|Wednesday, March 15, 2000,
(Today is World Consumer Day)
March 15, 1925
IT is early summer but the political temperature in Delhi is reaching the scorching level. On Monday the Congress unsheathed its oppositional sword and declared its intention to oppose the reduction in food and fertiliser subsidy. Mr Rajesh Pilot promptly tabled a cut motion to lodge his partys protest over the increase in urea and diammonium phosphate (DAP) price. Its deputy leader Madhavrao Scindia promised an unrelenting attack on the reforms package dubbing it anti-poor. Surprisingly, former Finance Minister Manmohan Singh too has joined in the chorus, while others are saying that meek acquiescence to the harsh budget provisions will condemn the party to the opposition benches for a long time. This stiff attitude has placed the BJP allies in an uncomfortable position. All of them have either denounced the subsidy pruning and demanded a rollback or kept their distance. The cut motion will force them to translate their initial stance into votes against the budget leading to the inevitable collapse of the Vajpayee-led government. That is too horrendous a scenario for them to contemplate. The only choice then is to swallow hard and vote out the cut motion and accept the resultant loss of face and voter alienation. This is the option the Telugu Desam has more or less accepted. Its Lok Sabha leader Yerran Naidu has said that his partys protest was vocal and it would not vote with the Congress. That is being vague but the signal is clear. It cannot be more categorical since the local body election in Andhra Pradesh has not gone entirely as it expected. The party will do a quick stock-taking and come out openly. Anyway, the state government has decided to keep selling rice to all ration card holders at Rs 3.50 a kilo. Another ally, the Janata Dal (U) has dismissed its secretarys criticism as his personal views and got ready to back the subsidy cut. It can afford to support the proposal since electoral politics in Bihar runs along caste lines and not on mundane issues like foodgrain production or prices. But the Trinamool Congress cannot brush aside the popular feeling which is against the 68 per cent increase in rice price for the poor. Nor can it ignore the Left Front governments decision to continue to supply sugar to income tax payers in a state which has an extensive network of fair price shops.
That leaves the DMK and
the Samata. The Bihar-based party will love to stand up
and be counted on the side of the government and its
president Jaya Jaitly has said that much. With Mr Nitish
Kumar, a vocal critic of the subsidy shrinking, camping
at Patna, there will be no dissenting voice in the party.
But Tamil Nadu is different. Along with neighbouring
Andhra Pradesh, elections are fought and won on supplying
low cost food items. Chief Minister Karunanidhi has gone
public renewing his promise to continue the old system
without any change. That covers sugar to income tax
payers. And he wants the Centre to pay the additional
bill. At this point of time it appears that ultimately
the government may come around to the idea of buying
peace with its allies by agreeing to partly compensate
the states if they want to persist with the present
system. The open expression of disapproval by the allies
has irritated the Finance Minister as has the resolute
opposition of the Congress. He had been repeatedly
talking of the need to scale down expenditure and subsidy
on food and fertiliser had always been the heavily marked
items. He took the pre-budget silence of the allies as
approval and now feels let down. But a closer look at the
budget figures tells a different story. He has saved only
about Rs 1634 crore (Rs 1035 crore on food and Rs 599
crore on fertiliser). But he spends more than Rs 8,000
crore on new workforce, though he has been incessantly
talking of downsizing the government. In the coming
financial year pension payment alone will climb by about
Rs 5,000 crore! As Prof Suresh Tendulkar, a member of the
Fifth Pay Commission, ruefully remarks, this government
cannot axe even one job, given the predominant middle
class representation in the BJP. The commission suggested
a practical and painless way of shedding one-third of the
flab over 10 years: just stop filling the vacancies
caused by retirement. In the current year Mr Sinhas
government has recruited more than 81,000 employees!
AN abiding feature of Indian politicis is the ease with which leaders of most political parties change their stand on issues without so much as batting their eyelids. The decision of the Congress to join the Rabri Devi government in Bihar would surprise only those who are not familiar with the dictum that consistency is the hallmark of mediocirty. The well-wishers of the party may, in fact, see in the decision an attempt by the central leadership to make creative use of the uncertainty cause by the assembly verdict for re-inventing the Congress in the state. The decision to join the Rabri Devi government may appear to violate the spirit of the Pachmarhi Declaration. Which part of the declaration for reviving the Congress in the country has not been violated ever since it was adopted? In any case, an honest assessment of the postny case, an honest assessment of the postbeen violated ever since it was adopted at the Pa But an honest assessment of the post-electoral developments in Bihar would show that the Congress had to choose between the devil of communalism and the deep sea of corruption. It had fought the election on the issue of ending the jungle raj of Mr Laloo Prasad Yadav because the Rashtriya Janata Dal was in power in Bihar. Had the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance been in office in Patna, anti-communalism and not anti-corruption would have been the political theme song of the Congress. But in the end the voter had the last laugh. In a manner of speaking it was asked to choose between communalism and corruption. It voted corruption as the lesser of the two evils by giving the RJD the dubious dinstinction of being the largest party and combine in the new assembly but without the numbers to form the government. As for the Congress, the marriage of political convenience was made possible through the tactical withdrawal of stand by the RJD. Some may see in the developments elements of political opportuniism. But which party is f its anti-Jharkhand stand by the RJD.
Some may see in the
developments elements of political opportuniism. But
which party is free of the taint of having not comprised
its principles for whatever reason? The Left parties and
the BJP were on the same side in the matter of giving
outside support to the short-lived V. P. Singh government
at the Centre. Blind anti-Congressism was what dr matter
of giving outside support to the short-lived V. P. Singh
government at the Centre.Blind anti-Congressism was what
drpolitical opportunism with Mr Chandrashekhar. Mr
Chandrababu Naidu, who was convener of the United Front,
did not think twice before deciding to extend outside
support to the BJP-led NDA government at the Centre.
Therefore, those who may throw stones at the Congress for
having decided to join the RJD government in Bihar after
the trust vote would be well advised to not forget their
own track record in the matter of changing political
alligiance. If anything, a series of ill-considered moves
by the NDA at the Centre has inadvertently helped the
Congress improve its rating in the political stock
exchange of the country. Yesterday's sullen-faced
Congressmen are strutting around like peacocks because of
the blundering of the BJP's central leadership on the
Gujarat RSS issue. The cutting of subsidy on fertilisers
and PDS foodstuff is another issue on which the Congress
is getting ready for the kill when its cut motions come
up for discussion in the Lok Sabha. The first round of
the Bihar fiasco too has given given Congressmen an
opportunity to project Mrs Sonia Gandhi as the supreme
leader of the party. The hurried coming in to and the
equally hurried going out of power of Mr Nitish Kumar has
done little to bloster the NDA's claim of practising
value-bad politics. sed politics. If Chief Minister Rabri
Devi wins the trust vote in the assembly today, the
anti-Laloo combine would have only itself to blame for
letting corruption triumph over communal politics.
THE ordinary paying passenger is used to the unprofessional style of functioning of Air-India. Now even the Prime Minister has come to learn what it means to travel with the national carrier. During his recent trip to Mauritius, he found to his horror that the food was barely edible. Except for a few pieces of bhindi, he is reported to have been unable to stomach the fare dished out by Air-India. So disgusted was he with the food served that on the way back he decided to eat before boarding. Not only that, the airlines reduced the cabin crew complement, with the result that the service in the rest of the plane was virtually non-existent. The news may provide vicarious pleasure to some that even VVIPs have to get a taste of what has been the staple fare of ordinary mortals for long. But seen from a different angle, it is a highly disturbing piece of news. If such treatment can be meted out to the Prime Minister and his entourage, is there any scope for ordinary passengers to seek redress? At least the incensed Prime Minister's Office has the option of asking for a refund. The paying passenger cannot seek even that. Just shows how deep the rot has set in. It is true that politicians have contributed a great deal in this decline. But the bad treatment they now receive is not punishment enough. After all, it is the taxpayer money which runs this white elephant and they have a right to demand at least certain minimum standards. Even that, unfortunately, has been proving to be a tall order.
The deterioration has
taken place because of the monopolistic situation which
has spawned the take-it-or-leave-it attitude in the
Air-India staff. Only last month, two pilots delayed a
London-New York flight after their request to accommodate
certain friends by offloading paying passengers was
turned down. As if that was not enough, their colleagues
reacted a week later by ensuring that a flight from
Mumbai to London and Chicago could not fly. The agitation
cost the airline Rs 80 lakh, besides a lot of goodwill,
which in any case Air-India does not enjoy in adequate
measure. Still, nothing much was done about the incident.
Many such aberrations which would have never been
tolerated by any other airline have become a routine with
the national carrier. Now that the Prime Minister has
first-hand knowledge of the sorry state of affairs, he
should step in to stem the rot. The pampered employees
have to be told in no uncertain terms that just because
they are given inflated salaries and perks fit for a
maharaja does not mean that they should behave like the
airline's logo - a moustachioed maharaja. The title
should rightfully belong to the paying passenger. The
recalcitrant A-I pilots should also be made to realise
that privatisation is not being thrust on them. They are
themselves inviting it by going beyond the limits of
mounting, multiple woes
TO nobodys surprise, not excluding those who had perpetrated the fraud of installing Mr Nitish Kumar as Bihars Chief Minister, the squalid stratagem has boomeranged on the BJP and its allies setting under the banner of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). The ignominious collapse of the Nitish government was inevitable, and it is a delicious quirk of irony that various partners in the NDA alliance -- the BJP, the Samata and the Janata Dal United (JDU) -- are blaming one another as acrimoniously as they are inveighing against the Congress.
Mutual mudslinging by the NDA allies is their own business. But the charge of "betrayal" against the Congress is not only bizarre but also a blatant admission of addiction to dubious double standards of political behaviour on the part of the saffron camps high priests. For example, the Bihar BJP chief, Mr Sushil Modi, confided to TV cameras that he had assurances from a dozen Congress MLAs that they would "revolt" against their partys decision to offer support to the RJD. Their failure to make good their promise, by the BJP leaders book, is an act of "betrayal". To stick to the party on whose ticket one is elected is by, Mr Modis criterion, highly immoral.
This gentleman like Mr Laloo Yadav, Mr Kumar, Mr Ram Vilas Paswan and Mr Sharad Yadav was a devotee of JP during the heady days of "total revolution". But he is not at all embarrassed by the thought that not only saintly JP but also all BJP bigwigs have been denouncing defections and floor crossing as the lowest form of political depravity.
Mr Nitish Kumar being somewhat cleverer, though not necessarily wiser, has given the concept of betrayal a different twist. The Congress, he says, has "deceived" the voters. For, it had contested the election on a stridently anti-Laloo and anti-RJD plank (which is true enough) and yet has agreed to not only prop but also join the ministry masterminded by Mr Laloo Yadav, even if nominally headed by his wife, Mrs Rabri Devi.
Precisely herein lie the meaning and significance of the electoral verdict in Bihar. What the Congress party has been virtually forced to do, despite a lot of convulsion within the state unit and much soul-searching by the partys top leadership in New Delhi, is to give effect to what the voter really wanted. This needs explaining, and let this be done bluntly.
By normal standards, the outcome of the poll should have been a defeat for Mr Laloo Yadav. After all, the number of seats held by him had slumped rather sharply. He was, in fact, back to where he had started in 1990 in his pristine days, with the glaring difference that during the interval he had been thoroughly discredited, what with the fodder scam and all that. Politically, he was totally isolated. The parties, including the Congress, that had supported him in the past had turned against him. For the good reason that he had cynically outsmarted them and mercilessly divided them.
Even so, the Congress and some other parties had continued to be his allies in the parliamentary election only five months ago. And yet the Bihar voters had given the NDA a sweep which, when translated into assembly segments, had meant a clear and potentially stable majority for the NDA alliance in the assembly too. The rout of Mr Laloo Yadav and his RJD was therefore taken for granted. Especially, by the overconfident NDA chieftains.
Not only this did not happen but also Mr Yadav emerged as the leader of the largest single party as well as of the largest pro-poll combination. What was expected to be his Waterloo turned out to be a major triumph. In any case, as events eventually proved, he was in a position to stop the NDAs march to power even though the state Governor had crassly given the BJP-led alliance the first crack at government-making. Why?
Explanations for Mr Laloo Yadavs remarkably good showing are clear enough, in retrospect at least. The more he was pilloried by the solid phalanx of his opponents, the more solid became the support to him by the Yadav caste constituting more than 16 per cent of the states population. The Muslim minority also remained staunchly loyal to him. Moreover, he received some sympathy from the general Bihari voter who liked the rustic way in which he responded to the derision for him and Bihar among the elite outside the state. In short, his enduring charisma was reinforced by Bihari pride, giving him a 29 per cent share in vote which is higher than he had got in the parliamentary poll and even in the 1995 assembly election when he had won a clear majority.
If this was a surprise for the NDA, the greater shock to it was its failure to "buy" enough support to muster a majority even after Mr Nitish Kumar was in a position to offer all kinds of allurements to those usually notorious for the fickleness of their loyalties. Apart from the 12-member Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), which had hoped to pin down the NDA to the formation of a separate Jharkhand state within a few months, only 11 alleged criminals who have won the election agreed to back the Nitish government. Most of these worthies were looking forward to marching straight from jail into ministerial chambers in Patna.
About the Congress party it may be said that it had to give its national imperative to prevent the BJP and its allies from capturing power in the second most populous state precedence over the anti-Laloo sentiment of many Congressmen in Bihar. But the party leaderships ability to maintain discipline did come as a surprise, especially after the initial dithering by the leadership in Delhi. The written agreement between the Congress and Mr Yadav did help but the real reason for the denouement in Bihar seems to be different.
In Bihar, as elsewhere, people appear to have caught on to that hotheads within the BJP ranks, particularly the bosses of the RSS, have evidently misread the verdict of the last Lok Sabha election. What was a vote for Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee, in the belief that he had succeeded in putting off the Hindutva agenda, was misinterpreted as a licence to bring the hidden agenda out of the closet. The fiasco of the Gujarat circular giving the government servants carte blanche to join the RSS that had to be withdrawn under humiliating circumstances underscores the point. Then there has been the attack by the Hindutva thought police on Ms Deepa Mehtas film, on the observance of Valentine Day, on jeans worn by girl students and so on.
All this is alerting the country to what is afoot. The faith in Mr Vajpayees ability to rein in the hotheads has been shaken. Most observers have been quick to notice that but for the strong warning issued by such allies as Mr Chandrababu Naidu and even Ms Mamata Banerjee and Mr M. Karunanidhi, the RSS might have been allowed to prevail. Remarkably, neither the Samata Party of Mr Nitish Kumar and Mr George Fernandes nor the JDU had anything to say about the outrageous move of the Gujarat government or the vandalism in UP.
To cap it, the propensity of the RSS to lord it over the Vajpayee government hasnt ended. On the contrary, it has escalated, particularly after the redoubtable Mr K.S. Sudarshan has taken over as the RSS supremo in place of the moderate Mr Rajendra Singh, better known as Rajju Bhaiya. He has lost no time to put the Prime Minister on notice, going so far as to ask for a total scrapping of the Constitution so that a new one, in keeping with the RSS version of the Indian ethos, can be enforced. For his part, the Gujarat Chief Minister is crowing that, having been compelled to take a step back, he would take "two steps forward". This, of course, is the ominous beginning of a new story which will have to be followed with great care and concern.
role of Governor
THE murky events in Bihar have added one more chapter to the political and constitutional history of the country since Independence. The swearing in of Mr Nitish Kumar as Chief Minister by the Governor, Mr V.C. Pande was absolutely arbitrary and in complete disregard of the established norms and conventions. Article 164 of the Constitution which pertains to the appointment of the Chief Minister by the Governor does not specify the conditionalities, but that does not mean the Governor can do whatever he likes. The NDA alliance was far short of a clear majority and even less than the seats secured by the RJD, let alone the RJD alliance. The committee of Governors headed by Mr Bhagwan Sahay had submitted a report in 1971 prescribing various guidelines for the Governors in the context of various contingencies that may have to be faced. Inviting the leader of the largest single party or where alliances existed the leader of the largest single alliance was the correct thing to do, but Governor Pande ignored this wholesome convention for reasons known only to himself. Even some of the NDA stalwarts like Mr R.K. Hegde and Mr Sharad Yadav criticised the conduct of the Governor.
The appointment of Mr A.B. Vajpayee as Prime Minister by Dr Shankar Dayal Sharma in 1996 has been cited by some as a precedent. No doubt, Mr Vajpayee did not have a majority in parliament but no other party had it and the BJP was the largest single party and, there-fore, the Presidents action was not incorrect. On the other hand, Governor Pande had nothing to go by when he called upon Mr Nitish Kumar to be sworn in.
A facile explanation is being given in certain academic circles that a veteran administrator like Mr Pande could not bring himself up to call upon Mrs Rabri Devi to form the government, even though she was the leader of the largest single party because of the fact that her regime preceded by her husbands, totalling about 10 years, was universally dubbed as the jungle raj with scams after scams being unearthed. But Mr Pande had no discretion in this regard and if the people of Bihar had voted for Mrs Rabri Devis party. The Governor had to accept it. The Governors Committee in 1971 had visualised such situations and had stated as follows:
The most important basis for a parliamentary system is the sovereignty of the people, the electorate, which is the ultimate source of political power. The Governor has a duty to see that the Constitution is maintained; he has equally a duty to see that Constitutional principles are not violated. He should keep before him in the forefront the oath taken by him under the Constitution to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution.
Let us now examine some of the important aspects of the assembly elections. There are many lessons which every party, whether national or regional, should learn from the outcome of the recent assembly elections in Bihar, Orissa, Haryana and Manipur. While the Manipur elections are mostly governed by local politics, the results from the three other assemblies are too important to be ignored. Bihar is naturally the most important of them all. A state with a population next only to UP, with 54 Parliamentary and 324 assembly seats produced results which no one expected.
The crucial fact is that it got more than the BJP-Samata-JD(U) combine headed by NDA veterans such as Mr George Fernandes. Mr Ram Vilas Paswan, Mr Sharad Yadav and Mr Sushil Kumar Modi, not to mention the BJP bigwings at the Centre. It is clear from the Bihar outcome that the YM (Yadav-Muslim) factor had consolidated behind Laloos RJD, a development which seems to have taken place after the last parliamentary elections. Some of the aberrations of the BJP parivar and the anti-minority activities of the front organisations like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal seem to have alienated the minorities more and more and brought them back together with the Yadavs. The alienation of the minority vote should be a worrying factor not only for the BJP but also for the regional parties which are in alliance with it.
In a tele-interview Mr Laloo Yadav said, typically in his own style, Jab tak jungle main bhaloo rahega tab tak Bihar main Laloo rahega. This was quite an apt description of himself and the state of affairs in Bihar. All the anti-corruption cases put up by the CBI against him on the multi-crore fodder and other scams, his imprisonment in jail, the CBI and income tax raids at his house and all the ballyhoo about jungle raj in Bihar had apparently not impressed the rural folk of Bihar. When the common man has to bribe his way through at every stage starting with the patwari in the village to the mandal, tehsil, sub-divisional and district levels, where corruption is the order of the day both at the bureaucratic and political levels, where criminals openly brandish their weapons and go about brazenly and often in the company of central and state political leaders, the corruption factor in the case of political leaders or contestants has ceased to have any meaning. This is the first lesson the Bihar and Haryana elections have taught the nation.
In Haryana, Mr Om Prakash Chautala has proved himself an adept and shrewd politician having made both veterans. Mr Bansi Lal and Mr Bhajan Lal, to pack off. The shrewd manner in which he wrested a majority of seats for his own party, the INLD, and the clever ploy of putting up his own party men as rebels against BJP candidates ensured his unquestioned leadership in Haryana. The BJP has come out with a measly six seats and if Mr Chautala wants he can absorb most of them in his party if a threat ever arises to his slender majority. In Orissa, the Biju Janata Dal fell short of a clear majority by six seats while the BJP secured 38 seats. With the BJP support, Mr Navin Patnaik has become the Chief Minister, who was indeed anointed as such by Prime Minister Vajpayee in his election speeches. Speaking of modern Orissa, there is nothing modern about Orissa and it remains as backward as Bihar. Its administrative machinery is miserably weak as seen during the super cyclone aftermath. Let us hope that with a clean political background, Mr Navin Patnaik will pull the state out of the morass.
The election results in Bihar, Haryana and Orissa clearly point out to the fact that regional parties have come to stay as the main political force in the states. The other examples are Mr Karunanidhi in Tamil Nadu, Mr Chandrababu in Andhra Pradesh and Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav in UP. By the same token, Mr Jyoti Basu in West Bengal, Mr Prakash Singh Badal in Punjab and Dr Farooq Abdullah in Jammu and Kashmir are also regional leaders, even though their political affiliations and background are different. The emergence of tall regional leaders and strong regional parties at the expense of the unipolar party, the Congress was heralded in the South by Dravida Kazhgam, which became the DMK later on and split into the DMK and the AIADMK much later. C.N.Annadurai was the first Chief Minister who assumed office in 1964 and the Congress has not been able to return to power there since then.
After the Mandal forces came into play in 1990 and the emergence of Mandal-oriented parties like the Samajwadi Party and the BSP in UP, the Samata Party in Bihar and the PMK in Tamil Nadu, the overwhelming authority and influence of national parties like the Congress and the BJP have steadily gone down. The days of a unipolar party in India are coming to an end, whether it is the Congress or the BJP. Now the regional leaders have begun dominating the scene as shown by the success of Mr Om Prakash Chautala, Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav, Ms Mayawati, Mr Laloo Prasad Yadav, Mr Ram Vilas Paswan, Mr Sharad Yadav, Mr Navin Patnaik, Mr Chandrababu Naidu, Mr Karunanidhi, Mr Bal Thackeray, Dr Farooq Abdullah and others. Thereby Indias federalism is coming into its own, in a manner of speaking, by these developments. Sooner or later this is bound to lead to a truly federal structure of the Indian polity with more and more autonomy being devolved on the states. The process has just begun.
Setting standards for better
STANDARDS evoke images of things that can be measured, tested and quantified. Yet, adopting and applying them has an undeniable effect on the quality the essential nature of life, for all the people who produce, trade and use goods and services throughout the world.
Standards help us to meet the new challenges of rapidly-changing times in different ways. Standards not only facilitate world trade but also help raise levels of productivity. Several studies have shown, that, along with education, productivity is a key factor in improving the quality of life for all people.
Improving quality of life would mean uplifting standards of our homes, health and safety, the energy we need, and the environment we depend on. These will have to be achieved without compromising on our distinctive heritage, the characteristic differences in our customs and traditions. Safeguarding these diversities while bringing in uniformity through standardisation is a challenge for all of us engaged in the development activities essential for improvement in the quality of life of our people.
Standards in daily life
It is extremely difficult to imagine daily life without standards. Life would become chaotic and full of confusion. It would be difficult to communicate without a standardised language pattern. We would encounter problems in commuting as parts of our mode of conveyance may not be readily available against worn-out components. We would also be exposed to all sorts of health hazards as we would not be sure about the quality of our food and water. In fact, we may not even be able to breathe normally if we do not have regulatory standards on vehicles and industrial emissions and the like. The truth is life without standards is inconceivable.
Role of BIS
The Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) has come to occupy an important place in the development of the nation and protection of consumers interests. BIS standardisation pursuit embraces complete spectrum of activities. It covers not only different types of goods of daily use but also the services which we buy like those relating to design, construction and maintenance of our dwelling units, banking and finance, electric supply, hospital and medical care, fire safety, transport.
The BIS has conclusively demonstrated that it is possible to bring together diverse interests officials and non-officials, the public and private sector, producers and consumers and make them work together in nation-building tasks through development of national standards. The BIS has so far issued more than 17000 standards in different fields, of which 60% constitute product standards. Nearly 2000 of these have direct relevance to consumers. Some of the items are biscuits, coffee powder, condensed milk, LPG stove and cylinders, electrical appliances, refrigerators, pressure cookers etc.
Around 700 BIS standards are availed of as complementary standards in various service sectors. A consumer requires the services many time during the day, be it in a shop, a bank, while using the phone, seeing the doctor, purchasing train ticket, renting a house etc. The list is endless. Service standards may be less useful than product standards and hard to create, but even their use would make life more comfortable in many situations. Standards for various sectors by BIS include transport, airconditioning and refrigeration, hospital and medical care, fire safety, tourism and hotel, food hygiene, water and sewerage.
Role of consumer organisations
To ensure wide acceptability of the standards, and to reflect the consumers viewpoint in various standards formulated by the BIS, consumers are given adequate representation on various technical and advisory committees dealing with products of direct interest to them. It is desired that more and more consumer organisations come forward and provide information about areas in which technological expertise is available to their members.
We will be, however, able to demand products and services of acceptable standards only when we are fully conscious about them. Therefore, efforts are required to educate the common man and make him aware of standards and their importance and how these help in improving our daily life in the long run besides making it safe. Realising this need, the Bureau of Indian Standards undertakes many programmes exclusively for promotion and popularisation of standards for various cross section of society. Efforts are also being made to spread awareness about standardisation and the role of BIS among school children so as to bring an understanding about the role of standardisation and quality during their formative years.
In order to meet the increasing needs of the people for quality products and services, the application of the standards at the right place and time has become very essential.
perception of Banaras
ITs true, of course, that Mahatma Gandhi described Ketherine Mayos book, Mother India, as a drain inspectors report, but it is also true (as far as I recollect) that Gandhi said at the same time that its a book all Indians should read. To condemn Deepa Mehtas script for her film, Water, simply on the ground that it depicts a negative side of Indian life and culture is, therefore, silly.
Deepa Mehta is a serious filmmaker. By no stretch of the imagination can it be said that her intention in making the film about the plight of widows in Banaras was to denigrate India and Hindu culture. It is surprising that it is not only the street rowdies of Banaras, but also some serious intellectuals of the BJP who have seen no difference between Katherine Mayo, an American who was sponsored by the British government, and Deepa Mehta.
Come to think of it, Gandhiji himself was an outspoken gutter inspector. He has written thousands of words on the evil practices in Hinduism the dirt and filth surrounding our temples and the oppression of women and the lower castes in our society. The reason why his remarks didnt provoke the same reaction among the lumpen patriots of Bharat (as distinct from Macaulays India) must be that in Deepa Mehtas case, she is not an Indian passport holder and her film is likely to be seen by foreign audience. So long as foreigner, especially Westerners, dont see the dark side of Indian society, we can all strut around celebrating our ancient culture.
Lets see what Gandhiji had so say about our ancient culture and our spirituality. Writing in the 1920s about third class rail travel in India he remarks that South African trains were much more comfortable even for black passengers. Except in the major trains, it would seem that things havent improved much since then for our lower class passengers. Gandhi writes: The indifference of the railway authorities to the comforts of the third class passengers, combined with the dirty and inconsiderate habits of the passengers themselves, makes third class travel a trial for passengers of cleaner ways. The unpleasant habits commonly include throwing of rubbish on the floor of the compartment, smoking at all hours and in all places, betel and tobacco chewing, converting the whole carriage into a spittoon, shouting and yelling, and using foul language regardless of the convenience or comfortable of fellow passengers.
His description of a visit to Banaras and the famous Kashi Vishwanath temple is even more stark: The approach was through a narrow and slippery lane. Quiet there was none. The swarming flies and the noise made by the shopkeepers and pilgrims were perfectly insufferable. Where one expected an atmosphere of mediation and communication, it was conspicuous by its absence. One had to seek that atmosphere in oneself. I did observe some devout sisters, who were absorbed, entirely unconscious of the environment. But for this the authorities of the temple could scarcely claim any credit. The authorities should be responsible for creating and maintaining about the temple a pure, sweet and serene atmosphere, physical as well as moral. Instead of this I found a bazaar where cunning shopkeepers were selling sweets and toys of the latest fashion. When I reached the temple, I was greeted by a stinking mass of rotten flowers...I went near the Jnana-vapi (well of knowledge). I searched here for God, but failed to find him. I was not, therefore, in a particularly good mood. The surroundings of the Jnana-vapi too I found to be dirty. I had no mind to give any dakshina so I offered a pie. The panda (priest) in charge got angry and threw away the pie. He swore at me and said, This insult will take you straight to hell. (This and the earlier passage are from My Experiments with Truth).
To Gandhijis perception of Banares, I could add a couple of my own experiments. I dont know what the state of the Ganga was 70 years ago, but what I saw 20 years ago dismayed me. Raghu Rai, the photographer, and I stayed in a houseboat on the river for a night. At dawn, while the temple bells chimed an enchanting melody, the scene at the ghats was one of floating masses of shit-bubbles and rows of worshippers praying to the sun. Every few minutes they would sweep away the froth with their palms and put a few drops of the water thus purified into their mouths.
Whether its religion or history, certain superstitions are so deeply ingrained in the Hindu mind that no amount of scientific enquiry will dislodge them. Ganga jal is never impure is one such blind belief.
Pandit Veerbadra Mishra, mahant of Sankar Mochan and a tireless campaigner for a clean Ganga, was quoted recently in the Times of India, in a report by Siddharth Varadarajan as saying that anyone worried about the culture of Varanasi should be most concerned about the quality of the rivers water. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad says This is pavitra Ganga jal, Brahmadrav. How can Deepa Mehta call it Water? but they are not in the least bit interested in cleaning the river. If pollution continues at this rate, the day is not far off when people in Kashi will stop bathing in the Ganga. That will kill our culture. Not the making of some film.
Sunil Khilnani, in his
brilliant book, The Idea of India, remarks, Not the
least of Banarass oddities was its unworried
marriage of religious purity and physical filth. This is
a subject on which I have commented before. The Brahmin
is convinced that he cannot pollute however dirty his
habits may be. Pollution in Indian society is a state of
mind. People who think they have been polluted by falling
in the shadow of a Harijan are willing to put up with any
amount of public filth around them.
YESTERDAYS debate was enlivened by a true die-hard speech by Mr Wardlaw Milne, with whose exploits the reader is already familiar. Concluding a speech in support of the original motion, this gentleman said: We do not intend to get out of India.
Since no responsible Indian wants Englishmen to get out of India in the sense of Indias severing the British connection, these words can only mean that Englands direct rule in India is to continue for ever, or what is the same thing, that India is not to be allowed to govern herself as an equal member of the Commonwealth.
|| Punjab | Haryana | Jammu & Kashmir | Himachal Pradesh | Regional Briefs | Nation | Editorial |
| Business | Sport | World | Mailbag | Chandigarh Tribune | In Spotlight |
50 years of Independence | Tercentenary Celebrations |
| 119 Years of Trust | Calendar | Weather | Archive | Subscribe | Suggestion | E-mail |