All entries for July 2005

July 25, 2005

Mind Your Business

The Telegraph, 25.07.05

S.L. Rao makes a strong case for deregulation of public sector undertakings in “Public versus private” (July 18). As the saying goes, “when it’s everybody’s business, it’s nobody’s business”. Since public sector units lack the proper incentive to make profits and distribute returns to its stakeholders, it is only natural that they will turn into money-guzzling Leviathans. PSUs will only perform well when they are subjected to competitive market forces and professional management techniques. Privatization and disinvestment become absolutely necessary to infuse new life into these enterprises.

The left may see red over the disinvestment of “profit-making” PSUs. But this profit is itself an illusion if one takes into account the subsidies, price guarantees, preferential loans and restricted competition the government has to undertake to maintain these units. Often, the government loses more by way of interest payments for the loan taken out to finance PSU operations than the returns generated by that company. In any case, simply making a profit is not enough for a company to survive and expand. The left fails to address the concept of profit maximization.

The concept of “turning around” sick PSUs again is a non-starter. This would entail pouring in more public money without chances of recovery. For PSUs, because of overt government interference and lack of specialized advise, tend not to carry out a proper corporate restructuring programme. More cash would mean more doles for idle workers.

July 17, 2005

Money for Nothing

The Telegraph, 17.07.2005

Ashok Guha raises some interesting points about prosperity and happiness. However, it is difficult to agree with Guha when he says that economic prosperity does not improve the human lot. John Stuart Mill had talked about “higher” and ”lower” pleasures. Men may pursue “higher” pleasures, but only when their material needs have been met. For instance, it would be impossible for poor Indians, living below the poverty line, to appreciate poetry. Moreover, the history of human civilization shows that periods of socio-cultural stability have invariably been preceded by phases of sustained economic growth.

It cannot be denied that in the West, men and women are often unhappy despite their wealth. This is the cause of the rise in suicide rates that Guha talks about. Therefore, the urge to end one’s life is not born out of the lack of basic amenities alone. In a poor country such as ours, we cannot ignore the importance of material needs. Indians must strive to ensure that economic growth caters to all sections of society, and that there is a balance in the pursuit of higher and lower pleasures.

July 13, 2005

Cry Freedom

The Telegraph, 13.07.2005

It is curious to hear a staunch Marxist like Ashok Mitra speaking against an American action which supposedly compromises India’s suzerainty (“A world of anomalies”, July 8). As far as I know, the leftists are the most prominent proponents of supra-national allegiances, almost like the Islamic fundamentalists. Once it was the Soviet Union, now it is China — they must do all it takes to secure the larger socialist interests. Now one of these pseudo-patriots tells us that India’s national security also matters.

Mitra’s fallacies must be put to rest. First, American customs officials are only checking goods bound for the United States of America, and they will be doing this in other countries. How does this violate the national security of India alone? A sovereign country has every right to monitor goods entering its borders. Mitra can in no way be sure that these officials will dictate terms to our own customs officials. His argument here borders on speculation. Second, there is nothing new in the fact that American and British secret services operate throughout the world. Mitra seems to yearn for a world where power politics will have no role and no state will intercept the moves of any other. Is this not idyllic? Does Mitra know how and where our Research and Analysis Wing operates?

Third, the case of Cuba presents an interesting irony. Fidel Castro’s was a socialist experiment that has produced a Cuba which is neither militarily nor economically strong enough to stop the US from building a Guantanamo on its territory. Mitra actually provides no solution for countries like India which are in a flux and have to balance their national interests with maintaining a healthy relationship with the US. Would Mitra want India to go the same way that “dissenting” powers like North Korea, Iraq and the former Soviet Union have gone?

Re: Letters about A Twist in the War on Terror

Asia Times Letters, 12.07.2005

Both Shithi and Khaleefa Mahmood [letters, Jul 11] have either misconstrued my arguments or failed to understand the crux of my article [ A twist in the 'war on terror', Jul 9]. As far as Shithi's argument goes, it was outside the scope of my article to take sides in the "war on terror". That state-sponsored terrorism is bad or whether some of it is done to protect national integrity are questions which I never set out to tackle in the article anyway, and as a careful reader she should have picked it up. My fundamental point was that the attacks in London will only widen the "civilizational gap" between the two sides and make any prospects of a multilateral solution bleak. As far as Khaleefa's point is concerned, it is a non-starter. I only mentioned Pakistan once in the article and that too not critically. That he fails to see the palpable fact that Pakistan, as a home of rampant jihadi emotions, has been under pressure from the United States to rein in the same is surprising. It is only logical that Pakistan will come under ever more pressure to stop the prevalent anti-Americanism among its extremist circles.

July 12, 2005

A Twist in the War on Terror

Asia Times, 08.07.2005

Instead of celebrations at winning the 2012 Olympics Games hosting bid, London sank into turmoil on the morning of July 7 as the "war on terror" came home, weaving deadly dreams for the British people.

The bombing of the underground transport system and a double-decker bus in London, which resulted in at least 37 deaths and nearly 700 injuries, was supposedly carried out by a group associated with the dreaded name of al-Qaeda. Whatever the facts, the symbolic significance, besides the terrible human and material tragedy, cannot be ignored.

While the leaders of the world's most powerful country planned to determine the fate of Africa and the world environment in the Group of Eight summit at Gleneagles, Scotland, this attack has thrown it into disarray. It shows that the terrorist have the capability to carry out sophisticated and simultaneous attacks in the heart of the Western world, on the doorsteps of world's corridors of power. New York, Madrid and now London. By targeting the important cities of the countries which were most active in the allied operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, surely a point is being made as well.

What will be the immediate and long-term significance of the attacks? At the time of writing this article, Britain's MI5 and MI6 intelligence agencies seem to have had no prior warnings about this specific attack. British intelligence had long shown an attack on the isles as inevitable since September 11, 2001. The attacks on British consulates in Yemen and Istanbul had given further hints, but still Thursday's attack went unintercepted.

To be fair to Scotland Yard and other agencies, it is entirely ludicrous and impractical to even consider security checks for every individual using the public transport in London. Therefore, a leeway for terrorists has, is and will always remain. The more important point is that no arrests have been made till date, and past experience shows that the most effective counter-terrorism operations rely on early arrests when the perpetrators try to clear out from the affected area.

The reaction from the British and global political heavyweights throws more light on the prospective outcome of this debacle. A visibly shocked and defiant British Prime Minister Tony Blair promised to do "all he can" to "confront and defeat" the perpetrators of these attacks. A more passionate Ken Livingston, the mayor of London, challenged the jihadis that "however many you kill, you will fail".

These were strong responses, suggesting that stern action may follow against some of the "suspect" countries in the Middle East, and perhaps even Pakistan. The more brazen and perhaps typical of such responses were those by President George W Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, both of whom insisted that the "civilized world" must not yield to such arm-twisting by extremists.

An important aspect of these reactions is the adamant insistence on ensuring that such response is not targeted towards Muslims per se, but only towards their extremist brethren. Immediately on hearing of the attacks, the Archbishop of Canterbury made a public announcement that complemented the condemnation of the attacks by the Muslim Council of Britain. To prevent mass xenophobia, cynicism and perhaps even racism against Muslims in Britain and elsewhere, even Blair and Livingston included an insistence on maintaining communal harmony in their statements.
Amid all the war cries of "we shall prevail" by Blair, shadow home secretary and prime minister aspirant David Davies raised an important question. He appealed against surrendering the fundamental beliefs on which modern Western society is built on in view of these attacks. For that he argued would be a victory for the terrorists – they would have managed to change the way in which the British people live. This is bound to add fire to the already heated debate on identity cards in the House of Commons.

When it boils down to it, the word "civilization" seems to hold the key to unraveling the complicated web of possible post-attack reaction by the West. Rice termed this attack a "war against the ideals" of Western civilization. Blair termed it "an attack on civilized people" and insisted with confidence that "our values will long outlast theirs". The bells of the "clash of civilizations" predicted by Samuel Huntington seem to be ringing loudly in this discourse.

America and Britain will find it frustrating and hopeless to try and negotiate with the terrorist organizations. For one, it will be hard to sell to the public back home, which has seen soldiers (and now civilians) , die in the war against these same terrorists. For another, the positions of these extremist organizations are rather inflexible, for the slightest of compromise will render their legitimacy as vanguards of Islam futile. Both would rather have a settlement on entirely their terms, or none at all. This will make the likely scenario for further conflict in the Middle East even more probable.

The attacks on a controversial perhaps-to-be-built temple site in Ayodhya, India on July 5 were possibly conducted by a Pakistan-based terrorist outfit. No one knows for sure, but it was perhaps the minor ripples of a terror tsunami that was to be unleashed in London two days later. When India mobilized its army in response to the attack by extremist groups on its parliament in 2001, America preached restraint. Will it do the same to its most valued ally? Unlikely.

For America, the attacks will ensure closer British collaboration in future operations in the Middle East and elsewhere, as Blair will probably rise in the popular ratings, as most leaders do in a crisis.

We all live in an increasingly inter-connected world where turmoil in one part affects those in another. Markets fluctuated not only in London, but also throughout Europe in view of the London bombings. The preferable solution would be a multilateral and peaceful one, but these attacks in London will harden attitudes on both sides and might deal a mortal blow to that ideal.

July 05, 2005

Confused Speech

The Telegraph, 30.06.2005

Nivedita Menon makes the same mistake that left-of-centre commentators tend to commit while talking of religious politics in India (“How the patriarchs speak”, June 21). She argues that the minorities in India (and elsewhere) cannot be part of the national mainstream, and therefore cannot assert “their” culture. However, what she fails to note is that the so-called “culture” of the minorities is very much shaped by the national mainstream itself. For instance, Urdu developed out of a tryst between Hindi and Arabic, and was born in north India. The so-called secular argument about minority cultures being steamrolled is misplaced because there exists no homogeneous “minority culture” per se. This argument bears the same fallacy that once led the residents of former East and West Pakistan being thrown under the Islamic umbrella.

Second, there is never any clear analysis of the position of the Hindu right. Arguments are either fanned by vehement loyalty or an equally strong hatred. One admits that there are numerous problems in the tactics employed by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, but one can still defend its basic stand on nationalism. Moreover, contrary to what Menon says, contesting elections is not the ultimate test for morality in a democracy like India. The democratic structure is marred by discrepancies which result in criminals being elected as ministers. Reform of society can easily precede an electoral victory.

July 2005

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