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PERSPECTIVE

Chidambaram’s budget lacks direction
Let’s hope monsoon doesn’t fail us again
by Chandra Shekhar, former Prime Minister
T
HE differences between budgets can at best be marginal. But to every Finance Minister, the presentation of the budget is a momentous occasion.

ON RECORD
Governor should inspire confidence among all sections: Kidwai
by Prashant Sood
M
R A.R. Kidwai, who took over as the new Governor of Haryana, has not sought any post or position in his long career as a scientist, academician and administrator.



EARLIER ARTICLES

THE TRIBUNE SPECIALS
50 YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE

TERCENTENARY CELEBRATIONS
OPED

PROFILE
A meteoric rise in politics
U
NLIKE 1997, Union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram’s budget in 2004 was not the “dream budget” but a difficult fiscal exercise which he has carried out with great finesse. Of course, he has the best economic brains to advice him and one of them was Prime Minister Manmohan Singh himself.

COMMENTS UNKEMPT
Where affluence and misery co-exist
by Chanchal Sarkar
F
IVE, not a small number, of convictions and, sometimes, opinions have been buzzing around my head. The first is whether Gandhiji succeeded or failed in strapping a sense of collective shame round our chest. There is so much misery around.

DIVERSITIES — DELHI LETTER
Books on Khushwant Singh and Virender Sehwag
by Humra Quraishi
O
N July 20, Amitabh Bachchan would be releasing the illustrated biography of Khushwant Singh. Titled “Khushwant Singh: In the Name of the Father” (Roli Books), it is written by his son Rahul Singh.

  • Film on widows’ condition

  • Wedding bells for Kishwar, Desai

  • A very different invite

 REFLECTIONS

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Chidambaram’s budget lacks direction
Let’s hope monsoon doesn’t fail us again
by Chandra Shekhar, former Prime Minister

Chandra Shekhar
Chandra Shekhar, M.P.

THE differences between budgets can at best be marginal. But to every Finance Minister, the presentation of the budget is a momentous occasion. It’s his moment under the spotlight and he naturally wants to leave his imprint for the future.

However, the reality is that budget imprimaturs are like footprints on the beach. The waves of time quickly erase them from our memory. At best we may recall the style of delivery. That’s not because Finance Ministers are found wanting in any respect. The present one, we are told, is particularly bright and knowledgeable. But what can even he do?

The nature of our finances and the pattern of previous commitments give a budget planner very little flexibility. As is always the case, interest takes away the lion’s share of the budget. This year it is over 27.10 per cent; salaries, pensions and travel expenses account for about 11per cent, direct subsidies nearly 9.10 per cent, defence another 16.11 per cent and so what is the Finance Minister really left with?

After the plan allocation, this year Rs 1,63,720 crore or 34.26 per cent is made. There is practically nothing left. These are prior commitments. In the years to come also, this pattern will almost be the same. Yet successive Finance Ministers would have us believe that they are changing the world we live in.

It’s not that budgets cannot make the world different for us. This calls for political and intellectual resources that elude our collective leadership, and for a political will and vision that is rare. Or we need a crisis, as it happened in 1991, to force a major policy review and a directional change.

Consequently, we cannot blame Mr P. Chidambaram for not making the directional change India so badly needs. Or for that matter we cannot blame Dr Manmohan Singh either. They are creatures of habit and prisoners of their numbers. But even so this budget is not without music.

For the first time in over two and a half decades, an attempt was made to correct the adverse trend of Central assistance to Bihar which gets a special package of Rs 3,350 crore. It is a small package in relation to the deprivation Bihar has suffered, but a big first step. But why has Uttar Pradesh not been given a similar package when it too has suffered from the Central Government’s benign neglect? And for that matter why not similar packages for West Bengal or Orissa, which are not very much better off?

Nevertheless, a beginning has been made and Bihar richly deserves a helping hand. But has the Finance Minister ensured that the funds will be used for creating jobs and long-term productive assets, rather than being frittered away on revenue expenditure like salaries to civil servants and expenses for maintaining them?

Mr Chidambaram has, by levying a 2 per cent cess for education, added over Rs 4,000 crore to the kitty of Human Resource Development. This increase will materialise in the future. This year, the HRD budget increased by about Rs 1,000 crore to Rs.10,625 crore, which means that we are looking at an outlay of almost Rs 15-16,000 crore next year. If this happens it will be a big achievement. The United Progressive Alliance government would then have truly beaten a new path. One wishes there was something similar done for health care.

Another pleasing note is sounded by the new income-tax free regime for new agro-industries. It is a good first step towards an overall tax-free regime for the entire agro-industrial sector. The Finance Minister has taken some tentative steps by ordering excise exemptions for tractors, farm implements, dairy and food processing equipment. One only wishes he had done more. Even so what he has proposed for this year are steps in the right direction.

The proposed capital expenditure as a percentage of the total budget is an improvement over last year. This year the government proposes to spend Rs 53,747 crore or 11.24 per cent as opposed to Rs 44,131 crore or 9.35 per cent last year. But in this matter in particular the proof of the pudding lies in the eating. Each year as the financial year draws to a close there is a frenzy of programme cutting and the apex ratio suffers. Will things be different this year?

The Finance Minister has loudly made out that he is allocating far greater funds for agriculture and irrigation. More funds most certainly, but as much as he is making it out to be. The planned expenditure for irrigation has gone up by just about Rs 260 crore to Rs 829 crore. Yet it is only about half that for civil aviation, Rs 1,603 crore.

Over 65 per cent of Indians are dependent on agriculture and water is its lifeblood. Less than 1 per cent of Indians fly on commercial aircraft. This tells a great deal about our priorities. Only when this trend is reversed no budget can be termed as path breaking. And why should a poor country make such huge commitments to sectors like civil aviation, which can draw resources from the market, and not make them for the lifeline of the economy like irrigation systems?

Not only is it not a path-breaking budget, at times it tries to be much too clever. What does the guarantee of a job for 100 days for every family mean, when the problem is that the rural and unskilled worker is assured of a job for only about 180 days a year? That still leaves him/her with the task of fending for the rest of the family for another 185 days. Proposing 100 days is typical of the mindless tokenism bureaucrat’s love. One would have thought that a government that has so many eminent economists, the Prime Minister downwards would have been more intelligent about this.

The Finance Minister devoted much time in his speech for long neglected areas. He spoke at length about renewing and developing water bodies. This is a crying need. But he just allocated Rs 100 crore to it, up from the Rs 70 crore that Mr Jaswant Singh allocated last year.

How many of India’s water bodies and watersheds does the Finance Minister think he can renew with this paltry amount? And what was achieved last year?

This is nothing but the most cynical tokenism. Similarly, a sum of Rs 100 crore has been allocated for regenerating traditional industries, crafts and occupations. I wish he had avoided this by putting some money where his mouth was.

In his two-hour speech, he did not say a word as to how the government proposes to make the government work better. The Central Government employs about 3.4 million persons and expends over Rs 52,000 crore on salaries, pensions and other expenses on them.

Are we getting a decent return on our money? Little thought seems to have been given to capacity building and improvement of efficiency. The Prime Minister had recently spoken about this being the single greatest challenge of government. Yet nothing was said about and little was put out for it.

Instead of a path-breaking journey into the future, we seem condemned to another dreary year of hoping that the monsoon doesn’t fail us. We have a dozen years of so-called reforms. The same people who started it are back at the helm. Now with better positions. But unfortunately the reforms they have in mind are very different from what India needs.

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ON RECORD
Governor should inspire confidence among
all sections: Kidwai
by Prashant Sood

A.R. Kidwai
A.R. Kidwai

MR A.R. Kidwai, who took over as the new Governor of Haryana, has not sought any post or position in his long career as a scientist, academician and administrator. A Ph. D in Chemistry from Cornell University, USA, in the forties, Mr Kidwai joined Aligarh Muslim University in 1951 and served it for 16 years. He joined the Union Public Service Commission in 1967 and served it for 12 years as a Member and later as its Chairman. He served as Governor of Bihar and West Bengal. In an exclusive interview to The Sunday Tribune, he feels that the Governor is now required to advise the government in its development endeavours. Excerpts:

Q: How do you see your role in a state which is facing elections in about six months?

A: My appointment has no connection with the elections. This is a situation which has arisen because of change of government at the Centre. Changes have taken place in four states.

Q: How do you view the UPA government removing four Governors?

A: I do not want to go into the political aspect of it. According to the Constitution, a Governor functions at the pleasure of the President. As long as he enjoys the pleasure, he continues. The President’s pleasure means the government’s pleasure.

Q: What will be your priorities as a Governor?

A: Although it is a small state, I am happy to come to Haryana because it is progressive. The farmers have done exceedingly well in agricultural production in spite of lack of water and other facilities. Industry has also grown. Small scale industry has developed in towns like Panipat and Sonepat which means there is urge in people to develop themselves. With guidance and help, they can produce results.

Q: Should Governors join active politics after completing their terms?

A: The Governorr should always be above politics. Though he should deal with political parties and politicians, he should not indulge in politics. He should be objective, impartial and inspire confidence among all sections. After he has relinquished his position, why should he not exercise his fundamental right as a citizen?

Q: Has the Governor’s role changed over the years?

A: Yes. Today his most important role is to see the state’s economy, its agricultural and industrial development and welfare programmes because administration alone is not sufficient. B.N. Chakravarty played a very important role in the making of new Haryana because the politicians listened to him. Besides playing an active role in advising the government regarding development activities, a Governor should inspire the public. For example, a Governor is ex-officio Chancellor of the universities. He can play a vital role in improvement of educational standards. He can visit the rural areas and help people solve their problems.

Q: What has your experience been as Governor of Bihar for two terms?

A: I was first appointed Governor in 1979 because the then government was apparently happy at my work in the UPSC. I had introduced reforms like multi-lingual examinations for the all-India services. In my first tenure as Governor, I toured the state to inspire and encourage people. If you have a following and a sympathetic public opinion, the government will not dare to challenge you. In 1993, Mr P.V. Narsimha Rao called me to tell that after my relinquishing the office in Bihar, the state has seen five Governors in seven years. I was again appointed Governor.

Q: You were sent to West Bengal later.

A: The NDA government sent me to West Bengal in 1998. After it returned to power in 1999, I had completed about 15 months in the new assignment. I was told to resign. I was myself a victim. I resigned but I complained to the President in writing that if I had to resign, the Home Minister himself should have spoken to me. The then Home Minister got his secretary to call my secretary to say that I should resign. This was humiliating. I conveyed that there was no need to seek my resignation because according to the Constitution, the day the President appoints a successor, your term is over automatically.

Q: Is it false to say that the BJP-led NDA government did not remove previous appointees to the post of Governors?

A: Yes, it is false. What is troubling them (the BJP) is that only Governors with RSS background have been removed whereas many others could have been asked to go.

Q: With increasing privatisation, does the country need fewer civil servants in the coming years?

A: I endorse the suggestion for downsizing the bureaucracy. An IAS officer is not there to be the private secretary of a minister. His is a field job. Decision-makers have to be specialised in areas such as agriculture, industry, science and technology. The required re-orientation of civil services has not taken place after Independence.

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PROFILE
A meteoric rise in politics
by Harihar Swarup

UNLIKE 1997, Union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram’s budget in 2004 was not the “dream budget” but a difficult fiscal exercise which he has carried out with great finesse. Of course, he has the best economic brains to advice him and one of them was Prime Minister Manmohan Singh himself. Those who had watched Chidambaram grow in politics over the years (including this correspondent), can notice a perceptible change in his personality. He now eschews intellectual arrogance.

During his second term in the Finance Ministry, he has manifested that he could put up with lesser mortals, persons intellectually inferior to him. The complaint against him when he first became a junior minister in Rajiv Gandhi's government and, later, in P.V. Narasimha Rao’s team was that he was more egotistical and short-tempered when in power.

It was a much mellowed and sober Chidambaram, more tolerant to others views, as he rose to present the budget for 2004-2005 in the Lok Sabha. His firm, cogent speech, delivered in perfect English accent even kept awake those who generally doze off during the long, winding budget speeches of Finance Ministers. Observers say that he looked more confident than in 1997 when he earned the sobriquet ‘Writer of the dream budget’.

A glimpse of Chidambaram’s intolerance was seen in 1988 when he clashed with the late Dr Shakar Dayal Sharma, who was then Chairman of the Rajya Sabha. As Internal Security Minister in Rajiv Gandhi's government, he questioned Dr. Sharma’s ruling that the action of a Governor could be discussed in the House but not his conduct. Some remarks of the young Childambaram then, particularly his attempt to question Dr Sharma’s knowledge of the Constitution, greatly hurt the elderly leader and he threatened to resign as the Chairman. Dr Sharma was himself a specialist in Constitutional Law having studied law both at Cambridge and Harvard and, later, taught the subject in Lucknow University. Childambaram is also, incidentally, Harvard educated.

Chidambaram's rise in politics has been meteoric. Behind the success of the 59-year-old Tamil jurist is a sharp mind, legal acumen and a clear perception of unfolding events. He can articulate ideas or policies and programmes of a government in a convincing way even though one may not agree with all of them. He entered the hurly-burly of politics quite early in age. He had the patronage of the late G.K. Moopanar, who even during the time of Indira Gandhi, was an important member of the Congress high command. As far back as 1978 when the Congress was in the Opposition, it was decided to nominate Chidambaram to the Rajya Sabha from Tamil Nadu. Mrs Gandhi approved his candidature and as his name was about to be announced. But Sanjay Gandhi shot it down. Childambaram was later chosen to contest the Assembly election which he lost.

In sharp contrast to his performance in the Assembly election, Chidambaram made a roaring debut in the Lok Sabha election in 1984, having won the Sivaganga seat by a record margin of 2.45 lakh votes. He almost repeated the performance in 1989 and 1991 elections. Rajiv Gandhi was impressed by his brilliance and made him a minister within a year of his becoming a Lok Sabha member for the first time. The late Prime Minister relied on him for advice on legal and constitutional matters, both when he was in power and out of office. Gradually, Childambaram came close to the Gandhi family having earned the affection and confidence of Rajiv and Sonia.

The first setback in Chidambaram’s career came when several scams were bursting open one by one. Provoked by a report, alleging that his wife had brought shares in a scam-tainted company, Chidambaram sent in his resignation to Narasimha Rao, who was then the Prime Minister. Obviously, there was not enough ground for his resignation; nor anybody had demanded the resignation of the Union Minister of State for Commerce. Chidambaram thought that the step would boost his image but Rao surprised everybody by promptly accepting the resignation. He remained in virtual political wilderness for about two years and worked during this period with Sonia Gandhi in the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation. Narasimha Rao brought Chidambaram back in the ministry when he was being increasingly accused of a cover-up in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case. Obviously, Rao could not have found a better person to convince Sonia Gandhi that the charge of cover-up had no basis.

Chidambaram, along with his mentor Moopanar, revolted when Narasimha Rao revived the poll alliance with Jayalalithaa despite strong opposition to such a pact by the Tamil Nadu unit of the Congress. That was a moment of agony for Chidambaram and, as he put it later, “we left the Congress with tears in our eyes”. Moopanar and Chidambaram formed a new regional party — the Tamil Manila Congress (TMC) — which merged with the Congress in 2002. Chidambaram, however, continued to maintain his separate identity till the last Lok Sabha election. His induction in the Manmohan Singh government has paved the way for his “home coming”.

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COMMENTS UNKEMPT
Where affluence and misery co-exist
by Chanchal Sarkar

Why worship the new God of Tourism which is only an invitation to an unattainable and wasteful lifestyle and which scours away some of the most beautiful areas of our lands? Beauty and luxury are not coterminous but tourism would not accept that.
Why worship the new God of Tourism which is only an invitation to an unattainable and wasteful lifestyle and which scours away some of the most beautiful areas of our lands? Beauty and luxury are not coterminous but tourism would not accept that.

FIVE, not a small number, of convictions and, sometimes, opinions have been buzzing around my head. The first is whether Gandhiji succeeded or failed in strapping a sense of collective shame round our chest. There is so much misery around. And, growingly, so much affluence as well. Of course, misery outweighs and there are always calculations about how many people are living on less than one dollar or two dollars a day. The figures for India would be frightening.

But really what surprises me is that people unprotestingly adjust their lives and that of their families to live within that amount. They live by the roadside, using the municipality water to drink, bath and wash clothes in. They cook in little chulahs by the wayside usually with wood collected for fuel as kerosene is hard to get on the white market and its price keeps going up. Their homes are a collection of thrown-away jute packing, plastic and cardboard. There is little or no privacy.

But we? We watch the adverts of the latest restaurants where food Chinese, Continental, Mughlai and tarted up Indian jostle. We hear the names of new chefs who have set up shop and give various concessions with combinations of dishes. I am not at all advocating that we eat as Gandhiji did or Morarji Desai (whose food was expensive) but how do we get by without some sense of collective shame, some determination to avoid too many invitations, some determination to give something from our full plates to others, to shrink away from table-overloaded social occasions while farmers choose suicide to collective hunger. That will by no means assuage the hunger of India the staring eyes of mothers standing with two or three children strung almost to their hands by the roadside wondering where to find the next meal for the small ones. But maybe we should try.

Another part of our life deals with ‘celebrities’ ‘stars’, whether from the screen or the field. In Italy the most corrupt are not the politicians but the sportsmen. How shamelessly we gape at them, their standing for political office no longer surprises us, their lives are multicoloured by stories of infidelities and changes of partners. They are the heroes and heroins of today. Openmouthed we follow the lives of these minor celebrities; they are invited to all occasions of state, to parties where people slobber in the mouth eyeing their clothes or lack of them. These are today’s real celebrities, Beckham not Buddha, Prometheus, Jesus or Mohammed. The wealthy and wasteful lifestyle of these celebrities don’t make us think them ridiculous.

On the contrary, we are turned on and would love to be a few steps nearer to them. They lead, we think, the good life but not a good life. I read the other day the autobiography of a friend who’d been connected at the highest administrative level of with some of the biggest Indian newspapers of our time. He was a gourmand and half of the book is full of succulent recipes. The other half describes the war for circulation and advertisement. In that war the public is hardly thought of and if a thousand people have to be laid off overnight notice then so be it. There is little or no remorse in the book, the admiration for our media moguls uncritical, except for genuine praise for one or two like an owner editor of Pune.

In poor countries like much of India and Bangladesh why worship the new God of Tourism which is only an invitation to an unattainable and wasteful lifestyle and which scours away some of the most beautiful areas of our lands. Beauty and luxury are not coterminous but tourism would not accept that. Not just the ravaging of our heritage and the immoralities but to think even of the rich USA to the death rates in the prison population and the inner city destitution of the black people, the lack of medical care, the crumbling houses, the drug-taking and the gangs, and put next to them New York’s Fifth Avenue or Times Square, life portrayed as in Vogue. Meanwhile, half of Peru’s population live on less than a dollar a day. Do we care?

Turn next and fourth to the once proud Indian colonisation of Cambodia, Bali and the spread of the whole Majapahita Empire. Our standard bearer today is not Angkor but Bollywood. The west still has marvellous music and arts. What is the extent of our contribution? A few, a small few, make a killing but not culture as such. Where are the great museums and galleries? Over the years, in our country, the Max Mueller Bhavans, American Centres and British Councils have grown before our eyes. Does the Indian Council for Cultural Relations cut as fine a figure even in Bangladesh, Bhutan or Sri Lanka?

So to the last which I add to the first about collective shame. Where Gandhiji began, Africa, is the continent which has grown poorer year by year. In Southern Sudan today famine, disease and hunger stalk millions of people but India has no Ministry of Aid and Succour. We watch the poor of Ecuador and Guatemala with face turned away and look at international beauty contests, Formula One racing, the horribly expensive gladiatorial contests in Wimbledon and the catwalks of Paris or Milan.

Here I cannot but think of our distinguished doctor, N.H. Antia of Pune, who in planning for health and medicine always puts the people first, not technology which serves the population of the wealth countries. Recently I read a letter by him which struck a note that resonated powerfully in me: “The difference between the era of colonial exploitation and ethnic cleansing of three continents by the Western powers and the present is as follows: a) There is now a much greater awareness of the duplicity of the colonisers; (b) Their stranglehold was broken as a result of two internecine wars fought to satisfy the insatiable greed for each other’s colonies; c) The weapons provided by their science and technology which enabled physical domination of the world are no longer their prerogative. Modern capitalism is a replay of the colonial era utilising economic power as a more effective weapon than military force, which is reserved as a sword of Damocles for a truculent few.”

What Antia means is best put by a European statesman “In a globalised world our best security lies in a creative, courageous altruism.” Indian politics and policy today have no room for altruism, courageous or creative. Nor have many others. Aid to the world’s 49 least developed countries has been cut back by 45 per cent in real terms since 1990.

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DIVERSITIES — DELHI LETTER
Books on Khushwant Singh and Virender Sehwag
by Humra Quraishi

ON July 20, Amitabh Bachchan would be releasing the illustrated biography of Khushwant Singh. Titled “Khushwant Singh: In the Name of the Father” (Roli Books), it is written by his son Rahul Singh.

Next month, on August 15, as Khushwant turns 90 years, Penguin Books India is bringing out two more books of Khushwant Singh. Yes, even at this age you would find this grand old man of literature sitting with a pen and writing. After all, as he had earlier quipped, “nobody has developed a condom for the pen!”

Next month would also see the release of another interesting book. This one is Virender Sehwag’s biography. Titled “The Virender Sehwag Story” (UBSPD), the foreword is by Sourav Ganguly. The book would be released here by Sachin Tendulkar. And if you were to comment that isn't it too early for Sehwag’s biography to be written, the publishers comment that Sehwag has already travelled a long way.

The “Virender Sehwag Story” is a narration of a youngster’s journey from the dusty lanes of Najafgarh to some of the well-manicured international venues, reaching epic proportions at Multan.”

Film on widows’ condition

In one of my columns last month, I had mentioned about the upcoming Asian Film Festival. Now there’s an ongoing festival of Madhubala films. And now there’s news that The Guild of Service has made a film on the condition of widows at Vrindavan.

Directed by Dharan Mandrayar, “White Rainbow” is the story of four women and their journey “from the depths of despair to the spires of hope”.

This film is said to reflect the reality, the situation of the widows in Vrindavan. Needless to add that the force and the brain behind this is the Guild’s chairperson is Mohini Giri. She has been writing intensely about the condition of widows over the years.

Wedding bells for Kishwar, Desai

Early this year, it was a fairy tale romance between the two — 47-year-old Kishwar Ahluwalia and the 64-year-old Lord Desai. And with that passionate going, step number two was to get through their respective divorces. For till about then Kishwar and Desai were living in that so-called separated condition from their spouses.

Presumably now, they are through with those legalities and there comes the announcement of their marriage. On July 20, the two will tie the knot in London to live happily thereafter.

A very different invite

In one of the columns last month, I’d mentioned about the wedding invite of Supriya Gandhi and how it’s very simplicity struck. Well now, there’s another wedding card which again looks so very different. This one is for the wedding of Namita Gokhale’s daughter Shivani with Kapil Sibal’s son Akhil on July 18.

And this invite is so designed that at first glance, it looks like a painting from one of those calendar art series.

There’s a range of mountains and forestry (Namita being from Kumaon loves the mountains) and from within the clouds several goddesses and gods are peeping out to bless the couple.

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When the Devas fused the mortal man complete, They all entered into Him. Therefore one who knows man regards Him as Brahman’s Self.

— The Vedas

Wherever my mind is, let there be Thy form; wherever my head is, let there be Thy feet.

— Sri Adi Sankaracharya

The charitable man is loved by all; his friendship is prized highly; in death his heart is at rest and full of joy, for he does not suffer from repentance. He receives the opening flower of his reward and the fruit that ripens from it.

— The Buddha

Man becomes good in good company; pursues virtues and cleanse himself of his vices.

— Guru Nanak

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