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Writing history from the Indian point of view

It is our responsibility to write our history. How long are we going to blame the British? (who saw it from their point of view).” Expectedly this statement of Home Minister Amit Shah, at an international seminar at the Banaras Hindu University, has received flak from certain sections. The Hindu, a known critic of the Modi-Shah government, understandably took exception to Amit Shah’s call to ‘amend history’ as militating against rigorous historiography.

However, there is a lot of truism in Shah’s comments. Look at the narration of history by sections of writers in Tamil Nadu. The glorious contributions of the Cholas under Raja Raja Chola or of the Pallavas under Narasimha Varma Pallava/Mamalla Pallva were spread through novels by the brilliant Tamil writer Kalki. While the narration was based on historical facts, a lot of embellishments were made to create a lively fiction.

In interpreting history by novelists and politicians, there is the understandable one-sided glorification of their heros. One will see in the descriptions of the Tamil classic Silappadikaram by M P Sivagnanam and M Karunanidhi, or of Veerapandiya Kattabomman by Sivagnanam a rich measure of adulation and glorification of the central characters.

The Pallava king was a tall hero for Kalki. The Kannadigas cannot be faulted for treating him as a villain who sought revenge against the Chalukyas and razed the capital Vatapi to the ground. Another famous writer, Tamilvanan, described Kattabomman as the bandit Getti Bommu and carried a long tirade against him. In a caste-ridden society, there is a competition to throw up caste leaders as tall heroes. Just peruse the writings of Vanniyar leader S Ramadoss or Thevar leader TTV Dhinakaran.

In Tamil Nadu, information on the deeds of familiar historical characters has largely been the work of novelists Kalki, Karunanidhi, Chandilyan, Vikraman, Balakumaran and a large number of script writers for films in the last 80 years.

Serious work by British writers with historical and archaeological expertise and by some of the famous Indian historians like K A Nilakanta Sastri or Kuppuswamy Sastri have not been widely read.

For years history lessons in school textbooks largely dealt with the Moghul period, ie. from 16th century onwards and on British India. The glorious contributions of the Pallavas, Cholas, or the Pandyan kings of Tamil Nadu in art, architecture, systems of governance, local administration, expertise in building ships and seafaring have not been adequately publicized.

History has been rewritten from the point of view of the parties in power with little effort to stop these from distorting facts.

We have in abundance ‘secular’ historians, leftist historians and now Hindutva-historians. Each one of these sections, understandably, accuses the others as sectarian and distorters of history. There is a lot to ponder over Amit Shah’s exhortation to historians to expand knowledge on the legacies of the Maurya, Vijayanagar, the Gupta and Maratha empires. But how to ensure an objective narration?

UII, excelling in health cover

“The government’s big initiatives in health insurance are a game-changer. The Tamil Nadu Chief Minister’s Comprehensive Health Insurance Scheme has been highly successful and beneficial to a large section of the population. It has been adopted by several other states including Maharashtra and Gujarat,” said Girish Radhakrishnan (GR), Chairman cum Managing Director, United India Insurance Co Ltd (UII).

UII has the lead responsibility for administering the Chief Minister’s insurance scheme along with other public sector insurance companies.

GR, heading the second largest general insurance provider in the country, brings with him rich experience. His earlier assignments included a four-and-a-half-year stint as the head of operations in UK for New India Assurance that has operations spread across the globe.

GR pointed to the limit to expenditure of 19.5 per cent of premium income imposed on public sector insurance companies as a constraint: “Private insurance companies offer steep discounts and incentives to attract business. Thus there is no level playing field,” he said.

The three sectors – motor, health, and agriculture – dominate the general insurance field. Agriculture insurance started off well with several insurance companies expanding their activities. With the dip in agriculture growth in the last couple of years, this business growth has been affected. GR expressed the hope for revival with a good monsoon experienced across the country.

For large periods in the last couple of years UII had been operating without a CMD. There was also a much larger outgo on claims due to natural calamities like the unprecedented floods of Kerala. Consequently, the company suffered a dip in gross direct premium to Rs 16,420 crore during 2018-19 and to losses.
In a recent issue, IE has been pointing to the relatively smaller size of Indian companies and has been supportive of the government’s efforts to merge companies engaged in same or similar lines of business like banks, oil, insurance… The government has proposed to merge the three public sector insurance companies – United India, National Insurance and Oriental Insurance, which together had premium income of around Rs 45,000, crore.

With a strong infrastructure in Chennai and with the largest premium income among the three, UII has the credentials to lead the merged entity. Its record over the last eight decades demand this.

Welcome improvements in third party insurance

IE has been pointing to a very low level of compliance of the mandatory third-party insurance. Almost a decade ago, a senior manager of United India Insurance pointed to such a lacuna spread across commercial vehicles, cars, and two-wheelers. It was particularly high in regard to two-wheelers; an estimated 60 per cent of vehicles were running without third-party insurance.

A reason for this was the lack of coordination among the transport departments of the states, Centre and the insurance companies. With the great advances made in IT, why insurance companies could not take care of renewals? IRDA with its vast database could have attended to this.

The new Motor Vehicles Act has proposed higher penalties for not taking the third-party insurance cover. Aided further by stepped up checking, there is welcome compliance. Recent reports suggested a 38 per cent increase in third-party motor insurance policies in September. This is despite a drop in sales by around a quarter during the month. If fuller compliance is ensured for the compulsory third-party cover by commercial vehicles, cars and two-wheelers, there will be no need for the frequent and steep increases in insurance tariff.

Over the last two decades the Indian information technology sector has recorded spectacular growth. Software companies have been flourishing through export of its capabilities to high profit. Surely, it is within India’s software competence to introduce a system to automate the notice for renewals and ensure compliance.

Manage property taxes through PPP

Remember the delays and corruption that afflicted the issue of passports for long? The entire system underwent a remarkable change after entrusting the job to TCS. Taking excellent recourse to information technology the hassle-free system has resulted in a seamless process of applying and receiving passports.
Indian IT companies have been flourishing on offering a vast range of services to prosperous corporations and governments in several other countries. Their ability to get handsome revenue has resulted in over 90 per cent of their services going to foreign clients.

I cite a service offering scope for public-private partnership, the collection of property taxes by the Greater Corporation of Chennai. With the expansion of the geographical area of the Corporation, a large number of panchayats in the peripheral areas has been added. Data on the house properties, their extant and details of owners and tenants need updation. The data suffers from several defects: the number of individual properties, actual measurements of these, taxes levied and collected, payments made, extent of arrears…all need update updation and correction.

There is scope for entrusting these tasks to large IT companies. The Corporation has been involving large private companies for the collection, transfer and disposal of garbage. It is equally important to focus on the revenue aspects. Such an approach will provide more time for the corporation to monitor and work on improving the system.

Akshaya Patra: welcome to Tamil Nadu

I have commended the phenomenal work done by Akshaya Patra Foundation managed by ISKCON. The foundation provides nutritious, freshly cooked mid-day meals to around 18 lakh children in 16,856 schools across 12 states and 2 Union Territories on all school days. A highly professional management ensures preparation in large quantities in well-equipped, modern central kitchens and delivers through a large fleet of vehicles to clocklike precision. The inspiration obviously would have come from TN Chief Minister M G Ramachandran’s mid-day meal programme introduced in July 1982.
The long gap between the dinner the previous night and lunch the next day impacts the health of a large number of poor children who start attending the school with empty stomach. The Greater Chennai Corporation and the Akshaya Patra Foundation have joined hands to provide free, nutritious breakfast to around 5000 students. Already 16 schools benefit from this philanthropy. This should be a boon to the poor students to improve their health and hence their attention in listening and comprehending what they are taught, as also to take greater interest in sports.

TN Governor Banwarilal Purohit and Additional Chief Secretary R Rajagopal deserve appreciation for this initiative.

Even while expanding this service to more schools, the TN government would do well to collaborate more closely with the Akshaya Patra Foundation to improve the quality and service content of its mid-day meal programme and even offload cooking and delivery to its modern central kitchen.

Former Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa introduced the Amma Canteens in 2013 that sought to provide a full meal for less than Rs 10. It started off extremely well and was emulated by a few other states. It was a boon to large numbers of migrant labour, contract workers… But its popularity has diminished with complaints on poor quality and service. This extremely beneficial welfare scheme should be maintained and improved upon. The government should look into the possibility of collaborating with Akshaya Patra in this effort. This would call for supplying the basic raw materials at subsidised rates and also of good quality.

China operates 6 out of 10 busiest container ports

In the cover feature on China in our October issue we pointed to the China’s spree of acquisitions of port facilities across the globe as part of its Belt and Road initiative.

China’s, emergence as the largest manufacturer of industrial and consumer goods and as the largest global trader, is helped by her gaining control over ports across the globe. The country operates six of the world’s ten busiest container ports. The liberal support extended by the Chinese government to the state-owned company Cosco Shipping Holdings with liberal bank credit and guarantees, has helped in the phenomenal growth of the company in just a decade. I pointed to the strong presence of Cosco in Europe.

Cosco through its subsidiary, Hong Kong-based Orient Overseas International (OOIL), signed a 40-year lease with the City of Long Beach, America’s second largest, highly sophisticated and automated container handling operations. China also attempted to acquire a former US navy port facility.
The Trump administration has woken up to the increasing level of competition offered by the economic clout of China as also the possible security threat. Recently it has forced Cosco to sell the Port of Long Beach acquired by it. (Source: American Thinker)

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