|Sunday, March 26, 2000,
economy at the crossroads
output must go up
IT super power
Laloo Yadav knows best
A shattering blow for casteist
Indian economy at the
"THE millennium has heralded the arrival of the Indian economy on the global stage. In two short years, we have shown that Indian talent and Indian effort are second to none. In two short years we have ensured that made in India is a compliment for any product or service. In two short years we have sent notice to the world that India will be an economic superpower in the 21st century. The worlds eyes are now upon us, and we will deliver".
This inspiring statement by the Union Finance Minister, Mr Yashwant Sinha, in his budget speech for 2000-01, demonstrates the newly found confidence of India in its 53rd year of independence.
Mr Sinhas optimism is also derived from the fact that during the last one decade of political volatility, a broad consensus has clearly emerged on the economic reforms programme, initiated in the early nineties.
Even when all the Opposition parties joined hands in April, 1999, to vote out the Vajpayee Government, they took the historic decision of allowing Mr Yashwant Sinhas radical budget proposals to pass without a discussion.
In the present budget session too, the Opposition, led by the Congress, stalled the proceedings of the Lok Sabha for ten days over the RSS issue but when it came to the announcement of the Railway Budget and the Union Budget, they allowed the Government to go ahead.
With the economy left untouched by the mess of politics and the rewards of the reforms programme showing in various sectors, the Government is now all set to usher in what it calls the "second generation of reforms".
However, before moving on to the fast track it would be pertinent to assess how the ride has been so far.
Indias development strategy, like that of most other developing countries, has evolved over successive Five-year Plan periods, reflecting the growing strength of the countrys economy, structural transformations taking place in the domestic economy and also developments in the world economy.
In the early stages of development planning, the Government was viewed as the principal actor in development, exercising strict control over private investment, and ensuring a dominant role for the public sector in all important industries. Trade policy tended to be inward oriented focusing on industrial development through import substitution which was encouraged through a tight control over imports and maintenance of high tariffs. The limitations of this strategy became evident by the end of the 1970s and early 1980s when it became clear that these policies reduced efficiency and competitiveness and growth was very much lower than the target. While the Government was over-active in industry, it was under-active in many areas, especially relating to social development and this was reflected in a very slow pace of improvement in critical social indicators.
Some efforts were made to reform the system in the second half of the 1980s to address the shortcomings in the countrys development strategy. However, it was not until 1991 that debureaucraticising the economy was initiated. These reforms have been pursued by successive Governments since 1991 and they enjoy a broad base of support. They have also yielded good results so far. There is no doubt that the Indian economy has responded well to the change in policy direction and the growth rate has increased from the much taunted Hindu growth rate of around five per cent to around seven per cent.
And yet there are many dimensions in which performance has lagged behind expectations. Faster growth has not reduced poverty as much as it should have, nor has it created the number of high quality jobs needed to satisfy the aspirations of the countrys increasingly educated youth. Growth has not been as regionally balanced as it should have been. Deficiencies in social development indicators have also continued and it is today a major constraint on reaching a growth rate of 8 per cent, which is the medium-term target.
The results of the first phase of the reform programme have, however, been visible only in big cities and towns. Mobile phones, E-Mail, E-Commerce, swanky cars, motorbikes, availability of international brands in a host of consumer durables, trendy dresses, plastic money and 24-hour banking through automated teller machines and choice viewing in the goggle box have all become a reality in the country today.
Liberalisation has been most pronounced in the telecom and information technology sector. From the frustrating experience of the late eighties of non-working phones, the remotest place in India today has an STD connection, and mobile and satellite phones are no more a luxury. People are getting value for money, provided they have it.
The poor and the middle class in the lower segment of the salary bracket have been left untouched by the liberalisation process and people who do not have a role in the market-driven economy have been facing a tough time.
The plight of the senior citizens can be mentioned in this regard. Retired employees of public and private organisations, who do not have a pension cover, are realising that the returns on their investments are not enough to fetch them a decent lifestyle in this consumerism-driven economy.
Though the inflation rate has dropped dramatically in recent timesas of January 29, 2000, it was 2.9 per cent, down from a peak of 8.8 per cent on September 25, 1998the effect of consumerism has left more people dissatisfied today than in the past.
Exports have done well since the early nineties and of late software exports continue to show a vigorous growth of over 50 per cent.
On the agriculture front too, the performance has been noteworthy and the country has been virtually having a problem of plenty in recent times. The century ended with the countrys foodgrain output crossing 200 million tonnes. Foodgrain production in 1998-99 was 202 million tonnes and the country has emerged as a marginal exporter (2 to 4 million tonnes) of foodgrains.
Real private investment in agriculture has been rising over the nineties, from Rs 9056 crore in 1993-94 to Rs 12581 crore in 1998-99, but public investment in agriculture has, however, declined during the same period.
A major initiative in the agriculture sector has been the National Agricultural Insurance Scheme which was introduced in late 1999. This covers all farmers and all food crops, oilseeds, horticultural and commercial crops.
Steps taken for agricultural and rural development include setting up of a cold chain for agricultural produce and increased funding for Watershed Development and Accelerated Irrigation Project Programme.
The reforms process has also touched on the taxation system and todays direct and indirect tax rates are far less complicated and, easy to assess. The capital market has thrived and investments have flourished. Foreign exchange reserves are at a new high of 35 billion dollars. Access to international and domestic funds have made the Indian industry ambitious and one can already see the emergence of a few Indian multinationals.
With the advantage of the experience of the last ten years, time has now come to address the shortcomings of the liberalisation process.
It is becoming clear that encouragement to the private sector and reliance upon competition and market forces do not mean that the State has no role to play or even that its role in development may be reduced. What is involved is not so much a reduction in the role of the State as its reorientation.
From the Governments point of view, the fiscal deficit which is the gap between the Governments total earnings and total expenditure continues to be the biggest problem area.
The gross fiscal deficit of the Centre and State Governments together, which reflects the net borrowing requirements of the Government, had declined from 9.2 per cent of the GDP in 1991 to 6.2 per cent in 1996-97. In recent years it again climbed up to 8.5 per cent in 1998-99 and has risen further in the present year.
The adverse effects of large fiscal and revenue deficits on virtually every important dimension of macro-economic performance are well known. They range from low savings and investment, high real interest rates and reduced growth to adverse pressure on inflation, financial markets and external sector. Furthermore, the continuous series of large deficits lead to inexorably mounting interest payments, leaving a declining share of Government expenditure available for essential functions such as defence, law and order, social service and public investment in infrastructure.
It is in this backdrop that the Government of the day has embarked on the second generation of economic reforms.
The second generation reforms can be broadly classified in the category of financial sector reforms, public sector reforms and legislative reforms.
A critical area in the the financial sector reforms has been the opening up of the insurance sector to private participation. Though resistance from various political parties, especially the Left, has forced the Government to slow down on this front, a beginning has been made with the setting up of the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority and ending the monopoly of the Life Insurance Corporation and the General Insurance Corporation.
There is also a realisation that banking needs to be strengthened. The Government has hinted that it would take difficult decisions in respect of the problems of weak banks, structural rigidities of the banking system and continued problems with non-performing assets.
Under the second generation reforms in this area, the Government has decided to reduce its minimum shareholding in nationalised banks to 33 per cent. This will be done without changing the public sector character of the banks and ensuring that fresh issue of shares is widely held by the public. It is also proposed to bring about the necessary changes in the legislative provisions to accord the necessary flexibility and autonomy to the boards of the banks. It has also been decided to have a Financial Restructuring Authority for banks which are considered weak or potentially weak.
Drawing lessons from the East Asian crisis, which drove home the point that there is no viable alternative to a strong domestic financial sector, the Government is considering a review and revision of laws concerning the financial sector to promote greater employment in the organised industry.
The Government is also now bold enough to talk about privatisation of public sector units instead of disinvestment. Policy decision in this area relates to reducing Government share holding in non-strategic public sector units to 26 per cent.
The replacement of the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act with the Foreign Exchange Management Act and the Anti-Money Laundering Bill are also part of the reform programme. An overhaul of the archaic laws in the country is also being contemplated.
On its part, the Government has decided to crack down on its own expenditure. More than half the annual budget outlays are transfer payments, interest payments, defence, internal security, major subsidies, salaries, allowances and pensions and non-plan grants to States. To curb built-in expenditure growth and bring about structural changes in the composition of its expenditure, the Government has announced the following initiatives:
All ongoing schemes to be subject to rigorous zero base budgeting scrutiny.
The manpower requirements of Government departments will be reassessed by reviewing the norms for creation of posts.
Fresh recruitment in Government departments and institutions will be limited to minimum essential needs.
All subsidies will be reviewed with a view to bringing in cost-based user charges wherever feasible.
No new autonomous institutions will be created without the approval of the Cabinet. Budgetary support to autonomous institutions will be reviewed and they will be encouraged to maximise generation of internal resources.
Excessive domestic borrowings to finance current expenditure has resulted in debt service payments approaching unsustainable levels. To reduce expenditure on this account, a portion of the disinvestment proceeds are being earmarked for retiring Government debt.
Another difficult area in the reforms process is the crucial petroleum sector. Though the reforms map in this area has been carefully chalked out, political sensitivity of the issues involved has impeded its implementation. In the case of kerosene, cooking gas and diesel, the Governments efforts to cut the huge subsidies involved in them have been stonewalled by sections within the ruling coalition and the Opposition parties. The progress has indeed been slow in this area.
Reforms in other sectors like power are also being met with stiff resistance, with the recent strike by powermen in Uttar Pradesh being one example.
Despite these problems,
the Government is determined to go ahead with the
economic reforms. To quote the latest Economic Survey:
"At the dawn of the new millennium, the world around
us is changing fast. To sustain and accelerate the growth
of our economy and employment, while ensuring low
inflation, our economic policies must combine fiscal
discipline with rapid economic reforms wherever
Farm output must go up
INDIA'S population is projected to touch the one billion mark in May and is likely to overtake China in the next quarter of the century. Under these circumstances, there is immense pressure on agricultural scientists to find a way to feed the hungry mouths.
And, they are quite confident of developing high-yield varieties of crops to meet the demands of the future as R. Suryamurthy found during his interview with Dr P. K. Singh, Director of Indian Agricultural Research Institute.
Agricultural productivity of the country has to be increased by four to five million tonnes per annum from the present three million tonnes.
"This could be achieved by increasing per hectare productivity. Several high-yield varieties of wheat, rice, vegetables and other cereals have been developed by IARI, which could hold the answer to the needs of tomorrow," Dr Singh said.
According to a study conducted by the IARI, the population of South Asia will be 1930 million in the year 2030. At 3.5 per cent growth in per capita annual income in real terms, the demand for cereals will be 33 million tonnes, pulses 28 MT, root and tubers 54 MT, meat 17 MT, eggs 4.9 MT and fish 15 MT.
Dr Singh said: "To meet the projected demand for food and to attain self-reliance, the South Asia region must attain a per hectare yield of 2.82 tonnes of rice, 3.72 tonnes of wheat, 2.36 tonnes for maize and 0.99 tonnes for pulses for the year 2030."
The new varieties of crops developed will grow in "traditionally" off-season period, revitalise the nutrients lost by the uniform crop pattern and result in high productivity.
"The crop yield per hectare in North India could be increased by following crop pattern scientifically, sowing high-yield varieties and using fertilisers properly," he said.
The major thrust area of increasing agricultural productivity in the new millennium would be Eastern India, Dr Singh said.
"Here, the land has not been put to optimum use to procure maximum results," he said.
The IARI has developed crops specific to different regions of the country by taking into account climatic conditions, availability of water and the irrigation system.
"The new varieties of crops have been developed by adopting a new two-way strategy of "lab to farm and farm to lab" rather than the earlier unidirectional flow of technology," he said.
With the rise in the standard of living of the people, the quantum of demand for cereals and pulses will also change and there will be more dependence on meat and other products.
"The country is now
in a position to meet the demand of the nation. And, if
the farmers adopt the new varieties of seeds developed by
the IARI, then meeting the future demand would not be a
problem," Dr Singh said.
India as IT super power
INFORMATION technology revolution is sweeping across the globe and it provides tremendous opportunities to India. The software sector is experiencing a growth rate of 50 per cent.
However, the hardware sector is in its incipient stage and little has been done by the Government to boost its growth. This is what R. Suryamurthy found during the course of his interview with Mr Vinnie Mehta, Director of Manufacturers Association of Information Technology, the apex body of IT component and hardware manufacturers. Here are some excerpts:
If India dreams of becoming an IT super power in the 21st century, the penetration of personal computers should be the first emphasis. And, this cannot happen unless the domestic hardware industry is given a boost by the Government.
PC penetration in the country is as low as 3.5 per thousand compared to 500 per thousand in the USA and over six per thousand in China.
The price of a PC in the country is beyond the reach of the common man and it can come down if the Government provides incentives to the industry.
The country has time till 2003 before the zero duty regime comes into effect as per the World Trade Organisation agreement. The Government should view these three crucial years to boost the industry or the domestic industry would meet a premature death.
Some of the measures the Government needs to provide include tax holiday for the hardware industry like the one that was provided to the export sector. Hardware technology parks need to be set up in different parts of the country like the Software technology parks.
The Government should view the hardware sector as a unified industry rather than export and domestic oriented industry. This will benefit the industry which needs to gear itself to face competition that will be thrust upon it in the coming years.
Lack of growth of the hardware sector compared to the software side is because of the fact that it is capital intensive and needs large amounts of money for research and development and should be able to adapt itself to the frequent changes in the industry.
Several states which have lagged behind in the IT revolution, can take advantage of the newly provided opportunity and promote the hardware sector, which will play a crucial role in the future.
What these states require is a good international airport or a sea port, industry friendly policy of the state government, and single window clearance.
If the country fails to take advantage of this situation, the unbranded assembled computers, which currently have a market share of 38 per cent of the PC market in the country will proliferate along with the multinational brands.
This will result in a
great loss of revenue to the Government and the prices of
a PC will continue to be out of the reach of the common
man. And, the country will miss the revolution, while
realising the importance of it.
"The violence must end. This should be a time of restraint, for respect for the Line of Control, for renewed lines of communication".
US President Bill Clinton while laying down parameters to reduce tension
* * *
"The nation and the entire civilised community is outraged at the premeditated act of barbarism (gunning down of 35 Sikhs in Anantnag)."
Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee at a joint press conference with US President Clinton
* * *
"There is a possibility that we can reach a common ground on banning fissile material production and nuclear export controls".
US President Bill Clinton
* * *
"Are we incapable of protecting a foreign dignitary? Half of Delhi has been handed over to the Americans for five days beginning today".
Left leaders, referring to 300 US Marines and 2000 American police personnel being allowed as a security set-up for the US President
* * *
"The USA, as champion of democracy and human rights, should continue to send strong messages to the world in support of democratic governments and strongly discourage unconstitutional and illegal changes of government".
Bangladesh Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, to the US President
* * *
"I am convinced that strengthening peace, prosperity and freedom in the 21st century will depend in good measure on America's ability to forge partnerships with the South Asian nations, by advancing the interests we share and by resolving the differences that remain"
US President Bill Clinton on his trip to South Asia
* * *
"Today is only the beginning of a strong partnership."
US President Bill Clinton in a press statement announcing $97 million food aid to Bangladesh
* * *
"How can Pakistan take its place in the world community if it constantly allows its services to defy international law by conducting military and terrorist activities inside another nation?"
Congressman Jim McDermott
* * *
"Tangible steps must be taken to respect the LoC. So long as this principle is violated, the people of Kashmir will have no real hope for peace".
US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright
* * *
"We advocate reunification and we cannot let the issue drag on for ever".
Tang Shubei, Vice-Chairman of the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits
* * *
"It is like the Indian Prime Minister visiting both the USA and Cuba on the same trip."
Senior BJP leader, K.R. Malkani, on President Clinton's visit to India and Pakistan
* * *
"Muslims and Christians should consider themselves as one people and one family."
Pope John Paul II in Jordan on the first leg of his pilgrimage to the Holy Land
* * *
"Keeping eco-systems alive should be a guiding principle in the decisions we take. This is of course no easy task...... wealth breeds indifference while poverty breeds desperation".
Queen Noor of Jordan at the Second World Water Forum
* * *
"As long as people are denied opportunities for employment, education and health because of their race or ethnic background, we have work to do...... And as long as ethnic conflict and genocide continue we cannot rest".
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan on the eve of International Day of Elimination of Racial Discrimination
* * *
"Why should people get disturbed over a burden of Rs 3 per person per month on the two crore income tax paying population of the country when it is benefiting 33 crore people living below the poverty line in the country?"
Shanta Kumar, Union Minister for Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution System
* * *
"Maintaining peace in this international border state (Sikkim) in the past 25 years since the former kingdom merged with the Indian Union is our greatest contribution towards the integration of the nation".
Sikkim Chief Minister Pawan Kumar Chamling
* * *
"Relations between Pakistan and India now are poor. They are pretty bad, truly bad. And there are tensions on the Line of Control".
Pakistan's Chief Executive, Gen Pervez Musharraf, in an interview
"We have a lot of things we can do together. A lot of mutual interests. Obviously, what I hope to do first is to rekindle the relationship between the US and India".
US President, Bill Clinton on the eve of his five-day trip to South Asia
* * *
"The arrangements for Clinton make me feel that we are still in the colonial period."
Jaya Jaitley, leader of the Samata Party, on the preparations for the US President's visit
* * *
"Advertisements are being used as instruments of this pernicious assault. Beauty contests and MNCs are the other agents contributing towards this well planned invasion (of western values)"
Akhil Bharatiya Pratinidhi Sabha in a resolution at the meeting of RSS pracharaks
* * *
"The threat of the left parties to organise a protest demonstration on the occasion of President Clinton's visit to say the least, is reprehensible. Their decision to abstain from the joint session of the two Houses was regrettable enough. And it exposes them as irresponsible political entities.'
Congress Working Committee member Jitendra Prasad
* * *
"Field trials of high altitude tents and protective gear like snow boots, jackets and hoods manufactured by us are now on. Kargil necessitated heavy imports of these equipments. We shall soon start work on design and manufacture of snow mobiles".
D. Rajagopal, Chairman, Ordnance Factory Board (OFB), in an interview
* * *
"The US acceptance of the sanctity of the Line of Control was both a reaffirmation of India's position and a reiteration of what President Clinton and the former Pakistan Prime Minister agreed upon on July 4 last year that territory must not be violated".
Jaswant Singh, External Affairs Minister, in an interview
* * *
"In the real world, neither this Indian government nor any imaginable Indian government is going to reverse that decision (to have a nuclear option)
US Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott
* * *
"Political consensus on economic reforms is on the retreat. Unless we sit down and recreate the consensus, it will be difficult to achieve our aims."
Yashwant Sinha, Finance Minister, at a post-budget meet organised by Assocham
* * *
"When we talk about disinvestment to save the tax payer's money locked in PSUs there is no consensus. No one wants a cut in the subsidies and end to wasteful expenditure. No one wants to downsize the government. And where will the money come from for development expenditure".
V. K. Malhotra, BJP leader
* * *
"If a teacher did not perform his duty well, government should have powers to dismiss him from service".
A MEMBER of Delhis press corps covering President Clintons visit would always call the U.S. Secretary of State Madam "All Bright". Representing a language paper from South India, he was evidently not able to pronounce correctly the name Madeleine Albright in spite of goading by fellow scribes. The hawkish Secretary of State was, of course, the most important person in the Presidents entourage but it was not "all bright" for her during Mr Clintons five-day sojourn in India and a brief stopover in Pakistan. She did not interact with the Indian press even once while she held a special briefing at Maurya Sheraton for the media accompanying the U.S. President.
The general impression of the Indian press and foreign policy makers in the Ministry of External Affairs was that President Clintons clear enunciation of the US objectives was manifestation of a definite shift in Washingtons policy towards India and virtual endorsement of New Delhis Kashmir policy. But Albright did not think so. In the exclusive briefing for the American Press she was specifically asked "how true is that" and her reply, to quote from the transcript of the briefing (not made available to the Indian press) was: " I would not interpret it that way. I think our policy is what it was when we came here and what the President has said many times and the things that I have said in my speeches..."
Her views about India notwithstanding, Albright is, perhaps, the most qualified Secretary of State though not a visionary like Thomas Jefferson, Americas first Secretary of State, or a strategist like Dean Acheson in the Truman administration. There are also stark similarities between Henry Kissinger and Albright even though Kissinger was an intellectual heavyweight. Like Kissinger, she too is a refugee from Nazism who used an academic post as a launching pad to public acclaim. She had earned a Ph.D in political science and international relations, worked on Capitol Hill, served in the Carter White House as staff member on the National Security Council, taught foreign policy at Georgetown Universitys School of Foreign Service and represented the United States as its ambassador to the United Nations.
Some of the facts of Albrights long and variegated career, full of struggle and strife, are little known. She is a Jew by origin, a native of Czechoslovakia, her grandparents died in Hitlers gas chambers and she fled both Nazism and Communism. Having lived in troubled times she knows the perils of survival in an oppressed society. In the introduction of her biography "Seasons of her Life" the President of the Czech Republic and a friend of Albright, Vachav Havel, was quoted as saying: "She knows what it means when the powerful decide about the less powerful and that when they divide spheres of interest among themselves; this always leads to wars and misfortune".
Her understanding of modern European history distinguishes her from most of the American leaders and Havel says: "She is aware of the meaning of symbols like Munich, symbols of division that never lead to peace and stability. She knows all about appeasement, about democracy making concessions to dictators" and "she knows first hand what happens to a country when dictators raise their swords, tyranny reigns and everyone in the apartment building heads for the air-raid shelter". Incidentally, Albright will do well to remember that she has been dealing with a dictator in Pakistan.
Albright came to Washington as a young mother and, at that time, the highest post she aspired was that of chief of protocol who decides who is to be invited to official functions and where they should sit. After thirty years, she landed on the most prestigious office in USA. She is also, incidentally, the first-ever woman Secretary of State.
The child of a refugee family from former Czechoslovakia, she was moved from country to country by her parents, and later in the USA from city to city by her former husband, media baron and journalist Joe Albright whom she married in 1959. It took her thirteen years to finish graduate studies while raising three daughters and two more decades of slogging in academics and politics before she was named Americas ambassador to the UN in 1993. In between her traumatic career, Madeleine underwent a devastating divorce from Jeo who left her for a younger woman. That was in 1982.
There were two saddest moments in her life. According to her biographer, Ann Blackman, a Time reporter, when she thought of going to Sweden to have an abortion during her second pregnancy having learnt that foetus was deformed. Six months pregnant, she was told by her doctor that an abortion would be dangerous. So she went through the pregnancy and had a stillborn child. That experience explains Albrights fierce devotion to abortion rights.
The second time was when she visited Prague, her native place, six months after becoming Secretary of State. As she stood outside the Jewish town hall, her eyes filled with tears as she explained what it meant to her to see her grandparents names among the 77,297 holocaust victims painted in red and black on the walls.
AT the recent round of negotiations the Congress team led by Mr Pranab Mukherjee had with the Rashtriya Janata Dal President, Mr Laloo Prasad Yadav, even in the midst of serious discussion, the former Bihar Chief Minister did not lose his earthy sense of humour.
As the Congress team went about the task of identifying the portfolios, especially the key ministries it would prefer to have, Mr Yadav went by the demands. The Congress wanted Ministries like Power, Finance and Agriculture among others, through which the party hopes to usher in development in the State.
As talks progressed "smoothly and cordially", to use a political jargon, someone broached the portfolio of Home. Now with Bihar often in the grip of violence mainly on account of social tensions and Left-wing extremism the coalition partners wanted to have a finger in each pie, at least so it seemed, till Mr Yadav pointed towards himself that the next Bihar Home Minister was already present at the meeting. Perhaps realising that the Congress team was taken aback by the candid disclosure, Mr Yadav quickly clarified, stating when he was the Chief Minister, his wife, Mrs Rabri Devi, was the "Home" Minister and now that she is the Chief Minister the roles were reversed.
The Prime Minister, Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee, was in a dilemma on the day he addressed the joint sitting of Parliament at the Central Hall during the US Presidents visit. His problem was whether to deliver his speech in Hindi or English language. Former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister, Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav, who is a votarie of Hindi had warned the Prime Minister that in case he decided to speak in English then he would boycott the event. Mr Vajpayee finally decided to speak in Hindi and he got it conveyed to Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav.
However, having delivered the speech in Hindi, the Prime Minister is now facing criticism from Tamil Nadu. Several leaders from the State, including former State Chief Minister, Ms Jayalalitha Jayaram, took exception to the Prime Ministers speech in Hindi.
Irked by all the hullabaloo over the language issue, the Prime Minister made his irritation known at a public function in the capital when he said that it was easier to speak in Hindi at the United Nations. It is easier at the UN because leaders spoke in their respective national languages and simultaneous translation made it possible to put across their views very well, he said. It may be recalled that Mr Vajpayee was the first Indian leader to address the UN in Hindi language during the Janata Party Government, in which he was the countrys External Affairs Minister. His effort then had evoked appreciation from throughout the country.
After-effects of Clinton yatra
Days after the visiting US President, Mr Bill Clinton, created a groundswell of goodwill among the members of Parliament, many are still wondering as to what made some of them swoon over the "Prez". In private many of them disapproved the manner in which Mr Clinton was mobbed.
First the issue cropped up at the meeting of the National Democratic Alliance on Wednesday night when the Parliamentary Affairs Minister, Mr Pramod Mahajan, recounted how he had to implore with colleagues to leave the President alone.
The matter kept on cropping up at several informal gatherings with MPs and former MPs recounting tales of how eager some of them were to "shake" hands with Mr Clinton or attract his attention. One of them is the manner in which a former Union Minister acted when Mr Clinton was making polite conversation with the Nationalist Congress President, Mr Sharad Pawar. Mr Clinton was introduced to Mr Pawar as the former Defence Minister who during his tenure signed some agreement with the USA. Just then this former Minister literally pushed Mr Pawar aside and thrust his hand forward and announced his arrival. Needless to say Mr Pawar was stumped by the swiftness with which his former colleague struck.
The US President, Mr Bill Clintons infamous dalliance with a White House intern, Monica Lewinsky, continued to haunt him during his visit to the capital last week. It was not only the public face of the President but also his personal traits that were under close scrutiny by observers. Clinton watchers described how the President took a special fancy for cinestar-turned Rajya Sabha MP, Ms Jaya Prada at the ceremonial reception at Rashtrapati Bhavan. Mr Clinton posed for a photo session with the lady who was once described in the social circles as the most beautiful woman.
His next rendezvous was with the elegant Renuka Chowdhury of the Congress whom he met twice during a single day. Recognising her at the Prime Minister, Mr Atal Behari Vajpayees luncheon, the President shared a few words with the Congress MP and recalled his meeting with her at the Rashtrapati Bhavan in the morning. Another lady to be charmed by Mr Clinton was the noted danseuse, Malika Sarabai. The President who met her at the Roosevelt House went on and on about her performance at the Rashtrapati Bhavan banquet hosted by the President, Mr K.R. Narayanan. Ms Sarabai was simply flabbergasted and had no words to express her joy at the compliments showered on her by the worlds most powerful leader.
Sources in the Maurya Hotel, where the President stayed during his visit, also revealed how the presence of a staffer, who shared her name with the White House intern, created a commotion among the staffers. The poor lady was the butt of joke during the two days Mr Clinton spent in the hotel.
The ties that Mr Clinton wore during his visit also evoked considerable interest. Observers strained to see whether the President at any function wore the "famous" tie that the White House intern had claimed she had gifted to him.
Special gift for Speaker
The Lok Sabha Speaker, Mr Ganti Mohan Chandra Balayogi, who had the distinction of receiving the US President, Mr William Jefferson Clinton, in Parliament House got a rare present from the visiting dignitary.
Mr Clinton presented the Lok Sabha Speaker with a golden framed copy of the Charter of Declaration of Independence of the USA of July 4, 1776. The present was to the people of India to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Indian republic.
Problem of attendance
The US President, Mr Bill Clintons decision to address a joint sitting of Parliament in the Central Hall created a problem of a different kind for the organisers of the event. Since the event followed close to the festival of colours, Holi, a majority of the MPs had left for their respective constituencies during the holidays. As a result the organisers had a tough time organising the crowd at the Central Hall. A solution was finally found when the session was thrown open for former MPs as well. The presence of a large delegation from the United States also helped fill the seats and Mr Clinton had a "full house".
A shattering blow for
THE impressive victory of the Rashtriya Janata Dal in Bihar and the triumphant return of Rabri and Laloo to the throne are not events that can be interpreted in regional terms. They are, I think, the early manifestations of a revolution that has been half a century in the making. The repressed classes of India have at last found redemption in the electoral process that had for a long time somehow managed to keep them out. Their social, cultural and economic progress has now been given a massive uplift that will never subside.
This has been a good beginning for the new millennium. The casteist and communal forces that had so far controlled the destiny of the Hindi belt have received a shattering blow. The lesson of Bihar is simple: since the oppressed outnumber the oppressors, all you have to do if you want secularism, socialism and social respect is to use your vote. The big fight is in the ballot box.
Laloo and Rabri dont fit in with the Hindutva philosophy which aims at a Brahminical elitist system and the perpetuation of caste. Hindutva is the political wing of Hinduism. General Secretary of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Ashok Singhal, is the best exponent of the Hindutva ideology. He wants Muslim, Christian and other religious groups to accept Hindu nationhood. He has said that the VHP-RSS concept "transcended the barriers of religion, region, caste and creed. We were Hindus first before becoming Muslims and Christians and followers of other faiths". He doesnt say how he would accommodate the Dalits and untouchables in his scheme of Vishala Hindutva.
Writing to the Provincial Congress Committees in 1954, Jawaharlal Nehru said: "Some Hindu communal organisations talk about a Hindu Rashtra. It is evident that whatever that might be, it is neither nationalism nor democracy. It is a throwback to some ideas of a medieval period." Nehru was right, but, on the other hand, there are some Hindu ideologists (like S. Gurumurthy) who claim that Hindu culture is ageless, that is to say, its not just 5000 years old as we have been saying (foolishly of course) but to be measured in yugas, that is, millions of millennia.
The dilemma for the votaries of Hindutva is that they would like to have all the good things of modern living, but they want to bring back Hindu glory from a distant yuga and couple it with the present day world. They are forever creating new and more imaginative mythology to achieve this fusion. Their idea of Hindutva, unfortunately, has no relationship with the cultural state of Hindu society.
One thing that RSS ideologues never seem to want to discuss is the state of Hindu religion itself. Caste is central to their philosophy. The new Chief Minister of UP says the caste system gives Indian society stability. It is that stability that Laloo and Rabri in Bihar and Mayavati in UP have begun to upset. It is the stability that has kept millions of low caste people in bondage and poverty for thousands of years.
Today, every third illiterate in the world is an Indian. The UNICEFs latest report, State of the Worlds Children 1999, also says that two-thirds of the total number of illiterates in India are women. The report ranks India 45th in child mortality, one notch lower than Bangladesh, and only better off than Nepal in the South Asia region. Pakistan ranks 33rd. The disparity among Indian states is wide. While nine out of 10 children go to school in Kerala, the figure is just five in Bihar. Kerala has achieved 90 per cent literacy, while in Punjab, with double its per capita income, its only 58 per cent.
And here we are strutting around as a nuclear power!
There should be no doubt in anybodys mind that the RSS is a cultural organisation. Vajpayee is right. Why, I would say that even the BJP Government is a cultural organisation. When you look at the preoccupations of this government they are mostly cultural. The review of the Constitution, for instance, is a cultural pursuit as is the attempt to create a society where Hindu ideology will be supreme, where Hindu pride and courage will be sustained by nuclear bombs and the latest in other weaponry.
One thing the RSS and
the BJP cannot face is the fact that Brahminism is a
dying force. It never had in it the essentials of a
progressive ideology. It has for a few thousand years
thrived on exploitation and oppression. The new
millennium is not for Manu but for the Mayavatis and
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