The Tribune - Spectrum


Sunday, April 15, 2001

Journey from socialism to free trade
Review by Jai Narain Sharma

Ancient row, new evidence
Review by B.S. Thaur

Write view
Space for spectacular success
Review by Randeep Wadehra




Reservation policy today: the hidden danger
Review by Surinder S. Jodhka

Contesting Reservations: The Indian Experience on Affirmative Action by Sagar Preet Hooda. Rawat Publications, Jaipur. Pages 236. Rs 450.

EQUALITY and democracy have come to be accepted as desirable values all over the world. This, despite the fact that there is perhaps no society in the world today which can be regarded as practising equality in a substantive sense of the term. Similarly, outside the western world, there are not many countries where democratic polities has flourished. Notwithstanding this obvious gap between cherished values and actual practice, "social equality" remains one of the most powerful political ideas of our times.

Apart from formally granting equal political status to their citizens in the form of universal adult franchise, democratic nation-states have invariably initiated programmes and policies that would empower those categories of people who have been historically discriminated against. These policies are supposed to bring them at par with the rest and enable them to participate in the social and political life of the nation. Such initiatives have been called by different names in different countries — affirmative action, protective/positive discrimination or, as in case of India, reservation.

Indian society has historically had some of the most complicated structures of social inequality. The caste system not only provided differential status and authority to different groups of people but it also worked out an elaborate system of ideas and norms that gave moral legitimacy to the practice of inequality in virtually every sphere of life.

Though various social and religious movements had quite consistently been challenging the system of caste hierarchy, it was only during the British colonial period that state-sponsored programmes in the form of "reservations" were initiated to empower the disadvantaged caste groups. The post-independence Indian State has not only continued the reservation policy but has in fact expanded it.

Apart from reserving seats for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in educational institutions, government jobs and elected bodies, the independent Indian state has extended the policy of reservations to other categories of the disadvantaged people as well. The obvious examples of this are the introduction of job reservations for the socially and educationally backward classes, (also known as Other Backward Classes or OBCs) and, in a limited sense, for women in elected bodies at the local level.

Given the nature of their social oppression and marginalised status, there had been, by and large, a consensus on the special provisions provided for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in the Indian Constitution, at least during the early years of independence. However, the introduction of reservations for OBCs, particularly the acceptance of the recommendations of the Mandal Commission in 1990 by the central government of India generated a lot of controversy. Unlike the reservations for the Scheduled Castes, the new policy did not find many supporters from amongst those who were not going to directly benefit from the recommendations of the Mandal Commission. This obviously generated passions and led to a massive mobilisations of "upper" castes across the country. The very idea of reservations became a contentious issue!

Conceived in this background, Sagar Preet Hooda’s book provides an exhaustive review of the issues and anxieties generated by the Mandal Commission Report. He rightly points out that much of the available literature on the subject focuses on reservations for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. The contentions on reservation policy, however, arose when it was extended to the OBCs. But there were hardly any empirical studies available that focused on the specific issues emerging out of the introduction of reservations for the OBCs.

Hooda took his sample from two districts of Haryana (Rohtak and Karnal), covering both rural and urban segments of the population. For getting a comparative picture, he divided his respondents into two categories on the basis of their caste — the backward castes and the forward castes. He interviewed a total of 320 persons, equally divided between the backward and the forward castes (none of his respondents were from the ex-untouchable or Scheduled Castes).

After having documented their social and economic status, the author questioned them on their awareness level regarding statutory privileges and their attitude towards the policy of reservations in general and those for the OBCs in particular. Did they perceive reservations as a potential source of upward mobility for the backwards? Did they attribute the improvement in their economic and political status to reservation?

One of the interesting, and perhaps also obvious, findings of the study was that caste turned out to be the most crucial factor that determined the attitude towards reservation. Though urban/rural residence and education influenced their response to different questions, caste was the most important variable as regards their attitude towads reservation. Respondents from the backward castes viewed reservation favourably, while those from the "upper castes" decried them. "There was", as he puts it, "a negative association between caste status and preference for reservation."

Though caste continued to be an important indicator of backwardness in the sense that those from the traditionally backward castes were invariably also the ones who owned fewer assets and were educationally backward, there had been discernible changes in the values of caste system. While many amongst the upper caste still saw caste as a source of status, those from the lower/backward castes did not really worry too much about their position in the traditional ritual hierarchy. In fact, as a consequence of the reservation policy, "backwardness" had acquired a degree of instrumentality. There are several instances from different parts of the country where the upper castes have demanded that they be declared "backward" so that they could also reap the benefits of the reservation policy.

This competition for backwardness also pointed to the fact that reservations were popularly viewed as a potential source of upward social mobility. This, according to Hooda, was directly linked to the emergence of the government sector as an important source of employment during the post-independence period. Working in a bureaucratic position in the government sector not only gave employment to its occupant, but also a source of influence and power.

It is rather interesting to note that a large majority of his respondents, both from the backward (78 per cent) and from the forward castes (67.5 per cent) reported that their caste was under-represented in the government sector and professions. This obviously reflects a kind of "hunger" for government jobs among the two sets of castes. However, in terms of their expectations and rewards from such jobs, their perceptions differed. While for a majority of the backward caste respondents, government jobs offered an assured source of "livelihood", the forward castes viewed them primarily as a source of "power and status". When asked whether a higher representation in the government jobs enhanced their caste status, a majority of the respondents from both the categories responded positively.

These perceptions are not simply a matter of attitudes or certain psychological orientations of different caste categories. As Hooda convincingly argues, they have also unleashed some new political processes in the state of Haryana and have given rise to a fresh caste consolidation. For example, the Jats who are a land-owning dominant caste in Haryana and would not normally regard them to be inferior to anyone have been demanding OBC status. They, as a caste group, are not only economically well off but have also been a politically dominant group at the village as well as at the state level. Reservations for them are a useful medium of further consolidating their position in the region by strengthening their hold over the bureaucracy as well, where they feel they have been comparatively less represented.

However, giving reservation benefits to Jats could have many far-reaching consequences. Apart from further strengthening their hold in the region, such a policy has the potential of sabotaging the very idea of reservations. If the Jats are included in the list of OBC, they are likely to take away most of the jobs reserved for the backward castes, leaving the rest of the backward castes with nothing!

Thus, "instead of being used for humanitarian and egalitarian purposes", Hooda concludes that the policy of reservation could be manipulated for, what he calls "retention of status" and "dominance" either by the privileged among the Scheduled Castes or by the relatively better off (such as the Jats) among the "backward castes". This, however, does not mean that Hooda wants the policy of reservation to be scrapped. The need, according him, is to make necessary amends so that such an "inversion of reservation" does not continue. One could not perhaps agree more with Hooda!


Eating out: It started as medicine in Paris
Review by Surjit Hans

The Invention of the Restaurant: Paris and Modern Gastronomic Culture by Rebecca L. Sprang. Harvard University Press, Harvard. Pages 325. £ 23.50

RESTAURANT:Food or remedy that has the property of restoring lost strength to sickly or tired individual." The 1708 dictionary.

"Restaurant or Houses of Health owe their 1766 institution in this capital to Roze...

"Here are tasty sauces to titillate your brand potato. Here the effete find healthy chests." 1773.

ENCYCLOPEDIE (1751-1772) listed restaurant as a medical term. By the 1820s, however, the restaurants of the French capital closely resembled those with which we are familiar today. The restaurant had become a true cultural institution, among the most familiar and distinctive of Parisian landmarks.

Ironically, in 1790 — a year after the French Revolution — Louis XVI took the epithet "Restorer (Restauranteur) of French Liberty".

In the 19th century English and American tourists were among the first to assume that the French "national character" revealed itself in restaurant dining rooms.

In the early 18th century Paris was home to thousands of retail food and drink merchants, all organised by monarchical decrees into 25 different guilds.

"Restauranteurs", per se, never formed a legal guild; their statutes did not exist, they had no patron saint and no meeting hall.

A lawyer writing in 1786 described the first restaurant "as the product of our modern way of life".

Diet and cookery fascinated many of the 18th century’s most prominent thinkers. Voltaire claimed that in "every known language" the word "taste" was used both literally for the physical gustatory sensation and metaphorically for the awareness of beauty.

The inventor’s (Roze’s) genius lay in his realisation that expanding discourse of cuisine — the curious product of mechanistic physiology, physiocratic emphasis on agriculture and belief in the beneficial effects of luxury — called for and could support a new institution.

Health was a shared goal of Enlightenment culture. The pursuit of health united bourgeois and aristocratic Parisians, though it never encompassed the "people". According to medical and culinary literature, good health found its base not in rigid social diversions but in more mutable, expansive cultural markers. Voltaire confessed:"Idrink moderately, and find people who eat without drinking, or knowing what they are eating, very strange."

Roze’s "Almanach douphin"(almanac) indicated a hotel’s range of room prices to be a distant ancestor of guides such as Michelin alongwith a star-giving mentality which was not only contemporary but part and parcel of the development of restaurants.

Placed at the intersection of medicine and diet, restaurants marketed not just health but taste and sensibility as well. The restaurants of the 1760s and the 1770s combined forward looking science with conservative, pastoral impulses.

A confectioner in 1779 produced sugar sculptures of the figure of immorality led by Rousseau, Voltaire, composer Rameau and "antiquity’s wisemen and poets". The first restaurateur took the icons of high enlightenment culture and presented them in edible fashion.

A contemporary business advice — "Oh, you wanted to economise!You shouldn’t be in the restaurant business." Mirrors decorated the largest dining room, a thermometer and an expensive clock filled the little remaining wall space... landscape paintings... every room evoked the sentiment of nature, its beauty and its scientific management.

From its menu and its Latin street sign to its comfortably furnished saloons and the cooking utensils hidden in the kitchen, everything about the restaurant bespoke delicacy, even as it promised to restore its clients to a more robust state of health.

The restaurants’ effete clientele required a host of attention unheard of at an inn-keeper or cook’s table d’hote (host’s table) and those new modes of interaction would long outlive the fashionable ill-health that originally provoked them.

Like Manu’s hours of sexual union, meal times had always been a marker of place in the social order. "Artisans dine at 9.00 in the morning, provincials at noon, Parisians at 2 in the afternoon, businessmen at 2.30, and nobles at 3". The restaurant made it possible to differentiate one’s meal time and oneself still further. Or do so without regard to the habits of one’s family and relations.

The restauranteur invited his guest to sit at his or her own table, to consult his or her own needs and desires, to concentrate on that most fleeting and difficult to universalise sense: taste.

A table d’hote offered little individual choice. Asausage-maker’s wares were all visible. The restaurant separated the kitchen from the dining room, left foods hidden in the former unless specifically called for in the latter, and the menu made standardised transaction possible.

A major change came in the addition of "cabinets" or private rooms, each furnished with a small table, a mirror and chairs. Better suited to confidential tete-a-tete than expansive sociability, the restauranteur’s new spaces emphasised the private, the intimate, and the potentially secret.

Cafe patrons read newspapers, and thought about the world around them; restaurant customers read the menu, and thought about their own bodies. By definition, restaurants did not pose a possible threat to public order; instead they remedied private, physiological disorder.

"Personal" needs and "private" desires dominated the mythology and rhetoric of the restaurant; they were what separated the restaurant from other forms of public eating.

In the case both of food and women, attractively disguised temptation provoked desires unrelated to needs. Appetites, sexual or alimentary, were too quickly roused and the senses too easily deceived. The consumption of curative bouillon shaded quickly into a scene of seduction.

Too"private" for an 18th century studied as the area in which public sphere and public opinion coalesced, yet too "public" for the 19th century troped as the "golden age of private life", the restaurant was nearly invisible for the purposes of most historians.

Much as a menu purported to be window into the kitchen, even as it obscured the reality of the other world, so the cabinet door marked a threshold across which only a few would cross.

As a space of permanent carnival, restaurants were part of the status quo. Theatres were closely policed, brothels were often reorganised, and public balls were made to contribute a percentage of their profits to relief for the poor, but restaurant cabinets, though presenting at least as great a threat to public morality, were protected by law.

Restaurant convivality was that of lawful bacchanalia, not illicit conspiracy; the liberate found at a restaurant table came from drunkenness, gourmandising and bawdy revelry, not from political freedoms and republican brotherhood.

In 1843 a journalist called modern life deceptive, specious and "as illusory as a restaurant beefsteak".

In the aftermath of the Revolution, the restaurant became a depoliticised space, the use of taste as a marker of specifically social distinction would become more muted, hidden in the promise and the conceit of gustatory universals.

A staple of restaurant life was the man outside, but the man outside was a necessary part of restaurant life.

The semiotics of the table were tangled early with the anthroplogy of the royal meal, couvert to which hundreds were routinely admitted. Admission was open to any properly dressed individual, but in the 1780s, those too threadbare or too busy might enjoy the same pleasure in the wax museum which offered a popular, life like reproduction.

Grimod, the sage of the gourmets in the century to come, staged a burlesque of the royal meal in 1783. Invitation to the meal took the form of ornate burial announcements and it was gossiped that a black-draped coffin had served as the table’s macabre centre piece.

The audience at Grimod’s supper, and the published attention the meal received, implied that everybody had the right to eat in grand couvert, that anybody’s dinner was worth observing, that all could be king.

On July 13, 1790, over 2000 spectators "attracted by the novelty of the scene" watched as the members of the National Assembly shared a "patriotic meal in an amphitheatre" — thus the grand couvert expanded if not to all the people, then at least to their representatives. On another happy occasion, the poor of Paris (by one account as many as 5000) were admitted and allowed to partake of the leftovers.

The Jacobin notion was that true revolution necessitated a complete upheaval in every aspect of existence — eating habits and meal times included.

In the decade on the Revolution, all these tables had specifically political import. The sorts of questions that pre-occupied the revolutionaries — debates about fairness and equity, questions about finance and food, problems of fraternity and Frenchness — could be (and were) easily mapped onto the dinner table.

The development and circulation of new models of table-based sociability, new arguments about the association of taste with virtue, new notions of the relation of individual appetite to social cohesion, all marked a profound interrogation of the meaning, function and status of the shared meal.

The table, a site of frugal repast or decadent feast, became a material and symbolic battleground.

In its penal code of 1791, the Constituent Assembly attempted to legislate the restaurant and the table, unlike the shop or theatre, out of the market place and into the realm of civic virtue.

More than one revolutionary demanded that bakers stop preparing their typical range of breadstuff and combine brown, white and rye flours together to make one single "Bread of Equality".

The new political regime of the Consulate (1799-1804) dealt them all a final blow as it officially "freed all citizens of the formal regulations with which they have been burdened during the transition from monarchy to republic." Freedom of pleasure.

To the gourmand, nothing was sacred except dinner. Grimod’s "Almanach" compared women to food and found the former sadly lacking; he wrote of the innocent charms of little robins, only to encourage eating them; he commented not at all on Napoleon’s many conquests but marveled at the wonderful new sugar "artillery" invented by a candy shop.

Grimod’s newly specific criteria produced a picture of Paris purged of the momentous events of the 1790s, and the Revolution’s political understanding of the table.


A Chinese mountain to repair the soul
Review by Manju Jaidka

Soul Mountain by Gao Xingjian and translated by Mabel Lee. HarperCollins, New York. Pages 510. $13.95.

"I WILL arise and go now, and go to Innisfree…," said an Irish writer once upon a time. Today, however, you and I are not talking about the Irish writer but a Chinese one. A Chinese writer who one day decided to rise and go — not to Innisfree but to Lingshan. Lingshan, or Soul Mountain, wherever that may be.

What’s that? You say you don’t know the author? Doesn’t matter. Not many outside China knew Gao Xingjian before he got the Nobel Prize a few months ago. Not many knew him as the author of "Soul Mountain", the book based on his own experiences. So you are not the only one unaware of the existence of the 60-year-old novelist, playwright and artist who wrote in secret during the Cultural Revolution in China, who published several of his works during the 1980s, who made his debut as a playwright in 1982 with the highly successful but controversial (and later banned) "Absolute Signal". He was controversial because of his counter-revolutionary activities and would have been arrested and sent to prison. So he fled China in 1987 and has lived the life of an exile in Paris since then. These are facts that have come to light after the Nobel Prize was awarded to him.

Gao would have been any other ordinary mortal, enacting his routine role in this casual comedy which is the world, had circumstances not shown him the road to "Soul Mountain". In the year 1983, a wrong diagnosis informed Gao that he suffered from lung cancer and that his days were numbered. He spent six weeks as a marked man, and then, prepared for the worst, went in for another examination which — incredible as it may sound — declared him completely healthy. Having won a reprieve from death, the writer then turned to examine life anew, to study its nuances and discover its goodness and beauty. "How should I change this life," he asks, "for which I just won a reprieve?" His search took him to the long and winding road, along the meandering Yangtze river, to Soul Mountain, a destination arbitrarily chosen at the suggestion of a fellow traveller.

We accompany this author on his trek. We take a walk in cloud country. Our movements are slow and exploratory as we go through the hazy, misty, partially defined country. Through floating, diaphanous gossamer cobwebs in their myriad hues, pushing aside stray brambles in our path, walking tentatively through a terrain that is unknown yet familiar. Unknown because it seems so new, so different. And familiar because of the recognisable human traits we encounter in characters we meet as we go along, in the games they play all the time, and in the inevitable sameness of all human experience. These characters are not named: transcending all specificities, they simply appear as "I", "you" or "he" — all representing different aspects of you and me, different aspects of the essential human condition.

The journey to Lingshan is in itself a retreat. It is an escape from the hue and cry of the world which remains caught up in the rat race of desire, in the lust for more and still more. As you pick your way to Soul Mountain, as you leave the noise and bustle and cacophony behind you, your ears get attuned to another music. Is it the still, sad music of humanity? Or is it the music of those lost days of innocence — a harmony that has been crowded out of your sensibilities by harsher sounds? What you hear are the haunting, echoing, reverberating notes that take you back, back, back in time. Back to the past, to childhood days of yore, to the echoing green of blamelessness, to a time when evil has not yet made its presence felt. When suffering is still unknown. When there is hope. Promise. Redemption.

If this world seems different from the one we have outgrown, it is only because ours is now an adult sensibility that flows back in time to claim what would have normally been an irretrievable experience. To claim and treasure it for evermore. Of course, there are lapses: "I must return to the smoke and fire of the human world to search for sunlight, warmth, happiness, and to search for human society to rekindle the noisiness, even if anxiety is regenerated, for that is in fact the human world." But the journey must continue.

"Soul Mountain" has this nostalgia about it. It has the desire to cherish all that is worthwhile in this constantly dying, ephemeral world. Death, they say is the mother of all beauty. It is this element of mortality in life, this fleetingness of all that lives and breathes, that makes you wish to grasp and perpetuate the riches of the world. Lingshan conjures up a universe which hovers uncertainly between the real and the surreal, where there is no before and no after. It is all one continuous, nebulous present. A present that you and I, as readers and participants in the story, wander through:

"Would it be better to go along the main road? It will take longer travelling by the main road? After making some detours you will understand in your heart? Once you understand in your heart you will find it as soon as you look for it? The important thing is to be sincere of heart? If your heart is sincere then your wish will be granted?"

Some books are to be swallowed like bitter medicine. Others to be savoured like old wine. "Soul Mountain" is certainly not a novel that one can take in a hurry. It has to be lingered on. It has to be taken in small doses. Small, deliberate, delicious doses. Every page is an experience. Every line gives us food for thought. Take it or leave it.

The book confronts you with an overwhelming question: If you were given a second chance, a new lease of time, allowed to live your life all over again, what would you do? Gao gives you the answer. You would turn to Soul Mountain, to Lingshan. On the way you may, perhaps, encounter another lonely wayfarer and recognise in her your soulmate. You approach her. But she is hesitant. For she has closed herself to the world. Closed herself like fingers. But you draw her out. You spin yarns to stem the tide of loneliness. You tell her stories. And then those fingers unclench. The two of you would walk the rest of the distance together. Together to Soul Mountain. "When a man and woman are together" ... "The world no longer exists."

Where are you going and what are you seeking? Are you awake or do you sleep? Is it a real country or is it just your imagination? It no longer seems to matter. For this is Lingshan and you shall finally have some peace here. Peace that comes dropping slow, dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings. There midnight is all a glimmer and noon a purple glow. And the evening full of the linnet’s wings.

The luminous mist rises over Lingshan. "Soul Mountain".


A short cut to reduce democratic deficit
Review by Ujjwal Kumar Singh

Reviewing the Constitution? edited by Subhash C.Kashyap, D.D.Khanna and Gert W.Kueck. Shipra Publications, Delhi. Pages viii+408. Rs 200.

THE contexts and frames of reference within which the National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution was set up, holds ominous portends for the working of a democratic polity. The first set of consultation papers issued by the Commission have done nothing to assuage the misgivings this exercise has widely generated. One must remember that the Constitution of India was the outcome of a long struggle for equality and popular sovereignty, the two key elements of democracy. Its contents reflect the struggles which were waged at various layers of oppression and exploitation around issues of caste, class, gender, etc.

While the Constitution reflected the changed contexts in which Indian democracy was unfolding, it also marked out the trajectory along which social and economic change had to be ushered in. Both as a document reflecting change, and as an instrument of change, the Constitution is significant as a living document, as an embodiment of the aims and aspirations of the people in whom sovereignty rests.

It must be emphasised then that the Constitution can never be assumed to be an inert document. It is rather animate, living, dynamic and historical. The manner in which this dynamism has unfolded, the principles of change the Constitution enshrines, the means by which these changes are sought to be brought about, have frequently been subjected to a critical examination by academics as well as activists. These criticisms have almost always focussed on the socio- political and economic biases of the Constitution, which in turn manifest the dominant socio- political and economic forces of the historical context within which the Constitution took shape.

The present book, a collection of papers presented at a seminar held in December, 1999, at the India International Centre in collaboration with Rashtriya Jagriti Sansthan and the German Konrad Adenauer Foundation, enjoins the reader to see the review as a response to "the persistent pressures and persuasion of the emerging civil society". The significance of the book lies in the fact that much of the sentiments expressed in the papers regarding the maladies in constitutional governance, and the possible means of rectification, resonate in some of the consultation papers produced by the Commission in January, 2001.

The introductory chapter by Subhash Kashyap, himself a member of the Commission, builds a compelling case for review. Kashyap points out that the present review should be seen as part of a process of scrutiny and debate the Constitution has continually been subjected to, right from the time of the Constituent Assembly. Certain "areas of concern" are identified by him as the "most crisis-prone" like Centre-state relations, misuse of Article 356, relationship between fundamental rights and Directive Principles, legislature- executive- judiciary interface, appointment of Judges, electoral law and Election Commission, etc. These crisis-ridden areas could be alleviated, the author suggests, by taking an "integrated approach" to reforms — that is, a blend of parliamentary, political party, electoral, judicial, economic and political reforms.

A thread linking almost all chapters in the book is an overwhelming concern with political instability. The remedies offered vary from electoral reforms to a change in the manner in which representatives are elected, to measures assuring that representative bodies, once elected, are not dissolved before the expiry of their term.

Pondering on the "nature and extent of the review", former President R.Venkataraman laments that minority governments which have ruled the Centre in frequent succession, have not been able to provide a stable administration catering to the "good life" of the people. The proliferation of small parties, often with regional biases have, he suggests, brought "parochial" interests to the fore, to the detriment of national interest and political stability.

Former Chief Justice J.S.Verma too focusses on "political instability" and "frequent elections" caused by "waning public morality", "absence of issue- based politics" distinguishing one party from the other, and the "predominance of personal interest over public interest".

For President Venkataraman change in the electoral system and derecognition of more than two political parties constitute two "indispensable" reforms assuring stability. Justice Verma feels that while the basic structure of the Constitution does not require any rethinking, some of the tools provided by it need to be "sharpened". Among other measures, he proposes especially the inclusion of "certain provisions in the Constitution which would ensure life of the Lok Sabha and the Vidhan Sabha for a fixed term" and "a vote of confidence providing also for an alternative government to replace the one voted out of power to prevent a vacuum". The latter, a "constructive vote of confidence", a feature of German Basic Law, keeps figuring in other suggestions for reform as well, including those suggested by Subhash Kashyap in the introductory chapter.

Jayaprakash Narayan, however, while agreeing that the constitutional framework and rules had proved inadequate in checking the abuse of power, does not favour a fixed terms of Parliament as a possible remedy for political instability. The latter, to Narayan, was more likely to become the "stability of the graveyard" and "no substitute to good governance, accountability and people’s empowerment".

For both Karan Singh and U.C.Agarwal, the question of review involves reflecting on the democratic values which the Constitution upholds. A commitment to the values of good citizenship, "awareness of the duties of citizens", responsible, moral and ethically justifiable actions, was needed, they feel, to purify Indian democracy.

P.P. Rao’s contribution "Legal complexities and judicial reforms" concerns itself with judicial reforms and the manner in which the judiciary could be made responsive and accountable to the people.

Dieter C.Umbach’s "Fifty years of German Basic Law" talks of the "roots, experiences and impact" of the constitutional law in Germany. Some features of the latter have been cited also by other contributors, including James Manor, for emulation in electoral reforms in India, to ensure true representation and stability. Manor, however, is quick to point out that some of the reasons cited for reforms — namely, corruption, overbearing bureaucracy, and ethical and moral grandeur among the political leadership, cannot be met by such measures alone.

Balveer Arora, in an overview of the party system in India, points out the limits of electoral reforms which seek stability through edging out regional parties. He points out that most of these so-called regional parties are not "transitory", but have strong historical roots and considerable popular and political credibility. These parties cannot then be simply wished away, and would demand a major role to play in national politics.

Chiharu Takenaka in a comparison of political parties in India and Japan, believes that in such a scenario, a "hegemonic" party can play a stabilising role by forging "organisational bridges" between the diverse interests articulated by a wide range of political parties.

Yogendra Yadav in turn makes a plea for a democratic grounding of the review of the Constitution, asserting that much of the anxiety and agenda of electoral reform emanates from middle class concerns and perspective on what constitutes electoral reforms and why they were needed. Analysing the various proposals for electoral reforms as they have emanated from various bodies like the Law Commission, the Indrajit Gupta Committee and the Election Commission, Yadav points out that ultimately the test of effective reform lies in the extent to which it is able to make the mechanism of election an effective instrument of the democratic will of the people, especially those who have been left out of the democratic process.

The process of inclusion and empowerment is best achieved, according to K.C.Sivaramakrishnan and Ajay K.Mehra, by taking into account the crucial role of decentralisation, the "substate level governments" as Sivaramakrishnan calls it and "multi- level governance" in Mehra’s terminology.

"A French perspective" is provided by Emmanuel Balayer-Bouchet, who outlines the nature of decentralisation in France. He points out that a three-tier vertical structure at the national level and a "horizontal hierarchy" between state and territorial units, the distribution of responsibilities between the state and local governments through "decentralisation laws", give the local governments greater autonomy in decision making and generally make for coordinated and responsible governance.

While one cannot but agree with some of the sentiments expressed by the contributors pertaining to the need to ensure responsiveness and accountability at various layers of governance, one cannot also escape a feeling of apprehension at the manner in which a case for "stability" is made out. Any preoccupation with this nebulous notion, made contingent on an equally abstract "national interest", and a conception of diversities as necessarily antagonistic to the latter, will prepare the grounds not only for a stability of the "graveyard" as one of the contributors terms it, but also a stability flourishing on totalising, "monstrous lies", where criticism, dissent, and consent will not only be silenced, but they would become irrelevant.

The concern therefore, with reforming the election process so as to make governments more stable, reeks of desperate attempts by the ruling classes to hold on to power which is giving way in the face of a "democratic upsurge". With such reforms, the democratic deficit which informs representative democracies will become so grotesque that the latter will find it tedious even to keep in place its slipping mask of democracy.


Profitable passion for herbal potions, cures
Review by Deepika Gurdev

Business As Unusual : The Triumph of Anita Roddick, The Body Shop by Thorsons. Pages 287. Singapore $29.77.

  • "The business of business should not just be about money, it should be about responsibility. It should be about public good, not private greed."

  • "My mantra was: make the past into a prologue for the future."

  • "You’ve got to be hungry — for ideas, to make things happen and to see your vision made into reality."

  • "If a woman can decide who gets the last toffee, a four-year-old or a six-year-old, she can negotiate any contract in the world."

  • "The only thing that matters is how you touch people."

  • "There are only 3 billion women who don’t look like supermodels and only 8 who do. Know your mind, love your body."

  • "Why shouldn’t women make good coaches? We were brought up to listen, to nurture, to observe."

  • "‘The Body Shop’ recognised long ago that politics is too important to leave to politicians."

  • "I would rather be measured by how I treat the weaker and frailer communities I trade with than by how big my profits are. And if all of us in business committed ourselves to this, big things could really happen. In that sense, if in no other, small is beautiful."

  • "The downside of being socially responsible in any area is that the public and the media tend to place you on a pedestal from where you have nowhere to go but down.

  • "Stay human and measure success differently."

  • "When you aim for perfection, you discover it is a moving target."

The Body Shop is the politics of consciousness, consciousness about bodies, minds, communities they trade with and consciousness about products. It is about creating awareness, empowering, enabling, building confidence, trust, mutual understanding and a whole lot more. It is about the redefinition of the very nature of business: "Business As Unusual".

And if you have been more than adequately fired by the opening quotes that I have presented in the review then you are right: this is just the book for you. In fact, even before I started the review I have been addicted to The Body Shop, its philosophy and a doll named Ruby.

Let’s begin with Ruby. Ruby, the generously endowed doll was supposed to remind women and men worldwide that real beauty is about confidence, inner radiance, character, curiosity, imagination, humour and charm and not the circumference of the thighs or the perfection of the waist or the beauty of the eyes. It was supposed to take on the tyranny of the beauty business which for years had been telling people that the secret of eternal youth appeared at the end of the jar of a so-called whitening cream. The generously, proportioned doll made its debut in "Full Voice" in 1998. When I first saw her on the covers I was impressed with the serious fun of it all.

But just look what happened. In the USA, toy company Mattel threatened to sue "The Body Shop" because it was up against the perfectionist myth of the Barbie Doll. Imagine, a doll taking on a doll, well that’s the colour of business. But for all those who watched the Ruby drama unfold, the entire debate about Ruby was a debate about being a whole person, about shattering myths about the beauty business, it was clearly about body, soul, spirit and character.

And all this happened thanks to the vision of Anita Roddick — one of the world’s most outspoken, controversial and successful business women who has many guises. These range from outspoken political activist, worldwide traveller, grandmother who has created a company with attitude which is known around the world for both its products and its principles.

At 58, the founder and chairman of The Body Shop skin-care and cosmetics chain is used to talking — and doing — big. Her 24-year-old global business empire may sell sweet-smelling concoctions of tea tree oil cleansers, strawberry shampoos and peppermint foot lotions. But, mixed into every plastic bottle is a good dose of belligerence that borders on revolution and change. Her products are not tested on animals. Ingredients are sourced from pre-industrial communities. They do not give you a paper bag unless you really need one. And, please, bring that bottle back for recycling.

With a single purchase, you would have made a stand for animal rights, Third World debt, planet Earth, and plain human decency — just a few of the things close to Roddick’s heart. The rise of her first shop in 1976 to the present 1,700-store juggernaut spread over 48 countries is traced in her semi-management, semi-autobiographical book "Business As Unusual" which turns the tables on the way that society looks at business and stresses the need for greater corporate responsibility and accountability.

Beyond Ruby, Roddick fervently believes that companies should be more than simply profitable: they "must actively do good" in the environment and for labour, serving as "incubators of the human spirit." Roddick leads by example and definitely puts her money where her mouth is by making The Body Shop one of the first companies to integrate recycling into its daily operations, and committing time and money to various environmental causes.

The book charts the progress of Roddick and her company through the last decade. It also looks at the parallel growth of vigilante consumerism and predicts how businesses can evolve in the new millennium. Roddick argues that waves of public consciousness are steadily forcing corporations to re-evaluate their actions. By expanding the concept of the entrepreneur and the language of business and business ethics, we can compel the corporate world to change.

That does not mean this book is all about sugar-coated successes. On the contrary, Roddick unravels her trials and tribulations, in equal breath. And with all forthrightness that readers must expect of her, she faces up to her failures and talks at length of projects that just did not take off. She admits she misjudged the American market and almost fought a losing battle there. And not all projects with indigenous people worked to a T. There are painful frustrations with an experiment with hemp that shot Roddick and The Body Shop into the limelight with accusations of her cashing in on "cannabis chic."

But The Body Shop withstood that and a lot, lot more. There is the successful court challenge to the BBC and ABC documentaries that nearly destroyed her company by suggesting that, contrary to her claims, her products were tested on animals.

Not one to speak in half-measures, Roddick is a forceful, all-or-nothing communicator and this book speaks volumes about her forthrightness and the company she created with sheer honesty, dignity and belief. It is estimated that The Body Shop sold a product every 0.4 seconds with over 86 million customers visiting stores worldwide to sample the current range of over 400 products and over 400 accessories. That sure is something to talk about and ample proof that the secret to eternal youth is not in that illusive jar of whitening cream.

More on the author:

A walking repository of wit, Anita Roddick was a former English and history teacher. The smartest thing she has done in her career, she muses, was never to have diminished her sense of self. "I’ve never been cajoled into being someone I’m not. I’ve always spoken up. If I wanted to be quiet, I would have opened up a library."

Born to Italian immigrants in the English seaside town of Littlehampton, her unquenchable sense of outrage started at age 10 when she picked up a book about the Holocaust. At 11, she was handing out tea to tramps on the streets. And at 12, she attended her first protest march.

In 1976, she set up the first Body Shop in Brighton selling 25 hand-mixed products simply as a means to support her family. There has been no looking back since. She would love to cripple the power of transnational corporations, and overthrow the world economic system. Last November, braving tear gas, truncheons and rubber bullets, she funded and protested in Seattle, in Washington, against the World Trade Organisation. Her one unfulfilled ambition is to star in a Pedro Almodovar movie, opposite Spanish heartthrob Antonio Banderas.

Set to reap in $58 million (Singapore dollars) worldwide this year, the chain has made her one of the richest women in Britain. But, no, she has not allowed it to corrode her spirit. She has set up foundations, charities and symposiums which help anyone from AIDS-stricken kids to the unemployed. She spends four months a year travelling and sourcing for new Body Shop products.


Journey from socialism to free trade
Review by Jai Narain Sharma

Reforms, Equity and the IMF: An Economist’s World by Arjun Sengupta. Har Anand, New Delhi. Pages 320. Rs 495 .

"Good economics is bad politics" as the saying goes, is erroneously conceived. Some spontaneous adverse responses may emerge as misplaced reactions to a good policy regime that may be aimed at long-term structural corrections of the growth path as well as the developmental course of the economy. These policy alternatives are like a minor, and sometimes major, surgery that may be painful for a while. Yet if these pains persist too long and turn out to be too severe, a well-intended surgical operation may end a disaster. An effective and rational economic policy regime entails a sensitive balancing process and amounts to walking a tight rope of trade-offs between economic logic and political sensitivities of the affected sections of society. Characteristically, in the context of political economy if good economy is not viewed as good politics, it is no economics at all. It is the violation of logical politico-economic parameters that generate antipathy to the ruling authority.

The evolution of India’s development policy over the past 50 years is a unique illustration of change with continuity. This vast country has had many problems, their nature has varied from region to region and their effects have been different on different social and economic groups within the population. And all of these have changed with changing times. The specific policies adopted by different governments at both the Centre and in the states have also been varied. They have been influenced by the varying strengths of different interest groups, and also by the political dominance of the of leadership.

It is easy to get bogged down in details and lose sight of the very significant element of uniformity in the basic character of these problems of development, and the element of continuity in India’s development policy that has centred on a general consensus on the objectives of development. This book "Reforms, Equity and the IMF: An Economist’s World" by Arjun Sengupta, our leading economist, makes an attempt to identify that element of continuity and trace it broadly through all the changes in India’s development policy in the past 50 years.

The leaders of independent India, both during the national movement and when formulating national policies after it, always associated political freedom with economic freedom, which went much beyond raising the growth rate of the gross national product (GNP). For the nation as a whole, it meant the freedom to follow its own policies without in any way compromising its sovereignty. For individuals who constituted the nation, it meant gaining control over their destiny. This is how Gandhi defined his concept of swaraj "which would restore ‘the poorest and weakest man’ in the country to control over his own life and destiny’. The contemporary equivalent of this concept of ‘swaraj’ is ‘empowerment’ or ‘enhancement of capabilities’, a concept which is much broader than higher per capita income. The lack of ‘swaraj’ meant more than lack of purchasing power or income — it included lack of education and skills, health and nutrition, physical and financial assets, all of which are considered essential requirements for any individual to lead a full life."

There were, however, differences among the shapers of independent India about the approach to achieving swaraj. Nehru, who led the country during the first three Five Year Plans, put the imprint of his vision of India’s swaraj not only on our foreign policy, but also on our process of development. That vision consisted mainly of three elements: (a) modernisation of the economy; (b) self-reliance; and (c) socialism or, more correctly a socialist pattern of society with equity and social justice.

Indira Gandhi, who was Prime Minister for almost 17 years, followed the same vision, but adjusted the policies to changes in the objective conditions of the economy. The principal elements of this approach became so deeply rooted in our development process that, even in the brief period for which she was not a leader of the government, there was practically no change in the basic tenets of policy. When she came back to power in the early 1980s, she set out to reformulate the policies consistent with gradual liberalisation without being deflected from the mainstream of the approach to development. Rajiv Gandhi pursued these changes further.

The present surgical operation of the economy began in the middle of 1991. At that time the economy was on the death bed, virtually at the verge of financial disaster threatened by precarious balance of payment and current account deficit as well as huge monetised budget deficit. The foreign exchange was not enough to meet import needs for a few weeks. As a result gold had been mortgaged to the Bank of England in order to save the country from defaulting on international debt repayments that had fallen due. Without restructuring of economic policy, there was perhaps no alternative available to stem the drift.

In favour of a new economic policy it was suggested that there was no use being out of step with the given socio-economic conditions in India and global developments. It was argued that official policy in India had in the past imposed stringent austerity standards. The upper and middle classes in India suffered, in particular more deprivation than middle classes in any other Third World country. Liberalisation policy, beginning in the mid-seventies and gaining strength in the eighties had, therefore, to be developed into a structural adjustment programme, which stipulated that not only by putting pressure on those who had money and means to satisfy their consumption needs in terms of global standards but by satisfying their demands in the market, growth could be stimulated and accelerated. This line of reasoning is followed by the promoters of new economic policy. They also promised that they would find some bypasses to alleviate the conditions of those, the majority of Indian people living below the subsistence level.

It is important to appreciate the full implication of the new realities of globalisation today. Nation states have lost a substantial amount of economic, and through that, political sovereignty. They have to accept severe constraints on making their economic policies, expanding money supply, incurring fiscal deficits, determining interest rates or exchange rates, controlling domestic prices, restricting industrial activities besides their reduced ability to control international trade and capital flows. The effectiveness of any policy would depend on what is happening in the world economy and how other countries react. The costs of disregarding such constraints are very large and even the flexibility in taking political actions has become limited. The USA has been trying to crush Cuba for a long time, but with very limited effect, as Cuba managed to utilise the channels of international trade to withstand all the pressure. Iraq is another example. While sanctions largely worked in Rhodesia and South Africa, they do not seem to work today in Iraq. For less resourceful countries, the loss of autonomy may be very severe. The sanctions imposed upon us after the May, 1998, nuclear tests were not comprehensive and fully enforced. But if they were, and came anywhere near those imposed on Iraq, we would have crumbled. Thank God that we do not have the dictatorial regime of Iraq, but as a result, our democratic system is much more vulnerable to economic disruptions.

The costs of attempts to opt out of globalisation, however unsuccessful, should be reckoned not simply in terms of loss of some sovereignty or possible punitive reactions of the world community, but mainly by the loss of the potential benefits. For example, the WTO agreement does not fully satisfy our demands, but we accepted a compromise, giving up some of our perceived national interest, because other countries wanted it. Now if we get out of the WTO, which we have to if we do not fulfill our commitments, nobody will impose any sanctions on us. But we shall be effectively out of the international trading system. If anyone estimated the cost of our losing the MFN status in world trade, he would not indulge in talks of getting out of the WTO anymore.

Similar is the case of globalisation, though the benefits are more difficult to measure, because they are largely potential, and they require appropriate policy designs to be translated into the actual. Globalisation expands the opportunities for a country to realise more output, more employment, more social development, or in short higher levels of social welfare from the given resources at the country’s command. But expansion of opportunities does not mean that they would be automatically realised. They would be the need for state action, in policy design, planning and coordination of activities. There may be increased constraints on the state’s autonomy but there will be no decline in the importance of the state’s functions.

This should occasion a serious rethinking on the structural reforms not of governmental bypass kind or of the cosmetic human face variety but as a serious revision of basic assumptions. Genuine reforms are not just about removing excessive regulations but about investing in people, addressing their real needs, raising living standards, reducing disparities, not just through the market but through judicious state intervention, especially on behalf of the poor.

The economy is not a matter of bargain. Nor is it a play of statistics. We can’t of course live in isolation. India has to be a part of global market forces with the due stress on the competitive spirit for growth and quality. But economic revival is an exciting proposition. It has to be invigorating, self-generating and mass-based. Herein lies the test for the nation’s nerves. Indeed India’s future depends on the rational choices made today and those to be made from now on. History is full of examples of countries, which got crushed under their own follies just by ignoring the basic human values and cultural roots. Every economic philosophy gains or loses its credibility by its conduct and approach to human beings, especially the poor. And we have a lot of them. They can’t be left to the mercy of market operators. The liberalisation policy has to address itself to the liberation of the masses from the clutches of poverty and unemployment.

This book deals with many subjects which I think have been amply captured by the tittle. It is an economist’s world dealing with reforms, equity and the IMF. These are addressed to general readers, students and those interested in policies.


Ancient row, new evidence
Review by B.S. Thaur

Perspectives on Sikh Gurus by Kirpal Singh. National Book Shop, Delhi. Pages 320. Rs 200

THE book "Perspectives on Sikh Gurus" could not have come at a more opportune time. The Sikh community is rocked by religious issues like the identity of a Sikh, the Dasam Granth and langer pratha. And this book by Kirpal Singh, a titan among researchers of the annals of Sikhs, contains enlightening and vital material.

Not that the author had any premonition of the ongoing controversies but chose to write about them with a view to making it a reference work.

Taking the issue of the definition of a Sikh, hardliners contend that only those having faith in the Guru Granth Sahib and being a keshdhari can be called a Sikh; others like the Sehajdharis, Udasis, the Nirmalas can at best be devotees or Sikhs-in-the-making and as such are not eligible to vote in the election to the SGPC. The matter is before the SGPC and the Sikh clergy.

While describing how Gurdwara Nanak Matta (UP), now in Uttaranchal, came under the control of the Gurdwara Committee in 1935, the author has quoted a court judgement and other details which is relevant to the controversy on the definition of a Sikh.

The judge declared that "For the real connection between the Udasis and the Sikhs I have been referred to various authorities. In Wilson’s ‘Sketch of the Religious Sects of the Hindus in Volume XVII of Asiatic Research’, the Udasis are described as genuine disciples of Nanak, professing as the name denotes, indifference to worldly vicissitudes. They are purely religious characters, devoting themselves to prayers and meditation and usually collect in sangats, they also travel to places of pilgrimage."

Oman, in his "Mystics, Ascetics and Saints of India" mentions three sects of the Sikhs — namely, Udasis, Nirmalas and Nihangs or Akalis.

The census report of Punjab in its glossary on the tribes and castes said, ".... it is a mistake to say that they the Udasis are not generally recognised as Sikhs, they pay special reverence to the Adi Granth, but also respect the granth of Guru Gobind Singh and attend the same shrines as the Sikhs generally do."

Macauliffe had said, "There are two great divisions of Sikhs, ‘sehajdharis’ and Singhs. The latter are those who accept baptism introduced by Guru Gobind Singh... All other Sikhs are called ‘sehajdharis’. The Singhs after the time of Guru Gobind, were all warriors, the ‘sehajdharis’ were those who lived at ease, as the word denotes, practiced trade or agriculture. Among the Singhs are the Nirmalas and Nihangs. The ‘sehajdharis’ include the Udasis."

The judge ruled that it would seem from this that "sehajdhari" Sikhs would be competent to institute a suit under Section 92 even if this temple were held to be an Udasi shrine.

On the langar issue, the author has traced its origin and aim though not in the context of the present controversy.

"Guru Amar Das popularised the institution of langar (common kitchen) which served meals free of cost .... The institution of langar served as an economic leveller as the rich Sikhs used to give provisions out of which the poor were fed. The high caste and low caste used to be fed side by side ... (this) paved the way for social equality."

In part three of this book "Age of Guru Nanak". a contrast between caste ridden society of the Hindus and the democratic ideas of the Muslims leading to equality among themselves has been given. "It is very significant to note that the Muslim rulers were inflicting all types of cruelties on their non-Muslim subjects in the name of religion ... the Muslim was to root out heresay and extricate fidelity as it had been laid down in the Qoran.

According to Dr Srivastava, during the reign of Alauddin Khilji, Feroze Tughlak and Sikandar Lodhi, the Hindus were not allowed to put on fine clothes or ride on horseback. The temple of Keshav Deva, the birth place of Lord Krishna at Mathura, was razed to the ground by Feroze Tughlak and when it was rebuilt it was again destroyed by Sikander Lodhi."

According to Bhai Gurdas, "The Hindu temples were razed to the ground and at those very places and with the same material mosques were built. In the present context of Babri Masjid-Ram Mandir controversy and the destruction of the Buddha statues in Afghanistan, the historical material brought out by the author helps the reader in realising that religious bigotry was not prevalent in the 14th and 15th centuries alone; it is menancingly present even in the 21st century.

A significant feature of the book is the information on the Gurus traced bit by bit from sources still unexplored and built into a big edifice. Akbarnama, Tuzk-i-Jahangiri and Ahkam-i-Alamgiri, all in the Persian language, contain scant references to the Gurus. The author has placed them together treating them as vital records of Sikh history.

To quote, the author has given a relative extract from Akbarnama. "Abul Fazal was the contemporary of Guru Arjan and he has narrated the history of Akbar uptil 1602 AD when he was murdered. He is considered the official historian of Akbar’s reign and he has mentioned the visit of Akbar to Guru Arjan at Goindwal in the third part of Akbarnama.

"On the 13th of the month of Azar (November 24, 1598) His Majesty crossed the river of Beas near Goindwal. On that day the sanctuary of Guru Arjan was freshly illuminated by the imperial presence through generations past, he was a religious leader and he had abundant discipleship..."

The book is divided into three parts. The first two are about the sources on which the author has depended to draw perspectives on the Gurus. A word about the sources. The historian in the author has in fact extracted history from what is verse for a lay man like varaan by Bhai Gurdas. Taking a cue from those vaars and Janamsakhis, the author has drawn a catalogue of the travels (udasis) of Guru Nanak. Interestingly, the author personally visited Sri Lanka, Jaffna, to locate the places Guru Nanak visited.

The author writes: "With the help of the Ceylon Government, I toured the Batticaloa district of Ceylon. Fortunately I was able to locate a village named Kurukal Mandap. The villagers told me that the village was founded in memory of the Sidh Guru Nath who came here from north India about 450 years ago. A Siva temple has been built where he sat. One inscription has recently been discovered there in the name of ‘Nanak Acharya’."

The Guru’s letters in Sikh faith are known as "hukamnamas", command letters. The author mentions that 23 such letters from Guru Teg Bahadur, Guru Gobind Singh, Mata Sundari and Mata Sahib Devan are preserved at Takht Patna Sahib. These "hukamnamas" being relics themselves also contain historical material. One of the "hukamnamas" of Guru Gobind Singh implies that Guru abolished the age-old masand system.

The belief that Guru Gobind Singh had joined the service of Emperor Bahadur Shah as writers like Malcolm, Cunningham and Elphenstone say, has been squarely refuted by the author by quoting relevant passages from Mehma Prakash when the Guru met the emperor fully armed and was presented with a jewelled scarf on July 23, 1707, at Agra.

"Janamsakhi" is the description of an event by the one who himself witnessed or learnt it in a first hand account. In the Sikh annals, "janamsakhis" occupy an exalted place.

Dr Kirpal Singh has assiduously worked on "janamsakhis" and produced material which have been well received by the Sikhs and others interested in Sikh history. In this book he has drawn extensively from " janamsakhis", especially of Sodhi Mehrvan who was a grandson of Guru Ram Das and knew about the Gurus’ lives closely.


Write view
Space for spectacular success
Review by Randeep Wadehra

Reach for the Stars by Gopal Raj. Viking, New Delhi. Pages +352. Rs 395.

TODAY INDIA is a respectable member of the exclusive space club. The ISRO scientists have been able to achieve what our aeronautical and even automobile engineers are still struggling for — namely, self-dependence.

In the past four decades ISRO has grown from a small band of committed individuals into a large sophisticated set-up with several work centres, programmes and projects. It has a work force of about 20,000.

Truly, in a country where we have become adroit at snatching failure after failure from the jaws of success, the ISRO success story is an honourable exception.

Pointing out that our space programme owes much to Vikram Sarabhai’s vision, the author notes that the legendary scientist had recruited a modest group of young men and sent them for training to NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre. "On November 21, 1963, a Nike-Apache rocket supplied by NASA was assembled in a church building (the then ISRO premises), along with a sodium vapour experiment provided by CNES of France. American and French technicians were present to help the Indians on this occasion...."

"There were a few hiccups before the rocket finally took off at 6.25 p.m.. That was ISRO’s first rocket launch. After that there was no stopping our space scientists. Despite daunting odds, our space programme has come of age. Indeed the Nehru-Sarabhai vision of giving India a strong scientific and technological base has been proved right. Today we are reaping the fruits of those pioneering efforts.

Our rockets can carry heavy and sophisticated payloads, thus giving the more advanced rocket launching set-up of the USA and Europe a run for their money. Spin-offs from our space programmes are rich, both in terms of material progress and defence preparedness.

The first indigenously fabricated rocket was a one-metre long RH-75. The establishment of the Rocket Fabrication Facility for making hardware, and of the Rocket Propellant Plant for casting solid motors led to the birth of a whole family of sounding rockets. The Menaka-I, which was launched in 1968 and the Menaka-II that flew in 1970 were two-stage sounding rockets developed for meteorological applications. These were the first firm steps towards building our own rocket organisation.

The next logical step was to fabricate indigenous launch vehicles. Sarabhai had pointed out that "applications in remote sensing, communications and meteorology made possible by satellites were directly relevant to India’s fundamental problems. "He, however, conceded that transfer of space technology from the developed to the developing countries was not going to be easy as there were "military overtones of a launcher development programme".

As a completely indigenous sounding rocket was actually built in 1969, Sarabhai’s decision in 1968 to go for a launch vehicle must have sounded quixotic to sceptics. Nonetheless, it is a tribute as much to the genius of our scientists as to the faith reposed in them by the establishment that such a programme was indeed given an enthusiastic go ahead.

Gopal Raj states, "....sounding rockets can be made by a small group of engineers. But to build even the simplest launch vehicle is a very different story. A number of complex systems have to work together for a launch vehicle to succeed ... requires the activities of multi-disciplinary teams being coordinated and focussed. Project management for the development of a launch vehicle, from conception to execution, is therefore a complicated exercise in itself."

From a humble beginning and after a lot of struggle we consider the manufacture and launch of ASLVs and PSLVs as normal, almost routine activities, well within the capability of our space scientists. We might not be able to make our own aircraft — be they LCAs or passenger jets, we might fail miserably in designing our own car — Indica is an Italian designed product — but surely we can hold our head high in the scientific world thanks to the achievements in space.

This book gives in detail the hows, whys and the wheres of our space development programme. There are photographs, diagrams, illustrations and other relevant data that could prove useful to those interested in India’s quest for a niche in the space. A good buy for general readers too!


The Strategic Business Spiral by Lalitha Iyer. Response Books, New Delhi. Pages 173. Rs 200.

Almost invariably change causes discomfort, if not disruption — be it in the life of an individual or an organisation. But when an entire economy faces the prospect of a complete transformation, as it appears to be the case in India, things do look frighteningly uncertain both at the micro and the macro levels. Yet change is inevitable since life cannot remain static. The only alternative is to adapt to such changes. How? That is what Lalitha Iyer deals with in this thought-provoking volume.

The economic scene has undergone such a transition that "global management gurus now include India on their tour itineraries and give us formulae and recipes that have worked well elsewhere". While observing the ongoing perestroika in the Indian economy, Iyer avers. "The year 1990 was in itself a landmark that separated us from the insularity of the 1970s and 1980s. The mandarins in the Ministry of Finance are busy dissecting the course of economic events...."

The trend of economic events has certainly shifted into high gear with the recent budget, after a period of uncertainty caused by the swadeshi clique.

Iyer rightly points out that today the corporate manager is hard pressed to make the right choice from among a multitude of options and it requires the skill of a very high order to surf the waves of change.

Now that the protective barriers are more or less removed, or at least substantially weakened, the India Inc is suddenly waking up to the challenges of a demanding market place. Entrepreneurs, who were so much used to operating in a sellers’ market, today have to smarten up their act in order to compete in the global buyers’ market, or at least survive the competition. "Firms with global ambitions are discovering that there are no short cuts to winning in international markets...." All round corporate performance alone can ensure success, and help one to survive in adversity.

The author cautions that even the domestic market is no more the India Inc.’s exclusive domain. Specialisation in sunrise enterprises has been used successfully by players with transnational experience. Everyday we learn that new foreign brands are entering the market which are better and cheaper.

With the explosion of information technology. "The arena for the battle for the Indian bazaar has clearly shifted to drawing rooms across the subcontinent. Advertising campaigns are increasingly adopting the ‘desi idiom’ to tempt the consumer...." And one would be wrong in assuming that the rural areas remain unaffected with these dramatic changes in our economy. Market research reveals that rural households have switched over to the use of branded products in a big way.

The author has systematically dealt with the past and present of the Indian economy. While evaluating the ongoing changes she has not only pointed out the challenges, facing the Indian business organisations but has also enumerated the ways and means for meeting such tasks successfully.

Her style is lucid and bereft of ideological dogmas.

Chapters like "Catching up with the Joneses", "The strategic spiral" and "Changing gears — a guide to the perplexed" offer plenty of food for thought. For example, she has highlighted the attitudinal change of the corporate gurus through the change in mantras for success. She asserts. "There are no invariant formulae for success.... Here are some examples of rules that have changed completely in the past few decades:

l Upgrade technology by indigenisation (upgrade by buying state-of-the-art); l good wine needs no brush (do not advertise but advertise or perish); l buyers beware (delight the customer); l money is scarce, hoard it (money is "easy", spend it); and l government knows the best (market knows best).

This book will certainly delight free marketeers and upset socialists. However, one question that no economist or corporate management guru is ready to tackle is: when and how a social security net for the common citizens (the major and perhaps the only suppliers of workforce) of India will be provided? Or, are we to assume that the faceless Indian does not deserve a dignified lifestyle?

Another question: will our quest for economic prosperity ever fructify, given the rampant corruption in the system? Will expose, both inside and outside the Parliament derail India’s quest for economic nirvana?


Fundamentals of Government Budgeting in India By S.P. Ganguly. Concept Publishing, New Delhi. Pages 187. Rs 300.

If government budgeting is a sort of mystery for you or you feel that those entrusted with the management of our public finances are nincompoops, this book is for you. In a lucid and systematic manner the art and science of budgeting at the national and state levels has been explained.

The author rightly says: "Budgeting of government is an estimation of its resources and application of those resources for administrative and welfare expenditure in their widest possible coverage. The estimate is prepared for a 12-monthly period, which is called an accounting year or financial year."

Ganguly has quoted from the notes of a committee on change in financial year to explain why it is pertinent to have April-March and not January-December as the financial year. India being a predominantly agricultural economy, wherein the monsoons, especially the south-west monsoon, play a pivotal role, the receipts and expenditure statement for April-March present a more reliable picture of the economy’s health.

The author has also dealt with such topics as the structure of government accounts, the budget documents, the art and science of budget preparation, parliamentary legislative scrutiny of budget estimates and expenditure against approved budget, and economic and functional classification of the budget. In the appendices relevant details regarding contingency fund, heads of development, etc. have been provided.

You don’t have to be an aspiring Finance Minister to read this book.