Editorial 1/ Right to speak
Editorial 2/ When crime pays
Lesson from Maharashtra
Fifth column/ Prepare to Win some and lose some
Imaginary conversations
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1/ RIGHT TO SPEAK 
 
 
 
 
Mr Anil Biswas is a functionary of a political party, he holds no position in government. Yet, he has the self-proclaimed right, as has his comrade, Mr Biman Bose, another apparatchik of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), to express opinions on all subjects under the sun. But the governor of West Bengal, Mr Viren Shah, is condemned by Messrs Biswas and Bose, if he expresses concern about the escalating violence in the districts of West Bengal and if he sends his condolences to the families of those who have lost their lives in the killings. Mr Shah has not even been partisan. He has expressed his grief and concern; he has, rightly, condemned the violence and asked the state administration to take steps to prevent such incidents from recurring. He has also pleaded with all political parties to make a concerted effort and put an end to the violence. To any right thinking person, Mr Shah’s words and attitude would appear to be most commendable. But not so to left thinking persons like Mr Bose and Mr Biswas. In a disgraceful show of bad taste, the former said that the governor should express his opinion only to the government and not to the media and all and sundry on the streets. Mr Biswas has questioned the constitutional propriety of the governor’s comments. Like in other matters, Mr Biswas is also an expert on constitutional matters and so he has decreed that the governor can only advise the government.

Time was when laughter and ridicule were the apposite responses to men like Mr Bose and Mr Biswas. But now their pompousness and smugness only irk. They are so full of their own sense of power and importance that they have lost their sense of proportion and dignity. For the record, Mr Shah has not crossed any of his constitutional boundaries. If he had, it would have been proper for the chief minister, Mr Jyoti Basu, to point this out. Mr Bose and Mr Biswas have no locus standi vis-a-vis the governor of the state. The reasons behind the ire of Messrs Bose and Biswas are not difficult to locate. It is clear that law and order in the world of rural West Bengal is declining fast. Mr Shah, by his comments, has made it evident that he is not going to stand by and watch terror unfold. Mr Shah is not willing to compromise his credibility as the governor in the same way that the CPI(M) has lost its credibility to govern West Bengal. Such is the smugness of Messrs Bose and Biswas that they expect the governor of the state to be loyal to the CPI(M). Mr Shah has shown that he is loyal only to governance. The comments against the governor are rooted in alarm and the latter grows as the incompetence and the intimidatory politics of the CPI(M) come more into the public light.    


 
 
EDITORIAL 2/ WHEN CRIME PAYS 
 
 
 
 
A race which prefers myth over reality will always have an imperfect grip on things. There is no other explanation for the apparent invincibility of Veerappan, who began his career as a sandalwood smuggler and elephant poacher in the forests of the Bargur-Sathyamangalam-Kollegal region on the Karnataka-Tamil Nadu border. He graduated to murderer and abductor over the years, defeating the efforts of a Tamil Nadu special task force, and occasionally sending demand notes through emissaries and mediators to politicians in power, offering surrender against protection, rehabilitation and immunity from prosecution. This time he has made the headlines with the capture of the adored Kannada actor, Raj Kumar, and three others. A criminal with a much reduced gang has ensured that two chief ministers of two states, Mr S.M. Krishna and Mr M. Karunanidhi, are made to rush around with the Centre extending various kinds of help. Just a rumour that Veerappan has abducted Raj Kumar in protest against the ill treatment of Tamils in Karnataka has inaugurated isolated incidents of violence in Karnataka, which may take on more alarming proportions if the Kannada matinee idol is not freed soon. It is fun for Veerappan. He is just a criminal with no political “cause” and all he wants is personal advantage. But so fragile is the political situation in the country, that all the criminal needs to do is to set a small match to the tinderbox.

It is quite possible that Veerappan nurtures dreams of doing a Phoolan Devi. After all, he has done the state some service, since the money from illicit sandalwood and ivory trades comes in handy at all levels. It is very clear that Veerappan could not have carried on his lucrative smuggling and poaching trades without help, and some law enforcers and petty administrators must have been in the know — and possibly on the payroll — for a long time. So he is pitting his icon-like stature against that of a film star. The responsibility for this lies squarely with the politicians and the administration. However inhospitable a criminal’s hideout, there can be no appropriately trained police force which cannot penetrate it. An editor-cum-publisher can. And there has been politics. It may seem incredible that a criminal with no political pretensions would manage to blunt the government’s attention by publicizing his ire against the previous, rival one, but India is one of the rare countries where even that is possible. Veerappan has had a rougher time during Ms J. Jayalalitha’s regime than he has had with Mr Karunanidhi in power. A mediator has been despatched, presumably to appeal to the criminal’s higher self. If Raj Kumar is harmed or his forest stay prolonged, Karnataka will have to face a law and order problem. But unless abduction is treated as it should be in law, Veerappan will get away with another outrage.    


 
 
LESSON FROM MAHARASHTRA 
 
 
BY ASHOK MITRA
 
 
The trial magistrate’s summary discharge of the case against Bal Thackeray nottwithstanding, uncertainty over how the ongoing drama in Maharashtra will finally end persists. And there is little perception around that the nature of this denouement will determine whether the nation’s unity and integrity survive or not.

Till the chief justice of India uttered his sharpest possible rebuke, the situation in the country was bizarre in the extreme. A single individual was, it was assumed, above the law. The Nationalist Congress Party-Congress regime in Maharashtra had announced its decision to file a criminal suit against the Shiv Sena chief because of the incendiary articles he wrote and the speeches he made in the aftermath of the RDX explosions in Mumbai in early 1993, thereby instigating his followers to organize largescale mayhem in the state, including arson, pillage and murder.

The Maharashtra government did not however dare to follow up the announcement by any concrete step. Obviously, it lacked the courage to arrest Thackeray, for the Shiv Sena leader’s henchmen had threatened a bloodbath across the state if the arrest were to materialize. The Centre was equally in a dither. The Shiv Sena is a part of the National Democratic Alliance; it was taking the fullest advantage of the fact. The three Union ministers belonging to the Shiv Sena sent in their letters of resignation to the prime minister. The Centre has the power under Article 357, they argued, to direct the state government to drop the case against Thackeray. Their threat to resign was to force the prime minister’s hand.

They had also powerful support inside government because of the presence of that curious animal, Ram Jethmalani, independent outside and Shiv Sena within, as law minister. Jethmalani advised the prime minister that he would be justified to issue the directive sought by the Shiv Sena, more so since under Section 153(a) of the Indian penal code, no case was admissible against an individual if the alleged offence occurred more than three years ago. Others disputed this point of view on the ground that, per a section of the criminal procedure code, in criminal matters a case can be filed even after a longer time interval if adequate evidence had become available meanwhile.

In the event, the law minister was given the sack by the prime minister, not however for his particular interpretation of the law, but for questioning the legal acumen of the chief justice. The trial magistrate has now upheld Jethmalani’s position. Controversy has arisen whether his decision would have been different if the prosecution had argued the case more competently.

The hard reality therefore remains what it was at the beginning. The farce has dragged along for quite a while. The Maharashtra ministers kept averring for more than a week that the police had been asked to proceed against Thackeray; the Mumbai police continued to deny having received any such instructions from the top. Matters were at a standstill until the Supreme Court’s severest possible reprimand a fortnight ago. There was a sudden acceleration of pace. The Mumbai police commissioner got written orders from the state government to launch the case against Thackeray; additional forces were mobilized from other parts of the country.

The trial magistrate’s verdict has come as a huge anticlimax. The Shiv Sena was already maintaining pressure on the Centre by boycotting meetings of the NDA. The pressure is now bound to intensify even as the state government mulls over the suggestion to lodge an appeal with the higher court against the magistrate’s decision.

The prime minister can, in the circumstances, hardly look forward to any kind of relief. His predicament is understandable. He is having enough trouble in Jammu and Kashmir and elsewhere; he has to worry about the longevity of his regime and would be most reluctant to open another front in Maharashtra. But he might have no choice. The state government, already in a divided frame of mind, is at a loss to determine the next step in case the appeal too fails. If anything the confusion could only mount.

There is little point in mincing words. As of this moment, it is a tremendous victory all the way for the Shiv Sena and its boss. History, so to speak, is repeating itself. The Congress was in power in the state when, in the first quarter of 1993, the Shiv Sena went on the rampage in Mumbai and other places while Thackeray made fire-eating speeches and wrote equally inflammatory articles in Saamna. The state government, if it so willed, could have put down the rowdies with a heavy hand at that time. It did not lift one little finger to protect the victims of the bestial activities. The P.V. Narasimha Rao government at the Centre too did not feel any moral compunction to transmit any directives to the state government under Article 357. The country is currently paying for their collective cowardice. True, the present state government intended otherwise; the end result is however no different.

Apart from the panic the latest development would create among members of the minority communities and non-bhumiputras, does anybody in the seat of power either in New Delhi or in Mumbai realize the implications of their inability, for whatever reason, to face squarely the Shiv Sena menace? The Shiv Sena, it is being established in the process, is beyond the pale of the country’s legal system; others might abide the question, it is free. The consequences could indeed be farreaching. Any citizen of the country might now claim immunity even if he or she were to commit a thousand murders. He or she would quote Article 14 of the Constitution and suggest that, given the prerogative of all citizens of equality before the law, he or she was entitled to indulge in the same offences Thackeray and his gang had perpetrated.

The authorities, it would follow, did have no right to move against the People’s War in Andhra Pradesh, the United Liberation Front of Asom and the insurgents of Nagaland, Manipur, Tripura and, let us not forget, Jammu and Kashmir. If any legal action were contemplated against any of these groups, a smart lawyer could move the court and have the case quashed on the analogy of the government’s failure to act effectively against the Shiv Sena and its leader. Should the lawyer be mischievous enough, he might even seek a writ declaring the army and police manoeuvres against these insurgents ultra vires of the Constitution.

It never rains but it pours. As if Kashmir and Maharashtra were not enough, the prime minister will also have to attend to the stock market crash and the falling rupee.

The prime minister’s headaches are of no relevance to his colleague, the railways minister, though. She has her own private agenda, and would like him to open yet another front in West Bengal by dismissing the Left Front administration there under Article 356 of the Constitution. She evidently does not possess long enough sight to envisage the implications of her proposal. The prime minister, it is to be presumed, knows better.    


 
 
FIFTH COLUMN/ PREPARE TO WIN SOME AND LOSE SOME 
 
 
 
gwynne dyer 
You cannot have peace with Syria and still hang on to the Syrian territory that reaches the shores of the Lake of Galilee, as Israel’s prime minister, Ehud Barak, discovered during the abortive talks with Syria in January. Nor, as he learned at Camp David, can you have peace with the Palestinians and still maintain that Jerusalem is the eternal, indivisible capital of Israel.

But Barak is a professional soldier having spent a lifetime with realities, not symbols. He knew from the start that Yasser Arafat could not give up Arab East Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinian state that was supposed to emerge from these “final status” talks.

“The Arab leader who will give up Jerusalem has not yet been born,” Arafat said before the talks began. But he only meant the old city of “East Jerusalem”, which was under Jordanian control until the Israeli conquest in 1967. Even now, in truth, very few residents of mainly Jewish West Jerusalem care to venture there.

The real problem is not real estate but symbols. Everybody knows that the Gaza Strip and most of the West Bank will stay Palestinian, because Arabs are the majority there. Everybody knows that the larger Jewish settlement blocks that have been built in the West Bank since 1967 will stay under Israeli control, for the same reason. Everybody knows that West Jerusalem is Jewish, and East Jerusalem is Arab.

First principles

So what was Camp David about? It was about recognizing existing realities, not creating new ones, and it came remarkably close to success. It took real political courage for Barak to offer a deal on Jerusalem that went far beyond previous Israeli offers. It took equal courage for Arafat to reject Barak’s offer despite intense pressure from Israel’s superpower ally. And between them, Barak, Arafat and Bill Clinton have managed to move the goalposts, though the immediate aftermath of their 15 day negotiating marathon is likely to be violence..

Back to first principles. The United Nations resolution in 1947 dividing the British colony of Palestine between the Arabs and the Jews gave the new state of Israel 56 per cent of the territory, and the putative Arab state of Palestine 44 per cent. The Arabs unanimously rejected that partial state, and then lost the war that ensued. So it could be argued that the Palestinians had to accept the outcome of the 1948 war, which left 76 per cent of the land in Israeli hands, and only 24 per cent in Palestinian hands.

Then came the 1967 war in which Israel captured all of the remaining 24 per cent of Palestine, and the subsequent campaign that has implanted some 200,000 Jewish settlers in the occupied territories. Might makes right, and Arafat long ago conceded that the bigger Jewish settlements in the West Bank, containing four-fifths of the post-1967 settler population, can stay under Israeli sovereignty, as can the parts of East Jerusalem — the Western Wall and the Jewish Quarter— that have historic significance for Jews.

Future tense

All he requires, in order to make a bargain that he can survive, is a deal that puts most areas where Arabs are in an overwhelming majority under Palestinian rule. But East Jerusalem must be part of that package, and that was the bit that Barak couldn’t deliver. By discussing the status of Jerusalem at all, however, Barak has broken an Israeli political taboo of some three decades’ standing, and made a lasting peace imaginable.

It will not happen now, because he couldn’t carry his own cabinet with him. It won’t happen in the near future, either, because neither the American nor the Israeli political schedules permit it.

Perhaps it won’t happen at all, and west Asia will plunge into a new cycle of wars. At best, it will produce, in a year or so, a fragile and unequal peace that may or may not stand the test of time.

It is hard to make peace when one side, Israel, is the strongest military power between Germany and India, and all its neighbours are military pygmies. Many Israelis cannot see why they should make painful short term concessions in the interests of their long term security, while people as weak and bereft as the Palestinians find it almost impossible to give anything further away.

The only reason for either of them to do so is that the sole alternative is a future of perpetual insecurity and interminable violence.    


 
 
IMAGINARY CONVERSATIONS 
 
 
BY MANI SHANKAR AIYAR
 
 
This is an imaginary interview with the minister for disinvestment, Arun Shourie.

Congratulations on your new assignment, Mr Shourie. Why disinvest?

Because the public sector is hopelessly inefficient
.

What makes you say that?

Well, of the 240 public sector undertakings, half are making losses.

Which means half are making profits?

Yes.

In which case, you will first be ridding us of the burden of loss-making units?

No, of course not. Who will buy our loss-making units? We are first going to divest ourselves of the profit-making units.

But aren’t the profit-making units the efficient ones?

By and large, yes.

So, you want to rid the public sector of its inefficiencies by ridding it of its efficient units?

What can we do? We need the money. And we need it quick.

And what will you do with the loss-making ones?

Hang on to them, I suppose — till some stupid fellow comes along and says he wants to buy them!

And how, Mr Minister, do you propose to sell your successful ventures?

We call it “strategic sales”, that is, a negotiated deal with a selected party to give that party management control. To find such a strategic partner, we first appoint a global adviser. There are only a few private sector giants who can even dream of drumming up the money to acquire our massive public sector assets.

So, our global adviser goes to them to ask how much they’ll pay. They tell him. He tells us. We then call it the “market price”. And offer back this market price to the guys who 4told us they’d cough up. The best man wins.

But would not this price be much lower than you would get by off-loading small quantities at a time to a large number of buyers in the stock market?

Much less, but it will take a long time to sell a large number of shares in the open to the general public. So, even if we are going to get less, much less, by going to a select few, we get cash on the nail. And we need that cash now.

And are these “strategic partners” not the most important competitors to the profitable public sector unit in the market?

Yes, More often than not.

But does that not lead to reduced competition?

It could. If, for example, Jet Airways were to snap up Indian Airlines, or Reliance were to gobble Indian Petrochemical Corporation Limited, we would be shifting from a public sector monopoly to a private sector monopoly.

Does that bother you?

Not really. We need good management.

But are not profitable public sector units also well-managed public sector units? GAIL, the Gas Authority of India Limited, for example? Why did you sell it off?

Because it was so well managed, we could make a bomb out of it.

So, am I to understand that you have two reasons for selling off the public sector? One, that PSUs are badly managed. And, two, that PSUs are well managed?

A hole in one, son, as the golfers would say. We run down the public sector by saying it is loss-making. And well-managed.

What makes you think the private sector is more efficient than the public? Are there not 2,50,000 irretrievably sick units in the private sector?

Yes and 25 irretrievably sick units in the public. That’s what makes them stink.

But are not most of these terminally sick public sector units those that failed in the private sector and had to, therefore, be taken over by the government to protect the employees and the local economy?

Perhaps so. But the nation cannot afford the drain of scarce resources to inefficient public undertakings.

And it can afford Rs 62,000 crore in unpaid private sector taxes and Rs 54,000 crore in unpaid private sector bank loans, non-performing assets?

That’s called market forces. This is called government waste.

Is it true that GAIL has been divested in favour of British Gas?

Yes.

And is not British Gas foreign?

Yes.

And has not British Gas repeatedly lost out in global tenders to GAIL?

Yes.

Is that because GAIL is better managed than British Gas?

Yes.

So, to better manage an Indian public sector unit you’ve sold it to a worse managed foreign competitor? And at a price much lower than expected?

What could we do? They’re the ones who paid up. We needed their money. Desperately.

Why desperately?

The fiscal deficit. More than Rs 1,00,000 crore.

So, how much are you going to sell off?

The finance minister is targeting Rs 10,000 crore.

Which means 90 per cent of your deficit will still remain uncovered?

Yup. But we got plenty more. My secretary, Pradeep Baijal, told a seminar in Bangalore the other day that we could easily raise seven lakh crore selling off just bits of the public sector.

And how much is government investment in the public sector?

About Rs 2.5 lakh crore.

So, even seven lakh crore is many times your investment?

Elementary, dear boy. The value of our public sector assets is many, many times the quantum of our investment. One reason is that state governments anxious to get public sector projects have made acres and acres of land available at next to no price.
And, of course, the establishment of a massive public sector unit in virgin territory has so opened up the local economy that the value of that land and other assets has gone up manifold. So, seven lakh crore is nothing. The real value of our 2.5 lakh crore investment is 20 to 30 times that figure — may be even more: somewhere between Rs 50 lakh crore and, who knows, one hundred lakh crore!

So, by buying up a quarter of your shares at cut rate prices, the private sector giant secures control over assets worth perhaps 50 times his investment?

Why else would he put his money in us?

But Mr Minister, is this not tantamount to killing the goose that lays the golden eggs?

When we’ve been farming a whole flock of golden geese, what the heck does a neck or two matter?

But then if the value of our public sector assets is so much higher than the nation’s investment in them why do we call the public sector a disaster?

Because they don’t pay our bills. Neither the government’s nor the party’s.

Can the public sector be made more efficient, more profitable any way other than disinvesting?

Yes. Give them autonomy. Bring in legislation to end day-to-day accountability to Parliament. That way, the overseeing ministries can be wound up and independent management will report once a year to Parliament’s committee on public undertakings like corporate firms convene their annual general meetings.

Then why don’t you do this?

What — and end up with an efficient public sector? That’s socialism!

Is there no other way of covering the government’s fiscal deficit?

Yes, of course, downsizing. That’s why they’ve put me in charge of downsizing also.

Congratulations yet again, Shourie sahib. Could you just explain “downsizing”?

It means cutting down employment in government.

And which departments are the big employers?

Defence, that’s the big one. Then, Railways. Then, P&T.

So, as minister of downsizing you’re cutting down on defence?

Good god, no! We’ve just increased defence spending by the largest percentage in three decades. Not one less jawan, indeed, plenty more. And don’t forget we’re now a nuclear weapon power. That means Rs 50,000 crore in the next few years on building a minimum credible nuclear arsenal. So, no question of downsizing defence.

Railways then?

You must be mad. (Looks around. Seeing no one about, lowers his voice and whispers:) Mamata!

Oh, I understand. P&T then?

Paswan’s in charge. Can’t lose the SC vote.

What about reducing the number of ministers? Is this not the largest gaggle of ministers ever?

Silly suggestion. Cut down the number of ministers and they’ll walk out of our government. Shourie’s Law: write it down. The number of ministers — and their departments — increases to fill the coalition space available to them.

So, downsizing is an eyewash?

Not really, we’ll get rid of a secretary or two. Except when necessary. Then we’ll increase a secretary or two. My new department, for example, or Pramod Mahajan’s. Can’t have a new department without a new secretary. And then to get poverty alleviation off the ground, we’ve split both rural and urban development into lots of little departments. Which means lots of little secretaries. I tell you, it’s tough being minister of downsizing. You end up up-sizing.

Which is why they’ve given you disinvestment?

Also. Downsizing and disinvestment. So, if the one does not work out the other will.

That’s really clever of the prime minister.

That’s why the Prime Minister appointed me. I’m the cleverest man they have.
   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Listless at the top

Sir — Merit lists are certainly in. Sonia Gandhi too has made a merit list of the chief ministers of the Congress ruled states (“Sonia report card on satraps”, July 31). One must admit that the Congress chief is trying to be innovative in managing her party, which has already reached a dead end. With none of her decisions going unquestioned at any level of the party, from the ministers to the regional leaders, the merit list seems to be a good idea. The moot question, however, is whether the chief ministers themselves would be interested to be marked thus, and whether, Digvijay Singh, in topping the list and being in the good books of the Congress chief, would be envied by the rest. What indeed is the validity of this list, made by a leader who herself has been a thorough failure? After all, with most party members being greater or lesser satraps, does the merit list not risk offending a great deal of people? Also, if efficiency in managing one’s duties is the main eligibility criterion, where would Sonia Gandhi’s position be?
Yours faithfully,
Nandita Dhaka, Delhi

Walls do not a prison make

Sir — The president of India, K.R. Narayanan, has pardoned the five Latvians found guilty of conspiring against the West Bengal government and convicted under the Arms Act and the Explosive Substances Act in the Purulia arms dropping case (“Purulia Five gift to guest Putin”, July 22). This action has caused concern in political circles, particularly among the leftists in West Bengal. If reports are to be believed, the Indian foreign minister’s assurance to the Russian government that he would try to secure the freedom of those convicted was behind the president’s decision. However, the president’s pardon cannot be regarded as an unbiased decision, because he was surely advised by the cabinet in this matter. And the cabinet, in its turn, must have had its own expectations of Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, to have asked Narayanan to exercise his special power.
Yours faithfully,
Dhaneswar Banerjee, Bolpur

Sir — K.R. Narayanan’s decision to grant pardon to the five Latvians involved in the Purulia arms drop case deserves congratulations. Article 72 of the Indian Constitution bestows this unique power and the president had made an appropriate use of it in a proper circumstance. India is known all over the world for its ideals of tolerance and coexistence. Gestures such as Narayanan’s, though small, prove that these values are yet to become extinct. Death sentences under the circumstances would only have aggravated the situation and widened the diplomatic gap between India and Russia. The president’s act has provided the five people a chance to rectify their mistake. What has been done, cannot be undone. But certainly things can be made better. As Shakespeare has said, “The quality of mercy is not strained...It blesseth him that gives, and him that takes.”

Yours faithfully,
Renu Agrawal, Parlin, US

Sir — The president, by granting pardon to the five Latvians convicted in Purulia arms drop case, has exposed the fallibility of the law of the land. He has compromised the position of India and its law in seeking to establish goodwill with a foreign power. With this has arisen valid demands for the release of Peter Bleach. For most countries, internal and external security are top priorities, but India has failed miserably on this count. It has set a precedent for similar cases to crop up in future. This may have helped India please Vladimir Putin, but it has also made the country lose out on the crucial issue of security.

Yours faithfully,
Rina Chawla, Haldia

Remove the taint

Sir — Corruption in the economic system is widespread in India and government servants are held largely responsible for this. Much has been made of the vulnerability of government servants to bribes. But what about the loopholes in the law?

Take the case of corruption in the form of tax evasion or violation of company law. Though auditors are theoretically expected to bring such fraudulent acts to the notice of the shareholders, the government and the general public, they hardly ever do so, simply because they are appointed by the management, many of the members in it themselves being neck-deep in these corrupt acts. Even the surprise raids organized by the government are ineffectual as they are too infrequent or publicized beforehand.

Also, computerized accounting has done more harm than good since the inspectors seldom have adequate knowledge of computers.

The remedy lies in the government appointing completely neutral auditors to the boards of directors of the corporate sector.

Yours faithfully,
Rajeev Bagra, Naihati

Sir — The chief vigilance commissioner, N. Vittal, has recently suggested making corruption free service in public office a fundamental right. It cannot be gainsaid that this suggestion must be placed before the Constitution review committee so that it is accorded priority by the said committee while considering constitutional reform. The aim of this right should be not to allow the corrupt persons to relax, as well as to make them realize that corruption ultimately does not bring any real gain.

Yours faithfully,
R.N. Lakhotia, New Delhi

Naming game

Sir — Sumana Sinha Ray has called the renaming bid of the Metro Railway a populist joke (“Magnanimity without flourish”, July 26). I do not support the renaming exercise, but if it has to be undertaken I would suggest that the Park Street station be named after William Jones. This is because Jones’s creation, the Asiatic Society, stands at one end of the street. There are several roads in the city bearing names of foreigners who never had any links with the country and its people. Unlike them, Jones had strong ties with India. It was he who made known to the Western world the glorious cultural heritage of the country. The mortal remains of Jones also lie buried at the other end of the street.

Again, if we consider naming railway stations after the great actor, Uttam Kumar, why are we forgetting the genius, Uday Shankar, who acquainted the West with the classical dance forms of India and was himself the creator of modern Indian ballet? Does he have a lesser claim over the memory of the city’s residents?

Yours faithfully,
Manojendu Majumdar, Calcutta

Sir — Why is the city so obsessed with renaming? What precisely is the message that is sought to be conveyed through the process? Only a few years ago, there was a serious effort to change the name of Fort William to Fort Siraj. Thanks to the army, the move was stalled. No such help in the case of the renaming of Calcutta to Kolkata. As expected, the city remains Calcutta to its residents and its visitors. Public memory has not registered the change as in the case of the names of the innumerable roads and places in the city.

The Metro Railway may try as much it wants. But Netaji Bhavan still remains Bhawanipore to Metro’s users. Park Street will also remain the same, and so will Tollygunge. With so much else to do, why should the authorities indulge in tokenism?

Yours faithfully,
Nita Mahata, Calcutta

Sir — Uttam Kumar might be associated with Tollygunge and its studios. What does Park Street have to do with Mother Teresa? If anything, it should be the Kalighat station that should be renamed after her. Nirmal Hriday, the Missionaries of Charity’s home for the old is located in Kalighat.

Yours faithfully,
Chirantan Poddar, Calcutta

Letters to the editor should be sent to:

The Telegraph
6 Prafulla Sarkar Street
Calcutta 700 001
Email: [email protected]
Readers in the Northeast can write to:
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G.S. Road, Ulubari, Guwahati 781007
   
 

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