Editorial 1
Editorial 2
Cities of delight
Soldier, sailor, airman, chief
Letters to the editor
Bookreview/Terror firma
Bookreview/Sound of distant drums
Bookreview/Strike at the moving target
Bookreview/Another look at the pros and icons
Bookwise/Merger on the Orient express


Case not dismissed

There is more than one thing awry in the current hullabaloo in Parliament over Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat�s dismissal as navy chief and his allegations against the Union defence minister, Mr George Fernandes. It is only to be expected that the opposition, particularly the Congress, should seize on what appears to be the Bharatiya Janata Party�s Achilles� heel. The hamhanded way the the change of guard was made and the government�s stubborn reticence in the face of controversy are now being placed by the opposition in the context of the deposed admiral�s allegations. The Congress says it is happy that it has finally been able to make the government club together the navy chief�s dismissal and the corruption charges against Mr Fernandes. This does not, however, invest a series of improprieties with any shred of propriety. Even after one year in New Delhi, the BJP led coalition seems unaware that it has certain rights in its position as the ruling government. One of these is its prerogative as the government to appoint whomsoever it thinks fit in a service under its direct command. Certainly, it is obliged to debate in Parliament policies and policy related decisions, and discuss transparently all sides of charges of corruption or abuse of power levelled against any of its members. Members of parliament are not merely law makers, they are also an integral part of the checks and balances system on which a democracy runs. But MPs cannot demand that the absolute prerogative of the government � appointments or dismissals, for example � be brought to debate. This is to undermine the responsibility which the electorate has given to the government.

The impropriety in this case runs deeper. A discussion of the reasons for Admiral Bhagwat�s dismissal is to force the government to open its mouth on delicate issues which might threaten national interest if discussed openly. The admiral himself has violated norms of propriety by going public with hints and allegations which have their source in the sanctity of the position he had been given. Before his dismissal he had questioned civilian supremacy in the matter of appointments. By asserting its supremacy, the government had done the right thing. The opposition, by picking up the case of a man who has damned his own case by impropriety, is causing serious damage to governance. The BJP is as much to blame. Instead of firmly separating the issue of appointment from the graft charge, it has hemmed and hawed and proposed a flurry of committees and panels. It is time the BJP learned to exercise its prerogative without being rattled by the opposition�s aggressive stance. It is time also for the opposition to behave in a responsible manner � for the sake of better governance rather than for immediate political gain.    


Sins of commission

The resignation of 20 European commissioners, including the president, Mr Jacques Santer, is a turning point in the political evolution of the European Union. More significant than the euro�s launch, it marks an end to the elitist manner in which European unity has been promoted so far. Until now, it has been assumed ultimate EU authority lay in Brussels, the commission�s headquarters. With the mass resignation, power has shifted decisively towards Strasbourg, home of the European parliament. This development has long been overdue. The commission had gotten used to being the first and last word on all things European. Parliament was treated as little more than a sop to popular sovereignty, its elections barometers of local rather than continental concerns. But the corrupting nature of absolute power proved a law that even Brussels could not escape. An audit report accusing the Brussels administration of loose financial management last year led to an earlier showdown between Mr Santer and parliament. At first , parliament backed down before a resignation threat by the commissioners. But it insisted on a full investigation. The damning report of that investigation has triggered the present crisis. The report makes it clear several commissioners were guilty of abusing their authority for patronage purposes � though none lined his or her pocket � and tolerating a lot of fiscal laxity. The resignations were an admission by Mr Santer that he could not afford another run in with parliament. Brussels had bent at the knee to Strasbourg.

The creation of the EU will go down as one of the great political developments of the 20th century. Yet it has been a movement determined solely by Europe�s political elite, with minimal inputs by the larger population. Whether it was Maastricht or the euro, most decisions were taken by a small conclave of politicians. Their motives were above board � to imbed a single Germany in a larger political framework and ensure the continent would never again be torn apart by war. However, the sudden collapse of the Berlin wall led them to place European unity on the fast lane. This left little time to mobilize popular opinion in favour of union. It also meant developing decisionmaking methods that tended to function behind closed doors, away from the distractions of the public and media. The negative impression most Europeans have of Brussels and its supposedly high spending, arrogant �Eurocrats� is a direct consequence. The greater sin of Mr Santer and his colleagues is that they functioned the past seven or eight years in a manner that ensured they had little political goodwill with the parliament�s constituents. As Europe�s elected leaders look for a replacement commission, they do so knowing they must satisfy mass opinion and not merely bureaucratic efficiency. The dream of European unity is at last being forced to join hands with the reality of Europe�s people.    

Jaen is a little and little known town deep in the olive country of southern Spain. It is not Cordoba, or Granada, or Sevilla. That is to say, it is not steeped in history or ennobled with great buildings. Indeed, it is held in such low regard that residents of those older cities laugh in amazement when you tell them that you are to visit Jaen.

For all that it lacks in age and tourist attraction, Jaen is a town not short on self-respect. One sign of this is a spanking new university, set on a hill, and manned by young scholars poached from the more established universities of Spain. I am the first Indian to speak at the University of Jaen, possibly the first Indian to visit the town itself. Yet the audience knows of my heritage, even if I am unacquainted with theirs. At the end of my lecture, which is on the environmental movement in India, one student asks whether the great poet Rabindranath Tagore (pronounced �Tagoraye�) had been interested in environmental matters. Now I had spoken at length on the Gandhian tradition in Indian environmentalism. I apologize for the omission, for Tagore had indeed been an early environmentalist, a critic of chemical agriculture, an advocate of afforestation, and much else besides.

The next question comes from a lady of 50. She has joined college after raising a family, eager to make up for lost time. �You have talked of the links between ecological sustainability and economic growth,� she remarks. �Will you tell us what your countryman, the most recent Nobel prize winner in economics, has had to say on the subject?� The answer this time was that (despite growing up in Santiniketan) this eminent Bengali had never shown the slightest interest in the environment.

Amartya Sen is a supremely skilled social scientist but, unlike Tagore, not a thinker before his time. For all his gifts, the Master of Trinity is a cautious scholar. To be openly green would risk censure from his economist colleagues, who tend to see the environmental movement in wholly negative terms. Tagore, however, would not be afraid of being ostracized for his views. The older man would stick his neck out, fighting with M.K. Gandhi or condemning nationalism or promoting environmentalism even if these were unfashionable things to do.

That Amartya Sen is not Tagore is not surprising, but that students in a small town in Andalusia know of both of them certainly is. The Spanish, it seems, uniquely combine localism with globalism. The identification with provinces, with Andalusia, the Basque country or Castille, is as strong as in our country. But they are also keenly interested in Latin America, which they once colonized; in Europe with which, after decades of isolation, they now cultivate close ties; and in the United States, which like all of us they cannot escape.

But, on the evidence of the universities I visited, they also are not unaware of what happens in Asia, a continent with which they are not bound by history, or geography, or culture. Moreover, their interest in other peoples is untinged by superciliousness. I found them more open and spontaneously generous than the Americans, the French, the Germans, or the British.

This combination of local patriotism with robust internationalism is most manifest in Catalonia and its capital city of Barcelona. So long as General Francisco Franco ruled Spain, the Catalans were deeply discriminated against. Their language was banned in schools, on the street, and over the radio. You could speak it at home but had to watch out for the police nevertheless. Catalan dances and folk music were likewise prohibited. All they had was a football team. It was only when FC Barcelona played Real Madrid that the Catalan colours were allowed to be displayed in public.

Now, after 20 years of freedom, the language is everywhere, in schools, on signboards, in music and films. One Sunday we watched a public dance in the square opposite the old medieval cathedral in Barcelona. This dance, the Sardana, had been banned by Franco. Hundreds of Catalans had here gathered, forming a huge ring, a man and a woman alternating, their arms linked and their feet moving to the music. In the middle a huge pile of jackets and jerseys bore testimony to the collective spirit. As one person would exit, tired, another person of the same sex would walk in to take his or her place.

Barcelona is a city enormously proud of its history, of its artists like Joan Miro and its architects like Antonio Gaudi (to honour whom the city has built magnificent museums). The resurgence of Catalan nationalism has been marred by only one thing � that their football team is no longer theirs. For FC Barcelona has six Dutch players, four Africans, an Englishman, two Italians. Two or three Catalans sit on the bench and play a few minutes per match. It is a curious inversion � once only the footballers were allowed to be Catalan, now only they are not.

Although the Barcelona fans sometimes complain of foreign imports, their city itself is completely international. This Mediterranean port has long been linked to the wider world, through commerce and the flow of people and ideas. Since the death of Franco, it has been more successful than Madrid in attracting foreign capital and tourists. The Olympic games of 1992 confirmed its status as a truly world (and world class) city. The university is outstanding, its economics department staffed by French-men and Brazilians and regularly visited by Bengalis (in this field, at any rate, a sure sign of excellence).

Spain has been a democracy for much less time than India. We might have voted more often, but we could do with some of their civic spirit, with their nurturing of good provincial universities, and their ready promotion of local skills and talents. Indians who make money rarely give back to the place or people they made it from. The industrialists and traders of Calcutta have done far less than they could have in cultivating the arts (although an exception must be allowed for ITC�s Sangeet Research Academy).

The software billionaires of my hometown, Bangalore, are unconcerned with the deterioration of the local colleges or the absence in a city of seven million of a single decent library. The only truly public spirited industrialists in Indian history have been the Tatas in Mumbai and the Lalbhais and the Sarabhais in Ahmedabad. But after JRD died, the Tatas look only to the bottomline, while the later Sarabhais have no longer any money to give. Philanthropy, in the Indian context, has been reduced to building temples and then naming them after yourself (instead of the deity).

Meanwhile, local patriotism consists chiefly in fighting for more financial resources. �Centre kom diyeche�, those favourite words of a former finance minister of West Bengal, is the leitmotif of federal politics in India. States complain that the Centre has not given them enough money, municipalities and districts complain that the state capital monopolizes it all. Why do they not instead do something with what they already have?

In one Western country after another, the twin forces of constructive philanthropy and local patriotism have given a deeper meaning to democracy. Both, alas, are largely lacking in India.

The author is an historian and a sociologist whose books include The Unquiet Woods and Social Ecology    


In a recession ridden economic scenario where the job market has shrunk considerably, the nearly 60,000-70,000 vacancies arising every year in the comparatively better paid armed forces have become a bone of contention among various states. Most of the soldiers, sailors and airmen are pensioned out by the time they are 40. This is the usual practice with the military so the youthful profile of the fighting services is maintained. The problem is to keep filling up the perennially recurring void.

Recruitment of soldiers in the army is done by 12 zonal recruitment officers. In addition, there is an independent recruiting office in *Delhi. Enrolment in the army is made according to the recruitable male population of each state, deemed to be 10 per cent of the male population of any state in the age group 17-25 in proportion to the entire country.

However, the Union government has been under pressure from Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh to dispense with the RMP formula which has proved detrimental to the respective states� interests, reducing their representation in the army. For example, Punjab�s contribution amounted to 31 per cent of the armed forces in the Sixties, which has trickled down to a mere seven per cent at present. The loss of Haryana and Himachal Pradesh again has been the gain of overpopulated provinces like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

Fight for a place

It is natural for the chief ministers of these states, where the army happened to be a traditional source of employment, to pressure the government. The political parties ruling these states are part of the coalition at the Centre and therefore in a position to influence decision. The argument is to make recruitment on the basis of merit instead of the RMP percentage. The Punjab chief minister, Parkash Singh Badal, feels recruitment should be made on the basis of merit as in other all India services. Bansi Lal, the Haryana chief minister, too is opposed to the quota system.

The defence minister, George Fernandes, initially seemed to be giving in to the clamour. But he backtracked in Parliament, asserting the RMP based recruitment policy has proved to be equitable. It has met the expectations of states and Union territories and fulfilled the purpose of having a broad based and composite army. He emphatically ruled out any change in policy.

Merit should not be mixed up with the general physical build of the prospective jawans. Merit includes adequate education, the bedrock of a modern fighting force. At a time there are signs of deterioration in the standard of education all over the country, the minimum educational qualification for recruitment in the general category of soldiers in the army has been relaxed from the 10th standard to the 8th standard to facilitate representation from border, hilly and backward areas. Also, two per cent of vacancies in the rank of havildar in a recruiting year is reserved for district and state level sportsmen.

Fire of youth

Such moves need fresh thinking. The old concept of the soldier is fast changing. Since weaponry, communications and support services are becoming sophisticated, the armed services call for quality soldiers. A beginning has been made for direct recruitment of trained manpower from the civil stream in some areas of corps of engineers, signals and electrical and mechanical engineers. This needs to be extended to combat arms personnel like the infantry, artillery and armoured corps which operate with high technology weapons.

Corruption has allegedly seeped into the recruiting system with touts luring candidates with assured enrolment. The allegation was denied sometime back by the army�s adjutant general, Lieutenant General S.S. Grewal. The army has already commenced recruitment by conducting statewise recruitment rallies which are made open to all eligible men in the region. A committee of officers drawn from local military establishments is appointed to select soldiers in these rallies.

However, the process calls for stringent security netting as there are instances of foreign nationals, especially in the Northeast, getting enrolled in the army. One thing has to be granted to the recruiting organization � it is always difficult to select physically sturdy and mentally agile combat compatible recruits from the vast army of the nation�s young people.    

Class unconsciousness

Sir � West Bengal�s ruling communists are devoid of genuine class sensibilities after 22 years in power (�Trams to go �classless�,� March 17). Why else would they enact the farce of abolishing the century old two class system in trams to �minimize the inferiority complex among the poor and working classes�. The difference in fare between the first and second classes is only 10 paise and the �poor and working classes� can afford to pay it to feel less �inferior� without the help of their self-styled messiahs. Though electric fans and remodelled seats are welcome, the condition of trams has deteriorated due to official neglect. The authorities do not even know if trams should stay or be phased out. But why the rhetorical gloss on a hare brained decision? Don�t tell me the communists (turned capitalists) are feeling sheepish about having let down �the poor and working classes� so that a farce is the only way they can show they still care. Or that they long to be back on course, serving people however foolishly, following a few compunctious visitings of nature?

Yours faithfully,
Jagadish Sen,

TRAI again

Sir � The telecom regulatory authority of India has rightly challenged the Central government�s decision to put on hold proposed tariff revisions (�Trai takes on govt over phone tariffs�, March 12). The government�s dithering reflects its insincerity vis a vis economic liberalization. If the tariff recommendations are not implemented, TRAI�s credibility will be on the line. The hold up will also hamper the regulatory authority�s ability to function as the arbiter between the government, the department of telecommunications and fledgling private telecom companies. The government has revealed its vulnerability to political pressure, which can adversely affect its attempts to attract investment to infrastructure, power and insurance.

The opposition which decries the hike as anti-poor is not to be believed entirely. TRAI has recommended that calls within the range of 50 kilometres be treated as local calls. This will benefit rural consumers who usually make calls to nearby villages. Besides, the recommendations of TRAI are estimates, operators have the flexibility to fix rates for themselves. Keeping in mind the rise in the costs of most commodities, there really doesn�t seem much sense in making a hue and cry about the hike in telephone charges and rentals.

Yours faithfully,
M.K. Shah,

Sir � The Bharatiya Janata Party�s election manifesto and the draft discussion paper of the group on telecommunications had promised TRAI would be strengthened. All that has been done is that the regulatory authority has been packed with more and more retired bureaucrats � without the government even informing or consulting the chairman. Is TRAI a rehabilitation centre for retired government servants? The issue arising out of the Delhi high court judgement that TRAI could not concern itself with disputes between the licensor and the licensee has also not been settled.

The latest is that a senior official of the DoT, which is a party to the dispute with TRAI, has been made a member. He should be withdrawn or the chief executive officer of a competing private telecom company should also be made member. To add spice, the government could include a consumer activist. That might �strengthen� TRAI � that is, transform it into a battlefield for competing operators, contesting consumers and bewildered civil servants.

Much had been expected of the government when it approved the recommendations of the national task force on information technology which envisages affordable and ubiquitous telecom infrastructure. But investment will be forthcoming only if the TRAI is powerful and independent. Arbitrary appointments do not inspire confidence, for little is known about why a particular appointee and not anyone else was selected.

Yours faithfully,
Sujatha A.,

Death on the driveway

Sir � Calcutta Police must take drastic steps to curb rash driving following the accident that caused the death of the financial advisor of the Hooghly river bridge commission. Saradindu Chowdhury was run over by a speeding minibus. Suggestions on how to prevent accidents should be sought from city residents whose lives are daily at risk.

Drivers of public vehicles restrain themselves only for fear of being booked when a traffic sergeant is nearby. They become reckless the moment they realize no law enforcer is around. Installing overhead cameras on accident prone roads and junctions may help identify erring drivers. It will make drivers aware that their actions are being monitored, help crime detection and identify polluting vehicles. Huge revenue could be collected as fines. The costs of installation and maintenance of cameras could be borne by insurance companies which pay millions of rupees every year to settle road accident claims.

The police should obtain updated registration data of all vehicles and arrange for periodic and compulsory counselling by competent consultants for all professional drivers. Licensing authorities have to be more careful when issuing fresh licences and renewing old ones.

Yours faithfully,
Ashish Ghosh,

Sir � The increasing incidence of hit and run accidents in New Delhi is cause for worry. Some mishaps involve public vehicles driven by trainee drivers and even cleaners. Others are caused by rich youngsters who drive expensive cars while inebriated. In a recent case, a speeding BMW mowed down five people and critically injured two others. It was gratifying to learn the main culprit had reportedly not been allowed bail, despite the fact expensive lawyers argued his case. The compensation in this matter should depend on the status of the offenders and not that of the victims. Guidelines on safe driving issued by the courts should be stringently implemented. Strict regulations on consumption of alcohol are also a good idea.

Yours faithfully,
Abhinav Aggarwal,

Bashing lineup

Sir � The former Pakistani fast bowler, Sarfaraz Nawaz, has accused Sunil Gavaskar and Asif Iqbal of fixing the Mumbai test during the 1979-80 India-Pakistan series. But he has no evidence to back his fantastic claims. Perhaps jealousy led him to target Gavaskar, so long untainted by betting and matchfixing controversies. Despite retiring from international cricket, Gavaskar continues to be very popular. He is a distinguished columnist and commentator on television and has launched a cricket coaching foundation in Calcutta. Nawaz, in contrast, was soon forgotten after his retirement.

Celebrity-bashing seems to be Nawaz�s favourite hobby, given his various allegations against several of his own former team mates. If the charges against Gavaskar are true, why did Nawaz wait 20 years to make them? Gavaskar should take his baiter to court for libel rather than indulge in verbal brawls.

Yours faithfully,
Ashok Ray Chaudhuri,

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By Rudrangshu Mukherjee,
Viking, Rs 295

Events in Kanpur have exercised a significant influence on the imagination of both contemporaries and of later generations. Satichaura Ghat and Bibighar are associated both with the fury of the rebels and the fearful vengeance of the English. Thirty years after 1857, the antagonisms born of those weeks were reenacted in the assassination of an English officer whose father had revelled in the bloody retribution. Passions still ran high on August 15, 1947 when crowds of Indians desecrated the shrine built by the British at Bibighar, and a reversal of icons followed with a bronze statue of Tantia Topi replacing the angel of the well.

Without the violence, Kanpur would probably not have merited the remembrance, not having the grand Mughal lineage that Agra, Lucknow or Delhi possessed. It began in May 1770 as a joint encampment of the troops the nawab of Awadh and the East India Company gathered to stave off a threatened attack by the Marathas. By 1801, the cantonment was known as Cawnpore; the following year it acquired an English revenue collector with police and judicial responsibilities.

Rudrangshu Mukherjee suggests that from this moment a kind of bureaucratic resistance began from among the older revenue knowing and collecting functionaries who misrepresented to the British the boundaries of villages and parganas, the exact figures and rates of collection. The suffering that resulted from wrongful assessments was evident by the 1840s, as �outsider�� Brahmin and mercantile Khattri groups acquired title to lands earlier held by Rajput Thakurs. Yet older groups were not dislodged wholesale, merely antagonized.

Mukherjee is clearly on one side of the great historiographical divide in India about the establishment and maintenance of English rule in India; he believes that English control of India was established by the sword and maintained by the deployment of terror. This enables him to depict the use of violence by rebels in 1857 as a transgression of the boundaries between power and powerlessness. Unlike the English descriptions of the rebel soldiers as fierce and unpremeditated in their violence, the author finds �discrimination�� in their targets of attack. Instead of the �straggling disorder�� that Englishmen saw in the rebel lines, the author represents this as �deliberate throwing away of regimental�� uniforms.

Hence against the covert rituals of the rebels which have entered folklore � like the appearance of chapattis at various places � were posed the overt rituals of destruction conducted by the powerful: the blowing up of rebels from the mouths of cannons and the burning of villages. These atrocities of the British were all committed, says the author, before the rebels had carried out the massacre in Kanpur. After the rebels had attacked and killed numbers of British soldiers, officers and their families, the ferocity of the rulers acquired a new and terrible edge.

But how do historians conceptualize violence? Is violence only a matter of the physical, blood and gore, wounds and scars? Isn�t violence also spiritual, pervasive and subtle in that it leaves no outward traces of its occurrence and, indeed in many cases, no traces of its victims either? The erasure of the histories of many groups can be a form of violence, often perpetrated by those who control ideas, language, performance, the skills and instruments of transmission.

Hence, it would be in the erasure of the songs and mythic verse � the �soul�� � of the rebels, that the manifestation of a subtler violence may lie. The English records are partial, and the author, while acknowledging this, has done a truly commendable job in unravelling texts which have hitherto been treated as �eyewitness�� accounts, showing the wavering nature of the narratives, tracing the routes by which one narrative merges into another English language narrative in an intertextual weaving of the �myths�� of 1857.

It is possible that there were songs, legends and poetry which in fact celebrated the rebels as moral victors. The author�s explanation of the absence of Kanpur from later oral traditions is that since the Indian nationalist movement was largely non-violent, the violence of the rebels at Kanpur in 1857 was an embarrassment which could not be celebrated in song or poem. Yet the poem about the Rani of Jhansi (with the refrain �khub larhi mardani woh to Jhansi wali rani thi�), which every schoolgoing child in north India knows, is in fact a nationalist creation. How is it that the violence of the rani was depicted as bravery, and that perpetrated by the soldiers of Kanpur was not? Is there something of a hidden agenda in celebrating the deeds of royalty and ignoring the resistance of lesser mortals?

Issues of politics and culture have always been critical in reframing the rewriting of the past, whether in the 19th century or in the late 20th. Perhaps this is equally true of historians who do not wish to differentiate between the different strata and ranks within the �rebels��, seeing them as united in their actions and intentions, and also ignore the multilayered character of even �rulers�� themselves. It may of course have been that violence served to erase the heterogeneity of both, but we still need to rethink the issue of how definitions of �violence��, �rebellion�� and of �rulership�� have also been created, and bequeathed to historians.

Mukherjee has swept aside the question of collaboration entirely. Not only did specific individual rulers send troops and ammunition to the English, the records give us glimpses of a petty Indian official improving upon his chances of a promotion by torturing the men he had captured (page 36), a loyal sepoy (p. 49), a commissariat contractor (pp. 55-58), to whom the colonial regime appeared legitimate and orderly. They too constituted the �people of India��, not the least of whom were large numbers in Bengal (as we know it today), who, once the sepoys in Barrackpur had been disarmed, were largely inactive in 1857. Perhaps the author can look beyond violence and examine how far it would be possible to rewrite the history of 1857 from the point of view of the quiescent.    

By Sathianathan Clarke,
Oxford, Rs 425

Readers of the now famous series of historical essays called Subaltern Studies might well wonder if the collective has spawned a new religion. Detractors of Ranajit Guha, the original mastermind of the series, equate his erudition with papal infallibility. They will be disappointed by the subtitle of Sathianathan Clarke�s book.

Clarke has done a very interesting study of the Paraiyars of South India as a specific community of Dalits with special reference to their Indo-Christian outlook. He explores their communal identity through a single icon: the drum. This artefact has been creatively constructed by the author as a text of resistance and emancipatory theology. Clarke�s objective seems to be, in part, to uncover the system that underlies the use of the drum. Abstraction from the surface concreteness of a simple musical instrument is done by relating it to a diversity of social processes.

The drum is projected as an agent of the divine power both to strive against the cooptive inclinations of dominant caste Hinduism and to empower the shared sentiments of the Paraiyar community. Symbolism is construed through the book as the product of a special �mode of thought�� (marginalization and social disarticulation of the Paraiyars) with particular functional properties (using the drum as a protective coating).

This book begins with a comprehensive discussion on theology as deeprooted in the Indian soil. Introducing the reader to Indo-Christian ideas, the book gradually unfolds the religious life of the Paraiyars: first from a historical perspective and then with an integrated study of their culture.

Clarke shows the way the drum acts as a cohesive agent and brings together the Dalit communities of south India. On the question of Christian liberation theology, the emphasis is on the power of symbols as cultural products, and on the organizing principles for unstructured feelings and thoughts. In exploring the complex ways meanings within a social discourse are conveyed, the author even tries to translate the drum as Christ.

Whenever professional theologists have tried to systematize beliefs, their ideas seemed curiously distant from the everyday religion of people. Clarke, a priest of the Church of South India, has escaped this considerably in his writing. The distinction between folk religion and an official theological religion is made thin in the book. This shows that what seems to matter above all in religion is human action.

Religions do try to explain the inexplicable, but they more often render perfectly explainable things arcane. Religions make everyday matters and objects sacred, creating out of the whole cloth beings and forces that are beyond common sense understanding; religions invent mysteries. The book repeatedly takes into account these culturally constructed aspects of the life of the Paraiyars and relates them to a world of invented symbolism, shifting images and transient feelings.

The author overlooks the relation between Dalit Christianity and political systems. The fashionable term �subaltern�� has made him gloss over the difference between subaltern religion and religion of the subalterns. Not all subalterns march in the name of the pope.    

By S.S. Tarapore,
UBS, Rs 375

India�s Financial Policy analyzes issues relating to the money market, financial sector regulation, exchange rate policy and the debate on capital account convertibility. It also focusses on monetary policy developments under R.N. Malhotra and C. Rangarajan. Divided into 11 parts and 50 chapters, it comprises articles published in 1997 in Business Standard.

In the first part, S.S. Tarapore argues that a rising inflation rate imposes substantial economic costs on society while a stable price environment enhances the capacity of monetary policy to fight cyclical weaknesses: it is the best contribution monetary policy can make to growth.

Tarapore counters the accusation that the Reserve Bank of India was �monetarist��. He distinguishes tight monetary policy from monetarism and argues that the RBI�s performance would never fit the label �monetarist��. �There is much merit in a gradual but determined approach towards inflation control. Once a system is put in place on a trial run in 1997-98, a formal parliamentary mandate on inflation for, say, a three year period (1998-99 to 2001-02) could be obtained. The inflation mandate could be an average of 3-6 per cent with a centre point of 4.5 per cent. A medium term inflation target is desirable as monetary policy is effective only with a lag.��

Tarapore says that in the emerging monetary scenario an active interest rate policy is imperative. Monetary authorities should not hesitate to move interest rates both ways. Since April 1997, the RBI has made a conscious effort to link a number of interest rates to the bank rate. In June 1997 it used the bank rate to signal a lowering of the structure of interest rates.

Part three examines how a stable money market can be developed. Part four focusses on regulation/supervision of weak banks. Part five deals with non-bank finance companies. The author says there should be a common regulatory framework for banks and financial institutions; it should be considered a fundamental prerequisite for financial institutions to operate as universal banks.

Part six discusses macromanagement and the monetary impact of fiscal operations. Part seven highlights the policy adopted by the government in September 1992 to permit foreign institutional investors to invest in India. It also covers the issue of non-resident deposit schemes and examines how they can be revamped.

In the second half of 1995-96, there was considerable volatility in the Indian foreign exchange market and the RBI had actively intervened. In part eight of the book, the author discusses whether such intervention was desirable. He analyzes the literature on the subject and says that a policy of greater transparency with respect to intervention and the forward liability would by itself enable the authorities to evolve a better mix of policy measures. According to him, since the cost of intervention becomes known, it will become easier to adopt a mix of policy measures for devising an optimal exchange rate policy.

Part nine presents a package of measures for capital account convertibility by April 1, 2000. Part 10 sums up the monetary policy of two former RBI governors, R.N. Malhotra and C. Rangarajan, particularly their endeavours to bring about financial sector reform in the Indian economy.

The book is a valuable addition to the literature on financial sector reform. It will be useful for policymakers, economists, bankers, industrialists and students of India�s financial policy.    

By Indira Chowdhury,
Oxford, Rs 395

This book once again proves 19th century Bengal remains a potent time warp for historians, its facets opening up to new and radical interpretations. Indira Chowdhury�s project is not very ambitious though. She seeks to delve into the �self-image of frailty� that the Bengali babu was afflicted with as an adjunct to the colonial stereotypes of the �manly Englishman� and �effeminate Bengali�. The stereotype, she argues, produced multiple icons that helped the Bengali bhadralok reclaim his history, regain his manhood, propel nationalism and spawn a homogenized modern Indian identity whose oppressive weight the nation is still having to bear.

The problem with the delineation of the 19th century icons lies in the fact that most have been worked on exhaustively. Therefore for the most part, Chowdhury ends up sounding familiar. In an overview, the conclusion that the shikhshita bhadralok was creating a discourse of history through the narrative of legends, myths and fables, by identifying with the valour and Aryanness of Marathas and Rajputs, by alienating the Muslims as mlechhas, would not seem too insightful.

Crucial to the politics of the culture of the period were women. Chowdhury explains how women became central to the project of the rediscovery of manhood, but does not satisfactorily explain why. She believes the �recharacterization� of women was a response to official and missionary allegations of the shallow ethical qualities of Hindu women. But the painting of the picture of sati-Sabitri had to do more than that.

Western education turned the babus into servile clerks, British legislation took away their landed status and quite alarmingly, crept into the privacy of their antahpur. Confused and defeated, the Bengali bhadralok turned for solace to the confines of home that now became the domain of his undisputed sway. Women came to bodily represent this autonomous zone. Hence the emphasis on their purity, their chastity, their satitva.

Chowdhury concentrates on the icon that came to represent these qualities. Sati-Sabitri represented the chaste Hindu woman with her unqualified ability to sacrifice and to suffer. It was on Sabitri that the image of the shahadharmini was modelled who with her right mix of education and qualities would keep the man where he belonged.

Chowdhury�s project of frailty is probably best explored in the image of the Bharat Mata. The �magnetism of this new goddess�, she argues, lay not in her chastity and moral strength, but in her �empowerment� through the icon of Queen Victoria. The latter�s resemblance with Indian womanhood through her femininity, affection, compassion, her motherhood might explain the queen�s curious invocation in the nationalist enterprise, even in peasant revolts.

This in a way reflected her assimilation into a benevolent mother figure that could be conveniently transposed with that of Durga or the Bharat Mata. But to argue such transposition necessarily �empowered� the image of the Bharat Mata is to stretch the point. For it is doubtful if the frail image of the mata ever actually got �replaced� by the self-reliant image of Queen Victoria.

The exploration of the perception of an alternative manliness in sanyas is probably the most redeeming part of the book. Chowdhury�s discussion of Swami Vivekananda, who iconized this manhood, is brilliant. The icon of the sanyasi in saffron, disciplining his procreative capacity for the service of the nation, Vivekananda consciously created informed Bengal�s history long after the fires of nationalism had died down.

Chowdhury ends by investigating how the political crisis of 1905 summoned the use of these multiple icons. The homogenization this entailed severely limited the role of women and alienated large sections of society. Chowdhury�s frail hero will be a must read for those indulging in gender studies of the period. For the uninitiated as well, the book might be an interesting read for its uncomplicated narrative.    


Two basic facts on the economics of book publishing and the impact of multinationals on the third world, especially ourselves.

First, the book publisher is an investor in books. The publisher pays out money to the author, artist, editor, printer and paper merchant, and several others for producing the books. He also pays money to the sales representatives and advertisers who help in marketing and takes in money from booksellers and others who buy books. The publisher hopes he will get more money than he spends. As in any business, the publisher tries to reduce costs to increase income but he knows that �you have to spend� money to make money.

Second, the multinational corporations (mostly media giants) have transformed the nature of publishing industries in the last decade. Till the early Eighties or so, book publishing industries were small, nationally based and mostly personally owned. By the mid-Nineties, almost all the major companies were largely publicly owned and international. This transformation is now irreversible if only for the reason that it makes financial sense.

Besides, this restructuring was engineered by two outside forces that have come to stay: the proliferation of information beyond the capacity that the printed book could handle. Alongside came the new technology of which the computer, the satellite and the visual display terminal were the three main pillars.

Put these two simple facts together and you will understand why the large electronic corporations like TIT, Xerox, CBS and others acquired book publishers. But in the process of acquisitions and mergers and the shakeout that followed, the nature of book publishing changed. The sheer size of the new houses necessitated going for the mass market (crime, sex, glitz, celebrity gossip) which could also spin off into films and television serials and which, in turn, meant cutting back on scholarly books.

In real terms this meant that more and more books became a sub-division of the entertainment industry or catered to as wide a cross-section of readership as possible, relegating scholarly books for the specialized reader as non-priority items. Even Oxford University Press with all its massive air of impersonality has become more and more commercial in its operations, scrapping its poetry list altogether and cutting back heavily on politics, philosophy and economics for the advanced reader.

Almost every other publisher had long since discarded any attempt to improve public taste by raising standards; it was too antiquated a notion, besides being too patronizing to be voiced in public. Success is what mattered and success equalled money.

Given the size of the new conglomerates, the surest way to increase income was to sell more copies of each book. More income would increase profit, which is based on a fundamental principle of book publishing: manufacturing costs per copy go down not just a little but quite substantially.

Lower unit costs meant that the same old high prices would generate much higher profits; or lower prices could be offered with higher volume sales. Either way, what it meant was that books that could not sell a sufficiently large number (usually in tens of thousands) would be out of the reckoning.

As the juggernaut of acquisitions, mergers and consolidations steamrollers along, the only recourse for serious scholars is to move over to small independent publishers to have their works published. These are niche publishers who know the small segment of the market in which they operate intimately: they know not merely the individuals and institutions who would buy but also have the capacity to buy.

Most of these publishers are former CEOs of the large houses who were either eased out when the takeover took place or left because the heat was too much to bear. They know the ins and outs of publishing, production and marketing far better than the management accountants who have taken over the world of books.

Print runs may be small but they will be sold, the right people will come to know that a book of their interest has been published, and at the end of the day royalties will be paid. That�s all that matters.    


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