Editorial 1/None to lead
Editorial 2/ Lawless sex
And the show goes on
Tragedy into political strength
Ties on a new footing
Holy to some, but not so clean any more
Letters to the editor

The Congress in West Bengal is a cipher. Ms Mamata Banerjee has reduced the Congress to this position. What the party needs now, if it is to rejuvenate itself, is to renew its contact with the people and to draw out a long term plan for revival. Even Mr Pranab Mukherjee’s best friends will admit that he is not the man best suited to carry out this task. Yet he has been appointed the chief of the Congress in West Bengal. Mr Mukherjee has never won an election; mass contact is not his strong point. He is also not a charismatic speaker who can carry a crowd and public opinion with him. His strengths lie elsewhere: in the formulation of policy; in working out the political arithmetic; in drafting resolutions and in the laying down of tactical lines. This is exactly what he was doing in New Delhi. He is being removed from what he is good at and has been sent to West Bengal to do something at which, at the best of times, he is a non-starter. There may be some irony in this but the Congress in West Bengal — some would say all over India — needs something more substantial than wry grins. This is not Mr Mukherjee’s first stint at the helm of the Congress affairs in West Bengal. His previous tenure as president of the West Bengal Congress was only remarkable for its lack of success. Mr Mukherjee has no support base within the party. His only hope lies in those Congressmen who are against Mr A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury since Mr Mukherjee is known for his dislike of the latter. But such support, inevitably short-lived, is unlikely to provide any leverage for manoeuvres.

To be fair to Mr Mukherjee, he has been sent on mission impossible. The organization of the Congress in West Bengal is moribund, some of the most dedicated workers have left to join the Trinamool Congress. There is a pervading suspicion among committed anti-left voters that the Congress no longer opposes the Left Front with as much vigour as it should. This has enabled Trinamool Congress to gain from the anti-left atmosphere that now prevails in the state. Mr Mukherjee cannot avoid the public perception that he has been offered as the proverbial sacrificial lamb to the altar. This provides grounds for the theory that Ms Sonia Gandhi or sections of the Congress high command opposed to Mr Mukherjee have successfully got him away from the power centre in New Delhi. Mr Mukherjee has been given the political rope to hang himself. What is much more important than this kind of conspiracy theory is the sorry plight of the Congress in West Bengal. The responsibility for this has to be borne by the state leaders who have surrendered their autonomy and decisionmaking powers to New Delhi. Mr Mukherjee may not quite deserve the West Bengal Congress but the latter deserves a lame duck.    

The movement to legalize prostitution has been gathering momentum for a while now. The issue is a troubled one, and merits more time than the human resources development minister, Mr Murli Manohar Joshi, afforded it in the Lok Sabha recently. The government seems to have gone into denial mode, in terms that are both disappointing and confusing. First, the confusion. Most outfits campaigning for better protection and greater security for sex workers and their children are arguing for decriminalization of the activity. This would allow sex workers to claim the rights they actually have as citizens and also to subject their business to self-regulation. Legalization could be a further step. At the same time, any government aspiring to a free market economy should, if it were at all logical, seriously consider the question of legalization. What is confusing about the government’s attitude is its loud refusal to recognize prostitution as an industry. Legalization and bestowing industry status are not the same thing. Although the HRD minister was technically answering a question about industry status, the answer dismissed the issue of legalization as well. This in itself is a regressive step. It is true that there are two very troubled sides to the question of legalizing prostitution. But these sides have to be thrashed out through debate, not shoved forcibly under the carpet. The danger of AIDS and the increasing traffic of women and children across borders are two things that make the protection and security of this part of society vital. Yet all the government is willing to promise is some tinkering with the Prevention of Immoral Traffic Act, a law which allows the most brutal exploitation of sex workers in the guise of protecting them.

The second disappointing feature about the government’s response is its distracting focus on a non-issue. Surely it is not the government’s job to decide whether women in prostitution should be called sex workers or “prostituted women”. The “sex worker” label would not automatically make the subject part of a recognized industry. When it is a question of dignity, the term “prostituted women” is a definite comedown from the term, “prostitute”. In any case, names are not the issue here. If the government is serious about amending PITA, it should be careful that the changes do not make things worse for the women. Given the provisions of the act as it stands, this would be no easy job, because the legislation assumes the culpability of sex workers and the innocence of their clients. Granted that something better may yet be made of PITA, it would still be tackling only a part of the problem. The issue should be considered from the perspective of rights on the one hand and from the logic of free market economics on the other. By reacting like an old-fashioned prude, the government is doing both itself and the sex workers a considerable wrong.    

Chandrababu Naidu is adept at the game of giving the Central government he backs a nervous fit whenever he wants to bend it to his will. The conclave of aggrieved chief ministers he stage-managed in New Delhi on Monday was his way of registering a concerted protest against the way the 11th finance commission had penalized the states most active in making the country go high-tech. The menace was in what was left unsaid. “Atalji, are you listening? Can you afford a showdown with so many of your allies?”

The unspoken words rang loud and clear. The government scurried for cover. “Rest assured that due amends would be made,” cooed the prime minister in effect. “There is no question of alienating the more forward-looking states,” the finance minister chipped in with a friendly grin on his face and propitiatory words. A.M. Khusro, chairman of the 11th finance commission, quickly got his act together. “We are still working on our last terms of reference,” he assured the angry chief ministers, “which specifically deal with rewarding states that show better performance.”

So N. Chandrababu Naidu has won both the war of nerves and the battle of wits. He plays with much greater élan the role of a modernizer than his father-in-law, from whose palsied hands he seized power and donned the garb of Vishwamitra on the political stage. He can go ahead with his plans to provide access to the internet to every villager in his state even before some of them have enough rice on their thali.A crazed philosopher has said that “the limits of a person’s language are the limits of his world”. Naidu, with his fixation on info-tech, will beg to differ and contend that digital language works in a different way altogether.

All the assurances received by him should puff up the Andhra chief minister’s ego. Yet he will continue to wonder why, if the Khusro commission was already at work exploring ways of putting more money into the kitties of progressive states, did its chairman not break the news earlier? If the problem which had been bugging him was already being addressed by it, it could have spared so many chief ministers the bother of rushing to Delhi to make a concerted confrontationist gesture. Was it a case of the government’s left hand not knowing what its right hand was doing? Or was it one more glitch in its public relations machinery?

In any case, it is an episode like this, every now and then, which relieves the daily tedium of political hackwork and the drudgery of news gathering, provides an occasion for some sniggers to a bored public and keeps policy-makers on the qui vive. The more energetic modernizing states on their part have no reason to feel complacent over the prospect of receiving an extra few hundred crores as their share from the Central revenues. Creating mini-Silicon Valleys in four or five states will touch a mere fringe of the problem of widespread poverty.

A few high-tech enclaves of highly skilled workers will by themselves not be able to absorb even one-twentieth of the workers who enter the labour market every year. The islets of a new affluence are moreover likely to increase social tensions by promoting wider income disparities.

This is not to berate the strategy which puts greater emphasis on developing the infotech sector for its immense export potential and for the incentive it will provide for upgrading the rest of the industrial sector, making its products more competitive in the world market. The catch in such a programme is not only that it can mean an increase in unemployment in the short run since renewal of old plants often gets translated into a policy of lay-offs, but also that it demands investment on a massive scale for which the likely sources are nowhere in sight.

The problem before policymakers — who are often prisoners of their past — is not only of creating a more congenial climate for both foreign and domestic investors, but of guarding against the instabilities and uncertainties bound up with a global environment in which frenzied volatility of capital is a perpetual threat to the stability of more vulnerable national currencies and economies. Thus, viewed in a larger perspective, a small change here or there in the allocation of meagre internal resources between poor and comparatively well-off states is of minor importance. The derelict state of roads, seaports and airports, the all too frequent breakdowns in power supply in urban areas, the chronic water shortages and the increasing pollution all speak of a situation getting out of control.

The task of allocating internal resources itself is a highly ticklish job because there is no scientific way of striking a neat balance between the demands of rapid growth and equity or the needs of the organized sector and the much larger unorganized sector. The well-off states perhaps rightly insist that they should not be penalized for infusing their developing policies with a new dynamism. But does it mean that over half the country’s population living in the poorer states should be allowed to sink into a morass of destitution for being saddled with venal and incompetent governments?

It is true that — thanks to the proposed changes in the weightages given to various criteria like population, area, per capita income, infrastructure, tax effort and fiscal discipline — Uttar Pradesh and Bihar will each get over Rs 9,000 crores more over the next five years under the new dispensation than they would have received under the old. But both are almost basket cases and if nothing drastic is done to rescue them from the cruel predicament that awaits them otherwise, they will be a drag on the country as a whole and the national economy. Thus, no one can grudge them a modicum of what can be justly called emergency relief. The problem in these states is how to make sure that the relief money reaches the targeted groups and does not as usual find its way into the pockets of corrupt politicians and crooked bureaucrats.

The non-performing states have often used the Centre as a scapegoat on which to blame all their economic ills. They forget that for a long time it was the same party which ruled both at the Centre and in the states and could not possibly have any interest in discriminating against any of them. Not even a cretin will ascribe the backwardness of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar to a raw deal from the Centre, since no government in New Delhi could afford to alienate the two most populous states, accounting between them for more than one-fourth of the Parliament’s membership. Their slide-down into a swamp of decrepitude, already a dismal fact, gained speed with the recasting of their politics in a casteist mould which, after 1990, acquired a paranoid streak.

The piquant irony of this development was that it took place under the auspices of a minority government, propped up by both the extreme left and the extreme right, the bond between them being one of their shared allergy to the Congress. It is not surprising that these two fanatical elements from the opposite ends of the political spectrum again find themselves on the same platform as they castigate the economic liberalization for its betrayal of the swadeshi spirit.

What both conveniently forget is the grim fact that, however great the effort put into capital accumulation at home, the country cannot produce even a half of the resources it needs for investment in the infrastructure, upgrading and expanding the small-scale sector to create more jobs or gaining access to new technologies to sustain a rate of growth of seven to eight per cent over at least two decades, needed to abolish poverty.

Curiously enough, no state government has been more persistent in upbraiding the Centre for its discriminating policies than that of West Bengal, led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist). As a matter of fact, the states run by the Congress seldom fared better than the left-ruled state in the matter of Central subsidies or allocation of shares of Central revenues.

It may be embarrassing for the CPI(M) to have its main social base in rural areas in the context of Marx’s snide remark about “the idiocy of village life”. But the responsibility for encouraging the flight of capital from the state during its first spell of governance and then systematically creating a climate uncongenial to investment goes entirely to its own policies. The gerontocracy that rules West Bengal today has miserably failed even to digest the lessons from the experience of its one-time mentors.

That the CPI(M) has maintained a discreet silence on the row kicked up by Naidu is no accident. There is method in its muteness. As it happens, West Bengal is to get over Rs 6,000 crores from Central revenue under the new weightage scheme more than it would have received under the old arrangement whereas Gujarat, with a Bharatiya Janata Party government, will have Rs 5,000 crores less. This anomaly does not fit the kind of facile class analysis and the hazy communal-secular divide which determine the CPI(M)’s shop-soiled rhetoric. Yet, everything falls into place once politics is regarded as playacting and the spectators realize that the show will go on even if the bill of fare ends in one anticlimax after another.    

The headline in Komsomolskaya Pravda last Thursday was bright red and two inches high: “Why has the president been silent?” And Nezavisimaya Gazeta, usually quite supportive of the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, said bluntly that his first year in power has been “generously soaked in the blood of Russians.”

Most of the blood has been shed in Chechnya, where at least 2,500 Russian soldiers have been killed, but that drip-feed disaster surged back into the headlines last week with the bomb that killed 12 civilians in the Pushkin Square underpass in central Moscow — and then the submarine, Kursk, went to the bottom with 118 men on board.

So it’s only natural that people are speculating feverishly about Putin’s future. Has he lost his credibility? Will he still be able to push his reforms through, especially the reforms he planned for the armed forces? What does this tell us about the state of Russian military technology? Is Russia doomed? No, silly, it’s just a submarine stuck on the bottom. It is a human tragedy and a boon to the world’s media in the slowest news month of the year, but it’s not really a major political event. It’s not even a significant technological event.

Designed to sink

Submarines are inherently unsafe and unforgiving craft, because they are designed not just to float but also to sink. In a month when British and French Concordes stopped flying, maybe forever, because the accident investigators concluded that one burst tire could bring the supersonic jet down, and when the United States defence department finally admitted that it probably left a nuclear bomb on the seabed after a bomber crash near Greenland decades ago, it is not fitting for others to sneer at Russian technological or operational capabilities.

As for Putin, he will collect some blame for letting the navy stall on accepting foreign help to save its sailors (but would the US navy have behaved differently if the shoe had been on the other foot?). He will also catch some media flak for staying at his Black Sea holiday retreat through the whole saga (as if his physical presence in Moscow or Murmansk could alter the outcome). But most Russians want to believe that Putin is a man with some answers, so they will give him the benefit of the doubt.

Indeed, this tragedy may actually enhance Putin’s ability to bend the cumbersome and recalcitrant Russian military machine to his will — an urgent task that he finally took up at a meeting of the national security council only two days before Kursk sank. It’s obvious to anybody with a grasp of basic arithmetic that a country with a military budget of only five billion dollars a year cannot maintain a force of 756 land-based intercontinental missiles and 1.2 million troops, and Putin knows how to add. (US military spending, by comparison, is close to $300 billion even without counting the hidden bits, and even the Canadian defence budget is twice Russia’s.)

Criminal stupidity?

At present some 70 per cent of Russian military spending goes on maintaining the country’s long-range nuclear weapons, which are its sole remaining claim to superpower status. This allocation of resources is decided by the defence minister, Marshal Igor Sergeyevich, who comes from the strategic rocket forces himself, but it is bitterly criticized by the chief of the general staff, General Anatoly Kvashnin.

Kvashnin wants to chop the armed forces’ numbers by a quarter, cut the land-based missile force to a mere 148 ICBMs over the next 15 years, and subordinate what remains of the rocket forces to the air force. “Criminal stupidity,” huffed Sergeyevich, and the mudslinging went on between the two for a month while Putin bided his time.

“I’ve been quite patient with the polemics within the defence ministry,” he announced earlier this month, “but the current structure of the armed forces is hardly optimal. How can it be considered optimal if training is not conducted in many units, pilots rarely fly, and sailors rarely go to sea?” With that, he convened the recent crucial security council meeting — and though its detailed decisions were not disclosed, it’s clear that Kvashnin and rationality were the winners. In this larger context, the tragedy beneath the Barents Sea only strengthens the hand of Putin and the military reformers.    

The five day visit of the Japanese prime minister, Yoshiro Mori, will surely go down in the history of Indo-Japanese relations as a momentous event. The visit comes at a critical juncture for both countries and it is not surprising that there are expectations in India and in Japan too that it will break new ground in bilateral ties and go a long way towards removing the misgivings that have arisen in the recent past, especially since India carried out nuclear tests in 1998.

Mori is the first Japanese prime minister to visit India in 10 years. With the visit, New Delhi is likely to emerge out of the shadow cast by the nuclear tests. The visit is a sign that Japan is moving closer to India despite disagreement about the comprehensive test ban treaty. Japan, like other countries, maintains that its differences with India on the nuclear issue remain. But Tokyo wants to move ahead on other bilateral matters which are of common concern and interest.

Of all the critics of India’s nuclear programme, China and Japan turned out to be toughest to handle after the 1998 blasts. India has already had a productive dialogue with the United States and the European Union. Some progress has also been made in the case of China after a series of top level exchanges, including the visit of the president, K.R. Narayanan, to Beijing and that of the Chinese foreign minister, Tang Jiaxuan, to India. But although Japan and India restarted their political dialogue — stalled by Pokhran II — after a lapse of over a year, it had not borne much fruit. But now, it seems, Japan too is willing to soften its stance.

The key question is whether Japan will lift the curbs against India. A Japanese newspaper, Yomiuri Shimbun, hinted last month at such a possibility and also that an announcement would be made by Mori in this regard during his visit to India. Earlier, in May, at a foreign policy meeting, a majority party in the ruling coalition, the Liberal Democratic Party, had felt the need for the Japanese government to lift the sanctions to prevent relations with India and Pakistan from deteriorating further. But the government consensus promptly ruled out lifting of sanctions, stressing that the two countries must first sign the CTBT.

A senior foreign ministry official was quoted by Kyodo as saying, “We really want to lift the sanctions if we can.…But we must at least see the two nations sign the CTBT to keep our policy consistent.” Japan’s major companies are reported to have lobbied the LDP to lift the sanctions because of their declining business contracts in India and Pakistan. But there is still strong resistance from two of LDP’s coalition partners, and the foreign ministry, which do not want to end the sanctions without the two nations signing the CTBT.

Japan is hesitant, therefore , to immediately lift the sanctions unless India moves towards the CTBT, which is a symbol of Japan’s opposition to nuclear weapons. As the only country in the world to have suffered a nuclear holocaust, Japan has an innate horror of nuclear proliferation. The Japanese fully understand that the CTBT is not perfect. But they say it is nevertheless good.

Mori’s visit may result in some easing of economic measures. But even as Japan shows it willingness to reciprocate India’s desire to remove constraints in the relationship, it will be naïve to presume that Tokyo will lift sanctions at one go. It is instead likely to go slow on the issue and do it in a phased manner in the expectation that India will sign the CTBT soon.

The following observation made late last month by the Japanese ambassador to India, Hiroshi Hirabayashi, makes clear the message that the Japanese would like to convey to the government and people of India. While expressing his hope that the Indian prime minister, A.B. Vajpayee, would guide India to a consensus on signing the CTBT, he said , “I can’t predict anything except say that we will be carefully watching the situation and hope that some progress will be made.” Hirabayashi also pointed out that Japanese “feelings have been evolving” and that sanctions would not be the central issue of discussion during the visit. It would be wrong to think that Japan doubts India’s sincerity in its campaign against nuclear disarmament. However, it appears that Japan cannot lift sanctions without any gesture from India. The Japanese would keep reminding us that the ball is in our court.

Contacts between India and Japan during the Cold War period were far from substantive. The Cold War came in the way of close interaction. The end of the Cold War also did not immediately bring about a dramatic change in the relationship. In July 1997, the Japanese foreign minister, Yukihiki Ikeda, visited India — the first at that level in 10 years. This visit signified Tokyo’s commitment to an expanded relationship with India. India and Japan were even to open a defence dialogue under the aegis of the defence ministers of the two countries.

Echoing the new sentiment Ikeda had said that since India was a country of 900 million people with a seven per cent or so economic growth in recent years, all countries were bound to be interested in its “existence as well as its behaviour”. The above statement was clearly indicative of Japan’s interest in developing close relations with India and Japan’s recognition of India as an important player on the world stage.

The fact is that Japan has interests in this part of the world, for example, in central Asia, Afghanistan and west Asia — to name a few. Given the decision of Japan to shed its longstanding inhibitions about seeking a greater political role in world affairs, Japan considered it important to develop friendly relations with India.

But this new interest in India suffered a jolt in 1998 as a result of the nuclear tests. Japan’s reaction was harsh, though understandable. It froze $2.5 billion in overseas development assistance and held back $12 billion in pledges to the Aid India Consortium. Japan’s strong reaction was caused by heightening fears of nuclear arms races in the troubled Indian subcontinent and even beyond the region. Since then, Tokyo, the world’s largest provider of foreign aid, has only offered minimal grant aid primarily for humanitarian purposes to India and Pakistan. Tokyo made the signing of the CTBT by India and Pakistan a condition for the lifting of sanctions.

Despite the hangover of the nuclear issue, Japan seems to be willing to broadbase the relationship with India. The two countries have affirmed to strengthen trade, investment and industrial relations and ensure greater cooperation in the field of information technology. India and Japan have agreed to initiate a dialogue on infotech, focussing particularly on e-commerce, e-governance and promotion and facilitation of business-to-business cooperation in the sector. The two countries have also agreed to formulate a Japan-India IT business exchange programme towards the 21st century to promote and support infotech business.

Japan is planning to hire upto 10,000 Indian software engineers to meet an acute shortage of infotech personnel in that country. A major Japanese firm, Pasona, has already arranged to bring in the first batch of 50 Indian engineers in September and is likely to recruit many more over the coming years.

It is needless to underline how important Japan is to India. Japan has been India’s largest donor of aid and fourth largest trading partner and foreign direct investor in India. Japanese investments in India increased from roughly $ 17 million in 1991 to $480 million in 1997. Given its growing interest in east Asia, India would be deeply interested in forging close relations with the countries in this region, especially Japan.

Countries belonging to the Association of South East Asian Nations envision a common market similar to the EU or North American Free Trade Association, and including China, Japan and South Korea. Thus continued efforts to strengthen ties with Japan should be one of the prime objectives of Indian foreign policy.

Now the two countries realize that bilateral relations should not be hostage to any single issue like differences on nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament. This no doubt will continue to be a sore point. But it looks like both sides have agreed not to allow these differences to continue to sour the relationship.    

India is known as the land of holy rivers. However, the waters are not likely to remain “pure” in the long run, since these rivers are fast becoming repositories of sewage, with domestic and industrial waste flowing into them and making the pollution level alarmingly high.

Most municipal bodies lack resources to install plants for channelizing the waste water before allowing it to flow into rivers. This is a serious matter especially because contaminated water is being used for domestic water supply and irrigation downstream from major sewage discharge points. In many places, the situation is even worse because of open defecation, especially in rural areas close to the water bodies. Sewage from septic tanks may infiltrate the shallow ground from where potable water is extracted by means of hand pumps, and thus create serious health problems.

Dangerous contaminants

The former prime minister, Rajiv Gandhi, introduced the Ganga action plan, under which the Centre provided funds to Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal and to small municipal corporations and towns situated on the river bank to help them clean it. Although over Rs 30 crores have already been spent under this scheme, the river remains polluted as before. The sewage treatment plans installed in different places are either missing or not functioning at all.

Studies conducted on the quality of water by the central pollution control board show that the Yamuna is the most polluted river in the country with a very high rate of dangerous contaminants in the 500 kilometres stretch between Delhi and Etawah. Similarly, stretches of the Ganges downstream of Kanauj, Kanpur, Allahabad, and Varanasi are also heavily polluted. Cauvery, Krishna and other rivers of the south are in equally bad condition.

Repositories of waste

The main sources of pollution in rivers are industrial and municipal wastes from Haryana, Delhi and Uttar Pradesh. Not only villages near Delhi, Mathura and Agra, but those all along the banks of the Yamuna use contaminated water for irrigation. This is because waste water treatment is being given low priority. Already, the ground water has been found contaminated with fluoride in Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat and Maharashtra, with nitrates in Rajasthan and arsenic in West Bengal. The CPCB monitors water quality of national aquatic resources in collaboration with the state pollution control boards at 507 locations, of which 430 are under the monitoring of Indian National Aquatic Resources Organization, 50 under the Global Environment Monitoring System and 27 stations under the Yamuna action plan.

The truth is, municipal corporations generally lack resources. And this is the root cause of increasing water borne diseases. Only timely intervention can prevent the outbreak of epidemics. Unless authorities intervene, the situation will never improve.    


Jumping to conclusions

Sir — Pronab Mondal’s article “Metro grabs Tagore lifeline” (August 21) tells us that the Metro Railway authorities are going to put up “counselling” billboards. The idea behind this is that it will discourage people from attempting to commit suicide on the Metro Railway tracks. This year two suicides and six attempts have already taken place. But this recent decision is both bewildering and amusing. To start with, it will incorporate messages from Tagore’s works. For instance, lines of this nature will be put up beside ticket counters: “Moritey chahina ami e sundar bhuboney”, (I don’t want to die in this beautiful world). What is surprising is that the Metro authorities feel that a person who is driven to the point of suicide will actually stop and read this and decide against taking his or her own life. One should imagine that under that kind of stress, the kind of message that might work could be one that does not meander and allude. Perhaps something direct, such as: “Suicide causes inconvenience to the other passengers.”

Yours faithfully,
Richard Gomes, via email

Party line

Sir — That Mani Shankar Aiyar is a yes-man of the Congress, and specifically of Rajiv Gandhi, is legendary. But his assertion that General K. Sundarji and Arun Singh got down to the brass tacks without the prime minister’s knowledge is ridiculous (“Of a bungling statesman”, Aug 15). Contrary to what Aiyar would have us believe, the war hysteria during Rajiv Gandhi’s time was deliberately created. This made easy the induction of the Bofors guns into India’s arsenal, the “fringe benefits” of which were enjoyed by many whose names are yet to be disclosed. The concluding paragraph aptly describes Rajiv Gandhi’s foray in governing India, not that of A.B. Vajpayee.

The loyal Aiyar forgets that Sino-Indian dispute too was initiated by the progenitor of the Kashmir problem, Jawaharlal Nehru, when he disdainfully ignored China’s call for talks. The then Congress government passed a Lok Sabha resolution that the territory under Chinese occupation in Aksai Chin would be retaken by us. But anyone in his right senses would doubt the veracity of such an argument. For years after the Simla sellout, the government — mainly Congress — of the day did nothing about proper management of the border in Kashmir. What it did was steadfastly increase the “enemies within”. Consequently, terrorists have had a free run in Kashmir, aided and abetted by our netas.

Aiyar tries in vain to make a convenient scapegoat of Vajpayee on every issue. This is a clumsy attempt to cover up the incalculable damage done to the country by the Nehru-Gandhi clan. Incidentally, the Siachen impasse was Rajiv Gandhi’s contribution to India besides the Indian peackeeping force fiasco. Can Aiyar answer one question: why did Indira Gandhi sell Indiagratis — particularly after the sacrifices made by our armed forces over three India-Pakistan wars — to Zulfikar Ali Bhutto at Simla when India had all the aces?

Yours faithfully,
Jayanta Dutta, Calcutta

Sir — Rajiv Gandhi might not have been the demigod Mani Shankar Aiyar makes him out to be, nor so much of a “visionary” where the Chinese policy is concerned. Aiyar in fact goes to the extent of connecting all the “compromises” Rajiv Gandhi made in India to the long term goal of improving relations with China, and this is quite risible. But there was a degree of forthrightness in the Congress government headed by him which the 18-head National Democratic Alliance government does not have. After the carnage of the Eighties, the Rajiv Gandhi government provided a welcome relief and a semblance of stability the country desperately wanted.

The reason probably lies in the fact that the Congress under Rajiv Gandhi still held a majority in Parliament which enabled the prime minister to carry out his actions with a lot more confidence than it is possible now. Vajpayee heads a 18-member coalition and has to be several things to the several coalition partners besides playing to the tune of the members of the sangh parivar. Hypocrisy, frequently shrouded by theatre and poetry, is often the only resort. The comparison is not so much between two statesmen, but between one leader who is in a spot and one who was not.

Yours faithfully,
Ram Banerjee, Calcutta

Great masters

Sir — It was good to read the article on Johann Sebastian Bach by Rukun Advani (“Bach in time”, Aug 12). However, the author gave the impression that Bach’s music is of a purely cerebral nature and is only for the connoisseur who understands the technicalities. I would like to say that as a lay person who is also a Bach fan, my experience has been quite the opposite. Bach’s magnificent grasp of the fugal form does not take away from the sheer charm of his music.

Also it is futile to compare artists and classify them as “great” or “major” as the author does. The great composers of the Renaissance like Monteverdi and Palestrina deserve better exposure than they have received and it is shortsightedness on our part to dismiss them and say Western music begins with Bach. It is equally futile to compare Bach and Beethoven and say one is “greater” than the other.

A factual error I noticed in the article was about Mendelsshon’s contribution during the first centenary of Bach’s death in 1850. Though Mendelsshon did much to popularize Bach, including the first performance of St Matthew’s Passion in 1829, he could not have celebrated the centenary because he died in 1847. I would be happy if ,b>The Telegraph devoted more space to such articles. It would be nice to see articles on both Western and Hindustani classical music in ETC instead of just television listings and Bollywood gossip.

Yours faithfully,
Anupam Basu, via email

A drastic demand

Sir — What West Bengal needs today is the formation of a “Bengali sena” on the lines of the Shiv Sena of Maharashtra. We have long relied upon a broad two-party system, consisting of the leftists and the Congress. But these leaders have done very little for the economic development of the country. We should not for once imagine that the political parties which have so far been totally insensitive to our woes will suddenly become a panacea to our problems. We need a platform in order to voice our opinions.

We must demand that economic development be pursued as a policy. There are possibilities of many new developments in the state particularly in areas of banking, tourism and other services. But the nature of the present political elite will restrict any growth that would otherwise have been conceivable. For this reason we need a new set of drastically different players.

Yours faithfully,
Ranabrata Ray, 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:
Third Floor, Godrej Building,
G.S. Road, Ulubari, Guwahati 781007

Maintained by Web Development Company