The Tribune - Spectrum


Sunday, January 7, 2001

Hinduism revealed and written
Review by Kuldip Dhiman

What is in store for India?
Review by
Gobind Thukral

In this man’s world, she has no right
Review by Anupama Roy

India’s uncivil service
Review by Nirmal Sandhu

Unconvincing Hindi witness
Review by Amar Chandel

TV: ever present big force
Review by Harkishen Singh Mehta

Write view
Vivekananda as economist?
Review by Randeep Wadehra

From the diary of India’s man in Kabul


Hinduism revealed and written
Review by Kuldip Dhiman

Philosophical Foundations of Hinduism by A. Ramamurty. D. K. Printworld, New Delhi. Pages 216. Rs 360.

IF you wish to make a Hindu uncomfortable, ask him these questions: What is Hinduism? Who is your God? What book do you believe in? Who is your equivalent of the Pope? Most Hindus would be ill at ease and might not know what to say. Yes, I am a Hindu, but how do I define it, the person might admit. And what God, what book, and what Pope? I never thought of such matters before. Never felt the need to.

Uneasy with such questions, many scholars in the past 100 years or so have tried to define Hinduism within the theological framework of Semitic religious traditions, especially the Christian tradition. This approach is entirely erroneous, as it does not do justice either to the Semitic tradition or to Hinduism.

"All attempts at understanding and defining Hinduism are modern," asserts Prof A Ramamurty, the author of "Philosophical Foundations of Hinduism", who is presently UGC Emeritus Fellow, Philosophy Department, the University of Hyderabad. He is a serious scholar who has authored "Advaitic Mysticism of Sankara", "The Central Philosophy of the Rgveda" and "Advaita: A Conceptual Analysis".

Elaborating further, he says: "However, there are several traditional works dealing with what is essential to various sects of Hinduism like Vaisnavism and Saivism, the major forms of Hindu religious life and worship. But Hinduism cannot be defined or characterised in terms of anyone or all of them, even though they are basically Hindu."

If Hinduism has to be defined or understood at all, it should be done by taking into account its sruti and smriti traditions. One thing that is universally accepted by all Hindus is that the sruti is revealed, and has the ultimate authority in religious or spiritual matters. The main purpose of the smriti tradition, on the other hand, is to adapt the Vedic wisdom or revelation to the changing religious needs and demands of the people keeping in view the heterogeneous character of Hindu society.

Broadly speaking, all texts such as the Vedas, which were composed before the invention of writing belong to the sruti tradition, and the ones such as the puranas, the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, which were composed after writing was invented, belong to smriti. The smriti addresses itself to the task of adapting the Vedic wisdom or revelation to meet the religious needs of all sections of Indian society, especially the religious needs of those who are denied direct access to the Vedas.

The object of puranic literature is to reconcile and harmonise the popular or smriti form of Hinduism with the sruti tradition. But although they are integral part of Hinduism, the sruti and smriti traditions are not always in agreement, in fact they go against each other at times.

Most modern Hindu thinkers believe that the sruti tradition represents real Hinduism. Profs. Ramamurty thinks this belief is mistaken. If we wish to present a true picture of Hinduism, we must take the smriti tradition into account as it is in reality the basis of Hinduism as believed in and practised by almost all Hindus.

What are the other differences between the two? While sruti is more philosophical in its approach, the smriti is more theological. While the intellectual or rational way of understanding of the former is more impersonal, abstract and detached, the emotional approach of the latter is more personal. "While one is dharma-centred," asserts the writer, "the other is faith-centred." While one is impersonal, the other is personal. However, the contribution of both is significant to the growth and development of Hinduism.

Therefore, any attempt to understand and determine the nature and meaning of Hinduism in terms of any one stream or tradition or to identify it with any one of them will not help us in comprehending the nature and meaning of Hinduism. Both are an integral part of Hinduism. And both represent Hinduism. While Purva Mimamsa and the dharma form of religious life represents one tradition, the bhagavata-dharma or devotional form of religious life represents the other."

One curious aspect of these two schools, however, is that although they are different in many ways, their world-view of Hinduism is the same. Whenever Hinduism has faced a challenge and tried to meet the challenge, smriti has always relied on sruti world-view.

Now which of the two traditions is more relevant to Hinduism? The author believes that in its authority and validity smriti is traditionally regarded as inferior or secondary to sruti, and it has to conform to sruti if it is to have any authority and validity. "And if smriti simply teaches what is there in the sruti, then it cannot serve any meaningful purpose except to present the teaching or wisdom of sruti in a manner of language which is easy and intelligible to all. This is the traditional view or understanding of the importance and role of smriti in the development of Hinduism. But most of the religious ideas, beliefs and doctrines as well as the religious practices which are basic to smriti form of religious life are not compatible with sruti. We cannot find in sruti any support and justification for what is essential to smriti tradition. Therefore, the major concern of smriti is not just to present the wisdom of Sruti in a popular form so that all can have access to it, but to systematically present and justify the religious belief and doctrines of different sects which developed themselves independently of sruti."

Another reason for the emergence of smriti is that in order to be a religious Hindu, you don’t necessarily have to follow theological commandments to the letter. "Doctrinal and theological differences are not therefore suppressed in favour of an official theology or creed. Supreme importance is placed on the inward experience of devotion and piety rather than on the correctness of religious beliefs and doctrine."

In fact most Hindus hardly ever see a copy of the Vedas or the Upanishads all their lives. Just as to be a good Indian it is not really necessary to read the Constitution of India. Most Hindus learn their religion not in a temple at the feet of a priest, but instinctively as they grow up.


What is in store for India?
Review by Gobind Thukral

India—Another Millennium? edited by Romila Thapar. Viking, New Delhi. Rs 395.

HISTORIAN and sensitive thinker Romila Thapar has contributed some serious content to the ongoing millennium debate. Where does India stand today and what direction it is likely to take in the next millennium have been perhaps debated enough. Nevertheless this contribution has its own value for those who are concerned with the future of the country.

"India — Another Millennium" is a collection of essays by 14 foremost scholars whom we often see in print. As Thapar says, the concept of the millennium encompasses a sense of progress and a hope for a better future. So it is an exploration in that direction by these men of letters.

Interestingly, in the introduction she discusses in detail the concept of time from Christian, Muslim and Hindu points of view. The calculation of time in India involves immense figures: the span of one major cycle being 43,20,000 years. These are "mahayugas". And the present age is the Kaliyuga and it becomes the explanation for the unexpected. In any case, the editor measures up the contribution of each writer and she also offers a general view of what kind of India we have lived so far and what is likely to come up.

We are in the age of globalisation and information technology and it is in this context that the issues and problems faced by Indians in the contemporary times are discussed. Events are taking place with the speed of light but India with low literacy, widening inequalities, population growth and gradual withdrawal of the state from its social obligations... all go ill with the formation of the civil society. Aping western models of development and consumerism do not offer any hope for the deprived millions.

Interestingly, worsening inequality was the main feature of the nineties and there shall be sharper conflicts over the control of resources in the coming decades. There are many problems which Indian society has failed to resolve in the past century. These largely relate to poverty, ignorance, inequality, illiteracy, increasing population, brutalisation of society and a weak democratic system. India will continue to be plagued by these issues, the book makes it amply clear.

An eassy by Dhruv Raina, a scientist in Delhi, discusses the "Present and the past: trajectories for the social history of science". Raina describes how history-writing of modern science has moved during the past 300 years or so. History of science as a modern discipline, which dates back to ancient Greek and Arabian traditions, sought to chronicle the idea and development of the human mind and enlightenment. Intellectuals saw in the progress of sciences and mathematics in particular, an exemplary representative of human development.

He talks of three important concerns relevant to those working on the theme in India. The first relates to the tenability of the relation of science to the project of modernisation per se. Second, the historiography of sciences of East Asia has for long worked within the paradigm of modernisation less science. He also touches on the actual emergence of the precolonial period and the sociological approaches to the history of science. Raina provides useful reference material for those who are interested in an in-depth study.

Beena Aggarwal, professor of Economics at Delhi University, quotes P.B. Shelley on gender equality. "Can man be free if woman be a slave?... Well you know/what woman is, for none of woman born/can choose but drain the the bitter dregs of woe,/whichever from the oppressed to the oppressors flow." She has traced how the fight for gender rights has been going on and her emphasis is on woman’s education, universal education.

Rustom Bharucha, a Calcutta-based scholar and political thinker, attempts to define the questions of culture. In a thought-provoking essay he seeks a more questioning and interactive culture for the new millennium — a culture whose differences will need to be negotiated and shared across the diversities of language, region, religion, gender and profession. He speaks for marginalised cultures — whether of the dalit or the grassroots suppressed or of the people. The question of modernity and what Dipankar Gupta calls Indian unmodern modernity is dealt within the contemporary context. "For modernisation to truly materialise, the distance between classes must decrease, so there is greater resemblance between them," argues Gupta who teaches at Jawaharlal Nehru University. He has made an excellent study of integrating caste and understanding of hierarchy and differences in Indian society. How technology brings changes in culture and pushes society towards modernism has however not been fully answered.

There is going to be plenty of politics in the coming decades, which both rich and poor Indians shall have to encounter. This is what Sunil Khilnani who wrote that famous book "The Idea of India" tells us. He finds that the practice of democracy has made Indian society deeply political. He observes, "India is today an intensely political society in the sense that Indians have come to see the main hazards, threats and opportunities that confront them as the products of human agency — and no longer as the effect of divine sanction, of nature or of any other extra human agency."

How dalits view and pursue modernity is a question which Gopal Guru of the University of Pune discusses. What role the philosophy of Ambedkar and that of Karl Marx plays in making the dalits, the most deprived section of Indian society aware of their rights and push hard for equality.

The 20th century represented three tendencies in the intellectual life of the dalits, argues Gopal Guru. One was the essentialisation of Ambedkar’s thought and the second the ideologisation of Ambedkar — that is to emphasise the convenient part of Ambedkar’s writing either for bashing Marx or berating Gandhi. The third was the 20th century dalit sensibility represented only the art of suspicion that ridiculed or rejected even the creative interpretation of Ambedkar. This century will redefine Ambedkar and compare him more clearly with Marx, Gandhi and Periyar.

How do the Muslims or other minorities move in the next millennium is discussed by Javeed Alam who teaches at Himachal Pradesh University, Shimla. The question of Mandir and aggressive Hindutva are discussed in detail. The communal question as a legacy of partition, the hostile Indo-Pak relations do not as yet allow any sensible solution. Are Muslims, or for that matter, Sikhs and Christians becoming a pan Indian community? Communal questions and divisions are indeed serious, and much more thought needs to be given.

Famous journalist P. Sainath, who has brought the question of poverty to the forefront through his writings, makes another attempt to make us aware of the age of inequality. "One particular paradox will hit us soon. The gutting of the nation-state is taking place at the very time that democratic pressures are on the rise".

Even as ordinary people begin to participate in the political process in greater numbers, as more and more dalits, backward groups and poor women enter panchayats (perhaps even Parliament) and other representatives bodies, the clout of those institutions is shrinking. That they could grasp the levers of power is a big feat. But the new entrants could now find that these levers have no power," he says.

Sainath also deals with the question of the lessening capacity of the state and how elected bodies at the grassroot level are losing power which is why assertiveness is increasing and there is a dalit upsurge and market fundamentalism is sharpening the clash. He finds no decline in the incidence of poverty between 1990 and 1997. The number of poor rose by 70 million. This was the period when the GDP growth had picked up.

Prabhat Patnaik, the celebrated Marxist thinker, brings out brilliantly the relevance of Marx and his ideology and builds up a thesis that capitalism is not merely an exploitative system but a spontaneous one. Production and exchange relations under capitalism necessarily give rise to social processes and tendencies and a conscious intervention can at best restrain the operation of these processes for sometime but cannot permanently overcome them within the confines of bourgeois property relations.

Going beyond bourgeois relations itself cannot be an arbitrary and voluntary collective act and a bourgeois society does not suddenly emerge fully formed and hence the agenda for rejecting capitalism or bypassing it in some fashion is bound to fail. The challenge of capitalism can be met only through the organised Marxist approach.

He finds Marxism very much relevant since mankind does not give up the agenda for liberation easily.

N. Ram, editor of Frontline and Business of Line discusses in great depth the issues concerning the great Indian media bazaar. The issue of ownership of the media, the role of the journalist and what future there is for the print and electronic media is discussed. He advocates independent media to inform the public better.


In this man’s world, she has no right
Review by Anupama Roy

Gender Discrimination and Human Rights by Swarn Lata Sharma. K.K. Publications, New Delhi. Pages 308. Rs 545.

The resurrection of the idea of human rights after World War II reflected the concerns of building and preserving a world community predicated on the idea of inherent and equal dignity and worth of all human beings. Much of human rights activism in the post-war world was organised around the affirmation of this idea in documents like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaimed as constituting "a common standard of all people and all nations".

Significantly, however, the human rights discourse can historically be seen as occupying as well as representing a hierarchical field where both the nature of this common standard and its universal applicability were being persistently questioned. It was argued that human rights, as incorporated in these common standards, formed part of a hegemonic western-liberal discourse, prioritising some rights, notably civil and political rights which accrued to individuals. Economic, social and cultural rights, seen as stemming from the collective needs and a sense of deprivation of entire groups of people, which formed, some would argue, the substantial conditions of justice and equality within which all rights could be exercised, were edged out as secondary in this process of standardisation.

While the question of priority informed the ideological debates on human rights during much of the fifties, sixties and the seventies, the next two decades may be seen as having raised concerns which seek to transcend this ideological and contextual divide. With the eighties anxieties pertaining to the sustainability of the human world itself raised the imperative of evolving a system of rights reflecting a shared concern for peaceful co-existence, which placed duty before all persons irrespective of where they lived and the ideologies they professed to invest in the collective future of humanity.

The so-called solidarity rights, of which the 1989 Declaration of the Right to Development is one manifestation, thus sought to transcend contextual divides to emphasise the principles which lie at the heart of human rights, the right of each person to be taken seriously and the democratic principle of each person "to stand up and be counted as one". These rights sought in effect to change the nature of the "universal", the characteristics of the universe itself, to make way for a more egalitarian grounding of human rights.

Swarn Lata Sharma’s book "Gender Discrimination and Human Rights" should be read in the context of these developments in the theory and practice of human rights. The startling facts and figures pertaining to human rights abuses of women all over the world serve to reinforce the feminist criticism of legal instruments flaunted as uniform standards which fail to take into account the special (debilitating) contexts which determine women’s human rights at all layers of social and economic groupings. On the other hand, it also brings out the futility and irrelevance of ideological debates on the questions whether rights need to be prioritised or the nature of the universe in which these rights can be equitably exercised when women’s right to be "human" is continually determined by ideological constructions and socio-economic and political forces which define women’s worth differently.

The author sets out, therefore, to "expose" the "gender asymmetrical distribution of human rights" in a "man’s world". The manner in which this world is fashioned by "gender biases" is discussed extensively by the author to bring out not only its pervasiveness across religious, cultural and political boundaries, but also the various ways in which it circumscribes the choices and roles available to women. These gender biases described by the author as "attitudinal impediments in the realisation of women’s human rights" is made manifest in "gender-discrimination" which unravels in various institutionalised forms like unjust laws relating to marriage and inheritance as well as cultural and social practices like genital mutilation, female feoticide, etc.

Some "stark realities" are effectively listed by the author to show how, despite the fact that women perform two-thirds of the world’s work and contribute significantly to economic production from an early age, they own only 1 per cent of the world’s land and even less of the world’s property. The devaluation of women’s work means not only that they earn less, but more often than not they are not counted as part of the labour force due to discriminatory and inadequate measurement.

The deep-rooted and pervasive attitudes regarding the superiority of men and anxieties emanating from possible threats to it as well as the lack of any political will to evolve a gender-just socio-cultural and political system, results in the perpetuation of gender-based violence and harassments in the family, public places, work place, police thanas, etc.

The author discusses at length how women’s political agency is curtailed and how politics continues to be a male domain, limiting women’s participation in discussions and decisions which affect their lives.

Similarly, the author brings out in the last chapter that the right to education which more than any other right prepares the ground for the realisation of dignity and worth of women, is denied to women. Thus, while more women than men are illiterate in most parts of the world, in parts of Asia and Africa, the number of illiterate women is disproportionately high.

The book is packed with revealing facts, especially in the chapters on gender-based violence, political participation of women and their access to education, which add poignancy to the author’s arguments. While asserting that both international measures and domestic political will have been inadequate in dealing with women’s human rights in a concerted way, social and cultural attitudes regarding women’s capacities and roles have taken such deep roots and seeped into and fed legal, political, institutional, cultural norms and practices for so long that the feminist task of moving beyond women’s rights (in a patriarchal world) to women’s rights (in a human world) becomes a difficult one. The struggle for democratic transformation would, however, continue, and women as significant parts of various movements will provide the creative source in defining its form and content.


India’s uncivil service
by Nirmal Sandhu

The Mammaries of the Welfare State by Upamanyu Chatterjee. Viking, New Delhi. Pages 437. Rs 395.

WHO should read this book? An aspirant to the civil service keen to know how rogues in the steel frame milk the State. A civil servant for tips on how to manage if the sight of work upsets him or how to handle a crisis arising from, say, touching a female colleague’s bottom. An ordinary citizen driven to desperation by unavoidable brushes with officialdom, or someone who gets amused when the system is attacked.

"The Mammaries of the Welfare State" is Upamanyu Chatterjee’s third book after his successful debut "English, August" and "The Last Burden". It is a hilarious satire. But the issue it focuses on — how the politician-bureaucrat nexus uses the rule-ridden system of governance to its advantage at the cost of the citizen — is too serious to be laughed off. It provokes one to realise, how worthless one’s upbringing has been when it comes to facing one’s own country.

"The Mammaries...." is a sequel to "English, August". The dope-smoking civil servant, Agastya Sen, moves from Madna to the Capital’s corridors of power, still complaining about "the pointlessness, the horrifyingly comic futility and irrelevance of the daily acts" of his official life.

He is told: "If you don’t like what you do for a living, quit. If you can’t quit, shut up." Agastya thus justifies his continuance in service: "The more years one spends in the civil service, the more competent one becomes to remain in it."

From self-abuse he moves over to a woman friend. Upamanyu Chatterjee appears uncomfortable and inadequate while describing their physical relationship. Instead, he makes a liberal use of unprintable words, his favourite being: "Personnel always moved like lightning when it wanted to f..k somebody’s happiness".

Turning to an IAS aspirant, the book answers the question he is quite often asked — why do you want to join the civil service? Here is a more realistic answer than the I-want-to-serve-society kind of reply: "Because within the civil service, one is likelier to have a peon, a personal assistant, and an Ambassador car as buffers between one’s good self and the rest of the government." But a more experienced official reaches the conclusion that "No one is safe from them anywhere, boy!"

For a civil servant there are tips aplenty. A golden rule: "Suck, above, kick below." Another: "When you’re with your boss, always, always make sure that your subordinate is with you — someone to whom you can pass on the spot."

Using the office car to drop the kids at school, faking income tax returns, fudging the value of immovable property to reduce stamp duty and avoiding capital gains, wealth and municipal taxes are something that come natural to a civil servant.

What should a civil servant or politician of the welfare state do if accused of female bottom touching? The lady can be recommended for a long-term, government-to-government, foreign training course. The judge concerned too can be despatched abroad as an official delegate to some world conference with return air ticket, six free days in a deluxe hotel and facilities on a par with international standards.

If still put in the dock he can take a "macro view" and plead as this character in the book does. "Me laard, the sight of her sari squeezed into the crevice of her bum upset my love for order, so I plucked it out .... why should my love of order so convulse the harmony of the world? Melaard, reflect instead on the larger issues — bonded labour, corruption in high places, freedom of speech, the suppression of immoral traffic, crimes against women, caste reservations, violence in politics, the police — or the welfare state."

For an ordinary reader there is enough to mull over in this book. When not a victim, he is a helpless spectator to the politico-bureaucratic wastage and loot. A Prime Minister’s visit to a state town costs the government over Rs 6 crore, says the author. Setting up a Minister sets back the government by the usual Rs 1 crore. Look at Parliament: 174 MPs have criminal records.There are scandals galore: the Bofors gun scandal, the sugar deal, the securities cover-up, the bank fraud, the telecom fiddle, the fodder swindle, the urea scam, the insurance racket, the export licence rip-off, etc.

Should he remain shut up, leading a life of quiet desperation or speak out? Agastya’s posers to the citizen require hard reflection:

(i) The welfare state has used your money to lead you up to this jam. Does that bother you?

(ii) Why have we allowed our present statesmen and bureaucrats to mess things up completely?

(iii) Why do you want the welfare state to leave you alone?

(iv) Do you want the most capable men and women of your country to (a) sell wearunders, bags of cement, and sunflower cooking oil; (b) run a newspaper; (c) or a hotel; (d) or a market research bureau; (e) or the country?

The author could have spared the reader some 100 pages containing unnecessary details which make his mockery of the system less effective. You need tonnes of patience and disgust with official wrong-doings to carry on with the book till the end.

Lest the reader, particularly the impressionable civil service aspirant, gets the idea that all is rotten with the state, he/she should also go through K.J. Alphons’s "Making A Difference" to know how even one individual can clean up a part of the mess.


Unconvincing Hindi witness
Review by Amar Chandel

My Own Witness by Mrinal Pande. Penguin Books,New Delhi. Pages 245. Rs 295.

IF this review is rather late in appearing, it is only because I read the book not once, but twice.The first time I read it, I could not grasp its central point. It was only during the second reading that I realised that there is no thread that runs through the narrative. The "novel" is simply a compilation of loosely structured, every-day incidents from the chronicle of the protagonist, who in this case happens to be the author herself.

Except for the changed names, this is her little concealed autobiography. At times, the narrative is very close to real life. It you are a contemporary, you won’t find it difficult to identify the characters she is referring to. In fact, this guessing game is quite a refreshing exercise because the author exposes the angularities of some big guns.

Mrinal Pande does not embellish the narrative with dramatic elements. So, the novel may be lacking in drama, but is so very close to unvarnished truth. It is this realism that makes the book worthwhile.

Two leitmotifs appear through the book repeatedly, sometimes to the extent of being annoying. One is the focus on the perceived neglect of Hindi and Hindi-speaking people of India. And the other is central character Krishna’s repeated journeys to her mother’s house in the hills. She goes for these "chhota breaks" so abruptly and so often that you at times wish you were left behind at Delhi. Particularly out of place are the minute details of the trip to Kedarnath she undertakes. The travelogue does not add anything to the book, except increasing the bulk. Then there are several visits to "quaint uncles".

Even otherwise the storyline flits from the past to the present and back to the past at a furious pace, leaving you a bit confused. This back and forth transition is not at all healthy for the narrative.

There is an attempt to unfold the events in the backdrop of historical incidents like the murder of Indira Gandhi and the subsequent riots, but the relationship does not stand out.

What does stand out is the frustration and optionlessness of a conscientious journalist whose brilliance is scuttled, first because she dares to join a Hindi news agency and then because she refuses to kowtow to the big bosses of a bilingual TV channel, which she joins as an anchor-editor. She presents her case forcefully. So you don’t mind even when the lead character claims that she is the only one in the whole crowd to be upright, not paying court to the employers and not making money on the sly. Her dark, dingy office in Old Building becomes the symbol of the high values for which the privileged English lot in the fancy New Building have only contempt.

The sensitivities appear all the more pronounced because she happens to be a woman. The book provides a new insight into the hurt psyche of a person who has to bang her head against the glass ceiling time and again. Her independence stands out; so does her existential dilemma. She is torn between the desire to write in Hindi and her education in English.

According to her description, India is divided into two mutually exclusive groups: the English-speaking and the vernacular-speaking. The former enjoys dictatorial powers in all spheres of life, more so in the journalistic world. She has a dig at various sections like the TV chat show-wallah class. Nor does she hesitate to use four-letter words where necessary.

The book ends as abruptly as it begins. In between there is an unremitting montage of scenes from a drab and dull life of a middle-class person. Realistic it doubt is but not very moving. Such structure may pass muster in a book by, say, Narasimha Rao.But Mrinal Pande?


TV: ever present big force
Review by Harkishen Singh Mehta

Television in Contemporary Asia edited by David French and Michael Richards. Sage Publications, New Delhi. Pages 457. Rs 550.

THE book under review effectively captures the media scene (which has becom more and more television-centred with every passing decade) in post-World War II era. Its special focus is on the past two decades of television broadcasting in Asia.

Edited by two British professors, the volume has 22 chapters contributed by 27 scholars, including the editors who have written four key chapters to this comprehensive and eminently readable book. This is a "must read" book for professionals and scholars in the field of journalism, mass communication, media studies, television and broadcasting, cultural studies as well as students of modernisation phenomena in contemporary Asia. As the media and the market are impinging more and more on each other, the book has a lot of information and many insights which can be of great interest to any student of political economy of the mono-systemic world which came into being in the past decade of the previous century after the retreat of socialism.

Television broadcasting made its debut in Asia in the 1950s with Japan and the Philippines leading the pack in 1953 followed by Thailand in 1955, China in 1958, India in 1959, Pakistan in 1964, etc. In almost all countries the initiative to set up TV centres came from the government. Most of them followed the BBC model with the aim to "educate, inform and entertain" the audience or the more ideologically-inspired Chinese aiming at "political propaganda, education and enrichment of the peoples’ cultural lives" ruled the roost till new technologies appeared. The film industry was a dominant segment of the culture market till new technologies found global acceptance because of their lower costs and the increasing effectiveness of their reach.

The TV market has been growing at a brisk rate all over, including Asia, since the 1980s with cable operators also contributing their share. Asia has seen an explosive growth of this industry when satellite communication and cross-border telecasting have become the order of the day. Most of the funding has come from advertising when poor Asians, including the numerous Indians and Chinese, are for the first time learning what is becoming available in the market for good and comfortable living. The public sector public service BBC model to "educate, inform and entertain" television has become the advertisement-driven model to "entertain, inform, entertain" of the new age dubbed by old-time moralists as the consumerist era.

The major thrust for expansion of the TV network is coming from private investments, including multinational companies. Advertisers, specially professional advertising agencies, almost dictate the fare dished out on the small screen every evening, nay, all the 24 hours of the day. In his chapter on "Television in India: The Role of Advertising" Keval J. Kumar informs the readers, "Multinational advertising agencies in India, for instance, have been closely involved in the making of soap operas like ‘Hum Log’, ‘Humrahi’ and ‘Shanti’. Not only do the advertising agencies select the theme and format of the programme, they also direct and produce them, employing their own infrastructure."

Public sector Doordarshan in India has a broader sweep than all the private channels combined as these are only in the cable and satellite (C&S) category. Only one-third of the homes with TV have access to the C&S channels and hence they attract much less revenue compared to DD. They have, however, a different appeal for advertisers. Only three product categories among the first 10 are common to DD and the C&S. In these also revenue earning by DD is larger. In 1996 soft drinks, detergents and two wheelers advertisement spendings were Rs (in million) 4,975, 5,273 and 2,438 respectively on DD and only Rs (in million) 331, 325 and 263 on all C&S channels combined. The C&S channels were, however, able to attract revenue of Rs 384 million on advertising alcoholic drinks as it was their monopoly category with DD prohibited from doing so.

In view of low revenues from advertising many channels like BITV, India TV, NEPCTV, Yes TV, ABNI in Mumbai (Hindujas) had to close shop. In 1999 only Zee and Sony TV made profits while Star Plus, Star News, Channel V made affordable losses and are still in business. Maybe, some more private channels re-appear but because of limited advertisement revenues not many may actually stay long.

Instead of going the privatisation way, China has gone the decentralisation way in its commercialisation drive. In addition to one all-China national channel CCTV, the number of TV stations has increased from 52 in 1983 to 943 in 1997 with the number of provincial stations going up from 29 to 32 in the same period. And the number of stations controlled by the municipalities and counties (like our zila parishad) has gone up from 112 to 60 respectively in 1985 to 302 and 609 in 1997. TV stations produce their own programmes and earn their own revenues from advertisers and the central government gives subsidey to loss-making stations. Programmes produced by different stations are exchanged between stations free of charge. By this mechanism many profit-making stations, mainly in the provincial and specially in the municipal sector, cross-subsidise the weaker stations in the rural sector.

Decentralisation and liberalisation (not privatisation) of the TV sector has, however, brought the language/dialect question to the fore. More programmes in the Cantonese dialect are being produced in Hong Kong and the neighbouring mainland province of Guangdong. In a way, revival and rejuvenation of regional Cantonese culture has been taking place because of the decentralised mechanism. One cannot say what will happen in future but the percentage of people identifying themselves as Chinese first and Hong Konger later is constantly rising. The policy of decentralisation seems to be promoting national integration in China.

The policy of cultural assimilation rather than multi-culturism followed by the regime in Taiwan till the end of martial law rule in 1987 when at least 70 per cent of TV time was to be devoted to Mandarin broadcasts, has so marginalised non-Han culture that an independent Taiwanese identity with participation from all inhabitants of the island, including the aborigines, is hard to crystallise.

India and China are two major players on the Asian television scene and a lot of space has been given to these two countries in this volume. Chapters on Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Philippines, Japan and, of course, Hong Kong and Taiwan find due place. One misses, however, any studies on Bangladesh, Nepal and the Maldives from South Asia and the Indo-Chinese nations of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.

In chapter after chapter one gets the feeling that expansion of TV in all Asian countries has come about as the process of globalisation has picked up momentum in the mono-systemic world. The cultural invasion of Asia, if any, came from American programmes in English language. Major expansion of modern western culture with its values of individualism, freedom of sexual expression, etc. took place when Asian producers started copying the Hollywood products in local or hybrid languages like Hinglish. It is interesting to note that Asians did not put up any resistance to the US effort to streamroll the whole world into accepting liberalisation of trade in films, TV and other cultural products.

We learn from editor David French’s chapter on "Liberalisation of communication markets" that free trade in the audio-visual sector did become a sticking point in the Uruguay Round. And not because of any awakening of swadeshi culture by any Asian power. It is the Europeans who share the same "decadent western culture" with the USA who brought the Dunkel juggernaut to a halt so firmly that the WTO had to be launched without liberalisation of trade in films, TV fare and other audio-visual cultural products. According to French, "The main source of resistance here were the countries of the European Union (EU), which negotiated as a single, powerful block, within which France was the most important advocate of protectionism. The main advocate of free trade was unsurprisingly the USA. The EU concern was with the protection of film and television production as a means of protecting national culture. The conduct of negotiations was characterised by brinkmanship on both sides and the effective outcome of the negotiations was to leave trade in this sector on one side to avoid stalling the whole process."

As the negotiations for trade in audio-visual services have been kept pending for some future round of negotiations, it has provided an opportunity for Asians to unite with the EU to resist the onslaught of Hollywood products to protect their native culture. They could also devise intra-Asian interaction on a viable basis as the intra-European consolidation has been done. So far as India is concerned, it could easily work for consolidating the Bengali and Punjabi culture markets by negotiations with Bangladesh and Pakistan respectively.

The book is full of ideas which could be of help in policy-making if students of cultural studies, media studies, globalisation, modernisation and post-modern multiculturalism reflect further on issues raised in the book and enrich the debate on the subject.


Write view
Vivekananda as economist?
by Randeep Wadehra

Economic & Political Ideas: Vivekananda, Gandhi, Subhas Bose by Sankari Prasad Basu. Sterling Publishers, New Delhi. Pages ix+154. Rs 375.

Managing Radical Change: What Indian Companies Must Do to Become World Class by Sumantra Ghoshal, Gita Piramal and Christopher A Barlett. Viking, New Delhi. Pages xvii+ 344. Rs 495.

Glory of Indian Culture by Giriraj Shah. Diamond Pocket Books, New Delhi. Pages 146. Rs 95.



Economic & Political Ideas: Vivekananda, Gandhi, Subhas Bose by Sankari Prasad Basu. Sterling Publishers, New Delhi. Pages ix+154. Rs 375.

IN the very first chapter the author quotes Professor Binoy Kumar Sarkar who had asserted that as Immanuel Kant was the father of modern materialism in the West so was Vivekananda the father of modern materialism in India. The comparison is apt as Kant, the German idealist philosopher, whose classic works include "Critique of Pure Reason" (1781) and "Critique of Practical Reason" (1788), in which he put forward his system of ethics based on the categorical imperative, had argued that reason is the means by which the phenomenon of experience are translated into understanding.

Though a sanyasi, and certainly not an economist, Vivekananda too was interested in the needs of common people. Poverty and famine were his main concerns. In fact he placed material well-being of an individual at par with, if not ahead of, his spiritual uplift. He also realised the importance of industrialisation as a means of banishing poverty. Towards this end he did think in terms of setting up technical schools in India.

During those times sea crossing was a taboo. If anyone went on a voyage, he was ostracised by society. Vivekananda fought that taboo and other superstitions. Not only did he strive to inculcate a scientific temper among his compatriots, but also to realise the importance of material well-being.

He went so far as to declare, "We talk foolishly against material civilisation. The grapes are sour... In all India there are, say, a hundred thousand really spiritual men and women. Now for the spiritualisation of all these, must three hundred millions be sunk in savagery and starvation? Why should anyone starve? Material civilisation, nay, even luxury is necessary to create work for the poor. Bread! Bread. I do not believe in God who cannot give me bread here giving me eternal bliss in heaven."

In these days when Gandhian socialism is our ruling elite’s mantra, Sankari Prasad Basu has sought to debunk the Mahatma’s charkha economy. He has also sought to raise some controversial issues about Gandhian thoughts. But the author forgets that Gandhi was a pragmatist. What he preached was relevant to his times. Most probably he would have enunciated a different path of material progress had he been alive today. In order to place Gandhian thoughts as unchangeable dogmas is a folly that is best avoided.

The charkha was more a symbol of self-reliance for the common man. One can find this philosophy’s economic equivalent in the Japanese model that has small-scale industrial sector as the prime engine of economy. The behemoths of today are the end result of Japan beginning with small production units. If only we had understood the Mahatma’s message correctly, perhaps we would have become an economic power today.

The Nehruvian model suffered from its substantial reliance on foreign technical and economic support. This is precisely what muzzled indigenous capabilities. The end result is that today we are one of the biggest markets for foreign industrial products, while we fare miserably as exporters of finished products.

It is not necessary to denigrate Mahatma Gandhi just to extol the virtues of Vivekananda’s economic philosophy. Similarly to project the issue of Subhas Bose’s candidature for the Congress presidency as a battle of economic ideologies is more an afterthought than the real bone of contention between the two titans of our freedom struggle.


Managing Radical Change: What Indian Companies Must Do to Become World Class by Sumantra Ghoshal, Gita Piramal and Christopher A Barlett. Viking, New Delhi. Pages xvii+ 344. Rs 495.

Foresight has seldom been a strong point of captains of corporate India. This failing is but an extension of our national character where there is a strong tendency to let things drift till a crisis engulfs us all. Of course, we do have a strong hindsight and can identify all the ifs and buts and what could or should have been, etc. Alas! Hindsight does not help in retrieving what is lost. Our political, social and industrial leadership seldom plans for future growth, let alone having a well-thought out contingency plan.

Although this phenomenon is stark in our industrial units, there are several examples even among multinationals where inefficiency is tolerated and mediocrity is allowed to survive. The authors describe it as a corporate disease called "satisfactory underperformance". It is an affliction that is easy to catch and very difficult to get rid of. This becomes all the more complicated when the managers know that they are performing poorly but are reluctant to acknowledge before their peers. For an established institution it is relatively easy to deny of underperformance, but imperceptibly its competitive strength begins to sag. Thanks to the resources at its disposal — namely, an established customer base, a historically developed distribution channel and strong brands — the institution continues to make money.

Though it takes several generations of managerial and other relevant inputs to make it a success, the incumbent managers take all the credit, without bothering even to think in terms of adding to its value. The authors point out that before the crisis hits it, a company can coast along in a state of satisfactory underperformance "assigning all uncomfortable signs to factors in the external environment, beyond management control, and finding retionalisations, on the one hand, and reducing ambition, on the other hand, so as to maintain satisfaction in the face of the declining fortunes". And when the crisis finally arrives, the institution crumbles like a house of cards. We see it happening all the time without learning any lessons.

A mixture of opportunity, foresight and courage enables a company to develop an effective business strategy, which matches the company’s strengths and successfully caters to market demands. The company becomes highly competitive and grows while earning profits. The resulting accolades and media publicity initially boosts the managers’ self-esteem. They actually start believing that they are the best.

Then comes the period of success-oriented consolidation. With the growth in the company’s size the managers realise they need more support to collect all the information to bring all the important choices and decisions to them. Thus more staff is hired creating new slots or layers in the corporate hierarchy. Then comes the era of managerial arrogance. After all, they are top of the heap and can get away with growling at their subordinates as well as the customers and suppliers.

Soon all initiative is stifled. Meritocracy is given a quiet burial. Politicking begins with a vengeance. Demoralisation sets in at all levels of the organisation. The dismal scenario is summed up by the authors thus: "Those who can manage the politics progress, those who side with customers or employees or raise uncomfortable questions are seen as obstacles and are soon sidelined or, better still, pushed overboard. Compliance and fear take over from enthusiasm and passion. Gradually the company slips into satisfactory underperformance and, finally, into acute crisis."

This volume has well researched chapters, illustrated with case studies, on such subjects as "Shaping and managing the future", "Revitalisation of people, organisation and relationships", and "Transforming the corporate philosophy". This book is a must for captains of the Indian industry, as well as other institutions that have somehow slid into the cozy but debilitating world of satisfactory underperformance.


Glory of Indian Culture by Giriraj Shah. Diamond Pocket Books, New Delhi. Pages 146. Rs 95.

Vivekananda once remarked, "Each nation, like each individual, has one theme in life, which is its centre, the principal note round which every note comes to form harmony... if one nation attempts to throw off its vitality, the direction which has become its own through the transmission of centuries, that nation dies.... if one nation’s political power is its vitality, as in England, artistic life is another and so on. In India religious life forms the centre, the keynote of the whole music of life."

Religion, or dharma, as expounded by our forefathers was an all-encompassing catholicity. And, as Dr Ruhela mentions in the foreword, "The greatness of India is basically due to its culture which blends this-worldliness and other- worldliness in a unique manner..."

Our culture is a continuum of an evolutionary process that began millennia ago. Over the period of time it has been enriched as much by the indigenous streams of thought like Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, etc. as by those joining in from abroad like Zoroastrianism, Islam and Christianity.

Dr Giriraj Shah’s slim volume under review deals with the enigma of the origins of Indian society. Till date there has been no unanimity on the manner in which our society came to be formed. Some historians point to the strong possibility of the existence of an advanced civilisation before the Vedic times. Others consider the Vedic age as the beginning of Indian society. Be that as it may, Shah has given a brief description of the dawn of our civilisation, the era of great epics, the sutras, the age of reforms and then on to the golden age of the Gupta period.

After giving a brief glimpse of our history, the author turns to the interpretation of religion in the Indian context as well as its place in the modern world. Hinduism and its various reformist movements, the advent and influence of Islam and Christianity. Then he goes on to Indian art, its roots, scope and evolution, with the mandatory mention of the Ajanta and Ellora caves. He has given a regionwise and periodwise description of Indian art that might prove useful to students of art and history. Literature and dance too are mentioned succinctly.

A useful companion to those who would like to have a quick overview of Indian history and culture.



From the diary of India’s man in Kabul

Extracted from J.N. Dixit’s book, "My Afghan Diary"

January 11 (1982)

Paid my formal farewell call on the Prime Minister on terminating my assignment as joint secretary, External Publicity and in relation to my impending assumption of charge in Kabul. Meeting at 11.15 sharp; spent about 15 minutes. Referring to Afghanistan, the Prime Minister said the stuation is static and will remain so. Russians will not move out. Americans and Pakistanis wish the Russians to stay on. It suits their purpose. The PM said that India should be correct, should maintain and sustain long-term linkages with the Afghan people; must not antagonise the Soviets or arouse their suspicion. She added: "We must try and increase Indian presence and influence in Afghanistan. If not all over the country, in Kabul, at least in selected fields of activities: health, education, rural development, minor irrigation works."

She advised me "to keep an eye on Pakistani and Iranian activities in Afghanistan". Speaking about overture by Pakistan to India for normalising relations, Mrs Gandhi said "You must assure the Afghan leadership that we are not going to go overboard with Pakistan in discussions regarding the forthcoming no war declaration dialogue". There is still a long way to go before we can accept Pakistan’s bona fides. Speaking about Cuellar’s (UN Secretary General) UN mission in resolving Afghan issues, the Prime Minister said that we must encourage the process. But she said Cuellar is aiming for higher positions. As I got up she said: "Good luck. I think you need a lot of it in Kabul. I hope you have it."


January 18 (1982)

Presented credentials to Babrak Karmal. There was a guard of honour by the Presidential Guards dressed in khaki and scarlet. The drill and the presentation of arms was entirely Russian. The arms were Kalashnikov rifles. The ceremony took place at the Old Argh—a grey stone fortress with multi-coloured marble flooring and marble top tables. It looked a very unlived-in building, bare of all decorations or any personal touch.

Foreign Minister Shah Mohammed Dost was present. The ceremony was followed by a 40-minute talk with Karmal. Most of the speaking was done by him. He made a straight party-line presentation of the Afghan situation: the USA, Pakistan, China and the imperialist forces are the villains. "I realised the mistakes made by us in 1978," he said. Amin and Taraq did not quite understand the pulse of the people. We should have reached out and established good relations with the common people, religious and tribal leaders." Karmal added that he is confident of controlling the situation and bringing peace to the country. He acknowledged continuing disturbances in Kandahar, Paktia and Jalalabad but pointed out that unification and reconciliation efforts are also being made. He mentioned about the establishment of the National Fatherland Front as also elections up to the village level for party representatives. He informed me of the forthcoming second general conference of the ruling party to be held in March, 1982, and so on.

He added: "I am flexible enough to bring about a political solution. We accept the Iranian revolution. We accept and respect Islam in Afghanistan. We are completely flexible in dealing with Pakistan and Iran to find a peaceful solution but they must also accept that the process generated by the Saur Revolution is irreversible." He was warm and laudatory in references to India and Mrs Gandhi: "Your Prime Minister, she is wise, brave and strong." a world leader whom all of us need, he said.

Karmal is about five feet and four or five inches tall, swarthy, shifty-eyed, gives the impression of great deliberation and caution but also of being cagey and capable — capable of violences — does not have any fire or vibrance or vision, more a party apparatchik than the leader of a revolution. My first impression is that he is as grey as the suit which he wore.

Dost was completely silent throughout the interview: even seemed distant and reserved towards Karmal. Nor did there seem to be any camaraderie of vibrations between them.


March 12 to 14 (1982)

Had a long conversation with Russian Ambassador Tabeev. He spent most of the time giving me a prognosis of what he expects to happen in Afghanistan. The main point he made was: "We have come here to stay. We would not allow the Pushtoons to dominate the other tribes of Afghanistan who have linkages with the peoples of Central Asian Republics of the Soviet Union. We want a Parcham-dominated ruling party; we will maintain necessary force levels to keep this country under control; we will achieve initial consolidation of our position, both military and civil, by August/September, 1982."

So went his refrain, I do not quite see them (the Russians) totally consolidating their position by September, 1982. However, Afghanistan is now within the Soviet orbit and will be so not only under political but territorial influence for a long time to come regardless of the upheavals and violence that may continue or the political solutions of various categories that may be attempted.

Met Badshah Khan on the 13th. He was upset about the Afghans giving him a lot of pulao and meat drenched in ghee. He wanted soups. I made arrangements for that. Received a reply from Mrs Gandhi to Badshad Khan’s message concerning his desire to meet Brezhnev. Mrs Gandhi asked me to convey to him that she had spoken to Soviet Vice-President Kuznetsov about this matter. She had again conveyed Badshah Khan’s wishes to Yuli Vorontsov, the Russian Ambassador in Delhi.

The Prime Minister’s assessment, however, was that nothing is going to come out of Badshah Khan’s request. Neither the Russians nor Karmal really have time for Badshah Khan. History has travelled ahead of this great figure of our national movement. He is remarkably alert for his 95 years of age. When I met him again this evening (5 pm on March 14) he said: "Are you sure you want to talk? This room might be bugged by the Russians and the Afghans." He suggested that I talk when he moves back to his own house in Wazir Akbar Khan Meena. He is recovering satisfactorily. The bones have set and he can walk with crutches. He is not very keen to go to Delhi for the present. He told me to convey this to Mrs Gandhi.


March 15 to 21

Met President Karmal on March 30. He was clad in a deep khaki-brown safari suit. Foreign Minister Dost was in attendance. Received me very warmly, embraced, kiss, kiss etc. Acknowledged an improvement in iteraction between India and Afghanistan after my arrival here, and so on. Told me about Mrs Gandhi: "She is balanced and wise... She has the choice of either having a friendly progressive government like ours which respects and needs India, or she can have a number of Zia-ul-Haqs and Khomeinis from Pakistan to Egypt." To my mind, the choice was and is clear. No Zia-ul-Haqs or cantankerous old religious zealots.

I mentioned the above precisely in these words to Mrs Gandhi on April 3 when I met her at Delhi visiting for consultations. It was a frenetic week in Delhi. I spent about half an hour with Mrs Gandhi before she saw Dost later in the afternoon. She looked drawn and distant after the Maneka contretemps between March 23 and April 3. Her reaction to the options voiced by Karmal was to the point. She said she prefers Karmal but has to deal with the Zias and Khomeinis also. She said she will not wait for notes and papers to come from the Ministry of External Affairs to announce the reactivation of the Indo-Afghan Joint Commission. She asked if I felt that Dost could be informed of it straightway. I said, yes. Mrs Gandhi said that the Russians in Kabul are all right as a counter to Pakistan and the USA. We must guard against developments which will bring the Russians into Pakistan by breaking it up.


November 28 to December 31 (1982)

"I checked with Delhi, Foreign Minister Rao said that we share Soviet apprehensions and that Karmal not leading the delegation would contribute to lessening of disharmony at the conference. I mentioned this to Tabeev on December 16. A measure of the rather unconscious domination of Afghan politics by the Soviet Union was Tabeev’s response.

He said: "Tavarish Dixit, so you have given me valuable advice. It is not necessary for Karmal to go to Delhi. You and I will decide what the Afghan delegation to the non-aligned summit should be. We will decide the composition under directives from our leadership."

I kept quiet and told him that the advice was given to him informally and personally and that I am not going to voice this opinion to the Afghan leadership when I hand over the invitation to them. Tabeev, very blase, said: "Quite so, quite so."

Met Karmal on December 18 at the Khana-e-Khalq to deliver Mrs Gandhi’s letter of invitation for the non aligned summit. There was nobody else. I was not received in the normal appointments hall, but in Karmal’s private office at the palace. It is the most spartan office of a Head of State which I have seen in all my 25 years in the Foreign Service. There were no hand-rests even for his chair. We sat around a small conference table for six.

He was very warm and gracious in his references to Mrs Gandhi. He looked much better, slimmed down and with clear eyes than when I met him on November 6 at the Soviet reception, and he had sounded weary of continuing insurgent activities. He had then told me: "Violence of this type is sad. But we have to overcome it. We must, even if it takes time."

Asked me whether he himself should lead the Afghan delegation. I played wooden and said that the invitation is addressed to him personally. He said: "I am giving deep consideration to this question and will let you know." I kept a straight face. Zile Ilahi Tabeev already having decided that Karmal should not go. All this pretence was redundant. Ambassadors should have compalsory training in playing possum or straight guy in all diplomatic comedies.


April 8 (1983)

The government carried out successful operations against insurgents in Balkh, Mazar-e-Sharif and Badakshan. Anti insurgent operations continued in Paktia, Gazhni, Kandahar, Pakhtika and Nangarhar. Soviet and Afghan forces faced greater resistance in the southern provinces. An additional handicap affecting these operations is the conflict between the soldiers of Khalqi and Parchamite affiliations. It is reported that Khalqi-Parcham differences even turned violent in some of the army units operating in Paktia and Gazhni. As a Soviet official put it, the Afghan army at times finds it difficult to make up its mind whether it should fight the counter-revolutionaries or within itself.

The newly adopted tactic by Societ forces of locating pickets on the main highways connecting different urban centres seems to be yielding some results. The disruption of government convoys and civilian traffic between Kandahar and Herat and between Kabul and Mazar-e-Sharif has diminished considerably since Soviet pickets were set up at different points on these roads. The opposing forces were on the defensive because of the strong Soviet military check-posts.

The Afghan-Soviet attempt to seal off the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan is still in an experimental stage and the effort has not been tangibly successful so far. The pattern of sporadic assassinations and desertions continues. An interesting development in this context relates to a number of women working as artistes and announcers with the Kabul TV station who disappeared towards Pakistan with their children, leaving their husbands behind to explain their conduct.

I have recorded earlier the fact that former King Zahir Shah had been considered as a focal point for ensuring unity among the various insurgent groups. A curious and interesting dimension to this attempt is the report that King in Rome would be willing to assume a political role in Afghanistan only if he has indications from the Soviet Union as well as the Karmal regime would accept him (the king) as a mediator or a unifier. Mr Pazhwak who has recently come back to Pakistan form West Europe has brought this message from the king to the different rebel leaders.

Two new rebel groups have come into existence over the past three or four weeks. Gulbuddin Hekmatyar has apparently organised a women’s wing of his group which is called the "National Salvation Party". Another insurgent group called "Hizb-e-Allah" has come into existence in the Herat-Kandahar region with general support from Rabbani and Mojaddadi. It will be interesting to find out more details about this proliferation of the opposition groups with new nomenclatures.


August 19 (1983)

President Karmal returned to Kabul after a five-week absence from Afghanistan on August 15 Foreign Minister Dost also returned with him. Karmal had completed his state visit to Mongolia on 13. He was in Moscow for a month and two days, basically for a medical check-up which was announced through the Afghan media. He suffers from high blood pressure and peptic ulcer. He looked fit but a little exhausted at the airport ceremonies held for receiving him.

On reaching me in the reception line he remembered that it was India’s Independence Day, and delivered an impromptu but warm message for our Prime Minister.

The discussions which he had with the Soviet leadership primarily related to the internal situation in Afghanistan and the factionalism affecting the PDPA. Though the internal conflict in the party has been tenuously patched up, the controversies simmer. President Karmal faces the prospect of presiding over a fractious party, affected not only by Khalqi-Parcham differences but also by divisive tendencies within each faction.

Karmal’s return, however, has set to rest negative speculation both about the state of his health and his political future.

General Mohammed Rafie, a member of the Politburo and Deputy Prime Minister (former Defence Minister) who was away from Kabul for over two years for "higher education", returned from Moscow and was in fact, with Mr Karmal in the same plane. The media has formally announced that he has permanently returned and that he will assume his responsibilities in the party and government.

My information is that General Rafie is expected to introduce an element of firmness in handling both party and governmental affairs in both ideological and disciplinary terms. Reports are that his responsibilities will cover both defence and internal law and order. He made it a point to walk down the reception line behind but a little distant from Karmal, and to shake hands with all diplomatic representatives. He told me; "I was not here when you took up your assignment in Kabul; we must meet each other as often as possible". I told him that I will.

Tension within the Afghan Cabinet continues. Practically, all Khalqi members and some Parchamites in the Cabinet, the latter led by Finance Minister Wakil, continue to gun for Mr. Keshtmand. For the present, though his position does not seem to be weakening.


December 30 (1983)

British Charge d’ Affaires Garner’s comment on this interview was interesting. He said,"that fellow Hekmatyar is a bounder; I don’t know why the BBC interviewed him instead of some sober opposition leader. Nobody will believe Hekmatyar’s exaggerated claims of success."

The week was characterised by a well-orchestrated publicity offensive against the Government of Afghanistan. The BBC, the Voice of America, the West German and French Radio and Television networks broadcast special commentaries and news-items to mark the fouth anniversary of what they called,"the Soviet take-over of Afghanistan". There was criticism of the Soviet Union and somewhat exaggerated claims regarding the success of the rebels against the Karmal regime in these audio-visual broadcasts. A number of seminars and functions on prospects in Afghanistan was organised in the UK, the USA, France and West Germany with participation by universities, scholars, academic organisations and political commentators.

Detailed reports on demonstrations organised against Soviet Embassies and Afghan Missions by exiled Afghan communities in different parts of the world were broadcast and published.

Afghan leaders reacted to statements made by US and West-European leaders with scepticism and firmness. The Afghan leadership particularly pointed out the economic and social destruction caused by the insurgents over the past four years, emphasising that the rebels destroying schools and hospitals and vital economic installations was proof of their lack of commitment to the welfare and progress of the Afghan people. They labelled expressions of concern and sympathy by President Reagan and others for the poor Afghan people as patently hypocritical.

Perhaps the same could be said for both the Super Powers if one reflects on their policies relating to Afghanistan.