to reopen the Pandoras box not because he is
in a confessional mood but because there are powerful
alarm signals flashing from his ministry. Revenue
receipts are not encouraging, no matter how the figures
are doctored. The outgo is alarming. The borrowing in the
first two months equals that of four months. It is these
darkening clouds and the unsteady indicators of economic
revival that have stirred the Minister to get back to his
old call for fiscal discipline. As wags would have it,
discipline begins at the Ministry.
HARYANA Chief Minister Om Prakash Chautala has added 13 ministers to his one-man ministry sworn in on July 24. This is his fourth tenure as Chief Minister and he has done well to avoid hurry and worry. He proved his majority on the floor of the House. He has a base as the President of the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) and as a son of former Deputy Prime Minister Devi Lal. The response to his taking over as Chief Minister has been marked by caution. His opponents as well as admirers have made no secret of their awareness of certain grey areas in his political career. The modern state of Haryana is 33 years old. Its past is hoary and recent history eventful. The successive rulers have promised the moon to the people. But some of them have been accused of inefficiency and even downright betrayal in the context of the electoral mandate given to them by the people. The events which led to the fall of the Bansi Lal government were somewhat unsavoury and avoidable in this era of coalition politics. Mr Bansi Lal began with a bang and ended with a whimper. The Congress played a tricky role in his government's oxygenated survival and final exit.
Mr Chautala has a two-tier ministry with seven Cabinet Ministers and six Ministers of State. Together they appear quite compatible although they come from the splinter group called the Haryana Vikas Party (D) and the Independent pool. The Chief Minister has given the lion's share of the berths to those who will be called "turncoats" by former Chief Minister's supporters. Mr Chautala's own party has a meagre representation so far. Perhaps, its members understand the compulsions of their leader and the tradition of the formation of jumbo ministries in Haryana.
Is it possible to forget
the past of Mr Chautala? His three incarnations earlier
were rather short-spanned. But is it necessary that his
fourth one, too, will be so? It would be proper to take
note of the promises cautiously made by the Chief
Minister. He has said that he would provide a clean and
stable government. According to him, maintaining law and
order and protecting the life and limb of the citizen
from the onslaughts of anti-social elements will be among
his priorities. As he has often asserted, a "Jat's
commitment" is marked by firmness. This time the
people are keen on taking his words seriously; and this
is, perhaps, the finest chance for him to redeem his
past. The future is made of sincere projections and one's
application to the tasks laid out before one. Haryana is
not just the land of Aya Rams and Gaya Rams. It is also
the birth place of Rao Tula Ram and Sir Chhotu Ram. It
has diverse potential. Foodgrains, sugarcane, oilseeds
and cotton, if imaginatively grown, can make it rich.
Dairy farming has put it prominently on the national map.
Major industries producing cement, sugar, paper,
textiles, glassware, brassware, tractors, motorised
vehicles, sanitaryware and leather goods are
advantageously located within its boundaries. The
prospect of tourism is also bright. Mr Chautala has such
assets to look after and to improve upon. He should be
ready to serve the people in an exemplary manner.
Sachin in, Azhar out
BY appointing Sachin Tendulkar captain of the Indian cricket team for the international calendar up to September the national selectors have done the predictable. What was evidently not anticipated by either the Board of Control for Cricket in India or the selectors was the suspense surrounding the announcement of the unanimous vote in favour of Tendulkar. For nearly 24 hours the new captain, who must be relishing the additional good news of having been given the top ranking as a Test batsman by Wisden, remained incommunicado giving birth to all manner of rumours. One rumour was that he wanted more powers for himself before accepting the usually unpleasant assignment because the last time he was made captain he had to follow a set of dos and don'ts given to him by the selectors.
However, it is doubtful whether the true story of the missing bride would ever come out because the BCCI does not believe in the policy of running a transparent show or accountability. When some senior players dared to share their views on what went wrong for India during the World Cup they were made to retract their statements by the bully called the BCCI. There is no doubt that much is wrong with Indian cricket; but the board (and not the players) is more responsible for the mess. The latest victim of the cloak and dagger method of working of the BCCI is Mohammad Azharuddin. Even after nearly 10 years as captain he was seldom given a free hand in selecting the team or deciding the strategy. The suicidal decision to split the team for the Commonwealth Games and the Sahara Cup last year was not taken after consulting Azhar. Before the World Cup while most teams were fine-tuning their strategy and game the Indian team was made to go through an avoidable phase of experimentation. Surely, the hare-brained idea could not have come from Azharuddin.
The media should also
share the blame for creating an unpopular image of Azhar
in the mind of the countless cricket fans. One reason why
he could not get along with the Press had something to do
with his low middle class background and his shortcomings
as a communicator. Just because he was not demonstrative
on the field reinforced in the minds of the spectators
the image of a bad leader created by the media. The same
media which has contributed substantially in Azhar being
asked to hand over the leadership of the team to
Tendulkar cannot hide the fact that in spite of the
"visible" limitations he is by far the most
successful Indian captain both in Tests and one-day
games. Who can ignore the fact that he is the only
international cricketer to have cracked three centuries
in a row on his debut against England in India in 1984-85
or that his 62-ball century in a one-day game against New
Zealand was the fastest in the game before Shahid Afridi
broke all the speed records in the matter of scoring
runs. Had he not been burdened with the responsibility of
leading a side with obvious limitations, he may have had
more Test and one-day runs against his name.To be fair,
he has given more to Indian cricket than he has received
as his just share of adulation from over-demanding fans.
If the BCCI is not made to mend its method of running the
game, the possibility of Tendulkar, like Azhar, losing
his batting form rather than taking Indian captaincy to
new heights cannot be ruled out. If he succeeds both as a
captain and a batting allrounder, he would have done so
in spite of the roadblocks which the BCCI loves to create
in the name of promoting the game of cricket.
SINCE the days when the Congress was guided by Nehrus vision of the future of India, there have been only three major political formations which can be said to have worked within a system of beliefs which was comprehensive and cogent enough to be called an ideology and was serviced by a long enough strategy for reaching a distinct conceptual goal.
There were: the communist parties, which began to form governments at the state level in the 1950s and 1960s; the Jana Sangh in its various incarnations, particularly in the 1970s, when it made its first attempts to form state governments; and then the Janata Dal, which passed through various tunnels as Vidhayak Dals and Lok Dals before bursting on the national scene to form the government at the Centre in the last 1980s.
None of the four was averse to making tactical twists and turns for meeting current exigencies. But each remained more or less within the strategy required by its chosen goal. The goal of Nehrus Congress was a modern, democratic, secular India, to be achieved through peaceful means; the communists was radical reshaping of the political economy, peacefully if possible and otherwise if necessary; the Jana Sanghs was a nationalistic India based on traditions inherited from the eras of Hindu spiritual and temporal supremacy; the Janata Dals was to overthrow all those traditions which had held much of rural India in social and economic bondage through the chains of the traditions of caste. These separate goals had some common and overlapping components but each was the distinction of one or another party.
But as India bids goodbye to the millennium all four political formations are taking leave of their ideological distinctions for the sake of reaching number winning combinations whether before, during or after elections. With just a few exceptions no one tries to win sufficient support among the people to be able to form a government on its own based on its own constituency and its own beliefs, and to challenge its opponents to overthrow it in a battle between opposing political belief systems. Thirty years ago Mrs Gandhi showed this willingness to live dangerously, and won. Ten years ago Mr V P Singh showed it, and though he lost he did so in glory. No one has tried to do so since then, not even the two biggest parties, BJP and the Congress and the communists, once the most steadfastly ideological, are now only half-heartedly so. The conscience of each has been easy, and the reason mostly given is that stable governments need wider bases. But over the past decade more governments have lost their majorities and fallen for reasons other than conflict of convictions.
The animosity between the two main parties, the BJP and the Congress, each treating the other as untouchable, might appear to be because of incompatible convictions but in fact it is not. They easily swap their allies, a partner of one in one election becoming a partner of the other in the next. This easy promiscuity has rubbed off some of the ideological distinctions between them, to the extent that they think nothing of trading in Jayalalithas and Sukh Rams.
Regional parties do not have sharp distinctions of convictions at the all-India level and therefore can more easily, and more excusably, change their affiliations with all-India parties. But the recent happenings in the Janata Dal have shown that the state level branches of all-India parties can skate just as easily at the national level, despite the Dal being, once upon a time, one of the four pillars of the structure of Indias parliamentary party politics described earlier.
Consider the doings of most of the top leaders of the Dal in recent months: Mr Laloo Prasad Yadav, the virtual Chief Minister of Bihar; Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav, former Chief Minister UP and arguably even now the most powerful leader in the state; Mr Sharad Yadav, the president of the Janata Dal unit removed a few days ago by what appears to have been a majority vote in the partys Political Affairs Committee; Mr Deve Gowda, former chief minister of Karnataka and former Prime Minister on behalf of the Dal; Mr J H Patel, present Chief Minister of Karnataka; and Mr Rama Krishna Hegde, also a former Chief Minister of Karnataka. For good measure you can also add Janata Dals Harijan leader from Bihar and a former Union Minister, Mr Paswan, however, much his stature might have come down since then.
When other leaders of the Janata Dal were in disarray following the fall of the party government in New Delhi, Mr Laloo Prasad and Mr Mulayam Singh lifted the spirits of the party, firstly by their vote catching performances in their respective states, and then by jointly founding the Rashtriya Janata Dal which looked like becoming a powerful force among the OBCs of the Gangetic Hindi belt, the strategic constituency of the Janata Dal. Today Mr Laloo Prasad remains the head of RJD in Bihar but is closer to the Congress of Sonia Gandhi, whose services to the OBCs have yet to be discovered by anyone. Mulayam Singh remains head of the RJD in UP but is closer to Mr Sharad Pawar who has broken away from the Sonia Gandhi Congress but has had little to do with the Janata Dal. Mr Deve Gowda has formed a new Janata Dal of his own but its credentials and strategy, or scheme of alliances have yet to reveal themselves. Mr Sharad Yadav, Mr Patel and Mr Paswan have now taken shelter under the umbrella which the BJP has spread over the National Democratic Alliance, where Mr Hegde has already led a life of equivocation for over a year.
At the time of this writing it is unclear whether the Janata Dal of Mr Sharad Yadav has joined the Samata Party of Mr George Fernandes and the Lok Shakti Party of Mr Hegde, or these two have joined the Yadav Janata Dal. (According to Mr Hegde these matters will be decided only after the election, which is like disclosing the purpose of a battle after the battle is over.) But certain other things have become clear. First, a divided Janata Dal will not be able to represent the OBC constituency as well as the undivided Dal could do. Second, each splinter of the Dal which joins hands with another party will have to divide its attention between its own part of the old Dals constituency and the constituency of whichever party with which it joins hands.
Third, the new Janata Dal faction founded by Mr Gowda will try to form a new third force or join hands with the third force already formed by the Indian Nationalist Congress, as claimed by the co-founder of the INC, Mr Sharad Pawar, and therefore Mr Gowda will have to divide his attention between the interests of the OBCs and the interests of the constituencies of the members of whichever third force he may try to join or form. Fourthly, when the Janata Dal splinter led by Sharad Yadav joins the National Democratic Alliance, which it has promised to do, it will become a junior partner of the BJP, which will remain the leader of the Alliance. Fifth, its credentials will then be affected in the eyes of those OBCs which, like the Harijans, see themselves as the victims of the same Hindu orthodoxy which remains the special constituency of large sections of the BJP.
Sixth, the political party or other entity which may result from the Samata Party and the Lok Shakti decision to unite with the Janata Dal (to quote the joint statement of the leaders of the three parties) is bound to try to develop a life of its own, and it will probably do so more under the leadership of Mr Fernandes than of Mr Yadav because the entity is a product of moves initiated by Mr Fernandes. Seventh, and as a consequence of the sixth, the expanded NDA and such government as it may be able to form after the election will be a two headed entity, one under the flag of the BJP and the other under whatever banner the ambitious Mr Fernandes and his new colleagues might then raise.
Eighth, there will be friction between the two heads, not only because the past record of Mr Fernandes inclines him that way but because of the sharp difference between his point of view and that of the orthodoxy entrenched in the BJP cadres. Ninth, this friction will aggravate the friction within BJP between the more orthodox elements and those more inclined towards the Prime Ministers way of thinking, as shown already by protests of some cadres against these developments in the NDA. These will grow further if Mr Fernandes, Mr Hegde, and Mr Yadav keep emphasising that their move to expand the NDA will strengthen the position of Mr Vajpayee. Tenth, this added friction will surface in the distribution of tickets, particularly in Bihar and Karnataka, from where most of the new infusion into the NDA has come.
It is easy to see that
there will be long lasting multi-layered manoevuring
within and among the old and new members of the NDA. On
its side of the fence the same thing will happen to the
Congress as it sets out to find electoral partners, or
post electoral partners if it comes anywhere near, say,
the 200 seat mark in the new Lok Sabha; they will try to
drive difficult bargains with it, a foretaste of which it
has been given and of which more will be given by other
potential allies already by the redoubtable Jayalalitha.
It is also easy to see what these open ended tactics will
do to the strategies once devised by their founding
leaders for reaching the goals set, respectively, for the
Congress, the communists, the Jana Sangh and the Janata
Bofors: Derision to victory
BOFORS is in the news again. This time as the gun that has dealt shattering blows to Pakistani invaders in the blood-stained peaks of Dras and Batalik. From Turtuk to Juber peak to Tiger Hill all the way it is the Bofors howitzer gun, which has emerged as the darling of the Indian jawans.
The much derided howitzer, which was the subject of controversies and political derision 1986 onwards, is now the most prized weapon of the Indian army in the Kargil hills. Military analysts say that second only to the gallantry and heroism of the Indian jawans, credit for Indias victory in the snow-capped peaks of Kargil goes to the Bofors howitzer.
But the irony was that as the Bofors gun delivered devastating blows at the invaders during the early phase of the Kargil battle itself, the stock of shells began to deplete rapidly. And the government of the day, having black-listed Bofors for its political whims, ran helter skelter for shells and spares.
The terrific impact of Bofors resulted in skyrocketing demand of its 155 mm shells from 50,000 in May to 4,00,000 in June. In Dras sub-sector alone, a military source said, over 1500 shells were being fired over occupied hilltops round the clock during the battles.
In this critical situation, the Swedish government arms company, Celsius which now runs Bofors came to Indias rescue. A senior representative of Celsius has been in Delhi negotiating with the Ministry of Defence and hopes to sign a contract for the supply of spares soon.
Celsius, the new avatar of Bofors AB, has even offered as per the Ministrys warranty claim, to supply spares in exchange for the Bofors ammunition found defective. This could have been done earlier but for the blacklisting of the Bofors following the kickback scandal. The ban was lifted in April.
While the Celsius representative Goran Lundholm says negotiations are still on and he does not know what the contract for spares will be worth, it is said to be about $ seven million. He says with a spirit of understanding, that it is entirely possible that the Ministry will be satisfied with the spares. His company, Celsius, will honour the old agreement to the full.
He denies reports that the ministry had been purchasing spares from other arms companies or middlemen. The ministry, he discloses, had signed a contract for spares with an Austrian firm for around $ five million but the company, in turn, wanted to buy the spares from Celsius. Since the end-user certificate from the ministry could not be given, the contract was cancelled.
In retrospect, the Bofors story shows new contours. The bid to politicise the Bofors deal, it is now clear, side-stepped the security interests of the country in a big way. For, along with the kickback charge, the quality of the gun itself was questioned, its field trials were described as coverups for a deal that was said to be shady through and through.
The reality that is now revealed is just the contrary. The Bofors howitzer purchase is perhaps the best military deal India ever made. Both for quality of the gun and the price, which was nearly half that of the French gun which was a close second to the Bofors gun.
It is worth recalling that contrary to later charges, India acquired the 155 mm calibre 410 FH-77B Bofors howitzers from the Swedish company after four years of negotiations and bargaining in stiff competition against Austrian, British, French and Italian firms. So far, India is the only country where the gun is in use.
A favourable factor in the backdrop was that the then Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme having ancestry stretching to India, was a friend of this country and was keen that the best of terms were extended to India in quality of the gun and its price made available to this country. As for the charge of kickback, the middlemens commission which was removed saved a big quantum for the Indian government, and any misappropriation that may have taken place was not the Bofors doing.
The Bofors has turned a
full circle. The howitzer may now be turned against the
BJP government and its alliance during the election
campaign for the Lok Sabha. Prime Minister Vajpayee, then
in the opposition, was one of the severe critics of the
Bofors deal and had demanded a probe into the deal
not only because of kickbacks charge, but also in
relation to the quality of the gun and whether proper
field trials were conducted prior to the deal. The truth
is now out it will not do good to the former
critics of the Bofors deal. Unless they retract and
Yanks come calling!
THE Clinton Administration is claiming that the increasingly visit to New Delhi by high-ranking US officials, key Senators and Congressmen and influential private citizens is a positive sign of a thaw in Indo-US relations and greater bilateral cooperation in defence, commerce and science and technology.
I understand that more visits to Delhi by key administration officials are in the offing.
Mr Jeremiah Wastemore is a top-ranking shredding machine operator in the Pentagon and he is slated to be promoted as a car park attendant if the Senate Armed Services Committee approves his nomination. He reports directly to the US Defence Secretary William Cohen and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who consult him regularly on a one-to-one basis on sensitive policy matters concerning emptying Defence Department trash cans and optimum use of shredding machines.
Yes, said Mr Wastemore cautiously when asked to comment on reports on the cable TV network and wire services that he was planning an early visit to Delhi, a trip is on the cards and President Clinton is expected to make an announcement in this regard during his next nationally televised address to the American people.
I plan to discuss with Class IV peons and Second Division Clerks of the Indian Defence ministry the question of transfer of technology for the manufacture in India under licence of 1920-model, hand-cranked shredding machines. However, at this point in time, information of ways of feeding the machines with waste paper to be shredded is classified and unless the Pressler amendment is repealed thru a special Senate resolution, cant be divulged to the Indian side.
Mr Wastemore, however, refused to confirm or deny a story in the New York Times and Boston Globe that he might look into trash cans and waste paper baskets in Government of India offices in Delhi as part of the ongoing confidence-building measures between India and the US saying: I only comment on matters of substance and not on mere speculations and conjectures.
Mr Tom Gross, a senior washroom attendant and elevator operator in the US Commerce Department confirmed reports in the Washington Post and Los Angeles Times that he was slated to head a high-level trade delegation to India. He told a wire service: We want to signal to the Indian side that the United States is willing to waive Super 301 as a one-time exception and sell paper napkins, washing tubs and mops and long-handled broomsticks which India needs for its on-going economic liberalisation programme.
Mr Gross told IANS: The Clinton Administration is inclined to respond favourably to Indias request to be granted the Most Favoured Nation status and import meditation beads, saffron robes and yogis and gurus. However, the chief US trade negotiator Mr Mickey Cantor, is insisting that these yogis and gurus must be god-realised souls having performed penance in the Himalayas for 12 years standing on one leg and produce a certificate from the US Embassy in Delhi to that effect. I plan to sort out this knotty issue during my talks with temporary case workers of the Indian commerce ministry.
Ms Beulah Nixon, a
grade-22 window washer and janitor in the US National
Science Foundation reached on the telephone at her
suburban Bathesda, Maryland home said: Yes, Ill be
definitely leading a blue ribbon science delegation to
India next fall. Well be discussing with our Indian
counterparts increased cooperation in fields like
arranging laboratory specimen bottles, washing retorts
and test tubes and preparing cockroaches and frogs for
Advisers taking Sonia for a ride?
ON a rainy Delhi afternoon last week I met my friend, the Congress deep throat. He looked worried. What was the problem, I asked in my most solicitous voice, but this only made him light up another cigarette and look gloomily into his teacup, as if he were trying to read the Congress Partys future in the leaves. After a few moments of smoking and cup-gazing he said, looking nervously around: They are telling Madame that we are going to get between 250 and 270 seats. Thats the problem. She trusts them and they tell her these lies.
Who are these them, I asked. Lowering his voice even further and giving me an exasperated, surely-you-know look that he was speaking obviously of the coterie, he then described to me the sort of atmosphere in which the Congress Party was building up its strategy for the coming elections. Madame, he said, was being increasingly isolated by the coterie and every time they saw her they told her that she had only to arrive in a state on one of the many whirlwind tours she plans to make and voters would start voting in their millions for the Congress.
In U.P. where we have no seats at all they are telling her that we can easily get between 25 and 35 seats. In Tamil Nadu they tell her there is a Jayalalitha wave, in Bihar they say Laloo will sweep.... What is worrying is that she listens to these people most of whom are Rajya Sabha MPs and have no idea of the situation on the ground.
Well, so what, I said surely it was a good thing for the Congress Party to go into the election campaign brimming with confidence instead of defeatism? I obviously understood nothing, he said witheringly, did I not realise that if Madame knew that the fight was going to be a hard one she would pay more attention to what other people in the party were saying. They brought her detailed reports, he said, and she barely glanced through them because she seemed to be making her mind up on the basis of what she was being told by men like Pranab Mukherji, Natwar Singh, Kapil Sibal and Salman Khurshid.
The Congress Party is, in other words, convinced that it needs nothing more than Sonia Gandhis charisma to win a clear majority in the next Lok Sabha. She has held a few badly attended meetings, its true, but these have not served to reduce optimism because they are blamed on the fact that these were held while the Kargil problem was at its height.
There are realists in Congress, like my deep throat, who believe that the party will be lucky if it even manages to emerge as single largest party but these realists spend their time muttering into the ears of hacks because the partys top leadership is riding high.
With the Kargil war quite clearly behind us all conversations in Delhi now end up with speculation about who is going to form the next government. BJP circles are in their way as optimistic as the Congress but even at their most optimistic you meet few people who claim a clear majority for the party. They admit that the Kargil war, and its seeming success, has worked wonders for the Prime Ministers image. They point out that most polls indicate that people think Atal Behari Vajpayee is the man most likely to lead the country into the 21st century but they also concede that there are not many states in which they hope to make major gains. In Uttar Pradesh, with its crucial 85 seats, they admit that the party is unlikely to go beyond the 50 seats they already hold, while in Bihar there could be a marginal gain but with Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh having given the party a resounding slap in the face in last years assembly elections optimism, if any, has a restrained quality. The South has rarely given the party much reason for hope and in Maharashtra even the biggest optimists concede that the Shiv Senas style of leadership has more than blotted their copybook.
Smaller, regional parties are being more cautious this time than ever before and attempts to consolidate the remaining scraps of the Janata Dal into a larger alliance are based on the hope that this will keep the BJP under some control.
What is most interesting about this development is the fact that it is a clear indication that the BJP is no longer untouchable even for the sort of card-carrying secularists who helped bring Vajpayees government down. If only, ah if only, they had discovered this change of heart before his government lost the Confidence Motion by a single vote we would not been facing a needless mid-term election which appears to be so desperately short of issues that both are main parties are clutching at Kargil as if it were a last straw.
The only party left in India that appears to still believe that communalism is still the biggest threat the country faces is the CPM (Communist Party Marxist). So, when the election is over and if it throws up yet another coalition situation we can be sure that the CPM will throw in its lot with the Congress. Every other party, including Mulayam Singh Yadavs Samajwadi Party and Kanshi Rams Bahujan Samaj Party seem to be in flexible mood.
Meanwhile, this city is awash with ticket-seekers. They come from far and near, they crowd party offices, falling at the feet of leaders and drinking endless cups of tea while they wait, and a strange new breed even find their way into Delhis drawing rooms. So, it is possible these days to spot some former beauty queen, some aging TV talk show hostess, some noisy socialite or just some bimbo who will tell you proudly that they hope to be contesting the election. Strangely enough the vast majority of this new kind of woman politician rest their hopes with the Congress.
What use will they be in
the Lok Sabha? Well, they have a certain decorative
appeal. When viewed from the press gallery its
always diverting to see a woman in a pretty sari in that
sea of crumpled, white khadi, but is it not time that our
political parties started looking for more serious
candidates? It certainly is but we can only hope to think
about these things when we stop having elections every
Doordarshans tatty new look
WITH all the hoo-haa going on about Doordarshans new-look news bulletins, one may be forgiven for a sense of acute disappointment. True, that mysterious backdrop, which looked something between a compass and a prayer wheel has been replaced by multiple blinking TV sets, maps and what not. And we now have hourly news headlines, alternately in Hindi and English. This has meant more newscasters and instead of recruiting new ones, as all the private channels do periodically, the old sub-standard and retired ones have been resurrected and are reading as before, which means with the voice of government but without that authority. So, in spite of this quantitative change the basic defects of Doordarshan news remain. And easy to list, beginning with bad reception, which I find poor even in Delhi, the colour remains poor and on Tuesday, for some reason, the caption of the news headlines at 6 p.m. was followed by a blank screen for some time, then the caption came on again and the headlines followed. It is these irritating details which stamp DDs transmissions.
The other drawbacks are all too familiar. The news remains dully sarkari. To the extent that this is the first time in my long experience of DD watching that I have even seen Pramod Mahajans face flashing in the logo of the bulletin I and B.Ministers do not usually go that for and Mahajans several capacities, including that of party spokesman, leads to multiple appearances every day, with cricket commentaries and gala performances thrown in as well. The largely print medium journalists from the Information Services who draft the bulletins make them quite unreadable in TV terms, according to seasoned and competent newscasters who sometimes have to break up and re-write sentences in the studio. The frequent pushing around of the real TV professionals, such as Harish Awasthy has led to lack of continuity, confidence and professionalism. Indeed, there are many fine producers, reporters and editors in Doordarshan, but the constant interference from the Ministry and sundry politicians and the sword hanging over their heads has led to demoralisation and lack of initiative. As far as newscasters go, both the way the bulletins are drafted and the way they are read are more reminiscent of a by-gone colonial era, when everything was formal and equally sarkari. There are also some good newscasters, mostly outsiders with other jobs who could transform the bulletins, because what DD pays its newscasters, as compared with the private channels, is so poor, that it is no wonder that they get the dregs as steadies. DDs entire news organisation has to be freed from its shackles, the staff given a chance to operate as professionals and better newscasters given regular jobs on attractive salaries. Just increasing the number of bulletins without proper preparation and organisational changes is asking for trouble. One trembles to think what the 24-hour news channel has in store for us. The same multiplied 24 times, no doubt.
And so we come to Mr Mahajans post-Kargil and pre-election bonanza for Kashmir. 430 crores, no less, to be invested in satellites, high power transmitters, low power transmitters, very low power transmitters, mobile transmitters, relay stations for AIR and more transmitters. But hold your breath, it will take till 2001. Not to forget the money for software. There lies the rub programmes will really have to be revolutionised to compete with programmes from across the border which are more powerfully received in these key areas and so much for the ban on Pakistan TV. It might end up as quantity without quality and too late.
Good to see Satish K Singh of Zee, Vikram Chandra of Star News and Ravindranath of DD covering ASEAN from Singapore. Indian TV is really going places.
TAIL-PIECE: In a
generally grim week it was fun to see Zees
programme on the attitude of politicians appearing on TV
and watch Mayawati getting her make-up put on for an
appearance, while grumbling and muttering darkly
OWING to the inability of Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya and Dr M.A. Ansari to attend the proposed Hindu-Muslim leaders conference, it is understood that it will not come off at present as was originally arranged. The conference will probably take place next month.
* * *
Promoting higher education among Muslims
Sir Ibrahim Currimbhoy
has made an offer to ten lacs of rupees to the Bombay
University with the object of promoting higher education
among the Musalmans. Out of this amount, scholarships
will be founded to help the deserving Musalman students.
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