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EDITORIALS

A commendable budget
Takes care of the neglected

S
tudents, senior citizens, the salaried and farmers stand to gain from Mr P. Chidambram’s first budget in the new government. He has also tried to balance demands of agriculture and industry. There will be no tax on income up to Rs 1 lakh.

Ministers in disguise
Parliamentary secretaries should go
I
t is strange that Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh has sought to increase the number of parliamentary secretaries at a time when their need and relevance have declined sharply, so much so that the posts ought to be abolished altogether.



EARLIER ARTICLES

THE TRIBUNE SPECIALS
50 YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE

TERCENTENARY CELEBRATIONS
ARTICLE

Dialogue on Kashmir
Dissent should be respected
by Balraj Puri
B
eing a former colonial power and the host of a large South Asian diaspora, Britain has been a congenial home for the activities of many dissenting and rebel groups of the region.

MIDDLE

Non-celebrity by choice
by Mukul Bansal
O
n a hot summer afternoon in New Delhi in the early nineties, while I and my colleagues were at work on readying the latest issue of a monthly magazine for the press, Prakash entered our office, bathed in sweat. He asked me the way to the editor's office. I gave him the directions and he left. His unassuming persona lingered with me for a while.

OPED

The reality of Clinton Presidency
A life beyond charm and gossip
by Shelley Walia
T
he massive print-run of former President Bill Clinton's autobiography and its appearance a few months before the Presidential elections is not an arbitrary move by the publishers. In fact, no publishing date is chosen at random; behind it stands a full subterranean agenda.

Delhi Durbar
Natwar Singh in the dock
U
ltimately, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had to come to the rescue of External Affairs Minister K. Natwar Singh on Wednesday. The Opposition as well as the Left parties remained unconvinced with Natwar Singh’s assertion on a discussion about the situation in Iraq that there is no question of India sending troops to that country.

  • Virbhadra has his way
  • IFS lobby on cloud nine
  • BJP’s boycott strategy

 REFLECTIONS

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EDITORIALS

A commendable budget
Takes care of the neglected

Students, senior citizens, the salaried and farmers stand to gain from Mr P. Chidambram’s first budget in the new government. He has also tried to balance demands of agriculture and industry. There will be no tax on income up to Rs 1 lakh. The Provident Fund, the General Provident Fund and a special deposit scheme will carry lower interest at 8 per cent, while the senior citizens will take home 1 per cent more (9 per cent) on their deposits. There is no change, however, in the existing small savings interest rates. Students also stand to gain. No guarantor is required for education loan up to Rs 7.5 lakh. But before one runs away with the impression that it is a “balle, balle” Budget, one must remember that the government has already effected a sharp hike in the LPG, diesel and petrol prices. Besides, it has imposed a 2 per cent education cess on almost all taxes from which it hopes to collect up to Rs 5,000 crore. Everyone will, therefore, end up paying more taxes — for a noble cause, no doubt.

The Finance Minister has performed a commendable balancing act, combining populism with prudence. While hoping to sustain a GDP growth rate at 7 to 8 per cent, Mr Chidambram has promised to eliminate revenue deficit by 2008-09. The fiscal deficit target of 4.45 per cent is eminently achievable if the government keeps its expenditure within limits. There are no measures to downsize the government and wind up unwanted departments. Nor any scheme to tap tax defaulters and unearth black money, a favourite of Mr Chidambram. Instead, he has chosen to spread the tax net wide across the booming services sector.

The association of the Left parties with the new UPA government had worried foreign investors, but this Budget assures them that the reforms are on track. Dr Manmohan Singh and Mr P. Chidambram, the original reformers, have made it clear that their goal “is to make the environment in India attractive to investors”. “The key to growth is investment. Public and private. Domestic and foreign,” Mr Chidambram told Parliament. An investment commission has been set up to promote foreign direct investment. The FDI cap in the insurance, telecom and civil aviation sectors has been raised. This is to attract increased foreign investment in these areas. The foreign institutional investment cap in the debt market has also been raised. This should send a clear message to the foreign investors that India is still the right destination for parking their surplus funds.

The thrust on agriculture was expected. India is set to become a single market for farm produce, which will boost trade. Irrigation has usually been denied its due importance by the successive Finance Ministers. Mr Chidambram has made special efforts to revive traditional water bodies. Pilot projects have been announced to link water systems. Besides, Rs 30,000 crore will be spent annually on water-related projects. Credit on easier terms will be made available to farmers, who have been advised to go in for diversification in oilseeds. The Finance Minister has also announced wide-ranging concessions for food-processing and other agri-based industries. But unless rural infrastructure — the road, power, communication and health network — is improved, industry will not go to villages and the plight of villagers would not change significantly.

The industry indirectly benefits from the massive boost to agriculture. If increased investments in the rural areas lead to higher incomes, this would raise demand for industrial goods. The emphasis on infrastructure, airports, seaports and tourism will benefit the industry in general. The stock brokers may not be happy with the proposed turnover tax, which follows the abolition of the capital gains tax.

There are two other issues that deserve mention. First, the defence expenditure has been increased sharply by 16.7 per cent. This should be seen in the context that the defence authorities hardly spend what they are allocated and a part of the allocated sum usually lapses at the end of the year. Secondly, Mr Chidambram has lowered the interest rate on the Central loans to states and transferred more funds to them.

The disadvantaged sections had believed the economic reforms were pro-rich, meant for the “shining India”, and, therefore, swept the BJP-led NDA from power. The economy was on a high growth path, but the poor were not benefiting. That is why the UPA Budget is poor- and farmer-friendly. The Budget makes a marked departure from the previous BJP Budgets in its thrust on education, health, agriculture and the social sector. Now the real test of the Budget lies in the implementation of the proposals. For this, the quality of governance has to improve and the system must be made to deliver.
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Ministers in disguise
Parliamentary secretaries should go

It is strange that Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh has sought to increase the number of parliamentary secretaries at a time when their need and relevance have declined sharply, so much so that the posts ought to be abolished altogether. At best, the appointment of one parliamentary secretary attached with a Chief Minister may have been understandable if he is hard pressed for answering questions on many departments he is heading. But there is no justification for having many parliamentary secretaries. The abolition of the post is not such a revolutionary idea. There used to be parliamentary secretaries at the Centre in earlier times but the posts fell into disuse. The same trend needs to be followed in states.

Whatever justification the ruling party may trot out, the fact is that parliamentary secretaries are appointed only to keep party MLAs in good humour and curb dissidence. Since a ceiling has been placed on the number of ministers, this post offers a good escape route. But why should the public exchequer bear the considerable burden of political compulsions? Having an army of parliamentary secretaries is a drain on the financial resources of Punjab, which is close to bankruptcy.

Even otherwise, this mad rush for gainful employment should come to an end. The job of an MLA is crucial enough as far as public responsibilities go. The people's representatives can serve their constituencies suitably if only they discharge their duties diligently instead of staging walkouts and lobbying for posts. Just as the constitutional amendment about the size of ministries has thinned the rush for red-light cars and bungalows, abolition of the post of parliamentary secretary will end the feeling of being "ignored" which almost all MLAs today nurse.
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Thought for the day

Inflation is one form of taxation that can be imposed without legislation.
— Milton Friedman
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Dialogue on Kashmir
Dissent should be respected
by Balraj Puri

Being a former colonial power and the host of a large South Asian diaspora, Britain has been a congenial home for the activities of many dissenting and rebel groups of the region.

The militancy in Kashmir, which started in the late eighties, too, received its major financial, political and diplomatic support from the expatriates of the state in Britain, mostly belonging to the Pakistan part of the state and settled there. The changes through which the movement underwent and the splits and disillusionment of the overground separatist groups affected their British support base also.

Two parallel international conferences on the Kashmir issue organised in London and Birmingham recently by the organisations based in that country provided an opportunity to know their latest thinking on the subject as also those who attended them from both sides of the LoC. The London conference was organised by the International Kashmir Alliance and attended by Pakistan People’s Party leader Benazir Bhutto and Muslim League leader and former minister Shafqat Mehmood from Pakistan, Justice Abdul Majid Malik, former Chief Justice of the Azad Kashmir High Court from the Pakistan-held part of the state, Mirza Wajahat Hasan from Gilgit and Baltistan and a large contingent from the Kashmir valley. Among them were a National Conference delegation led by Dr Farooq Abdullah and representatives of the PDP, a group from Jammu which included the official spokesperson of the BJP, four members of the Panthers Party and one each from Leh and Kargil districts of the Ladakh region.

The Birmingham conference, held barely a week later on June 6-7, had a nominal representation from Jammu and Kashmir but a larger representation from the other side of Kashmir and from the Kashmiris settled abroad. Whosoever sponsored these conferences and whatever be their motives, one could discern new realities in the state amidst usual rhetoric. Firstly, the fact that it is a plural, multi-ethnic, multi-regional and multi-religious state. At least five regions were clearly identified by most of the speakers — Kashmir valley, Jammu, Ladakh, “Azad Kashmir” and Gilgit-Baltistan. The demand of each region for recognition of its identity received sympathetic attention. In particular, the plight of Gilgit-Baltistan, which had lost its identity and was renamed Northern Area, was highlighted by Mr Wajahat Hasan. In that region the state subject law has been repealed and it has no representation in the National Assembly of Pakistan.

The conference stressed the need for internal dialogue among people on the two sides of the LoC and those belonging to various regional and ethnic identities to evolve a consensus on the future of the state. The idea was also mooted that before a discussion on the state, the future of each region should also be discussed. A plea was made for a democratic, federal and decentralised set-up to reconcile divergent aspirations of different regions and communities and help in evolving a harmonious personality of the state which alone could aspire for a stable and satisfactory status. Otherwise, a decision of the majority of various groups with conflicting urges and interests could not be called valid. For, majoritianism is a negation of democracy. The final declaration at the Birmingham conference, too, assured protection to all ethnic, regional and religious communities of the state.

Secondly, the impact of 9/11 was widely recognised. The British MP from a constituency of predominantly Pakistani expatriates in the UK, Mr Khalid Mehmood, urged the audience at Birmingham to realise that the world opinion no longer sympathised with the use of violence for any cause. One could notice that there was not much awareness about the incidents of mass killings by militants. But no one contradicted the suggestion to isolate the incidents of killing of unarmed and uninvolved innocent civilians, whatever be their religious or political beliefs, and raise a voice of protest jointly against that.

At the London conference, where there were more persons who had the experience of the on-going violence, its rejection was categoric. Even those who subscribed to an independent state idea had come to the conclusion that the role of the gun — and that too a borrowed one — to achieve their objective was over. It had not only caused immense miseries to the people but had also damaged Kashmir’s cause and its great culture.

Even Ms Benazir Bhutto, who otherwise was very cautious in her statements and refrained from criticising the Kashmir policy of the government of her country, acknowledged that after 9/11 there was zero degree of tolerance for violence. Her emphasis was on promoting cultural and trade links and people-to-people contacts between the two sides of the LoC as confidence building measures leading to an eventual solution of the problem, satisfactory to the people of the region and the two countries.

The proposed opening of the Srinagar-Rawalpindi road was welcomed in this context. But the Mirpuri audience, at both conferences, was more enthusiastic about the proposal to also open a road between Nowshera (on the Indian side) and Mirpur (on the Pakistan side), a distance of 25 miles, to enable people of the same ethnic stock on both sides to meet each other. A similar proposal was made to connect the Ladakh region with Gilgit-Baltistan with the similar justification.

Both conferences opposed the division of the state on religious or ethnic grounds. In fact, the religious factor was downplayed in the discussion on Kashmir. However, the Kashmiri Pandits’ right to return to their homes with full security was conceded. However, those who pleaded for a unified state did not spell out its status vis-a-vis India and Pakistan. On the whole, there was a greater emphasis on starting a process than on achieving final goals. What was more important was that participants became aware of the viewpoints other than their own and of the aspirations of all communities. The atmosphere of cordiality added to the usefulness of the conferences.

Thus, there is need for initiating internal dialogue, at least on the Indian side, among the different regions, communities and viewpoints. For nobody can claim to represent all the diversities of the state. A culture for dialogue and respect for dissent and diversity are necessary for finding a permanent solution to the Kashmir problem.

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Non-celebrity by choice
by Mukul Bansal

On a hot summer afternoon in New Delhi in the early nineties, while I and my colleagues were at work on readying the latest issue of a monthly magazine for the press, Prakash entered our office, bathed in sweat. He asked me the way to the editor's office. I gave him the directions and he left. His unassuming persona lingered with me for a while.

Later, as I recalled my conversation with Prakash, I thought he was putting on an English accent. I was to learn later that that was the first of the several misconceptions about Prakash that I would have to dispel from my mind.

I did not know what came out of his meeting with the editor as soon after I quit that job and forgot about it all. Fate, however, saw me back at my old job two months later. I was glad to see that, meanwhile, Prakash, too, had joined our editorial team.

It took me a little while to discover that he was a mini- encyclopaedia on almost anything one could think of. What struck me was that he was always willing to help out his colleagues, be it anything from the intricacies of language to drawing upon his vast knowledge on a surprising variety of subjects. He simply would not turn down a request for assistance or advice.

Sometime later I learnt that Prakash had his early education in Britain and that solved the mystery of his English accent! Prakash had distinguished himself as a journalist before he joined us but with his catholicity of interests, it did not much matter to him. Ignorant of this, our editor once made the mistake of remarking to him, "Prakash, do not get excited just because your name is appearing as the executive editor in a prestigious publication." And he sounded very pleased with himself as he uttered the last words! Prakash, rather taken aback at the audacity of the editor's comment, went red in face and shot back, "I wouldn't be tickled pink to see my name in print."

However, he didn't leave it at that. When the final proofs of the magazine were being readied, he made sure that his name did not appear as the executive editor of the magazine.

Postscript: One day, to my delight, Prakash told me that he had begun his career as a fighter pilot in the IAF. His maternal grandfather, who was no more, had prevailed upon him to quit the IAF and take up commercial flying. A born soldier that he was, he was disgusted when he discovered that merit alone would not get him a job. At one of these interviews, he was first selected and then mysteriously dropped in favour of a favourite candidate.

Prakash had a way of employing superb irony to talk about the so-called setbacks in his life. His usual reply, with a sardonic smile, to "What do you do," a question often asked by those who met him for the first time would be, "I cook people's goose!" In his more serious moments, he would put it this way, "I bow before nobody except mother nature and children." It didn't require much of insight to see that he was one of that rare breed: a non-celebrity by choice.
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OPED

The reality of Clinton Presidency
A life beyond charm and gossip
by Shelley Walia

My Life: Bill ClintonThe massive print-run of former President Bill Clinton's autobiography and its appearance a few months before the Presidential elections is not an arbitrary move by the publishers. In fact, no publishing date is chosen at random; behind it stands a full subterranean agenda. In the year when the tussle between the Republicans and the Democrats is intense, the autobiography is to a great extent intended to revive the public appreciation of a former President belonging to the Democratic party whose reputation of being the most gifted President in post-war American history has risen in the past few months as shown by a recent poll.

But the reaction to his book is not all that positive. The book is regarded by many to be as colossal a failure as its size and his presidential career. The rambling account of his years in the White House is packed with gossip, congressional intrigue and of course his involvement with welfare schemes and health programmes. It is rather scrappy and far less interesting than the scattering of his attention-grabbing and vivacious asides as well as his effusive love for mango ice-cream.

Clinton always robustly assumed that he had the makings of a successful President, capable of effectively fighting the right-wing conspiracies, but hubris lay in that one act that brought him, his family and the nation embarrassment. The lure was worthless as well as risky. Only a Clinton could have left glaring evidence on a woman's skirt and only he could have influenced so positively the political crises in the Middle East or in Ireland. In the remaining period of his presidency, he cried himself hoarse that he had not had sex with Monica Lewinsky. And now as a commoner he has unsuccessfully strived to grapple with history, subvert it as well as enforce on it a reinterpretation that might bring some deliverance to a former President, who always remained conscious of measuring up to his forerunners, and who now must wage a struggle to alter the public opinion that holds him accountable for surreptitious recreation so damaging to the personality and calling of a high state official.

To take a brief look at Clinton's track record, the World Bank and the IMF remained agents of imperialism throughout. Blair supported both Clinton and Bush, who belong to different political parties. He has obviously mistaken the myth of liberalism that has often been linked more with Clinton than with the ruthless politics of Bush. Clinton has been as much of a "crypto-fascist" as Bush: under him we saw the biggest war budget being passed in the history of the US; the Star Wars II programme took off during his regime.

It is well known that Clinton's government rejected any global move towards the verification of biological weapons or the worldwide ban on landmines. Haiti and Afghanistan were invaded, the illegal blockade of Cuba was reinforced and the blockade of Iraq that led to the death of more than a million people. Schools and hospitals, churches and museums were bombarded in Serbia without a qualm; the flattening of the pharmaceutical company in Sudan resulted in the death of thousands in need of medicines.

Thus, whatever case that Clinton puts forward in his book, whatever account he may give of his visits to different third world countries to promote "democracy building" or "humanitarian intervention", he must realise that we very well know that these were ways of gaining international backing for the so-called motives of peace, or in other words, strategies of camouflaging lies to hide the inherent American obsession with imperialistic adventures through the last couple of centuries. Israel's ambitions of expansion or the East Timor debacle did not spur Clinton to come out in full support of non-intervention in the affairs of another country.

From Woodrow Wilson to Bill Clinton — all are to a great extent responsible for preempting the acts of the Bush government. Destabilising governments or labour unions and all else that comes in opposition to American interests is met with a harsh set of American values and American power which is a psychological justification of a nation in the throes of fear and victim-hood.

Such autobiographies, therefore, might be a means of quenching the thirst for gossip and looking into the private lives of celebrities, but it needs a vigilant and virtuous citizenry and readership that could look through a text of self-defence, intrigue and big talk, "a hodge-podge of lies and statistics."
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Delhi Durbar
Natwar Singh in the dock

Ultimately, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had to come to the rescue of External Affairs Minister K. Natwar Singh on Wednesday. The Opposition as well as the Left parties remained unconvinced with Natwar Singh’s assertion on a discussion about the situation in Iraq that there is no question of India sending troops to that country.

The discussion was initiated by the Left parties, which had taken exception to Singh’s statement in Washington last month that a new situation had evolved in war-ravaged Iraq. The Left parties accused Natwar Singh of virtually alluding to a change of policy on Iraq.

Natwar Singh’s assertion that he had been misreported from the US failed to convince the NDA as well as the Left parties. Ultimately, it required the intervention of the Prime Minister to put matters in perspective that there is no change in India’s policy towards Iraq.

Virbhadra has his way

Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh seems to have had his way in the exercise of downsizing his ministry as per the new law. Though the Chief Minister had to spend several days in the Capital, meeting senior AICC leaders, he apparently managed to bring them round to his viewpoint.

The original proposal apparently included reducing his ministry by four — two ministers from Kangra district and one each from Chamba and Shimla. The ministers on the hit-list in Shimla and Chamba included close confidants of the Chief Minister. Finally, it was Kangra that bore the brunt with all the three dropped ministers belonging to the district. With no elections to face in the immediate future, the Chief Minister has time to mollify people of Kangra, which has 16 assembly seats.

IFS lobby on cloud nine

The Indian Foreign Service Association is hosting a dinner on July 11 to bid farewell to Foreign Secretary Shashank, who is retiring on July 31. External Affairs Minister K Natwar Singh, who is to attend a function in Kerala on July 11, is making sure that he comes back to the Capital by the evening to attend the dinner. The reason: this is the first time ever when an External Affairs Minister himself is a member of the IFS Association because Natwar Singh is a former diplomat.

By the way, three more former diplomats — Mani Shankar Aiyer, Meira Kumar and J N Dixit — are already in key positions of the government. Natwar’s predecessors, Yashwant Sinha and Jaswant Singh, were not exactly the darlings of the IFS lobby. Jaswant, a former Army officer, hardly bothered about them, while Yashwant Sinha could never come out of his traditional image of an IAS officer.

BJP’s boycott strategy

The BJP and its NDA partners are definitely seeking a leaf out of the Congress when it was in opposition. Paying heed to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s appeal to take part in discussions in the highest legislative body of the country, they have decided to boycott tainted ministers on the floor of the Lok Sabha.

When the NDA was in power, the boycott of then Defence Minister George Fernandes had irked the BJP and its allies no end. Now the boot is on the other leg and the saffron brigade is having a quiet laugh that this strategy will also facilitate them in having their say forcefully on all important issues on the floor of the House.

Contributed by Rajeev Sharma, Prashant Sood and Gaurav Choudhury
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Good are they who are adjudged good at God’s gate. The evil-doers can only sit outside and cry.

— Guru Nanak

First install God in the temple of your heart; first realise Him. Speeches, lectures and the rest may be taken up after you have seen God, not before.

— Sri Ramakrishna

To satisfy the necessities of life is not evil. To keep the body in good health is a duty, for otherwise we shall not be able to trim the lamp of wisdom, and keep our mind strong and clear. Water surrounds the lotus-flower, but does not wet its petals.

— The Buddha

To climb steep hills requires slow pace at first.

— William Shakespeare

Cherish your guru’s lotus feet

And free yourself without delay

From the enslavement of this world;

Curb your senses and your mind

And see the Lord within your heart.

— Sri Adi Sankaracharya
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