|Sunday, September 17, 2000,
South scrambles for share in IT
Projecting the future of computing
Similarity ends with Bill
Sitting on the powder keg of
South scrambles for share in
IT is a battle royale among three southern states. The target is to outclass each other in information technology. Electronics is the buzz word. Never mind the poverty, illiteracy, deprivation and the ignorance of the backward castes. Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh are trying hard to overtake the others. Kerala too is not lagging behind. The four states have Maharashtras industrial investment in mind. Each of these four states have spent over Rs 1,000 crore, and more is in pipeline to set up IT highways, IT parks to help boost export of both software and hardware; and, more importantly, manpower.
Here is this old portcity, Chennai, where the British landed first in the 16th century and then moved to conquer India. As statues of old and modern-day kings and queens dot the Marina Beach between the East Coast road and old Mahabalipuram road, an ultra modern complex to vend software has come up. Spicot information technology park, Siruseri houses the brands Pentamedia, Polaris, Infosys, Wipro and Elcot, the countrys top-notch companies, valued at several thousand crores of rupees, producing software for American and European companies.
Experts using small computers, unlike the old huge machines making cars or cloth, are creating with their nimble finger software which the USA and European companies desperately need. What is being traded would cost three times in those countries. It is an entirely new world, a new class of software experts who with their nimble fingers and sharp minds are busy creating a new world, says veteran economic journalist Sarat Chandran Nair.
The Tidel Park, 12 km from the airport in Chennai, is buzzing with activity and has created its own kind of world which a normal Chennian would find difficult to understand. Rentals for office space are one of the lowest in the country. This is a major attraction for companies to take space in the building the state government has created.
What has Chennai got and about which the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister,Mr M. Karunanandhi, boasts about is this: In 1994-95, Tamil Nadu exported software worth an annual average of Rs 5 crore. The figure is now Rs 1,270 crore an increase of 192 per cent. He aims to increase it to Rs 2,500 crore this year. It may not be difficult as most major players in the IT industry have made Chennai either their first or second destination.
At another level, Tamil Nadu is set to emerge as the IT hub of Asia, declares a major economic daily quoting a Harvard University study.
There are claims and counter-claims among the ranking states in the South. They have also to fight out with the western state of Maharashtra, the countrys top state in terms of economic growth during the past 50 years. While a CMIE study last fortnight placed Maharashtra at number five and Tamil Nadu at six, Karnataka was number 10 in the overall rating. It was in social sector development that Tamil Nadu gained more marks and came fourth. But then Maharashtra is more affluent as number five. And, in the finally reckoning, Delhi outclassed all others in terms of attracting investment.
And pray, which is the cyber haven of India? The number of Internet subscribers countrywide is about 9.5 lakh. They are expected to go up to 38 lakh by 2002. Andhra Pradesh that Cyberabad of Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu had just 50,000-odd connections. It was far lower than Maharashtra with over 3 lakh and Delhi 1.64 lakh. Tamil Nadu too outclassed Cyberabad with 62,000 Internet users. In terms of per million users, Andhra had 664 per 10,000, Delhi 11,744 and Maharashtra 3,299 connections.
But it is more important to know what the experts say. The Harvard University's Institute of International Development, which studied the growth of information technology in detail in Tamil Nadu, rated it as the emerging hub of Asia. Out of the 26 states which have announced their IT policies, Tamil Nadu has come out with a very comprehensive document. With its 46 per cent share in the service sector of the GDP, it could grow very fast and be the centre of I T development Asiawide. The Harvard study said, "Tamil Nadu has intelligently exploited the state's inherent strengths to build a world-class base for auto-manufacturing. Having established its reputation as the Detroit of India, Tamil Nadu must now strive to build a worldwide recognition for being the cyber capital of India." The state has grown from a software export of just Rs 37 crore in 1995-96 to Rs 1,890 crore in 1999-2000 and the number of software units from just 34 to 596.
The Institute has also noted: "A late-comer to join the IT revolution, Tamil Nadu has nonetheless made remarkable progress in the past five years. Building on the state's inherent advantages a large reservoir of IT skills, low cost of living, investor-friendly public policies and better than average infrastructure the state government has multiplied efforts to attract foreign investment. Software exports have zoomed from nowhere to $300 million in 1998."
The Ninth Plan target (2001-2002) is to take the IT revenue from the state to Rs 13,000 crore (Rs 5,000 crore in hardware and Rs 8,000 crore software).
The Harvard Institute has also said that the state administration has been very successful with its international promotion efforts to project it the best place for car manufacturing (Ford, Hyundai and Mitsubishi Lancer).
The government needs to display a similar market-savvy approach and launch an international promotional campaign to establish the "IT brand equity of Tamil Nadu worldwide".
The state needs to build its marketing strategy on its comparative advantages. Some Indian states, despite scoring much lower than Tamil Nadu in various socio-economic indicators, have managed to emerge as the top destinations for IT investments.
In two areas a skilled labour force and specialised infrastructure Tamil Nadu outshines all other Indian states. It could, therefore, convert these comparative advantages into a competitive advantage in order to aggressively woo foreign IT MNCs to invest in the state.
But these studies and assessments have their own kind of approach and value. For example, a Business Today study came out with a different ranking for the states. It found 54 per cent of the investors still opting for Maharashtra, a leader for decades. Gujarat attracted another 47 per cent. Andhra equalled that. Karnataka was happy with 36 per cent and Tamil Nadu could attract only 32 per cent. So all claims for being the number one are a simple hype, if this study is to be believed. Interestingly, Madhya Pradesh pushed even Punjab down. It attracted 10 per cent while Punjab got only 8 per cent. Investors studied by Business Today found Haryana and Rajasthan equally attractive with 9 per cent opting for these states.
Then there is a CII study for the period between August 1991 and April 2000. It found Maharashtra in terms of industrial proposals as the most attractive destination. It secured 19.54 per cent. Gujarat came second with 13.3 per cent, Uttar Pradesh had 9.74 per cent and Tamil Nadu 9.56 per cent. How many proposals really materialised can make a significant difference.
The industry profile of Tamil Nadu has much to crow about. Education, particularly in mathematics and science, is traditionally of a very high standard. In some engineering colleges, the cut-off marks, even for the Scheduled Castes candidates, are as high as 90 per cent. Though Tamil Nadu is the seventh largest state with 63 million people, its annual fertility rate is the second lowest -- lower than the UK, the USA and China. Significantly, its achievements in human resource development is third among all Indian states. The slogan is "bicycles to battle tanks" and Chennai, with 55 lakh people, is happily called the Detroit of India for automobile giants like Hyundai, Ford Mitsubishi , Ashok Leyland and General Motors.
Right now the state has a share of 23 per cent in software export. It is because of a strong industrial base in the first line of industries. It has a share of 33 per cent in heavy commercial vehicles, 35 per cent in auto components, 13 per cent in motorcycles, 46 per cent in mopeds, 49 per cent in railway coaches, 32 per cent in cotton yarn, a staggering 70 per cent in leather tanning and 17 per cent in newsprint. This helps in figuring out the position of Tamil Nadu in the national context. It is possible because of its strategic location on the sea coast and the location of a good number of modern ports. Northern states like Punjab or Haryana do not have this facility and hence have to fight to be industrially upwardly mobile. No doubt the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) has put Tamil Nadu at number three in the country in terms of infrastructure development.
And yet, another important factor provides a real sturdy base. Its 149 engineering colleges turn out 32,000 graduates, 15,000 of them in computer sciences and software engineering. There is a full-fledged Engineering University, besides IIT and MIT and over 184 polytechnics and 526 ITIs. Working environment adds to the favourable factor.
And, how have fresh investments moved countrywide and who wears the crown? Tamil Nadu that received 8.45 per cent of the total investments until 1996 has now moved up. Since May 1996, it has received a total investment of Rs 53,481 crore or 23.50 per cent of the total national investment. It attracted foreign direct investment (FDI) of Rs 14,122 crore till January this year, much of it since 1996. Tamil Nadu has been giving a tough fight to Maharashtra, the leader in industrial development for the past 50 years. According to the CMIE report, Tamil Nadu was short by Rs 318 crore Rs 1,56,918 crore against Rs 1,57,236 crore of Maharashtra but the August 2000 figures released by CMIE showed a better position for this South Indian state. It ranked it at number one with an investment totalling Rs 1,60, 840 crore against Maharashtra's Rs 1,58,410 crore. While Maharashtra has challenged these findings, yet it is clear that Tamil Nadu with better infrastructure, better power supply, lower land prices, trained manpower and other facilities has certainly choked Maharashtra. But in project implementation, Maharashtra still beats the rest of India.
"There is yet another way to look at the fast track development," said economic journalist V. Balasubramanian. "These growth indicators are the number of income tax assessees has gone up from 6.86 lakh in 1998-99 to 8.10 lakh in 1999-2000. The total income tax collected is Rs 2510 crore in 1999-2000 as against Rs 1,780 crore in 1997-98. This in Chennai alone. In the same way, the cheques cleared by the RBI in 1990-91 were worth Rs 1,76,130 crore and in 1999-2000 the amount shot up to Rs 4,30,140 crore. Chennai has now over one million telephones against five lakh in 1996. This shows a marked trend, he observes.
Maharashtra has long secured a slot for itself and had continued to be the number one investment destination. It earned the sobriquet of number one and the real corporate capital; now this new study by the Centre for Monitoring the Indian Economy has not placed the cyber-obsessed Andhra Pradesh or the software-savvy Karnataka, but Tamil Nadu at the number one place. "We would like the entire world to know this. We really have jumped ahead and become number one," said senior officer R.Subramanian. But Maharashtra's plus point is that it has more projects under implementation. Power projects in both Andhra and Tamil Nadu are struck at the negotiation levels.
Karnataka which organised a month-long global investors meet in June was happy to receive proposals worth Rs 27,700 crore. Among the big league players who showed keen interest were BPL, Reliance, Zee Telefilms , Enron and TVS Suzuki. In July alone, 59 proposals were cleared by the Karnataka government. "It is all on fast track," officials claimed.
Sector-wise approval also showed that the software technology park claimed 19.12 per cent ( Rs 4827 crore ) of the allocation for 2000-01. Add another 2.85 per cent for the IT township Rs 720 crore and another Rs 1,677 crore for electronics industries and Rs 130 crore for electronics, it command a good chunk of the total some 29 per cent of total plan. Similar were the claims of Maharashtra.
But there are grey areas. One, competition from Bangalore and Karnataka, which are doing very well, is really tough. Bangalore still is a cosmopolitan city and attracts talent worldwide. Bureaucratic delays still nag the industrialists as does corruption, though many have reconciled to that. Power supply is sufficient but erratic. Quality is still poor, most industrialists feel. Political tension too sends disturbing signals. Some claimed that despite the kidnapping of film icon Rajkumar by forest brigand Veerappan, not many dark clouds are there. It could be a passing phase. But it has made the public mood dark.
"While floods and strikes over the power rates in Andhra send similar signals, the mood would be upbeat in all the three major centres. Hyderabad has still a big chance to retain the sobriquet of being Cyberabad as does Bangalore. In fact, the contribution by these three states in IT export right now is Rs 2,000 crore, plus Karnataka's Rs 1270 crore and Tamil Nadu's Rs 650 crore show the real potential, observed a senior it department officer. Since he was commenting on the three southern states, he did not wish to be identified. He predicted at least a 30 per cent jump for all the three in 2000-01.
But this kind of hard competition to woo information technology companies has one major negative point. These four states are spending too much out of their meagre resources. "I find it strange when it is time for the merger of major world corporations. There is one European market, why should scarce resources be wasted in duplication? These states can form a consortium, carefully chose projects and infrastructure in four centres like Chennai, Hyderabad, Bangalore and Thiruvananthapuram and form one giant-size infrastructure corporation," suggests former chairman of the Indian Overseas Bank Mr K. Subramanya. He has a valid point. But given the competitive politics, this may remain just a good suggestion.
According to Mr N.R Narayanamurthy, Chief Execu-tive of Infosys Technologies, Bangalore, India spent $2.7 billion, a mere 0.27 per cent, while the world is spending one trillion dollars. In 1999, Indian software companies employed over two lakh professionals to generate revenue of around $4 billion. Exports were $2.7 billion and domestic sales Rs 1.3 billion. It is just 1.8 per cent of what United States professionals do in the services so far $220 billion. Indian hardware industries sold some 6.3 lakh pieces and their American counterparts something like 36 million personal computers. That was in 1998. World expenditure on it was 3.4 per cent of the total GDP of $29 trillion. India spent a meagre 0.7 per cent of the GDP of $380 billion.
This is one way to look
at the it sector and its potential. But clearly an
over-emphasis, now discernible among the policy planners
and executioners, could be dangerous. The southern
states, like their counterparts elsewhere in India, face
problems of poverty, inequality 40 per cent below
the poverty line illiteracy, lack of drinking
water, unemployment, health and roads, cannot ignore the
real issues of development. That could be economically
knave and politically catastrophic.
Projecting the future of computing in India
But from 1989 some kind of proactive work started. By then the real push came with the new reforms initiated by Dr Manmohan Singh, the then Finance Minister in the Congress Government. Some of the steps that yielded good results were:
How India, a new entrant to the IT market, was placed vis-a-vis the world in the matter of information technology? Here is what chief executive of the Infosys N.R. Narayanamurte has to say: India has acquired a critical mass of recognition as the country-of-choice for software services. Around 25 per cent of Fortune-500 companies do business with Indian software companies. Several hi-tech multinationals have set up captive software development centres in India.
The major application areas in which the Indian companies specialise are: airlines, manufacturing, insurance, banking and financial services, retail, distribution, telecom and systems software.
Indias strategy has been to: (a) compete on quality and productivity and not just on cost; (b) become solution providers in niche application areas; (c) leverage India-based software factories for high growth and high margins; and (d) move up the value chain by focusing on branded services, products, and IT consulting. The value chain of Indian software export companies is: state 1 activities (one-site services);
State 2 activities (India-based activities), including fixed price software development projects, re-engineering of existing systems to contemporary technologies and to a higher level of functionality, maintenance of software systems; and branded services for one-time opportunities like Y2K and eurocurrency.
State 3 activities are systems integration, products and IT consulting.
Today, barring a few exceptions, a majority of Indian software exporters are at state 2 while a few companies are still at stage.
1 Even fewer companies derive a significant percentage of their revenue from stage 3.
In the millennium, business imperatives faced b service providers will bring the following paradigms to the Indian software industry.
Software project durations, currently averaging eight to 12 months, will reduce to two to three months. There will be high parallelism in the development of software. In addition, clients will expect to see short-term deliverables that bring quicker business benefits. New forms of requirements definition will evolve. Interaction with clients will increase.
China, Egypt, Israel, Ireland, the Philippines and Mexico will become Indias competitors. Clients will shop around for the best value for their money. Many international companies will set up their own captive development units in these countries.
Time zone differences will be utilised to run relays in distributed, problems solving. Twenty-four-hour work will become the norm. Collaborative maintenance and problem solving based on geographically distributed knowledge teams will provide quicker responses to client needs, help and support desks will be located in lower cost economies.
One segment that will receive tremendous attention is the provision of remote IT-enabled support services in areas like hotel and airline reservations, medical transcription, telemarketing services, design and drafting services, and digitisation services, just to name a few. Growth in this segment is driven by the rapidly increasing costs of human resources, particularly in second and third shifts in countries like the USA. These services can be obtained for a fraction of the cost from low-cost countries like India that are strategically located nine to twelve hours from the US. Thus, at 5.30 p.m. every evening, telephone calls from customers, would be automatically transferred to India and local employees there would take over from their US counterparts. This opportunity can generate employment for at least 2 to 3 million employees at salaries of Rs 10,000 per month. But, a key prerequisite for success is connectivity between private networks and public switched networks in India and in the US a measure that the Department of Telecommunications currently objects to.
Software development teams will be partitioned into multiple concurrent teams across the globe to take advantage of skill availability. Collaborative distributed development will become common. Conceptualisation in Canada, architecture in France, design and programming in India and hardware manufacture in Taiwan will be an accepted mode of working. India will become an important node in the global software development strategy of most hi-tech multinationals. Engineers from India will become pro-active innovators. Desktop video-conferencing, workgroup computing and high bandwidth data communication will allow Indian engineers to participate in discussions from their offices and homes.
Like in the shoe manufacturing industry today, countries like India will become the suppliers of hi-tech labour in large numbers.
There will be a shakeout since the industry has become more capital intensive.
An original thinker,
linguist & scholar
K.N. Govindacharya has fallen from grace because, it is said, he is not liked by the Prime Minister. Yet he has over the years acquired the image of the BJPs ideologue. He is, no doubt, an intellectual, an original thinker, a linguist and a scholar. He is eloquent both in Hindi and English and can speak in the local dialects of eastern U.P. and Bihar like a son of the soil. This is an achievement for one who was born in a staunch non-Hindi state like Tamil Nadu. Govindji, as he is popularly known, has vetted BJPs resolutions for years and excelled in the company of intellectuals, in seminars and in interaction with the media. Soft spoken but forthright in expressing his views, he is known to be a hardliner in the BJP, possibly, because of his long years in the RSS where he reached the exalted position of Pracharak. Also he has a computer-like memory and can real off facts and figures without blinking his eyes.
Govindacharya has read Karl Marx and Das Capital very difficult reading indeed and also gone through the works of the Socialist leader, Dr Ram Manohar Lohia. Even though he is a diehard RSS man, Govindji is a great admirer of both Marx and Lohia. I think Karl Marx was a Rishi. This is why his pro-poor voice echoed throughout the world, he said in a recent interview. He has also expressed publicly his respect for Lohia because the Socialist leader started the peoplisation of politics. His other icon is Deendayal Upadhayaya whom he considers more pro-poor than any Marxist but feels that only one side of his personality-nationalism was highlighted.
As far back as 1997, Govindacharya hit the headlines by coining the expression mukhauta (mask of the BJP) for Atal Behari Vajpayee and the word became virtually a part of the political vocabulary and a cartoonists delight; its usage cut across party lines. Mukhauta has fallen was the refrain when the Prime Minister described himself as a life-long swayamsevak at the RSS headquarters in Nagpur and, later when the swayamsevak controversy touched off at Staten Island. Govindacharyas articulation four years back was a bitter truth given the dominance of the RSS at that time but the wording was derogatory to a senior leader like Vajpayee. Since then the chasm between the two went on widening and finally the ideologue was shown the door.
Govindacharya denies that he is anti-Vajpayee. Atalji has wide acceptability, it is worth emulating, and from this angle I respect him. But the ideologue feels that no politics is best politics. He candidly makes the point: I go straight but nobody believes in this.
His services were transferred from the RSS to the BJP in 1988 and he was attached to the then party President L.K. Advani for political grooming. He picked up fast and began climbing up the ladder within a year but he was not so lucky. Govindji evoked the ire of Murli Manohar Joshi who headed the party for a short two-year term. It was said that the ideologue, possibly, had to pay the price for his proximity to Advani and was rail- roaded to Chennai for no valid reason and given no specific assignment. It did not, however, take much time for him to return to centrestage.
Since then Govindji has been the BJPs troubleshooter and has held charge of such key states as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Rajasthan and pledged to give a new look to the party in the three states but disaster followed one after another. In U.P. dissidence reached a point of no return and culminated in the expulsion of the former Chief Minister, Mr Kalyan Singh, whose hostility towards the Prime Minister is well known. In Bihar he was charged with encouraging casteism, indiscipline and groupism and in Rajasthan power passed on to the Congress as the faction-ridden BJP watched helplessly.
But U.P. proved to be his Achilles heel with setback after setback. Kalyan Singhs rebellion was followed by dismal showing of in the Lok Sabha elections and cross-voting in the Rajya Sabha elections. Recently, the drubbing the BJP got in the panchayat elections the party trailed the Samajwadi Party and the BSP sent shock waves in BJP circles and the blame was squarely put on Govindacharya.
Govindji has, however, his own explanation for the plight of the BJP in U.P. Many of the critical decisions were not taken by him like having a rotational government with Mayawati and inducting defectors into the ministry after the BSP withdrew support to the Kalyan Singh Government. This obviously smashed the partys image. He was not even consulted when Kalyan Singh was replaced by an imbecile Ram Prakash Gupta but was later asked to retrieve the situation.
Govindacharya is now 57 and a bachelor. His name, at one stage, was linked with Uma Bharati. Both are still unmarried.
Though born in Tamil
Nadu, he was educated in Varanasi and is a product of
Banaras Hindu University where he showed outstanding
performance. His father was a Sanskrit teacher in
Varanasi and this explains why Govindacharya is so well
versed in that ancient language. He is associated with
the RSS since his student days. Govindji might have been
marginalised as of now but he has the potential to bounce
back to the centrestage before long.
Similarity ends with Bill
IN a span of six months, the Capital has been host to two powerful personalities of the world. First it was US President Bill Clinton who made waves in the Capital and last week it was the turn of yet another Bill Gates of Microsoft fame.
There was a section of the media which tried to play up the visit of Gates in the same manner as they did with Clinton. One got to read that Gates likes to wear Italian suits and Oscar de la Renta ties. That he chose to gorge on Shikampuri kebab, Koh-e-Avadh, Reshmi, Peshawari and Burra kebab while sipping two diet cokes also made front page reading.
The media was not alone in comparing Bill Gates with the US President. Taking cue from the Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister, Mr Chandrababu Naidu, who presented Clinton with a driving licence at the click of a mouse during his trip to Hyderabad in March, the Gujarat Chief Minister, Mr Keshubai Patel, followed suit by doing a similar act with Gates. He presented him with a smartcard driving licence valid till 2005 and hoped that the software czar would return after five years to renew it. The proposed meeting of the Bihar Chief Minister, Mrs Rabri Devi, with the Microsoft Chairman was also billed as a big event, but, then it fizzled out as the meeting did not materialise. There were some uncharitable remarks that Rabri Devi probably mistook the IT meeting for income tax meeting.
The common man was, however, not amused with all the attention given to the worlds richest individual. An autorickshaw driver outside Maurya Hotel, where Gates was staying, remarked that the world had so much time for the rich. Nobody cares for the poor. Commenting on the pothole-ridden roads in the capital, he said Clintons visit was that way useful. The authorities at least launched a beautification drive in the Capital. No such luck during Gates visit.
EC opens up
For the first time in the history of the Election Commission, the media was allowed to be present during the hearing of the case pertaining to the CPMs derecognition as a national party held by the full-bench Commission at Nirvachan Sadan here on September 8.
The openness was revealed again on September 16 when Nirvachan Sadan, which resembles a fortress with all the security paraphernalia, was thrown open to the mediapersons to cover the meeting of all-party representatives on one of the important poll-related issues model code of conduct.
As far as Dr Gill is concerned, the practice of allowing mediapersons for Election Commissions hearings and important meetings will continue.
While Dr Gills intentions are laudable, the space provided in the commission for this exercise is not enough. There is a severe space crunch in the conference room of Nirvachan Sadan. Will the EC think of holding such important meetings in the open lawn to reflect the complete openness in his approach!
We are to blame for most ills plaguing society, asserted Mr Bitta during an interaction with parents of Kargil martyrs in the Capital. Taking a dig at the State Governments of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu for readily agreeing to exchange prisoners in exchange for cinestar Rajkumar, he asked how long would the governments adopt soft course towards terrorists. Urging the Centre to send an unambiguous message to those indulging in terrorist acts like kidnapping, Mr Bitta offered to go to the jungles in which Veerappan is hiding.
What ails Indian
While the country head of the consultancy firm, Mr Simon Bell, was frank enough to admit that the sample of 600 tourist filling up the questionnaire at the departure lounge of Indira Gandhi International Airport, was not a big enough data to come to any conclusion, Mr Kumar went overboard by announcing that the new tourism policy would incorporate the findings of the survey.
Poor road conditions and lack of basic civic amenities, the survey said were the areas of concern of the tourists. If the Government has to spend lakhs of rupees on such a survey and depend on the Americans to tell them what is wrong with the country, then God alone save India.
Hot air balloon
However, the hot air balloon was too hot for the organisers to handle. It did not go up more than 25 feet and there was no breeze to come to the aid of the organisers. The fiasco proved that they had done little homework before offering it to the public.
One of the delegates, whose spirits of soaring high in the sky to view the white marvel and the symbol of immortal love were damped even before take off, said This is like Indian tourism, it has grounded even before take off.
Sitting on the powder keg of
PATNA: It was bound to happen. As the day for the creation of Jharkhand state approaches, the hue and cry over the religious conversion of tribals has started and as a result, tension grips some of the areas of the tribal south, where any day there can be an event a la Saints of Orissa. The Christian missionaries on the one side and the Hindutva brigade on the other are face-to-face over the conversion issue and as sentiments run high, any eventuality is not a distant possibility.
Reports reaching the state capital maintain that the areas surrounding the Baghmara block of Dhanbad district, one of the 18 districts of the proposed Jharkhand state, are agog with the news that tribals of the Gopalpur village are being lured by the Christian missionaries to convert them to Christianity. Tension mounts as there is the news that four tribals Prem Marandi, Seril Marandi, Moti Marandi and Sone Lal Hembram have already been converted. The Gopalpur village has around 50 houses of tribals. The Hindutva lobby is said to be very angry over the allurement of tribals into Christianity. They allege that two Christian priests regularly visit the Gopalpur village and attempt to convert the tribals by giving them gifts and promising them a heaven. They complain that the priests have also made the families of the above four tribals ready for conversion through their usual allurements. The local non-tribals admit that the tribals are given monetary help too.
The Christian missionaries, however, refute the charges of forced conversion or allurement for any dubious purposes. Admitting that some of the tribals have accepted Christianity, they insist that none of them have either been forced or lured. The priests say that the tribals have converted into Christianity on their own sweet will and this is no crime in the eyes of the law. They also admit that they have been in regular touch with the tribals to create awakening among them. It is to be mentioned here that the Christian missionaries have lived in these parts of Bihar for more than 50 years and they have done tremendous work in the field of education and health care. The priests have been instrumental in not only providing guidance to the tribals for their uplift but also worked hard to drive away the superstitions among the tribals. It is only after the burning alive of a Christian missionary and his two sons in Orissa and the resultant ballyhoo about the forced conversion by the Hindutva lobby that these missionaries in tribal Bihar have come under close scrutiny and suspicion. The tension followed and now the scenario is fragile.
So far no confirmed case of forced conversion has come to light in Bihar. And that is why the finger cannot be raised over the activities of the missionaries. But there are two reasons which can be ascribed for the continuous accusations and the perceived threat to the lives of the Christian missionaries here in Bihar. The most important factor is that the missionaries interact mostly with the tribals. The tribals are the most oppressed lot. There is a hierarchy of looters who have befooled and troubled the tribals since ages. The attempt of the missionaries to educate the tribals and free them from the clutches of their traditional oppressors has antagonised them. The ojhas( witch doctors) and the Banias (money lenders) are among the top enemies of the missionaries. The missionaries zeal to educate the tribals and give them monetary help has infuriated the above two classes of people. Often the ojhas and the Banias spread rumours and misinform the locals to build antagonistic sentiments against them. They even hire criminal elements among the tribals to hurt or kill the missionaries. These elements are also used to spread rumours.
Then there is that Hindutva lobby working to create their base in the tribal region. The missionaries over the years have spread even to the most interior parts of the hilly and forested tracts. The RSS-VHP in the recent years have attempted to match their spread by sending their cadre to run schools in such remote parts. These schools are allegedly aimed at countering the influence of Christianity. It cannot be ruled out that vested interests use the name of Hindutva lobby in attacking the missionaries and vice-versa. The rural society in the state is suited for such mischiefs.
As the BJP is set to
form its first government in Jharkhand, the conversion
issue is bound to come up prominently in the future. The
charged-up scenario may result in such irrational actions
like the one that happened in Orissa. The state authority
is not geared to prevent that as the remote parts of
tribal Bihar still has to feel the presence of the state
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