|Saturday, February 12, 2000,
funds alive again
TEST BAN TREATY
must talk of peace
very hard talk
Mutual funds alive again
WHAT happens on the floor of stock exchanges does not excite middleclass investors anymore. They have set their face firmly against the ups and downs of the sensex and other mysterious indices after they burnt their fingers in the stunning scam of the nineties. The reduction in the interest rate on small savings and the public provident fund had dismayed those with a small surplus and looking for safe parking options. Now the mythical small investor has a genuine way to earn a reasonable return without the fear of losing his savings. Mutual funds, which hit the market in the share market boom years in last decade, are back in business. In fact many new ones have appeared and an old one, at one time the most favoured, has resumed sending dividend cheques this year after a lapse of six years. The renewed vigour of mutual funds is reflected in the ease and extent of deposits. One calculation has it that their sale of units jumped four times in the second half of last year and mostly in the open-ended scheme in which the investor shares the profit and also losses, without insisting on an assured return. Simultaneously, new companies in select sectors are able to raise funds, unlike in the recent past when even well-known companies failed to attract sufficient number of buyers for their shares. Of course, the ICE companies are runaway winners in this fund-raising race. (ICE stands for information or software units, communication or computer units, and entertainment or television companies.) A new entrant, Sibar Softwares wanted just Rs 2.5 crore but ended up raking in Rs 745 crore or 248 times its public offer. This can be attributed to both the fascination with information technology shares and the low fund need, but even Hughes Software received 27 times its Rs 215 crore issue. The renewed confidence in mutual funds and the sway software share have acquired have prompted one analyst to crow that the equity cult is born again. Of course, he is exaggerating; these are the two sides of the same coin. Mutual funds, with their excellent performance during the past two years, are mobilising huge resources and investing in these stocks in the hope that the inevitable market appreciation will allow them sizeable profit.
This hinges on the
continued rise in the sensex. On Thursday it zoomed to a
new height, described by an exuberant reporter as virgin
territories, of 5789 points or a gain of 140 points (2.47
per cent). What is significant is that the roller-coaster
run of the index stopped at the highest point unlike in
the past when it tended to settle down lower than that.
This increase is very impressive but the ICE index shot
up by 5.85 per cent. There is a surprising and also
worrisome aspect to it. The bullish behaviour is largely
due to the insatiable hunger for software shares, though
on Thursday a few blue chip companies like MTNL, ITC and
Reliance too did make handsome gains. Part of the
positive sentiment springs from the heavy purchases by
foreign funds which have pumped in more than $ 200
million in this month alone. This lends strength to the
hope that the present tempo will sustain itself at least
until the Union Budget. There is room to nurse
misgivings. A nearly 100 per cent jump in the sensex
within a year must trigger what traders call a technical
correction, a soft word for a severe jolt. The so-called
profit booking may turn out to be more than that. It may
lead to a sharp fall in share prices, reversing all the
gains of the recent past : mutual funds back in popular
esteem, their success in providing a decent return and
the ICE index underpinning this feel-good factor. One
analyst indeed prays for a minor downward movement before
the budget so that any happy policy shift by Mr Yashwant
Sinha will bring the situation back to normal.
British tact in evidence
THE hijacking drama involving the Afghan Airlines' Ariana aircraft, which ended at London's Stansted airport peacefully on Monday, has produced a story of the triumph of tact. The British Government, particularly its tireless police, talked continuously face to face with two of the hijackers. There were no political or bureaucratic noises. The worrisome situation developed on Sunday soon after the Boeing 727 took off from Kabul on a domestic flight to Mazar-e-Sharif. The pilot and other members of the crew had to take a long route via Uzbekistan, Kazakstan and Moscow. The British airport did not allow any confusion to prevail on the ground. The passengers, hijackers and others on board were given all possible facilities which did not let sanity get lost during the negotiations. No foreign minister had to go to with a team of specialists or a tradable criminal to the site. No concession had to be made and the crisis was resolved by the police which has a well-oiled crisis-management machinery. In London, what can be done at the lower level is not manipulated into a grave problem, keeping a whole nation and its media on the tenterhooks for days together. It is not difficult to understand the motive behind the hijacking episode. The Taliban have made life miserable for the majority of the Afghans who want to leave their country to live in safety abroad. Their loyalty to their nation is absolute. But fundamentalism and the rivalry between the two ruling groups have depleted the sources of security of life and limb.
Only a small number of
persons have been arrested so far in London on the charge
of hijacking. However, many or most of the passengers are
likely to be involved in the cunning plan, the apparent
aim of which appears to be to seek and find asylum away
from the regimented parts of the country ruled by Mullah
Mohammad Omar. The British rightly do not want to shelter
an unwanted number of distraught or fear-forced persons.
The British police says that women passengers in burqa
were found carrying arms and ammunition. The Russians saw
through the nasty plan of the hijackers, reacted quickly
and let the buck pass on to the British. The Kabul
airport authorities say that they do not have X-ray
machines to screen passengers and luggage. Whose fault is
this? The international community should declare Kabul,
Kandahar and other such airports, which are unfit for the
landing or taking off of large planes, unsafe. No sane
governing system will accuse the U.K. of being inhuman or
unkind if it decides to punish the hijackers and the
guilty among the passengers. Here is a case of mass bogus
asylum-seeking through dubious means. Britain already has
a large number of Afghans on its soil. An incident of
1996, when six Iraqi men hijacked a Sudanese Airliner and
took it to London, is worth remembering. All of them were
convicted and awarded exemplary punishment. Hijacking is
not going to end with the latest London episode. An
uncoordinated administrative edifice like ours has a few
lessons to learn from the resolution of the Ariana
problem, without bloodshed or much media hype, by the
British Police. ?
From Varanasi to Panaji
THERE are amazing similarities in the brazenly violent means adopted by Sangh Parivar activists for stopping the shooting of "Water" in Varanasi and the attack on a teacher in Panaji, Goa, for teaching to Class V students what the saffron brigade thought should not have been taught. A spokesman of the Goa wing of the RSS has justified the attack. He cannot be wrong because both Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Union Home Minister L. K. Advani have certified that the RSS is a cultural organisation. They too cannot be wrong because they are both honourable men and venerable leaders. Since culture cannot remain static, should we say that the Sangh outfits are merely speeding up the churning process for the birth of a new culture? If so, Ms Deepa Mehta and the teacher in Goa could not have been allowed to hold up the process of "cultural evolution" with the "essential ingredients" provided by the Sangh Parivar. The way they have been brought up was what made the Sangh activists oppose Ms Mehta's attempt to "denigrate Indian culture" and teach the Goa teacher lessons in nationalism. It is strange that a teacher who answers to the name of Dharmanand should have included an "anti-national" and "unpatriotic" question in a preliminary test for school students. The question was actually a fictional account of an incident revolving around the Kargil conflict. Students were required to state the moral of the story. But why did he have to show an injured Indian soldier as a prisoner of war in Pakistan? When the Indian asks the Pakistani soldiers why they have spared his life, they tell him that they may fight for their countries, but they are human beings first. All the Goa teacher had to do was to reverse the situation for meeting the exacting requirements of "nationalism" and "patriotism" set by the Sangh family.
No one who supports the
Sangh philosophy would accept as valid the excuse that
objections were not raised by anyone when a similar
question was asked in the1996 board examination, in the
context of the Sino-Indian war of 1962. After all, four
long years have elapsed between 1996 and 2000, a period
which has seen socialists turn saffron and politicians of
all hues giving the impression of having become
turncoats. In any case, to say why a similar question was
allowed to go unchallenged by these activists in 1996 is
like asking why a story published in the 70s in Kannada
did not cause any commotion, but a translation of the
same story published in the 80s by an English newspaper,
which would have been read by fewer persons than the one
in Kannada, resulted in communal violence in Karnataka.
The important thing is that a beginning has been made and
the enthusiastic selfstyled crusaders are merely showing
remarkable consistency in shooting down attempts to
denigrate Indian culture or delivering prompt punishment
to a teacher who betrayed his ignorance about the
elements which represent the foundation of Indian
nationalism. Now that the Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled
states have lifted the restriction on government servants
taking part in the cultural activities of the RSS, and Mr
Advani has promised to lift a similar restriction on
Central government employees, the long-desired
"cultural revolution" should not be long in
coming. It is a pity that the "questionable"
action of a teacher has made the school, which raised Rs
50,000 for the Kargil soldiers, suffer the ignominy of
its "nationalist" and "patriotic"
credentials being questioned by determined activists. The
school authorities' protest that there was no need to
blacken the face of the "anti-national" teacher
may find support only among those who are not happy with
the march, at a breakneck speed, of the Sangh brigade. At
the end of the day it is the message, and not necessarily
how and by whom it is delivered, which is important. Of
course, the better option always is to deliver the
message without having to blacken anyone's face. But the
teacher in question had it coming. The Sangh Parivar may
have many shortcomings, but its enthusiastic commitment
to patriotism and nationalism is not one of them.
COMPREHENSIVE TEST BAN TREATY
THE Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) is once again in the public eye. To sign it or not excites debate and elicits divided opinion within the country, especially in the light of President Clintons approaching visit. There are perceived external pressures pushing us towards signing but no internal consensus to encourage that step. So what is it all about and what should we do?
Negotiations for the CTBT in the Conference on Disarmament were finalised in 1976. We had played our part in the process but were forced to conclude that, despite our best effort, the treaty that emerged from the conference was harmful to the national interest. To considerable acclaim within the country and a loud chorus of disapproval outside it, the government of the day decided to reject the treaty. Our rejection effectively vetoed it in the Conference on Disarmament, and when it was presented direct to the UN in a move to bypass our blocking it at the conference, we once again made it plain that we would not have the CTBT at any price. After all that, one may well think that the issue had been decided once and for all.
As we were swift to point out, the CTBT has several intrinsic defects. While demanding an end to all nuclear testing, it leaves a loophole for the most advanced countries to continue to develop nuclear weapons through laboratory simulation without having to resort to actual tests. It incorporates a monitoring and inspection procedure that can become highly intrusive. More significantly, by failing to provide for the time-bound elimination of nuclear weapons, which is a fundamental part of our disarmament policy, it serves to strengthen the dividing line between the nuclear haves and the have-nots.
However, the most important reason for our holding aloof is not so much the inherent defects in the treaty but the attempt by its principal architects to compel our adherence to it. This was done by the framing of an Entry Into Force clause that required a number of countries, including India, to place identified nuclear facilities under international safeguards as a prerequisite to the treaty becoming operative. That is to say, in-built in the CTBT is the requirement that India, among other countries with nuclear capacity or potential, must adhere to it. This was clearly intended to stop our nuclear programme in its tracks and those of other threshold countries. In fact, it was plausibly argued at the time that the main thrust of the entire CTBT exercise was to hamstring India and keep it on the far side of the nuclear threshold. The nuclear powers of the time knew full well that India was the key to the enlargement of their magic circle, throttle India and others at the portals would be restrained.
Such an endeavour was never likely to prevail. Maintaining its nuclear option had long been regarded as necessary for the countrys security, the more so as countries with nuclear weapons had shown no inclination to get rid of them. They have never gone beyond some partial measures which are a far cry from the universal disarmament that the world has long demanded. In these circumstances, India decisively rejected the CTBT. We would not be pushed into signing it and we were ready to accept international criticism in defence of our vital national interest.
Since then, much has happened. The major development, of course, has been the Indian nuclear tests at Pokhran in May, 1998. With the tests, the situation has been radically altered. After so many years of keeping the nuclear option open, it has now actually been exercised, and India has declared itself to be a nuclear power. It is immaterial that the prior nuclear powers are yet to make adequate acknowledgement of this fact. What matters is the change in Indias status and in its defence capacity. The CTBT has failed to hold us back.
That being so, the treaty no longer serves as a barrier to our nuclear policies the essential step has been taken and there is no going back. Being now a nuclear power, do we still need to reject the CTBT? The core requirement of all signatories to the treaty is that they abjure all future nuclear testing. After Pokhran II we announced that we would have no more tests. So on this basic issue we are already in alignment with the CTBT. Signing up would not push us into doing anything to which we are not already committed. It would also receive a wide welcome internationally, not in the West alone.
So why hesitate? The substantive issue raised by some commentators is that a permanent end to our nuclear testing programme is bound to have an adverse effect on the countrys security. Notwithstanding our publicly stated position, a self-imposed abstention will impair the fashioning and safe-keeping of our nuclear weapons and prevent the maintenance of a credible arsenal. No country has managed without extensive testing, bar those that have profited from the experience of allies, and there is no reason to suppose that we are any different. Simply put, we need more tests.
This view of some analysts does not appear to be shared by those actually in charge of the weapons programme. The data acquired from the last series of tests would seem to suffice for our development programme for the foreseeable future. If the scientists are not pressing for more tests, one can assume they do not need them. Besides, according to some, we have already made strides in simulation methods which permit sophisticated and reliable weapons to be fashioned without recourse to testing.
Also relevant to the security issue is the provision within the CTBT itself for withdrawal by member states in the event that supreme national interest so dictates. Thus in the event of an unanticipated threat developing, signatories can withdraw and, if need be, restart national programmes of testing. To sign does not imply forswearing forever national judgement in vital security matters. Subscribing to the CTBT today, in contrast to 1976 when it was framed, will not jeopardise national security or strike at any other vital interest. In any event, this discussion is largely academic in nature, for further testing is highly unlikely in todays circumstances. Only a grave emergency could so compel us, for the cost to our international standing would be heavy.
Certain obvious benefits would flow from signing. Sanctions on some of our companies would presumably be lifted, though the impact may not be dramatic. Lingering unease about the direction and limits of our nuclear policy, however, misplaced, would be allayed. Our potential in regional and international affairs would be enhanced. We should not expect any great price to be paid for us to sign: that sort of arrangement does not appear to be on the cards. But nevertheless there is much to be gained. Subscribing to the CTBT is not to be seen as a genuflection before the USA but as a step to strengthen us internationally and position us to assume the global role that our maturing capacity now makes possible.
While the argument in favour of signing is strong, and the reasons for holding aloof do not stand much scrutiny, the decision to sign or not will turn ultimately on domestic factors. A consensus is to be sought before any final step is taken, though the administrations inclination in favour of signing seems apparent. Parties opposed to the CTBT, for reasons which may have little to do with the intrinsic merits or demerits of the case, may hold out indefinitely in order to prevent consensus. If its convictions are strong, and in the larger interest of the country, the government may find itself impelled to proceed to sign up, consensus or no consensus.
Challenges before Finance Minister
THE Finance Minister, Mr Yashwant Sinha, presents his third successive Budget for 2000-01, the first year of the new millennium, in a climate of relative political stability when the economy is well on the recovery path.
Recessionary conditions over a three-year period have been overcome though not all the basic and capital goods share the limelight. By and large, the turnover and profitability of corporates look better, judging from the first three quarters (April-December) results.
A low rate of inflation, which has only lately tended to rise above 3 per cent, and highly comfortable food and foreign exchange reserves, the latter now exceeding $ 32 billion, are the other assets which should enable the Finance Minister to take some bold steps, which would restore the growth dynamism of the mid-1990s, and at the same time bring the unsustainable debt and fiscal deficits of the Centre under control.
It is to these tasks that Mr Sinha himself has repeatedly committed himself and, therefore, there are greater expectations of his being able to come up with a fiscal strategy which promotes growth with employment and also achieves a deficit reduction by a major restructuring of expenditure.
These are daunting challenges since the role of the State in building physical infrastructure still remains large, and public investments alone can perform a catalytic role and trigger private investments on the scale that are needed to upgrade and expand capacities in power, telecommunications and transport, especially roads. Our dismal experience with private sector participation over the last several years underlines the urgency of the State stepping in, in a fairly significant manner, so as to underpin higher economic growth of 7 to 8 per cent.
Even in the midst of recessionary conditions, the economy has shown some resilience to record a 6.8 per cent growth (according to CSO quick estimate) in 1998-99, though it is mainly due to a 7.2 per cent rise in agriculture which cannot be repeated in the following year. In the current year (1999-2000), industry has shown recovery with the general index of production rising by 6 per cent so far as against the 3.6 per cent in the previous year.
A steady growth of Services has been recorded to become the largest single contributor to national income. Yet, the development of the Services sector in India is only in the early stages and will increasingly begin to dominate the economic scene in the years to come, with the ongoing spread of information technology. Higher growth of the economy will open up vast areas for financial and other services to bloom.
As against the 6 to 6.5 per cent GDP growth in 1999-2000, Mr Sinha will aim at 7 to 8 per cent in the coming year, on the basis of the emerging strengths. Such an order of growth entails additional mobilisation of resources for key investments, at a time when the Government has found itself in a security environment, which admits of no slackening with the countrys defences. The Budget will mark a turning point in investing greater importance to national security after long years of a lower defence expenditure as a ratio of GDP and as a share of total expenditure.
Mr Sinha cannot shirk his responsibility either in raising resources or in re-allocating expenditures to make them productive. Expenditure reform must go tellingly side by side with tax reform to which he has referred for his people-centric budget. Maintenance expenditure cannot be cut down easily but can the government, at least thereafter, ensure that every rupee spent brings value? The size of the government has to be cut down progressively and norms of accountability laid down.
The Prime Minister, Mr A.B. Vajpayee, and other BJP leaders in the government have been talking of hard decisions, and turning India into an effective State. The Budget provides an excellent opportunity to translate professions into practice. If fiscal deficit is to be reined in, there will have to be drastic measures, including firm reductions in subsidies, which are not specifically targeted. It would be a pity if Mr Sinha merely tries to remit such issues to the long-awaited Expenditure Commission.
The current years fiscal deficit would have far exceeded the targeted 4 per cent of GDP since there has been a quantum jump in post-budget expenditure, especially related to Kargil and the aftermath. A contributory factor is the failure to achieve the disinvestment target of Rs 10,000 crore. If disinvestment is to be de-linked from the budget, to make it look less like a budgetary operation and attract a higher price for government equity in well-performing public undertakings, then the challenge of deficit reduction becomes even greater.
Recently, the government has signalled a lowering of interest rates with a one percentage point cut in Public Provident Fund and other small savings instruments. A downtrend in interest rates is visible but the real push can come only when the government gets the fiscal deficit under effective control.
An outstanding feature of the forthcoming budget will be a restructuring of indirect tax system in view of Indias decision to comply with WTO obligations and phase out quantitative restrictions on imports of 700 consumer items from April and another 700 items from April 1, 2001.
While Mr Sinha would take the opportunity to set higher tariffs for the new importables, which should also provide revenue to government, he has also to make selective import duty reductions such as in the case of petroleum crude. Whether Mr Sinha does away with the existing special additional duty or modifies the import surcharge levied in the current years Budget, the weighted average of tariffs might still be at the present level of 28 per cent.
Given the need for protection to domestic industry and revenue considerations, India has been unable to lower the tariffs as rapidly as was expected to bring them to ASEAN levels (of 15 per cent) by the turn of the century. This has also to do with the fact that its share of world trade still remains well below 1 per cent of global total.
Apart from further
rationalisation of excise duty structure to accelerate
the transition to a national VAT (value-added tax),
direct tax changes, without affecting the existing rates,
mainly to widen the base by extending the coverage of
services, are expected. (IPA)
HE bent over the bed and stroked his loving daughter, lying lifeless under the hospital sheet. In soft tones he spoke, careful not to hurt her, but still wanting to know why she had gone away. Then, with moist eyes he turned to the adjoining bed to clasp the tender hands of his second daughter, also gone to her maker.
Both girls were riding the brand-new scooter presented to them by their dad, a Brigadier and a course-mate of mine at NDA. He was to move to Leh the next day to assume his new appointment. The girls were off to the market. They could be wanting to get a small gift for their father whom they would miss. Girls are more thoughtful and caring than boys, and it is possible that they meant to smuggle in a secret gift inside dads suitcase, which he would discover while unpacking at Leh.
Thats when the tragedy struck, on the way to the market. Inexplicably the girls lost control and the machine toppled over. At the casualty section of Command Hospital, Chandimandir, the scene was one of disbelief. The Commandant of the hospital also scurried across but there was little that could be done for the one still clinging to dear life.
It was bright and shining the next day when with a heavy heart the Brigadier lighted the pyres of his two loving daughters, as their mother remained virtually inconsolable, asking the girls to get up and Ill take you home.
Moist, red eyes surrounded the two pyres. Now even God relented and there was a brief shower, just for a few seconds. It was an admission from God either of the terrible mistake hed made, or an acknowledgement of two young fairies having reached His paradise.
Just three weeks ago we had to rush to Wellington. My younger brothers wife was diagnosed as suffering from leukaemia. For a full 20 days the officer commanding of the military hospital couldnt persuade himself to recommend her case for treatment from civil hospital where facilities exist. Normally it doesnt take more than half an hour to ink the recommendation and shoot a bunch of papers up the chain for sanction, to enable the treatment to start at the earliest.
Now the young lady lay in her bridal finery with helpful ladies trying to quieten a six-week-old baby boy shed left behind and Meshi, a four-year-old daughter not being able to make out what happened.
Shed become a star, explained Meshis father to the little girl, doing his damnedest to push back the moisture in his eyes. Meshi would look upwards into the Nilgiri skies and say an animated good night mummy to the brightest star, holding a lollipop that mummy dropped from the sky and which her dad caught for handing over to Meshi.
India must talk of peace
ON my last evening in Davos, at the closing ceremony of the World Economic Forums first annual meeting of the 21 century, I had the privilege of hearing one of the most eloquent speeches on peace that I have ever heard. The speaker was Shimon Peres, Israels former Prime Minister, and this is what he had to say. Peace is always difficult because you find after negotiating with the enemy (that) you have to negotiate with your own people. You have to persuade them to give up something tangible for something abstract. He went on to say that after spending most of his life buying the best guns for his country he discovered that good neighbours were more important than good guns. He described what decades of war had done to the Middle East and how it had twisted their priorities to such an extent that even the infrastructure they built was designed for war and not peace. Transforming it into modern, civilian infrastructure was, he added, one of the challenges that they now faced.
His words acquired a new meaning when the day after I returned to India I heard our Prime Minister virtually threaten a full-scale nuclear war if Pakistan dared to use a nuclear weapon. Mr Vajpayee was speaking at some event in Jalandhar and was in full flight, at the moment that I caught him on television. He was warning Pakistan of the sternest action if it did not start to behave better and then, almost casually, as if nuclear wars were an ordinary occurrence he made his threat. It was the casualness of his words which I found most chilling because they sounded so much as if they could have come from the mouth of some half-mad Pakistani General instead of from an Indian leader who likes to see himself as a statesman in the Nehruvian mode.
We all know that if Mr Vajpayee has turned into something of a hawk on Pakistan it is because he made a serious attempt at peace when he took that bus to Lahore last February and when the response was Kargil, barely two months later, he must have been deeply disappointed. But, no matter what the provocation this kind of nuclear sabre-rattling is quite simply not the language he should be using because the inevitable reaction of the international community will be to place us at the same level as Pakistan. It is only when an Indian Prime Minister starts to say the sort of things Mr Peres said in Davos will the world realise that there is a difference between the sub-continents two largest countries and that this difference goes beyond democracy.
Delhi, these days, is full of hawks and many of them fly close to Mr Vajpayee in his innermost circles. When they hear talk of peace with Pakistan their lips turn upwards in a sneer as they ask you whether we should simply sit back and allow the Pakistanis to invade our territory, hijack our planes and flood the Kashmir valley with terrorists. Of course not and here it is worth remembering that while Israels leaders speak firmly of their commitment to peace in the Middle East they respond militarily, with equal firmness, when Arab fundamentalist groups resort to terrorism. Why should it be so hard for us to do the same? This would amount not to duplicity but to wisdom, the kind of wisdom that Pakistans General Musharraf is pretending to have.
On the very evening that our Prime Minister was making his threats in Jalandhar I saw the General being interviewed by Karan Thapar on Doordarshan. Karan, never a man to let go when it comes to television interviews, really gave the General as hard a time as possible. He questioned him on his being a dictator, on why he found it so hard to commit to when democracy would be restored and, finally, on why he was changing the Indo-Pakistan dialogue by making Kashmir central to it.
The General tried hard to keep smiling but by the end of the interview even the not so discerning viewers would have noticed that the smile was wearing thin and that the Generals attempt at appearing to be a wise and friendly leader had quite simply not worked. But, at least, he saw the importance of trying to keep the facade and this makes Mr Vajpayees nuclear sabre-rattling sound even worse.
In Davos, I met Pakistani friends whom I had last seen while we waited for the Indian Prime Minister to cross the Wagah border in his bus. We talked about how wonderful the atmosphere had been then, how we had spent long evenings in Lahore rejoicing over the possibilities of peace, and how bad things had got since then. What interested me most about our conversation was that they saw Vajpayee as being as responsible for the downturn as their own General Musharraf. He has become such a hawk on Kashmir, they said, and most Pakistanis are convinced that he will deliberately escalate tensions in the valley just before President Clintons visit so that he can blame it on Pakistan thereby making it more difficult for the American President to include Islamabad in his itinerary.
Pakistani perceptions of the Indo-Pakistan dialogue are so completely different to ours that there are many in that country who seriously believe that it was Indian intelligence agencies who were responsible for the recent hijack of IC 814. A diplomat I met in Davos said: After it happened I talked at length with the Pakistani Ambassador in Geneva and he was completely convinced that the hijack had been engineered by Indian intelligence simply to discredit Pakistan.
Clearly, the road to peace is not going to be an easy one but does that mean we should not even be trying? That we should be making nuclear threats instead? More importantly, can either India or Pakistan afford to continue investing in war when we have not even been able to meet the basic needs of our people?
If there are people in Mr Vajpayees government who are asking these questions they are certainly not asking them out aloud. The only noises we hear from the highest echelons of his government are warmongering noises and this really brings us down to virtually the same level as Pakistan. If we were happy with this position then there would be nothing left to say but we are not happy, we like to see ourselves as a superior country because of our democracy and because we believe that we are the injured party when it comes to Kashmir.
If we want the
international community to see us this way, though, our
leaders are going to have to start talking a language
more similar to the kind Shimon Peres used in Davos.
Besides, without peace we can be sure that we will
continue through the 21st century to spend more on
soldiers and guns than on doctors and teachers. We can
also be sure that we will continue to be among the
poorest countries in the world. So, if our search for
peace means talking to Pakistan about Kashmir then let us
start talking about it if only because talking is
infinitely less dangerous than nuclear sabre-rattling.
Some very hard talk
THE now famous, or if you prefer notorious, interview by Karan Thapar of General Musharraf is still, at the time of writing, the subject of heated discussion and strong editorial comment. Not laying any claims to being a political pundit (like the babalog who operate on some channels) I will leave the political analysis to the real political experts and stick to media analysis.
Employing a chisel instead of his usual sledge-hammer, Karan was clearly out to throw the General off balance. That he was operating on Doordarshan (albeit with the approval of the MEA and the rest of officialdom) in no way cramped his style and after a time he gleefully went for the jugular. But if we had expected to find the General being brusque, impatient or a dyed-in-the wool army koi-hai certainly took us by surprise. Not once did he lose his cool or show irritation. Not even when Karan used his most aggressive technique. On the contrary, at times he smiled the smile of the elder statesman tolerating the frisky puppy, sometimes he even appeared reasonable and patient. Of course Thapar got some tell-tale admissions, but there were some points on which he could not shake him, and I am not referring to Kashmir, which was anticipated. He matched Thapar argument for argument and was none the worse for it. Generals do not always make good media performers. But this one did and if not actually one-up, it would be fair to call the match a draw. The General out-classed even the formidable Benazir Bhutto, Oxford Union president and all, as a TV performer. Considering Thapars vastly superior TV experience, it was not a mean feat. Perhaps, as some political commentators have pointed out (and this is clearly hindsight) Thapar could have been better briefed on some of the Generals more vulnerable areas but at least he had the guts not to be over-awed by the occasion.
On a totally different level was the demolition squad of two young women, Bhavdeep Kang and Saba Naqvi, who took our usually confident loud-mouth Pramod Mahajan apart with their stilettos in a panel chaired by Vir Sanghvi. By a curious coincidence, Karan Thapar also had Mahajan in another panel on the same day, but Thapar looked tame by comparison. The two steely cool women grilled Mahajan on almost everything, coming to the Centre when he had failed in Maharashtra, why he was called Promote Mahajan (for some reason they tactfully left out his sons programmes on TV when he was minister, or they could have got him) his alleged name-dropping, loss of the I and B Ministry due to his loud mouth. For once, Mahajan was non-plussed. Many of their barbs were reinforced by the comments recorded earlier from ordinary people and played back, while Mahajans jaw dropped. Sadistic, but fun.
I have been watching for some time the interviews of stars both actors and directors on the TV channels and have come to the conclusion that the most relaxed are those by Ruby Bhatia. Some self-important interviews keep themselves on screen and star of the calibre of Amitabh off while they tell us the story of his life. Some of TVs most over-bearing anchors moon over him like love-sick schoolgirls. But Ruby is just her unihibited self. Both Amitabh and Madhuri Dixit laughed on her programme more than I have seen them on other programmes.
At the time of writing, the Afghan hijack has just come to a happy conclusion. I must applaud the calm, discretion and complete lack of hysteria with which both the British police and media have handled the situation. Indeed, the police immediately thanked the world media for their cooperation when their negotiations had to be kept confidential. And thanks, Star News, for carrying it all live from London.
Tail-piece: Arun Jaitley
is undoubtedly one of the best TV performers as far as
politicians go and while many lawyers make equally bad
performers, TV being so different from court-rooms,
Jaitley has surmounted even that. But I must confess that
he neither looked comfortable nor did he sound convincing
in the case of Water and the goings-on in
Varanasi, neither on the BBC nor on other channels. But
then, he had a very bad brief, and even the lawyer in him
could not overcome that.
WE had occasion recently to enter a protest against the order of the Peshawar City Magistrate, restraining the local Arya Samajists from holding any public meeting in any public place till and including the 21st February. This, as we stated at the time, was manifestly unjust in view of the forthcoming celebration of the birth centenary of the founder of the Arya Samaj.
It is satisfactory to find that wise counsels have prevailed and the City Magistrate has made partial amends by allowing processions and meetings in a specified manner.
While, however, the new order removes a considerable part of the grievance, the prohibition of preaching in residential quarters, the vague restriction imposed on the exhibition of slides and the humiliation of submitting to the Police Superintendent the plan of the procession distract heavily from the grace of course correction. We have every hope that in view of the unique nature of the function and the deep sentiment of the Arya Samajists on the point, the authorities will see their way to completely removing all unnecessary restrictions.
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