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|August 9, 2001||
The Enrons of the rich world
It is no more a secret that there was some funny business in the finalisation of the Enron power project. Both the Congress and Shiv Sena governments in Maharashtra had gone out of their way to show them favours. It was equally clear that the two parties would one day be taken to task for having preferred personal and party interests to the nation's. Yet Enron is adopting a righteous stand and asking the government to buy the $ 2.9 billion project.
India is justified to give vent to unhappiness because the price of Enron's power is three times the one charged by an Indian-run company. Having given an undertaking to buy the electricity from Enron, New Delhi, however upset, can't probably rescind the agreement. But the outburst by US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs Christina Rocca is not understandable. That she has done it because she belongs to the country where Enron has its headquarters show her subjective approach. She has said India will not get foreign investment until the Enron 'dispute' was settled 'amicably' and that all multinationals are 'waiting' for the outcome.
If this is not arm-twisting, then what is? Rocca was on a 'familiarisation' tour of India. She must have realised the sanctions have made practically no difference. They have been unproductive. It cannot be America's case that if the multinationals do not invest, India would come around to accept anything against its national interest.
True, the multinationals can fill some gaps which India may not be able to do on its own in the near future. It is only a question of time. India has the potential -- and manpower -- to convert the country into an economic giant. But to barter independence for a pot of money has never been the nation's ethos. Its long struggle for freedom confirms that. In any case, someday some government will husband the resources to pull the country out of the mire of underdevelopment and set it on the road to progress.
Rocca and the multinationals should study Enron's attitude from the beginning. It would be a lesson for them to understand India. Enron was arrogant from day one. The agreement with the Maharashtra State Electricity Board was one-sided. Who forced the Maharashtra and central governments may never be known. But it is known from Enron's statement that it had to spend Rs 33 crore in 'educating' people on the project. The amount is too low when one finds the Memorandum of Understanding was signed within five days of Enron's arrival in Mumbai.
One can find hundreds of faults with India and Enron can justifiably point towards those. But my argument is different. Are the multinationals interested in making a quick buck or making the buyer feel he has not been exploited? Exploitation reminds us of the days of imperialism. It cannot be duplicated in the 21st century when countries have cast off slavery.
This is the crux of problems facing developing countries. The G-8 nations, the rich nations, fail to appreciate this. They are going ahead with their old policy. They call it globalisation, but it is an instrument to capture markets in the underdeveloped or developing countries for the goods which the West cannot sell in its developed world. Protests outside the venue of earlier G-8 meetings should have made them wiser. But they did not. Consequently, thousands of protesters marched in the streets of Genoa, Italy, where the G-8 nations recently met, to express their resentment against global development strategy.
What happened at Genoa? It looked like urban war zones after the initially peaceful protests broke down into riotous confrontations. Small groups clad in black, torched cars and smashed shops as larger columns of organised protestors marched on the barricades protecting the port area where leaders of the group of eight industrialised nations opened a three-day summit. The conflict crossed an ominous threshold with the death of one demonstrator -- the first casualty in the wave of protests challenging the morality and standards of globalisation that was launched at the December 1999 WTO summit in Seattle.
President Bush and his counterparts -- the leaders of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Russia -- never saw the point of protests. The issue that moved people from across three continents to travel to Genoa was not whether to globalise, but how to do it in ways that would not leave the majority of people behind. The protests were demanding global justice on a wide range of issues, from debt relief for developing countries to lower barriers against immigration from poorer to richer countries. Will the G-8 do it or will they go on like Enron, from one project to another, bamboozling people and giving the impression that what was being done was in their interest? The answer to this question will give a peep into the strategy of the Enrons of the rich nations.
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