|Tuesday, April 18, 2000,
routine BJP session
of the inland
need for caution
April 18, 1925
THE two-day session of the National Executive of the Bharatiya Janata Party has concluded in New Delhi uneventfully. It was necessary to discuss the unpleasant decision of the Union Government to cut food and fertiliser subsidies. The hike in the prices of kerosene and cooking gas is still agitating the minds of the people. The apex organisation of the BJP has taken a clear stand on the issues involved. The argument on viewing in totality the overall economic situation which affects the rise or fall of the prices of various articles of general use is not merely philosophical. When the Government has to spend large sums of money on situations like the Kargil conflict and the Orissa cyclone, it has to think of various ways in which the wherewithal can be procured but the course of the economy is not distorted by the problem of deficits. The price hikes and the subsidy cuts were unavoidable. However, money does not grow on trees. Paying unaffordable prices does hurt. The quality of life is to be improved and the necessary goods have to be purchased. Nobody really thinks that the BJP-led government at the Centre has committed a grave mistake by making subsidy cuts or by raising the fuel prices. However, it is difficult to convince the people whose purchasing power is low that sudden hikes in the prices are unavoidable. Realism often hurts. This years Budget demanded a hard and understanding look at the price scene in the context of the economic situation. Of course, the mismanagement of the economy is unpardonable. Subsidy bills get carried over from today to tomorrow. A comfortable generation enjoys the benefits of subsidies at the cost of the next one. Apparently, the Opposition would not have done anything spectacularly painless in the existing circumstances. Political expediency has prompted some of the BJPs allies to take a strident stand on the issue. Rollback is a cheerful step for the consumer, but it is not an easy recourse in all cases of price rise.
The Opposition becomes
vocal for political reasons and cut motions are
introduced in Parliament not because logic or conviction
comes into play. The BJP has to persuade its cadres to
explain its financial compulsions to the people. Some
hard decisions are taken to correct distortions. The
factors to watch are the Governments intention and
the overall financial perspective. Finance Minister
Yashwant Sinha did not do badly in enunciating most of
the budgetary measures. There should not be much sound
and fury on the subject now. It is a pity that the
impoverished sections of society have not been put into
the focus of attention by the Executive in the course of
its deliberations. There were some avoidable histrionics
during the proceedings. One of these was the loud and
late criticism of the reported stand of the Congress on
the nuclear deterrence proposition. But a party which
does not have genuine matters to discuss takes up
populist planks. The results of the recent elections did
not get due attention at the session. Here, the
responsibility could have been fixed for the poor
performance of the party in winnable constituencies.
Cross-voting was discussed half-heartedly. A close
examination of the political behaviour of the cadres and
office-bearers was not made. By and large, the session
was a ritualistic affair. Even the Party President, Mr
Kushabhau Thakre, and Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee
did not expect it to be different.
IN what is clearly the punishing impact of globalisation, stock markets across the world shivered together, shed much overvalued flab together and collectively raised the spectre of a crippling crash. Taiwan was the only exception, gaining a tiny 1.5 per cent; elsewhere it was bloodletting. Share analysts in Indian newspapers pulled out all tired cliches to first warn their readers what was in store on the manic Monday and then sensationalise the price plunge as though they had invented it. Desi television channels, which are forever in the look out for some excitement, ignored the implosion, instead concentrating on political and other trivial themes. The sensex opened ominously, 7.3 per cent lower than its closing on Friday. As the day progressed, brisk purchases in some counters halted the trend and at one time the drop was reduced to slightly more than 5 per cent. It was herd mentality at its most destructive. Everyone without exception referred to the carnage at Nasdaq on Friday when its predominantly technology shares lost about 10 per cent, to take the fall to more than one-third of the highest point it climbed one February day. Dow Jones too was hit hard; its index at one time threatened to dive below the psychological mark of 10,000 points, thinner by more than 1000 points in one day.
That was the trigger and the shot roared through Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong and all markets in Europe with the index plunging by between 8 and 10 per cent. It is thus not a Nasdaq aberration, infecting a few shares in a few markets. It is Nasdaq fixation with unforeseen consequences. As one economist has pointed out, most of the dotcom companies attracting fancy prices on Nasdaq do not have any earning. Some like the once glamorous Peapod are on the verge of closure. This has filled the fund managers with forebodings, and ordinary investors and those whom Americans call day traders (in reality free-lancers) have combined to thoroughly distort the price structure. Many respected market watchers have been predicting an early and violent end to the big investors honeymoon with the new economy. It appears they are proving right.
In India the
Sebi-introduced price band ceiling adds to the panic on
days like Monday. Individual trading systems
automatically switch off once the share price goes up or
down by 8 per cent. The computerised system has made this
foolproof. With the result, when the price nosedives
nervous investors will like to sell, but the dead machine
will frustrate them. When the price soars, many will like
to buy those shares but again they cannot. Thus the
system stands as a tall wall, forcing investors to buy
when the price is down and sell when the price is up.
This explains the volatility. It is no more a bear phase
alternating with a bull phase; it is now one continuous
volatile phase. The ICE stocks are infusing life into
this unpredictability. Old economy shares like those of
the manufacturing and service sectors do not have many
takers and their value remains frozen. And this is ironic
since their prices are affordable, capital appreciation
is steady though not dramatic and dividend income is not
zero. In the topsy-turvy world of the Nasdaq-intoxicated
share market, it is futile to expect rational
INDIA has reasons to be pleased with its performance at the G-77 summit, which concluded at Havana last week, because it not only participated in a manner befitting a nation that has the ambition of being recognised as a "world player" but also because it managed to commit all member-countries on promoting democracy and strengthening the rule of law. The provision, which has been included in the final Havana Declaration, is not Pakistan-specific but will obviously curtail the influence of the neighbouring country. What needs to be noted is that the summit was one of the few international conferences where Pakistan could not rake up the Kashmir issue. This happened despite the sharp attack by the Human Resource Development Minister, Dr Murli Manohar Joshi, on state-sponsored cross-border terrorism. As this diplomatic victory comes soon after a similar positive development at the NAM Foreign Ministers' conference, the Indian delegation is quite delighted. However, there is a sizeable section which feels that India expended too much of its energy and time on cornering an adversary which in any case is seen in bad light. Even if this stand pays rich dividends in the international arena, it may make the improvement of bilateral relations all the more difficult. India's strength all along has been in treading the middle path and providing a bridge between extreme views. The consequences of any course correction have to be assessed in a wide framework. Actually, the real gains have accrued in other less publicised sectors. For instance, the summit accepted India's proposal to treat information technology as a pillar of technological revolution and a powerful developmental tool. Another positive development was the public support extended by Cambodia to India's claim to a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council.
If India kept the main
focus on its democracy formulation, fiery leaders like Mr
Fidel Castro launched a frontal attack on the rich
countries for their exploitative policies to the
detriment of the Third World. Since opposition is growing
even in the USA to the policies of the IMF and the World
Bank, his warnings rang all the more true. By and large,
India agreed with the view although it laid greater
stress on South-South cooperation to remove North-South
inequities. India's perceptions were reflected not only
in the Havana Declaration but also in the Programme of
Action adopted at the summit. The 133 countries of G-77
represent 80 per cent of the world's population. Despite
this, the fact remains that the grouping has not been
able to combat poverty affecting half the globe's
population. The new global human order that it has
formulated will make a difference only if it brought
about far closer cooperation among themselves and also
took the industrialised world along with it.
OVERALL, a majority of Punjabis today are critical of Akali performance. The Akalis were very enthusiastically voted to power not by Sikhs alone but also by Hindus and Muslims. In other words, it was the majority Punjabi vote which put them on the saddle. The meaning of the mandate was direct and simple: stabilise peace and prosperity and assert the Punjabi and Sikh identity by taking from the Centre what it owes to the state.
What the state today needs to accomplish and what it has to ask for is not possible without settling the matter of identity. Mere economic goals do not lead anyone to anywhere; they have to be relevant to the cultural identity. The Punjabi identity and the Sikh identity are not opposed to each other. If the history of Punjab is studied as a cultural evolution, the Sikh value system, as manifested in Sri Guru Granth Sahib and in the writings of Guru Gobind Singh, is the proudest Punjabi accomplishment.
The hermeneutic failure that has occurred is that the word Sikh has been associated with a religious community and not as the synonym of Khalsa which means one who belongs to Gods file. What needs to be explained and where the Akali leadership and the scholars it patronises have failed is to establish that the Punjabi identity, the Sikh identity and the Khalsa identity are the same.
There is no reason why some of the non-Sikh Punjabis should feel embarrassed by or opposed to the Khalsa value system which is their highest and richest historical accomplishment relevant even to the present multicultural world. The Khalsa value system has three predominant ideas: first is the faith in Waheguru, that is the Lord of Wonder, who eternally blesses and watches His world of diversity and colour. A very pleasing feature of this Lord is that He does not totalise or hegemonically unify His creation. He relishes His kind glance over it in its variety, as Guru Nanak Dev says in his masterpiece, Japuji.
The second vital idea of the Khalsa system is related to sacrifice and struggle for justice. Again Guru Nanak Dev has taught that to live in the Lord of Wonders creation means to play the game of love. He says: If you want to play the game of love, then come to my alley with your head on the palm. Guru Gobind Singh, in his much-lauded and influential Bachittar Natak calls this Lord of Wonder as the sword which evolves the creation. In other words, dynamic participation in life, with the knowledge and experience of the Lord of Wonder, enables a human being to play a vital role in the evolution of life.
The third idea of the Khalsa value system is related to the reorganisation of community life through the musical word with the exact mastery of the sound system, grammar and meter. This idea can also be called, in the Greek sense, techne.
It is not without significance that the Gurus and the bhagats of Sri Guru Granth Sahib, as also Guru Gobind Singh, not only emphasised the content of their message but also its techne or in our contemporary sense, technology of communication. Their techne did not come simply from the native folk and classical sources but also from the sources of migrant tribes who used to come for trade. The techne of Sikh writings is an example of multicultural mosaic that preserves variety.
The subtle point to be understood about the techne of the Sikh Gurus and the bhagats, especially about the experimental and incredibly multisource craft of Guru Gobind Singh, is that technology to transform an individual or community cannot be frozen forever, as done by the Gurus contemporary religious and political systems of Islam and Hinduism. Techne has to remain open and digestive of what comes in a new and different form.
The matter of the Sikh and Punjabi identity cannot remain frozen or be pastist. It has to be reinterpreted in the light of the Gurus dynamic and basic ideas. For full realisation, the Punjabi/Sikh/Khalsa practice has to assimilate the best from our global context. What it means is that to incarnate the Khalsa message in Punjabi life and make Punjab its master sign, it is imperative to update Punjab in techne. Following the Gurus practice today means pushing Punjab beyond agriculture and its dependent economics. To keep an eye always on the peasant vote for capturing power should not mean to block further transformation. The Punjab peasant, who is predominantly Sikh, understands the Gurus message and has remained open to new techniques in agriculture but somehow the successive state governments, especially of the Akalis, have not shown aggressive enthusiasm to transform Punjab from an agricultural state to a high-tech industrial state. The peasant vote can be a matter of consideration but not an obsession leading to a near closure of ones mind to what is happening globally. How come that Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh are ahead of Punjab in transforming their economy with global cooperation and knowhow although Punjab has a more comfortable economic base?
What projects Punjab should take from the Centre, or India should invite from abroad, are also to be related to the identity of Punjab and India. Are capital and market to be the sole determinants? Owning globalism as a blind operation of market forces is not without dangers. The biggest one is of a deculturated unitarianism which can lead to the loss of diversity. The gurus of globalism have taught us that there is a difference between unity and unicity. Globalism is unicitive, meaning the articulation of different orders.
From this angle, each state of India, apart from being part of a larger order, is also a relatively autonomous cultural order. Projects and development strategies are to be determined according to the imperative of that distinct order. China, in this regard, has been much more cautious. Its relationship with the global capital does not bypass the countrys cultural and political objectives.
Since Punjab was ahead of others in producing a middle class from agriculture whose children had the privilege of going to high schools and colleges, it could have asked for state-of-art industry, of agricultural products and information technology to absorb the educated urban and rural youth. The politicians and bureaucrats have not imparted the needed thrust in this direction. The industry invited so far is marginal and inadequate to initiate any revolutionary change in Punjabs economy.
To develop Punjab according to its distinct cultural order, it is also necessary not to disrupt the cultural/religious structures. Instead, they have to be enlarged and made part of the global democratic trends. For instance, Akal Takht and the SGPC, if controlled by one power centre, will destabilise the democratic traditions around which the institutions had been functioning before the recent developments and cease to be responsible not only to the Sikhs but also to the larger humanistic ideals enshrined in Sri Guru Sahib. The institutions have to remain articulations of different voices of the community which keep the Akali Dal democratic and help it shoulder larger responsibilities.
How should the matter of identity, globalism and economics be brought to interact with one another and also with international trends? This is to be worked out both at the popular and intellectual levels primarily by university scholars. Since the base for this effort has to be located in the Khalsa heritage, it is primarily the responsibility of the Akali government to strengthen the universities for this gigantic task. The American and French revolutions in discovering their identities and developing avant-garde global economies came about due to the excellent and committed universities of those countries. Unfortunately, the universities of Punjab, with their Vice-Chancellors appointed to the conveniences of the state government, cannot boast of initiating any transformation of ideas or institutions in the state. Much needs to be done.
The writer is a former Professor of English and Dean, Faculty of Languages, Punjabi University, Patiala.
How should the matter of identity, globalism and economics be brought to interact with one another and also with international trends? This is to be worked out both at the popular and intellectual levels primarily by university scholars. Since the base for this effort has to be located in the Khalsa heritage, it is primarily the responsibility of the Akali government to strengthen the universities for this gigantic effort. The American and French revolutions in discovering their identities and developing avent-garde global economies came about to the excellent committed universities of those countries. Unfortunately, the universities of Punjab, with their Vice-Chancellor appointed to the conveniences of the state governments, cannot boast of initiating any transformation of ideas or institutions in the state. Much needs to be done.
evolving new shape of UN
THE critical question of reform of the United Nations Security Council has again come to the fore. In his just-released report, We the Peoples: The Role of the United Nations in the 21st Century, Secretary-General Kofi Annan has emphasised that Heads of Government, gathering for the UNs Millennium Summit in September this year, will seriously consider how to make the Security Council broadbased, so that it reflects the realities of our times.
There are various permutations and combinations. But the proposal which has the overt support of the USA, and therefore is likely to draw maximum attention, is that the number of permanent members of the Security Council should be increased from five to 10. The five new members would be Germany and Japan from the industrialised world and one country each from the continents of Asia, Africa and Latin America.
India has a cast-iron case for inclusion in the Security Council from Asia. One, India represents a large share of humanity, with every sixth human being walking this earth being an Indian. Two, in terms of its geographical spread and size and the potential of its economy, India is a major nation. Three, India is the worlds most populous democracy and a shining example to the rest of the Third World, which is still pockmarked by tinpot dictatorships and military regimes. Four, Indias contribution to the peace-keeping operations of the UN has been exemplary.
Five, India has been forcefully articulating the concerns, priorities and perspectives of the developing world with reason, balance and a constructive orientation. For example, New Delhi has been instrumental in placing on the UN agenda issues like decolonisation, apartheid and human rights on which the world body has achieved maximum success.
But India will have to be wary of American machinations. Knowing fully that Pakistan, Indias habitual foe, will never allow the Indian claim to go unchallenged, Washington has been harping on the selection of the additional permanent members from the developing world on the basis of a regional consensus. To no ones surprise, the American Ambassador at the United Nations is on record as saying that the Clinton Administration cannot sponsor Indias claim to permanent membership of an expanded Security Council because of a counter-claim by Pakistan.
Worse, President Clintons own posture is equally unhelpful. On the eve of his arrival in New Delhi, he made a statement to the effect that the UN resolutions on Kashmir acted as an obstacle to sponsoring India for a permanent membership of the Security Council. Subsequently, when President Narayanan made a pointed reference at the state banquet to Indias claim to a permanent seat, President Clinton maintained a loud silence. It remains to be seen whether in the wake of his Indian visit President Clinton would now show more responsiveness to Indias claim to the Security Council.
In view of the deceit and dissimulation it is encountering, New Delhi should stop soft-pedalling the issue and adopt a tough stand in the coming months. When Prime Minister Vajpayee goes to the United Nations in September to attend the heads of government meeting, he should take the opportunity to categorically reject the regional consensus approach towards the expansion of the Security Council.
The United Nations General Assembly should first adopt a normative framework of criteria, according to which the eligibility of countries for permanent membership would be determined. (Needless to say, Pakistan, a military dictatorship suffering from political turbulence and economic bankruptcy, will not qualify.) After such a normative framework is in place, it is the General Assembly which should elect the new permanent members of the Security Council from Asia, Africa and Latin America.
Axiomatically, this would require hectic lobbying in the General Assembly. India cannot afford to sit on its oars. Going by size and economic strength, the candidates from Africa and Latin America would be South Africa and Brazil, respectively. In fact, New Delhi, Pretoria and Brasilia should cooperate in the United Nations to vigorously promote each others candidature for the Security Council. When the then President of South Africa, Mr Nelson Mandela, visited India three years ago, he called for such cooperation.
A Security Council expanded on these lines would, however, continue to discriminate against the developing world. While Europe with 8.9 per cent of the worlds population would have four permanent members (Russia, the UK, France and Germany), Asia with 57 per cent of the global population would have only three members (China, Japan and a third member to be elected). Asia deserves proportionately more permanent seats. The industrialised world could, however, counter-argue that it pays more to the United Nations. Ten industrialised countries are responsible for 80 per cent of the budget of the world body.
Another aspect of the discrimination being practised at the United Nations is the move to deprive the new permanent members of veto power. This is rank nonsense. Stripping the new members of veto power, while the older ones retain it, would render the entire exercise to broadbase the Security Council meaningless.
In fact, the very wisdom of continuing with the veto power is being questioned. The veto system was introduced in the UN Charter in the last days of World War II to prevent a situation from arising in which a majority decision would be imposed on a big power, thus triggering off a world war. The experience over the last 50 years and the existence of nuclear weapons would appear to preclude the possibility of a world war breaking out. There is, therefore, little justification for the veto power, especially after the end of the Cold War. It is better to abolish the veto system altogether than to have two classes of permanent members in the Security Council.
There is also a case for increasing the number of non-permanent members of the Security Council. In 1945, there were six non-permanent members from 52 nations. Thereafter, the non-permanent membership was expanded first to 10 and, subsequently, to 14. Now with the strength of the General Assembly reaching 185, there is need to further increase the strength of non-permanent members accordingly.
Apart from being the
only super power, the USA is also the country which
catapulted Secretary-General Annan to his present
position. Therefore, he feels obliged to pay obeisance to
Washington. As such, the final shape of the Security
Council will depend on the predilections of Uncle Sam.
LEST the reader should be deceived by the title, let me clarify. Inland could be a tract of land remote from the sea, situated in the interior of the country; it could also mean the inland letter card, falling midway between the postcard and the postal envelope. Many songs have been sung of the hopes and glories of the former inland, but it is the latter kind which has caught my fancy, and on whose virtues I propose to dwell here.
The lowly postcard is the poor mans tool of communication, and is best suited for short messages that do not require disguise or secrecy. In the present times of unchecked inflation, it is perhaps the only commodity to hold its ground - one rare instance, howsoever puerile, of the concern of the government for the plight of the man in the street.
In contrast, the envelope is regarded as a luxury, to be enjoyed only by the affluent. It rattles the eye of every Finance Minister wanting to balance the annual budget by hiking prices, raising duties and taxes, levying imposts, and inflicting every conceivable agony on the populace. No wonder, year after year, the envelope has been losing ground and subjected to a hefty increase of price.
The inland, falling as it does between the above two extremes, eminently befits the status of the middleman. Its price is relatively stable and affordable. It will be seen that the postcard compels penury and thrift of expression, while the envelope, by add-on sheets, encourages extravagance. Terse communication is as vexatious to the mind as the prolix one. The inland, happily, grazes middle ground, and grants sufficient leeway for communication of reasonable length. These characteristics of temperance, moderation, husbandry of the inland remind one of the several virtues of middle station of life described in Robinson Crusaoe by its author: Middle state is the most suited to happiness, not exposed to miseries and hardships, the labour and sufferings of the lower part of mankind; nor embarrassed with the pride, luxury, ambition and envy of the upper part of mankind.... The calamities of life are shared among the rich and the poor, but the middle station has the fewest disasters, and is not exposed to so many vicissitudes....
Economy of the inland and its kinship with the character and temperament of the middle class are not its only merits. There are many more as enumerated below:
l The inland, by singleness of sheet as well as the pain and expense of discarding an unsatisfactory first effort, counsels the writer to arrange and marshal his thoughts neatly.
l Charles Lamb calls the envelope modern foppery. It is often types, aloof and formal. But the inland, being almost always handwritten, has the air of intimacy and warmth. Absent friends are, in a manner, brought together.
l The benefit of handwritten communication is that ones handwriting remains in shape and does not degenerate for want of use.
l The pattern and flow of writing reflect the personality and mood of the writer - whether he was relaxed or distraught, earnest or casual, candid or pretentious.
l The inland teaches method and precision. Unlike the envelope, one cannot open it slap-dash; it has to be cut carefully along the prescribed line(s) only, to retain its integrity.
l The proof of date and place of posting is securely maintained. The envelope, i.e., the cover, on the other hand, is too easily thrown away and with it is lost the said proof, too.
l Through the side slits the inland offers a slight foretaste of the contents, if one is so inclined, much like the peep at a maidens face through her gently lifted veil.
l The inland has earmarked space for the writers address. A mere glance will tell who the letter comes from. Further, this address remains as record with the recipient for any use.
l One opens the envelope with mixed feelings of hope and trepidation, wondering what it may or may not contain. But, the inland, by ruling out enclosures, springs no surprises, and can be opened with confidence.
l The postage embossed on the inland saves one the bother of checking the weight and licking the stamps, as would be the case when using the envelope.
All glory, therefore, to
the inland! Although, for formal and official
correspondence, the envelope cannot be dispensed with,
yet for informal and personal communication the inland
has many advantages. It has a pre-eminence, uniquely its
own. Because of its virtuosity, the inland really
deserves wider usage and a better place in the scheme of
things. Let the reader wholeheartedly patronise the
inland, though I can assure him that I receive no
commission on its sale.
need for caution
SOME readers had expressed genuine doubts when Realpolitik had discussed the reform backlash. In a short span of one week this month, three developments have in quick succession further strengthened the emerging trend. The question here is not so much as the need for reform or bracing up to the global challenge. What is at stake is the very desire to protect the Indian interests. Ape others and do what others direct without bothering to see how beneficial will be the foreign-made remedies for India.
This week, Dr V. Kurien, pioneer of the Indian dairy movement, hit the point right in the presence of Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee. The latter had made the standard arguments against subsidies and its ill-effects on the poor and how it hurt the economy at large. Soon after him, Dr Kurien brought to the notice of Mr Vajpayee how foreign producers were being given hefty subsidies by their governments which give them deadly advantage against our farm products. If we remove subsidies and all legitimate concessions, as the Vajpayee Government has been doing, it will be the death knell for our farm products.
Even the most advanced countries, he reeled out figures, now provide $ 1,000 subsidy per ton on milk products which is almost 60 per cent of the product price. Thus the only way to provide a level playing ground was to impose 60 per cent import duty on all such products. The tragedy has been that though Mr Vajpayee seemed to listen to Dr Kuriens fervent appeal not to kill the Indian farm sector, it did not even move him a bit. It has been this insensitivity towards our own interests that poses the biggest challenge today.
Even to think of national economy or Indian interests is a great sin. Everyone is so conditioned to conform to what others think best for us. Whatever feeble attempts to safeguard the interests of domestic producers is derided as anti-reform. Independent thinking is considered irrational. The blinkered media makes it a point to discourage economic dissent. Even Dr Kuriens impassionate outbursts to save our farm products got virtually blacked out. What all the bravado of Mr Murasoli Maran on the exim policy. A few weeks before the announcement of the policy, the government came out with a seemingly innocuous announcement to bring down the maximum level of tariff to just 35 per cent.
We have a rather dismal record of protecting our products from dumping under the international procedures. Routinely, the affected producers are privately being about the impact of such government actions on investment. We are reaching a stage when anything could be get done by a simple threat of investment strike. The paranoia is so overawing. The corporate-driven business media has little space to deal with the problems of thousands of small industries which would be the worst sufferers under Mr Marans new policy. This is the one crucial sector that makes maximum contribution to our export earnings. They provide more employment than the whole corporate sector put together. Yet the entire sector is neglected.
It is often argued that when four years back over 85 per cent of the items were taken out of Q Rs that is allowing free imports it did not cause any serious harm to the domestic industry. The excise duty too has been slashed from 75 per cent down to as low as 25 per cent. Officially, none of this has led to many bankruptcies. Therefore, it is argued that total opening up of imports would cause no damage to the domestic industry.
But the comparison is hardly relevant. For, items so far allowed free imports pertained to capital goods, raw materials and components. All this had helped improve the domestic products. Such items were in any case being imported. It is for the first time after 50 years that the BJP government has allowed free import of mass consumer items finished and packaged items ready for the use of the elite and the burgeoning middle class. The very mention of foreign brand names will induce a section of our consumers to fall for the imported stuff even if the prices are substantially higher or quality not that superior.
Massive imports of consumer items are bound to lead to the closure of many units, mostly smaller ones, who will not be able to withstand the flood of goods with fancy advertising and marketing. Failure of the government to anticipate the forced imports and their consequences are bound to add to the spreading sickness of the small units and the resultant unemployment. The standard argument in favour of total free imports of consumer goods has been that it would make Indian goods more competitive and would lead to a surge in exports. But few have come out with any convincing evidence to prove the point.
Cries for help have already come from manufacturers of bread, confectionaries and milk products. The biscuit industry has warned of a layoff of 30,000 workers if they were not provided with adequate survival kits. Even Assocham has sounded and alarm over massive dumping of chemical products by several countries, including Japan, China and South Korea. An ardent globaliser, the association now laments that the economy of scale is bound to hurt the Indian units. They have cited 42 cases of dumping, most of which belonged to the chemical industry.
Our last years export growth was mainly due to the economic recovery of South-East Asia. It will not be possible to maintain this tempo. On the other, the harsh reality is that Indian goods will have to compete with that of South-East Asia in third countries. This is going to be a still more uphill task. Barring our excellent showing in software (anticipated growth in 2000-1 is about $ 1.5 billion) and traditional exports like gems and jewellery, most other fields are certain to face deadly competition. When Japan still not out of recession and the USA slow -ly recovering, exports growth will mean snatching markets from the competitors some thing extremely difficult for us. Much has been said about the 11 per cent exports growth during 11 months of the last financial year. But if exports had gone up, the surge in imports has been more steep with a rise in the trade deficits from $ 8.2 billion to $ 8.7 billion.
Incidentally, the intellectual servitude is not confined to the rich countries. Even China is being aped without really understanding the compulsions under which that country had adopted its economic zones concept. Unlike Dr Marans proposed tiny special economic zones, Chinas free trade zones are large contiguous tracts comprising whole provinces. They are part of their well charted programme to create two different sectors one to meet the globalisation challenge by removing all restrictions and with full capitalist mode and the other the closed domestic sector. It has been a compromise between the two systems. In the matter of range, reach and efforts, Mr Marans Sezs are a pale imitation of the more purposeful giant Chinese zones which have their presence in consumer markets the world over.
The other episode during the week pertains to the sudden crash in the stock market. This second largest fall for a single season the first being on April 23, 1992, due to the stocks scam reflects the serious pitfalls in the system. First, it marked the bursting of the IT bubble. For over six months, the media had depicted a highly exaggerated picture of the information technology stocks. Some of them made it a point to highlight the success stories of IT champions almost on a daily basis on the front page. A respected business writer even tried to run down the conventional stocks and asked youth to go in for knowledge-based ventures.
A few successful men were parachuted into the billionaires club overnight. Amidst this din and glitter, sane warnings by professional assessors went unheeded. Cool judgement was substituted by hype-induced euphoria and gross overvaluation of IT industries without going into their real capacity to earn profits. Business press cannot escape the charge of building up this make-believe-world as Dr Manmohan Singh had misled the world by claiming that the stocks spurt before the scam was the signs of the economic surge under him. Our drumbeaters realised the folly only when suddenly Nasdaq crash brought down BSE by as much as 360 points.
This months stocks crash should also make us reflect on the crude cartelisation of what was hailed as market-driven economic democracy. Ordinary stock holders have become pawns in the hands of institutional players, especially the FIIs. As in the case of small units, the media hardly bothers about them. There may not be anything new in this era of money worship. But what should cause concern for the thinking public has been the manner in which the BJP government surrendered to the crude armstwisting by the FIIs during this months crash. There are over 500 listed FIIs with an investment of about $ 11.50 billion. About 70 per cent of them route their business through Mauritius taking advantage of a 1982 tax avoidance accord with that country.
The moment the IT
officials began a survey of the capital tax fraud being
committed by the erring FIIs about Rs 9 crore in
the first lot they began moving the earth. They
struck by causing a stocks crash, which incidentally,
they used to corner more stocks at 360 points cheaper.
The countrys Finance Minister bowed to the
armstwisting. One should see the unusual speed with which
he set up a permament mechanism in the
Finance Ministry to remove any such future
misunderstanding. Under this, any FII could
directly contact the assigned ministry official for
clarifications.It is such actions that have
the potential of causing a backlash from the frustrated
ONE of the resolutions, passed at the recent session of the Sikh Educational Conference, is that in opinion of the Conference the chief cause of the backwardness of primary education in the Punjab is the inadequacy of grants-in-aid.
As free and compulsory education cannot be promoted without a substantial increase in the grants-in-aid, the Conference requested the Government to raise the grant to a primary school, or to the primary branch of a secondary school to 75 per cent of the total expenditure, if it had a satisfactory record of work.
With the spirit of this suggestion we are in complete agreement. At the same time, it is only fair to add that the Government is not alone to blame in this matter.
The local bodies, which
can surely do something in this direction, have, with the
exception of a few, shown utter callousness towards this
paramount need of the people and are spending only a
small percentage of their total income for this purpose.
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