|Sunday, February 20, 2000,
close look at the Constitution
At the crossroads of hope and
Again back in limelight
Hello India, says Windows 2000
A close look at the
WILLY nilly, we the people of India are back to a question that has been posed several times before. Is the Constitution we gave ourselves in 1950 good enough, or does it need a serious review?
Answers to this question had varied greatly in the past, and they were also ambivalent and ambiguous. This time, too, we are no closer to clarity or consensus. Indeed, rather than an answer, we see the question begetting another question, seemingly far more fundamental. Should we blame the Constitution if our political system has failed, or should we rather blame ourselves as a people for failing our Constitution?
This can only be an endless debate, and in my view also a futile one. Regardless of which position we take, we proceed on assumptions equally false. One position assumes that the nature of the polity can be changed by merely changing the Constitution. The other position presumes that having recognised our collective failings, we can, if we so wish, change fundamentally, and become another people.
The fact is that people are not formed by their pious wishes, nor are polities shaped by perfectly designed constitutions. People, polities and constitutions are formed, first of all, by historical and ideological legacies, and they cannot re-form themselves in any fundamental way unless they face the task of resolving the tensions and contradictions in their legacies. I do not think that we the people of India are, as a people, anywhere near recognising the need of this basic task, let alone taking it up in a resolute fashion.
What are these historical legacies, and their internal tensions, that I am referring to? They are indeed many, but all cannot be covered in a newspaper article. Let me, therefore, stick to just one that I consider the foremost in importance. It has to do with the way we came to the idea of democracy in this country. Parallels with the Westminster model apart, the route we took was not the same as was taken conventionally in the West. Triumph of liberalism was integral, indeed even central, to the consolidation of democratic institutions in the West.
Liberalism upheld the autonomy of the individual citizen as the most sacrosanct value. It had to be protected against not only the excesses of the state but also against the tyranny of the community. The individual citizen was the best judge of his interests. He was also fully capable of making choices best suited to these interests. He must be allowed to act as an autonomous source of his actions. Democratic institutions were then seen as the best guarantee for such autonomy and liberty of the individual.
Autonomy of the individual was never a part of the political thought in India, the democratic idea arrived wrapped in another, seemingly all important sentiment: the craving for liberation from foreign rule. But anti-imperialism was a multi-layered sentiment. It attracted activists of diverse political persuasions. Many of these were non-liberal or even anti-liberal. The idea of swaraj, or self-rule, had several conceptions of the "self" and how this "self" should "rule" itself. It was not always cast in the mould of liberal democracy. Liberals were at best only one part, and not necessarily the dominant or hegemonic part, of the struggles launched by the anti-imperialist coalition.
As a result, the eventual triumph of anti-imperialist coalition got us freedom but left us with a rather mixed ideological legacy. The legacy needed to be sorted out through ideological contests after formal independence had been won.
The history of democracy in India is, in fact, the history of such ideological contests. In this history, we have found many a time the liberal democratic idea overcome by non-liberal ideologies. Non-liberal and anti-liberal ideologies win because they can lay equal claim to nationalism. On such occasions we must remember that such claims had been accepted and accommodated during the anti-imperialist phase. We must blame the mixed ideological legacy of our freedom struggle.
We must also note that thanks to this mixed legacy, Indian liberals seem to win only partial and impermanent victories. Whenever they have gained pre-eminence in the ideological contest, they have done so not because they could demonstrate intrinsic superiority of liberalism, but because they could project liberal democracy as the best model for national development and transformation.
Such pre-eminence could never lead to unqualified triumph of liberalism in the ideological contest. Quite often, liberalism had to modify itself considerably to accommodate other non-liberal contestants. This compromise is reflected in the Indian Constitution itself, wherein it remains still unresolved whether the individual or the community is to be recognised as the bearer of constitutional rights whenever the claims of the two are not identical or harmonised.
The discontent we observe in Indian polity is of two different kinds. On the one hand is the discontentment of communities. Since they were recognised as the bearers of constitutional rights, they have come to expect that democracy will not subvert their rights. They are agitated whenever in their perception such subversion takes place. Minorities feel that electoral compulsions make policy-makers pander to majoritarian preferences, whereas the majorities feel that the logic of democracy is often thwarted to pander to the minority vote banks.
The interesting thing to note is that neither the minority nor the majority communities see democracy as the melting pot in which their conflicting claims will be dissolved, or at least get reshaped into negotiated consensus. Rather, they see their identities as perennial and sacrosanct. They demand, therefore, that democracy works not on their identities but in terms of their identities.
Once they are convinced that democracy fails to fulfil this impossible, but in their own view legitimate, expectation, they choose to work outside the democratic, and sometimes even the constitutional, framework. As a result of this choice, discontentment then turns into social conflicts. This may take the form of mobilisation of religious, linguistic, racial or regionalist communal identity of one community against the other, or against the state itself.
The other source of discontentment against democracy is the individual who feels that his individuality is stifled by the community in which he was born. He finds the exclusivistic claims made on him by the community repugnant. Alternatively, he may feel stifled not by the community in which he was born but by the communalisation of democracy itself. He expects the state to recognise the primacy of his claim as the bearer of constitutional rights and promote the norms and institutions of society. He is dismayed that rather than performing these tasks, those who come to occupy through electoral processes the decisive positions in the state pander to communal expectations.
But whereas communities are organised, individuals are not. The resentment felt by individuals takes the shape, therefore, not of social conflicts but of disillusionment, apathy, depoliticisation and cynicism. This response is no less consequential to the working of democracy. Such discontentment pre-empts the possibility of the democratic idea finding genuinely liberal sustenance and it becomes even more helpless under communal pressures.
Coming from two very different kinds of sources, these are, then, two very different kinds of discontentment. These, or the instability these cause, cannot be removed by constitutional changes. Shifting from parliamentary form of government to the presidential, for example, is utterly irrelevant in this context. Are we, the people of India, in a position to decide who has the primacy the individual or the community and resolve the tension between the two in one clear direction or the other once for all? If not, we will end up rewriting this tension into the reviewed and revised Constitution too, and this most important source of uncertainty, instability and conflict will come back to haunt us in the future as well.
Does my argument imply that democracy in India is doomed to suffer from disruption, subversion and perversion, and that there is no future for it whatsoever? Such pessimistic conclusion would appear unwarranted if we approach the issue from a slightly different angle. In order to do that, we must focus on what I mentioned earlier just in passing namely, the fact that the sentiment of anti-imperialism got translated at the time of independence into another idea: the aspiration of national renewal and transformation.
Now, renewal and transformation are actually not the same thing. To the revivalist sentiment of communities, renewal would simply mean recovery of an "uncorrupted" past. The recovery would involve eliminating or transforming those conditions which had caused the "corruption".
For a modernist individual, on the other hand, not only is the past unrecoverable but attempts to do that are also regressive. The past represents to a modernist individual not unsullied glory but backwardness and defeat. For him, then, the task is not to look back but forward, and transform the present into a desirable future.
Seen this way, renewal and transformation are not only different but conflicting political agendas. Could these two agendas be reconciled and, if so, which would have the primacy? This question was another source of ideological contest in free India.
The tension could not have been resolved by itself, but because the issue was a carry-over from the days of freedom struggle, the anti-imperialist sentiment helped our policy-makers decide the issue in a particular way, thereby providing strength to the liberal democratic idea. Let us see how.
Even as the classical forms of imperialism began to recede in the post-war period, starting with India, a view soon began to gain ground that this development did not represent the final defeat of imperialism, and that it may stage a return in newer forms, which eventually came to be theorised as neo-colonialism. This meant that even if the broad anti-imperialist front of the pre-independence days could not continue in the post-independence electoral polities, there was nonetheless the need to build national consensus on how the neo-colonial threat had to be faced.
The recognition of this imperative led to two very obvious results. One, in the field of foreign policy, the non-aligned framework, with its explicit anti-imperialist stance, met with approval of political parties otherwise quite different in their domestic agenda. Two, the norms of domestic political competition also got so framed that those formations which seemed to weaken national unity were soon discredited. We might say, then, that the sentiment against neo-colonialism forced all parties to accept that inter-party competition must proceed by liberal democratic rules.
The neo-colonial threat which seemed to loom large on the horizon also legitimised the primacy of national development through modernisation. After all, the historical experience had been that economic and technological backwardness, combined with political-administrative disunity had subjected India repeatedly to aggression and colonial subjugation. Consolidation of the newly won freedom demanded, therefore, a state committed to modernisation. It had to be a visionary and strong willed state, ready to intervene in economy and society.
Following this logic, the Indian state adopted an active role. It was this logic which permitted the launching of massive five-year plans and the creation of infrastructure through public investment. Resources belonging to local communities could be extracted and even communities themselves could be displaced. Savings of one area could be invested in another. Local life-styles and consumption patterns could be altered to suit the needs of the expanding "national" manufacture, and all of this could be done without engendering a sense of discrimination or deprivation, for, after all, the fight against neo-colonial threat appeared to necessitate such steps. Once the nation was seen to be under siege, what lay within the nation-state no longer belonged to one or the other community but to the entire nation.
In short, anti-neocolonialism made community-based politics appear narrow, sectarian and anti-national. It thereby created the political space in which the liberal democratic idea could thrive.
In this context what has happened in the past 10 years is quite dramatic. The entire vocabulary of fighting neo-colonialism has been jettisoned by the political elite in India.
What that means is that the social-ideological platform from which the developmental project was launched no longer exists. While people might still want to be citizens of a state that is scientifically and industrially advanced, rich and powerful, communities are far more reluctant to pay the price for achieving that status. Now there is widespread protest every time resources belonging to local communities are sought to be extracted, communities displaced, the savings of one area invested in another, or local life-style and consumption patterns altered to suit the needs of the expanding "national" manufacture. Once anti-neocolonialism has been abandoned, there is no convincing that, after all, what lay within the "national" boundaries belonged not to one or the other community but to the entire nation.
Not surprisingly, then, we are witnessing a massive return to community based politics even while India "globalises" itself. Some analysts see ethnic assertions and globalisation as opposite phenomena and are puzzled by the "paradox" of their simultaneous rise. My argument above should show that I see no paradox. I see instead the logic that connects the two.
I find the implications of this logic alarming on several counts. The dimming prospects of liberal democracy is the most important among them. Can constitutional reviews address and counter this logic at all?
At the crossroads of hope
FIVE decades and more of freedom! But freedom for whom and from what?
Are 40 per cent of our people who live below the poverty line, really free?And what proportion of our people are free from injustice, exploitation, corruption, prejudices, victimisation, partisanship,subjectivity, ignorance, dishonesty and the like. I have lived long but I dont believe I have known anyone who has either not indulged in any of such practices or has not been a victim of such indulgence on the part of someone else.
Living among these cobwebs, we must not, of course, forget the sum total of our accomplishments in the last five decades which, in relative terms that is, in comparison with what we were and where we were at the time of Independence is not trivial. And these accomplishments have covered a wide spectrum of activities, so much so that we are considered world-wide as the most developed of the developing countries. We must, however, recognise that this has not been the result of a consistent and deliberate policy. It has been primarily a consequence of our unique history and tradition and the contribution of a small number of outstanding leaders we have managed to produce in every field, from science to art to economics. Indeed, we have produced stalwarts in every field, but very, very few and far between.
As this makes us today, more than five decades after Independence, a country of unmatched contrasts, so much so that, perhaps, the only statement that is true about India is that no other statement about the country is true or false. Our accomplishments show that we are capable and can behave responsibly. Our failures that far outstrip and outweigh our accomplishments show that, in the balance, we are slipping in respect of our place in the comity of nations. No matter what criterion we use be it the female education index or the human development index we stand very much at the bottom of the ladder of nations. Our peaks are almost as high as anywhere else but our average touches the rock bottom. Let us look at some reasons for this state of affairs that stares us in the face.
Our political system is unsuited to our conditions. If the ballot paper in the last few elections had a column, "none of the candidates is suitable", I would imagine that this would have been the most filled-in column in the ballot papers nation-wide. Our political system is not tuned to spotting talent and grooming real leaders; it seems ideally suited for the corrupt and unknowledgeable, for the inefficient and insensitive.
Although we are the only country with a Science Policy Resolution passed by its Parliament and a Technology Policy Statement issued by its Government, and with scientific temper as one of the duties of its citizens, we are characterised by a total lack of scientific approach a systems approach to identifying and solving our problems. We have not recognised that there has never been a country or a culture which has not had problems. It is not the existence of problems that is our problem but it is the lack of the ability to arrange the problems in a hierarchy, so that if the problem at the top of the hierarchy is not solved, the problems down the ladder would never be solved. We have not recognised that education, water, energy and corruption are at the top of this hierarchy, and that if we do not take care of these, no other problem be it elimination of poverty or containment of population would be solved.
We have been committed to a strong local-self government on paper or in speeches all through the last five decades. We even have a fine Panchayati Raj Act passed in 1993. (It probably has some problems but these are minor and surely solvable.) What, however, is distressing is that our Panchayats neither know what their rights and duties are, nor are they in a position to make use of the various provisions of the Act, because they are not adequately informed and do not possess the knowledge necessary to derive optimal benefits under the Act. By ensuring the absence of a system for providing appropriate information packages to the Panchayats and a mechanism of updating the information, we have ensured that local-self-government exists only in name.
In fact, our emphasis has been on form and not on function in virtually every sphere of our activity. It is thus incredible that, with all the infrastructure and trained man power, we have not been able to eradicate malaria, tuberculosis and polio and not contain AIDS. As regards polio, our health authorities have held the nation to ransom by including the oral polio vaccine which, according to all available information, has been ineffective in India, and excluding the injectable Salk vaccine which is known to be effective, from our national vaccination programme. We were the last country in the world to have been host to the AIDS-causing virus; today we have the largest number of cases of seropositivity for this virus and are, perhaps, sitting on a time-bomb in this respect. But, then, who cares?
We have sold ourselves to multi-nationals and to WTO, or else we would not have the scandal of the Monsantos Bt cotton. We have not recognised that if a country wishes to dominate us today, it will do so by acquiring control of our seed and agrochemicals business and thus our agriculture. We are taking no steps to prevent this from happening. For example, there is nothing that prevents us from ensuring that seed business is our own business and that we do not import any seed from outside unless it becomes absolutely necessary and is approved by a high-powered and incorruptible expert committee. Just try taking any seed from India into the United States!
Our anti-dumping laws are lax, and we do everything in our power to kill indigenous industry and to support what comes to us from outside, no matter how expensive or ineffective it may be. We have had, perhaps, the greatest opportunity ever of integrating the best of tradition with the best of modernity. For example, we have the largest repertoire of plant-based drug prescriptions in our Ayurveda, Unani, Siddha, Tibetan and tribal systems of medicine. In my estimate there are, perhaps, 40,000 independent prescriptions that use plant material in these systems of medicine. While there is no doubt that some of them probably do not really work, there is also no doubt that some of them do work. We should have, therefore, by now set up on a priority basis facilities for validation and standardisation of these prescriptions which have the potential of providing alternative, cheaper and more effective route to national medical and health care. But, again, who cares for the health of the silent majority?
We have not recognised the historical imperative that in the years to come, all around the world, governments will have to shed their executive role and confine their activities to supervision, legislation, providing support, laying down policies and seeking accountability. The executive role in the time to come would be shouldered primarily by the industry, professional organisations, and non-governmental organisations, all of which will have to learn to behave responsibly. The Government should have, therefore, by now, established linkages with these sectors and knit them into a network that would make each sector stronger. But who in the Government would want to shed the power of being able to do favour and demand more favours?
Our civil service which is at the core of the famed Indian bureaucracy is today, irrelevant in its present form. We are already in the age of specialisation in every area. It is, at times, hilarious to see even our bright civil servants trying to grapple with situations that need very high-level professionals to take top decisions. No surprise, therefore, that most of our government decisions that relate to technical matters are unworkable and not in the long-term interests of the majority of our people.
We havent still shed the vestiges of feudalism. Thus, we seek no accountability from our superiors or from those whom we may patronise. It is rare for the powers that be in the Government sector, to appoint the right man for the right job. Even in the area of science and technology, we have had many instances of people being appointed Directors of laboratories that have their primary focus in an area that the newly-appointed Director is totally unfamiliar with. And this was done not because properly qualified people were not available but because what was of prime importance was to have one who would be beholden to the powers that be and thus do their bidding.
A rational system of accountability requires an objective system of rewards, awards and punishment. Our awards and rewards, in most cases, are given on everything but merit. If occasionally, an award does seem to go to a meritorious person, it is likely that his/her being meritorious was merely an accident, and was not important for those who gave the person the award.
Our science has been known to be increasingly dominated, since the late 1960s, by what is now widely known as the scientific mafia, a term I had the privilege of coining. The politicians in power have been well aware of it, but have not had the courage to do anything about it. The nexus between politicians, bureaucrats, the scientific mafia and the rich industrialists, has been one of the biggest blocks to the countrys overall development along sound lines at a rapid rate.
Our parochial language policy across the country has put additional impediments in the intellectual and economic emancipation of the under-privileged. And it is shameful that we continue to have reservations after five decades of freedom, thus consolidating instead of eradicating discrimination based on the circumstance of birth.
What perhaps, has been most disturbing as one reminisces over what has happened in the last five decades, is that, as of today, we have all the ingredients of making our country flourish, but we have not learnt how to put them together. Our larder is full but there is no cook to put together a good meal!
If we wish to succeed in the coming millennium, we will need to learn not only how to play but also how to score a goal. In the world of tomorrow, the division between the weak and the strong will become sharper. In fact, a new definition of the weak and the strong would emerge, the weak being defined as those who can only become weaker and the strong being those who can only become stronger.
As we enter the next millennium, we stand on a threshold: one push this way and we will fall on the weaker side, and one push that way, and we will go from strength to strength. This is the challenge that all of us collectively face, and we may not have much time to play around. Perhaps, the next ten years will be crucial from this point of view and decide our fate one way or the other.
ONCE projected as a prime ministerial aspirant, former Lok Sabha Speaker P.A. Sangma is again back in the limelight. Coming in the wake of Justice Venkatachaliahs view and the Law Minister, Mr Ram Jethmalanis assertion that no person with "political shade and ideology" would be included in the Constitution review committee, his induction in the panel raised many eyebrows. Mr Sangmas decision to join the high profile panel also went against his partys strong opposition to the governments move to review the Constitution and embarrassed the NCP President, Mr Sharad Pawar. Evidently, in a bid to prevent dissension in his party, Mr Pawar had to endorse Mr Sangmas defiance. A Congress rebel, the former Speaker is a founding member of the NCP and is one of its General Secretaries.
Almost coinciding with his induction, Mr Sangma differed with the review panel Chairman, Justice Venkatachaliah, on the issue of barring persons of foreign origin from holding high offices. Debarring Mrs Sonia Gandhi from occupying any of the top posts has been on Mr Sangmas political agenda since he sought to raise the issue at the Congress Working Committee and invited expulsion. He is determined to pursue the issue and does not mince words in saying that the "vedeshi" issue is his personal agenda and he will raise it at the panel deliberations. On the other hand, Justice Venkatachaliah has been quoted as saying that the issue of barring persons of foreign origin from holding high constitutional offices was not a priority item and "there are far more important issues in the national agenda...."
Sangma had been very close to the Nehru-Gandhi family, often called a blue-eyed boy of both Mrs Indira Gandhi and Mr Rajiv Gandhi and has held important ministerial portfolios in their governments. Why he fell out from Sonia Gandhi? May be he was feeling neglected; may be by remaining in the Congress he could never have aspired for the countrys top executive post. There might have been other reasons too but the wedge between him and Mrs Sonia Gandhi still shrouds in mystery.
Only two years back Mr Sangma was a bitter critic of the BJP having been promised the second term as Speaker but ditched by the ruling party leaders at the last minute. What spirited him towards the BJP is yet another mystery. He is now considered quite close to the ruling party leaders and, according to gossip in political circles, may soon join the BJP and, possibly, become a Minister.
Mr Sangma was only 50, the youngest-ever leader to hold august office of Speaker and that too with distinction. The diminutive leader from the North-East was watched with admiration in his varied moods by millions of people on TV sets as he conducted the proceedings. His impromptu comments made him a popular figure. Though he could complete only 18 months of his tenure, he had set a trend which might become a reference point for his successors. He presided over a House which had over 60 per cent of new members and dealt skilfully with the pulls and pressures of a 13-party coalition.
Mr Sangma virtually kicked up a storm by suggesting that some of the ministries should be dismantled. He held the view that ministries like Agriculture, Rural Development and Sports and Youth Affairs should be handed over to the states as they were basically state-level subjects. Yet another decision of his abolishing the discretionary quota of MPs in respect of cooking gas and telephone connections drew protest from a section of members.
Though now only 53, he was a Minister for 13 of 20 years of his parliamentary life. When the Congress party was not in a position to form the government after the 1996 elections, he was pitchforked to the chair of the Speaker. Mr Sangma held such varied portfolios as Industry, Commerce, Home, Coal, Labour and Information and Broadcasting. Mr Rajiv Gandhi sent him to Meghalaya to head the State Government in 1988. Come the general elections and he was again at the centrestage in Delhi and given the dual charge of Coal and Labour Ministries by Mr P.V.Narasimha Rao. Few know that as I & B Minister, Mr Sangma initially prepared the draft of the Broadcasting Bill, envisaging liberalisation of the usage of airwaves and investment in the electronic media.
Christmas and New Years eve are celebrated at Mr Sangmas house with great gusto. He is in the best of spirits when holding a glass in his hands and wishing his friends "merry Christmas" and "a happy New Year". He is well known in the capital for his hospitality. Hailing from the Garo hills district of Meghalaya, he belongs to the small Christian minority community of Garo and serving drinks has been customary in his community on occasions like Christmas and betrothal ceremony.
Unlike many Congress and
BJP leaders, he is not hypocritical but quite candid
about his love for Scotch and preference for Cognac. Both
Mrs Indira Gandhi and Mr Rajiv Gandhi invariably used to
join the Christmas day celebration at Mr Sangmas
residence. Both had immense liking for the young tribal
leader from the North-East and Mrs Gandhi gave him the
first break in 1980, inducting him in her Council of
Ministers as Deputy Minister for Industry.
ACRIMONY over the filming of "Water"; controversy over State employees participation in the activities of the Rashtriya Swyamsevak Sangh (RSS); the initial sabre-rattling over the Bajrang Dal convention these may prove to be ominous straws in the wind. Combined with similar straws in the Congress horizon, where the average partymans faith in the Congress Presidents leadership abilities is by and large eroded, a new polarisation may emerge in the coming months. This polarisation may be similar to the events in 1978-79 which saw the splitting up of the original Janata Party on RSS and non-RSS lines and fissures in the Congress on Gandhi-family-loyalist and Gandhi-family-detractor lines. Though short-lived, the government of Chaudhary Charan Singh had symbolised this polarisation in 1979.
One cannot rule out the scenario in the year 2000 of allies deserting the BJP on the question of RSS; the BJP itself seeing an inner squabble on this contentious issue and simultaneously a wave of anti-Gandhi family politics sweeping through the Congress. Thus, the detractors of the Sangh Parivar and the Gandhi family, along with the forces which, whenever they come together, are broadbanded as the "Third Front", may provide yet another polarised scenario which is beyond the imagination of those who are touting a "two-party system" today. And who could be the individual around whom this new line-up may take place? The recent hyper-visibility of P.V. Narasimha Rao too is a straw in the wind.
Waiting for Clinton
Though a month away, the impending visit of President Bill Clinton has already caught the street-side gossip mongers imagination in Delhi. On Friday, a day after the Supreme Court delivered its judgement empowering the civic authorities to impose a Rs 50 fine to curb littering and directed that no new slums were to come up in Delhi, the wayside food stalls in the Press Area were shut for a day. Inquiries revealed that while the kiosk owners had downed their shutters apprehending an anti-encroachment drive, the street-side gossip was that the Lieut-Governor of Delhi was undertaking a study of the capitals cleanliness in the light of the Clinton visit.
Public sector, the scapegoat
Who will foot the bill for the huge advertisements inserted by the Union Power Ministry to counter the Uttar Pradesh powermens strike? Who else, but the public sector undertakings of the Ministry? On the one hand Power Minister Rangarajan Kumaramangalam decries the "flab" of the public sector. On the other, his Ministry dumps its whims and fancies over PSUs to add to the "flab". As Mr Kumaramangalam feels that the private sector are the "good boys", why does his Ministry shy away from passing on the expenditure on its publicity to corporate houses? Also, while espousing the cause of privatisation, why is the Power Ministry entrusting projects in difficult terrains such as the Kulu Valley of Himachal Pradesh, to PSUs? Will these projects be privatised after the public sector has done the donkeys job?
Trinamool versus Railway Minister
As many as 14 long-distance trains emanating from Howrah, the railway station of Calcutta situated across the Hooghly from the metropolis had to be cancelled last Tuesday as the result of an agitation. Several long distance trains heading for the eastern metropolis had to be rescheduled. The irony was that the agitation, which paralysed train services operating through the Hooghly district of West Bengal, was led by the Trinamool Congress, whose supremo, Ms Mamata Banerjee, is the Railway Minister. Thus Mamatas party prevailed over Mamatas Ministry.
Having been denied a Rajya Sabha nomination by Mrs Sonia Gandhi, Mr Makhan Lal Fotedar started packing his bags to leave Lutyens New Delhi and settle down in Gurgaon. He had to vacate 7, Balwant Rai Mehta Lane because the House Committee of the Lok Sabha was refusing to allocate it to a Congress MP from Karnataka, who was willing to let Mr Fotedar occupy the premises. As the news reached Home Minister L.K. Advani, who, even without a request from Mr Fotedar, promptly used his good offices to ensure that the house was allotted to the MP who would help Mr Fotedar. Mrs Sonia Gandhi may turn a Nelsons eye to his contribution to Delhis polity, but apparently there are elder statesmen around to look after a senior, out-of-power, politician.
World Punjabi Organisation, which was launched in 1998 as an international body of Punjabis to bring about "Punjabi renaissance" has grown not only westward but has also planted its roots in the east. Branches in the UK, the USA and Canada and countries in Europe have now been joined by a Thailand branch. So much so, the Deputy Prime Minister of Thailand, Mr Korn Dabbaransai, during his current visit of India, is attending a special luncheon hosted by WPOs secretary, Vikramjit Singh Sahney.
One cannot ignore the activities of "Mr Right" Minister Arun Jaitley while writing this column week after week because such is the variety of his novel performance. At a time when every politician is swooning before the electronic media, Jaitley went on record to say that the TV medium has fallen prey to consumerism and marketing gimmicks and its pre-eminence is only a "temporary phenomena". This, indeed, is good news for the print media, especially because it has come from the mouth of the reigning Information and Broadcasting Minister.
Hello India, says Windows 2000
WINDOWS 2000 is finally here. It is not too expensive; it is more stable than its predecessor is and it even says Namaste.
The latest offering from Microsoft, which was released simultaneously all over planet IT on February 17, is by far the best from the stable of the largest software manufacturing company. Evaluators and critics agree on this, though, as expected, they do have bones to pick with Microsoft and its latest product.
Priced at Rs 10,000 (new) or Rs 5,000 (upgrade) for the Professional version, the programme's Server version will set you back by Rs 40,000 (new) or Rs 20,000 (upgrade). It is affordable, especially since it promises reliability, ease of use and management, stability, Internet integration, security and so on.
The customisation work that allows this programme support Devnagri script and Hindi and Konkani languages makes it rather useful in India. It may be pointed out that Microsoft has been in India since 1990 and the team that has worked on the programme has a fairly large Indian component including Mr S. Somasegar, General Manager, Windows 2000.
With an estimated R&D cost of a billion dollars, this software is the most ambitious project undertaken by the company. It is said to have over 35 million lines of code. It has been released two years behind schedule, partly because of the rigorous testing it has undergone (7,50,000 testers received the beta version). "Microsoft has been in the operating system business for 25 years now, and Windows 2000 is the result of our biggest, richest and most rewarding development effort to date," said Rajiv Nair, President, Microsoft India, at the launch event in New Delhi on Thursday.
The menu of the new programme is in English, though it supports the creation editing and reading of documents in local languages. Punjabi is in the next phase of Indian language additions, according to Microsoft sources.
In fact, Office 2000 already allows you to work in Indian languages. Microsoft has adopted UNICODE, an international initiative for multilingual computing that makes cross-platform compatibility of various languages viable, says N. B. Sundar, Product Marketing Manager, Windows 2000, Microsoft India.
Will Windows 2000 be your window into the future? Depends on what exactly you want to do.
Windows 2000 is not a logical progression of Windows 98; it is based on Windows NT, a programme whose strength lies in networking. Though NT's market share has increased, the server segment is still dominated by Unix and Linux operating systems.
Windows 2000 combines the user friendliness of Windows 98 and the back-end stability of Windows NT. Its Active Directory helps extranet user management, though it has been criticised for having steep learning curve.
A great deal of attention has been paid to those computer users who have a laptop and a desk top machine and need to synchronise the two. Windows 2000 has a Synchronisation Manager that helps synchronise the information from both the machines, updating the files with the latest from both. Everything IT has to be Net optimised these days. This programme is being touted as being one that is a great Web client. It has tight browser software integration, Internet connection sharing and broad Internet standards support.
As last week's attacks on popular sites have highlighted, security is a major issue for the Internet. Windows 2000 comes with many security systems, including Kerberos 5, an industry standard. Also there are password protections at many levels and a file encryption system to ensure that no one peeps into your files.
All in all, Windows 2000 is a high-end operating system that has a host of functions which will appeal to the networked computer users, as well as administrators. People who need to synchronise their laptops with desktop computers will also appreciate it.
As for those who work on
a single computer with Windows 95 or 98, they should wait
for the Windows 98 Second Edition, variously called
Windows Millennium and Windows Me. It is expected to have
enhanced multimedia features and will use minimal
computer hardware resources.
IN a recent article the Nation has something both interesting and important to say regarding the lines of Indias advance to her goal. "Apart from a mutiny," it writes, "there are only two forces in India which may conceivably break through the bureaucratic lines.
One is mass civil disobedience or, in other words, a general refusal to pay land tax, and the other is a nationalist ministry supported by a nationalist majority in the Provincial Council."
As regards the first, the journal says truly that except perhaps Mr Gandhi no Indian politician has ever had the power to start the ryot on withholding his land tax, and Mr Gandhi has suspended his campaign sine die.
As regards the second,
it says that "election pledges still hinder the
Swarajists from accepting office," but that many
advanced Nationalists see the advantage of the Swarajists
supporting an Independent ministry provided the latter
recognise their dependence on Swarajist votes.
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