The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, September 17, 2000

The nuclear conundrum
Review by
Bimal Bhatia

Rethink on Enlightenment
Review by
Rumina Sethi

He is the outcaste of society
Review by
Shatini Kalia

Looking into future, cautiously
Review by
D.R. Chaudhry

Castes: the other view
Review by
Surinder S. Jodhka

Food security — then and now
Review by
Randeep Wadehra

The day Karmapa assumed office


The nuclear conundrum
Review by Bimal Bhatia

Nuclear India: Problems and Perspectives edited by A. Subramanyam Raju. South Asian Publishers, New Delhi. Pages 214. Rs 350.

NUCLEAR issues have come upfront in global strategic thought. Within the global context South Asia is on a virtual short fuse with a concentration of nuclear weapon states — Russia, China, India and Pakistan — in close proximity. If you draw a mental picture of this nuclear mosaic in Asia, you will find that these states are shoulder to shoulder with a peculiar mix of their respective national interests, mostly conflicting.

Superimpose on this grim picture the Indo-Pak adverse relationship because of Kashmir and a crisis of identity which Pakistan is unable to face, and you will see a certain flashpoint in spite of the claims of "nuclear responsibility" proffered by Pakistan.

The Pokhran tests by India in May, 1998, which Pakistan duly followed up with the tests at Chagai, focused the world’s attention to this region and started a debate about the nuclearisation of South Asia. Among the many attempts to understand the new strategic situation was a two-day seminar on "Nuclear India: Problems and Perspectives" held at Hyderabad on April 5 and 6, 1999. This initiative was unique in the sense that it was organised by the young Indian alumni of the summer workshop on "Defence, Technology and Cooperative Security in South Asia". A fledgling set-up, it has since 1996 been sponsored annually by the Colombo-based Regional Centre for Strategic Studies.

Among other issues, the consequences of a nuclearised South Asia, prospects for disarmament and confidence-building measures in the region were addressed. Compiled by A. Subramanyam Raju in this book are the 16 papers presented by the "younger generation of Indian analysts", according to the foreword.

Raju’s own paper is based on a limited survey conducted in four cosmopolitan cities — Calcutta, Delhi, Hyderabad and Mumbai. The reason for India testing the nuclear devices, according to the majority of respondents (56 per cent), was to enhance India’s international status. India wants to emerge as a great power, according to them. They feel that the nuclear tests conducted are more for status than for security needs and an attempt to put an end to nuclear apartheid.

One quarter of the respondents felt that the threat might come from China and Pakistan, and 10 per cent visualised a threat from other nuclear weapons powers. The survey suggests that the government should give importance to the views of the younger generation.

W. Lawrence S. Prabhakar maps the relationship between crisis escalation and low-intensity conflicts. The unresolved political issues of conflicts on the external front are linked with internal security challenges — Kashmir, communal violence in India and the Mohajir problem in Sindh in Pakistan. The spurt of internal violence within the states in the from of communal/ethnic movements, terrorism and insurgencies has the potential of crisis escalation.

While the prospect of a direct conventional war remains low because of the exorbitant costs and damage, proxy wars would remain the main form of conflict in South Asia in years to come. The nuclear stalemate between India and Pakistan has effectively sealed the options for a major conventional war as it could escalate into a nuclear exchange. Low-intensity conflicts, on the other hand, serve to bleed the economic and military strength of the adversary without raising the stakes, as with Pakistan in Kashmir.

Santishree Pandit argues that the major issue that led to an overt posture by India was the failure of the five nuclear powers (P-5) to accommodate Indian security concerns. Rather, they have exposed India to nuclear blackmail —by China in 1965 and the USA in 1971. She cites Prime Minister Vajpayee’s letter to Bill Clinton a day after the nuclear tests in which is outlined the deteriorating security environment, especially the nuclear scene, faced by India and the assistance of China to help Pakistan become a covert nuclear state. She argues that India’s nuclear policy is not South Asia-specific but one of self-defence.

Rama Melkote explains that the anti-CTBT lobby has picked up cue from those who argue that India needs nuclear "deterrence" if its security is to be safeguarded and hence must not surrender its nuclear option. As a nuclear war cannot be won and should not be fought, the sole purpose of nuclear weapons is to deter intimidation by another nuclear weapons power and to retaliate if a nation has been attacked with nuclear weapons.

On the whole, the balance of advantage has worked against the use of nuclear weapons, she argues. Nuclear weapons provide a false sense of security. In the Arab-Israeli context, it is politics and diplomacy and not nuclear weapons which have protected Israel. In the 90 armed conflicts that occurred between 1989 and 1993, which involved the governments of 60 countries, nuclear weapons had no role in improving the prospects of security of societies afflicted by systemic violence.

Most states face threats to security from within, from ethnic divisions, aggressive nationalism and terrorist movements. This calls into question the very manner in which nation-states are historically and ideologically constructed. It is in this context that both India and Pakistan must critically look at their own histories and evaluate their security needs, Melkote says. Nuclear weapons can do nothing to reduce the threat of aggressive nationalism, social and political instability or contribute to prosperity. Nuclear weapons can only produce a false sense of security which feeds on notions of national grandeur.

Mohd Moazzam Ali follows the same line in discussing whether Pokhran-II has made India more secure. He raises certain questions. Whom was the overt nuclearisation aimed at? He quotes Jaswant Singh who maintained more than a year later in August, 1999, that India’s nuclear programme is neither country-specific nor threat-specific. It is aimed at enhancing India’s "strategic space and autonomy".

Will the bomb help India to get Aksai Chin back from China, asks Ali. Right from 1974 China must have reckoned India’s nuclear capability. Overall, vis-a-vis China, the Pokhran-II tests have not made India more secure than it already was after 1974. He buttresses the argument by citing the Indian Defence Ministry’s 1998-99 annual report which states that India does not regard China as an adversary and that India was in favour of forging "mutually friendly relations" with China peacefully and through bilateral negotiations as quickly as possible.

Stable and strategic deterrence between India and Pakistan had been operative for the past eight years. Yet, through Pokhran-II, India proffered on a platter the opportunity Pakistan was looking for to go overtly nuclear. Pakistan can now play the underdog and argue that big bully Indian forced the nuclearisation on it. And, after India’s tests the relatively dormant question of Kashmir not only did not go away, but also got effectively internationalised. India’s nuclear tests also pushed China and Pakistan closer than before.

While Ali asks India to refrain from signing the CTBT without developing a credible nuclear deterrent which we have not quantified or defined, he concludes in this updated paper — the Vajpayee government had fallen by one vote soon after this seminar was held — that the BJP regime has succeeded in saddling the successor regime with a foreign policy mess of enormous magnitude.

That the Vajpayee dispensation bounced back, via Kargil, into power and inherited its own mess is another matter.


Rethink on Enlightenment
Review by Rumina Sethi

A copy of the Encyclopedie lying on the table of Madame de Pompadour, whose benevolent neutrality helped the encyclopedists.

Introducing the Enlightenment by Lloyd Spencer and Andrzej Krauze. Icon Books, Cambridge. Pages 176. £ 8.99.

OURS is not an enlightened age. Fundamentalism, superstition, cynicism and fear seem to be gaining ground. But we are still products of the Englightenment. Our circumstances may be more knotty and our intellectual standing more sophisticated, but we face predicaments which would be familiar to a Diderot, a Voltaire or a Rousseau.

Of course, our predicaments are of a different kind, especially for those who live in the periphery of a North-South divide. We can ask along with Foucault: "What is that reason that we use? What are its historical effects? What are its limits, and what are its dangers?"

The author of "Introducing the Enlightenment", Lloyd Spenser, with inputs from artist Andrzej Krauze, attempts to answer these questions. "The Enlightenment was an intellectual current that galvanised Europe during the course of the 18th century. Centred in Paris, it spread itself across the whole of Europe to the American colonies. Networks of writers and thinkers gave the 18th century a remarkable intellectual coherence."

More important than any other work was the great French "Encyclopaedie" of Denis Diderot, a landmark in the story of the human mind that exemplified the Age of Enlightenment and epitomised the rationalism and scepticism of the age. It is a whole library consisting of writing on philosophy, natural history, economics, politics and many other subjects.

What is significant about this monumental work is that all its contributors were united in the task of creating a new and revolutionary way of life in contrast to the hegemony of the church. This decisive vehicle of the Age of Reason ushered in the term "Enlightenment", an event in human history that was a frontal attack on traditions of divine monarchy, a privileged church, a stratified social hierarchy, and a legal system that favoured the elites rather than the individual.

The enormous scientific and intellectual advancements made in the 17th century by the empiricism of Francis Bacon and Locke as well as by Decartes, Spinoza and others, had already fostered the belief in natural law and universal order and promoted a scientific approach to political and social issues. The intellectuals of the Enlightenment felt themselves to be part of a great movement representing the highest aspirations and possibilities of mankind. There were reformers who believed their cause was best served by the new passion for argument, criticism and debate.

This gave rise to a sense of "Human progress and belief in the state as a rational instrument. Spencer shows through lucid details how a new faith arose in the power of reason to improve human society. Reason appeared in all the glory of a new revelation; it claimed authority in every field and proposed to reform education, religion, morals, literature, economy and government in its own bright image.

Focusing especially on Voltaire, Diderot and Rousseau, the author describes the life of French salons which turned philosophy into a social force. And since all educated Europe looked to France for the latest notions, the works of the French philosophers reached England, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Sweden and Russia, and became European events.

Never had man been so confident that he could remould, if not himself, at least society. Not since the days of the Greek Sophists had there been so many ideas in the air. And because Paris had emerged as the intellectual centre of Europe, the Enlightenment became as wide a movement as were the Renaissance and the Reformation earlier.

In the field of literature, the principles of liberal humanism were made to serve the ends of all that was "fixed and enduring". When F.D. Maurice joined King’s College, London, as professor of English in the 1840s, he stressed the importance of the general values and attitudes which might be absorbed from English literature. This "distilled essence", naturally, preached great universalism: good literature is of timeless significance, "not for an age, but for all time" as Ben Johnson would put it.

As a corollary to this, literature needed no contextualising. Its socio-political, literary-historical or autobiographical contexts were secondary to its primary importance as "words on the page". We still seem to carry on with the technique called practical criticism which isolates the text from history and context. No wonder Shakespeare is "news which stays news", projecting the essentially unchanging mechanism of human nature, whether it be Anthony’s honour or Prospero’s benevolent patriarchy.

It is from the point of view of current critiques of all "grand narratives" that the author needs to go into a little more detail. Our own post-modern age has witnessed the collapse of essentialisms and of the authoritarian western accounts which have enshrined these sweeping principles. The questions that are posed towards the end of this book are: is the Enlightenment project over? Or is it unfinished? Was the finale sounded by Romanticism which too is associated with the name of Rousseau, the preacher of the libertarian and egalitarian ideals of the French Revolution? Did the Age of Reason die out when the belief in a return to nature overshadowed reason and intellect? There are no answers.

The 19th century adhered to the "grand narratives" by its own attempts to reconstitute a continuum of gradual progress in the new scientifi c paradigms of positivism, socialism and evolutionism, which were believed to be truly "modern". But could the Enlightenment truly survive the wars, the Holocaust and fragmented society of the 20th century? Could the reason and logic of the disinterested individual bring about a solution to the problems of society?

The French Revolution was the first moment of trial. Although the Parisian crowd stormed the Bastille in 1789 and France was rocked by revolutionary violence and forced to defend itself from attacks from the rest of Europe for the next 10 years, the "Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen" were proclaimed as sacred and inalienable. In the declaration, the ideals of the Enlightenment were encoded and offered to the world.

In 1789, the year of the French Revolution, visionaries like William Blake published "Marriage of Heaven and Hell" arguing intensely against rational wisdom. Deeply critical of the ills of the Industrial Revolution and the misery of industrial workers, Blake did not share the success of the Enlightenment. In the apocalyptic language of his vision, Blake diagnosed a society fatally mechanised whose materialist and determinist ideas reduced man to no more than a machine. But the Enlightenment has survived these counter-points regardless of Blake, George Hamann or the German "strum and drang" movement that despised the rationalism of the Enlightenment philosophe.

One of the strongest critiques of the Enlightenment project has come from post-colonialism. Since the 1960s the academic world has witnessed a widespread revisionist project. In the 1950s, the founders of colonialist discourse — Fanon, Cesaire and Albert Memmi — published their works which became foundational texts of colonialist discourse some years later.

In 1958, Achebe’s novel "Things Fall Apart" was published in which the anthropologist-author is questioned when he fabricates the other. The 1960s saw a major development of this project when "The Wretched of the Earth" established Fanon as the patron and prophet of Third World liberation movements and one of the major theorists of decolonisation.

These pioneering currents proved to be counter-discursive because they attacked the ideals of reason, clarity, truth and progress, all of which aided and abetted the grand design of colonialism. As Wole Soyinka writes, "The Encyclopedists of France, products of the so-called Age of Reason, remain the most prolific codifiers of the human (and other) species on an ambitiously comprehensive scale, and their scholarly industry conferred a scientific benediction on a purely commercial project that saw millions of souls dragged across the ocean to serve as beasts of burden. Religion and commerce... were reinforced by the authority of new scientific theories to divide humanity into higher and lower manifestations of the species. The dichotomy of the world was complete." Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, again, is a product of the Enlightenment who must teach Friday to say "master".

For those who had suffered the impact of the colonial system of education, "theory" as a set of critical approaches has offered a reversal of perspective. This reversal has undermined the centrality of the European system, its accepted canon of great works on which teaching and criticism have always centred. This writing back into history becomes institutionalised precisely at the moment when post-modernism questions the writing of Enlightenment history. Thus Lyotard’s famous definition of post-modernism that it is "incredulity towards metanarratives" complements the myth of scientific progress we now associate the Enlightenment with.

Spencer’s text, superbly illustrated by Krauze, however provides a fairly good introduction to a movement that endeavoured to show how the essential order of nature could be scientifically explained. It is a movement that systematically laid the foundations for modern thought.


He is the outcaste of society
Review by Shatini Kalia

Hangman’s Journal by Shashi Warrier. Penguin Books, New Delhi. Pages 239. Rs 295.

"IF the body falls too far, the rope cuts into the neck and might sever the head. If the body doesn’t fall far enough, the neck won’t break and the man will die of strangulation, taking several minutes over it." His turbulence, cloaked in a deceptive silence, the hangman carries with him the smell of death. People hate or respect him for the same reason. His survival is linked to his meaningful participation in the ancient ritual which only serves to reinforce his negative image.

"One village can speak for many villages. One victim can speak for many victims ("Anil’s Ghost by Michael Ondaatje"). The hangman is perhaps the first of his tribe who sits down to write his own story. The echoes resonate to nearly a quarter century after his last hanging, propelled by the honesty in a journalist’s eye.

The language is quiet, but the dreams are not. Characters come and go, but many of the 117 men behind the death mask come back to torment him. Each time he realises that "the mask is the face", the nightmare returns. Till one day he counters the real "aratchar" — the true hangman — "who kills for his king, without question, without feeling". It is then that he realises that he had merely done "the job", but at heart he was only a farmer.

His next nightmare is his last, as the mystery of his subconscious is revealed to him like a thousand-petalled flower opening up. He realises that he has been running away from nobody, from nothing actually.

The quest for his real self takes both the subject and the journalist to their worlds within. For the author, the deconstruction of the myths around the "aratchar", his family and the "adiyaans" (assistants of the hangman), the demystification of his intentions, decoding the subject’s silences and elucidation of circumlocations in order to reveal the truth behind the mask are all important.

For the hangman, the cause is what matters. "Why do we spend so much of our lives making death smoother then life?" he asks. Also the guilt of not knowing "the right way to hang a man" leaves him troubled.

The hangman is like any other man who muses over a squirrel "who had his own world while I had mine". He worries about his parched bit of land, takes a pilgrimage to Sabarimala, tries to educate his kids, but peace eludes him. Why do "I bring silence wherever I go?" he wonders innocently. Cultural constructs force him into the "limbo" mode. "No one wants to get too close to the hangman. It is as if the man is a leper."

The hangman begins his journey rather late in life at 74 through nights "that are black and silver" to days when the "coconut palms stand with their fronds green and gold". He traces his life from being to meaning hitherto never spoken of.

His profession is like a wound. He uses the deathwish in his dreams to disrupt and unsettle meaning. Healing the wound now would mean emptying the signifier of meaning and suppressing the subject. Is it possible to articulate this knowledge in his symbolic dreams? The answer is both yes and no. His dreams are only partially cathartic. The rituals are what bother him as well as sustain him — it is through their mediation that he can hide from the truth.

He is the man who pulls a lever that kills a man. That knowledge binds him to all 117 of those that he had hanged. Even an army of "adiyaans" cannot share his sin or his pain. He remembers concentrating hard "because if I don’t, my mind will find its way to the man about to die and then I will have no peace".

Writing loosens the topsoil of his guilt. With it comes the urge to share, and also the inability. The only people who dot his memories are the ones "who made the silence bearable". Ramayyan, a priest at the Bhadrakali temple, where he prayed before each hanging, plays the confessor. And then there is Maash, his old teacher, in true sense of the word, his friend, philosopher and guide, who tries to give him some of the answers. But the questions stretch far.

The silences are there for all to see. And the author has left enough gaps and holes in the narrative for the reader to fill in the emotions. But what is difficult to essentially communicate are the "words" — that is what the author requires of him. He is the subject positioned as the subject-in-process, who occupies multiple and permeable sites, who articulates pain on the threshold of the semiotic and the symbolic in the social thoroughfare.

At the end of the novel, striving to share he discovers that his profession, after all, provides him with no identity — except perhaps as an ordeal, an initiation located in and leading back to a tradition which no longer exists and from where, therefore, a return is now feasible. His identity is necessarily bound up with history and memory.

He knows he had "failed or succeeded in life as much as any other man. I have done my best." That, dear fellow, is what matters.


Looking into future, cautiously
Review by D.R. Chaudhry

The New Century by Eric Hobsbawm. Little Brown and Company, London. Pages 176. £ 16.99

ERIC Hobsbawm is one the most perceptive Left historians of the world. He has greatly enriched our understanding of the way the world has shaped itself during the past three centuries. His previous book, "Age of Extremes", contains a penetrating analysis of the 20th century which he characterises as "a short century" ranging from the beginning of World War I in 1914 and ending with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. For poet T.S. Eliot, "this is the way the world ends — not with a bang but with a whimper". However. the short 20th century, in Hobsbawm’s opinion, ended with both.

Hobsbawm’s latest book "The New Century" continues his analysis of the 20th century coupled with the possible shape the world is likely to acquire in the new millennium. He examines important issues like the possibility of war and peace, the decline of the western empire and its impact on the coming events, the globalisation, the fate of the Left and hopes, if any, for the future.

The question where the future is leading us is crucial for the fate of humanity. It is difficult to predict the future but the possibilities can be identified. The effects of the collapse of the Soviet Union are serious and lasting and they dominate today’s world. "...the history, which interests me," observes Hobsbawm, "is analytical — that it to say, history attempts to analyse what happened rather than just uncovering it." He makes a profound diagnosis of the 20th century along with an insightful prognosis of the new century.

While analysing the issue of war and peace, Hobsbawm is fairly certain that a world war in the present unipolar world is not possible unless China becomes a rival to the USA in war resources. During the cold war era, every country was careful not to upset the balance. Now that self-limitation has come to an end.

Another noticeable change is that technology has made war more destructive. Now an armed conflict is no more an issue between states. The role of free-lancers and mercenaries has become more important now. A greater role for the USA is assured for many years to come. However, this country is always guided by its national interests, its ideological pretensions notwithstanding.

The concept of nation state has undergone a basic change in our times. Earlier it was a territorial concept. Now, according to some, a territorial state belongs to a particular people, defined by specific ethnic, linguistic and cultural characteristics and this constitutes the nation. One nation lives in a nation-state and others are minorities living in the same place but they are not part of the nation. The concept of Hindutava illustrates this notion extremely well. The concept clearly disrupts unity of the people.

Territorial states have been very powerful and the process reached its climax in the middle of the "short century". However, since the 1960s the state has lost its monopoly over the means of coercion. The phenomenon of the armed forces on which the state has no control is common in many parts of the world. One can see the weakening of the states in large parts of Asia, Africa and the Balkans.

The century which has ended has been called the American century. The author concedes that the USA will remain a super power for a very long time to come but its productive system will decline. It is quite probable that China will emerge as a great power. He does not grant this status to India which would remain a regional power for at least the next 50 years.

India has a definite advantage over China in some respects.India has an important philosophical and mathematical tradition which is gradually being reflected in the fields of technology and intellectual research.

On the other hand, the degree in which China has a philosophical tradition, at least in the European sense, is arguable. In spite of all this, India is most likely to lose in the race. The Indian state is considerably weak in its structure, administrative ability and political system. A soft state indeed! It is impossible not to agree with the author.

It is on the issue of globalisation that the author makes several illuminating observations. It has speeded up enormously in the past decade. It is primarily based on the elimination of time and space. It means a wider access, but not equal access, as the natural resources are distributed in an unequal manner. Standardisation and homogenisation are two most important features of globalisation.

The problem in the new millennium will consist of ascertaining how strong the obstacle to this growing homogenisation will be. Globalisation is irreversible but not the ideology of "free market fundamentalism" which, according to its votaries, is the motive force behind it. It is presumed that free market maximises growth and wealth and optimises the distribution of that increment. The author finds no substance in this argument. Even Adam Smith believed that the market could not and should not do certain things. The last part of the "short century" ended with two things — the collapse of the Soviet Union and the bankruptcy of free-market fundamentalism.

Hobsbawm is not very sanguine about the future of the Left but he refuses to be overwhelmed by pessimism. Inspite of a serious crisis being faced by progressive forces the world over, there is every rationale for the existence of the Left because there is still a difference between the Right and the Left.

What is really worrisome is the growing doubt over the future of politics, not just Left-wing politics but politics in general. Specific questions like life styles, environment, gay rights, etc. alone attract the youth. The idea of largescale social transformation no longer inspires the youth. This kind of depoliticisation not only weakens the Left but is not good for the public life as such.

Hobsbawm sees several positive things in the womb of time. There will be more literacy and global wealth. However, all this would be at the cost of norms and the value system. There would be more competition which will induce insecurity and decrease happiness. There will be more longevity of life, which is good in certain ways.

However, the number of people afflicted with physical and mental weakness would be higher. This would cause great unhappiness. Non-renewable resources are being depleted fast. The world is likely to become more unlivable on account of growing pollution and degradation of environment.

Inspite of all the setbacks, Hobsbawm’s faith in communism as a cause remains unshaken. Communism for him was not Russia. It was a global cause. The basic problem is what the future will be like. It will be economically better off and technological progress would be breathtaking. However, the dramatic widening of social and economic inequality both within states and between regions and countries would blur achievements.

Hobsbawm feels that the future of politics, parties, newspapers, organisations, representative assemblies and states is hazy, making it difficult for him to look to the future with great optimism.

One will or will not agree with his prognosis depending on one’s ideological predilections. However, all formulations of Hobsbawm are suffused with Gramci’s dictum, "Pessimism of the intellect and optimism of the will."


Castes: the other view
Review by Surinder S. Jodhka

Interrogating Caste: Under-standing Hierarchy and Difference in Indian Society by Dipankar Gupta. Penguin Books, New Delhi Pages 300. Rs 250.

THE caste system has for long been seen as a peculiar feature of Indian society, an institution that represented its essence. It was the colonial ethnographers and administrators who, for the first time, viewed caste as the core of India and systematically documented various aspects of its working in different regions of the subcontinent. Much of the later scholarship on Indian society, particularly during the 1950s and 1960s, remained preoccupied with caste, along with the study of village communities. Gradually attention shifted to the understanding of the processes of social transformation and change being unleashed by the state policies of development planning.

Implementation of the recommendations of the Mandal Commission during the early 1990s once again brought the caste back to the centre stage of Indian society and its polity. Today when we talk about the caste, we do not think of it merely as a characteristic of traditional Indian society, but also as something that is alive and kicking and influences very significantly the political processes in contemporary India.

Though written for the lay audience, Dipankar Gupta’s book seriously engages itself with the prevailing notions of the caste system. He begins by questioning the popular view on caste, which also happens to be the dominant academic view on the subject. Articulated most comprehensively by Louis Dumont, this dominant perspective looks at caste as being fundamentally different from the "western" institution of class.As per this view the defining feature of caste was hierarchy and there was a universally accepted notion of ranking different caste groups in terms of their ritual status. The Brahmins were placed at the top while the "untouchable caste" were considered to be at the bottom. Dumont also emphasised that above all, caste was an ideology, a system of ideas that structured the Hindu mind in a particular way of looking at things — that is, in its framework of hierarchy.

Gupta questions such a universal assumption. He argues that no caste, however lowly placed it might be, accepted the reason for its degradation.Dumont’s theory was biased because it had been derived from classical Hindu texts which presented an upper caste or Brahmanical view of the system. On the ground, however, things were quite different. Though the idea of hierarchy was certainly a fact, there were no agreements on the structure or the order of this hierarchy. The so-called lower castes, for example, rarely accepted the karma theory. Similarly, there were disagreements on the ranking order of hierarchy among the different castes. For example, many of the Kshatriya castes, and even some cultivating castes such as the Jats, would not accord the Brahmins at status superior to their own.

The Brahmanical theory of caste also did not recognise the changes that had come about in the caste hierarchy over time and the mobility that different groups had experienced. Gupta is critical of the concepts of sanskritisation that was used by M.N. Srinivas to explain social mobility in traditional Hindu society. Srinivas had argued that mobility within the caste system took place when the members of a lower caste collectively decided to imitate the life-style of an upper caste.

Such a notion, according to Gupta, was based on the Brahmanical presumption that the lower castes were always ashamed of their identity. The available empirical evidence, however, did not confirm such a view. Caste mobility generally took place only when the group had already achieved a degree of economic and political success. Even when a caste experienced mobility within the framework of caste hierarchy, rarely did its members wished to give up their caste identity.

Citing from his own field experience in Gujarat, Gupta points out that members of the lower castes had their own stories to tell about the reasons for their having been pushed down the caste hierarchy. These stories rarely supported the dominant view. It is on the basis of this observation that Gupta develops his own theory of caste. Castes, according to him, could not be looked at only in terms of hierarchies."To think that castes could be hierarchically arranged with complete acquiescence across castes is to uncritically accept the ideology of the privileged caste."

Instead of approaching them in a framework of continuous hierarchies built around a single criterion such as a scale of ritual purity or impurity, Gupta insists that castes should be first viewed as distinct or "discrete categories". It is just as a Punjabi is not simply not a non-Tamilian, a Bania is also not merely a non-Brahmin or a Yadav simply a non-Bania. He also has an exclusive caste identity and a world-view of his own. More importantly for Gupta, a Yadav’s notion of the caste structure and status hierarchy is not the same as that of the Brahmin.

Gupta also argues that despite the discreteness of each category, castes did relate to each other in the framework. They adhered to some common values. All caste ideologies, for example, valued the need to the separate caste groups from one another according to a mythical notion of biological difference. They all valued the principle of endogamy very highly.

Such an approach, Gupta claims, will allow us to visualise the possibilities of multiple hierarchies. It would thus become easier for us to make sense of the phenomena like caste conflict, caste politics and caste mobilisations which have become the order of the day. A fixed notion of caste hierarchy as suggested by Dumont has no theoretical space for dealing with such processes.

In the fifth chapter of the book Gupta elucidates his formulation by giving examples of some recent anthropological researches that have looked at caste by placing the Kshatriyas at the centre. In the Kshatriya framework of caste hierarchy the primacy is often accorded to "power" and in such a framework the Brahmin is seen as just another kamin, a ritual specialist client of the patron.

Further elaborating this point in the seventh chapter where he deals with some of the finer theoretical issues in the study of the caste system, he offers a critique of all the deterministic theories of caste. It was not only Dumont who saw caste as an outcome of the underlying structure of the Hindu mind.

Some Marxist scholars too committed a similar mistake. Gupta argues that the structure of caste ideology was not fixed or pre-given. It was constantly manipulated by individuals and groups within the historically given set of possibilities. He substantiates his thesis in the following chapter by providing a broad survey of the available historical evidence on the subject.


Food security — then and now
Review by Randeep Wadehra

Public Support for Food Security edited by N. Krishnaji and T.N. Krishnan. Sage, New Delhi. Pages 335. Rs 475.

TODAY’S consumerist generation will not be able to recall, or even believe, that India was once dismissed as a basket case, perennially doomed to survive on international munificence. The infamous PL 480 wheat (known as American wheat to the average Indian) had become the symbol of independent India’s "food slavery". Good quality foodgrains were scarce. One had to make do with the substandard stuff retailed by ration shops.

Droughts added to the misery. Starvation deaths were common. An average Indian’s physical profile included sunken cheeks, protruding ribs and a malnourished body. The situation certainly was dismal. But mercifully, there were people, immensely proud and committed to restoring India to its former glory and self-respect when it was coveted by foreigners as much for its fabled wealth as for its overflowing granaries.

Thus was the green revolution ushered in, increasing the yield of paddy and wheat several times during the 1970s, doing away with foodgrain imports.

If earlier the problem of food security related to procurement of cereals, now it switched over to logistics — that is, the management of surplus stocks in such a manner that every citizen received adequate quantities of food the year round. Since the new agricultural technology suited the irrigated areas of the northwest parts of India, which began to produce huge surplus grains, it became essential to reduce the problems arising out of inter-regional inequalities.

But inequalities were more apparent at the micro level. Those farmers who did not have access to assured water supply were deprived of the benefits of the new technology. As technology was crop-specific, it accentuated regional disparity. The book points out that public action is necessary to rectify the imbalances.

Studies show that at regional levels, people eat better if harvests are good, indicating the underdeveloped nature of rural markets that fail to facilitate long-distance trade due to inadequate spatial links. This despite the fact that the government has been actively involved in the purchase, storage and distribution of foodstock. Subsidised grain price through the PDS has proved a failure in assuring food security to vulnerable sections of the population.

The authors point out that the PDS is virtually absent in Bihar, MP, Orissa, Rajasthan, UP, etc. And these are the states with the largest chunks of poverty-stricken population!

This volume is a compilation of essays by different experts on charting strategies for human development in India. They have analysed the extant food consumption trends. J.V. Meenakshi concludes that the Engel’s law is being manifest in today’s India. With the rise of income levels people are spending a lower percentage of income on food. They are also consuming less of coarse cereal, in preference to "superior" diet like milk products, meat, etc.

She also intriguingly found in the course of her research that even in the comparatively poor households such patterns have been detected — namely, relationship between production and consumption of cereals has weakened and that except for coarse cereals, these changes are influenced by income effect.

M.H. Suryanarayana discusses the repercussions of changing food consumption patterns. Like Meenakshi, he too has come to the conclusion that despite a modest rise in per capita income levels, there is a perceptible decline in the per head consumption of coarse cereals and a shift to superior varieties of cereals is quite visible.

However, he points out that the change has more to do with availability of different types of grains than with a conscious choice. Moreover, the rising unit cost of cereals, a result of superior varieties gaining precedence, have contributed to reduced consumption. The future ramifications of this trend could be seriously adverse for the vulnerable sections.

Further, Suryanarayana avers that during good harvests private trade can facilitate inter-regional flows, but public intervention would become inevitable during droughts. Though a reformed PDS could help insulate the poor against misappropriations by the affluent, Suryanarayana doubts whether such a system can ever be effectively put to work.

Shikha Jha, P.V. Srinivasan, Pulapre Balakrishnan, Bharat Ramaswami, S. Mahendra Dev et al have also examined various aspects of the food security system, utilisation of the PDS, employment levels, etc. This volume is a valuable feedback to our policy makers who could use it to come up with a food security system that really works. Would the Kalahandi type of blots be ever wiped off the fair face of our country?


Foreign Direct Investment Flow to India by Badar Alam Iqbal. Ajanta Books International, Delhi. Pages 103. Rs 145.

THE main thrust of Iqbal’s arguments in this slim volume, a research thesis, is that FDIs are essential for economic growth. He has based his conclusions on the effect of foreign capital inflow, especially from Japan and the USA, on the economies of various Asian countries. The once debt-ridden South Korea could steal a march over better-off China and India solely because of foreign investments. Today in Asia, its trade surplus is second only to Japan’s.

Nonetheless, he has not given any concrete evidence in support of these conclusions. In fact the scope of his research project is limited to the "need and inflow of US foreign direct investment into South Asian economies..."

India began the process of globalisation rather late. But is now well on the road to fully opening up its economy. Iqbal points out that investment, technology, new marketing techniques and managerial expertise are vital inputs which India will have to carefully nurture. Towards this end, a strategic partnership with developed countries is essential. Iqbal understandably commends the USA as an ideal strategic partner, but countries like Japan, Germany and South Korea too can play a role in economic development.

Iqbal has used the data relating to the time span 1980-1992. He has divided the volume into eight chapters. These deal with theoretical orientation with regard to FDI, the effect of these inflows on various Asian economies, especially South Asian in general and India in particular. New trends in the inflows from Japan and the USA too have been briefly listed.

While one must concede that FDI has become an essential ingredient of developmental efforts, it is useful to look at its flip side. For example, are we liberalising our economic regime just to attract the foreign investor, or has our foreign policy and domestic administration too come under foreign influence? To what extent is our sovereignty compromised, if at all, by agreeing to the terms and conditions laid down by the MNCs intending to set up shop here? Is the current slide of the rupee a covert concession to foreign investors? Answers to these and related question might be beyond the purview of the volume under review. But the intelligentsia must ponder over these trifles.

After all, the purpose of having foreign capital is to strengthen our economic sinews, and not to add to the economic might of the US and Japanese MNCs. Foreign capital should not ever be allowed to become an instrument of subversion or worse, the harbinger of neo-colonialism.


Brave Old World by Pritam Saini. Pages 200. Rs 200.

INDIA has a hoary tradition of embellishing historical events with verse. Abstractions contained in them are often indicators of such incidents as might have proved decisive in the onward march of civilisation. While the subcontinent is rich with such literature in Indian languages, it is rare to have it all written in English poetry. Saini has thus done a signal service to the Indo-Anglican literature.

This "poetic tribute" was brought out during the tercentenary celebrations of the Khalsa’s birth. It has been divided into 19 cantos and deals with such momentous events as the birth of Guru Gobind Singh, Guru Tegh Bahadur’s martyrdom, the battle of Bhangani, the creation of the Khalsa, Zafarnama, etc. It also has separate cantos on Nadir Shah’s invasion, the rise and fall of Sikh Misls and finally the reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh.

The language is easy to understand, the contents are based on historical facts and the overall presentation reflects the author’s deep knowledge of the subject.

The opening lines are attractive.
It was the feudal age with feuds and foes,
The might is right was order of the day,
The great Mughal Akbar’s gifts of love and peace,
Were thrown to winds by bigot sons and heirs,
When London was engulfed in plague and fire,
And Milton was writing his "Paradise Lost",
In sixteen thousand sixty six AD,
At Patna, the ancient Patliputra, town,
A child was born in lofty line divine.

This cross validation of classical events and dates makes this "poetic history" worth reading. But there is also a sense of pride in the "Brave Old World". He asks rhetorically, "Can the East or the West ever assert/That they too had or have such daring souls?" A poet can be forgiven for romanticising the past. Yet here the people of the brave old world were real; their foes and non-partisan witnesses alike have chronicled their sacrifices. Banda Bahadur’s martyrdom is a case in point.

There are numerous examples in our past which show that Indians were never "militant push-overs". It was the internal dissension and the quislings within who had proved fatal to our quest for a unified self-reliant polity. Even today these negative trends are manifesting themselves.


book extract
The day Karmapa assumed office

AMIDST all the drama on June 15, 1992, Ugyen Trinley, the candidate of Situ Rinpoche, reached Tsurphu. Escorted by a convoy of seven cars, the child looked rather disoriented. There had been an accident en route and two people had been killed. Chinese officials were calling the shots. About 2000 Tibetans paraded before the tulku to receive his blessings. A couple of days later, the boy’s public appearances were abruptly cancelled. Now one could only get a blessing through a glass panel. Akong Tulku admitted that he had given the order to shield the reincarnation. No representative from Rumtek had joined the celebrations.

Drupon Dechen Rinpoche was the head lama in Tsurphu and one of the main figures in bringing Ugyen Trinley to the Karmapa’s seat. Years before, he had approached the 16th Karmapa with an offer to travel secretly to Tibet and help rebuild the old monastery. Notwithstanding the lama’s fervour, the idea failed to enthuse the Karmapa. Without opposing him, the Karmapa had dissuaded him, saying frankly that he saw no future for the place. But after the death of the Karmapa, Drupon Dechen Rinpoche went to Tibet on orders from Situ Rinpoche. Now, he was claiming that the 16th Karmapa had sent him to Tsurphu.

He disclosed that the search party for the 16th Karmapa, headed by his assistant, Lama Dholmo, and armed with a copy of the prediction letter, had actually left Tsurphu as early as April 8. The group was dispatched despite the prior agreement among the four rinpoches that no such mission should take place before Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche reported his initial contacts. The four regents had decided that Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche, and not Lama Dholmo, was to make the first approach. How a local lama got hold of a copy of the then top-secret document and why he was usurping Kongtrul’s place more than two weeks before Kongtrul’s tragic death was mystery. Drupon Dechen Rinpoche admitted that Akong and Sherab, the two regents’ emissaries, had personally handed over the copy of the letter to him. At that time, they had no business in Tsurphu and were not supposed to be roaming the distant stretches of Tibet, certainly not with a copy of the prediction letter in their pocket.

Drupon Dechen Rinpoche described the different miracles during the time of the child’s birth: among others, the sound of musical instruments had been heard for two hours in the valley and four suns had appeared in the sky. (In his address in Tibetan at Rumtek, Situ Rinpoche had mentioned only three suns though while addressing the foreigners in English, he forgot the suns altogether.)

He acknowledged that in 1991 Situ Rinpoche had visited the monastery where Ugyen Trinley (the candidate) was a monk. Interestingly, Situ Rinpoche, who alone in 1991 had recognised the rather extravagant number of about 160 reincarnations in eastern Tibet, had been unaware of a boy whose birth had been accompanied by such supernatural signs. Furthermore, the boy was believed to have taken part in one-and-a-half months of initiation that Situ Rinpoche had given in Palpung, the headquarters of his monastery in Tibet, that same year. To the discerning eye, it all looked like Situ Rinpoche had fixed his eyes on the child long before he sat with his peers to interpret the instructions concerning the whereabouts of this child.

On April 24, 1992, a picture of the boy was taken, and a pick-up party was being organised to bring the tulku to Tsurphu — all this prior to Jamgon Kongtrul’s death. On May 17, the two regents declared publicly in Rumtek that, since Shamar Rinpoche was away, they had to act alone and were therefore sending Akong and Sherab on a search mission to Tibet. The two emissaries arrived in Tsurphu in the second half of May, and a group of 16 was promptly sent to Kham. It was also announced that Ugyen Trinley, the 16th Karmapa, would arrive in Tsurphu on June 20. He arrived on June 15 instead.

If this group of 16 had indeed been the initial discovery team, then these men had been given at the most 20 days to complete a round-trip journey from central to eastern Tibet. Their task: to locate the boy in the large nomad area of Kham and to negotiate with the parents for his delivery to Tsurphu. All travel was to be taken on the one-lane, treacherous, gravel roads of the high Tibetan plateau. It was a physically impossible task. Although the interpretation of the prediction letter was clear as to the name of the family and the general region in the east of the country, there was, of course, no address. There must have existed at least one earlier search team which was exactly what Drupon Dechen Rinpoche had carelessly disclosed. More than that, Lama Dholmo’s group, which had set off on April 8, was probably looking for somebody Situ Rinpoche knew fairly well, as he seemed to have met the child at least in 1991, if not before. The group that was dispatched from Tsurphu at the end of May was merely a reception committee. They were well aware of where to go to find the boy.

Apparently, Situ, Gyaltshab, Akong Rinpoches and others were hand in glove with the Chinese. Secretly, they had planned to exclude Shamar Rinpoche and install their candidate in Tsurphu without his knowledge. But this was never a secret to Beijing. They could not have accomplished such a mission without official communist blessing and active help; in fact, the two eminences had a lot to thank the Politburo of the Communist Party of China for.

In the meantime, Situ Rinpoche recognised the reincarnation of Kalu Rinpoche. The mother of the reincarnation was said to have been a few months pregnant, carrying the new Kalu, at the time when the old Kalu passed away. In April, 1999, Situ Rinpoche sought special permission from the Government of India to visit Sonada, the seat of Kalu Rinpoche, as the father of the reincarnation of the rinpoche had expired. In his request, he mentioned that the deceased was his relative.

Ever since Situ Rinpoche had announced his discovery of the reincarnation of the 16th Karmapa, he had been promising his followers that the Karmapa would be, in no time, officially installed in Rumtek. The departure of the reincarnation for India was said to be only a matter of days, maybe, weeks. Later, however, with no sign of Ugyen Trinley outside Tibet, the weeks stretched into months and the months became years. Situ Rinpoche and his followers staged a coup by "smuggling" Ugyen Trinley to India in the first week of January, 2000.

In an earlier communication, Lama Ole, a European Buddhist monk, had demanded to know what would happen if the officially chosen Karmapa would request, of his own free will or prodded by the Chinese, that the "black crown" and other relics be returned to Tibet. How could we delay or refuse such a request? he asked.

On September 27, 1992, when Ugyen Trinley was ordained in Tsurphu as the 16th Karmapa, the Rumtek monastery, members of the Karmapa Charitable Trust and the majority of the representatives of the Kagyu centres in the West did not approve of the procedure. Shamar Rinpoche, historically second after the Karmapa in the Kagyu spiritual hierarchy, did not attend the ceremonies.

Beijing had officially recognised the Karmapa two months earlier, on June 29, bestowing the title of the "Living Buddha" on him. The Chinese recognition coincided with the Dalai Lama’s formal approval which was given in Dharamsala on the same day. The title itself was a Communist synonym for a cooperating lama. Akong Tulku of the Scotland monastery had already joined the ranks of the Living Buddha. He had also been appointed to the government of the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR). The Communist propaganda machine did not fail to mention that the 16th Karmapa would become an individual loyal to his socialist motherland.

The high profile of the Chinese officials punctuated the installation ceremony. The enthronement was preceded by their speeches, a presentation of a letter from Beijing — the government’s seal of approval on the reincarnation and the enthronement — and by the exchanges of the traditional scarves and gifts. The shrine room overflowed with visitors from all over Tibet. The Tibetans working for the Chinese-backed government in Lhasa arrived in full force. There were also many Kagyu rinpoches from Nepal and India and some westerners.

The child looked quite distressed, just as a seven-year-old would under such circumstances. He could not sit still for more than a moment, had no clue as to what was happening — as he was constantly being whispered to whenever the ceremony required even a minimal level of his participation — and towards the end he got clearly irritated. Probably it was nothing unusual for a boy of his age coming from a nomad family.

Looking rather out of place on his throne and in his gold brocades, clearly uncomfortable with the rituals being performed around him, he also displayed an intolerant streak. Easily angered, he constantly threw things at anyone entering the room. His grimaces were those of anger and not of mischief as generated by a boyish desire to tease his elders. The happy family reunion on the terrace of the monastery came to an abrupt end as the young boy dismissed his parents and siblings with a curt gesture.

China’s Tibet, a quarterly review magazine from Beijing, claimed that 40,000 people filed by in an orderly fashion to receive blessings from the Karmapa. In the meantime, a two-page release signed by Lobsang Deleg Rinpoche reached the Kagyu centres overseas. He had a lot of interesting things to say. According to his statement, the important ceremony in Tsurphu was, in fact, preceded by rather inauspicious events both in Rumtek and in Tibet. When Ugyen Trinley was officially brought to his seat, a golden banner fell down from the protector’s shrine in Rumtek. Also one of his cars in the entourage skidded and overturned on the dangerous road, killing two passengers. At the enthronment ceremony itself, some people waiting outside were injured by a boulder that rolled down a mountain slope beside the monastery. Situ Rinpoche’s younger brother started a scuffle with the police, and was arrested and held for several hours. Finally, the monks, in an attempt to manage the crowd, had fought with the other participants and a chaotic atmosphere had set in.

Meanwhile, a pamphlet bearing the name of J.P. Smith from Dharamsala landed at the Kagyu centres all over the world. It stated that the dispute over the lineage was an integral part of Asian politics. Power and money were behind it. The next year (1993), the American Congress was to review China’s most-favoured-nation status. Beijing was earning billions of dollars in trade with the USA, the American trade deficit with the communist nation was, in fact, topped only by its deficit with Japan. With the Democrats in the White House, the passage of the Bill in Congress was not expected to be such a smooth ride as it had been during Bush’s tenure. China needed to show the world, and especially the Congressmen in the Capitol Hill, that it was treating the minorities well.

The pamphlet added that Beijing had managed to split the Tibetans between the Dalai and Panchen Lamas so as to suppress the occupied country, but in 1989, when the Panchen Lama had died, Tibetans began to rebel. Demonstrations had been held in Lhasa and in the big monasteries around the capital. The inevitable clamp-down followed. Western television showed scenes of Chinese soldiers beating, even torturing, Buddhist monks. The Chinese Politburo needed somebody to calm the rebellious Himalayan nation, and so they fixed their gaze — not for the first time — on the Karmapa. The Chinese leaders had rightly concluded that the best way to control the Chinese Tibetans would be to manipulate their tulkus. A policy of Politburo’s official involvement in the recognition of reincarnates had been, in actual fact, confidentially adopted a few years earlier. The old Maoists had become experts in the delicate art of locating famous lamas. The communists, who did not even admit to the soul’s existence, had suddenly become an authority in recognising a soul’s reincarnation.

After the happenings in June, 1992, Situ and Gyaltshab Rinpoches ruled the roost at Rumtek. It seemed that they were bracing to assume full control of the Kagyu order. Shamar Rinpoche left the scene of the battle altogether and stayed in France for some time.