All entries for January 2005

January 08, 2005

Empty Threat

The Telegraph, 03.01.2005

It was bad enough to watch the constant bickering in the Lok Sabha. Now we have to contend with the claims of Somnath Chatterjee’s “tanashahi” (Somnath, tanashah!”, Dec 28). Our parliamentarians have absolutely no idea about international standards of conduct in representative legislatures. In the House of Commons or the Congress in the United States of America, rarely is the speaker so vehemently attacked. Moreover, this kind of sloganeering and mud-slinging is reprehensible in the representative chambers of the world’s largest democracy. The legislators are people who have been elected to look after the interests of their constituencies. Yet they waste time and and public money to fan their egos. Hardly does a day go by without the opposition walking out or rushing to the well of the house.

Besides, our whole system of holding the elected accountable is faulty. In Britain, there is a session every Wednesday where the premier faces questions from the opposition. We see Tony Blair and his ministers frequently appearing on television chat shows, answering questions from the common people. Where is the equivalent in India? Sure, Manmohan Singh did have an open session at the start of his premiership, but that is not enough. We do not want our politicians to merely strut in the corridors of power, we want them to carry out the task we set them.

Breathing Fire

The Telegraph, 02.01.2005

The legacy of P.V. Narasimha Rao would not be the demolition of the Babri Masjid or the charges of corruption. He will be remembered as the Deng Xiaoping of India — the prime minister under whom India opened up to the world and discarded some of its age old socialist baggage. The appointment of Manmohan Singh as the finance minister and more important, sticking by him during the balance of payment crisis, speak volumes of his political insight.

World Disorder

The Telegraph, 28.12.2004

One cannot easily find the relevance of “Lear’s anguished words” to Bhaskar Ghose’s critique of the “free world” (“None does offend”, Dec 22). All his examples, ranging from Korea and Vietnam to present day Iraq, are the result of some states behaving “badly”. But when does the moral code of a state fail? The obvious answer is when the state gets too big for its boots. The moral degeneration is already apparent in India, but Ghose says nothing of that.

As for the “free world”, one should remember that it is “free” because of individual empowerment in these societies. States here are mere tools to protect individuals’ liberty and property. It is when states try to step out of this limited role that events like Iraq occur. Ghose hints that this “moral code” should be restored. But nothing in history happens because of conscious planning. It is spontaneous actions of individuals that bring about changes — be it a Gandhi, a Margaret Thatcher or a Ronald Reagan.

It is tiresome to hear discussions on morality that lead to no conclusion. One point has to be made however. In India, the state has to be prevented from controlling citizens’ lives on the pretext of safeguarding public morality.

Not Just Politics

The Telegraph, 23.12.2004

Bhaskar Ghose does not shy away from calling a spade a spade. The Bengal that was once India’s pride, has now become its shame. Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has a tough challenge ahead of him. Not only does he have to convince investors that West Bengal is an attractive investment destination, but he also has to fight his own battle with his more hardline party cadre, who still swear by Marx and Lenin. If it is to be counted as an elite among Indian states, West Bengal has to upgrade its infrastructure, loosen regulations and, most important, tame the militant trade unions. As Ghose points out, a whole generation of Bengalis have been taught to hate entrepreneurs. They need to realize that it is the businessman who creates wealth, and in Deng Xiaoping’s words, “To be rich is glorious”.

Eagle–Eye View

The Telegraph, 15.12.2004

Ashok Mitra’s “A gleam in the eye” (Dec 10) misleads the reader about the causes of India’s rather uneven economic growth. He castigates widely respected international agencies like the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and the International Monetary Fund without remembering that if they hadn’t bailed out India a decade back, its balance of payments, and thereby its economy, would have been in a mess. Second, India survived the 2003–04 drought to post an 8.1 per cent growth rate. As a similar agricultural boom is impossible to repeat without another drought, it is natural that the growth rates came down to 6.5–7 per cent at the start of this fiscal year. When unforeseen events like the hike in international crude prices and the uneven monsoon hit the economy, the growth rates had to be naturally revised again. Thus there is no conspiracy behind India’s growth figures. The same kind of revision happens in the left’s holy land — China.

The growth rate of 10 per cent should not shock Mitra. The east Asian tigers sustained such growth rates for decades. India can do the same, and despite the left, not because of it. Mitra may be right in saying that the manufacturing sector employs the most people. But has he questioned why other sectors don’t? Poor infrastructure, age-old labour regulations, patronage to small and medium enterprises, licence raj and high taxes strangle the other sectors. Mitra’s mockery of India’s IT sector is a slap on the face of the hardworking men and women in this industry. Indian IT is here to stay and the world is taking note of it. Does Mitra realize that his cries of foreigners whisking money abroad have long been discredited? What about the fat profits Indian companies bring home? Also, if a foreign company makes profits and expands in India, it not only employs more people but also fuels the economy. On the other hand, the increased disposable income of the new workers means more demand in the economy, which means increased output, and growth.

What's the Difference?

The Telegraph, 13.12.2004

What was the need to repeal Pota? Democratic governments need to muster every resource to tackle terrorism and ensure the safety of citizens. The repeal of Pota should be seen in the light of the introduction of anti-terrorism laws in the United States of America and United Kingdom. Shouldn’t the Manmohan Singh regime have looked into the misuse of Pota and rectified the mistakes, instead of repealing the act? It is also frustrating to see the left’s opposition to the amendments to the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. This is a watered down version of Pota, but the left is still not satisfied. If it is argued that these anti-terrorism acts encroach upon the liberty of citizens, then the dastardly acts of violence by terrorists also violate the individual’s right to live. There are always more victims than terrorists, so should we sacrifice the lives of innocent Indians to protect the individual liberty of terrorists?

No Foreigners Please

The Telegraph, 07.12.2004

Ashok Mitra wants to turn the clock and take India back to the licence raj. His concerns about Enron are justified. However, the debacle at Dabhol was not caused by economic reforms, but by a mismanagement of the bidding system. Mitra’s concerns about free trade are laughable. Just two decades ago, the cars on the street were prehistoric, colour TV was rare, and computers and mobile phones were beyond the reach of the middle class. Economic liberalization has brought in competition, which has brought down prices and kicked laggard Indian companies into shape. Mitra talks about the problems of Indian farmers after the opening up of the agricultural sector, but he forgets that the real blame should lie with the socialist mindset which has resulted in the fragmentation of farms and made difficult farmers’ access to credit.

Also why should we pay high taxes? Has the government given us good infrastructure, a conducive business environment, good public services or healthy law and order conditions? Yes, foreigners know more than us in many sectors. It is the refusal to accept this that has held us back. The consumer has no nationality, especially in a poor country like India. We want the best and the cheapest, desi or not.

State of Flux

The Telegraph, 01.12.2004

Pratap Bhanu Mehta’s article, “Debates and Divisions” (Nov 25), misconstrues the impact of financial incentives on Kashmir. The Kashmiris are unenthusiastic about these development projects not because they want to control them but because there are not enough new jobs being generated in the region. Contrast this with the Chinese government’s promotion of investment in Tibet and Xingjiang, which has led to a dilution of the independence movements there. In the process, China has alienated the local populace through brutal suppression. India should not repeat this mistake. It should encourage local entrepreneurs as well as businesses from other parts of India and abroad. If a reduction in coercive methods accompanies this inflow of funds, the Kashmiris will have little to protest about. Setting up a few special economic zones and reviving the traditional Kashmiri crafts will help integrate the state with the rest of India. We must create a visible material gap between Indian Kashmir and PoK to pressurize Pakistan and present a credible case to the rest of the world.

The Wrong Choice

The Telegraph, 29.11.2004

In “The verdict and after” (Nov 26), Ashok Mitra talks about “American imperialism” and the “war of liberation against American might”— ideas that have become irrelevant today. Our denouncing the US through editorials and demonstrations has very little impact on the hawkish policies of the Pentagon. So it would be better if we learnt to live with this country and use it for our benefit. In his article, Mitra sheds copious tears for Iraqis, Vietnamese and Afghans, conveniently forgetting the plight of some people near home — Kashmiris, people in the North-east or the farmers in Andhra Pradesh. Moreover, Mitra’s disparaging views about the US brings him dangerously close to lauding the terrorist attacks of September 11.

Indians are not the Chinese, their protests mean nothing to the US. One more thing. Mitra seems to favour the protectionist Kerry over Bush, who is in favour of outsourcing jobs to India. So, does he prefer unemployment in India to the fulfilment of the interests of the American working class?

Starting Point

The Telegraph, 23.11.2004

The odious regulations that govern the starting of an enterprise in India are often a discouragement for entrepreneurs and investors. The prime minister can talk about the Indian economy being able to “absorb” $150 billion in foreign investment, but the question foreign investors will ask themselves is why invest in India when China, a safer destination, is close at hand? India needs to give them something special. It needs to identify its unique selling proposition to woo investors, both direct and institutional. Added to the hangover from the licence raj, are the appalling infrastructure and age-old labour regulations. Shockingly, the World Bank report even puts Pakistan and Bangladesh ahead of India in the category of those countries which are investor-friendly. We should turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to some of the extremists, both from the left and the right, and let the prime minister and the finance minister do their job.

January 2005

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