|Saturday, January 1, 2000, |
A landmark in time
15 more ministers
Costly edible oil, sugar
INDIAN POLITY IN 21ST CENTURY
Hijacking takes away new year cheer
The responsibility of the media
A landmark in time
THE euphoria of millennium celebrations began at midnight on Friday, signifying a landmark in time.There has been no rest for the wheels of the brakeless chariot and, therefore, no respite for the horses or the charioteer for long. The march has been incessant and fast. There have been evolutions and revolutions. There have been fierce wars with interludes of peace World Wars and world-mandated periods of world peace. Our tradition tells us that each one of us is a child of immortality "amritasya putrah" and therefore also the progeny of eternity. We recall the spillover of the sorrows of slavery from the previous 100 years into the century that has ended. We remember the long struggle for political independence and the heroes who created monuments to valour by their sacrifice and robust hearts touched by reckless determination which conquered fear by faith. The confluence" of the East and the West has not been less important than all the jargon associated with globalisation. The liberty of the libertine has worked like an unstoppable virus. Gandhi has been often considered as necessary to history as Godse. Gods have never quarrelled; their devotees have fought, maimed and killed. The Jesus-Judas syndrome has sadly not been rendered irrelevant. Titans have lit their own pyres. Yet their cult has not ceased to attract imitators. Poverty has taken millions down into its abysmal pit. So has disease. The hungry and the dying of Orissa confirm the fact. AIDS symbolises helplessness.
In his brief but significant work, "My View of the World", Schrodinger had expressed an idea that commands respect by its inherent sanity. "All of us living beings belong together, in as much as we are in reality sides or aspects of one single being, which may perhaps be called in western terminology God while in the Upanishads its name is Brahman." Science has not denied divinity, but has indicated that it may be reached by another route. The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad put it long ago thus: "Whoever worships another divinity than his self knows not." Those who will fertilise this unitive insight in terms of the harmony of nature, self and society in the next century will be the true precursors of the New Age Consciousness, at once new and ageless.
This does not mean that we shall have to return to any single, imperfect tradition of the past. Tomorrow is not yesterday. We have to be responsible to the world without falling back into the pharisaic rut. The New Age Consciousness takes for granted a reshaping of the forms of the spirit. Not to repeat but to resurrect! The status quo is not the final truth about man or society. As a scholar says: "Politics and propaganda are not the best fields for experiments in truth. Beyond the cynicism of the worldly-wise, there will always be a few with a will to change, to press towards the 'Hours of the Gods in our terrestrial manifestation'." There is no point in resigning ourselves to fate even before the hijackers of civility or the Mammons of our economy. Violence will, sooner than later, prove to be a self-limiting tendency. Sanity is now imprisoned in the darkness of illiteracy, ignorance and degraded conscience. When did Kossuth say?: "Light has spread, and even bayonets think." Goodbye, pessimism, therefore! Corruption, misrule and the discontent of the deprived cannot rule the next millennium. Elsewhere in this newspaper and its supplementary sheets there are images and accounts of the tribulations and triumphs of the human spirit. The balancesheet shows more gleam than gloom. We, the people of the land of individual autonomy within the parameters of a self-redeeming democracy, would welcome the new millennium with the conviction of Wendell Philips that every step of progress which the world has made has been from scaffold to scaffold and from stake to state!
15 more ministers
IT is common knowledge that Punjab has been scraping the bottom of the barrel for some time. But that financial exigency has not come in the way of Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal going in for a major Cabinet expansion on Friday. Media speculation was that he might include as many as a dozen ministers. But he has rounded the figure to 15. Among them is his son-in-law. That takes the strength of the ministry to a whopping 41. So what, Mr Badal may counter. His predecessor, Mr Harcharan Singh Brar, was one up on him. The Badal ministry may not have equalled that record figure but still the 15 new ministers with their gleaming Contessas and several other expenses are not going to be easy on the depleted exchequer. What is even more audacious is that all 10 Ministers of State have been promoted to the Cabinet rank. It remains to be seen if the jumbo-sized ministry manages to accomplish even calf-sized tasks. Ministry expansions are a time-tested plank to stabilise a shaky government and to that extent the latest exercise may very well serve its purpose. Mr Badal was long postponing this move. In fact, as many as seven vacancies had arisen in the ministry following the resignation of five pro-Tohra ministers, the elevation of Bibi Jagir Kaur to the post of SGPC president and the death of one minister. By taking in 15 in place of the seven, the Chief Minister has taken care of the murmurs of dissatisfaction considerably.
The move may pay good dividends during the forthcoming Nawanshahr byelection which the Akali Dal is keen to wrest. That is one salve it badly needs after the drubbing it received at the hands of the Congress in the recent Lok Sabha elections. In any case, the next Assembly elections are not too far off. The trouble in Punjab is that nearly every MLA is a claimant to the ministerial gaddi. Mr Badal has marshalled the resources at his command liberally, keeping most of them gainfully employed, if not as ministers then as heads of various corporations. But if he thinks that peace is permanent, he may not be very right because the allocation of portfolios is going to be the next sticky point. There is a clear-cut demarcation between the "good" portfolios and the ordinary ones and everyone wants to be upwardly mobile. What complicates the matter is the fact that the Chief Minister has to cater to the aspirations of candidates not only from his own party but also from that of the Bharatiya Janata Party. On the surface there may be unanimity on such matters but at the subterranean level, there are major differences. One hopes that despite all these pulls and pressures, the Chief Minister and his team would move in one direction and manage to pull the state out of the financial quagmire.
Costly edible oil, sugar
EVERY government claims that its every action is meant to bring succour to farmers, workers and consumers even if the benefit goes entirely to mill owners, industrialists and traders. This insight is essential to understand what Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution Minister Shanta Kumar says and what the sharp increase in import duty on edible oil and sugar will result in. Import duty on sugar goes up to 40 per cent from the present 27.5 per cent (25 per cent basic duty and 10 per cent surcharge). In addition, there is a countervailing duty of Rs 850 a tonne, or 85 paise a kg. Many see a bit of a scam in sugar import and rely on the on-again, off-again government action in support of their suspicion. Until April, 1998, import was duty-free at a time when the price of the sweetener was steadily going up in India and the world price was coming down. Sugar mills began to cry hoarse and after nearly 10 months the government hiked the duty to 20 per cent. The mills would have none of it and began focusing on the country of origin, Pakistan. After a month the duty went up to 25 per cent and in his budget Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha imposed a flat 10 per cent surcharge on a number of commodities. Now the rate goes up to 40 per cent but without any surcharge while the countervailing duty remains. The Indian market operates on the principle of whichever is higher and since the imported variety will cost more, the domestic product too will follow suit in sympathy. The mills will now sell 70 per cent of their production in the open market where the price is higher than in the fair price shops; until now they used to part with 40 per cent for sale in the fair price shops. It is, thus, double benefit, more stock for open sale and at a higher price. The Minister has justified this by saying that the increased profit will go to liquidate the huge arrears to the sugarcane growers, estimated at more than Rs 510 crore! In these days of rising costs and equally rising consumerism, it is naive to expect that the mills will accord first priority to clearing the unpaid price of cane. However, thanks are due to him for once again referring to the huge debt the mills owe the farmers and indirectly admitting that the latest decision will help the sugar producers.
The higher import duty on refined edible oil from 15 per cent plus surcharge to 25 per cent plus surcharge ) will have a similar effect. A farmer-friendly decision should have come at least two months earlier, when the kharif crop of oilseeds was being gathered. The oil mills have done the purchasing and now the government is imparting an impulse of higher prices. This year the failure of monsoon in Gujarat and southern districts of Rajasthan had shrunk groundnut yield and the mills and middlemen are poised to make a killing. Now they get a green signal. Even so, the new policy is as confusing as it has always been. Refined oil attracts 27.5 per cent import duty but unrefined oil only 16.5 per cent. That on oilseeds, however, is 40 per cent. If there is any logic in this, it is not striking. Reports from Malaysia, for which India is the biggest market for palmolein, indicate that it will adjust the price to maintain the present rates. Anyway, one oil industry source says that refining does not cost 11 per cent of the landed price and hence those with considerable refining capacity will rake in business and profit. Today vanaspati manufacturers depend mostly on imported palmolein and they seem to be happy. Incidentally, the age-old method of cultivation still prevails in the oilseeds sector and soyabean and sunflower have not taken off as dramatically as scientists expected.
INDIAN POLITY IN 21ST CENTURY
THE second millennium is ending on dangerous portents internationally as well as nationally. The failure of the WTO conference in Seattle has temporarily halted the design of the USA, the military superpower and the economic giant, which continues to strive to create a world of neo-colonial economic relationships. While India and some other developing countries did not allow that bid to succeed, they have failed in removing the distortions in implementation of the agreements arrived at in GATT negotiations.
The failures at Seattle have, however, to be seen in a continuum as the USA will certainly pressurise the developing countries one by one to accept the conditionalities, which it wishes to impose. If the European Community and the USA are able to thrash out their differences on agricultural policy, then the G-8 countries will make a collective effort to further ensnare the developing countries into unequal competition and to take over their biogenetic resources as well.
The developing countries will have to reject all such efforts in a determined manner. The elites in these countries might find some coalescence in their class interest with the elites of the developed countries and therefore play a comprador role. But, the masses have to stand firmly against economic exploitation, whether by the international cartels or by their private corporate sectors.
The gendarme role of the USA combined with NATOs military interventions and the refusal of the nuclear weapon States to agree to denuclearisation are the other challenges for the Third World. The politics of ethnic cleansing and the unity of ethnic and religious chauvinism have also emerged as new threats. Moreover, vast areas in the world remain under dictatorial regimes. In many developing countries which have adopted structural adjustment programmes, civil liberties and democratic rights of the people have been severely curtailed.
The Indian elite has already created a situation in which every succeeding government has more or less followed policies of globalisation and privatisation. The two major political parties, the BJP and the Congress, have a common economic agenda. On the other hand, the workers in the fields, factories and offices have not achieved the kind of unity which alone can defeat the power game of the elite.
India faces some other challenges as well which are more particular to her like the iniquitous caste system, the patriarchal family structure and multiple religious and linguistic-cultural groups. Obscurantism and mass illiteracy continue to create hurdles in achieving unity among the people. Vigorous social reforms to undo caste and gender related injustices, popularisation of the pluralist ethos, universalisation of elementary education and balanced regional economic growth along with genuine fiscal, administrative and cultural autonomy to all regions have to become part of the agenda of various political parties in the next century, nay, the next decade. Elimination of corruption is another item on this agenda.
During the next few years, the passage of womens quota Bill, the Lok Pal Bill, the Right to Information Bill, the Bill requiring declaration of assets and incomes by all holders of public offices, reform of the judiciary and the electoral system will have to be undertaken. Serious efforts will be necessary to change the quasi-colonial bureaucratic-administrative system and render it accountable and responsive.
Growing unemployment poses yet another challenge. After independence, the number of employment seekers has progressively grown. The government has disclosed that over four crores have been listed with the employment exchanges all over the country. Those who are only seasonally and occasionally employed in the agricultural sector are not included in this list. Labour displacing technology in industry and agriculture only leads to further unemployment. Under the pressure of multi-national corporations the government is striving to amend industrial relations legislations so that workers can be hired and fired at will and labour saving devices easily put in place. The low priority given to the development of agriculture is yet another cause of concern because over three-fourths of unemployment exists in this sector. Workers in the unorganised sector are still vulnerable to all kinds of anti-labour devices; evictions, accidents, insecurity in old age and stoppage of care in maternity.
Many of these challenges can be met only in the political field. But the scenario which developed during the freedom struggle and three decades after the achievement of freedom has undergone substantial changes. The Congress under the leadership of Indira Gandhi and her son Rajiv Gandhi from 1984 to 1989 and then during the regime of P.V. Narasimha Rao played the communal Hindu card. Thus, for a whole decade, there was a competitive race between the Congress and the BJP in popularising what is mistakenly called Hindutva, for it is pure and simple religious minority baiting. These two parties now agree on a whole range of issues social, economic and political. Projection of one personality, concentration of decision-making at the top are there, too. Result of these developments is that the space for the parties of the working classes has gradually shrunk. Bipolarity threatens to become a permanent feature of the Indian polity a bipolarity in which the difference between the two parties is that of tweedledum and tweedledee.
If political space once inhabited by the parties of the poor, the backward and the downtrodden communities, the religious minorities and the Scheduled Tribes remains unoccupied or if the parties wanting to take it over remain diffused, then the future of Indian democracy itself and the essence of a pluralist culture will be jeopardised. These parties have therefore to strive for effective consolidation. Traditional and habitual schisms amongst these parties have to be got over. Old dogmas have to be given the go-by. These things are easier said than done. The problem is that while all left parties are up to their necks in parliamentary politics and do not shy away from parliamentary opportunism occasionally, the rhetoric of insurrectionary transformation, dictatorship of proletariat and genuine peoples democracy is not abandoned. Some of them have not even recognised the reality of caste in our society, for they equate it with acceptance of the caste system.
If the bipolarity does not occur, then, the era of coalitions will obviously continue. The apprehensions that coalitions imply instability will also persist. Therefore, a deliberate effort will have to be made to cultivate a culture of power-sharing among coalition partners. In case the parties of the poor and backward classes get united, then, the number of partners in the coalition becomes manageable. This consolidation can come about if the emphasis is on an alternative development model, inclusive of the concerns which have been strongly voiced by Amartya Kumar Sen and Arundhati Roy. Organic agriculture, institutional changes in the land tenure system, mini-watershed development, sustenance of the physical environment and its regeneration and the building up of a wide network of small industries with improved techniques supported by new information technology, all focussing on full employment and sustainable development, should also figure in the agenda.
Then, there is the question of prospects of the regional parties. A federal and decentralised political structure allied with an egalitarian economy and pluralist ethos might enable the three big parties to absorb them. On the other hand, the regional parties could themselves form a federalist federation. Yet another issue is the future of communalist politics. Implementation of equitable socio-economic policies could take the wind out of the sails of this kind of divisive politics. Nevertheless, the role of culture and ethics in the society and politics will have to be recognised. The lazy assumption of the pre-Independence era that communal and caste prejudices will melt away automatically with economic progress and equality will have to be given up.
During the past decades, electoral politics has driven out mass movements from the arena of party politics. The result is that most protest movements are conducted by non-party groups or social activists. Another reason for this development is gradual weakening of lower echelons of most of the parties and the neglect of mass contact work, except at election time. Much reliance is being placed on retaining or winning electoral support by distribution of material favours through the machinery of government. A reversal of these trends is urgently called for. Reform of the party system by introducing statutory arrangement to oversee membership enrolment, democratic elections from the base upward and public auditing of the income and expenditure of political parties might help in energising this process.
Dark and bright spots of millennium
THE advent of Year 2000 should be a moment of reflection for India a moment to look back at the millennium that ended and consider how those thousand years touched the fate of this great and hospitable nation.
As one looks back, there is no escaping a sense of shame and horror a feeling that the millennium brought perhaps the darkest period in the long history of Indian civilisation. It was a dark period when this land of milk and honey attracted greedy eyes from beyond its borders and even from seven seas away.
History records that the first Muslims entered the Indian sub-continent as refugees. Then came the adventurers whose main aim was to loot and carry back slaves thousands of them, men, women and children. Turks, Arabs, Lodhis, Ghaznavis, Abdalis all came to loot. Mahmud of Ghazni started it in the very first year of the millennium, and came back 6 times to plunder this countrys wealth. At the turn of the 12th century, Qutub Uddin Aibak set up the first dynasty in Delhi a slave dynasty. Then came more invasions, more loot, more barbarism.
The founder of the Mogul empire, Muhammad Zahir ud-din Babur, came as a conqueror but was certainly not interested in staying in India. He detested the vegetarianism and customs of the people. But the Mongol invader was upstaged back home and could not return. He lies buried in Kabul.
His successors had no alternative, but to consolidate themselves in India and be part of the land. To his credit, Jalal-ud-din Mohammed Akbar tried to give India a new image and identity, even toying with the idea of a new religion, Deen e Ilahi. He established Mogul rule throughout Northern India, in effect setting up a truly Indian dynasty, which used Rajput generals to defend the northern frontiers from the hordes that only came to loot. It was a time of comparative peace.
Direct rule by the Moguls never extended to the whole of India, but by cleverly arranging marriages and buying allegiances they managed to secure cooperation and extend their control over large parts of Central India. Agra and Delhi became centres of great wealth, pomp and show, as the Moguls sought to outdo the grand Turks and fabled Persians. Shahjehanabad (Old Delhi) was the worlds most beautiful city the centre of the greatest and richest empire on earth.
Then came the invasion from seven seas away. An Englishman, Sir Thomas Roe, arrived in Delhi and waited for nearly six months before the Emperor Akbar granted him an audience such was the power of the Mogul emperor. Having secured trading rights the British now moved to position themselves to profit from the flourishing economy of Mogul India.
But they were not the first. In May, 1498, the Portuguese adventurer Vasco da Gama landed in Calicut, having found a sea route to India around the Cape of Good Hope. He returned in 1502 to attack and plunder the city, and in 1524 he was back in Goa as its Portuguese ruler.
The British have always been a trading nation, and they prospered in India while their European competitors from Portugal, France, Denmark and Ostend fell by the wayside. The East India Company made huge profits to the extent that it was able to lend money to the British government, and defeat a challenge to its monopoly in Parliament, where its importance to British vested interests was recognised.
The power of the Mogul Empire was derived largely from land revenue. That left the peasantry with a heavy burden and sowed the seeds of agricultural poverty and neglect. Corruption was as much endemic then as it is today. Revenue officials collected as much for themselves as they did for the state.
With the collapse of Mogul power in Delhi, the emergence of European companies and scores of local bandit rulers, the sub-continent was entangled in a vast civil war, from which the East India Company emerged as the principal beneficiary. Ironically, when the threat to its supremacy was put down in 1857, it collapsed in the turmoil, and the Raj began. Victoria, the British Queen, became Empress of India. The Mogul Empire had now been well and truly replaced, 562 warring princes and Maharajahs were brought under central control, bearing allegiance to the British Crown. The whole of the sub-continent became politically stable, albeit under yet another foreign ruler.
In the dark period of the millennium, marked by violent Muslim invasions and forced conversions, there emerged Guru Nanak a little over five hundred years ago. He travelled far and wide, even going to Mecca to see for himself the holiest of the places of Islam. He preached the concept of universal acceptance of all humanity and truthful living, which gave the people of northern India a clarity of their faith and culture with which they could identify. Sikhism was born. Here was the inner strength of Indian culture and civilisation expressing itself in an era of darkness that saw so much cruelty and exploitation.
Living and working in an age of disintegration, an age where men plundered and raped, the Guru founded the Sikh Dharma to reach out to the people of all faiths and cultural backgrounds and encourage them to see beyond their differences and work together for peace and harmony. His words, his hymns, provided solace and strength to a people who were being brutalised. His message lives on as the dark millennium ends.
It is the last century of the millennium that truly belongs to us Indians. With peace restored, and education spreading, Indians began to realise their true status towards the end of nineteenth century. The British might have retained their Indian Empire if they had made themselves as much a part of India as the Moguls did. Indias destiny willed otherwise.
Waking up from the tyranny and darkness of the centuries gone by, India began to seek its rightful place in the sun. Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Bipin Chander Pal and Lala Lajpat Rai began calling for self-rule and pointing out the failings of the British rule. The trinity, then known as Lal-Bal-Pal, set the stage for Mahatma Gandhi to give a totally disarmed nation the philosophy of non-violent Satyagraha. He challenged British rule on the ground of human rights.
First quarter of the twentieth century saw the emergence of Gandhian thought and philosophy, also saw the rise of Communism and Nazism, as well as the liberal response to Communism Fabian Socialism. Communist and Nazi philosophies only brought ruin in their wake to the nations that adopted them Hitler, Lenin, the Soviet Union and Communist Empire of Eastern Europe have all gone. Gandhian thought has become more relevant than ever in a world that is becoming globalised and inter-dependent. The philosophy of non-violence, tolerance and respect for human rights could well be the guiding light for the new Millennium.
Indias journey is far from over yet. The curse of political instability is raising its head, recalling the chronic instability that followed the fall of the Mogul Empire in the North and the collapse of the Vajayanagar dynasty in the South, bringing with it suffering and poverty to Indias millions. Several of the political leaders of today are behaving no differently from the feudal lords of middle ages, when anarchy spread till the British created a regime of law and order.
The twentieth century has seen the creation of the largest single independent unit in Indias history. The Indian Union is a working democracy. It will be up to the leaders of today to guide her to greater glory or to ruin. That leadership is old and tired. They need to inspire younger elements to take charge. Will this be done?
The nation seems to have forgotten the philosophy it has given to the world the philosophy of Gandhi. In the USA, Gandhian thought has inspired reconciliation in racial conflict. In India the caste wars are back. Steeped in poverty, the scheduled castes need better and higher education to compete in tomorrows world. Yet the politicians view them only as vote banks. Instead of providing better education, the politicians seek to buy votes by offering reservations and making empty promises of jobs that cannot be achieved without education.
That approach could well recoil. The poor and the disadvantaged seek education for their children the education that, alone, can put them on a level playing field in the contest for jobs. They have learned the lesson of history the lesson of the dark age when the weak were exploited.
The standard of education has reached an all time low. This author was educated in a municipal primary school and later at what was a good school, though not a public school. Today, will any parent willingly send his child to a municipal or a government school? For those who can afford an alternative, the answer is No.
The country has fine institutions that turn out scientists and specialists in the new sciences of Information Technology. But many of them go abroad, because the nation is failing in its duty to provide the environment that would persuade them to stay and work in India. Such problems need to be addressed if India is not to turn her brilliant twentieth century into a fiasco in the twenty first.
India leaves the twentieth century a powerful nation. She is a nuclear power, she is looking at the space, has launched satellites and pioneered the concept of satellite television. She is universally regarded as a major economic power of the future. Her technical, scientific and managerial manpower is among the best in the world. If harnessed, that manpower could propel India to greater success in the new millennium to a new dawn that could only be dreamt of in the dark age of the millennium now ending.
To the people, India has always been Mother India Bharat Mata. It is time to give shape to that concept. The canopy at India Gate is waiting for such a statue. It should be the endeavour of the government to now call upon the sculptors of India to produce a statue of that concept Bharat Mata in all her finery, standing majestically under the canopy, looking with pride at the Memorial to the Unknown Indian Soldier in front and keeping an eye in the distance on the rulers of India carrying out their duties in service to Bharat Mata from the Secretariat, Rashtrapati Bhavan and Parliament House.
Hijacking takes away new year cheer
NEWS of the hijacking comes to Goa only in dribs and drabs but the lakhs of Indians who have come here to celebrate the millennium pay close attention. Between sunning themselves on crowded beaches and swimming in the blue-grey waters of the Arabian Sea they gather in restaurants and discuss the latest news. A famous doctor from Delhi said: Ive done 3,000 operations this year and really came here to take a week completely off. Its wonderful being here but I have to admit that this hijacking intrudes painfully. His sentiments were echoed by others I meet at beach shacks and fancy European restaurants where between talking of how wonderful it is to be in Goa someone or other always brings up the hijacking. There is much speculation on why the plane was not stopped in Amritsar and the consensus is that it should have been.
On the other hand, people say, who knows how many more people they would have killed if they had been stopped in Amritsar. The hijacking brings the only note of gloom to an otherwise idyllic moment with most people determined to bring the millennium in with all the good cheer it deserves. Despite our many failures as a country there are things to be cheerful about.
And, Goa, in more ways than one, is one of the best places to observe the achievements India has made in the century just ended, or to be more precise, in the past 20 years. It is here at parties and in restaurants that you catch a glimpse of just how big the Indian middle class has become. Whatever sneering comments you may read from Leftist hacks our middle class has something to celebrate. Twenty years ago the only people you would see staying at the fancy hotels, and eating at expensive restaurants, would have been the rich and the aristocratic. Today, a vast majority of those you see here are ordinary, middle class people. Shopkeepers from Delhis Khan Market, small-time traders from Mumbai, students from everywhere, who put up in the small guesthouses along the beaches. They represent the new face of India.
It is an India that has taken shape since liberalisation made it possible for people to be unashamed of their prosperity. So, the younger people who are here in countless thousands, are relatively unaffected by the hijacking and more concerned about the fact that Jeh Wadias party was cancelled at the last minute by a court order. My enquiries reveal that the so-called illegal construction that caused the trouble was mainly prefabricated toilets that had been brought in to accommodate the needs of the masses that were expected for the millennium bash. The party had become so famous even before it happened that people in distant continents had heard of it and were wending their way to Goa. Local gossip has it that one of the main reasons why it ran into trouble was because a couple of people were not sufficiently bribed. A Goan businessman told me that rumours had spread that Jeh Wadia was going to make crores of rupees out of the event and this led local politicians to believe that they should be making more than they had been offered. The bribes they asked for were too outrageous to be considered, so Goas most famous party got cancelled.
Its cancellation caused considerable annoyance, particularly to the young, but the parties continue. Every night, for the past three that I have been here, there are parties and raves on beaches across North Goa and they will continue till the new year dawns and, perhaps, even after that.
The Goan government, for its part, is making its own government-style contribution to the festivities. I attended a fair of the kind we see regularly in Delhis Pragati Maidan full of little food stalls, fireworks and giant wheels. Goas own Wendell Rodericks was asked to put together a fashion show where willowy models exhibited his latest evening wear collection. Ministers and former ministers attended with their families and stared more at the models than the clothes.
As usual, though, instead of concentrating on what tourists really required they were busy doing the wrong things. It is not the governments business to organise entertainment but to ensure that the facilities provided to tourists are adequate and easily available. These are not. On beaches across Goa an illegal trade in sunbeds has sprung up whereby hustlers and hucksters make between Rs 50 and Rs 100 to rent you a sunbed for the day. There are no receipts, no proper organisation or system but here you see no signs of governmental control or interference. It makes no sense but then does it make any sense that an Indian Airlines plane should have been so easily hijacked to Lahore, Dubai and Kandahar despite the fact that the Home Ministry claims to have trained anti-terrorist forces.
Where are they? Where is the Home Minister? Has he once come on television and reassured the nation that the hijackers will not be allowed to get away with their murderous deeds? Mr L.K. Advani who likes being portrayed as heir to Sardar Patel, the iron man, should have realised many months ago that the National Security Guard (Black Cat Commandos) were being misused in VIP security and should, instead, be on constant guard against hijackers and their ilk. If there had been the slightest attention paid by the Home Ministry to counter-terrorism the aeroplane should never have been allowed to leave Amritsar. As Mr K.P.S. Gill has pointed out there could have been a hundred ways in which the plane could have been prevented from leaving Indian soil. The view of most adults, even in Goa is that the Government is to blame for allowing the hijackers to get to Kandahar. Everyone businessmen, socialites, professionals, party animals seems to share the view that the government instead of doing what it should be doing is busy interfering in such needless areas as millennium parties. It is a view that is hard not to share.
The primary job of government is the nations security and if it cannot do this then what use is it? The hijacking comes as a tragic reminder of how our government over the past 50 years has wasted so much time doing things it should not be doing that it invariably fails to do things that only it can do.
So, despite the festivities, despite the celebratory mood that necessarily accompanies the change of a millennium, most Indians enter the next century in an atmosphere tinged with tragedy and gloom. It is not a good beginning for a new century.
The responsibility of the media
THIS column is being written on the sixth day of the hijacking, with still no end in sight. But I have done enough media-watching to set me thinking about what exactly is the role of the media in such a situation. Obviously one of tremendous trust and responsibility, keeping in mind the interests of the hostages as well as the government. I am not at all sure that our media have really measured up.
Take first, the so-called national medium, to which Mr Arun Jaitley frequently refers as public service broadcasting. For the first two days of the hijack Doordarshan went on blissfully with all its scheduled programmes, including cheery feature films as if nothing had happened. It kept the hijack as part of its widely spaced news bulletins when other channels, such as Star and later Zee, were devoting their entire transmissions to the hijack. After two days, DD started so-called half-hourly news bulletins of which news constituted the least part, although it brandished, from the fifth day onwards, world exclusives to which, as a government organisation it had had access from security sources, such as mug shots or video footage of militants. For the rest, it became a marathon talking shop, when it was not Mrinal Pande it was the man in the maroon suit. Then we had frequent repeats of that long saga of former hijacks round the world. Yet the ADG of the news channel found time to make a statement on TV while the CEO of Prasar Bharati (Mr Shah) and the DG (News) of AIR, Harish Awasthy, stood modestly in the background. The ADG had also been issuing momentous directives to the staff, such as women newscasters should avoid bouffant hair styles, I suspect the only field in which the ADG is an expert. Never before has one found DD News failing so miserably, even with a highly paid consultant with connections who came from a minor position in a failed channel which had to close down.
Of the private channels, Zee, having been left behind for two days by Star, suddenly woke up and started trying to get scoops. It was highly irresponsible for it to quote the unconfirmed news that all the hostages had been freed. Other channels also had the item, but held back out of compassion for the relatives and consideration for the government. It had rather more news sense, some good discussions and two of its men anchors worked hard and professionally and fell back on the history of hijacks when stuck. It, of course, got the scoop about the Pakistani hijackers crossing over from a PIA plane to the IA one at Kathmandu, but alas, that turned out to be inaccurate. Then its claim that the appeal for the release of Rupin Katyals wife, still on the plane went only through Zee was not quite accurate either. I saw it around the same time on other channels. Zees newsroom must learn that in such a crisis situation responsibility comes before scoops.
Star News did get a real scoop in being the first to interview a released hostage, Dr Tandon. Its news, its discussions, were well spaced and conducted and I saw the conversations with the ATC at Kandahar first on Star News. But I still wonder why it let its girl children loose to conduct important interviews with the Taliban and ATC at Kandahar. Letting youngsters do strenuous reporting is all very well, but to have raw recruits with immature youngsters do strenuous reporting is all very well, but to have raw recruits with immature girlish voices (and one knows what the Taliban thinks of girls and women so it was not very tactful either), instead of the seasoned political interviewers on Star News struck me as shoddy as well as puzzling on the part of such a professional organisation. As for Vishnu Som, he made a travesty of his interview in Hindi with the wife of an injured hostage (he did not even know what tel. oil, in this case fuel, meant) and out of all the anchors around the world, he is the only one who says Thank you for talking to ME, as if Star News belongs to him.
Of the foreign channels, the BBC more or less washed its hands of the hijacking, was over-quoting Pakistan, and mostly behind the times. CNN was extremely good when operating out of India, but its Delhi correspondent only trailed the satellite channels, telling Indians what they already knew and his pseudo-American accent even extended to mispronouncing his own name. As for Pakistan TV, its counter-propaganda was laughable. I would like to ask their snide women anchors why they dont cover their heads like their women newscasters and if they would be allowed to appear on Taliban TV.
Consummation of Sacrifice
MR C.R. DASs previous donations for charitable purposes and the enormous extent of his sacrifice in the service of the country are too well-known to need recapitulation.
His latest act of giving away his entire estate in the cause of religion and charity, constitutes the consummation of sacrifice at the altar of the Great Mother.
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