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IE 1968-running

Over the last 50 years, a few happenings grabbed our attention. And we have taken a strong stand on some of these. Here’s an incomplete list.
THE teenage YEARS

The 20th annual issue (Jan-Feb 1990), a 200-page tome began with a dramatic statement. Editor Viswanathan said that the most signifiant aspect of the last 20 years was neither the Green Revolution nor Pokhran 1; neither the launch of Aryabhatta, nor the giant leap in Communications; neither the spectacular achievements in the petro sector nor the revolutionary changes in the electronic industry; neither the massive spread of television network nor the new-found thrust in exports; … but something else.

Momentous though these were, the most momentous of them all was the growing stature of the Indian voter who survived the innumerable attempts made to reduce it: through the emergency in 1975-77, through the powerful mafia that developed rigging, booth capturing and intimidation into an art and through the growing money power. These decades were truly marked by the power of the ballot.

Silver jubilee and the sea change

“Morarji Desai to Manmohan Singh, the sea change in budget making,” said the cover of the silver jubilee edition in March 1993.
A review of the 25 years under the caption, “Hand rickshaws to hi-tech. Yes, the growth is impressive” was an exhaustive survey, recalling the rule of Indira Gandhi, arrival of C N Annadurai, the brief glow of George Fernandes, takeover of the kazhagam movement first by M Karunanidhi and then by M G Ramachandran, the growth of industries (“The Seventies almost fully belonged to BHEL”), the increasing sway of television, the opening of the airwaves to private players, the magic of Sam Pitroda and the consumer revolution, integration through music, and more.”
The editor concluded on a moving note:

We dedicate this Silver Jubilee Number to the millions who dreamed and toiled to reach this goal.

Ruby jubilee

IE celebrated completion of 40 years, with the Editor recording with pride the completion of four decades of this unique publication, the only one of its genre in the southern region.

We have changed our focus from presenting economic news to in-depth research, analyses and comments on developments in various facets of the economy through experts. From our next issue IE will be a monthly with more pages and much wider coverage of the economy.

The refurbished May 2008 issue made this promise to its devoted readers, “..dailies vie with one another on extensive coverage of politics, disaster, crime, page 3 celebrities, etc. Development news is not considered essential for expanding readership. One thus sees more reportage of farmers’ suicides rather than on constructive research, analysis and solutions to address issues of rural poverty. IE has been devoting a lot of attention to the imperative of improving farmers’ incomes through productivity increases. IE will continue its focus on such issues.”
The promise has been kept.

AGRICULTURE

A YEAR into its existence, the cover story on 1 January 1969 expressed concern over the tension prevailing in the rice bowl of Thanjavur because of an agitation led by leftist parties over farm wages. Urging the new DMK government to bring law and order under control, the cover which was accompanied by an apt cartoon by ace cartoonist Thanu spoke of how food prices in Tamil Nadu were rising while in the rest of the country they were showing a downward trend.
Ten months later Neil Armstrong became the first man to set foot on the moon.

The white revolution and coops

“Time has not withered the infinite charms of India’s Milkman, V Kurien. That instant wit, that sharp criticism of political and bureaucratic megalomania that pride and faith in the cooperatives and that penchant for lampooning the big and the mighty were all there. If anything, with continued success, these have further sharpened.” So began a profile of the white revolution that Dr Kurien was instrumental.
Kurien felt strongly against permitting foreign companies to set up business, in several areas where Indian enterprise has excelled.

Do we need MNCs to produce butter? The finance minister has said that the purpose of liberalisation is to remove industry from the shackles of bureaucracy. I am all for reducing the profile of the government. If the aim is to reduce the size of the government or expenditure of the government, I am all for it. But none of these has been done. All that so far been done in the name of liberalisation, is to allow foreign companies to come here to fry potatoes, to make hamburgers and those coloured liquids. Do we need foreign technology for these? Or to produce butter? thundered Kurien.

Sustainable production possible

Issues connected with agriculture were never too far from the pages of IE.
In an absorbing commentary on the emerging world trade scenario relating to food security, Dr M S Swaminathan asked himself three questions and gave the answers.

….First, can we produce enough food to feed the growing population? My answer is yes, provided we take steps both to enable resource poor farming families to derive advantage from the untapped yield reservoir existing even at currently available levels of technology. Second, can we produce food in a sustainable manner, without damage to the basic environmental capital stocks of land, water, forests, biodiversity and the atmosphere? My answer is again yes, provided political leaders are willing to enforce discipline in the use of natural resources. Third, can we ensure that food is accessible to all? Yes, provided we promote high consumption through both protective social security measures and greater opportunities for skilled employment in farm and off-farm sectors.
“Thus, I am cautiously optimistic about our agricultural future. My optimism stems from the receptivity and innovativeness of our farm families and the creativity of our young agricultural scientists.

ACMF

The issue was devoted to a project IE had been vigorously campaigning for: to involve business leaders to look at agriculture. A galaxy of great names from different disciplines witnessed a demonstration of scientific farming techniques at the Gemini Farms at Padappai, 44 km south of Chennai. The 40 odd visitors were taken round by S Balasubramanian of Gemini Farms, and Dr Lux Lakshmanan, Director, California Agriculture Consulting. The visitors later met for a three-hour discussion under the title, Agriculture Advantage India with Ms Ahluwalia presiding, ACMF was born.
“GM technology: the myth and reality,” said the cover story. A day-long IE seminar had one clear message: let scientists show the way on the efficacy of this technology. Most of the scientist-participants stressed the need for carefully moving forward with the use of this technology. One US-based scientist told, “You are a live witness that even after eating GM food you have survived.” He urged India to adopt the technology without fear. Three months later, in January, then Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar announced the Modi government’s decision to permit research and field trials in genetically modified seed technology.

The cover said it clearly: Doubling output, 500 MT by 2025, not just desirable but feasible. “At present rates of growth, doubling food output may take 25 years. If we can achieve this in ten years, rural incomes and prosperity will improve dramatically, migration to cities will reduce and economic growth will increase.”

POLITICS

The year that was: 1977

The issue marked one year of Emergency rule by Ms Indira Gandhi. A review of the plus and minus points said: “1976 was marked by two important changes which were qualitative in nature and will have a major long-term impact in the future.

First, the year witnessed the coming of age of the population control policy, with the Central and state administrations adopting determined postures never seen before in the many years that family planning has been an important slogan in the country. Secondly, a development intimately concerned with the concept of the future of the cities was the massive rehabilitation of seven lakh people from the slums of Delhi in colonies outside the city proper.
“On the purely economic front, the two bright aspects were the intensification of the exploration for oil—with Bombay High supplies arriving for refining in Indian plants—and the record performance on the farm front. The introduction of the urban land ceiling law was one of the positive measures. As the law stands it could provide a windfall for lawyers.

A stunning election later the 15 April issue was devoted to the defeat of the Congress under Mrs Gandhi. An exhaustive analysis by Editor Viswanathan under the headline, “Tasks for new government,” welcomed some of the initiatives of the Desai government. One incisive comment stood out: why is it a wheat dominated policy? asked the headline and said: Wheat accounts for a fourth of total foodgrains production in India against some 40 per cent accounted for by rice. Yet, because of the power of the wheat lobby, the foodgrains policy appears synonymous with wheat policy.

The 30 July issue hailed the election of Sanjiva Reddy as President. In his widely read column My jaundiced view under the pseudonym Coloured Glasses, a journalist wrote: “there is some natural justice in Sanjiva Reddy making the grade at last. There is no shame in having lost once.”

Assassination of Indira Gandhi

Tragedy struck India. The combined 15-30 October 1984 issue paid tribute to Indira Gandhi, whose assassination shook the country. Describing her as a colossus, the cover story spoke of how she pulled India out of an economic morass. Displaying extraordinary political acumen Mrs Gandhi split the Congress, forged regional alliances with parties, and swept the election in 1971. She showed equal daring in foreign policy as she helped the forces of liberation to defeat the occupation army and saw the emergence of Bangladesh. Soon began “the hard days of 1972-75,” culminating in the imposition of the Emergency. The defeat in 1977 was short-lived and she stormed back to power in 1980. Then followed four ‘glorious years’ before the assassin’s bullet felled her. The verdict on her: under Indira Gandhi, India emerged a confident and strong nation.”
IE reported a positive outcome in the annual issue of 1986. “Economy on the march” proclaimed the exhaustive editorial review. Mentioning Rajiv Gandhi’s interests in global peace, it said, “In the Eighties the economy has grown reasonably well. As time is running out fast, the leadership should step up its drive for stimulating production. In this it is better to be selective, with concentration on areas in which the country’s resources-endowment is ideal.”

The annual issue of 1987 returned to the rule of Gandhi and said:  In less than two years Rajiv Gandhi seems to have lost much of the enormous goodwill he had at the start of his term. Look at the developments since February: arrest of Gurumurthy, the Fairfax affair, resignation of A P Venkateswaran, the submarine scandal, the Bofors issue, the resignation of V P Singh, the widening gulf between the President and the Prime Minister and imposition of President’s rule in Punjab.

The quiquennium 1988-93 saw the economy reaching its nadir in fiscal management. The Bofors gun scandal caused the defeat of the Congress, heralding long years of coalition governance. The short-lived government of V P Singh implemented the Mandal Commission report on backward classes. Its partnership with the BJP broke and Chandrasekhar became the new Prime Minister. This was followed by the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi and the Congress riding the sympathy wave, winning enough seats to be the largest party in the Lok Sabha.
The Congress picked a dark horse. P V Narasimha Rao who in turn picked a senior bureaucrat, Dr Manmohan Singh, as the finance minister. The government made fundamental structural changes. The country launched on a path of liberalisation of the economy ending over four decades of state control of economic management.
The editorial in the January 1996 issue lamented the absence of a political consensus on national policies. It said, “…The penultimate year of the elections, understandably, has been characterised by political parties looking at issues almost entirely with an eye on the elections. If one was concerned over the lack of commitment to discuss issues on the floor of the house and arrive at decisions on the basis of these, the closing days of the year witnessed parliamentary procedures touching new laws.”

Enter Deve Gowda

The 15 June 1996 cover story, “The tasks are well cut-out” was a review of the general election and the installation of the Deve Gowda government under a coalition comprising several regional parties.

It is a God-given opportunity for Deve Gowda. The tenuous character of his government should goad him to perform and not merely to survive as prime minister. Paradoxically, the very weak support base is his strength: with almost no MP willing to face the electorate again immediately, Gowda should not be averse to taking hard decisions that would correct several of the structural imbalances both in the polity and the economy.

2004 was when “the philosopher becomes king,” as the cover of the 30 May issue of that year proclaimed. Sonia Gandhi famously listened to her conscience to appoint Dr Manmohan Singh as prime minister. The cover story said: “On several occasions, IE has expressed the desirability of Singh being entrusted with this responsibility. His erudition, long and varied experience in administration, his grasp of development issues, his proximity to the power centre for 35 long years, the formidable reputation he earned as the finance minister during 1991-96, and, most importantly, his humane approach, are assets unmatched by any one.”
The landmark visit of George W Bush to India and the decision to cancel his planned address to Parliament was one of two highlights of the 15 March 2006 issue. The second was the budget for 2006-07 presented by finance minister P Chidambaram which set 2010 as the target date for introducing a unified tax on goods and services (TGS), the precursor to the GST introduced during 2017 financial year.

“Time to focus on development,” read the cover (May 2006) with a photograph of M Karunanidhi swearing in a third time as chief minister. There was a riveting article titled “The great Tamilian tamasha” by P K Doraiswamy, IAS (retired) . The gist: paying a voter today for voting tomorrow is bribery, but paying him tomorrow for voting today is an invincible manifesto!”

Modi leads BJP to big majority

History beckons Modi, proclaimed the cover of the June issue which came after the general election that saw the BJP led by Narendra Modi secure a majority in the Lok Sabha, breaking three decades of rule at the Centre by coalitions.

ECONOMICS

Media

On occasions, IE took an inward look and commented on developments relating to the media. The 15 September 1971 issue provided one such occasion. In a strong commentary titled “Confusion over diffused ownership of newspapers,” PRS said, “Apart from their being totally indefensible, by reason of their attack on an important fundamental right, the proposals of Mrs. Nandini Satpathi regarding the ownership and control of newspapers hardly merit detailed comment at this stage.”
The veteran journalist concluded, “Between a monopoly in the hands of the government and a monopoly in the hands of private business interests or individual proprietors, the former is by far the worse evil.

Southern cooperation

The need for cooperation among the southern states, both for their mutual benefit and in the national interest, has been a theme that has dominated the five decades.
The April 1983 issue had occasion to hail the first demonstration of southern cooperation. The occasion was the persistent water crisis in Madras. The Focus editorial referred to “the scheme to bring water from Krishna river through Andhra Pradesh” and said that this “assumes tremendous significance.” It added, “Though Mrs. Gandhi persuaded Andhra, Karnataka and Maharashtra through which Krishna passes, to spare five thousand million cubic feet each of water from their respective shares and announced their consent in February 1976, there was little progress on evolving a workable scheme. The advent of N T Rama Rao as Chief Minister changed the complexion dramatically. The initiative taken by Karnataka’s Ramakrishna Hegde in bringing together the southern Chief Ministers further improved the prospects for solution to inter-state problems through mutual consultation. It should go to the credit of Chief Ministers N T Rama Rao and M G Ramachandran to have shown the will and determination in signing this agreement.”
The May issue had the Krishna water accord signing on the cover and called it Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M G Ramachandran’s magnum opus.

Gas for South: pipeline or pipe dream

The 1991 cover story had this introductory paragraph: “It is a now or never chance for the South. In contrast to Maharashtra and Gujarat which are keen on expanding the area of utility for gas and with the success of the HBJ pipeline triggering demand for extending and expanding its role, surprisingly the entire South continues to be impervious to the myriad benefits that gas can bring to boost its stagnant economy. The very volume of gas presently being flared at the Bombay High, estimated around 12 million cubic metres a day, if utilised can pay for the cost of a pipeline to the south in three years.” Drew attention to the mega projects launched during the 1989 market boom – Reliance Petrochemicals, Essar Gujarat, Binda Agrochemicals and Usha Rectifiers – were all based on gas. The HBJ pipeline laid to take gas from the western oilfields through Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi through a distance of nearly 2000 km and involving an investment of Rs.2000 crore, proved what gas could do to catalise large scale investments.”
IE’s last attempt to bring the focus of the southern states to this issue was made at a seminar it organised in Chennai in December 2009 and reported in detail in the January 2010 issue as a cover story. By way of an introduction, the Editor’s Note said:

In preparing for the seminar on the effective utilisation of natural gas from the KG Basin, I was struck by the lack of coordinated action among political leaders of the south to safeguard and advance regional interests. The gas grid for south is a case in point. For one thing, the reserves are really large and production bountiful. Thus there will be enough and more for meeting the needs of several states. There is no need for any single state to be concerned about non-availability.

A veritable cover story

The first issue of 1978 was devoted to the “the newspaper business, with special reference to Tamil Nadu.” The Editor took at swipe at Times of India.

Times of India asks the question: “what is the reason for some papers having more advertisements than others?” And answers: “It is their wider circulation, a fact which makes them a more effective and attractive medium for those who wish to publicise their wares.” What logic! What reasoning! If this premise is valid, large newspapers like The Times can so much as register themselves as efficient mailing address systems for merchandising and not as newspapers.

In an adjoining a scholarly article veteran G N Acharya had much to say on the Press. His conclusion, is quite chastening and as valid today as it was then: “The Press today has become nothing more nor less than a typical product of the pervasive consumer culture. It is supported and sustained by the consumer industry, which includes films, sports and other entertainments such as miracle working god men. It must cater to the needs of the consumer society which feeds it. It must reflect that culture and abide by its rules, limitations and unstated prohibitions. This is the essential condition for its survival and prosperity.”
Reported in detail in the August 2012 issue was a judgement in a long drawn out defamation case filed by Addison Paints and Chemicals Ltd against the Editor. After reproducing one of the two impugned articles, the issue explained the complete background to the case and the heroic way in which IE’s learned counsel presented the case for freedom of the press and presented excerpts from the judgment which dismissed the case and upheld IE’s principled stand. It was a landmark legal battle that won the right for the media to be critical on corporate failures and shenanigans.

Going underground

The issue of an underground mass rapid transit system was the cover story in the 30 September-14 October 1996 issue. Under the headline, “Time to think of underground rail systems”, the Editor reverted to urban mass transit. He wrote: “It appears a distant dream, investing around Rs.500 crore per km for constructing underground tunnel rail systems. But transporting the teeming millions in mega cities by an archaic surface transport system will become nearly impossible. Today technologies are available for quick, time-bound construction. Accessing global financial institutions for long term funding for such an essential infrastructure appears quite meaningful in the context of the growing chaos and jam-locks in Indian cities.”
The article went on to describe the systems in beneficial operation in the global mega cities such as London. The rapidly expanding urban centres and the even more rapidly expanding vehicle population would render most cities impossible to move around by the turn of the century, he said.

Perhaps over the next 10 years the emphasis can be on surface transportation, increasing the dependence on the MRTS and extension of the rail system wherever feasible. For instance, the line coming up to the ICF annexe can be extended through Anna Nagar, Koyambedu, Virugambakkam, K K Nagar and linked with the Madras beach section near St Thomas Mount. This will provide for a circular rail system that will make it feasible to move by rail from one part of the city to another using minimal bus transportation. A single ticketing system for the bus and rail as obtains in metros like London and Paris can also be thought of.

THE YEARS AHEAD

As IE steps into its 51st year, it hopes to tell the story of the fourth industrial revolution that is gripping the world. It expects to write about the three big trends: automation, artificial intelligence and micro innovation which will move the world of tomorrow.

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