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Strategic equations

Frontline Volume 17 - Issue 04, Feb. 19 - Mar. 03, 2000
India's National Magazine on indiaserver.com
from the publishers of THE HINDU



Table of Contents

LETTERS

Strategic equations

This has reference to the Cover Story ("Strategic games", February 18). Without making sufficient diplomatic efforts, India requested the United States to declare Pakistan a terrorist state. It was not a correct approach. In his final year in office, Pre sident Bill Clinton is not going to leave a dissatisfied Pakistan for his successor to handle. And the U.S. will not squander the immense advantage it gained in South Asia in the past 50 years by cultivating Pakistan.

The U.S. might have cultivated the Taliban and Pakistan in order to counter the Soviet Union. Today it talks about Kashmir more than ever before. It is evident that the present Government of India has not studied India's past policy on China and Pakistan . Instead, it struck a belligerent posture and the country is facing the consequences.

Sqn.Ldr. B.G. Prakash (Retd)
Bangalore

Narmada

I appreciate Arundhati Roy for her brilliant essay on the sufferings of the people who are going to be displaced by big dams ("The cost of living", February 18).

Abhijeet D. More
Nashik

* * *

Arundhati Roy tends to be irreverent when she observes that "for a whole half century after Independence Nehru's foot-soldiers sought to equate dam-building with nation-building". This could be taken as a fiction-writer's licence, since she has observed in her essay that "Narmada valley needed a writer, not just a writer, a fiction-writer."

In the early years of Independence, the focus was on multipurpose exploitation/utilisation of riverine resources and the investment was, therefore, based on a cost-benefit analysis in which only tangible benefits and tangible costs figured by and large. Economic development was then reckoned as economic growth per se, whereas now, thanks to economists who promoted an alternative school of thought (which is still in a process of evolution), it is accepted that development and growth cannot be equated. En vironmental and ecological concerns and considerations such as the quality of life entered the debate only after the 1970s.

Deliberations should not centre round a 'dams or no dams' proposition. It will be sagacious to discuss how riverine resources could be optimally utilised for the common good of India's population, which has grown from 300 million in the early 1950s to al most 1,000 million now.

K. John Mammen
Thiruvananthapuram

* * *

I was astonished to see that even a leading national magazine like Frontline could not resist the temptation to give liberal space once again to a celebrity like Arundhati Roy. Or is it really 'The cost of living' for Frontline too?

Having no answer to the response from B.G. Verghese, Gail Omvedt, Sunil Jain, S.S. Bhalla, P.V. Indiresan and others to her previous writings, Arundhati Roy has misused the opportunity to deliver the Nehru Memorial Lecture at the prestigious Cambridge Un iversity. Discussing an internal issue of the country at such a forum by presenting the same misguiding arguments not only is unfortunate but is also hurtful to the national image. It is more so when the Grievances Redressal Authority (GRA) constituted u nder Supreme Court directives already listens to all kinds of representations regarding the rehabilitation of people affected by the Sardar Sarovar Project. What prevents Arundhati Roy right now from using the right forums, such as the GRA, to air her vi ews? It may not make her popular, maybe. But as she said, she is not standing for elections, fortunately.

If it is just that somebody wants to voice the problems of the tribal people, are there not any other valley where life is miserable although no dam is planned there? Using her freedom of speech, why did Arundhati Roy not speak about the large dams in th e United Kingdom, although she was speaking at Cambridge University? The U.K. has 114 large dams (ICOLD World Register of Dams, 1998).

When Arundhati Roy says that big dams are monuments to corruption and bankers, politicians, bureaucrats, environmental consultants, aid agencies are all involved in the racket, does she mean that writers of her calibre also get attracted by dams just bec ause of this myth? I suggest that Arundhati Roy come out for a while from her fiction and watch the documentary on the Hirakud dam. A supplier from Calcutta sacrificed his entire bill when he came to know that the project for which he had supplied materi als would benefit millions of people. Of course, he did not receive any award, neither at the national level nor at the international level.

Aum Joshi
Gandhinagar

Gandhi

In "The essential Gandhi on CD-ROM" (February 18), the reviewer refers to the omission of the name of Mahatma Gandhi's assassin. This should surprise no one. History is being rewritten in true Orwellian fashion and textbooks are re-crafted. Now we are to ld that Akbar was a good ruler but the sting is in the tail - "despite being a Muslim". The BJP and its fraternal outfits sound similar to the white supremacists in the U.S. who swear that non-whites are intellectually less endowed by birth.

R. Rajaraman
Chennai

Suicide terrorism

To address the problems presented by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), one must first offer a realistic assessment of the organisation, its capabilities, and its causes. Secondly, one must offer a realistic proposal, or set of proposals, to so lve what Sri Lankans euphemistically call "the problems".

In his article in Frontline, "The LTTE and suicide terrorism" (February 18), Rohan Gunaratna achieves neither task.

Gunaratna alleges that "suicide terrorism" a.k.a "the suicide bomb syndrome" poses a significant threat to national and international security. He further states that "in South Asia, the LTTE is the only suicide-capable group". He calls suicide bombing a "lethally accurate tactic". He says that the "mindset of the LTTE suicide bomber" is different from that of suicide bombers in other parts of the world. And he creates an image of the "suicide body suit" as a technologically sophisticated device. Each o f these claims is either unsubstantiated or untrue.

To create a suicide-bomber, one needs only two things: (a) a determinedly suicidal person, and (b) a home-made bomb. Entities belonging to category (a) are sadly abundant throughout South Asia, especially in Sri Lanka. Entities belonging to category (b) can be constructed by anyone who knows basic electronics and has access to explosives. Like any bomb, a "suicide bomb" is lethal, but it is not outstandingly accurate. Most attempted suicide bombings fail to achieve their mission. This is because the bom ber cannot take aim and must make a last-minute decision to detonate the bomb, often in chaotic conditions. Moreover, being inexpertly made, such bombs tend to go off by accident. All too commonly, young LTTE cadres blow themselves up in the process of c onstructing bombs, or while engaged in tasks as relatively trivial as trying to disable transformers. This pattern is a tragic waste of life, as is warfare generally, but it is not much more of a threat to the world than children playing with matches. Ex pertly manufactured weapons, developed and sold by rich companies, are infinitely more dangerous.

Gunaratna acknowledges that the "bulk" of suicide bombers come from impoverished places such as northeastern Sri Lanka. Persecuted ethnic minorities seeking freedom from persecution are hotbeds of suicide-bomber formation, he almost says. But he stops sh ort of drawing the obvious conclusions.

To reduce the incidence of suicide bombing, one must reduce the incidence of suicidal people. This does not mean killing those people or locking them up. It means leaving them with reasons to live. Reducing the quantity of explosive devices at large woul d probably also help.

Margaret Trawick
New Zealand

Creamy layer

This refers to "A dilemma in Kerala" (February 18). It is a national problem affecting the really poor among the Scheduled Castes, the Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes. The need of the hour is to amend the Constitution and pave the way for the uplift of people identified as less privileged among Dalits and other backward sections.

In the matter of promotions in government service, merit should be the criterion. By and large the wards of people in the creamy layer have no moral right to enjoy reservations or automatic promotions in jobs.

K. Ramadoss
Chennai

Ordnance factories

As a retired Brigadier from the Army Ordnance Corps (the corps that deals with ordnance factories) I found your Special Feature disappointing ("Armour for defence", February 18).

Antiquated machinery, a lack of improvement in technology (Shaktiman and Nissan series are the world's most antiquated and "gas-guzzling" vehicles), inadequate R&D effort and general non-adherence to supply schedules have made most of these factories und ependable sources of supply. Trade unionism, a politicised work culture, and lack of quality awareness have turned them into white elephants with low capacity utilisation and price-inefficient products. Some of the ordnance factories have a laid-back app roach. With no competitive environment, and with managements held to ransom by trade unions, they are neither efficient nor cost-effective.

The Estimates Committee and the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament have commented on some aspects of these factories: (a) Target achievement in respect of ammunition ranged between 45.33 per cent and 60 per cent, and that in the case of 'B' vehicles between 33.33 per cent and 66.66 per cent. (b) Their inventory holdings continue to go up, which means more locked-up capital and, eventually, escalating costs. The money thus lost could have been used gainfully elsewhere by the resource-starved militar y. (c) Obsolete and surplus materials worth hundreds of crores of rupees, which are no longer required by the Army, are lying in the ordnance factories. This is one of the main reasons for ordnance factory products being costlier than those produced by t heir civilian counterparts. (d) There have been frequent delays and, consequently, cost overruns in the execution and completion of projects. The level of uncertainty is so high that the user is never sure of getting the products on the date fixed for su pply.

The ordnance factories expect the military to absorb these cost escalations, which are caused mainly by their inefficiency.

In the face of charges like these, the Department of Defence Production pleads that the ordnance factories have not been set up for purely commercial purposes and that a 'welfare' element is built into them. Therefore, it is argued, any elaborate system of monitoring man-hour and machine-hour utilisation in these factories is not needed, and "indirect devices" that are being followed are adequate for management control. This argument, however, is not likely to measure up to any economic or logical yards tick.

Successive governments and the Defence bureaucracy have fostered the idea that defence production has been reasonably successful over the years and that this sector is making a slow but steady progress towards self-sufficiency. The fact of the matter is that in many instances these public sector undertakings have not performed well. Claims that the systems are "indigenous" are in many instances misrepresentations, as the term 'indigenous' is being increasingly used to denote production that involves lit tle more than assembly, where the local content is minimal.

Despite the views of the government, several pundits and a good many external analysts, the defence industry would seem to be in poor shape and is clearly unable to reach the standards its architects had envisaged.

Indeed, India's ability to pass off equipment produced using foreign technology as home-grown is an extremely significant propaganda exercise. A classical example is that of the main battle tank (MBT) Arjun. A critical report on the project (1990) listed the following areas that relied upon foreign technology: engine, from MTU, Germany; transmission, from RENK, Germany; FWM fire control, from Germany; primary sight, OLDELFT, from the Netherlands; tracks, from DIEHL, Germany; TCM hydropneumatic system, f rom the United States. With so many countries and their 'defence industries' contributing such major sub-systems, it is impossible to achieve self-sufficiency. B.L. Sharma does not seem to have too many reasons to be happy over his factory's choice for t he production of MBT Arjun.

Brig. Parmodh Sarin (Retd)
Noida, U.P.

Guru Gobind Singh

In the article "The clergy vs the SGPC" (February 18), there is a reference to the Punjab Government announcing a holiday "to mark Guru Nanak's birthday". In fact, it is Guru Gobind Singh's birthday.

Rear Admiral Satyindra Singh (Retd)
New Delhi

The error is regretted. - Editor, Frontline.


Correction: The last sentence of the article "To counter a covert aggressor" (February 18) should read "India needs to pursue its hard state agenda against Pakistan and, before doing that, needs to prepare the diplomatic groundwork for the new tra ck", and not as published.

Letters to the Editor sent by e-mail will be considered for publication only if the full name and complete address along with identifying details (such as designation and place of work) are provided.

- Editor, Frontline


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