The Tribune - Spectrum



Sunday, February 6, 2000
Books


Like life, he too swung from pole to pole
Off The Shelf column by V.N. Datta
Oxford, my glittering world
Review by Rumina Sethi
Involve them, people will benefit
Review by Randeep Wadehra
A can-do Canadian reformer
Review by G.V.Gupta
Undamaged by modernism
Review by P.K. Vasudeva
SAARC stumbles along
Review by Manu Kant
Migrating to USA? Read this primer
Review by Roopinder Singh
Bapu, do you know what we’re doing?
Review by D.R. Chaudhry
 


Like life, he too swung from pole to pole
Off The Shelf
by V.N. Datta

JOHN Maynard Keynes was an outstanding economist whose remarkable contributions have left an indelible mark on his era. I hesitate to review a book on him because his solid achievements lay in economics but the book under review, "Keynes: A Critical Life" by David Felix (T. Greenwood, distributed in the UKby European, pages 322, 55.50) does not deal with his discipline of study, economics.

A multifaceted personality, Keynes was an extraordinary man endowed with a sharp intellect and cognitive acuity. He used his energy to venture out in several directions. He became an institution in the real sense of the term and contact with him was a great intellectual stimulus.

Felix focuses on Keynes as an intellectual. Keynes was not a dry-as-dust scholar. He was very much a man of the world, who prized experience and made the best of it. In his short brilliant monograph, "My Early Beliefs", Keynes set out the basic tenets of philosophy which he and his close friends such as Lytton Strachey, E.M. Forster, Lowes Dickenson, G.E. Moore and others followed tenaciously.

The usual subjects of their passionate contemplation were a beloved person, beauty and truth, one’s prime pursuits in life like love, creation of aesthetic experience and knowledge through rational and scientific methods of enquiry. Inspired by a burning zeal to discover truth and truth alone, this young group of Cambridge intellectuals took no interest in religion and professed no concern for power, money and wealth.

Quietly and unobtrusively the group preferred to cultivate their own garden like Voltaire’s "Candide" by engaging in self-cultivation for the higher ideals of truth and love.

According to Felix, nothing mattered to Keynes and his friends except the state of mind engrossed in a timeless passionate state of contemplation. A state of mind, they thought, was painful and all painful states of mind were good. An unhappy Socrates was a thousand times better than a contented pig.

They repudiated conventions and traditional morals and recognised no moral obligations. They insisted on asking pointed questions and using precise language in their group discussions where intellect clashed with intellect. They discussed issues of grave importance — anything between the stars and the earth — informally and carefully avoided ambiguity in their statements. They valued more the strength of character than the subtlety of intellect, and they tended to judge every issue strictly on merit.

Felix emphasises Keynes’s utter dissatisfaction with his early beliefs. Keynes felt that he and his friends relied too much on their own and had developed a tendency to repudiate the contributions made by their predecessors in different fields of human activity. Like fervent iconoclasts, they showed no "reverence" for the past.

Keynes thought that ignoring tradition and its richness was flying in the face of history. He confessed that he and his associates suffered from the besotting sin of self-righteousness and human presumption and ignored certain powerful and valuable traits of human nature.

About his disenchantment with his early beliefs, Keynes wrote, "I can see us as water-spiders — skirmishing on the surface of the stream without any contact at all with the eddies and the currents underneath... We practised a thin rationalism ignoring both the reality and the value of vulgar passion joined to libertarianism and complete irreverence."

This is an excellent work. In his earlier study. "The Biography of an Idea", Felix wrote that Keynes’s General Theory, as theory, "was not properly wrong, it is totally wrong, total nonsense". But now he has made amends by maintaining that Keynes is nevertheless, in spite of wrongheadedness, "politically right". Felix compares, curiously enough, Keynes’s achievement with those of Alexander, Julius Caeser and Lincoln, world figures a who "compressed the enormity of history in their lives".

Felix writes, "Like Luther and Loyla, Voltaire and Rousseau, Marx and Freud, (Keynes) was a revolutionary and conqueror. If like them, he never managed his power directly, his sense of proportion told him how he and his companions in theorising compared with... Charles V, Louis XIV, Napolean and Lenin in changing the world"!

While discussing Keynes’s early life, Felix concludes that "the parental situation was functionally and psychologically perfect for the nurture of John Maynard Keynes".

Felix’s prose is heavy, verbose and convoluted. He prefers to use an abstract word to the clear. That is why his work lacks lucidity. Cambridge is full of bicycles and students and teachers use them as a preferred mode of conveyance. About this common practice, Felix has to say this; "The bicycle remains a favourite form of locomotion today, particularly for University students who are not permitted to operate automobiles in town."

Keynes is a wonderful subject for biographers, because he left a large first-class primary source material covering his life in King’s College in the Cambridge Library. This massive material contains his self-analytical letters to Bloomsbury friends and a meticulous catalogue of his homosexual encounters between 1906 and 1915. Keynes was a life-long homosexual and his partners were David Garnet and Lytton Strachey, the famous author of "Eminent Victorians".

Keynes became enormously rich and acquired The Nation magazine. Foreign affairs, politics, Bloomsbury, diplomacy and finance dominated his time. He was so busy with politics and money-making that he was hardly left with any time to produce any creative work of lasting value. The author emphasises that in Bloomsbury Keynes was a "fully committed" and "thoroughly professional, working himself literally to death". Conservatism gave him no intellectual or spiritual satisfaction. He did not pursue self-interest, nor promoted public good. He was a liberal, not Labourite. He said the Labour was a class party and their "class was not my class. The class will find me on the side of the educated bourgeoisie".

Like Bertrand Russell, Keynes was a staunch pacifist. Initially he favoured Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement and division of Czechoslovakia as frontiers and his memories of the great war made him oppose sending the average man to fight for reasons which appealed only to a minority. But later he changed his opinions and differed violently with Bertrand Russell who was forced to resign from the prestigious fellowship of Trinity College, Cambridge, because of his anti-war propaganda. Russell thought that Keynes’s understood little of the social and economic forces and foreign affairs. Because of the tremendous strain of his busy life and numerous commitments, Keynes suffered his first serious heart attack in 1937 but that made absolutely no difference to his activities. He was lucky to live for another nine years.

According to the author, the real fascination lies in the conflicts in his different lives. Life is not a simple affair. It is complicated and tortuous. And man lives at different levels. Montaigne insists that our life is composed like the harmony of the world — of contrary things, also of different tones, sweet and harsh, sharp and flat, and soft and loud.

Felix points out that in the case of Keynes it was not a simple case of homosexuality or promiscuity but of a promiscuous homosexual converted into leading a happily married life. Keynes’s marriage was described by a Cambridge friend as "the most wonderful union I have ever known between two lives". In regard to the institution of marriage, Keynes differed from his Bloomsbury friends.

To the Bloomsbury group, the world of politics was incidental, while art was the reality. Keynes took a prominent part in politics, and this too made his friends uneasy. Keynes plunged into public life and formulated welfare schemes which the government took up for implementation. During the war he worked in the Treasury, helping the government to achieve what Lytton Strachey called "maximum slaughter at maximum expense".

When he attacked the political establishment in "The Economic Consequences of the Peace", his Bloomsbury group friends were somewhat mollified.

Keynes was a great promoter of fine arts. Anyone who visits Cambridge today will see prominent signposts of his magnificent legacy.Top

 

Oxford, my glittering world
by Rumina Sethi

Up at Oxford by Ved Mehta John Murray, London, Pages 432. 17.99.

VED MEHTA'S sweeping claims of Oxford’s greatness begin by endorsing Baedeker’s authority on which out of the two, Oxford and Cambridge, is the better university: Oxford is "on the whole much more attractive than Cambridge to the ordinary visitor". So the traveller is advised to "visit Cambridge first, or to omit it altogether if he cannot visit both".

All the dons of OxfordMehta takes over autobiographically from here:"Indeed, my father’s friends who had studied at Oxford used to say that without going there, one could have no idea of its place in English literature, British history and British philosophy — in British society." He fashions this part of his larger autobiographical work, "Continents of Exile’s" on the idea of Oxford as a home of clever people where the likes of Mehta buffeted in a storm at sea and never quite developed their sea legs, for the "ideal" Oxford man (and, I should think woman) was not only brilliant but also did effortlessly well at everything.

One wonders whether in embracing extremity and addressing Oxford as "the Hardwar of the Hindus, the Mecca of the Muslims, the Golden Temple of the Sikhs" Mehta simply intends to fix the interest of his readers on England’s oldest university or both reinforce and make allowances for his own embarrassment at being an "uncouth foreigner".

All of us are somewhat maddened by the exaggerated Oxford myth, even as we all have our own translations of it.Naturally, the dreaming spires, the summer bumps, the champagne breakfasts, the rabble-rousing peroration at the Oxford Union, or a star first in physics, philosophy and genetic engineering are the perennial fantasies of the Oxbridge applicant.

But to look back on the passing of youth, set against a backdrop of custom and ceremony, can sometimes be interpreted as an insurance against being forgotten by subsequent generations as much as a reassurance of one’s own singularity. This is Ved Mehta’s occupation through the length of his self-deprecating recollections at Oxford.

Very keen on becoming an Anglophile, the poor blind Indian boy, growing up in the Raj, recounts rubbing shoulders with the likes of W.H. Auden, Allen Ginsberg, John Masefield, Isaiah Berlin, Stephen Spender and E.M. Forster, and laments how Oxford "has gone to the dogs" with his own ingress.

From the first few pages it is clear the Mehta would have nobody intruding upon his imagined pleasures at Oxford. He cannot bear to be in touch with his mother, who happens to be living close by for medical treatment around the same time as he is to join Balliol because she "does not have the self-reliance of a western woman". (But she does, and that is more than one can say for Mehta himself.) Also she wears a nose-ring and cannot be forgiven for that.

Later, he walks through Balliol in a daze, trying to come to grips with its 700-year-old origins, where even the "staircase" he has in his room appears to be "something straight out of a historical romance". Soon he meets the first "real English undergraduate", who puts him into a great deal of confusion over an invitation to sherry ("was sherry a wine, ale or spirit; did you sip it or just knock it back?")

Unlike many other undergraduates, Mehta had already published a book and done wonderfully at California, yet a mindless debate between two students shakes his self-confidence and poise:"They quoted Plato, Aristotle, and Virgil, in Greek and Latin, and threw out definitions and manipulated words and phrases as if they were playing table tennis. Such discussion should take place only at Oxford, I thought. It’s so English. People here are so intelligent." Point taken.

Wandering chaotically through courses in law, PPE English and history, never knowing exactly what to read, not even sure whether, in fact, he would like to take a second undergraduate degree or a D Phil, Ved Mehta, halfway through his first Michaelmas term, at least recognises Oxford as being completely self-possessed, in that courses in history, insofar as they dealt with India, focus exclusively on the age of Warren Hastings, so complete is the concentration on British history.

The rationale, however, follows soon after, for are we not in an English university, and cannot the tools we acquire in our study of Britain be used in the study of any other country? After all, Oxford colleges had supplied India with three Viceroys.

It is astonishing that much Indian writing by Indians, among others, becomes representationally a locus of all things distrustful and extant, against which the colonising presence is evidently benevolent. Mill’s history of British India cautions the unwary of "rude" nations which "seem to derive a peculiar gratification from pretensions to a remote antiquity" while Macaulay’s oft-quoted Minute on Indian Education more directly underestimates oriental cultural values by claiming that "a single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia."

Many will see Mehta’s autobiography as a contribution to this genre of Indian literature; indeed, his cultural blindness is exaggerated and hard to ignore and may be the result of a more narrowly personal and psychological bind which relates to his expatriation. And even though his mode of operation might be appropriate to the mentality of the diaspora positioned in the western academic world, his standing as an Indian undergraduate, with aspirations towards and unattainable brahminism, is vulnerable in the face of a public ethic that diminishes its importance.

If Mehta had been less affected by a colonial hangover, perhaps his Oxford experiences could be treated somewhat humoursly, as when his mother inflicts oily Punjabi pinnis on his blue-blooded Balliol friends, who leave politely with the uneaten confectionery in their pockets. (Later, of course, Ved feels proud of his mother because his friends regard her beautiful and dignified.)

Writing backwards many years later, Mehta is still not prepared to turn the pictures of his youth upside down as he recalls Christopher Hill shaking hands by extending a finger; the economics tutor, Balogh, who addresses Ved as his "little poppet" and "darling", wading noisily through his mail or even visiting the lavatory while students road their essay at tutorials; or the Master, heir to the celebrated Jowett, who presses upon him to play rugby and cricket despite his blindness.

We never really discover when Ved, a fifties undergraduate becomes Ved, the archivist at Balliol three decades later, since distance does not afford him the much-needed filter to redo his portraiture. As in his sketches of Roger Scott, Alasdair Clayre, and Richard Snedden, who, in his words, never managed to — and, it may be, ever wanted to — overcome a certain unworldly attitude towards life, Ved too has determinedly stuck on to the Gothic twilight. Surely in his sixties, he should have noticed a crack or two.

But this is good life, thinks Ved. This is Oxford.

The reviewer was a Fellow at Oxford.Top

 

Involve them, people will benefit
Write view
by Randeep Wadehra

The Art of Facilitating Participation edited by Shirley A.White. Sage Publishing, New Delhi. Pages 367. Rs 450.

IN common perception development is associated with "government", which in turn has come to be a politician-bureaucrat-big business combine. In most of the Third World — India not excluded — development and graft have become synonymous. The common man is a helpless bystander who watches his property (acquired under a government notification) being bulldozed so that a steel and mortar monstrosity could come up in the name of development.

Government sans social justice can be very oppressive indeed. At best, the people are dubious beneficiaries of decisions taken in a musty sarkari room or some tycoon’s posh penthouse. There is hardly any participation at the grassroots level, either in decision-making or in the actual developmental activity.

Participation is a multi-faceted concept. Shirley White points out that for some developmental professionals it is a means to make projects and programmes less capital intensive, more effective and more sustainable. Others, on the other hand, visualise participation as a set of beneficial processes and relationships that becomes an end in itself. Nevertheless, developmental economists consider participation as an essential ingredient for hastening local development.

Precisely for this reason, the World Bank and other donor agencies seek to bring participatory processes into the mainstream, while NGOs and governments attempt to spread participatory techniques to the maximum possible extent.

To make participation possible, it is necessary that bureaucratic coercion and systemic impediments are eliminated. The participation must be facilitated through developing specific methods after taking into account individual behaviour and attitudes of the participants. This book recounts the experience of persons involved in developmental efforts. They talk about their successes and failures; their reflections on what they themselves learnt while acting as facilitators.

In this respect I found Peggy Koniz-Booher’s experience quite fascinating. From the suburbs of Washington DC she and her family are "transplanted" on the Spanish-speaking Dominican Republic — a tropical country south of Miami. Peggy had to deal with the contradictions inherent in a society that is "Americanised" culturally and yet harbours undercurrents on Yankee hostility.

On the other hand, the team of Jim Lees and Sonali Ojha work among Mumbai’s street children not only creating AIDS-related awareness but also helping them to interpret their own lives. There is a poignant narration of a HIV positive 12-year-old boy who sits on a curb outside a busy railway station engrossed in reading the tattoo on his arm, which is punctured with several narcotics filled injections.

How are such street children enabled to lead meaningful lives? Does positive and creative energy get released in a group of people by facilitating participation? Can outsiders become effective catalysts in the process of community development? How effective have the facilitators been in helping a society realise its productive potential? These and myriad other questions come to one’s mind while reading the introduction to the book.

Some answers you might get in this excellent and thought-provoking volume. But you will have to search answers to several doubts that assail our society. For example, is Arundhati Roy facilitating positive community development through her actions as one of the "facilitators" of the Narmada Bachao Andolan?

Fifty Years of Indian Independence and the Polity edited by T.Suryanarayan Sastry. APH Publishing, New Delhi. Pages xiii+250. Rs 500.

How should one evaluate a country of India’s size and complexities? Is it a resounding success as a democracy? Or, are those sceptics right who describe it as a functional anarchy? If we are a success, how come everyone from the ruling elite to the common man is showing desperation to flee the land to the more "lucrative" climes in the West and Australia?

We boast of state of art hospitals, yet anybody who can afford to escape the scalpel of the Indian surgeon does so with alacrity. We never tire of boasting that we are a software superpower, yet our computer professional will give his right arm to work in Canada. Our trains don’t run on time or safely. Any two-bit thug can grab our national airlines plane and hold the country to ransom while our security forces waste their professional time and talent on VVIP security.

Lakshminath, in this volume, points out that the emerging constitutional teleology articulates the popular quest for substantive values giving rise to alternate syntagma of security-diversity-solidarity.

Thus the aspiration for liberty, equality and fraternity is now backed by the essential ingredients of domestic peace and minimum social security, tolerance and promotion of diversity and social justice, and support for the legitimate political symbolism and human rights. He does not agree with the proposition that federalism is a tight mould. Lakshminath looks at it as a dynamic paradigm.

T.S. Rama Rao, on the other hand, bemoans the disappearance of constitutional values. Though he takes heart from the fact that democracy has survived in India unlike in some Third World countries, he would rather see the legislature regain its former esteem.

S.Ambika Kumari advocates a common civil code as provided for in Article 44 of our Constitution. A.David Ambrose would like to see our environment protected to ensure social justice. "Social justice" as defined in Article 38(1) of our Constitution, is a comprehensive term that includes the improvement of the citizens’ living conditions.

Justice David Annoussamy dwells on the various roles that the Indian judiciary has been called upon to play since independence. These roles range from the traditional to the pro-active and unusual. Basheer Ahmed Khan takes a close look at our election system, while B. Krishnamurthy pleads for the French model of government.

This volume contains 20 essays by eminent thinkers. One may or may not agree with their theses, but one cannot gainsay their honesty of purpose and the standard of erudition. A must for students of not only political science but also other social sciences.

Re-Visioning Ramakrishna by M.Sivaramkrishna. Sterling, New Delhi. Pages 207. Rs 200.

Love defies definition because it has many dimensions. In fact it is a tapestry woven with threads in contrasting hues — possessiveness and sacrifice, jealousy and trust, envy and devotion. Here love has been depicted in its sublime form where the author looks upon Ramakrishna Paramahamsa as the supreme embodiment of love in its purest form. Though the saint died in 1886, Sivaramkrishna can still feel his divine presence palpably.

The author perceives his presence in Panchavati for the first time when "Motionless yet alert; blind to the outer, lighted up in the interior. The body itself is radiant with that luminosity that hurts the eye but heals the heart..."

With this sort of devotion no wonder the volume is packed with devotional verse that might delight the pious, intrigue the uninitiated and give the atheist some food for thought — if he cares to pick up the book, that is. Here I would like to quote a poem from the book to show the spiritual heights to which its writer has climbed:

O Mother!/Thy desire, kama/Impels a throb, spanda;/That initiates/A vibration, nada/They crystallise into/A point, a dot, bindu:/The triangle of the bindus/Triggers all that exists/Into being/Thou exist/As jagrat, swapna, sushupti/As iccha, jnana, kriya/As mana, matri, meya/And as turiya, beyond/All the triputis/Thou art the child/Thou art the comely one/Though art the Terrifying one/In thy womb/I too am/A throb/A vibration/A point/Thrown out/From the womb/Where can I land/But at Thy/Lotus feet!

Targeting the prudes are short poems in chapter 22. "What is normal/For you/Is abnormal/For me;/What is moral/For you/Is immoral/For me;/What is open/For you/Is a secret/For me!" The chapters such as "Nitya and nataka", "Sita’s smile", etc. are both thoughtful and, strangely for the sceptics, entertaining.

The Bharandas by Umakant Sarma and translated by P.Kotoky. Spectrum. Guwahati. Pages 208. Rs 240.

From one of the Himalayan peaks (there are several you know) flows a crystal clear stream through a tunnel in a cave. When it reaches the peak’s foot a massive rock divides the gushing stream into two — the Pushapabhadra that flows in the northeast direction and the eccentric Bishannala that moves towards the southeast! It is Bishannala around which this volume’s narratives have been woven.

The Bharandas are also known as the Bodos. These narratives depict, at one level, the Bodo perception vis-a-vis the other Assamese communities; and at the other level it shows the dichotomy in the Bodo worldview based on the differing insights and aspirations of two generations — the young and the old.

The two localities — Sonaphali and Sesakhuli — bring home the hidden fears that goad the Bodos to assert their identity. In Sesakhuli Hindus, Muslims and Bodos live together. Hindus consider Bodos as Hindus with whom they share several common festivals and social rituals. On the other hand, at Sonaphali there are no Muslims. Therefore the communal difference between Hindus and Bodos there manifests itself in sharp relief.

However, this book is not a political statement. It is a delightful collection of the Bodo folklore, their customs and yearnings. A must for all those who tend to club the North-East with nebulous entities.Top

 

A can-do Canadian reformer
by G.V.Gupta

Development, Ethnicity and Human Rights in South Asia by Ross Mallick. Sage Publications, New Delhi. Pages 375. Rs 425.

THE issue of human rights is a major concern in western academia and also government policy in its dealings with the rest of the world, particularly with South and East Asia. TheWest has its own perception of human rights and is willing to use every instrument in its power to lend force to its ideas. Many times it is more like a modern version of the white man’s burden of the colonial days. It is a different matter that this also (perhaps unintentionally?) serves its economic interests and provides a shield against competition. And since it is a matter that affects "others", the issue can be conveniently ignored when it comes to serving its own trade and geo-political interests.

The available instruments include terms of trade, access to market, multinational or bilateral development assistance, cooperating with regional trading blocs, articulation of international academic discourse, sponsorshipof academic interaction and collaboration in political and defence matters. The "committed" crusaders of human rights will weild any instrument of power and influence. Often this makes their voice shrill.

This is not to say that the issue is not important. But one has to consider the case of a child forced to work to share the burden of survival alongwith an abandoned mother in the absence of any institutional help till his adulthood. Or, that of a childless widow forced to bear with the restraints of Manu’s laws in a friendless world. The most important human right is the right to survive. So, the world should first ensure that no one dies of hunger and no one’s person is violated before banning child labour. What this means is that the drive for human rights should be tempered with reason.

Canada, with its good intentions, has been in the forefront of development efforts and defence of human rights and our author Ross Mallick has been a consultant to the Canadian International Development Agency. He has obviously made a deep study of the subcontinent’s problems of development and society. Disappointment with the performance of the government, including the communist-led government in West Bengal, has obviously strengthened his views that the West should widen and deepen its role in this region’s developmental, political and academic policies. He has dealt with the problems of ethnic conflicts, minorities, tribal autonomy and emancipation of the dalits in South Asia. Let us take up his study of the dalits to understand his approach.

Mallick thinks that the British colonial rulers helped the dalits realise their separate identity, particularly after census operations started. Because of the British sympathy for their human rights, the dalits preferred colonial protection and promise of justice to the high caste demand for independence. The British attempts to give them assured political space and strength through the medium of a separate electoral college were frustrated by Gandhi’s fast unto death.

Gandhi’s pact with Ambedkar to save the casteist Hindu character of emerging political structure was effectively projected as his great sacrifice for the emancipation of the dalits. Even a larger number of seats did not give them effective bargaining power because only a person winning plural votes (of all Hindus) could make it to the legislature. While the British regime backed Ambedkar who led a mass movement, the needs of the Congress were catered to by Jagjivan Ram who did not have any mass support. The dalit leadership was effectively coopted in the Congress culture. The colonial regime provided further space to the dalits to use them as a balancing factor between the Hindus and the Muslims.

Mallick thinks that the dalits preferred the Muslims because many of their caste men had earlier converted to Islam, and also to Sikhism and Christianity, in search of a more dignified life. Partition disadvantaged them further. Ambedkar’s attempt to seek redemption in Buddhism failed.

The post-independence elite developed a sectarian agenda. Land reforms were forsaken, even by Communists whose record of land redistribution is as poor as that of others. But Indian scholarship eulogised the Marxists within India and abroad creating a false impression. Mallick also blames western scholarship for having a romantic view of India’s past, perhaps due to the ancient anti-Islamic bias of Christianity, and in the belief that India’s spirituality could redeem western materialism. Funding of research by private philanthropists, Christian charities and guilt-ridden industries has reinforced the image of a poor India fighting in defence of democracy against all odds. Researchers are largely saying what the Indian establishment wants them to say.

He sees some hope in the newer formations inspired by backward resurgence. Fearful of an effective occupation of political space by the backwards, the higher castes propped up a dalit woman as the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, the most important state in India.

The days of hard negotiations have arrived and it is now for the West, which is the only uninterested element, to purposefully intervene and redirect its aid programmes, trade and political policies and academic efforts for the emancipation of the dalits in India. Every forum must be used to compel India change its attitude to the dalits.

Assistance should be specifically directed, the Indian political establishment should be repeatedly condemned, it must be challenged intellectually, real subaltern scholarship — and not the sham Bengal Brahmanical type — should be promoted both in India and abroad and scholars should be chosen accordingly. The record of colonial India was better than that of independent India only because of the West. It must resume that role again.

He also sees hope in economic liberalisation and growth of the private sector as the dominant elite will move to the highly paying private sector vacating the public sector for others.

There is no mistaking the commitment and sincerety of Mallick. Emphasis, however, is stretched. The colonial rulers never treated Ambedkar as a mass leader. They, therefore, surrendered before Gandhi. They privately joked about Ambedkar. The dalit preference for Hinduism is deep. Group identity has led to a proliferation of Ravidas and Valmiki temples. Belief in karma and transmigration of the soul does not allow the dalits to accept Buddhism.

Western humanism was accepted by the Indian Constitution-makers, reciprocating the West’s romantic view of Indian Upanishadic past. Colonial education was designed to serve the colonial interests. Colonial social intervention was minimal. The dalit leaders have even now failed to emphasise that securing education is a productive asset

And democracy is the best guarantee for equality. Humanity, and not merely humanism, has a stake in Indian democracy. Its capacity for reconciliation must not be stretched. Let the Indian polity and its civil society locate its own democratic equilibrium. Centralisation has proved to be bad. Internationalisation may be worse. Top

 

Undamaged by modernism
by P.K. Vasudeva

Tibetans in India: The Uprooted People and their Cultural Transplantation by A.V. Arkeri. Reliance Publishing House, New Delhi. Pages 326. Rs 375.

TIBET is called the roof of the world because it is the highest plateau in the world. It was once known as the "forbidden land" since nobody went there, because of the difficult terrain and entry to outsiders was generally barred by its leaders.

Bhutan: Virgin and unspoilt natureThe ecological and cultural situation of Tibet helped develop distinctive customs, traditions, institutions and beliefs. Tibetans were contented and happy, and had struggled hard to preserve their cultural identity, institutions, religion and traditions since the sixth century.

The author has concentrated mostly on the Tibetan refugees settled in South India. Before going into the problems and consequences of rehabilitation, the author provides a brief background of the land and culture of Tibet, problems faced by the refugees while they were fleeing, in transit camps and finally in the settlements. This part is supported by data. He also gives details about the agencies and the type of help they render and the role played by the Dalai Lama in smoothening the process of adjustment.

This study is one of the first of its kind from a cultural anthropological viewpoint giving a detailed account of traditional Tibetan socio-cultural life and the process of rehabilitation and adjustment to a new life in an alien land. This book aims at understanding adjustments at the individual and group-level of the Tibetan refugees, the process of rehabilitation and introduction of new cultural traits in Tibetan society from the host culture through acculturation, assimilation, etc. to come to terms with the new set-up.

The book also attempts to understand how the Tibetans try for normalcy and revive their traditions, customs and beliefs which are disturbed because of their uprooting. The author also looks at the degree of success of the rehabilitation programme and the change in the value system forced on them in the new land.

He discusses the historical background of the land and people, their marriage rituals, leadership and social control, and Tibetan Buddhism and its variations.

Bhutan: Ethnic Identity and National Dilemma by A.C. Sinha. Reliance Publishing House, New Delhi. Pages 266. Rs 325.

The Bhutanese political system, based on Lamaism, retains many features of medieval European feudalism. In the past, there have been two power structures: Lamaist church and secular administration.

With the establishment of monarchy in 1907, a process was set in motion in which the dominant role of the church declined and power was taken over by an oligarchy. However, the church with a nation-wide network of monasteries, nunneries and seminaries continues to be a force, as the present administrative units — rdzongs — are often of the monasteries.

The book describes the transition of the Bhutanese frontier community from a theocratic to a feudal one. It examines the ecological, ethnic and historial processes through which bruqpa theocracy was set up in the 7th century AD.

This volume has heavily drawn upon historical data, besides employing the conventional sociological research method. The book has been divided into three parts and 10 chapters. Part 1 provides an overview of the ecological base of the Bhutanese frontier community and the ethnic backdrop of the Bhutanese cultural periphery. The author has used the concept of frontier feudalism to illustrate the case of pastoral nomads, inhabiting the better parts of the country, who laid the foundation of brugpa state.

Part 2 is essentially a historical analysis of the emergence of Bhutanese political culture, the role of the great "charismatic price-abbot"—Zhabs-drung (dharamraja), who laid the foundation of theocracy and the subsequent oligarchy. The management of frontier conflicts through wars, raids and capture of slaves was meant to generate revenue to maintain the state structure.

Part 3 examines the implicatins of the political transition from theocracy to present monarchy. Its location on cultural, social and political periphery of Tibetan and Indian cores helped it largely to maintain its distinctive identity. Ugyen Wangchuk initiated the process of reforms leading to the present-day progressive Bhutan despite its economic underdevelopment, ethnic uniqueness and unreformed Lamaist structure. However, real credit goes to the British colonial policy of carving out small buffer states on the northern border of India. Needless to say, the present-day state of Bhutan owes its existence largely to the British imperial compulsions.

The colonial rulers went all out to defend and safeguard the interests of the newly established dynastic rule. They went to the extent of openly siding with the Brug-gyalop against the then latest incarnation of the dharamraja; the latter lost his life in mysterious circumstances.

The author has brought out in the concluding chapter that Bhutan is an exception among the countries in South Asia, which has rich untapped natural resources and a sparse unskilled population. The process of development in terms of providing some of the most basic amenities means leaping across decades and generations. Outside agencies are providing funds, expertise, technology and even manpower for development. However, the much desired technological and infrastructural development demands smooth institutional sustenance if a breakdown of the present social and political system is to be avoided. Top

 

SAARC stumbles along
by Manu Kant

The Dynamics of South Asia:Regional Cooperation and SAARC edited by Eric Gonsalves and Nancy Jetley. Sage Publications. New Delhi. Pages 277. Rs 375.

HELL, no! Kashmir is not the problem. And the solution certainly is not a plebiscite in Kashmir as Prof Pervaiz Iqbal Cheema would have us believe. Even Pakistan per se is not the problem. And that despite the fact that Pakistan’s current defence expenditure is 6 per cent of its GDP. The problem is not India. Nor the LTTE in Sri Lanka. And certainly not Bhutan or the Maldives.

To face the truth about South Asia is in fact to face the music. The problem is the underdevelopment of the subcontinent and its immediate periphery. Let us talk about a sampler, the spoilt brother Pakistan.

Pakistan is, effectively, bankrupt with a foreign debt of 53.3 per cent of its GDP ($ 40 billion external debt). Tax collection this year fell short by about 15 per cent or Rs 4 billion. And its foreign exchange reserve stands at $ 1.2 billion, barely enough for five weeks of imports. The black (informal) economy is thrice the size of the formal sector and the growth rate in manufacturing industry is negative (-2.1 per cent). In the second half of 1997, about 3,462 medium and large companies were closed, and 5,00,000 jobs lost as a result of IMF and World Bank-imposed economic reforms.

Two-thirds of Pakistan’s adult population is illiterate and in remote places like Baluchistan, literacy is at an abysmal 1.7 per cent. And the population of Pakistan is growing at the rate of 3.3 per cent per annum. Access to health care and safe drinking water is denied to nearly half the population and the country lacks proper roads and urban housing.

Let us take socio-economic indicators from yet another South Asian sampler — Bangladesh. It remains one of the world’s poorest countries with nearly 36 per cent of the population living below the absolute poverty line and in all 53 per cent below the poverty line. Its per capita income was just $ 270 in 1997. Foreign debt of Bangladesh is a whooping $ 50 billion.

Bangladesh continues to have one of the highest rates of malnutrition in South Asia, with nine out of ten children undernourished to some extent. The adult literacy rate is still among the lowest in the world – at about 38 per cent. And fewer than one in four women can read or write.

In fact, after Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia remains the world’s least developed region. Compared to the total number of poor people in the developing world — 1,133 million — the number of the poor in South Asia in 1990 was 562 million. Intra-regional trade in SAARC (South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation) constituted a bare 3.4 per cent of the region’s total trade with the world in 1993.

An off-shoot of this gross imbalance in the economic development is ethnic conflict tearing apart the fragile unity of almost every major South Asian country. These ethnic conflicts, in turn, are fed on an explosive diet of religious intolerance, diversity of language and culture, and caste conflicts, in India’s and Nepal’s case.

In the opinion of Citha D. Maass, this ethnic strife in fact is the greatest threat to building a nation and prime examples in South Asia are India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. To quote him: "In the case of Pakistan, the difficult and tardy process of integrating the four provinces and five ethnicities into a nation was promoted by mobilising political sentiments against the Indian foe."

Given the stark realities of the socio-economic indicators in South Asia, the inevitable question is: regional cooperation for what? Economic muscle translates into social prosperity and political voice, which in turn means donning the mantle of a judge in the court of world politics. South Asia has none of it.

Matters are further exacerbated because almost all neighbours of India are apprehensive of the latter’s hegemonistic designs in the region. To quote Bimal Prasad from the book under review: "The part played by India in the emergence of Bangladesh has, of course, become the classic illustration in Pakistani eyes of India’s designs vis-a-vis Pakistan."

It also needs to be mentioned that almost all disputes among the SAARC countries are India-centred. Be it Indo-Bangladesh tension over Chakma refugees and sharing of the Ganga water or Indo-Sri Lanka problem or the Indo-Nepal discord over Nepal’s trade with China and other countries.

In fact, one has to recognise that SAARC is a non-starter. Though the initiative for it had come from the late President of Bangladesh, Ziaur Rahman, SAARC was always to be a de facto forum to reduce tension between India and Pakistan. And at India’s individual level, SAARC also meant cooperation between South Asian countries to counter the extra-regional threat from the USA and China.

And now, with the on-going proxy war between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, one would wish that SAARC became a footnote in school history books. In fact, it might had already become one.

Consider the reality on the ground: For starters, India has announced that it will oppose inclusion of Pakistan in the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF). While, in Pakistan itself, the fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami and major opposition parties had warned of civil unrest if the government withdrew its forces from Kargil.

On the other hand, none of the SAARC members deemed it fit to issue an appeal for the cessation of hostilities and a return to the negotiating table to resolve the Kashmir imbroglio. Only belatedly now, Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga, the current SAARC chairperson, has issued a statement appealing to the two countries to respect the LoC, and to "settle the issues through consultations".

Yes, one would argue that the SAARC charter prohibits discussion of bilateral problems between two members. Then the question is: what if the present conflict slides into a nuclear confrontation? Will it then remain a bilateral issue solely between India and Pakistan? It has to be borne in mind that any conflict in South Asia has to be dealt by the countries of this region because first and foremost, they are going to bear the brunt of the hostilities. No answers here, of course.

From SAARC straight to the paradox. By what stretch of logic then that India has gone bonkers over western criticism of Pakistan’s role in Kashmir. One very well knows that one day, not too distant in the future, the West’s bottom-spanking of Pakistan and endorsement of India will translate into stationing of UN troops, if not of the NATO, in Kashmir. Let bilateral issues remain strictly bilateral. Why go scurrying after western coat-tails?

Let it be stated without compunction: there are only two options open to South Asia. Either constant bickering and periodic skirmishes among the members of SAARC over one issue or the other to the detriment of normal and thriving relations, or a confederation of South Asian countries.

The fact of the matter is that when the SAARC nations move towards closer relations with each other, they find that they are in fact all moving close to India — culturally, economically politically and in their way of life, which adds to their discomfiture. The former fear that too much stress on commonality may create a hindrance to the preservation and growth of their separate identities as nations.

The SAARC nations are caught up within their self-created this-and-then-that syndrome. It is the view of Saman Kelegama that South Asian Preferential Trade Arrangement (SAPTA) should be set in motion expeditiously to facilitate enhanced trade among the South Asian countries. But here again, the members of SAARC run into problems.

The reason is that most of the countries are producing the very goods being traded. Consequently, intra-trade turnover declines in proportion to the degree of self-sufficiency achieved in these products. Another issue involved in low turnover is low quality of manufactured goods. For example, India produces a wide range of machinery and manufactured products, but the other SAARC countries have found them to be inferior to products from outside the SAARC region in terms of quality.

Another factor which limits trade in South Asia is the fact that most businessmen have a vested interest in close economic relations with the West because of high profits they hope to earn. In the view of the authors, it might be difficult to convince the "bourgoisie" of South Asia to the contrary.

According to Arif A. Waqif, one area in which the SAARC members could definitely benefit is by presenting a joint front at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) which has openly sought to discriminate against the developing countries by imposing tariffs and trade barriers against their products. The prospects for success, however, depend also on SAARC’s ability to evolve effective political-economic-administrative consensus on common regional positions and strategies and to mobilise support from other interested members of the WTO.

To its merit, this book argues for a piecemeal yet accelerated and multipronged approach to the whole range of problems confronting the SAARC countries. This calls for resolving all outstanding disputes, be that of cross-border militancy (Indo-Pakistan) or water dispute (Indo-Bangladesh) or ethnic conflicts within each country’s borders (Sri Lanka and Pakistan), and the more problematic issues of poverty and socio-economic development, in order to face the challenge of the new era of economic globalisation and unipolar world characterised by the hegemony of the West led by the USA.

What needs to be stressed is that though all contributors to the book emphasise the need to evolve and strengthen economic and cultural links through out the SAARC region, it fails to say that the resultant dispensation will be a confederation of South Asian nations.Top

 

Migrating to USA? Read this primer
by Roopinder Singh

Your Complete Guide to U.S. Immigration and Citizenship by Allan Wernick. Vision Books, New Delhi. Pages 324. Rs 280.

PERHAPS one of the easiest things to sell these days is the American Dream. But then why would you sell something like that? For the oldest reason of them all — to make money. With increasing hordes of peoples all over the world wanting to migrate to the USA, there is a market for people who profess to help them realise their dream.

Some people take the short cut. Such gullible people are often exploited by those who are engaged in illegal trafficking of immigrants, on boats and in caravans, with the potential immigrants often risking their lives in the quest for a better life.

There is also the other path, the legal way of immigrating. There are various laws that allow people to immigrate to the USA. You can immigrate on the basis of certain kinds of family ties with American citizens and permanent residents; you can immigrate on the basis of certain skills that you posses; or, you can apply for immigration even as a refugee escaping persecution in the country of origin or residence.

The book under review is a guide to getting US immigration, which can lead to citizenship too. The author is an attorney who specialises in US immigration law and procedure. Unlike some other lawyers, he has also learnt to put his message across in a simple and direct fashion, as behoves anyone who writes a column in the venerable New York Daily News, known for its no-nonsense, direct-to-the-heart style, typified by the banner headline about a baseball game: "We won".

At the very outset it has to be made clear that immigrant visas are quite different from non-immigrant (often visitor’s) visas and the latter cannot quite be turned into the former, as some people imagine. The process and the requirements for both of these are quite different. Generally speaking, all nations welcome visitors. They, however, are choosy about potential immigrants.

Section 1 of the book focuses on getting a green card and answers such questions as who can get an immigrant visa, family-based immigration, immigrant visas based on employment and investment, lottery green cards, overcoming bars to permanent residence and applying for immigration.

The chapters are self-explanatory and the style is easy to read. Let us take an example: "Who needs this book?", "You need this book if you are in the United States and want to stay; you are abroad and want to know how to come legally to the United States; you are lost in the complexity of US immigration law or want to get legal status or you want to become a US citizen; you are an employer, teacher, politician, or journalist who needs to know how our (American) immigration system works."

What is interesting in this book is the way case studies are cited to illustrate the discussion. It makes it easier both to understand and to relate.

Traditionally, family-based immigration was the preferred way to enter the USA, though these days many people take the employment-based immigration route. Here the emphasis is basically on the potential immigrant having the skills that are required in America. Of course, the employer has to demonstrate that giving employment to the immigrant would not deprive any American of job. The later requirement is waived for persons who have exceptional skill, knowledge or experience which would contribute to the welfare of American society.

Does an employer’s sponsoring you mean that you are bonded labour of him? Not really though; leaving any employer is troublesome and has to be handled with care, it can be done.

Once you have immigrated to the USA, you may want to become a US citizen. The process is called naturalisation. The benefits of being a citizen as compared to a permanent resident are that the person can vote and hold public office, be employed in government jobs that are only available to citizens (like fire fighting and police service), and live abroad for long periods of time without losing any permanent residence privileges. Also, while the US administration may deport you for a number of crimes even if you are a permanent resident, it may not do so if you are a citizen.

You, however, lose your original citizenship if you become a US citizen. When you become a US citizen, the USA asks you to renounce any other citizenship, though some countries do not recognise this renunciation and thus consider you a citizen of both countries. In such cases, you have dual citizenship. India does not recognise dual citizenship, despite a long-standing demand from NRIs to that effect, and you have to renounce Indian citizenship when you become a US citizen.

For those professionals who apply for the H-1 visas, there is a specific chapter that deals with the requirements and the amendments to the H-1B laws. The basic requirement for people who seek immigration under this category is that they should have a four-year college degree in a subject relevant to the job and the employer should be willing to sponsor them for the job. Foreign degrees have to be sent to professional evaluation services that judge the equivalence of the degrees with the US educational system.

On the whole, the book provides good, basic information about the various means of immigration to what has emerged as a dream destination for many all over the world. It also has a section on immigration law and policy web sites that give a select listing on the subject, along with a brief note on what each site deals with. This is quite useful to those who might be potential immigrants.

The special Indian price of the book makes sure that many an eager hand will pick it up.Top

 

Bapu, do you know what we’re doing?
by D.R. Chaudhry

Gandhi’s Vision and Values — The Moral Quest for Change in Indian Agriculture by Vivek Pinto. Sage Publications, New Delhi. Pages 176. Rs 295.

INDIA is primarily an agricultural country. Market forces are fast tightening their stranglehold over the Indian economy in the wake of globalisation, liberalisation and privatisation. The process of globalisation has picked up pace during the past one decade or so. UNDP’s Human Development Report (HDR) can be taken as a reliable indicator of the economic impact of globalisation on the Third World countries. The HDR, being published from 1990, characterises people as the real wealth of a nation. The HDR, 1999, devoted to globalisation, belies this pious hope. It gives graphic details to show a widening gap between the developed and the underdeveloped parts of the world, the growing North-South hiatus and the worsening condition of people in developing countries.

What would be the impact of globalisation on the life of millions of poor people in the country whose fate is directly linked with agriculture? Mahatma Gandhi had a similar concern in the beginning of the 20th century. This found expression in his polemical treatise, "Hind Swaraj". The book under review is an attempt to explore the contemporary meaning of "Hind Swaraj".

Gandhi’s book is a scathing critique of western society, especially the way it has industrialised. He has characterised western civilisation as a satanic one. According to Gandhi, it is the absence of an ethical core that has made it demonical.

Any development model deriving its strength from western society is the least suited to the Indian conditions. Unemployment and underemployment in Indian villages are the key problems in Gandhi’s worldview. Community-oriented development with a sound ethical core is his answer.

Agriculture is the pivot in Gandhian developmental model. Gandhi envisioned village as a republic at the grassroots level where the happiness of every individual is the concern of the village community and the welfare of the village community is the motivation of an individual. Gandhi rejects the concept of a society as a pyramid with the apex sustained by the bottom. It is an oceanic circle whose centre is the individual.

Phoenix Settlement and Tolstoy Farm which Gandhi sharted in South Africa were two important experiments to actualise his vision.All persons in these settlements lived as members of a fraternity. There was no private ownership of land and everybody had to do manual labour. Duty, equality, self sufficiency, frugality and simplicity were the guiding principles in these settlements.

Sabarmati and Sewagram Ashrams set up by Gandhi in India after his return from South Africa were an extension of these earlier experiments.

Gandhi’s vision was lofty in its reach and noble in its intentions. One many question its practicality but none can doubt its force as a critique of the capitalist model of development based on exploitation of man by man. But his vision died a natural death whenGandhi fell to the bullets of a Hindu fanatic on January 30, 1948.

Jawaharlal Nehru, Gandhi’s closest disciple and a chosen heir, found Gandhian vision highly hare-brained and utopian and thus impractical. Nehruvian model of development shaped by Prof Mahalanobis laid heavy emphasis on heavy industries to the detriment of agriculture.

India remained deficient in foodgrains for many years after Independence and had to rely on import of wheat. Then came the green revolution that increased the production of cereals, especially wheat and rice, but it is friendly to rich farmers. It has exacerbated tensions and inequality in rural areas.

The author has presented a powerful Gandhian critique of planned agricultural development in India between 1951 and 1974. He has provided valuable data, facts and figures and quoted many authorities to buttress his thesis. He is firmly of the view that Gandhi stands betrayed by those who swear by his name.Indian rulers and planners have immensely harmed the Indian nation in general and Indian peasantry in particular by discarding the Gandhian vision and mindlessly following the model of development with accent on heavy industries with the public sector occupying the commanding heights of the economy and free play to capitalist forces to grow in a mixed economy, a curious mixture of the Soviet experiment and western capitalism.

Gandhi’s economic and political thought, as stressed by the author, is grounded in the Hindu religious tradition. "My religion is Hinduism," observes Gandhi, "which, for me, is the religion of humanity and includes the best of all the religions known to me." What a self-righteous assertion!It gives no idea of what is lacking in Hinduism.

A bulk of the Indian population comprising shudras and ati-shudras has always been outside the pale of the Hindu social order and have suffered unspeakable oppression at the hands of the high castes. A cursory reading of Manu Smiriti would leave no one in doubt about this. B.R. Ambedkar is closer to reality in this matter than Gandhi. "The common people live independently and follow their agricultural occupation. They enjoy Home Rule," says Gandhi. It is too idealised a picture of an Indian village, which has been a hotbed of superstition and social oppression.

Any vision, if it has to deliver goods in a world of real men and real matters, must be supported by a concrete programmatic framework. The author, in this context, has given six moral and sociol-political concepts enunciated by Gandhi — swadeshi, aparigraha (non-possession), bread labour, trusteeship, non-exploitation and equality. But have they not remained just pious wishes in the arena of conflicting interests?

Accumulating wealth has its own laws which have no ethical consideration. The economic structure has its own logic which cannot be subservient to the wish of an individual howsoever pious and great he may be. Plato, much, much before Gandhi, painted a highly idealised picture of a society in his "Republic" but it still remains a Utopia.

It is the followers of Gandhi who decided to give free play to market forces in the name of structural adjustment and economic reforms. One does not have to be an economist to understand that market forces are never neutral and value-free. There are winners and losers in the game.And now his detractors who produced his killer are following the same path with a vengeance.

This is not to suggest that Gandhi has no relevance whatsoever these days.It has a lot to offer us by way of a critique of the capitalist development model though it is not in a position to cope with the malady. There is need to critically approach the Gandhian critique.

Vivek Pinto has done a remarkably good job in presenting a powerful Gandhian critique of the development model adopted in India. It is all the more relevant when the issues of ecology, environment, sustainable development and social equity are getting the prominence they deserve these days. The book is of great use to all those Gandhian scholars and lay readers who wish to understand Gandhi in the contest of the developmental process inIndia.

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