Turf war in the valley
United by Ramayana
Financial mess in Bihar
‘MTVisation’ of Hindi film music
France tries to save subsidies
The Centre’s plan to table a Bill on state funding of elections in the current session of Parliament should be viewed against the backdrop of the increasing role of money power in the polls. Clearly, contesting an election is a costly affair these days and a person without any resources can hardly win even though he/she has the right to stand for any election. There is a general impression that the role of money power has been checked considerably following the strict monitoring by the Election Commission. The role of Expenditure Observers in monitoring the election accounts of the candidates and political parties may have instilled some fear among the parties, but still elections have become the exclusive preserve of the rich and the affluent sections, sometimes musclemen.
State funding is not a bad idea, but the question is to what extent it can be implemented and whether it would at all be practicable in a diversified country like ours. Over the years, several committees have gone into the question, but there has been no consensus on the issue — either within the government or in Parliament — mainly because of its financial implications. In 1975, the Tarkunde Committee on Electoral Reforms, set up by Jayaprakash Narayan, on behalf of the Citizens for Democracy, maintained that though state funding is impracticable, it could be given to candidates in kind to reduce the election expenditure.
There is reasonable justification for the government — at the Centre and in the states — to meet a portion of the candidate’s election expenses in the form of providing free stationary, printed cards, postage, school rooms for holding meetings and so on. This would help poor candidates immensely. There are so many areas in elections where reforms are overdue. If state funding is possible in some specific areas of the democratic process and for recognised political parties, it should be given a try. Criminals have become a major problem and they must be kept off elections, directly or indirectly. Political parties too must maintain accounts, including their sources of income and details of expenditure. If state funding will help streamline these areas of electoral reforms, it is worth trying.
Five BJP-ruled states will switch to the value added tax (VAT) from the next financial year. The belated realisation of the VAT value brings the national party little credit even though it was the first to introduce this progressive tax system as the leading NDA coalition partner. The loss of power in the last general election, perhaps, led to befuddled thinking in the party. It tried to protect its political base among small traders, who nursed some motivated misgivings about the VAT. Its second fear, equally misplaced, was that with the VAT states would lose revenue.
The reality is traders have, by and large, accepted the VAT. The provision of self-assessment has spared them harassment by tax officials. Secondly, the VAT-enabled states have reported 15 to 25 per cent higher revenue than before and it is the left-out states which are the losers. This led some of the BJP Chief Ministers to press the party leadership for a U-turn. In fact, without waiting for the party’s formal decision, Jharkhand announced in October its decision to embrace the VAT. Now Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh too will join the VAT bandwagon in April, 2006. This leaves out Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. It is only a matter of time before they too realise the folly of staying away from a tax regime that has worked effectively in 130 countries.
The VAT experience shows how misinformation or/and politicking can stall reform in this country. After the VAT, the next step is to go in for a goods and services tax, which is a national-level value added tax. An information network to help states cross-check payments has been put in place. The Central Sales Tax too is set to come down to 2 per cent from 4 per cent in the next fiscal year. To fully serve the VAT purpose, the states will have to scrap local levies which make manufacturing less competitive.
That Punjab excels in agriculture is a fact well known all over the country. What is less commonly known is that it also excels in corrupt practices related to the distribution of foodgrains. In the “granary of the nation”, a staggering 76.5 per cent of the total highly subsidised foodgrains meant for families below poverty line through the public distribution system is merrily diverted to the market. If it is any consolation, the leakage in the neighbouring Haryana is comparatively less, “only” 55.65 per cent. Lest this expose is dismissed as a “conspiracy” by newspapers or TV channels to malign the names of the virtuous officials, let it be said that it is the finding of the Planning Commission and forms part of a report to evaluate the targeted public distribution system (TPDS).
The real import of this racket can be fully understood only if one realises the kind of money that is involved. According to the Planning Commission, over 36 per cent of the total budgetary subsidies, estimated at Rs 20,000 crore annually, is “siphoned off” in the supply chain and another 21 per cent of the subsidies reach the above poverty line (APL) families. That means that the intended beneficiaries never get to see more than half of the benefits meant for them. We are talking of more than Rs 10,000 crore there. In Punjab, only 10.5 per cent of the subsidised food is reaching BPL families through TPDS.
This loot has been going on for many years, but the government has consistently turned a blind eye to it. The main reason is that this racket is being conducted with the connivance of its own staff. But now that the dirt has hit the fan, the public ought to ask uncomfortable questions about this open squandering of its money. A common man pays taxes so that the funds are used for development or to benefit the poor. It is not his responsibility to line the pockets of local politicians and officials in the state food and supply departments. The ripoff must stop forthwith and the guilty given due punishment.
Did God who gave us flowers and trees/Also provide the allergies? — E.T. Harburg
Turf war in the valley
Though a large part of Srinagar town resembles a fortified camp with continued frisking and checking of people and vehicles, on October 18 Education Minister Ghulam Nabhi Lone was assassinated by terrorists in this high security zone. Two armed men entered the area undetected and unleashed enough violence to shake up the government and shock the whole nation with their audacious attack. Such an incident not only reflects adversely on the poor professionalism of the security forces responsible for safeguarding the zone but also creates serious doubts as to whether their presence is useful or just ceremonious. The ease with which two terrorists successfully breached the high security zone does little to instil a sense of confidence in the ability of our security personnel to bring about normalcy in the state.
Today we have a plethora of security forces operating in J&K - the army, regular soldiers of the Rashtriya Rifles, the BSF, the ITBP, the CRPF and the state police. Despite a unified command structure in place, the security forces have failed to conduct successful integrated operations. Over the last decade and a half the Army, despite its concerted efforts, has not been able to resolve the issue of command and control of the forces of the Home Ministry while operating with them jointly in insurgency-hit areas.
Unified planning, centralised control and a single point of responsibility are the essentials towards achieving success. Even when the Home Ministry forces are placed under the operational control of the Army, local commanders fail to obtain unhesitating response to their operational instructions. And who suffers - the nation.
Sadly, most command and control stipulations remain only on paper and paramilitary forces/Central police forces (CPO s) react only to their chair- borne masters in Delhi. A relentless tug of war between the security forces and their bosses for greater control and credit is a reality, and their attitude sometimes borders on the ridiculous.
The paramilitary forces and the CPOs are primarily structured, equipped and trained for routine internal security duties. They are not designed for the conduct of sustained and intense counter-insurgency operations. The adverse age profile of their cutting edge troops, weak junior leadership and inadequate operational experience of senior commanders in the stressful insurgency environment are serious handicaps. Also, it is rather over-optimistic to expect results from this kind of force mix. In the light of this reality, the recent policy decision to transfer the operational control of Srinagar town from the BSF to the CRPF (which is perhaps even less geared up to handle this onerous responsibility) appears to have been taken without visualising the long-term consequences. It has been experienced in the past that whenever the security forces are assigned responsibilities beyond their designed potential, the results have been damaging. It is important to use the right tool at the right place and at the right time for success in such operations.
A case in point of such injudicious employment is what occurred in Doda when the BSF was allotted independent charge at the onset of militancy; the Army had to rush in to control the situation. In the valley too the Army had to be handed over the situation at Hazratbal and Charar-e-Sharief when a large number of militants including Mast Gul, took shelter in these shrines. Such areas, while under the control of CPOs, became safe havens for militants - later necessitating a major effort by the regular forces to bring matters under control. Why allow such a situation to arise in the first place again and again?
Poor intelligence gathering and sharing of information among the security forces further accentuates the problem. Actionable information at the local level remains scarce because of the penchant of passing information up the chain rather than laterally. This was sadly experienced when my formation was tasked to rescue foreign hostages taken by the Al-Faran group in 1995. We were unable to obtain accurate and timely intelligence from the many agencies working there for this purpose.
Paramilitary forces and CPOs are well trained and equipped to acquire information and intelligence about the militants from the public because of their greater contact, but such intelligence is rarely shared at the local level in time, mainly due to flawed command and control. Despite the growing number of paramilitary forces/CPOs, - more than the regular forces - they have not proved cost-effective to the nation. J&K has sucked up enormous numbers of security forces without delivering matching results. As a result, insurgency drifts on. Primarily, the state of preparedness of paramilitary forces/CPOs for their deployment for counter-insurgency operations and lack of coordination with regular troops is the main cause of our travails in J&K.
The nation is paying a heavy cost to finance the upkeep of the security forces in J&K. We need to utilise our security forces better to achieve the desired results. The nation expects this from the security forces. An honest audit of the performance levels of paramilitary/CPO units employed in J&K would reveal that compared to the regular forces their contribution is below the expectations; not as much for the want of will but due to an enhanced expectation from their structured capabilities, assigned roles and, most importantly due to a flawed command and control set-up.
Broadly, what needs to be done is regain and retain the confidence of the people in major centres like Srinagar, Kupwara, Baramula, Handwara, Sopore, Anantnag, Kulgam, Shupiyan and Bijbihara. Since the sine qua non of success in counter-insurgency operations is the support of the population, this will be a step in the right direction.
We should shift the operational responsibility of such town centres to the regular forces. Right now there is an opportunity to shift this responsibility when a natural calamity has made the people realise that the Army is their true friend and well-wisher. The collateral damage in counter-insurgency operations do occur, but its fallout should not dissuade the Army from undertaking its responsibility with continued zeal. Also, the Army need not lose too much sleep over the likely false allegations of excesses. The media has repeatedly highlighted the Army’s positive contributions particularly after the natural disaster and as such the people have developed a better understanding of the army’s sincerity towards the alleviation of the suffering of the civilian population. The Army must exploit these sentiments favourably.
Simultaneously, a sincere effort should be made to restructure sufficient units of paramilitary/CPOs forces to be capable of operating in an intense counter-insurgency environment. This entails milking younger volunteer troops and junior leaders from the units, equipping them suitably, improving service conditions, training them under Army control, testing their preparedness before induction and rewarding them suitably based on their performance.
Place all troops operating in counter-insurgency operations in J&K under the Army at different executive levels. This will limit or eliminate the current and needless turf war. In this process, the nation benefits.
These are some basic steps suggested. Politicians and bureaucrats at the centre and in the states must strive to keep the nation’s interests paramount and not indulge in any action which directly or indirectly promotes a turf war between the security forces. Such actions only assist militants and dissipate the security forces’ ongoing effort to eliminate insurgency from the J&K.
The writer retired as General Officer Commanding -in- Chief, Southern Command.
United by Ramayana
I AM not sure whether I purchased my first television set before the advent of Ramanand Sagar’s Ramayana in 1987 or after but I soon became an avid viewer of the first mega serial at a time when Doordarshan was synonymous with television.
I would either be late in the church or skip the service altogether. Thin attendance and late arrival became such a problem that one of the executive committee members of our church came up with the idea of changing the worship timing. “If we can have our “Sunday” worship on Fridays in the Gulf countries, why can’t we show some ingenuity to accommodate the Ramayana lovers”, he asked in all earnestness.
Anyway, the “sinners” who crowded before the TV were more than those who assembled for the Eucharist. Our church in Patna was not the only one to face this peculiar problem. The serial had become so popular that no public function was possible during the telecast.
Of course, this was not surprising, as a study found that 80 per cent of the total television viewers in the country watched what Sagar touted as the first “dharmic” serial.
By modern standards, the serial had many technical flaws. Sagar did not stick to one Ramayana — Tulsidas’s or Valmiki’s. He freely lifted ideas and plots from other Ramayana traditions. The serial overlapped so much with the Ayodhya movement that theses have been written on “Politics after television: Hindu nationalism and the reshaping of the public in India”.
With each passing Sunday, the serial became more and more popular. There would be few vehicles and pedestrians on the roads when Ram’s story was told on TV. Reports of people performing “aarti” before the television sets began to come in. Though no “aarti” was performed in our house, women came dressed as if they were going to a temple.
One Sunday, my friend, Ambikanand Sahay of the Statesman, and I had to go somewhere in the morning. We decided to return by the time the serial began. But the work took longer than we had anticipated.
During the return journey, I kept pressing the accelerator but Sahay’s impatience could not be checked. Finally, I realised I would not be able to make it to either his house or mine before the scheduled time. I was mentally prepared to skip the episode.
But Sahay was keen to see how Rama’s forces, which had reached Lanka the previous Sunday and were stopped at the gates of Ravana’s massive fort, would break in. By then, the clock had struck nine. Suddenly an idea occurred to Sahay.
“Stop in front of that house”, he told me. “Whose house is that?”, I asked him as I drove into the driveway. He was in such tearing hurry that he did not even answer my question. Soon, it transpired that he did not know the family.
Nonetheless, a boy led us to the drawing room, which was already jam-packed. The family did not at all mind our intrusion. Rather, they vacated their chairs for us so that we could comfortably watch Ram destroying Lanka. It was their tribute of sorts to Ramanand Sagar, who breathed his last on Monday.
Financial mess in Bihar
Soon after Mr Nitish Kumar was crowned as 32nd Chief Minister of Bihar on November 24, his initial remarks were “khajana khali hai” (exchequer is empty).
He has already raised the slogan “do it now”, planning major administrative reforms to overhaul official machinery. After 15 years of Mandalisation of Bihar politics, the people by and large have voted beyond caste lines, responding to his slogan for development this time.
It is indeed an uphill task for the new NDA Chief Minister, but going by his own admission of the complete breakdown of the machinery, he has the advantage to begin from scratch.
A cursory glance of Bihar’s vital financial statistics may prove to be quite intimidating as they tell the tale of a state lagging behind the rest of the country almost on all indicators of development.
To begin with, the Deputy Chief Minister, Sushil Modi, who holds the Finance portfolio, himself admits that presently “the state spends three times more than its earnings”.
The financial liabilities of the state for 2003-04 stood at Rs 37.453 crore,which were three times more than the revenue receipts.
Interest payments increased by 11 per cent from Rs 3,022 crore in 2002-03 to Rs 3,343 crore in 2003-04, primarily due to the continuous reliance of borrowings for financing the deficit.The state borrows Rs 1,100 crore every month to pay salaries and pension to its employees.
The fiscal deficit too increased by 46 per cent- from Rs 2,988 crore in 2002-03 to Rs, 4,363 crore in 2003-04.
The poor financial management has led to the gross fiscal deficit at 5 per cent of GDP the revenue deficit at 2.6 per cent of GDP and the state debt at 29 per cent of GDP. The infrastructure index is among the lowest in the country.
As many as 43 per cent people live below the poverty line against the national average of around 28 per cent. The state has the highest rate of illiteracy at around 52 per cent against the national average of 35 per cent.
For the man on the street, there is no relief. The per capita income is among the lowest estimated at Rs 6,200 a year against the national average of Rs.21,000.
Health indicators are bad too with a high infant mortality rate and a high population growth.
A recent report prepared by the state finance department indicates that between 1994 and 2004, Bihar attracted foreign direct investment of just Rs 740 crore as compared to Gujarat’s (Rs 13,475 crore) and Andhra Pradesh (Rs 19,000 crore).
Exports from Bihar too are virtually non-existent. Investment in export-oriented units(EOUs) between 1993 and 2004 stood at only Rs 17 crore.EOUs in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, on the contrary,attracted Rs.42,440 crore and Rs. 58.937 crore respectively, during the said period.
In the non-agricultural sector,the growth rate of GDP in Bihar in the 1990s was just 3.19 per cent, while for the rest of India it was 7.25 per cent.
During a recent seminar organised by the Homair Centre for Career guidance on “development of Bihar”, the member secretary of the Asian development research institute (ADRI) Mr Saibal Gupta, shared the views expressed by other participants who observed,“While India has entered the 21st century, for Bihar it is still the 20th century”.
But against all odds, there is a ray of hope for Mr Nitish Kumar. Despite lagging behind the country on almost all indicators of development, Bihar not only could sustain, but even surpassed the growth rate in agriculture at the national level in the 1990s.
Bihar, primarily, is an agrarian state with an abundance of rivers and fertile land.
But there was lack of political will to tackle the perennial flood problem causing damage to crops every year. The problem for farmers is further compounded due to the absence of proper irrigation and land reforms.
There was no administrative effort to ensure proper marketing of agriculture produce so that the farmers could fetch better price, or to promote agro-based industries which could generate employment.
Mr Nitish Kumar has said his priority now is to address the flood problem by constructing dams, to ensure proper irrigation leading to multi-crops, better marketing channels to benefit farmers and work out modalities for land reforms.
Mr Kumar is aware that once Bihar accounted for 25 per cent of the total sugarcane production in the country, which now has dipped to as low as 4 per cent. He is also aware of the sick jute industries.
The building of infrastructure, particularly roads and electricity, also figures on top of Mr Nitish Kumar’s agenda to give a boost to his agro-centric development efforts.
Unlike the previous regime, Mr Nitish Kumar is in no mood to depend on borrowings alone to run the state.He has already instructed the officials to chalk out plans to mop up internal resources with a better tax collection mechanism as well as to reduce non-plan expenditure to the minimum possible.
FICCI General Secretary Amit Mitra feels the new government in Bihar should focus primarily on three things — law and order, electricity and infrastructure. The fear of being kidnapped should vanish from the minds of businessmen investing in Bihar,” he remarked.
There were 1,111 cases of abduction in Bihar between 1995 and 2005. This was revealed by DGP Ashish Ranjan Singh during a recent submission before the Patna High Court.
Even before Mr Nitish Kumar could start to deliver, the state Congress leaders have started claiming that all development promises made by the NDA in Bihar were actually the plans already sanctioned by the Centre.
Finally, it boils down to a choice between “development” based on a broad consensus beyond short-term political gains and vote-bank politics.
‘MTVisation’ of Hindi film music
One distinguishing feature of Indian films has always been its music. The main “attractions,” write Rachel Dwyer and Divya Patel, authors of “Cinema India: The visual culture of Hindi films”, are the “sets and costumes, action scenes, presentation of stars, grandiloquent dialogues and song and dance sequences.” These song-dance sequences have taken a whole new cultural turn with the advent of item numbers.
Hindi films always had a version of the item number which would either be a cabaret in a nightclub or a courtesan performing a mujra with qawwali making performers like Helen and Bindu household names.
Yet today’s item numbers have become distinct cultural products separate from the films into which they are inserted. Quite often they are elaborate song-dance sequences involving up to 100 dancers. Many use foreign (read white female) dancers, often setting them in a disco or a strip club.
The dancing style, choreography and wardrobe are largely influenced by American hip-hop, salsa and pop music.
Brittany Spears’ dance moves from her video, “Baby One More Time”, for instance, have been highly popular with item girls wearing versions of the sexualised school uniform Spears wore in her video.
Item numbers can be best understood as the “MTVisation” of Hindi film music; the song is packaged as a 5-minute video, which can advertise the film and be sold as an independent commodity.
With it has evolved the overt hyper-sexualisation of the images. Following strict censorship after Independence, when any erotic gesture beyond a gentle embrace was banned by the censor boards, eroticism in Hindi movies had been contained within the songs.
“Whereas in older song-and-dance the erotic had an element of coy and the tentative,” says Vinay Lal, Professor of History at University of California-Los Angeles, “today the erotic has in it elements of rank sexuality, brutish pride and vulgarity.”
Naked feet adorned by anklets have been replaced with high leather boots and the pelvic thrusts display the hunger of a newly unleashed global identity.
It was used as a dream sequence, the lover’s fantasy and sometimes to allow an expression of feeling that could not be articulated otherwise, notably the declaration of love.
Today’s item numbers make a clear break from tradition. Rather than having some plot function, the item numbers exclusively cater to what sociologist Manjunath Pendakur calls an “excessive voyeuristic sexuality.”
They serve nothing more than economic necessities for film producers who want to appeal to the music video sensibilities of their increasingly international audiences.
France tries to save subsidies
The EU's new former Communist countries are to be offered further concessions under new plans designed to isolate France and clinch a deal in a tense negotiation over the EU's budget.
Britain, which holds the presidency of the EU, is also prepared to reduce the value of the UK's rebate and probably to make that change permanent.
Paris is resisting British demands that a review of EU spending in 2008-9 should lead to concrete changes to the EU's Common Agricultural Policy before 2013. Instead of fighting on two fronts at once, Tony Blair will seek to bring on board the eight ex-Communist nations which stand to lose billions in subsidies under spending cuts proposed by the UK.
By putting forward an increase in EU expenditure, Britain hopes to rally the Eastern European countries behind its revised proposal before seeking to pressure France into agreeing to a wide-ranging clause reviewing agriculture spending.
One British source said: "Is France really saying that it is going to hold up a funding deal for the whole of Europe? We think the new members will gradually come round to the idea that a deal this week is in their best interests. If we don't get one now, they might have to wait a long time."
So far London has offered to trim Euro 8bn off the value of the UK rebate over seven years, and most EU countries agree that this is not enough. Yesterday the European Commission president, Jose Manuel Barroso, appealed for Mr Blair to make "further changes" to the rebate and ensure that they are permanent and will not need re-negotiation in 2013.
That demand, echoed by France's foreign minister, Philippe Douste-Blazy, has been accepted in principle by Mr Blair, though the Treasury is thought to be fighting a rearguard action.
Tomorrow' s revised proposals from the UK are expected to reverse some of its proposed cuts of Euro 24bn from a spending plan put forward in June. That will involve increasing the overall ceiling of EU spending which Mr Blair had wanted cut from 1.06 per cent of the EU's gross national income to 1.03.
The revised plans will be important because, if they come close to mollifying the new member states, including Poland, there is a good chance of a deal at the summit on Thursday and Friday.
It is not clear how much additional cash Mr Blair is willing to surrender, over and above the Euro 8bn already offered over the seven-year period, though perhaps a further Euro 2bn could be ceded in the summit negotiation.
As France prepared for the diplomatic endgame, its foreign minister, M Douste-Blazy, sought to put on hold a decision to give the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia the status of a candidate for EU membership.
Paris argues that the EU needs to agree on finance for the expansion it undertook last year, and to hold a wider debate on its future institutions next year, to reassure the public before launching any new wave of expansion.
From the pages of
How to end the war
Fifty new ways to end the war are proposed daily to the War Department in Washington. Ninetynine out of every 100 are discarded as impracticable in the War emergency, but for the sake of the possibilities in the one, all are welcome and investigated.
Here are a few of the daily list of suggestions before the War Department’s Board of Ordnance and Fortifications — polished reflectors to throw sunlight into the eyes of the enemy and blind him; elaborated slings for throwing bombs; land torpedoes, resembling small tractor engines, to run across. No Man’s Land and explode in the enemy trench; double shot, connected by chains, to entangle aeroplanes in the skies; sabres, with pistol attached to the hilt, to inflict double wounds; coats of mail, like medieval armour, to make soldiers shed bullets like raindrops; centrifugal guns, which whirl bullets until they gain sufficient momentum and then feed them out in steady streams; smoke bombs to be thrown by charging infantrymen a moment before the bayonet clash.
Nearly 10,000 inventions have been offered to the War Department since the war was declared. — Reuters
If a man has sincere love for God, then all come under his control—the king, wicked persons and his wife.
Self-control, pure life, perception of the Noble Truths and the realisation of Nibbana. This is the Supreme Blessing.
Where is the real Brahmin today, content with a bare living and giving all his time to study and teaching?
We are able to understand only what is ordained by
Him. All creation is the manifestation of His name and there is no place without him. I have no words or power to describe him.
The fire God believes that he is all powerful but even his power to burn comes from the Supreme.