|E D I T O R I A L
P A G E
Saturday, March 13, 1999
sense of defence well-being
to rein in uproarious MPs
all the way
Europe Foreign news
Good sense prevails
THE United Forum of Bank Unions
(UFBU) has done well not to repeat its mistake of going
on strike yet again without the slightest consideration
for the people's convenience. Its clout is immense
because it comprises many unions which together have a
membership of over 1.25 million employees. Had the threat
of the UFBU materialised, there would have been a
nationwide indefinite work stoppage from March 17. The
General Secretary of the All-India Bank Employees'
Association and the forum's representatives reached an
agreement late on Thursday night. The settlement has come
after their bringing into play the time-tested method of
arriving at a conciliatory decision through discussion.
Even the February strike was preventable. Banking is a
vital service and a large-scale agitation holds the
nation to ransom. The Indian Banks Association (IBA) and
the UFBU have settled for a wage increase of 12. 25 per
cent. The demand for a whopping 18 per cent wage-hike was
rather illogical. Union Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha
has played a significant role in avoiding an agitation
which would have resulted in a loss of quite a few crores
of rupees every day besides disrupting financial
transactions that include the clearance of cheques and
other such activities affecting the daily life of a vast
number of individual depositors. Strikes must not become
a routine affair and trade unionism should not permit the
harassment of the public in any crucial service sector.
The tendency to build pressure for making financial gains
should be made subservient to the sense of duty to the
people. The nationalised banks had earned higher profits
in 1997-98 in comparison with the gains made in 1995-96.
So, the bank unions were trying to make the IBA agree to
give a higher share of the earnings to the employees. But
does any organisation think of taking any responsibility
for the period when banks make losses? Profits are not
made in a consistent and unified manner. The argument
that the higher earnings of 1997-98 cannot be made the
basis of a wage-revision is sound. Can any union create a
condition in which the wage of the bank employees is
linked with their performance? Can the staff of the
loss-making units be made to accept lower salaries in a
situation of unprofitability? The overall performance of
the economy decides the quantum of profit and higher
profit cannot be linked only to the contribution of the
employees. However, the idea of giving incentives for
doing good work should be accepted by all financial
institutions. Reward and punishment are legitimate ways
of enforcing work culture. The IBA could not have agreed
upon the proposition of conceding an 18 per cent hike
demand. The matter has been settled amicably. Other
sectors like the Railways were likely to be affected by
the agitational virus. One expects that good sense will
prevail in all segments of public service. The Union
Finance Ministry should act promptly when it hears of
possible disruption of work in organisations within its
control. The IBA should adopt a similar attitude. The
trade union leadership should shun the politics of
arm-twisting and the public should make it aware that
enough is enough. It is common knowledge that despite
some privatisation banking services have not improved in
the country. There is hardly any consideration for the
suffering customer. Bank employees in particular have
lost the support of the community from which they come.
This should make all concerned aware of their
responsibility to nip such troubles as cause strikes
right in the bud. There is leadership failure in the
employers' and the employees' segments. One hopes that
the 12.25 per cent wage-increase will result in the
improvement of banking activities.
RIVALRIES are not really unknown even among those who have taken their sadhana of performing arts to the dizzy level of samadhi. But when titans of the calibre of Pandit Jasraj decide to bad-mouth an equally if not more exalted maestro like Ravi Shankar, the verbal outpouring tends to be more jarring than what one has got used to. Unfortunately, that is what the vocalist par excellence has done by alleging that pressure tactics and lobbying more than merit had led to the conferring of Bharat Ratna on Pandit Ravi Shankar. The classical vocalist has gone so far as to allege that Ravi Shankar lobbied for Bharat Ratna with the help of MPs. He even went to the extent of threatening that if he were not given the award, he would quit the country. He has even mentioned the people who deserved it more than Ravi Shankar. He has mentioned Vilayat Khan and Sanjukta Panigrahi among them. He has every right to have his list of favourites. But then, Ravi Shankar today sits on such a high pedestal that he deserves it as much as anyone else. There is no denying that there have been many aberrations when the countrys highest civilian award has been given to politicians but the name of the sitar maestro just does not belong to that dubious list. For decades now, he has been one of the most luminous personalities of the country and by honouring him, India has honoured itself. As noted playwright and film and theatre personality Girish Karnad has said, Ravi Shankar has been the single most influential figure in the cultural life of this country during the last 50 years. He is not just an artiste; he is an era. There are many in the country who, like Karnad, admire not only the casual confidence with which he took on the West but also the way he pioneered the sophistication, wit and elegance that today characterise concerts of Zakir Hussain or Amjad Ali Khan. In deference to these contributions the criticism should have best been avoided. Fortunately, Ravi Shankars response has been without rancour and full of grace. He has only said that I myself maintain that Baba Allauddin Khan or Uday Shankar deserved the Bharat Ratna a lot more than I did. So where is the question of lobbying for it?
That should have helped
nip the controversy but other artistes who are coming up
with their reactions are rather adding oil to the fire.
Grammy Award winner guitarist Vishwa Mohan Bhatt has done
exactly that while criticising Pandit Jasraj. While
castigating Pandit Jasraj for not criticising the
government for not honouring him (Vishwa Mohan Bhatt)
with Padma Bhushan or Padma Vibhushan after he won the
Grammy four years ago, he has muddied the water further
by saying that there is a music mafia based in Delhi.
It is the real lobbyists like sarod maestro Ustad
Amjad Ali Khan and tabla player Zakir Hussain who between
them snatch all the assignments, he is reported to
have said. Even if all this is not a case of sour grapes,
such abrasive words from the mouths of persons who have
captivated us with their music irritate one like the
rubbing of sandpaper on a rough metal plate.
RATIONALISING the general lack of strategic culture amongst the Indians, Jaswant Singh in his book, Defending India records that an accommodating and forgiving Hindu milieu and later day Ahimsa had an unintended consequence leading to a near-total emasculation of the concept of state power, also its proper employment as an instrument of state policy, in service of national interest. From this observation can be gleaned the continuing lack of public interest in vital national defence issues and the ennui the defence budget seems to generate in the financial circles and elsewhere in the country. How else to explain the absence of any debate in the national press or for that matter in Parliament on the defence budget, which is a vital adjunct of national security paradigm.
The figure of Rs 45694 crore against the defence budget could generate a false sense of defence well-being. This figure includes Rs 2799.99 crore revenue and capital outlay meant for the DRDO (defence R and D). The army share of approximately Rs 25000 crore includes a sum of Rs 586.70 crore meant for the Rashtriya Rifles, an element of the army, exclusively meant for and employed on internal security duties, an area in the domain of the Home Ministry and as such, to be paid for or billed against that ministry, has been included in the defence budget. In fact, the expenses incurred by the component of the army deployed in J and K and the Northeast on internal security duties and elsewhere when called out for in aid to civil authority, are to be reimbursed by the Home Ministry (which does not happen) whereas these enormous expenses are borne by the army and the same are drawn from the defence budget.
The allocation of Rs 144.14 crore to ordnance factories, included in the defence budget, is quite unjustified. These factories have a captive market in the defence services and they lay down the price of their products whose quality the services do not always trust and the cost of their products is exorbitant. Therefore, they should be able to generate funds of their own for modernisation of the factories etc. Then there are nearly Rs 2500 crore of the army alone to be paid towards the previous years contractual obligations.
Getting past the plethora of figures and details, the net increase in the defence budget boils down to 11 per cent over last years allocations. We continue to depend on import for the bulk of military equipment, our own sources having failed to deliver in spite of 50 years of clamouring for self-sufficiency in defence hardware. With the depreciating value of the rupee vis-a-vis other currencies and the ever-escalating cost of military hardware and the increase in pay and allowances, consequent to the implementations of the recommendations of the Fifth Pay Commission, the defence budget has once more gone into negative growth. However, considering the extremely difficult fiscal position of the country, to expect any higher allocation for defence would have been unrealistic.
There has often been a puerile and somewhat ill informed debate on what has come to be called, defence or development. It is another issue that no serious attempt has been made to strike a correct balance between security requirements and development; derived from the simple reality that there can be no development without security. However, accent has always been on development. The fact is that the growth in the countrys defence expenditure has always lagged behind the spending rate on social welfare and developmental programmes. In the 1990s, the average yearly growth in the defence budget has been of the order of 7.4 per cent. The allocations for social welfare projects have been growing at an annual average of 17 per cent over the same period. It is another matter that social welfare schemes have not percolated down to the target groups in the intended scale and form due to rampant corruption and total lack of accountability in the administration. On the other hand, due to comparatively greater discipline and accountability and less leakage and wastage, the defence rupee has secured more value for money. What has merrily galloped along at a scandalous growth rate of 14.9 per cent during the last 13 years period, is the general services head of the government spending, which refers to cost of government and law and order apparatus. However, it needs to be appreciated that a part of the expenditure from the defence budget is used for social welfare infrastructure like housing, hospitals, clinics, defence roads and bridges for the use of servicemen, their families, dependents and to an extent by others, which does add up to the overall national assets in these areas.
The progressive decrease in the defence budgets during the late 1980s and the 1990s has had its debilitating effect on the operational worthiness of the services. It would be interesting to note that Pakistans increased involvement in Kashmir coincided with the twin developments of Indias decreasing defence preparedness, due to falling levels of reserves of ammunition, war like stores and the ageing equipment, weapon systems, etc on the one hand and on the other, the lessons from exercise, Zarbe-e-Momin which gave Pakistan the confidence that, in the event of a showdown, it would be able to conduct a successful defensive battle against India. Simply stated it meant that, in Pakistans perception Indias edge in conventional military deterrence had eroded, and therefore, it could take liberties in Kashmir. If its involvement in Kashmir has not been overt and aggressive, the reasons are more likely to be due to doubts in the accuracy of their assessment of Indian offensive capabilities and the possibility of a miscalculation.
Since the countrys fiscal position is less likely to witness a dramatic uptrend in the coming few years, an increase in defence allocation is not likely to materialise, though the Finance Minister did promise in his Budget speech that additional allocations would be made if required. The possibility of a midterm poll being very much on the cards, the government may resort to large-scale purchases of defence equipment for reasons too well known to be repeated.
Some may argue that the country can live without the equipment on the purchase list, for another two to three years, as it has done so far, by which time the fiscal position could improve. What needs to be taken into account is that during the years when Indian defence budgets have been depressed, Pakistan has been acquiring missiles, tanks and other equipment to enhance its defence capabilities. India has no option other than to maintain a distinct edge in conventional defence capabilities. The Arjun tank project having failed to deliver, India cannot defer the replacement of the large fleet of obsolescent Vijayanta tanks. Similar is the case with a host of other obsolete equipment and weapons systems, more so in the navy, which needs urgent replacement.
In the meanwhile, there is a need to cut costs. In these periods of severe financial constraints, to hold extremely costly firepower demonstrations for the amusement of some VIPs is preposterous. While the service headquarters have been continuously striving to prune down the manpower, equipment and establishments, there are other areas outside the services headquarters control and yet part of defence organisations, which continue to be treated as holy cows. There are 39 defence PSUs or the ordnance factories which are notoriously over staffed, their capacity utilisation is abysmally low and the cost of production too high. Most of them outlived their utility long ago and are over due for privatisation, if not outright sale.
Restructuring or rather amalgamation of defence headquarters with the MOD is another area which will result in substantial savings. The pension bill (though not part of the defence budget) will keep rising unless lateral induction for the young retiring defence personnel is carried out. Arranging an alternate career for them is an economic necessity, both for the individual and the state.
Defence spending on R and D has been at the 4 to 6 per cent level of defence budget. Though there is need to enhance this allocation, it is not so much the paucity of funds that has hamstrung our drive towards self-sufficiency, as mediocrity, the manning pattern, commitment and total lack of accountability in the organisation. The returns have nowhere been in line with the investments. Our ever-increasing dependence on Russia for military equipment does not augur well. There is a need to shut down a number of R and D establishments on the one hand and on the other, greater involvement of civil trade, not as marginal partners, but, as independent private developers of military equipment, which is the practice in the UK, France, the USA and other modern countries. To energise the defence R and D, bring accountability and make it deliver, it must be brought under the control of the Chief of Staffs Committee/Chiefs of Defence Staff when in place.
Finally, the National Security Council must draw up a long-term national security perspective and forecast the fiscal scene to cover a period of 15 to 20 years. At the same time the DRDO should spell out its technological status spanning the same period. These and some other inputs should determine the modernisation levels to be attained; what will be possible to develop indigenously and what all will need to be sourced from outside. This will also help determining the force levels, equipping and manpower policy, command and control structures, communications, surveillance capabilities, logistic infrastructure, nuclear and missile capabilities etc and the time plot for various stages.
KOSOVOs bid to break free from the Serbian nation in the Balkans has kept the NATO countries occupied with endless deliberations. It is extraordinary that an enclave with about 2.2 million people should become a serious political and military issue involving the United Nations and the European Union.
The Kosovo population is mostly Albanian Muslim while the adjoining country of Albania, with a population of 3.4 million people, are also predominantly Muslim. Until the collapse of Communism and the breakup of the USSR in 1990-91 Albania was a closed Communist country. Thereafter Albania underwent swift changes and free elections were held. At present, however, it is slowly turning into an Islamic country, with Saudi Arabia and Iran sending considerable amount of funds, Maulvis and Islamic literature. Islamic renaissance is taking place there after 45 years of state-endorsed atheism, when even sporting a beard was an offence. This Islamic revival has spread to Kosovo as well, with extreme consequences.
When Islamic revivalism takes place, military is not far behind. The Kosovar militants, under the banner of Kosovo Liberation Army, have drawn volunteers from the Islamic world and in particular from Afghanistan, Bosnia, Azerbaijan, etc. It was revealed by French Intelligence sources that the KLA militants were being trained and equipped by Germans ostensibly for the purpose of establishing German influence in the Balkans in the long run. This is superpower politics all over again and it is obvious that Germany, though restrained by the post-war agreements not to militarise itself, nevertheless feels it necessary to establish its political influence and dominance over neighbouring countries, particularly in East Europe which is vulnerable. Earlier, German hastiness in recognising the independence of Croatia expedited the disintegration of Yugoslavia. Croatia, on its part, has been smuggling out crates of sophisticated firearms to the KLA and this was brought out when some trucks carrying them were intercepted by the Serbs. With German collusion in the secessionist activities of the KLA, its dominant presence in the negotiations being held by the European Union seems incongruous. Britain and USA are also constantly sabre-rattling and issuing deadlines and threats to President Milosevic of Serbia.
When the Dayton Accord was signed three years ago, leading to the emergence of Bosnia as an independent country, it heralded a historic event in Europe. The Ottoman Empires occupation of much of Europe for about four hundred years ended in 1912, leading to the emergence of many of the Balkan countries as independent entities. Bosnia was one of the provinces of the erstwhile Yugoslavia, just as Croatia and Macedonia were. Marshall Titos iron rule held Yugoslavia together and even after his death an uneasy union of the federating states continued. However, all this ended with the collapse of communism and the breakup of the USSR. All the same, Serbia, the largest state of the erstwhile Yugoslavia, refused to recognise the bid of Bosnia to emerge as an independent country. Bosnias claim for independence was its Islamic majority population. After a prolonged war and atrocities by all the fighting parties, the Dayton Accord ushered in an independent Bosnia.
During the prolonged war leading to the emergence of Bosnia as a separate entity it was known that volunteers from all over the Islamic world, including Pakistan, had fought with Bosnian militants and considerable support in terms of arms aid was extended by Iran and Saudi Arabia. It may be recalled that Benazir Bhutto, who was then the Prime Minister of Pakistan, had also played an active role in promoting the emergence of Bosnia. However, the Dayton Accord, even after ushering in Bosnia, refused to recognise religion as the sole basis for secession. This is one of the main reasons why the USA and the European Union are not backing the Kosovo Liberation Armys bid for independence for Kosovo. Serbia is not unwilling to concede autonomous status to Kosovo and eventually this may be forced upon Kosovo and Albania. The KLA, however, has not given up its demand and has affirmed its resolve to fight till Kosovo is fully liberated from Serbian dominance.
Islamic secessionism has been on the rise for about half a century. The most prominent example thereof was Chechnya, which fought against the mighty Russian army in a prolonged guerrilla warfare. With a population of a mere 1.2 million Muslims, Chechnya flexed its muscles against Russia. Since it is located in a crucial part of the southern belly of Russia, with its crucial oil pipelines going through the territory, Russia had to face a dilemma in dealing with the Chechens. Here again the Western countries were compelling Russia to compromise with Chechnya, and there was no shortage of intellectuals within Russia itself to press Russia to concede the demand for independence and end the war, which was inflecting serious casualties. What they failed to understand was that the Chechnya factor was likely to trigger the secessionist tendency among the 21 semi-autonomous republics of Russia. Some of them like Dagestan, Tatarstan and Bashkortostan are predominantly Muslim, with their own ancient customs and affinities. After the disintegration of the USSR and decline of Russia as an economic and military power, these semi-autonomous units, some of whom are sitting on shoals of oil, are getting new ideas. There is an uneasy peace with Chechnya and the region would continue to remain tense and disturbed.
Yet another example of Islamic secessionism is the emergence of North Cyprus, which has a majority of Turkish Muslim population, asking for separatism from Cyprus. A de facto partition has taken place, with Northern Cyprus almost becoming a part of Turkey. Turkey, which is a member of NATO, is backing the demand of North Cypriots while the United Nations and the European Union are unable to resolve the issue. Eventually the de-facto position may have to be recognised.
Moving away from Europe we find Islamic secessionism active in the Philippines in East Asia. The Moto Islamic Liberation Front, with about 20,000 strong militants, has been fighting for independence for Mindano and the neighbouring isles in the Southern Philippines. President Marcos signed an autonomous agreement in 1976 with the MILF and this was sponsored by the Organisation of Islamic States. However, this agreement was not honoured by the MILF and insurgency was resumed soon after. The same Islamic states who sponsored the autonomy proposal were later responsible for sending several arms shipments to the insurgents. During 1994-96 alone as many as 29 arms shipments sent by unspecified Islamic countries from West Asia for the Moro insurgents were intercepted by the Philippines. The Moros were sending their militants to Afghanistan and many of them had been trained by Mujahideen, both in Afghanistan as well as in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border camps, as revealed by Moro insurgents themselves. The insurgency in the Mindano region continues unabated. President Estrada, after failing to secure the presence of the Moro militants for negotiations, has warned them of dire consequences.
In the peaceful country of Thailand, secessionist rumbling is being heard in the four southern districts adjoining Malaysia. The three million Muslims living in these four administrative units are being instigated to ask for a separate status by an insurgent outfit called the Pattani United Liberation Organisation. There were several bombing instances and the insurgents were taking shelter in the adjoining Malaysia. In 1997-98 Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammed of Malaysia put his foot down and threw out the Thai insurgents and also issued strict instructions not to let the Thai militants enter Malaysia. With this cooperation in the right direction, the Muslim minority in the southern part of Thailand is somewhat quiet. However, if the West Islamic countries start meddling at a future date one could be sure of insurgency raising its head again.
It is in the context of
all these developments that the thesis of Prof Samuel
Huntington becomes relevant. He foresees a clash of
civilisations, sooner or later, between Islamic and
non-Islamic forces. He draws attention to the fact that a
Muslim minority, living in a particular state with
non-Muslim majority, develops a different identity and
sooner or later transfers its allegiance to another state
or try to set up a new state if possible. This is exactly
what had happened in Bosnia and Chechnya and happening in
Kosovo, the Philippines and Thailand. Here in India, we
have our own Kashmir problem whose dimensions are only
too obvious in the context of these events elsewhere in
Time to rein in uproarious MPs
A MEMBER of Parliament asked me, on the opening day of this session, why I no longer came to the Lok Sabha. There was a period when, if I was in Delhi and Parliament was in session, I would go every day for a couple of hours. And, on historic occasions like the fall of a government or some other major drama, like Indira Gandhi resisting arrest in 1977 by standing on a table in the Lok Sabha and reciting poetry, I nearly always tried to get a ringside seat. The best view of the treasury benches can be had by squeezing into the extreme left hand corner of the Press Gallery and sitting on the railing rather than on a seat. It was from this vantage point that I watched Mr Chandra Shekhar resign as Prime Minister, Mr V.P. Singh and Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee (last time round) make their farewell speeches and Mr Inder Kumar Gujral announce that he felt humbled to be sitting on a seat hallowed by the years that Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi graced it.
There have been other moments, dramatic, historic, good and bad, that I have observed from that extreme left hand corner but for the past two years or so I have virtually stopped going to the Lok Sabha unless it seems absolutely necessary. My reason for not going is that I can no longer bear the uproar that has become Parliaments leitmotif. I prefer to watch it on television because then at least you can switch channels when it becomes too much.
So, it was in the comfort of my drawing room, with a nice cup of coffee by my side, that I watched what I could of the Bihar debate, if debate it can be called. I watched the daily procession of Yadav followers that descended into the well of the House with the hapless Speaker pleading with them to behave. I watched him begging honourable members of the House to stop their shouting and wait their turn and I watched the adjournments when things got completely out of control.
What was the point of it all, I asked myself over and over again, what was the point of shouting, screaming and squatting in the well of the House when it would be so much better to argue your case? The maximum trouble came from the two Yadavs Laloo and Mulayam both of whom speak fluent Hindi and are reasonably articulate. So, why did they need to behave like street fighters instead of the political leaders they are supposed to be. Then, I found myself trying to pinpoint exactly when this kind of behaviour had become acceptable and remembered that it was when the Congress Party, under Rajiv Gandhi, was sitting in Opposition that Parliaments uproar period had begun. The Bharatiya Janata Party, which appears to believe that the best form of politics is to imitate everything the Congress does, was quick to follow suit and one of the most shaming episodes was when, after the demolition of the Babri Masjid, BJP MPs stormed into the Lok Sabha shouting Jai Sri Ram. And so, now it is the turn of Laloo and Mulayam and their small but noisy band of uproarists.
Is it not time, though, that somebody made a serious attempt to ban this kind of behaviour in Parliament? It costs us thousands of rupees for every minute that the House is in session and surely what we should now start demanding is some semblance of law-making? And, what about some real debate?
Vital laws the bills on company law and insurance to name only two drift on unpassed from session to session because we lose so much time in uproars. Then, there is the absurdity of us still having laws that go back more than a hundred years and are still in operation. To give you only one small example of this absurdity, did you know that it is still forbidden to wear Gandhi topis in Indian jails because the law is the same as it was under the British Raj.
What is even more frightening is the fact that when a law is sought to be changed the average MP has so little information about it that he rarely has anything to say. So, when one of our actress MPs, in a misguided attempt at protecting the poor, got a petition together last year to prevent the repeal of the Urban Land Ceiling Act she managed to get more than 60 signatures. Most of those who signed appear to have done so without thinking about what they were doing or about the damage that the law had done in the 20 years it has existed. This can be seen from the fact that Ram Jethmalani, who as Urban Development Minister has managed to get the law repealed, announced in the Lok Sabha last week that more than Rs 1000 crore of foreign investment was expected to come into the housing sector. This is double the amount that came in the past 10 years.
When it comes to Finance Bill there is even more ignorance with the result that most Finance Ministers manage to get thousands of crores worth of demands passed without any debate at all. The Lok Sabha, as you may have observed, is chock-a-bloc on the day that the Finance Minister reads out his budget speech but when it comes time to debate and discuss the House is usually empty.
What then can be done to elevate parliamentary standards from the abysmal depths to which they have currently fallen? For a start should it not be possible for the Speaker to instantly suspend an MP who leaves his seat and comes to the well of the House? Secondly, is there no way that those who waste time causing uproars instead of debating could also be disciplined in some firmer way than is currently in operation? Finally, could we not have a time limit by when a law has to be passed? Why should it be allowed to drift on from session to session until it becomes completely irrelevant whether it is passed or not?
Another solution could be
much more use of television. Instead of selective
telecasts of the days proceedings Doordarshan
should try and dedicate one of its channels entirely to
Parliament. When MPs know that their constituents are
watching they may start behaving more responsibly. But,
more importantly, you and I will be able to observe
exactly how who behaves so that we know who not to vote
for next time.
OF course international womens day was official and every channel went to town on it. But some clearly overdid it. The Sawal Aap Ka on Tuesday last may have featured some worthy entrepreneur, but the way the questions were framed and answered made it look more like a commercial. The stylist of the lot was our very own Gayatri Devi on Discovery Channel who looked elegant, spoke well in that deep voice and therefore left far behind the women from other climes. It was also the week when two non-Western women brightened up the BBCs Hard Talk programme. Kiran Bedi fully stood up to the very tough questions by Tim Sebastian and so did the High Commissioner for Africa in London, whose charm and sophistication matched her diplomacy. Then, of course, we had Rabri Devi returning in triumph, surrounded by her brood. There was also no dearth of activists, from Captain Lakshmi Saigal of INA fame to her spirited daughter Sushani, Brinda Karat, the lot. We also had three Indian Airlines flights run entirely by women. I am sorry the two-minute film from Bangalore by two sisters on women achievers had a surfeit of playback singers and the like. But this was compensated by a formidable line-up of ordinary women, mostly from villages and suburbia, who had transformed their lives and those of others by sheer guts and initiative. I have always maintained that Indian women have much more character than Indian men. I think this week bore it out.
For the rest, there was human tragedy with the IAF crash at Palam. Here, by and large, the channels dealt with the event with decency and decorum. Experts like Air Vice-Marshal Dennis Keeler were immediately lined up to give their comments, and the poor innocent jhuggi dwellers who suffered on the ground were given equal say. On such occasions, it is often forgotten that the families of those involved have to be treated with compassion. And this again was observed.
In contrast the murky goings-on in Parliament, when shown live on TV, amply illustrate the depths to which our politicians have sunk and, at times, their utter hypocrisy. Party loyalties over-ride all national concerns and their opinions are so predictable that they are hardly worth carrying. Even the events lose their dignity in the process. One of the chat shows that fared better was Question Time India, even if it was the over-flogged budget. Prannoy Roy is at home in this subject and he breezed his way through. It was a reminder of the fact that there is not yet a real substitute for Prannoy when he is away. The one stand-in who made an impact, and this was some time ago, was Mrinal Pande, who conducted the proceedings with charm and intelligence.
That programmes on matters spiritual need not necessarily confine themselves to extravaganzas on the Ramayan and Mahabharat has been proved by Rajiv Mehrotra, whose revived series, The Great Swan on the life of Ramakrishna Paramhamsa has been done with authenticity, deep research and dignity. It is like a mixture of documentary and thoughtful comment and is a very soothing serial to watch, which is more than can be said of most serials. Mehrotras programme of depth interviews are rather lost on DD2. And a constant reminder that it is time DD1 was restored to flagship status. It is the most neglected and devalued channel at the moment. Mr Pramod Mahajan would spend his time better restoring DD1, a much better proposition than a three-hour sports channel.
Post script: Most channels
now have a steady team of regional correspondents, DD in
Bhubaneshwar, TVI in Guwahati and, indeed, even away from
the metros. Star News has an experienced and established
team of regional correspondents. But there is one week
link in the chain. Its new correspondent in Hyderabad
speaks far too fast, in a girlish voice and in a
monotonous sing-song, and sometimes a thick accent. On
the many occasions she appears on screen, she seems in
need of grooming. A course in speech therapy would also
Unsettled Europe Foreign news
LONDON: Paris newspapers are dwelling upon the complexity of the European political situation comprising the Franco-German conflict, the Franco-British differences with regard to the occupation of the Ruhr and the ltalo-Greek crisis.
The Italo-Greek crisis and finally the problem of Fiume, the Matin declares, is creating a very strained situation between Rome and Belgrade and will almost certainly react on the Italo-Greek dispute.
The newspaper adds the France is inflexibly pursuing her own policy with regard to the Ruhr and reparations, but as regards other disputes intends to remain a conciliating influence and does not desire the authority of the League diminished.
The Matin declares that there is no reason why the Conference of Ambassadors should not act in liaision with Geneva and emphasises that Lord Crewe and the British representatives approved of yesterdays decision of the Conference of Ambassadors.
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