Editorial 1/ Three times lucky
Editorial 2/ Dark horse wins
Open Sesame to peace
Fifth Column/ A legend must be beyond the law
Little home truths
Invest in teaching for the highest returns
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1/ THREE TIMES LUCKY 
 
 
 
 
It was a difficult birth. But at last three new states, Chhattisgarh, Uttaranchal and Jharkhand, seem definitely on their way to being born. Defeated in the last parliamentary session, the three states reorganization bills have now made it past the Lok Sabha. They still have to go through the Rajya Sabha and acquire presidential assent. Politicians and political parties, however, have got busy designing interim assemblies, naming chief ministers, overlooking the rearrangement of the administrative cadre and working out how exactly the power equations are going to change. But this is just the icing on the cake. The really hard job is forking out the money to set up government buildings and courts in the capitals of the new states, providing housing for the new officials and, most important, working out ways so that neither the new states nor the parent ones suffer economic damage as a result of the reorganization. This last is yet a pipe dream, since the areas now designated Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand used to account for a large percentage of the revenue on which the respective parent states, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar, relied. Doubtless the subsequent bargaining will depend on the comparative loudness of voice or heaviness of clout of the politicians involved. That would be routine. But the reorganization raises some other uncomfortable questions.

It is very clear that the economics of states reorganization had not been worked out in spite of the shuttling around the statehood bills have gone through the last few years. The rationale for new states should be economic and administrative advantage alone, else the fragmentation of the country into linguistic, ethnic or cultural enclosures can only spell disaster. Perhaps a large state like Uttar Pradesh could generate a new state for administrative advantage. But that would mean taking the area of perhaps two states together, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, and dividing it into three. That would make sense. Yet what has been made is a division on the basis of a people’s movement long killed off. The deprivation and sense of injustice that lay behind the movement, the demand for development that inspired it, are now irrelevant. Similarly, the movement for Jharkhand has been distorted and the sap drawn out. The original demand was for the carving of a new state out of the contiguous tribal areas in Bihar, Orissa and West Bengal, which had behind it a certain logic from the point of view of the people of the region. That has become irrelevant too, and the new Jharkhand is just another counter in the political tussle between the Bharatiya Janata Party and its allies on the one side and the Rashtriya Janata Dal and Congress on the other. The tragedy and bloodshed around the movement for Chhattisgarh too is an old and dead story. There seems to be no rationale behind the formation of the new states except populism and diversification of vote banks. There is no guarantee that this kind of splitting will speed up development. Even the basic arithmetic has not been worked out.

The absence of a firm rationale will merely intensify the demand for more states. There seems to be no reason why there should not be Gorkhaland, Kamtapur, Vindhyachal, Coorg and so on. Each has its own reason to be born. Perhaps the burgeoning number of states is meant to match the burgeoning number of political parties.    


 
 
EDITORIAL 2/ DARK HORSE WINS 
 
 
 
 
The prime minister, Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee, has been trying ever since he became prime minister to put his stamp of authority not only on the National Democratic Alliance that he leads but also on his own party, the Bharatiya Janata Party. His command over the party has become clear with the naming of the new president of the BJP: Bangaru Laxman. The appointment is unexpected because Mr Laxman has always been out of the limelight; he was never considered a major runner in a race that featured such names as Mr Jana Krishnamurthy, Mr M. Venkaiah Naidu and even for a time, according to the rumour mills of New Delhi, Ms Sushma Swaraj. Mr Laxman emerged as the unlikely winner because he was Mr Vajpayee’s candidate. Mr Laxman shares some character traits with the prime minister: both are soft spoken, loyal, not given to controversies and accessible to persons of any ideological persuasion. He appears to have come from the same clone that made Mr Vajpayee. With Mr Vajpayee at the head of the government and Mr Laxman at the helm of the party, it would appear that the days of strident Hindutva are over. Mr Vajpayee, as he carries on with the task of governing India, obviously does not want to be distracted by petty bickerings with the party. There is a lot that Mr Vajpayee is doing which does not have the full approval of hard-liners within the BJP. Mr Vajpayee has now somewhat marginalized them by getting his man to head the party.

Mr Vajpayee could get away with this coup of sorts because the appointment of Mr Laxman has certain obvious political advantages. Mr Laxman is a Dalit and he is from the south. If the BJP is to expand its electoral base in the north, it needs to shed its upper caste image. A Dalit leader facilitates such a change of image. In Uttar Pradesh, a state crucial to the BJP and in which elections are due, a Dalit leader will be of considerable advantage to the BJP. Add to this the fact that Mr Laxman, despite coming from south India, is fluent in Hindi. Another plus point is Mr Laxman’s south Indian roots. The BJP carries the stigma of being a north Indian party. Mr Laxman’s appointment shatters such perceptions. The choice of Mr Laxman was not based on whims; Mr Vajpayee had done his political homework.    


 
 
OPEN SESAME TO PEACE 
 
 
BY MANVENDRA SINGH
 
 
The ceasefire offered by the Hizbul Mujahedin in the Kashmir valley is the most significant event to have occurred in Jammu and Kashmir since the 1989 kidnapping of Rubaiya Sayeed, the daughter of the then home minister of India. The sensational kidnapping is widely regarded as the starting point of the militancy, and the ceasefire offer has the potential of beginning the end of violence and insurgency. What has happened between the two events is beyond the scope of this discussion, but why it has happened is certainly the focus.

The Hizbul Mujahedin is by far the largest militant group operating in the Kashmir valley. Over the course of its decade long insurgency it came to be regarded as the true face of the Kashmiri insurgent. It is almost entirely Kashmiri, owing allegiance to Jam’at e-Islami Kashmir, and not the Pakistani version headed by Qazi Hussein Ahmed. The Hizbul Mujahedin favoured the merger of Jammu and Kashmir with Pakistan, as against the independence efforts of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front.

In its zeal to promote that merger, the Hizbul Mujahedin violently decimated the JKLF to emerge as the premier Kashmiri group. Even as it played to Pakistan’s tune the Hizbul Mujahedin retained its Kashmiri identity. And that identity was repeatedly stressed by Abdul Majid Dar, thesalaar aala (chief commander) of the Hizbul Mujahedin at his historic press conference. Which then raises the question: why now?

Armed militant groups anywhere in the world offer a ceasefire on account of three factors — the three “p”s, so to say. These factors determine the course of the insurgency. The most important factor is, of course, the people. Without support from the local population no militancy can be sustained. The survival of militancy is dependent on the people, for supplying cadres as well as safe hideouts. The second factor is the police, as the armed response of the state. If the response is efficient then again insurgency cannot be sustained beyond a period. Sustained and effective counter-insurgency operations by the state place unbearable pressure on the groups.

And last, and a very important factor at that, is the response of the patrons and peers. The attitude of the patron of the insurgency has to remain supportive for it to be sustained, and the attitude of the peers, in this case the groups competing for the same ideological or political or emotional space, must also be conducive for continuing the armed struggle. If the patron and the peers begin to play hooky with the group then it cannot survive for too long in the field. At the end of the day it is the coalescence of these three factors, acting independently and simultaneously, or otherwise, that determines the course of action to be adopted by the group. In the case of the Hizbul Mujahedin the three “p”s came together to force its hand.

As far as the first factor is concerned, Dar could not have said it with greater emphasis: “It is a fact that without the assistance of Pakistan, it was not possible to sustain the movement. But we are sons of this soil and no other person can understand the sufferings we are undergoing…The fact is that this is an indigenous movement and all the Mujahedin commanders with me are locals…We conducted grassroots surveys for two and a half months before taking this decision and we have the consent of the local people,” he declared.

And of equal significance was a statement by another militant leader that unfortunately lost itself in the din of condemnation and praise. As reported by a leading Pakistani daily, “Abu Ahmed Kulgami, the chief of Al-Badr, a hardcore militant group in Jummu Kashmir (sic), has strongly backed the ceasefire decision by Hizbul Mujahedin…He warned those opposing ceasefire that they were not aware of the ground realities.” Remarkable stuff, even more so when considered with the fact that the proponents of the ceasefire are Kashmiri and those opposing it are Pakistani.

The armed response of the state must have been sufficiently sustained, strong, and severe, for the Hizbul Mujahedin to even contemplate offering a ceasefire. The official spokesman of the Hizbul Mujahedin in Pakistan occupied Kashmir, Saleem Hashmi, claimed that the group had so far lost over 15,000 militants. Even if half the number, the figure would suggest that the Hizbul Mujahedin could not have sustained the insurgency. Particularly since the casualties suffered by it mounted exponentially in the last few months.

The cause for that, however, could also be the third factor — patron and peers. Until the mid-Nineties the Hizbul Mujahedin was the favoured group as far as Pakistan was concerned. The receiver of the largest share of funding and equipment, the Hizbul Mujahedin had it going good, until Pakistan’s jihadi elements decided to pitch in as well.

Once the Pakistani jihadi elements came into the picture there was no way that the Hizbul Mujahedin would retain its favoured position. And it was only a matter of time before the taps would begin to run dry. The Pakistani patrons cannot switch off support to their home grown jihadi groups, for then they would make merry hell in the heart of western Punjab. The only option then was to quietly switch off toward the Hizbul Mujahedin, a group with little option but to remain confined to the Kashmir valley.

Being non-Pakistani, an Hizbul Mujahedin militant on the run cannot create mischief in the heartland of western Punjab. It is thus expendable, unlike those jihadis from whom a backlash would singe Pakistan. A simple enough formula, but one which has finally divided the militancy into the Kashmiri versus the Pakistani jihad. Thus we have Dar and Kulgami promoting a ceasefire and the Pakistani jihadi elements denouncing them as traitors.

What is common among the Indian and Pakistani commentators is the feeling that the onus of taking the forward step now rests with the government of India. The response has been encouraging, and the announcements extremely positive. The opportunities for India, and for peace in Kashmir, are enormous. The door opened by the Hizbul Mujahedin must not be allowed to close. The National Conference has thus far monopolized the Kashmiri dialogue with New Delhi and the Central government. The All Party Hurriyat Conference then came to represent the opposing voice, and has also joined the negotiating field.

The Hizbul Mujahedin initiative is of a completely different level and has the potential of finally bringing onto the negotiating table the extreme end of the Kashmiri political spectrum. Little wonder that the APHC has reacted most negatively, for it too has been playing a certain monopoly kind of politics — that of the opposition. All these strands are nothing but different shades of Srinagar based opinions.

The Hizbul Mujahedin offer, on the other hand, is the first that represents a vast swathe of the valley. To keep the door open, therefore, the government of India must do all that it can to ensure that the trust only develops further. For starters, an effective ceasefire mechanism must be put into place. It is obvious that many are trying to terminate the ceasefire through violence. Pakistan, currently reeling under a shock, can be expected to react viciously through its jihadi groups operating in the valley.

After all, the ceasefire announcement by the Hizbul Mujahedin came in the same week as the rejection of Pakistan’s application for member status with the Association of South East Asian Nations regional forum, while that of North Korea was accepted. The Stalinist pariah “rogue” state was acceptable to the ASEAN countries and not Pakistan. Talk about being irrelevant to the world, and more so when the Kashmiris that Pakistan claims to speak up for have offered a ceasefire. Islamabad cannot be expected to take it without a violent response.    


 
 
FIFTH COLUMN/ A LEGEND MUST BE BEYOND THE LAW 
 
 
BY DIPANKAR DAS
 
 
Veerappan is not just an ugly reminder of the softness of the Indian state, but of its limitations as well. He is one of those few who is adept at inflicting real life’s revenge on reel life. Not because he kidnaps film stars with impunity but because his life is what even legends too would think twice about before using them as grist for their mills. At least one Tamil and Kannada film each have been made on him celebrating him as a demi-god, and just when one thought he was becoming history, a single act of his has an entire state in a tizzy.

Just when Veerappan had receded from public memory he has struck back with a vengeance and secured a new lease of life for his notoriety. Proof of the impact lies in the repercussions of the act. The garden city, the information technology capital of the country, a stranger to political disturbances and other typically third world discomfitures, has been paralysed. Veerappan is seen as a Tamil in Karnataka, and he is another reason (after the Cauvery river dispute) why Tamils can be disliked. The Rapid Action Force, an unfamiliar sight in these quarters, is out on the streets lest more fall victims to stabbing incidents.

The Indian state, forever lurking in the shadow of accusations of being soft is confronted with a new failure. For more than 22 years, Veerappan has lorded over 3,000 sq km of scraggy, deciduous forests straddling the states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. His track record is bloody: 130 humans and more than 2,000 elephants dead. And his status: a dangerous marauder, roaming scot free, a veritable king on his turf.

No soft spots

Veerappan, also once known as Mulukkan, is believed to have tasted blood first in 1936 when he killed elephants and caught the eye of the notorious poacher, Selvai Gounder. There was no looking back after that. He took to smuggling sandalwood when the government banned the export of ivory. At the peak of his smuggling career, it is believed that he had stashed away sandalwood worth crores of rupees all over his territory.

Unlike the state he confronts, Veerappan has never betrayed any soft spots for softness. He has gunned down people ranging from rivals to top officials with a calculated and media-savvy coldness that has virtually become his signature.

Part of the seriousness of Veerappan’s challenge to the state lies in the legitimacy he enjoys. The tribal community he grew up in had helped him in his activities, since poaching wasn’t exactly considered a crime, a predicament the government faces with many tribes and local populaces across the country. And his Robin Hood image, some of it entirely fictional, only led villagers and others to actively protect him. But apart from these aspects what is said to offer him real protection is the connections he has built among the local police and political set up. Once, during the Southeast Asian Association for Regional Cooperation summit in Bangalore in 1986, when the police was able to nab him he managed to give them the slip and since then he has kept them on their toes.

Brigand nuisance

The only real glimpse into his life came in 1996 when the Tamil journalist, Gopal, of theNakheeran newsmagazine managed to meet him and secure a surrender offer from him. But nothing came of it, and that near grab-and-miss is the stuff of brigandage legend.Veerappan uses his extensive network to keep himself well-informed of political plans and police manoeuvres, and plans his ambushes meticulously. It helps that his emotional and family attachments are steel-strong. He is remembered for having gone on a murderous spree when his brother, Arjunan, was killed during an encounter.

The kidnapping of the Kannada filmstar, Raj Kumar, can have an impact on different things, not least on the fate of the chief minister, S.M. Krishna. It also sinks Kannada-Tamil relations, never at a high, to a new low. Ironically very few realize Raj Kumar too is Tamil. It is a fresh drama unfolding in the life of India’s most famous in-your-face criminal. But the questions are crucial in understanding what he might do next. Is it the itch to stay embalmed on the national consciousness by hook or, in his case, by crook? Or is it an attempt to ward off growing pressure and put his past behind him? Or perhaps it is an ageing bandit’s death wish.    


 
 
LITTLE HOME TRUTHS 
 
 
BY KHUSHWANT SINGH
 
 
The most abominable crime known to humanity is sexual abuse of children. What makes it an unpardonable sin is that usually perpetrators go scot free while victims are scarred for life. It is widely prevalent over the world among all classes, educated and illiterate, well-to-do and the impoverished. In most cases, the criminals are close relations (including parents and grandparents), close friends of the family, school teachers, servants, just about anybody. When lust overtakes them, the only outlet available is an innocent, unsuspecting child. The World Health Organization says one out of every 10 children in India is being sexually abused at any given point of time. A Tata Institute of Social Sciences study conducted in 1985 among adults between the ages of 20 and 24 proved that one out of three girls had been sexually abused as a child, and one out of every 10 boys. That is: 30 per cent of the girls had been victims of child sexual abuse, and 10 per cent of the boys. Fifty per cent of this happened at home. India’s score in this criminal record book is 5,157 children being raped every year. Lesser forms of child molestation are beyond count. A child who has not experienced sexual advance from an adult is a rare phenomenon.

Sexual abuse of children is not a pleasant topic of conversation or subject material for a book. This does not deter a young woman like Pinki Virani from writing about it. She specialises in writing on unsavoury subjects. She shot into fame with the classic Aruna’s Story about a young nurse, who was to marry a doctor, being raped by a vengeful sweeper. She has been in a state of coma for over 20 years while the rapist has served his term in jail and is now a free man.

Her second book, Once Was Bombay, likewise narrates the story of the decline of the once prosperous, orderly metropolis to Mumbai of Shiv sainiks and mafia gangs extorting money from shopkeepers and professionals and battling each other in the streets. It needed guts to expose these goondas; Pinki is a very gutsy young lady. She is an unusual person. She is Ismali Muslim, did a masters degree in journalism with Aga Khan foundation grant, was an intern with the Sunday Times (London), and returned to Bombay to edit Mid-Day. She married Shankar Aiyar of India Today. He is the only child of his Brahmin parents and a couple of years younger than her.

They agreed not to have any children. They live in a Shiv Sena dominated locality practising their own faiths. Every evening he lights joss-sticks and chants Sanskrit shlokas to the deities while she faces Mecca and performs namaaz.

Bitter Chocolate is Pinki’s third book. She travelled all over India interviewing victims of child abuse, collecting data from police and court records, interviewing doctors, psychiatrists, studying law books and case histories before putting down her conclusions. She found that child abuse in India has assumed epidemic proportions, there is a conspiracy of silence to suppress information — khandaan kee izzat kaa sawaal (the question of family honour) and ghar kee baat ghar mein rahey (what happens in the family should remain in the family), and the unsympathetic male dominated society in which misdemeanours committed by males are readily overlooked while the cries of agony of infant girls and boys who have been molested, ignored.

She writes: “First there will have to be acceptance of the very existence of child sexual abuse in all classes of Indian homes. And this acceptance is likely to take a very long time to come because if there is such an acceptance it would affirm that there are a lot of adults abusing children. And then this would start to say something about Indian society. And its false facade of happy families. And the men in these families. And the kind of women who live with these men. Uncomfortable questions could be raised about who we intrinsically are, the way we live, and the way we treat each other. The Ugly Indians.”

A poem written by a 12-year old girl sums up what children of her age have to go through:

I asked you for help, and you told me you would If I told you the things he did to me.You asked me to trust you, and you made me repeat them to fourteen different strangers I asked you for help and you gave me A doctor with cold hands who spread my legs and stared at me Just like my father. I asked you for protection And you gave me a social worker. Do you know what it is like I have more social workers than friends? I asked you for help And you forced my mother to choose between us. She chose him, of course. She was scared, she had a lot to lose.I had a lot to lose too. The difference is, you never told me how much. I asked you to put an end to the abuseYou put an end to my whole family. You took away my nights of hell And gave me days of hell instead. You have changed my private nightmare\ Into a very public one.

Pinki Virani has given names and addresses of people to approach when incidents of child abuse come to light and the police is reluctant to act. Bitter Chocolate is not child pornography; it is serious work of scholarship as well written as Virani’s two earlier books.

Dogs has its tipsy day

MeenakshiVerma of the Centre for Studies of Developing Countries has compelled a lot of data on the victimes of partition but is not sure to use it: should she publish it in a series of articles for some sociological magazine or put it on website? I suggested that she turn it into a collection of true short stories or a novel. She felt uneasy with my suggestion as she had never tried her hand at writing anything except serious academic stuff. We turned to other subjects. I asked her if she was Punjabi. “Partly”, she replied. “My mother is Punjabi, my father from U.P. My husband Verma is in business.” “Any children ?” I asked. “No,” she replied wistfully, “but I have two dogs.”

Since I fall for anyone who likes dogs (her looks make it easy to fall for her, anyhow), I asked her what breeds they were. “I know nothing about dog breeds. A friend had a litter and asked me to take one of the pups. It was barely a month old when I got it. But already very fat and heavy. When I took it to a vet to get it inoculated, he told me it is a Creat Dane. I had not heard of the breed.

“We named it Pluto. It had a ravenous appetite and was always wanting more to eat. Now he is a year old and the size of a small donkey: scavenging for food all the time. He is a big fellow and has learnt how to open the fridge and gobble up everything in it. I have had to put a lock on it.”

An amusing incident about Pluto craving for food before the fridge had a lock put on it took place last month. Meenakshi returned from her office and found her home in a mess: furniture strewn about, drawers opened and Pluto lying supine in front of the open fridge. She thought the house had been burgled and the burglers had killed Pluto.

She raised as alarm. The sentry at the gate came running in. Nothing had been taken from the house, only the fridge had been emptied of all its contents including a box of liquor chocolates filled with brandy, rum and other spirits. Pluto was not dead, only dead drunk.

Driving force behind a nation

Banta was the official driver of a minister. Once the minister asked him, “Banta let me drive the car today.”

Banta: “Sirji, it is a car and not the sarkar (government) which any Tom, Dick, or Harry can drive.” (Contributed by J. P. Singh Kaka, Bhopal)    


 
 
INVEST IN TEACHING FOR THE HIGHEST RETURNS 
 
 
BY C.T. BHUNIA
 
 
The best known definition of democracy is possibly that it is a government of the people, by the people and for the people. However, it is debatable how far this is true of the Indian democracy.

Since 1992, India has adopted the policy of liberalization and privatization. The present Bharatiya Janata Party led National Democratic Alliance has been a strong advocate of this.

Any country wishing to succeed in an open economy should allow privatization of infrastructure such as transport, power, telecommunications and so on, but keep health, education, sanitation under complete control of the government. Unfortunately, it appears that the Centre neither conforms to nor rejects this view. The result is confusion and conflict in policies implemented by the government.

Improved human resource generation is considered the world over as a sound strategy for any development process. Human resource generation in a country depends on both elementary and higher education. Since both are equally important, one should not be prioritized at the cost of the other. Most important, both elementary and higher education must be kept under government control.

However, the present government is not interested in having full control over education. The decision to reduce the budget allocation for higher education is likely to be counter-productive in the near future. India’s public expenditure on tertiary education as a percentage of the total public expenditure on education was 15.5 per cent in 1985. The rise in population has resulted in the problem of an increase in the gross enrolment ratio. The ratio of the percentage of population in tertiary education in the country rose from 4.9 per cent in 1970 to 6.5 per cent in 1995.

But this does not mean that generation of technical manpower has been significant in the country. If the number of scientists and engineers produced by the developed and developing countries is compared, one can conclude that poor countries like India need to generate more technical manpower. One of the ways in which this can be done is by opening more technical colleges and universities. There is no logic in the government’s argument that funds for higher education have been reduced in order to increase the budget for elementary education. Elementary and higher education are two essential components of growth and development.

Also, the government’s argument that the expenditure on higher education is too high for it to bear sounds spurious. Besides, the Centre also argues that higher education has been deprioritized because the returns on the investment is low. This too cannot be accepted.

Higher education in India is cheaper than in most other countries. What is assumed to be expensive, is simply on account of some irrational policies adopted by the government. Applied logically, higher education can bring good returns.

As of now, even in specific projects, the decisionmaking lies entirely with the bureaucrats. This has resulted in the prolonged dependence on imported technology and machines, though politicians keep reminding people that India has the third largest technological manpower in the world.

The government is inviting non-resident Indians to invest in the country. It forgets that NRIs are products of higher education. Returns on investment in higher education in terms of NRI contributions are unmatched by returns on investment in any other sector. But as long as the government believes that higher education is not yielding expected returns, the money allotted for it will continue to be low.

The government is inviting private financial inputs in higher education. This money is bound to be invested for profitmaking purposes. The investors will never be driven by any social responsibility to promote higher education. As the state of education in the country is unable to come out of a morass, parents are increasingly relying on private tuitions, and this is followed by a brain drain.

It is time the government took a serious look at the importance of having direct control over the education sector.

The existing fee structure needs immediate review. Keeping the fees equal for everyone, irrespective of the pupils’ socioeconomic status, is illogical. So people should be asked to pay as per their financial capabilities.

While the government gives away free telephone connections to thousands of employees all in the name of the benefits of privatization, nothing comes free even for the needy when the same policy is applied to education. It is for the government to decide whe- ther such policies are viable.    


 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

At the centre of it all

Sir — The West Bengal chief minister, Jyoti Basu, has brought to the notice of the prime minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, that the railways minister and Trinamool Congress chief, Mamata Banerjee, has behaved “irresponsibly” in demanding president’s rule in the state (“Basu takes Mamata battle to Atal”, August 5). But isn’t Basu’s demand completely opposed to what was once the popular idea within the left — that the Centre should not be allowed to meddle too much in the affairs of the state? So why not tackle the problem without seeking the intervention of the Centre? This surely indicates that Basu, along with his other ministers, are not paying much heed to the problem of growing violence in the state, in spite of the recent killings in Birbhum. Or is it the other way round? The left now seeks Vajpayee’s intervention because there is no other way they can prove that West Bengal’s law and order is much better than Bihar’s. But will the people accept that? Let us wait for the assembly elections.
Yours faithfully,
Bibhash Basu,Calcutta

Million rupee question

Sir — The news report, “Sony pits Baby B against Star’s Big B” (Aug 4), presages an interesting turn of events. After Star Plus made it big with Kaun Banega Crorepati, first it was Zee TV which came up with its version of the money-game in Maalamal. But it did not involve the big money that Kaun Banega Crorepati was offering. Hence it could not pose any serious threat to the secure throne of Amitabh Bachchan and his show. It is understandably difficult to outshine a star like Amitabh Bachchan.

However, Sony has decided to play the game in a different way, pitting the junior Bachchan against his father. This too can hardly be a guarantee of the programme’s success, unless Bachchan senior himself wills it that way. Till then, Indian television watchers will have to wait with bated breath to see the outcome of the big fight.

Yours faithfully,
Sushma Jalan, Calcutta

Sir — India is now going through a very good time in TV viewing, thanks mainly to the frenzied following of Kaun Banega Crorepati. However, it might be a good idea to produce a show named “Kaun Kaise Crorepati Bana” (Who became a millionaire and how?) and have the tainted Indian cricketers and officials of the Board for Control of Cricket in India as the contestants. In this show, the officials of the Central Bureau of Investigation can play the role played by Bachchan in Kaun Banega Crorepati, asking questions on the topic of matchfixing in cricket. There is no doubt that the show will be an instant success and may even surpass its predecessor in the popularity ratings.

While not taking away the credit of Kaun Banega Crorepati, in which presentation and glamour, as well as the “big B” factor is working well, it would be in the service of society to bring before the people the men who have become crorepatis at their expense. Wouldn’t it be good if some of the illegal riches were to be recovered from the individuals who have no right to lay their hands on the money after selling their country’s pride?

Yours faithfully,
F. A. Rodrigues, Calcutta

Sir — Kaun Banega Crorepati is essentially a combination of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? and the British quiz show, Mastermind. And yet, the Indian counterpart remains a poor cousin of both these programmes since it does little else but flaunt before the world the appalling ignorance of the average Indian. How can a person be allowed to bag lakhs for answering questions like “Who wrote Gitanjali?”, and sometimes even after failing to answer such questions? The rate at which other channels are coming up with clones of this show hardly augurs well for TV viewing in India.

Yours faithfully,
Suman Ghosh, Calcutta

Sir — Kaun Banega Crorepati is a great addition to the fare laid out for Indian TV viewers, but suffers from certain inconsistencies. Each person sitting in the hot seat opposite Amitabh Bachchan should be given a limit of five minutes per question to choose from the four options given or use their lifelines. This will give the other contestants a better opportunity to be a part of the programme instead of waiting the whole evening and not getting a chance.

Yours faithfully,
Geoffrey Culloden, Calcutta.

Sir — In 1993, The Telegraph Magazine had carried a article, “How would you spend a crore?”, which had the seeds of the idea Kaun Banega Crorepati is based on. The channel has launched this show to boost its sagging viewership and there is no social message in it. To become a millionaire in the true sense of the term, one needs more than just a million currency notes.

Yours faithfully,
Ravi S. Singh, Kankinara

Examination fever

Sir — Mallika Haldar, an 18 year old girl, before committing suicide wrote, “Baba, please try and get my English answer script reviewed...” (“Student suicide spurs rethink”, July 27). The news report says that the rising number of suicide cases among students is the result of the West Bengal government’s faulty education policy. The standard of English in the higher secondary examination is much higher than that at the secondary level. This is why more students are unable to cope and are committing suicide. What is new is that the state is finally taking serious notice. It is good that the government has decided to set up a committee to review the syllabi.

But this will only provide a part solution. The growing number of suicides indicates that success or failure in examinations has come to mean everything to these young people. Such are the social conditions, that the humiliation of failure in an examination is unbearable. Will the review committee change anything if society is unable to change its narrow outlook?

Yours faithfully,
Brendan MacCarthaigh, Calcutta

Sir — The news report, “Exam rerun for graduates” (July 29), shows how students fall prey to the callousness of the authorities in educational institutions. Had Tripureshwar Nath Pathak, a student who graduated in 1994, not asked for a provisional Bachelor of Arts certificate, the technical error made by the Ranchi University would never have come to light. And now the authorities have asked 40 humanities graduates who had appeared for their B.A. examinations in 1994 to sit for the degree examinations all over again.

The point is whether it would be possible for those students now to sit for the examinations and come out with flying colours. The authorities have not seen the students’ point of view. Or else they would not have threatened them with “dire consequences” if they moved court. The mistake is criminal, and the guilty should be punished. Why are the university authorities taking such an arrogant stance? Instead of passing the buck around, the university should try for a solution that serves the interests of the students.

Yours faithfully,
Tannistho Ghosh, Calcutta

Sir — The suggestion of various political parties that teachers should prepare their notes in Hindi is downright impracticable. Lack of corresponding terminology is one of the main hindrances. Besides, most of the books are in English.

While the implementation of Hindi as the national language is a laudable move, the policy will take some time to bear fruit. Owing to the large number of languages in India, English will continue to take precedence for some more time. Hindi should be made popular in the meantime so it can replace English gradually.

Yours faithfully,
Manoj Bokaria, Guwahati

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