Connecting over 25 millions NRIs worldwide
Most trusted Name in the NRI media

'Hum Dono Coloured' and the nostalgic 11 (Comment)  

By Mahendra Ved

A teenaged girl who came escorting her grandparents and four middle-aged couples were the only viewers at one of Delhi's downtown multiplex theatres for a screening of "Hum Dono Rangeen", the newly released coloured and high-tech version of the 1961 black and white classic.

Being among the nostalgic 11, one felt really good about re-visiting a film seen as a teenager five decades ago.

The theatre staff consolingly said the hall was full over the previous weekend and hoped it would again be so, provided the movie ran into a second week.

But there was a lingering sense of disappointment about the obvious preference for fast paced, loud storytelling, with Westernised music and up-front overtones that appear to keep the current crop of teenagers and the young away from this movie.

The mixed audience response sends a clear message - each generation has its own set of values.

Brushing aside these concerns, it is however perfectly possible to enjoy the new version with a slightly altered name. That Dev Anand, the producer-actor who carried the film to glory on his slender shoulders, is very much around to promote it in his very special way does matter. It helps relate with the movie better.

Dev Anand, who is making films at 88, opens the new film with a very brief commentary, in black and white to begin with and slowly turns to colour as he extols the Cinemascope, the Dolby sound system and other technological value additions.

But the content remains the same. The emotion-charged situations in a story by Nirmal Sircar, ably written by the late Vijay Anand who went on to make more successful films like "Tere Mere Sapne" and "Teesri Manzil".

The piece de resistance is the lilting Hindustani classical-based music by then debutant Jaidev who composed iconic songs.

If "Main zindagi ka saath nibhata chala gaya" underlines Dev Anand's philosophy of life that he advocates for everyone, two of Indian cinema's best 'bhakti' (devotional) songs - "Allah tero naam" and "Prabhu tero naam" - also make it a memorable experience. Sung by Lata Mangeshkar they defy attitudinal and technological changes that occur with each passing generation.

The movie has Dev Anand in a double role, playing two army officers, quite different in their age, mannerisms, but basically humane, who get emotional while serving on the war front.

Their emotions may seem too gushing in today's cynical world, but their hold on the audience remains undiluted even now.

Dev is ably complemented by Sadhna, the rich girl in love with the younger version of the star, and Nanda, married to the elder one. The deep understanding and the sense of sacrifice these women display despite education and urban living are a tribute to the eternal Indian woman.

Set against the backdrop of World War II, more specifically, the Burma front, the film strikes the right chord by stirring universal emotions of love, patriotism, sacrifice and dedication.

Director Amarjeet was nominated for the Golden Bear at the 1962 Berlin International Film Festival.

For Dev Anand, playing the romantic Anand remained his forte for much of his acting career. But the older generation relished his role as Mahesh, the moustachio-ed army major. It was the more celebrated of the two performances.

Today, the cocky Major would seem somewhat unnatural. His put-on accent is neither Col. Blimp's, nor Brown Sahib's. It is just Dev Anand's - at places overdone.

Both the characters Dev Anand plays are smokers. Indeed, the cigarette lighter with a lilting tune that Sadhna presents to his beau keeps appearing and chiming from beginning to end. These are musical moments.

Today's Hindi cinema audiences are used to watching films lasting about two hours, so "Hum Dono Rangeen" could be a test of patience. There are long drawn scenes and extra long pauses that contribute in a major way to this three-hour long affair.

Perhaps, "Rangeen" could have been released as a snappier version, no more than 150 minutes, and could have attracted larger audiences.

(11.2.2011 - Mahendra Ved is a senior journalist based in Delhi.


Sugar policy must create export surplus, not induce imports (Comment)  

By Abinash Verma

There is a huge opportunity this year for the sugar industry to sustain a high output. But meaningless controls will only convert the opportunities to threats and create hurdles for stake-holders, including cane farmers at the end of the line.

The industry estimates the production to be around 25 million tonnes during the current sugar year (October to September) and the government's forecast is 24.5 million tonnes. More importantly it is for the first time in recent memory that global prices today are offering substantial premium even though India, the largest consumer and second largest producer, has a surplus.

The world is looking at exports from India and waiting breathlessly for the government to allow unrestricted exports. An important decision was taken mid-December when it was announced that 500,000 tonnes of sugar would be allowed to be exported. Some 500 sugar mills were to benefit from the announcement -- a democratic way to ensure the benefits are reaped by all. As sugar prices then moved up in the latter part of December, the government was quick to respond with two important decisions.

First, it announced a significantly higher quota of non-levy sugar -- the quantum of the commodity which mills are free to retail in the open market, as opposed to selling it to the government for distribution through fair price shops. For January, the non-levy sugar was fixed at 1.7 million tonnes, compared to 1.45 million tonnes during the like months of the previous three years.

Second, it decided to extend the stock-holding limit of 200 tonnes for traders beyond the Dec 31 deadline to March 31 this year. This was another step which the government used to control demand and suppy. As expected, prices started moving down. It also put pressure on sugar mills to sell more in January.

What surprised industry even more was the decision to constitute an empowered group of ministers to decide whether or not to allow exports under open general licence. Despite passage of one month, no step has been taken to even approach the ministerial group.

Meanwhile, sugar prices have slowly but certainly fallen over the past one month. From an ex-factory price of about Rs.3,000 per quintal, prices have dropped by Rs.200 rupees to around Rs.2,800 per quintal. Sugar prices in Maharashtra have fallen to Rs.2,600 per quintal.

The flip side of all this is: Sugar prices are again moving to levels that are unviable for the mills. Experts also say any further fall in prices will put the finances of the sugar mills under greater stress, especially when they are paying very high prices of around Rs.210 per quintal of sugarcane.

In the case of mills in the north, where the sugar recovery is about 9.5 percent, the production cost works to around Rs.2,900 per quintal. This figure is arrived at after considering the returns from the sale of by-products and the loss on account of levy sugar sold to government at Rs.1,850 per quintal. If this present trend persists, it is feared mills can no longer sustain the cane price of Rs.210 per quintal and arrears of farmers could mount.

This is also the time cane sowing season is under progress. Farmers will decide whether or not to continue growing sugarcane, depending on timely payments for their crop. Delayed payments may result in a shift out of cane cultivation sooner than expected and the country may witness a repeat of what it saw during the past two seasons. The country may also have to become a net importer from a net exporter.

The government did not have much choice in 2006-07 and 2007-08 when international sugar prices were lower than domestic prices in India and subsidies were needed to export sugar. That is not the case now. There is a viable global sugar market waiting to welcome exports from India. Revival of the 500,000 tonnes of export under open licence will help the sentiments to improve, ensure better cash flow to the sugar industry and avoid any unnecessary distress sale of sugar. It is in the interest of farmers as well.

Falling sugar prices can also be controlled and made to remain reasonable and viable by improving domestic demand, which can come about by removing the restriction of stock-holding limits of 200 tones on traders and allowing exports of surplus sugar.

On the consumption side, the government was estimating domestic demand at 23 million tonnes. But seeing the releases so far, consumption may not exceed 220 million tonnes by the end of the remaining seven months of this sugar year. With a rather healthy opening balance of 5 million tonnes this year and exports of about 1.2 million tonnes, there is still a surplus of over 1 million tonnes, even if we go by the government's production estimate of 24.5 million tonnes.

The domestic market is probably aware of this significant surplus of 1 million tonnes and that is the reason why sugar prices are behaving the way they are during the past one month, since the time the government decided to postpone a decision on exports.

It is important for the government to act immediately to ensure cane farmers do not suffer on account of mounting arrears. The decision should guarantee timely payments to them and keep them interested cane cultivation so that India not only continues to be self-reliant in this important commodity but also looks at the international market. We should be exporting and not importing sugar.

India must look outward to reap demographic dividend (Comment)  

By Shiv Muttoo

Recent reports indicate India may not meet its objective of a stable population base by 2045. Instead, this goal is likely to be met only by 2060 when the country's population stabilizes at 1.65 billion -- 200 million more than the original target. After 10 years of rigorous enforcement, the mark has moved forward 15 years!

The government is confident that an increasing use of contraceptives will enable India reach this target (a brilliant deduction, but one thought we had already missed the target!) and is beefing up the supply chain mechanism to reach the grassroots. But the government does not want to impose legislation to drive stricter compliance -- possibly mindful of the reaction of the "aam aadmi" (votebank!) to such imposition in the mid-1970s.

While the government wakes up to this new reality, expert estimates have suggested for some time that India will not lose much of its enthusiasm for procreation in a hurry and its population will keep growing almost till the turn of the next century (something that the future health minister will possibly realize 10 years from now!).

For the past 60 years, India has instituted a pioneering family planning programme that has halved the country's fertility rate to under three, but its population has still increased 3.5 times over this period, contributing, along with Africa, to half the world population growth in recent years.

As the "aam aadmi" grew in number post-independence, his affluence measured by per capita gross domestic product (GDP) inched up at a what economists and demographers refer to as the "Hindu rate" of 1.5 percent annually right up to 1980 -- a legacy of the Soviet-style central economic planning that advocated public investments in heavy industry, license-driven private entrepreneurship and cottage industries at the grass roots. All this while, most of the country continued to till the land.

Since 1980, however, India has steadily upped its economic growth momentum and is now poised at the cusp of greatness. The key task is to harness the rapidly growing productive (15-64 years) population base. We can learn from China, now four times our size as an economy, that derived significant advantage from pushing its productive resources -- man and machinery -- to its cities. This propped up its growth rates to vertigo-inducing levels over the last three decades as rice farmers transformed into factory workers.

China has absorbed an additional 400 million in its cities since 1980 compared to India's 200 million. Over the next three decades it is now India's turn to gainfully employ 400 million people that will flock to its cities. But given the state of Indian cities, such pressure is likely to cause them to implode.

The situation is grim, is there a solution? Well, send the migrant from Jhumri Talaiya straight to Tokyo!

Japan's population peaked at 128 million five years ago and has started declining. By 2050, Japan will have less than 100 million people and 50 million by the turn of the next century. The country's fertility rate has remained under 2.1, the level needed to sustain a low mortality population group, and remains steadfast at around 1.5 despite the government's best attempts to vitalize it.

As a result, the country will see growing labour shortages and decline in consumer demand, asset values and overall economic productivity. Meanwhile, it is estimated that Japan's GDP will crawl up from $5 trillion at present to $6 trillion by 2050. Achieving this will require unprecedented increase in productivity of the average worker, backed by huge investment in technology, both of which are unlikely to happen in the prevailing recessionary conditions. So, the economy may instead be headed south over time.

Japan desperately needs people, rural India desperately needs employment. And the opportunity is not limited to Japan alone. Countries across Europe will see their populations shrink, requiring external infusion of human resources to maintain economic productivity.

Most of India's states have a large and ever-growing base of people who have nowhere to go -- the country's farmlands cannot sustain more people, its cities have no space left in them and infrastructure investments that can potentially create more localized opportunities are not taking off as rapidly as they should be.

Now is the time for India to break free from its Nehruvian obsession with self- sufficiency and look outward. The key is to closely track global skill gap-based opportunities, prime up the currently unemployable rural mass and invade greener pastures globally -- the grass on this side of the fence has all been eaten up!

Raja's arrest should be first step in cleaning the system (Comment)  

By Amulya Ganguli

Andimuthu Raja's rise and fall underline the triumph and tragedy of Indian democracy. The ascent of this 47-year-old from an ordinary Dalit family in rural Tamil Nadu to be a cabinet minister at the centre points to the opportunities which the electoral system provides to people at all levels. At the same time, his incarceration on charges of malfeasance is a reminder of the temptations which disfigure the political and administrative world.

Raja's Dalit background is an important segment of the story because it emphasises the unwholesome impact of the social scene on politics. Raja's rise is not really the result of his skills as an occasional poet in Tamil, which supposedly impressed the DMK boss, M. Karunanidhi, sufficiently to make him a party member. A far more relevant factor was his origin.

The DMK's need to emphasise its concern for the socially disadvantaged made it imperative for the party to project this young lawyer from the backwaters of Perambalur as one of its future stars. It is the opportunistic pretension involved in this kind of caste politics which propelled Raja to the national scene and is still making the DMK stand by him by claiming that his arrest does not prove his guilt.

If factors like these which have nothing to do with merit or efficiency did not play any part in the making and unmaking of Raja's career, he might not have made it to the Union cabinet as telecom minister at all. But having done so, he was apparently overwhelmed by the extent of the power he was able to wield.

While the social angle explaining Raja's upward mobility gives an insight into one aspect of the political scene, his continuation in office despite mounting allegations of dubious practices against him stresses another. If the Manmohan Singh government was not dependent on the DMK (along with other allies) for its survival in office, it might have been able to call Raja to account much earlier than it ultimately did.

But since the DMK's need to save its Dalit mascot made it hold the Damocles sword of withdrawal of support over the government's head, the prime minister had no alternative but to delay taking punitive action against Raja. Like the compulsions of his social origin, the requirement of keeping a coalition in power made the government, and the Congress, turn a blind eye to the supposed misdeeds of his ministry.

Although the government and the party have finally given the green signal to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to arrest Raja, they have predictably exposed themselves to the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) charge of doing too little too late.

It is obvious that if Manmohan Singh had acted with similar sternness in November 2007, when he first called upon Raja to follow transparent procedures in the allocation of second generation spectrum technology to service providers, the government and the Congress might have been able to avoid the opprobrium they have earned in recent times.

It was only after the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) found lapses in the spectrum allocations in 2008 and then both the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) and the Supreme Court drew attention to the suspected violations of telecom policy that Raja resigned in November last year.

But by then the government had lost much of its credibility although, strangely, Manmohan Singh himself escaped relatively unhurt, as the certificates of good conduct given to him by Nobel laureate Amartya Sen and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar showed.

Sen blamed the "system" for the scam, saying blaming Manmohan Singh alone would not help since another person would simply take his place even as the existing arrangements remained unchanged and prone to misuse. Even Janata Party president Subramanian Swamy, whose petition to the Supreme Court led to the judicial intervention in the spectrum scam, absolved Manmohan Singh personally of any blame.

There is little doubt, however, that even as the prime minister's Teflon personality has deflected criticism, he cannot expect such kid-glove treatment indefinitely unless the government is seen to act quickly and determinedly against the accused - and not only against 'spectrum' Raja alone. It will be widely hoped, therefore, that Raja's arrest is the first step towards cleansing the system, which has lately been seen to be groaning under the weight of sleaze.

Apart from the Raja episode, there have been scandals involving Suresh Kalmadi, the former organising secretary of the Commonwealth Games, as well as former Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan, who has been implicated in a housing society scam in Mumbai. Both have had to resign from their posts, as did former minister of state for external affairs Shashi Tharoor in connection with the Indian Premier League (IPL). But resignations alone will not stop the clamour for more purposeful action at a time when the familiar image of politicians being corrupt gains ground.

The government has also shot itself in the foot by the curious decision to appoint P.J. Thomas central vigilance commissioner despite charges pending against him in yet another scam and despite the objections of the leader of opposition in Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj.

Similarly, the refusal on technical grounds to reveal the identity of those with black money whose names have been given by a German bank to the government has also exposed the latter to the charge of hiding the beneficiaries. In both the cases, the Supreme Court's intervention has pushed the government on to the backfoot.