fatalism of a power breakdown
the last days of the Soviet empire, when ordinary Muscovites discovered
the virtues of street protest, a frequently heard slogan was: "Mother
Russia, give us lights." This was a reference to the perennial shortage
of cigarettes in the socialist dreamland. It was also a comment on the
Soviet economy: all bluster but incapable of mass producing as low technology
a commodity as cigarettes. On the second day of the millennium, Mother
India may have heard similar complaints from citizens of Delhi and six
other northern states. As the zonal power grid collapsed and India groped
in the dark, as it has so often, the same set of convoluted excuses was
offered-states drawing excess power, ill-maintained equipment, cascade
tripping and so on. Those with long memories recalled that the power sector
was among the first to be opened up to foreign investment. A decade has
passed since; for India it's still darkness at dawn.
politics-of power can scarcely be done justice to in this space. It would
suffice to iterate three basic questions every thinking Indian, the sort
of person who is forced into a candlelight dinner even when he doesn't
desire one, is asking. First, why bother with the Lashkar-e-Toiba's threat
to attack the prime minister's residence when the local electricity authority
can render it powerless, literally, for a good half-hour? Second, if India's
peak demand is 73,000 MW and generating capacity is over 1,00,000 MW,
why are there power cuts at all? The usual suspects-65 per cent generation,
20 per cent pilferage-have been untamed simply too long. Third, regions
like the eastern states and Maharashtra-at least officially-are power
surplus. So why isn't the generating potential of producers there servicing
the rest of the country? In theory India has a national grid; in practice
it has a national joke. Maybe that's what they call black humour.
in the Faking
IHC believe in 'India's tradition of scepticism'?
discourse in India, it has often been lamented, prefers off the cuff rhetoric
to intellectual argument. It is a disease even Nobel laureates are not
immune from. On January 2, Amartya Sen, redoubtable economist and peripatetic
philosopher, inaugurated the Indian History Congress (IHC) in Calcutta
and emphasised "India's tradition of scepticism" and of "expression
of hereticism and heterodoxy". He also attacked the political "manipulation"
of history. Fair enough; but keeping Sen company were Jyoti Basu and Buddhadev
Bhattacharya, former and current communist chief ministers of West Bengal.
If there was an irony lurking somewhere, it must have been lost on the
sombre listeners. That the gathering itself comprised an academic establishment
virtually institutionalised by the late Nurul Hasan, Indira Gandhi's education
minister, and dedicated to the career advancement of fellow travellers
would have been too minor an irritant for Sen. Frankly, if the IHC is
appreciative of and open to contrarianism, Michael Jackson is the Master
of Trinity College.
By its every
nature history is interpretative and subjective. A contest of ideas and
a certain debate and engagement can only enrich the subject. These profundities
are of course beyond controversy. What is not is the selective nature
of state sponsorship of "schools" of history. A leftist clique
dominated historical research, grants, sinecures, junkets and PhD theses-appraisal
committees for half a century. Today it is getting its comeuppance. The
gainers, like the losers, are a bunch of mediocre academics hankering
after government privileges. It is an unedifying battle the truly enlightened
would be wise to rise above. Whatever made Sen join it?