From the heart
Shirkers as members
Time it was given its due
FOR long, the Navy has remained the neglected arm of the Indian armed forces, so much so that today it faces an acute shortage of vessels. Its pleas for fleet modernisation were ignored during 1985-95 with the unfortunate result that today it is in such dire straits that it could run out of submarines in a decade.
In defence of disinvestment
Alive in death
The Budget, presented on June 21, mirrors the agony of Punjab
From the heart
THE President's address to Parliament, the debate on it and the reply of the Prime Minister to the debate are how a government expresses its intentions and articulates its programmes. The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government led by Dr Manmohan Singh was denied this forum when the Opposition scuttled the debate by harping on the issue of "tainted ministers". This compelled Dr Singh to make an address to the nation, a month after he was sworn in. Though he did not mention anything about the presence of "tainted ministers", his exhortation to those who lay great store by ethics to play a greater role in public affairs is a warning that if they shirked their responsibility, the unwanted elements would step in.
The Prime Minister has placed in perspective his plans for the future. He is conscious of the fact that the mandate the UPA received was to bring about a change in the processes and focus of governance. For him, reforms for the sake of reforms are a meaningless exercise. They make sense only if their benefits reach the common man. To bring home this point, he has quoted Mahatma Gandhi to say that the touchstone of all government programmes and actions is how they benefit the poor. The pauperisation of villages, as reflected in the increasing number of suicides by farmers has, therefore, engaged his attention. He has visualised a situation whereby the farmers get a New Deal and the whole country becomes one market.
With education going out of the reach of the poor, Dr Singh has talked about paying special attention to the needs of the marginalised, if necessary, by introducing scholarships for them. While the mandate is for change, there are sectors where continuity will remain the cornerstone. Hence the dialogue initiated with the Hurriyat will continue even as India tries to strengthen its relations with its neighbours. India's relations with the US, which got a boost during the NDA regime, will not prevent it from taking an independent stance on world affairs as, for instance, on Iraq. Adherence to the principles of nuclear disarmament does not prevent India from maintaining a credible nuclear deterrent. All said, it is an evocative speech. Since the proof of the pudding is in the eating, it will be judged on how the promises are translated into action.
ON Wednesday, the day the Punjab Vidhan Sabha was to discuss the Budget for 2004-05, most of the ruling party members chose to stay away. Now a Budget is a very dry subject to talk about. For many it is hard to understand its implications. Lack of interest among legislators in general is, therefore, understandable. But it is a constitutional and moral obligation of a member of a legislature to attend and participate in legislative proceedings. It was, perhaps, for the first time that so many members of a ruling party absented themselves, for whatever reasons, from the House when discussion on such a vital issue as Budget was to take place. Only nine members of the ruling Congress were present and two of them had to be persuaded to speak on the Budget.
Usually, MLAs and MPs vie with one another for time to speak in the House. The Punjab Assembly witnessed the unusual phenomenon when members had to be coaxed to speak. Still the requisite number could not be ensured. Two members from the Treasury Benches and two from the Opposition parties volunteered to offer comments on the Budget. As a result, the House was adjourned one hour ahead of the scheduled time. Those who chose to stay away included even the Chief Minister and the Deputy Chief Minister.
What is worse, the Parliamentary Affairs Minister and the Chief Whip, who were supposed to ensure the presence in the House of a sufficient number of members of the ruling party, were themselves absent. This was despite the Deputy Speaker, Mr Bir Devinder Singh, writing to the Chief Minister, Capt Amarinder Singh, a few days back about the Congress MLAs' tendency to skip Assembly proceedings. Earlier, during a debate on a resolution on education, the minister concerned had to be summoned to the House. Such lack of interest violates the spirit of democracy. Those entrusted with the task of running the state affairs should not choose to abdicate their constitutional responsibility of governance.
FOR long, the Navy has remained the neglected arm of the Indian armed forces, so much so that today it faces an acute shortage of vessels. Its pleas for fleet modernisation were ignored during 1985-95 with the unfortunate result that today it is in such dire straits that it could run out of submarines in a decade. This is ironic considering that India ranks among the top 10 naval forces of the world and strives to be recognised as a major player on the international table. The need to set things right is pressing. The first-ever navy doctrine comes at a crucial time. The importance of the long-overdue document cannot be overstressed. It is a worthy blueprint of the principles that will guide the future development of the Navy. It also spells out the role the Navy will have to play in the scenario where it will be called upon to operate at longer distances. The maritime doctrine clearly shows that the current handicaps have not clouded its conceptual vision. It strongly pleads for basing the strongest of the nuclear triad in the sea. In other words, India should have nuclear submarines capable of launching missiles with nuclear warheads.
That is in keeping with the long-term aim of using the "blue-water" force as a potent regional maritime power. The document takes into account the hostile posturing in the sea by Pakistan and Chinese plans to have two aircraft carrier battle groups. All such factors affect India's security concerns. Its main strategy will be to adopt sea control along with sea denial to the enemy.
In the days to come, the Indian Navy is expected to be called upon to handle contingencies far away from its shores. It will be able to discharge its responsibilities effectively only if it moves from its "security deficit" present to a trans-regional capability in the near future. A litmus test of the government support will be the response to negotiations with the Russians on the lease of two nuclear submarines.
In defence of disinvestment
Although the Common Minimum Programme of the UPA government has not categorically ruled out further disinvestment, it is fair to say that the process of disinvestment will be considerably slower. In the meantime, a lot of disingenuous arguments opposing disinvestment are once again gaining currency, and these need to be resisted.
One ought to distinguish between a programme of disinvestment of public sector enterprises and a wholesale privatisation of the state. The rhetoric against disinvestment continually conflates the two, drawing up apocalyptic visions of all essential state services being privatised. Not even the most ardent proponents of disinvestment envisage such a future.
The strongest argument for disinvestment is that it will allow the State to reallocate its priorities to the sectors that it needs to attend to the most. First, it will make investment in these critical social sectors possible by restoring fiscal health to the State. Through disinvestment a corpus of funds can be made available that can be used directly for investment in the well-being of the most vulnerable. Arguments for disinvestment failed politically because they never made this connection clear. Indirectly, disinvestment, if it restores fiscal health to the State and is seen as part of a credible commitment to reform, will produce a more propitious climate for investment.
But the political case for disinvestment is even stronger. A successful State needs a clarity and focus on what its essential goals are. Running a motley of public sector enterprises only distracts attention from those goals. There is a real opportunity cost in terms of time, attention and patronage — market distortion that public sector enterprises entail. To put it bluntly, if the government is in the business of running businesses it is less likely to attend to the people’s business.
Opponents of disinvestment argue that they are only opposed to selling profit-making units, not loss-making enterprises. But this is a disingenuous argument. It gives the impression that the profits of the profit-making units are actually used by the government to fund the welfare of citizens at large.
Nothing could be farther from the truth. An overwhelming portion of the profits of profit-making companies has to be channelled back into the company itself. The impact of these profits on general welfare is minuscule. So, even profit-making units contribute little to helping those the government ought to be in the business of helping. The argument for selling these units off is precisely that they make a reallocation of assets possible, which the mere accrual of profits does not enable. It is interesting that when opponents of disinvestment point to the gains of the public sector, they include the duties and taxes that accrue to the government as a result of the functioning of these units. But excise duties, etc, would accrue to the government regardless of whether a unit is in the public or private sector.
Fiscally, the argument against selling profit-making units is disingenuous for a number of reasons. First, the profits or reserves that many enterprises hold is a consequence of their monopoly or near-monopoly position in the market. These profits will not be there in a competitive environment. Second, the gains to the public exchequer from selling a unit when it is most profitable are immense for the simple reason that the price such a unit commands will also be higher. It is morally unconscionable that we make light of the fact that delays and uncertainties in the disinvestment process wipe off thousands of crores from the value of these companies. The more uncertain the process of disinvestment the more likely it is that the bids for such companies will be smaller. It has been argued that even in the case of as successful a disinvestment as Maruti, the company would have fetched a higher price had the process been initiated earlier.
The fact that there is very little foreign interest in the Indian disinvestment process is one illustration of the cost of slowing down the programme. But in the final analysis, this is thousands of crores that could have accrued to the State for good social investment. The real victims of delay are not companies, foreign or domestic, who might have a business interest in these enterprises. The real victims are the government, the taxpayers and those who need the government most.
There could be a case made for holding on to some public sector units. Some industries might be of strategic importance. Second, one might think that there is some value in having companies in particular industries that are insulated from the pressures of the stock market, so that they don’t have to respond to the short-run pressures of finance capital.
Theoretically, these arguments are plausible. But it is difficult to make them stick in the case of most public sector enterprises that the opponents of disinvestment want to hang on to. “Strategic importance” is bandied about a good deal as a slogan, but its content is seldom made clear.
There is some merit in the argument that the interests of the existing employees need to be taken into account more than they often are. But it is not clear that keeping these units in the public sector is the only way of doing so; there are imaginative ways of disinvesting that give workers a fuller share. Besides, opposition to disinvestment has come less from unions than from political vested interests or flawed intellectual commitments.
We hide behind euphemisms like the need for more transparency, forgetting the fact that this issue has not only been debated to death. Every interested party, from the unions to the courts, has intervened. It is true that in some instances parliamentary approval may be required for the process, but that is an argument for Parliament to measure up to the task, not for slowing down investment.
Prof Devesh Kapur of Harvard has made a calculation that even if the assets of public sector companies were sold off and simply put in a bank, there would be more revenue gains to the government. There is no doubt that loss making units need to be sold off. But in some ways the argument for selling off profit-making units is at least as strong. State governments from across the political spectrum acknowledge this fact. Yet national debate on this keeps getting off track.
Political parties claim to serve the poor by opposing the privatisation of airports, as if this facility is the key to solving the problems of India’s most vulnerable. The visible and invisible costs of holding on to public sector units has direct ramifications for what the State can fiscally do for the poor. The UPA government would do well to make the link between disinvestment and the ability of the government to commit to the much-needed projects clearer. Disinvestment is a sound economic policy, good social sense and prudent political
Alive in death
When my father died, I broke down briefly before the last log was put over his face. When my mother went, I cried all the way — from her fading pulse till the ashes were poured into river. But when Jaichand passed into peace the other day, I did not even know when I cried, or broke down.
Dark, lean, with sparkling eyes, Jaichand Chandel could have stepped straight out of a sculpted hillside. Warm and gentle, this true Himachali enjoyed helping even his rivals and rank strangers. He first came to me as a student of journalism 13 years ago.
He joined Giriraj, the state’s prestigious weekly, and moved into my spacious abode. An open house culture grew naturally with him for students, teachers, patients from different districts — in fact, for anyone who needed a short halt at Shimla. He gave free tuitions to children of even indifferent neighbours.
One day, it was raining intermittently. A Muslim couple alighted at the bus stand and discovered that their hotel booking had not been confirmed. The husband phoned me, taking a distant reference. Could I suggest a reasonable hotel for five days? I consulted Jaichand.
“Sir ”, he said forcefully as usual, “why not here?”. He told the couple where to meet and identify him and charged down the hill all the way to the bus stand. Bringing them home was quite an uphill task. They hesitated to live in an unknown Hindu household; my brats were equally apprehensive. But when the couple left Shimla, tears in their eyes acknowledged the “caring” they received. They are now an emotional part of this family which once revolved around “Mamaji” — his nephews called him so and others followed suit.
Wild flowers on breezy hill-slopes tell us of innocence and purity. Anyone who knew Jaichand even briefly would feel his presence amongst flowers of that kind.
His goodness was at least acknowledged in the world where goodness is becoming rare . Ironically, he was chosen by the rarest of rare diseases — reversible only in theory. While the PGI tried to save him, and has made him part of medical history, the 36-year-old slowly slipped into unlit corridors of history itself.
Punjab continues to be an enigma. It knows what is wrong with its body politic and economy and is aware of its stalled industrial and agricultural production and productivity. It is conscious of the weakness of politicians, bureaucrats and the police. It feels the pain of missing infrastructure and infirmities of the social and economic sectors. It sees itself slipping in education with the number of school dropouts increasing and the sex ratio getting skewed.
Punjab is concerned about 30 lakh unemployed youth, how they are being devoured by drug addiction. It is conscious of its frail financial health, unimplemented reforms — administrative, economic, power etc and about lack of political will to perform. Even the Budget, presented on June 21, mirrors the agony of Punjab and limitations of the government to perform. Has it abdicated its responsibilities or is it far removed from ground realities or has it forgotten what is meant by good governance and knows of only political exigencies?
Punjab knows where it hurts and bleeds. It has been diagnosed by a variety of experts, time and again, suggesting the same prescriptions. The treatment, somehow, has not started, yet. Is it due to lack of political will or electoral risks ? As is the wont of every government, perhaps, Capt. Amarinder Singh too is waiting for ''politically correct time'' to take the plunge.
Punjab, thus, is in a state of disarray, where things are falling apart and the state cannot hold them together!
There are any number of remedies in the stockpile of reports available to the government on all conceivable maladies that afflict the state, whose failings and fault-lines are clearly identified and enunciated there in as also in the Human Resource Development Reports.
Yet, says Akali MLA Mr Manpreet Singh Badal, ''The political will and political sagacity are lacking”. He is convinced that if all political parties could sit together and evolve a consensus on the approach to be followed on the river waters, why can’t the same be done on other key issues confronting Punjab. Let all parties agree to a ''common minimum economic agenda''and network to implement it. That agenda should be ''sacrosanct'' and kept above political bickering. He has worked zealously to evolve a common platform for this purpose.
But, as a Congress minister, says, ''Our endeavour to network was hampered by the senior leadership of both parties. Some of us had even formed an informal forum, cutting cross party lines. A roadmap for Punjab in the 21st century was also being prepared. Then we were tripped. There is always the next time''.
The common agenda can be the basis for talking points for Punjab's 20 MPs in Parliament. They can act as a ''pressure group'' and provide a protective political umbrella to the state. Capt. Amarinder Singh, in fact, has already submitted a memorandum on issues of ''prime concern to Punjab'' to the Prime Minister. Let that document, perhaps, with additional inputs be enlarged to become the desired common minimum economic agenda.
The issues included in the Chief Minister's agenda include seeking funds for diversification in agriculture, a special economic package as is available to the hill states, waiver of the special term loan of Rs 3,772 crore, whose repayment begins on April 1 next. The agenda also focuses on US $ 800 million under the structural adjustment loan scheme of the World Bank with the Centre recommending the state's case, redefining terms and conditions of the Bathinda refinery and compensation for the border district farmers for the damage to their crops during Operation Parakarma.
In Punjab, there are 387,000 families ''below poverty-line'', according to the BPL Census 2002. Akalis suspect its authenticity. The sate wants the Centre to change its criteria for the allocation of funds under the ''poverty alleviation scheme'' to benefit progressive states now being penalised.
In the Census 2001 Punjab lags behind other states in the social and economic performance, sex ratio, health, education, school dropouts, welfare of Scheduled Castes, infrastructure etc.
Most of the issues can be resolved in Chandigarh, some require the intervention of New Delhi. With the Congress governments at both places, things should hopefully move. This is one factor that has rekindled the hope of MLAs. Will political will prevail or will Punjab drag on. There will be no one to shed tears for its downward slide into an abyss?
Things are hotting up in Uttar Pradesh with Congress President Sonia Gandhi getting down to the nitty-gritty of revamping the UPCC, which has lost its sheen in the country’s most populous state. Rahul Gandhi, the first time MP from the family bastion of Amethi, is all set to make his foray all over the state. Refusing a lateral entry into the AICC as a General Secretary, Rahul has preferred getting down to the heat and dust of the Hindi heartland first to change the fortunes of UP. There are clear indications that the Congress is gearing up for Assembly elections in UP in the next one year even though they are extending support to the Samajwadi government in Lucknow headed by Mulayam Singh Yadav. Sensing the turbulence in the Congress-SP relations, BJP President M Venkaiah Naidu has also asked his party’s workers to be prepared for early polls in UP.
There are clear indications that the Congress is gearing up for Assembly elections in UP in the next one year even though they are extending support to the Samajwadi government in Lucknow headed by Mulayam Singh Yadav. Sensing the turbulence in the Congress-SP relations, BJP President M Venkaiah Naidu has also asked his party’s workers to be prepared for early polls in UP.
in Parliament Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee’s first instruction after assuming office was to reopen the closed library in Parliament House. Somnathda did the needful after mediapersons, who did not have a Central Hall pass, implored him to get the library opened to facilitate them meet MPs in the midst of books, newspapers and periodicals.
Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee’s first instruction after assuming office was to reopen the closed library in Parliament House. Somnathda did the needful after mediapersons, who did not have a Central Hall pass, implored him to get the library opened to facilitate them meet MPs in the midst of books, newspapers and periodicals.
A colourful headgear That is what Bikaner’s BJP MP Manvendra Singh believes. Wearing a turban is like an airconditioner in the desert areas. Manvendra Singh, son of former Union Finance Minister Jaswant Singh, should know what he is talking about as he has spent the last five years doing the rounds of the Bikaner constituency. He comes to Parliament sporting a colourful and thick headgear, which is a real protection in the blazing desert constituency. The turban is also considered ceremonial by
That is what Bikaner’s BJP MP Manvendra Singh believes. Wearing a turban is like an airconditioner in the desert areas. Manvendra Singh, son of former Union Finance Minister Jaswant Singh, should know what he is talking about as he has spent the last five years doing the rounds of the Bikaner constituency. He comes to Parliament sporting a colourful and thick headgear, which is a real protection in the blazing desert constituency. The turban is also considered ceremonial by Barmeris.
with TN MPs AIADMK MPs of the Rajya Sabha invited UP Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav’s son Akhilesh to assess the emerging trends in the northern state. Seemingly a chip of the old block and fluent in English, Akhilesh wanted to know from his hosts why their supremo J Jayalalithaa and the AIADMK suffered such a humiliating rout in the Lok Sabha elections in Tamil Nadu. The budding parliamentarian expressed a keen desire to meet Jayalalithaa and wondered aloud if he could act as a bridge in bringing the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister and his father together on the political plane.
AIADMK MPs of the Rajya Sabha invited UP Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav’s son Akhilesh to assess the emerging trends in the northern state. Seemingly a chip of the old block and fluent in English, Akhilesh wanted to know from his hosts why their supremo J Jayalalithaa and the AIADMK suffered such a humiliating rout in the Lok Sabha elections in Tamil Nadu. The budding parliamentarian expressed a keen desire to meet Jayalalithaa and wondered aloud if he could act as a bridge in bringing the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister and his father together on the political plane.
Canada Canada appears to be the preferred destination of Indians thinking of settling abroad. Speakers at a dinner hosted in honour of outgoing Canadian MP Herb Dhaliwal praised the rights of minorities in Canada. They said unlike many other countries, minorities in Canada were encouraged to preserve their culture. Indians constitute the second largest immigrant group in Canada. Speakers were also evidently proud that the high offices of President and Prime Minister in India are being held by the members of the minority community who were more qualified than any other top leaders of any country. Contributed by S. Satyanarayanan, Gaurav Choudhury and Prashant Sood
Canada appears to be the preferred destination of Indians thinking of settling abroad. Speakers at a dinner hosted in honour of outgoing Canadian MP Herb Dhaliwal praised the rights of minorities in Canada. They said unlike many other countries, minorities in Canada were encouraged to preserve their culture. Indians constitute the second largest immigrant group in Canada. Speakers were also evidently proud that the high offices of President and Prime Minister in India are being held by the members of the minority community who were more qualified than any other top leaders of any country.
Contributed by S. Satyanarayanan, Gaurav Choudhury and Prashant Sood
Hinduism does not consist in eating and non-eating. Its kernel consists in right conduct, in correct observance of truth and non-violence. — Mahatma Gandhi The ego that asserts “I am the servant of God” is characteristic of the true devotee. It is the ego of Vidya (knowledge), and is called the ‘ripe’ ego. — Sri Ramakrishna Liberation from bondage is effected by the will of God. Nothing else has any say in
it. — Guru Nanak
— Mahatma Gandhi
The ego that asserts “I am the servant of God” is characteristic of the true devotee. It is the ego of Vidya (knowledge), and is called the ‘ripe’ ego.
— Sri Ramakrishna
Liberation from bondage is effected by the will of God. Nothing else has any say in it.
— Guru Nanak