11th March 2001

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A non-starter

Martyred rock?

A non-starter

If one thing can be said at first glance of the 2001 budget, it is that it's not distinguished by being adventurous. It may have been delivered after much deliberation, but in a paradoxical sense, it is a panic budget as well as an over cautious budget.

There is no Greenspan in our fiscal establishment, so nobody knows the real moving hand behind the budget. But, from its dour looks, it appears as if the budget had only one overarching concern, which was tot up the figures.

But, debit and credit is the stuff of book-keepers. A budget is a document of policy, which has to look to the future and not to the immediate exigencies of the present.

Even the most purblind opponents of the government would grant that the state exchequer is stretched to perilous levels due to the protean levels of arms purchases that took place in 2000-2001. With some assistance from the IMF and the World Bank, the financial czars of government have managed to come up with several measures to bridge the deficit. Almost every conceivable tax has been upped, and there has been certainly considerable innovation in discovering all types of taxes that could be raised for revenue, to close that gaping space between the debit and credit.

But that's home economics. The budget has failed in coming up with a plan to energize productivity, or in the corporate jargon, to "kick-start'' business. All it has done is to retard growth potential further by increasing corporate taxes.

In that sense, it's a panic budget which sought to plug the holes, but never grappled with the real issues of productivity and economic innovation in the face of adversity and crisis. It is elementary that the only way to inject life into a battered economy is to take risks and hope that the private sector follows up.

But, this is a dour budget, that played safe, took no risks, and slapped both the private sector and the masses across their collective face.

Martyred rock?

A reader writes, with a little bit of tongue in cheek albeit, that if the Taleban was really serious about destroying idols, they should have started with the Big Black rock in Mecca, the Kaaba. After all, according to the Taleban, a "rock is a rock is a rock is a rock.''

The reader goes on to explain that "whether a rock is shaped in a cube or a figure, it is an Idol.''

Maybe it's not the most subtle way of introducing the point to the Taleban, but even to the most intransigent of groups, hopefully that logic should make some sense.

Waging a campaign against the Taleban against its fanatic efforts to destroy some of the most culturally valuable edifices in Afghanistan, on the other hand, seems to be like knocking ones head against a rock. The Taleban is granite it's deaf, mute and is a monolith. All types of psychology have been tried on the Taleban, but the Taleban still is recalcitrant. If this was a hostage crisis, the powers of the world would have definitely engineered a SWAT type raid to save the victims.

But the victim here is art, culture and global heritage. The Taleban has almost foisted a first on the world, and the reaction is one of utter disbelief and helplessness. Despite all the laments of UNESCO, Kofi Annan and the world's cultural elite, the Buddha statues of Bamiyan seemed destined to end up as blasted - martyred works of art.

By way of justification or excuse the Taleban say that very few countries are concerned about the 1.7 million refugees in Afghanistan while they are protesting strongly against the destruction of rocks and stones. The point is taken but it cannot justify the blatant vandalism.

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