Monday, March 27, 2000,
Chandigarh, India





THE TRIBUNE SPECIALS
50 YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE

TERCENTENARY CELEBRATIONS
E D I T O R I A L   P A G E


EDITORIALS

Clinton’s blunt talking
PAKISTAN suffered its worst diplomatic debacle on Saturday, ironically at the hands of its very long and close friend, the USA. In fact that past has come to haunt India’s neighbour as the dollar kingdom wants it to build a future it is frightened of.

Unstable political angina
B
IHAR Chief Minister Rabri Devi (or rather Mr Laloo Prasad Yadav) has formed a bulging ministerial edifice. Mr Yadav says that he has created history by forming the "largest ministry" in the state. There are 82 ministers. This is the second coalition experiment mainly meant to please the Congress; all MLAs of the party have been made Ministers.

OPINION

INDIA AS ‘VIRTUAL’ SUPERPOWER
A dissenting view of Clinton’s visit
by Praful Bidwai

THE Indian elite has at last had its 2 pages of glory. Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee presumably had his 10 minutes of ecstasy too when he met Mr Bill Clinton on a (much-sought after and all-but-cancelled) one-to-one basis in the shadow of one of Kashmir’s worst massacres, which apparently clinched that meeting.

Inter-state disparities in development
by S. Sethuraman
INTER-STATE disparities in levels of income and social development have widened in the post-liberalisation era though India as a whole moved on a higher growth path. There has also been an alarming weakening of fiscal performance of states in the 1990s which limited their efforts to reduce poverty and improve social indicators.


EARLIER ARTICLES
 
MIDDLE

Speed — devils and deep (traffic) sea
by Amar Nath Wadehra

A
FAMILIAR roadside scene: The traffic cop (TC) espies a potential “murga”, whistles with glee and gestures with the crook of his finger to the driver to come nearer. Delinquent or not, the ensnared driver pleads innocence, gives alibis and argues the finer points of traffic rules. Finally he ends up paying the hefty fine.

POINT OF LAW

Review committee writes its own terms
by Anupam Gupta

A
FLURRY of legal developments, or developments with legal implications, some obvious, others not quite so, took place last week. Piecing them all together would make an interesting mosaic but I will focus only on three of them. And that too in a general way, eschewing ponderous analysis.

DIVERSITIES — DELHI LETTER

Clinton enjoyed the Avadhi cuisine
by Humra Quraishi

ACTIVITIES are at their peak here. Agreed, lately there was a slight diversion because of President Clinton’s visit but, then, don’t we all know how to overcome distractions. His presence did make a dent in the Holi festivities. And though on that particular day he was away to Bangladesh but security was absolutely foolproof and to top it all there was that Clinton mania hanging suspended in the heavily polluted Delhi atmosphere.


75 years ago

March 27, 1925
Postage Rates
WHATEVER view one may hold as to the merits or demerits of the policy of wholesale refusal of supplies under the prevailing political conditions in the country, we have no hesitation in condemning the action of the Assembly in turning down the motion of Lala Duni Chand for the restoration of the old postal rates.

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Clinton’s blunt talking

PAKISTAN suffered its worst diplomatic debacle on Saturday, ironically at the hands of its very long and close friend, the USA. In fact that past has come to haunt India’s neighbour as the dollar kingdom wants it to build a future it is frightened of. Contrary to earlier expectations, the visiting leader was blunt and forthright in publicly criticising his host’s dangerous policies. True, he merely repeated in Islamabad what he had said in New Delhi, which in itself was a dramatic departure, but in a pointed manner. At the first place, he called for restraint along the LoC but at the second he warned the military rulers not to “redraw the boundary with blood”. For weeks Islamabad will reverberate to this verbal shellfire and that will be a nightmare. Then there was this stern advice: rein in the militants who are killing civilians and this is revolting. More such murders will mean more isolation and further economic hardship for the common man. What this means is that the present harsh economic sanctions will continue as long as the Pakistan government winks at killer groups to freely operate from its soil. No rewards are on line, not even the symbolic offer to facilitate talks with this country, much less take on mediation. Of course, Mr Clinton made the by now customary reference to return of democracy, but he should have realised that a coup leader has his own idea on this subject. What surprised many was his use of the electronic media to talk to the army Generals and take the people into confidence. It was known that he would be tough at the delegation-level talks, his and Mr Samuel Berger’s remarks left no room for doubt. But the visiting President was expected to be somewhat soft in his TV address, considering the highly emotive nature of the points of difference. In the event he decided to grasp the nettle, which has left everyone speechless.

Pakistanis are bitter at this heartless haranguing while the military ruler is bristling with anger at the series of snubs President Clinton has administered him. The first hurting gesture came in Mumbai itself when Mr Clinton went around two huge military transport aircraft and boarded a small executive jet — the type which many top Indian companies own for their own travel. This elaborate decoy exercise was to confuse and neutralise any militant wanting to fire a Stinger missile at his plane. Since the Pakistani army was in charge of security, this switch over of jets was a vote of no-confidence in the government. Also, it is unprecedented. In a series of panel discussions on Pakistan TV, diplomats, academicians, lawyers, newspaper commentators and a whole lot of others poured contempt on the USA and as a knee-jerk reaction, on India too. It sounded like a deserted wife’s reconstructed charge-sheet against her ungrateful husband. The refrain went like this. See, all the qurbani (sacrifice) Pakistan had made for the Americans! Their friendship isolated us in the Muslim world yet we persevered. The country lost hundreds of lives in fighting the American war against the Soviet troops in Afghanistan. Pakistan’s leadership and the Taliban’s guts led to the defeat of the remnants of the Najibullah regime. It was its rout in Afghanistan that sparked the collapse of the mighty Soviet Union and crowned the USA as the sole super power. The same heroic Taliban is today branded as terrorist and Pakistan is subjected to sanctions. There is another track of self-flaggelation. At the height of geopolitics, Pakistan was at the heart of US schemes in this region. In these days of globalisation and information technology India has ousted the former ally. Complaint piles on complaint and the general mood is turning ugly. For New Delhi there is plenty to worry about.
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Unstable political angina

BIHAR Chief Minister Rabri Devi (or rather Mr Laloo Prasad Yadav) has formed a bulging ministerial edifice. Mr Yadav says that he has created history by forming the "largest ministry" in the state. There are 82 ministers. This is the second coalition experiment mainly meant to please the Congress; all MLAs of the party have been made Ministers. Two of them are angry. One version of the factor of their discontent is said to be their designation as Ministers of State. Another version is that Mr Pradeep Kumar wants the Cabinet rank — and more — post-haste. Mr Abdul J. Mastan's "spokesmen" attribute his absence on Saturday at Raj Bhavan to bereavement in his family. "This is an alibi", say his colleagues. The facts and figures are interesting — 82 ministers, 39 of them of the Cabinet rank; 41 Ministers of State, 22 Congress MLAs (including two disgruntled persons) elevated overnight, and the Rashtriya Janata Dal's large share of 53 Ministers. The swearing-in ceremony on Saturday was technically an expansion; Mrs Rabri Devi and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ramachandra Purve were inducted earlier. The case of one MLA selected for Ministership, who has missed the bus, is curious. Mr Jitan Manjhi's name was recommended by the Chief Minister but Governor V.C. Pande refused to anoint him. The reason: he was wanted by the police for interrogation in criminal cases and was absconding. The better known Ministers are Mr Shivanand Tiwari, Mr Shakuni Chaudhary (RJD), Mr Bhurkan Ansari (the CLP leader) and Mr Bagun Sumbrai (also of the Congress). Those who have the distinction of having a second coming are Mr Ramai Ram, Mr Jagadanand Singh, Mr Shankar Prasad Tekriwal and Mr Ghulam Sarwar. Mr Deo Narain Singh, a winner at the hustings with a big margin and the Speaker of the previous Assembly, has surprisingly been dropped.

People aware of the nuisance value of the calculations of Mr Laloo Yadav need not be told much about the stature of at least 75 per cent of the Ministers. The door is still open. The Bahujan Samaj Party has supported Mrs Rabri Devi. When Mr Kanshi Ram arrives in Patna on March 27, at least three BSP MLAs out of the five are likely to be elevated. Visualise the final shape of the ministry materialising under the compulsions of coalition politics and you will see what unstable political angina can do to an ungoverned state — ministrywise! An overview would show that disparate elements have been, or are being, bonded together with the tempting adhesive of power and pelf. Class has not emerged from caste, which is the bane of Bihar's socio-political scenario. The ministry is a queer amalgam. Statecraft does not have scope for witchcraft in which the superstitious Yadav deeply believes. The Congress has weak roots in that country-sized state where economy is a shambles. Many MLAs with mafia connections, if not tags, have become partners in the system of governance. How will Dr Jagannath Mishra, a leader of the "high castes", react? What about the coterie that still follows the advice not of Mrs Sonia Gandhi but of Mr Sitaram Kesri? Will Mr Nitish Kumar sit under the Bodhi Tree and quietly write an epitaph for the National Democratic Alliance in that populous territory? And will the Jharkhandis' dream become a reality? The Congress, following the diktats of its central leadership, may do a "Haryana 1999" in the hapless state. Bihar needs a stable government. The present structure does not offer either an assurance or any hope. Many are called, says the scripture, but few are chosen. Here everybody who is somebody, politically, is being chosen. One can only wait and watch.
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INDIA AS ‘VIRTUAL’ SUPERPOWER
A dissenting view of Clinton’s visit
by Praful Bidwai

THE Indian elite has at last had its 2 pages of glory. Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee presumably had his 10 minutes of ecstasy too when he met Mr Bill Clinton on a (much-sought after and all-but-cancelled) one-to-one basis in the shadow of one of Kashmir’s worst massacres, which apparently clinched that meeting. It seems churlish to break the reverie when our media is in raptures over Big B — what he eats, how he sleeps, whether he will wear shorts, just how tight is his security — never mind that whole city centres are “sanitised” for his use...

Yet, it is imperative to do some soul-searching. If the 2 page Clinton-Vajpayee Vision Statement is to be believed, India and the US are entering into a “qualitatively new relationship” at the “dawn of a new century”. The two have much in common besides democracy: “We have built creative, entrepreneurial societies. We are leaders in the information age”. Therefore, “in many ways, the character of the 21st century world will depend on the success of our co-operation...”. Thus, India and the US “seek a natural partnership...with complementary responsibility for regional and international security...and...strategic stability.”

India has arrived! This great “civilisational” entity has now joined the ranks of the world’s greatest nations. We’ll soon be talking about India being allowed to join the G-7, and why not, form a new G-2! What better affirmation of our intrinsic talent — at least of our upper crust, if not the masses! This is the dose of steroids that our middle class needs to feed the Great Indian Ego. This is not quite the Tryst with Destiny that Nehru talked of. But it fulfils a craving that the bhadralok has nourished since the early 19th century: to be equated with the Master Race, the Aryans. Ever since William Jones and Max Mueller discovered similarities between Sanskrit and European languages, our elite has felt assured it is related to the world’s ruling class. It goes to absurd lengths of speculation based on dubious linguistics, poor astronomy, or voodoo archaeology, to prove its “Aryan” origins.

Mr Clinton’s visit is such a “fulfilment” because it ends, as Mr Jaswant Singh put it, the “wasted decades” of non-alignment. India is finally in the right camp. India and the US will hold a “summit” every two years, and build business partnerships, cooperation in science and technology (S&T), close contacts in every field....It is irrelevant that for the US public, this is Mr Clinton’s 62nd visit abroad as President, and one likely to be overshadowed by the Pope’s “pilgrimage” to the Holy Land. What matters is that “the United States and India are... allies in... democracy. We will share our experience in... strengthening democratic institutions... [and] launch an international Community of Democracies...”

Lest it be thought that this is mere rhetoric, there are strong reality checks too. Take the Vision Statement on nuclear weapons: “The United States believes India should forgo nuclear weapons. India believes that it needs to maintain a credible minimum nuclear deterrent ... Nonetheless, India and the US are prepared to work together to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons...” Look at the costs. India has sanitised what it long said was a lie, viz the claim that the US is seriously committed to ‘‘eliminating nuclear weapons’’. Historically, the US has done just the opposite in fuelling the nuclear arms race. Worse, it has now pushed India away from “nuclear disarmament” (missing in the Statement) to mere “non-proliferation”. The Statement narrows the scope of a fissile material cut-off to ending the production of fissile materials, not to eliminating existing fissile stocks.

There is much in what Mr Clinton has said which celebrates India’s diversity and plurality. Ironically, this is said under an Indian government that hates that very diversity. The BJP’s vision of India is driven by a search for homogeneity: One Nation, One People... Mr Clinton, in effect, has legitimised an ultra-conservative right-wing political current and equated it with our mainstream. Remarkable ignorance is at work here. High rhetoric about “democracy” cannot mask this huge concession to the BJP’s partisan appropriation of the foreign policy and security discourse.

Most of our policy-makers are not particularly bothered by this or by the BJP’s monopolistic claim in defining the scope and content of the Indo-US relationship. That is because they abstract from difference and posit a homogenous, single India, and an undifferentiated US at the state level alone. There is no honest introspection about the potential for and limits of Indo-US cooperation, nor an evaluation of India’s real priorities. Amidst the hype about “shared values”, there is complete elision of India’s most important reality, i.e. poverty and inequality; and of America’s overbearing power. There is talk of “an unrelenting battle against poverty in the world,” but no mention that India has the most number of poor people anywhere!

The US “applauds India’s success in opening its economy, its achievements in S&T, its commitment to a new wave of economic... reform, and its determination to bring the benefits of economic growth to all its people”. This may be music to some Indian ears, but altogether fantastic for most of us. “Determination” to bring “benefits to all” — when 50 million-plus Indians have sunk below the poverty line in a decade? When two Indias are being wrenched apart before our own eyes? Ms Madeleine Albright’s Asia Society statement that India’s economy is the “great unreported success story of the 1990s” is certainly news to us. The Vision Statement is no less wild.

However, nothing will massage Indian elite egos as much as the view that India and the US are “leaders in the forefront of the new high-technology economy”. In the “forefront”? With a domestic IT sector which is less than one-half of one per cent of GDP? With a stagnant agriculture? With a crumbling infrastructure? The promise that “we will... meet the global environmental challenges, including climate change and the impacts of air and water pollution” sounds hollow given the horrible pollution in our cities, and the US’ and India’s shabby record in climate change negotiations where they both resist restrictions on greenhouse emissions. Similarly, the hype about Indians and Americans cooperating at the “frontiers of knowledge” to unravel “the mysteries of time and space” and eradicate “human suffering, disease and poverty” would have sounded less pompous had the US put money where its mouth is. Regrettably, the new S&T “Forum” has a Rs 30 crore corpus — a PL-480 leftover!

The plain truth is, US policy-makers are suddenly waking up to success stories — not of India, but of NRIs in the US, especially in IT. They now want to explore how to integrate India into an unequal relationship with US capital as a provider of labour intensive, low-wage products and services. Call centres, medical transcription and lowend software are the new growth areas. Fields like energy and environmentally sound technologies are largely symbolic. Most of these are in the US private sector. That spells competition, not “cooperation”.

The Indian elite, for its part, is going along with the Vajpayee agenda of elevating the US into a de facto arbiter of South Asian security, in particular on the issues of Kashmir and support to terrorism, while refusing to seriously engage Pakistan. It has succeeded in getting the US to move towards accommodating India as a de facto, albeit a third-class member, of the Nuclear Club. And yet, schizophrenically, it also refuses a dialogue on Kashmir. Although New Delhi says Kashmir must be resolved bilaterally in accordance with the Simla Agreement, it has no intention of starting bilateral talks. On the contrary, it demands — in violation of the Simla spirit — that the only outstanding issue is the return of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. In other words, there can be no talks on Kashmir.

Thanks to this narrow and sectarian approach, India has few independent diplomatic options left. It is pathetically increasing its dependence on US “help” in restraining Pakistan. It wishfully sees in every minor pronouncement by American leaders a significant sympathetic “shift”. For instance, the media noted with glee Mr Clinton’s statement that “you cannot expect a dialogue to go forward unless there is an absence of violence and respect for the LoC.” It put a heavy interpretation, viz that there can be no dialogue unless Pakistan first stops cross-border terrorism, etc. This was quickly repudiated by Ms Albright. But even assuming the interpretation is correct, what does it imply? That India wants the US to play an intermediary, facilitating, role in its containment of Pakistan?

If so, what does this say about India’s inconsistency in refusing a dialogue on Kashmir? Of our leaders’ failure to pay heed to some sensible suggestions for a restrained and mature approach to Pakistan in Mr Clinton’s address to Parliament, which they otherwise admired? Surely, this is no sign of a major new player about to shape the 21st century. As political analyst Zoya Hasan says, India is at best a “virtual superpower” — not a real one, despite pretensions. The Clinton visit has not changed that reality.
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Speed — devils and deep (traffic) sea
by Amar Nath Wadehra

A FAMILIAR roadside scene: The traffic cop (TC) espies a potential “murga”, whistles with glee and gestures with the crook of his finger to the driver to come nearer. Delinquent or not, the ensnared driver pleads innocence, gives alibis and argues the finer points of traffic rules. Finally he ends up paying the hefty fine.

This prey-predator game has several variations...more than those shown on the Discovery channel; and as exciting, if not more. The “Hide and Seek”, “The Silent Stalker”, “The Great Escape”, “The Exciting Ambush”, “The Long Chase”, “The One That Got Away”...the themes of these on-the-road thrillers are endless.

In the Seventies, if you were caught by a TC, you could grease his palms with a one-rupee note, or a bit more — depending upon your negotiating skills — and escape all related hassles. Some friendly cops would stand near a groundnut or eateries stall so that you could buy them a handful as “fine”! But now the stakes have increased manifold, thanks to the info-explosion. If a politician could digest suitcase-full of the crispest, why shouldn’t the TC have at least a fistful? Quite, logical that. Corruption is truly globalised, thanks to IT.

In Mumbai the TC resembles an amiable alligator (picture that!). Like the great saurian, he waits for the unsuspecting prey to fall into his silent open jaws, and then... whoosh! crunch, crunch,crunch! Some of them do not chew but gobble their quarry. Till recently, to escape the greedy jaws, one could chant the “Heil Balaji” (Thakre) mahamantra, but now its efficacy is suspect. The doughty Mumbaikars are doing research on the alternatives. Meanwhile, the universal language of the Mammon is being employed to keep the stalking TC at bay.

Calcutta is the pedestrians paradise. He has the right of way no matter what the TC or the rules say. Vehicle owners live in constant apprehension of these foot-soldiers of the proletariat’s Eden. A minor accident can trigger off mob frenzy reducing vehicles to ashes. The poor TC is truly marginalised in this eastern megalopolis. Anyway, the traffic-snarls are so rampant that one can reach the destination faster on foot. So when in Calcutta, better leg it!

In Chennai, the offender is often let off with a stern warning and, sometimes, a harangue on traffic rules — in Tamil. If you do not understand Tamil, don’t be alarmed when the TC shakes his fist at you. He is not threatening you, only asking whether you have grasped the gist of his lecture. So, every time he shakes his fist just nod your head solemnly and vigorously. The Chennai TC wields the Fist of Inquiry, and not of Fury.

Not so generous is the Ludhiana TC. Indeed, he is a rare species who is spotted in the ocean of assorted vehicles by a fortunate few on such auspicious occasions as VVIP visits. In this Punjabi Manchester, pedestrians jostle with bicycles and rickshaws, cars and carts, lorries and buses — for a foothold on the pot-holed roads. Amidst this war between man, machine and the beast, the all-pervasive heat, dust and stink inspire creativity. One can hear novel ideas, tinged in psychopathic hues, being bandied about in mega-decibels with gay abandon. The language can sometimes get quite colourful. Through all this pandemonium, the Ludhiana TC sits unmoved in a roadside dhaba. He watches the proceedings with an admirable philosophical detachment. He stirs only if the effort would be lucrative enough. Otherwise he relies on the good citizens’ innate prudence to sort things out by themselves.

In Chandigarh, of course, it is a different ball game altogether. The once wide roads look congested, thanks to the recent traffic explosion. Nevertheless, the interplay of wits, guts and suspense makes every sortie momentous. One can espy underage speedsters manning two-wheelers and cars putting God’s fear into fellow commuters — even the most hardened atheist can’t help exclaiming, “Hey Ram!” In response, the TC waits in ambush for such juveniles. Naturally, the drivers to have devised ingenious defence mechanisms.

Some mimic the antelope, step on the gas pedal and hope that the TC has failed to take down their registration numbers. Others ape the chameleon and try to pass off as VIPs or VIP brats. This is risky. A youngster, once, tried to bully his way out of trouble by posing as a VVIP’s kin. He ended up with intricately singed behind and singing ears.

If inveon is the daughter of necessity, then innovation is its niece. Therefore, the following tactics are suggested while dealing with the ubiquitous TC:

lKeep an updated copy of traffic rules with you. If accosted by the TC for no fault of yours, throw the rulebook at him and shoo him away with a withering look.

l If you are at fault, try to confuse him with technicalities.

l If the above stratagems fail, and you happen to be female, try bursting into tears accusing the cop of harassing a hapless woman. This normally works and you are let off lightly.

l What if you a a male? Better, grin and foot the fine pall!
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Inter-state disparities in development
by S. Sethuraman

INTER-STATE disparities in levels of income and social development have widened in the post-liberalisation era though India as a whole moved on a higher growth path. There has also been an alarming weakening of fiscal performance of states in the 1990s which limited their efforts to reduce poverty and improve social indicators.

These findings are brought out in a recent World Bank Report on India’s progress in poverty reduction and the Reserve Bank’s analysis of State Finances for 1999-2000.

The World Bank notes that growth slowed in the poorer states (Bihar, Orissa, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan) after 1991. Bihar experienced a decline in per capita income. Surprisingly, growth also slowed down in Punjab and Haryana, the richest states at the beginning of 1990s, because of limited reforms in agriculture and attention to issues of sustainability.

Unless the four poorest states, constituting about 40 per cent of India’s population, improve their performance, the Bank report warns, it would become increasingly difficult to accelerate poverty reduction and development in India.

In the eighties, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu achieved the highest growth rates, averaging 4.7 and 4.1 per cent respectively, and this is attributed to investments in public infrastructure in Rajasthan and human resource and irrigation development in Tamil Nadu.

But after 1991, the World Bank data show, the growth disparities widened between high income states (Gujarat, Maharashtra and West Bengal) and middle income states, mainly the four southern states. The higher income states were apparently able to take advantage of the new economic policies of the Centre and their own infrastructure and human resources.

Left-dominant Kerala and West Bengal recorded the fastest rates of poverty reduction, according to the Bank which cites remittances from Keralites emigrating internationally as a key factor. In West Bengal, land reforms and high agricultural growth are assumed to have contributed to better performance.

On State finances, the Reserve Bank study refers to the record fiscal deficit of 4.3 per cent in 1998-99 because of rise in non-development expenditure including pay revision and high interest payments and variability in resource transfers from the Centre.

RBI has again emphasised the critical importance of states realising costs for services (power, irrigation and transport) and appropriate user charges for other social and economic services. Both RBI and the World Bank have highlighted the predominant role of the states in economic and social development and expansion of public utilities. RBI has welcomed recent policy initiatives undertaken by some states for fiscal correction such as legislation to contain guarantees on loans of state-level undertakings, creation of a sinking fund and signing of memoranda of understanding with the Centre on expenditure cuts and levy of user charges for power, water and transport.

The Reserve Bank of India has also expressed concern over the level of indebtedness of states, now equivalent to 20 per cent of the combined states’ domestic product. With growing repayment obligations on their loans, the net borrowings available to the states have shrunk and this cuts into capital expenditure.

The World Bank report says that the states’ improved performance would depend largely on their own efforts, given their major roles in framing policies for human development and infrastructure provision. Bihar and UP fund only about 35 per cent of their revenue expenditure with 65 per cent coming from the Centre. It is unlikely that large increases in support would be forthcoming (from the Centre) given the need for overall fiscal prudence, it notes.

The Bank commends the example of states like Andhra Pradesh, Orissa and Haryana which have already undertaken power sector reforms. Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan have consulted the Bank for introducing state-level economic restructuring. Andhra Pradesh was the first state to undertake a Bank-supported reform plan designed to reduce fiscal deficit and enlarge allocations for social sectors. But Andhra Pradesh is currently having a serious fiscal problem and is deferring payments for certain categories. — (IPA)
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Review committee writes its own terms
by Anupam Gupta

A FLURRY of legal developments, or developments with legal implications, some obvious, others not quite so, took place last week. Piecing them all together would make an interesting mosaic but I will focus only on three of them. And that too in a general way, eschewing ponderous analysis.

The newly set up Constitution Review Commission held its inaugural meeting on Thursday, March 23, and did much to quell the misgivings that have accompanied its establishment, though the birth marks of controversy will never completely be erased.

The function of the Commission, the meeting chaired by Justice M.N. Venkatachaliah clarified, is to “review the working” of the Constitution, “not to rewrite” it.

Eight “core areas” proposed to be reviewed by the Commission were also identified. They are (in the order listed by the Commission and released to the Press):

One, the menace of defections; two (constitutional provisions on) the removal of poverty; three, the working of Article 356 and the appointment and removal of governors; four, decentralisation of powers and strengthening of panchayati raj; five, enlargement of fundamental rights; six, effective implementation of directive principles; seven, fundamental duties; and eight, (provisions relating to) fiscal and monetary policies.

Judging by the precision with which they have been identified, or the precision with which they are capable of being handled, the review is likely to be most effective in areas one, three and eight. Defections, Article 356, and constitutional provisions relating to fiscal and monetary policies.

That is assuming, however, that the reference to the last-mentioned area, constitutional provisions relating to fiscal and monetary policies, is actually and basically a reference only to the provisions dealing with Centre-state financial relations or the distribution of revenues between the Union and the states.

Anything more than that, or more ambitious, and addressing issues of fiscal and monetary “policy” as policy per se in this age of globalisation would amount to a serious encroachment on the ideological premises of the Constitution, especially the Directive Principles of State Policy, and would certainly lead to rewriting the Constitution in the guise of reviewing it.

Every government elected by the people in a democracy is free to make, or unmake, policies as it deems fit from time to time and be judged by the people accordingly, but a people who change their Constitution (and the premises underlying it) with every successive government can only end up destroying the sanctity of all Constitutions.

And regardless of whether Constitutions have, or do not have, a properly defined “basic structure” placed beyond the reach of parliamentary majorities, they do and must have a certain historic sanctity or at least an air of sanctity about them. That, I daresay, is inherent in the very existence and purpose of a Constitution.

The second, major constitutional development of the week, one whose connection with the Constitution is however not quite obvious, was President K.R. Narayanan’s dramatic banquet speech of March 21 in honour of US President Bill Clinton.

A powerful Nehruvian statement against the American vision and dominance of a unipolar world, the speech was, without doubt and despite the PMO’s disclaimer of March 24, what Arati Jerath reporting for The Indian Express described it to be: “a suo motu (presidential) intervention on foreign policy”.

For us, said President Narayanan, defending the non-aligned perspective of a pluralistic world order and rising to intellectual heights totally uncharacteristic of India’s political class, “globalisation does not mean the end of history and geography.”

“As an African statesman has observed (he said), the fact that the world is a global village does not mean that it will be run by one village headman.”

A permanent admirer and student of Jawaharlal Nehru myself, I would agree with every word of President Narayanan’s speech. And for the same reason, disapprove of his making it.

Would Nehru ever have relished, or suffered, President Rajendra Prasad speaking out thus, publicly assailing his policy of non-alignment?

The settled conventions of Westminster democracy, embodied in the Indian Constitution, firmly rule out such public avowal by the Head of State of his own, independent perceptions of foreign policy, in conflict with the perceptions and policies of the government whose titular head he is, on such important occasions. Disagreement or advice confidentially conveyed to the Prime Minister is, of course, a different matter.

The third development relates to the ongoing lawyers' strike, now a month old.

The cause is valid, the lawyers’ sense of hurt and resentment understandable. And the more you refuse to understand them, the more difficult you are making it for them to go back to the courts.

But is not the offer to appoint a sitting Supreme Court Judge as a commission of enquiry, the offer made last week, a reasonable, honourable solution to the vexed impasse?

Whatever be their reservations, I am sure the striking lawyers will in the long run gain more by accepting the offer than by rejecting it.
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Clinton enjoyed the Avadhi cuisine
by Humra Quraishi

ACTIVITIES are at their peak here. Agreed, lately there was a slight diversion because of President Clinton’s visit but, then, don’t we all know how to overcome distractions. His presence did make a dent in the Holi festivities. And though on that particular day he was away to Bangladesh but security was absolutely foolproof and to top it all there was that Clinton mania hanging suspended in the heavily polluted Delhi atmosphere. In fact, even the top brass seemed taken aback by his personality and one such person overlooking the security bandobasts, went ahead to chant,on condition of anonymity, “He certainly has those looks and that charisma to attract women..you should have seen how the women of Nayla village danced round him!”

Why just the poor village women, I am told that the Maurya Sheraton hotel staff — where he stayed whilst in New Delhi — went absolutely excited. And why not, for as soon as he stepped in the hotel he went straight to the Dum Pukht restaurant (known for its Avadhi cuisine — started during the reign of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah, the highpoint of this cooking is that each dish is cooked over low and slow heat) and then to his suite and later to the Bukhara restaurant. Ever wondered how much he must have eaten! But if you were to ask the restaurant staff the menu details and the consumption level of the President and his aides they get hesitant, “Bahut lamba menu tha and he ate everything, really seemed to enjoy each dish ...but we cannot give out those details”. And though he ate in these two restaurants of this hotel, daughter Chelsea and mother-in-law Dorothy Rodham stayed put and ate in their respective rooms. And media persons who had followed Chelsea to Jodhpur recount how our security persons became painfully enthusiastic (much more than the US security), in trying to keep Chelsea away from the media glare. So much so that several from the media had no choice but to camouflage their very identity and declare themselves to be guests of the royal family of Jodhpur, who played host to the President’s daughter. And going through the list of dos and don’ts handed over to the media covering President Clinton’s visit here (in New Delhi) it was somewhat amusing to read that the cameramen had strict instructions not to take shots whilst he was removing the socks or taking off his shoes, at Rajghat. I am not sure whether this is the done practice. And though it could look clumsy to see a President pulling out socks or kicking aside his shoes but, then, aren’t these routine things in the life of every human being.

Some other important events

Foremost, CanSupport (a voluntary cancer support service which is run by a team of volunteers, it not only provides information but even counsels those affected by cancer) arranged for a get-together and Press meet at their Shahpur Jat office. In fact many of the volunteers are survivors themselves who are manning this service and they can be contacted at CanSupport’s ‘helpline’ telephone number —6497153. In fact the president of CanSupport, Harmala Gupta, has herself been a victim of cancer but today she has not only totally recovered but is so full of enthusiasm to have started this support system, for cancer victims.

Then, dancer, bureaucrat and Austrian ambassador’s spouse (all rolled into one) Shovana Narayan was once again in the news. The Publications Division has brought out a book written by her. Titled “The Dance Legacy of Patliputra”, an attempt has been made through this book to trace the development of the classical dance forms , from the Mauryan and Gupta periods right up to the present age. I am told (I have yet to go through this book) that it is for the first time this book documents the list of patrons and prominent artistes in the last 150 years. And as if to show (off) the costumes of the `natis’ of Patliputra, Shovana actually wore the different costumes. And then danced-the dance sequence entitled — “A Woman In Love”.

Whilst on dancers, another kathak dancer, Uma Sharma, is shortly going to be in focus, once again,that is. On March 31 she is all set to pay homage to Mirza Ghalib — first at his mazaar and then in front of the very place where he had lived for years. And to bring about a certain element of nostalgia she has been smart enough to invite some of our top poets. I am told that Ali Sardar Jaffri, Nida Fazli, Shahryar, Kaifi Azmi are all going to be there, that evening. And when asked as to what particular aspects of Ghalib would she be concentrating on she quipped: “Three aspects — his rise, his fame and the depressing period he went through....”

What a range!

I am absolutely amazed at the range of the ongoing festival of Tibet, (at the IIC, from March 21 to 31). Besides several photo exhibitions (by Kadir van Lohuizen and Tenzin Dorjee) film shows (The Cup, Kumdun, ‘A stranger in my native land’, etc), seminars and discussions on the demilitarisation of the Tibetan Plateau, human rights in Tibet, Tibet and Sino Tibetan relations, music and dance from what they say “ roof of the world”, the highlight will be the talk by the Dalai Lama on March 30.
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75 years ago

March 27, 1925
Postage Rates

WHATEVER view one may hold as to the merits or demerits of the policy of wholesale refusal of supplies under the prevailing political conditions in the country, we have no hesitation in condemning the action of the Assembly in turning down the motion of Lala Duni Chand for the restoration of the old postal rates.

That the enhanced postage rates have operated harshly on the poorer sections of the people is clear from the returns of the sale of postcards.

The post office is not used as a matter of luxury, and to increase the postal rates is nothing short of adding to the burdens of the people. This is commercialisation with a vengeance.

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