Reflections on Our Times

Judging by the aplomb with which he goes about his ministerial tasks, Mr K.R. Narayanan appears to be at home in the troubled and troublesome world of pre¬sent-day Indian politics. But a closer ex¬amination is bound to show that essenti¬ally he remains something of an ‘out¬sider’, indeed considerably more so than the other two former members of the Indian Foreign Service who too have moved to political pastures. Interestingly, even as a diplomat he was a rather unusual member of the pin-striped tribe. Many considered him to be an academic strayed into the foreign service. And he surely preferred scholarly pursuits to the embassy cocktail circuit.

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This collection of essays brings together the efforts of twenty-four Indian scholars belonging to a wide spectrum of socio-economic disciplines. They have attempted to ana¬lyse systematically the prob¬lems in the field of urban and regional planning and deve¬lopment. The selections have been carefully made to present a clear picture of emerging urban problems in India. The collection does not claim to be either a new theoretical state¬ment on the subject or a simple description of the problems in urban and regional plann¬ing. The emphasis here is more on ‘immediate policy implications than on pedantic treatment of the subjects’. The subjects thus dealt with have a direct bearing on policies and programmes for¬mulated and implemented over the years.

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A couple of years ago this reviewer read and reviewed Christoph Von Furer-Haimendorf’s book on the Apa Tanis, A Himalayan Tribe—From Cattle to Cash. Another book by him on tribes of the same region following so soon excited one, but the tone of this book is quite different from the earlier one. This work deals with the tribes who surround the Apa Tanis, i.e., the Nishis and Monpas, and forms part of a comprehensive project of anthropological research among Indian tribal populations, as the author explains in the preface.

Books in Brief

The book under review is a significant contribution to the study of Indian elections as well as Indian politics. It brings a whiff of fresh air into the hothouse atmosphere pre¬valent in the discipline of political science in this coun¬try. Mrs. Kaushik not only identifies the limitations of the election studies conducted during the last fifteen years but also offers an alternative approach for understanding the phenomenon of elections and electoral politics. She has rendered a very useful service in demonstrating the necessity of co-relating the socio-economic factors and their relevance to the analysis of electoral politics.

Essays on Linguistics: Language Systems and Structures

I have often said, verbally and in print, that India’s cosy reliance on English as our access to international academia has effectively blinded us to work of excellence in other foreign traditions of scholarship while not, in com¬pensation, encouraging excel¬lence locally.
In assembling together Essays on Linguistics: Lang¬uage Systems and Structures the Soviets seem to recognize this. This is not just a ran¬dom sampling of Soviet research output in linguistics, nor, more significantly, is there a specific focus on any one area of linguistics.

A PARTIAL VIEW

At the close of this study of the Afghan crisis, the reader may be forgiven if in the pro¬cess of unscrambling images of elite perceptions, he is con¬fused about Sen Gupta’s own perspective. The author com¬pounds the confusion by adopting such non-neutral, American conceptualizations as the ‘arc of crisis’ or esp¬ousing the argument of the Soviet Union’s strategic parity with—indeed, edge over the US and its overwhelming military advantage in South Western Asia, sliding over the vested US interests in push¬ing this thesis. Moreover, the burden of proof is borne largely by US sources, especi¬ally the New York Times. Let alone Soviet sources (beyond the impressionistic statements of some Soviet officials), even the Swedish publication SIPR1 is ignored.

A GAME OF NUMBERS

This volume is the outcome of a seminar held in 1976 at the Institute of Social and Eco¬nomic Change in Bangalore on the ‘Data Base of the Indian Economy’, and is fourth in the series under the joint auspices of the Indian Association for the Study of Population and the Indian Economic Society. The major themes of tie series seem to be examination of the available statistic-relating to some important of the Indian economy, the deficiencies therein and suggestions for improvement of data. One purpose of the series is that such an exercise will promote ‘more effective planning and policy making’. The present volume addresses it¬self to two important sectors, I health and education.

REACHING THE POOR

The contributors of the thirteen articles, contained in this book explore the pro¬blems associated with reaching the benefits of develop¬mental programmes to the poorer sections of societies in Asia, Latin America and Africa. The changes necessary in structure and process of, government are identified, and the implications of such changes in the concepts and practices of planning are analysed. The corresponding need for reorienting research and training at the manage¬ment institutions operating in these regions is indicated.

SHADES OF POPULISM

Academic dissent often pushes the dissenter into ex¬treme positions. Critiques are presented as new paradigms, and the neo-converts tend to adopt the new concepts with uncritical faith as staunchly as the die-hards refuse to accept that there is anything wrong with the existing theories. When the Gross National Pro¬duct fortress crumbled, the world was presented with the Physical Quality of Life Indi¬cator. Conventional views on technology were sought to be replaced by Intermediate/ Alternate/and Appropriate Technology. Dissatisfaction with existing political and organizational forums such as political parties, trade unions and kisan sabhas gave rise to People’s Organizations and People’s Power. The list can be expanded to include many other ideas and concepts, such as Participatory Research which has been hailed as the new ‘ideology’ for academia.

BEYOND STRIKES

In 1921, the 10th Congress of the Bolshevik Party succeeded in choking a young voice—the voice of the Workers’ Opposition, a small group inside the party which called for direct control of workers over industries, introduction of a more egalitarian policy in wages, freedom of criticism for the workers, fight against bureaucratic party administra¬tors and recognition of the creative initiative of the pro¬letariat.

CLASS AND CASTE CONFLICT

Two phenomena have char¬acterized the Indian rural scene since the ’70s—peasant militancy and violence against Harijans. The Delhi University Political Science Association felt the urgency of the need to evolve a new Political Economy to meet the challenge posed by the failure of existing social science theory, both Marxist as well as non-Marxist, to satisfactorily explain the twin phenomena.

SANCTIFYING MYTH?

Another reviewer, Profes¬sor A.H. Wilson, has predicted that this work ‘of seasoned scholarship’ by K.M. de Silva, whom he has dubbed ‘the wizard of Peradeniya’, ‘will for many years to come be the last word on the subject’, and hoped that ‘there will be more detailed interpretation of men and affairs from so magisterial a pen’. The term has doubtless not been used in a pejorative sense, but wizardry has no place in a work of seasoned scholarship or in the repertoire of a serious historian. Sancti¬fying myth is another matter.