Editorial 1/ Down the scale
Editorial 2/ Well fixed
Finances in question
Fifth Column/ Break up states, divide the country
Nucleus of the problem
Learning isn’t fun if the school is a prison
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1/ DOWN THE SCALE 
 
 
 
 
Even the staunchest detractors of Mr Jyoti Basu must admit that the West Bengal chief minister occupies a unique position in Indian political history. He holds the record for being the longest serving chief minister in India. More important, he has almost single-handedly held the Left Front together, often through periods of turbulence. Certainly, West Bengal would not have witnessed the remarkable political stability that it has enjoyed for the last two decades and more but for his remarkable stature. But, it is perhaps time to ask to what extent the ordinary Bengali has benefited during Mr Basu’s reign. Some answers are provided by the wealth of data collected by the 11th finance commission. Unfortunately, it does not make for very pleasant reading for every statistic seems to indicate that West Bengal is falling further and further behind the more advanced states in India. The most damning piece of evidence is on per capita income. In terms of per capita gross state domestic product, West Bengal occupies only the 10th position amongst the 15 major states in India. The average Bengali’s income is now roughly half that of the average resident in Maharashtra. West Bengal has even slipped behind Rajasthan, which has often been lampooned as one of the BIMARU states. The state government is bankrupt, both in ideas as well as in a more literal sense. Their ratio of tax revenue to GDP is amongst the lowest in India. Unfortunately, the state government has made very little effort to control its revenue expenditure, so that the ratio of revenue receipts to revenue expenditure has actually fallen from 0.50 during the period 1990-91 to 1992-93 to 0.42 in the period 1996-97 to 1998-99. Not surprisingly, the government has had to borrow heavily to stay afloat, and interest payments now account for 35 paise out of every rupee of revenue receipts. With its finances in a shambles, there is very little hope that the government can launch largescale development plans in the near future.

For as long as one can remember, the Left Front has blamed the Central government for all the woes suffered by the state. But central governments have changed over the years, and not all of them have been hostile to the Left Front. So, this allegation is nothing more than a lame excuse for its own failures. During its early years in power, the state government focussed on rural development. This paid rich dividends, both in terms of political payoffs in the form of committed vote banks as well as in terms of agricultural growth — there was an appreciable increase in agricultural productivity. This has certainly increased the availability of foodgrains in the state. But, the government has completely failed to promote industrial development in the state. It does not seem to have made any headway in attracting capital in sunrise industries or in the service sectors.

Private entrepreneurs simply refuse to make any significant investments in the state. And who can blame them? The state continues to lead the rest of the country in person days lost due to strikes. The diehard loyalist may still point out that the public has repeatedly voted the Left Front to power. But that is almost certainly due to the lack of a credible option. However, the resurgence of the Trinamool Congress may soon lead to a dramatic change in the political scenario in the state.    


 
 
EDITORIAL 2/ WELL FIXED 
 
 
 
 
The game of cricket is much more important than a handful of individuals. It has taken some time for the Board of Control for Cricket in India to realize and accept this. After many months of indecision, the selection committee, with the blessings of the BCCI, has taken the bold and completely justified step of dropping the three players who are suspected of being involved in betting and matchfixing. Mohammed Azharuddin, Ajay Jadeja and Nikhil Chopra are not in the list of probables for the mini world cup to be held in Nairobi between October 3 and 15. It is somewhat irrelevant to argue that the three players have not been proved to be guilty and therefore they are still innocent. The matter at hand does not revolve around legal niceties. It concerns ethics in sport, more particularly about ethics in cricket, a game whose history is informed by a certain nobility of attitude among players. The names of Azharuddin, Jadeja and Chopra have come up time and again from different sources. To ignore these pieces of evidence because they have not been accepted by a court of law would be seen as an encouragement to the many nefarious activities that have begun to influence and destroy the game of cricket.

It will remain a mystery why the BCCI refused to take action for so long. In fact, the original intention was not to drop the players till they had actually been charged by one of the investigating agencies. Fortunately the BCCI has had second thoughts and done a turnaround. It is important to remember the implications of matchfixing and betting. It involves amongst other things a complete erosion of the sporting element; it means hoodwinking spectators who actually pay for the game. A player involved in such activities is no longer a player but something far removed from a sportsman. The question of soft-pedalling such activities should not even arise. Reprimands, even on the basis of suspicion, should be swift and exemplary. And there should be no exceptions. Players should be made to realize that the game makes them and not the other way round. Too many concessions have been made to players for bad behaviour. The taint of matchfixing should be removed without any sentimentality.    


 
 
FINANCES IN QUESTION 
 
 
BY BHASKAR DUTTA
 
 
Over the years, almost all states in India have become increasingly impoverished. State governments find it impossible to either generate resources or control expenditures. The inevitable outcome of this process has been the growing dependence of the states on grants from the Central government. However, the Central government has its own resource constraints and this has forced it to restrict the total grants to the states, forcing states to operate under hard budget constraints.

Not surprisingly, all state governments have become extremely sensitive about any seeming injustice or bias in the interstate distribution of grants from the Centre. This is the background against which the 11th finance commission had to decide on the formula for the distribution between the Centre and the states of the proceeds of income and excise taxes collected by the Central government.

The 11th finance commission submitted its first report recently, and was soon immersed in bitter controversy. Several chief ministers, led by the darling of the media — N. Chandrababu Naidu — have alleged that the 11th finance commission award is unduly biased in favour of the low-income states. “The more efficiently governed states are being penalized for better governance” has been their catchy slogan.

A superficial glance at the shares of different states recommended by the 11th finance commission seems to corroborate the allegation of bias in favour of the poorer states. For instance, the shares of Gujarat, Goa, Haryana, Maharashtra and Punjab, which constitute the “high-income” states, all have decreased shares compared to those recommended by the 10th finance commission.

In contrast, the “low-income” states — Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, will all receive larger shares now than they received under the 10th finance commission award. Since the so called BIMARU states are all notorious for their incompetent governments, the 11th finance commission has also faced a fair amount of flak from the more conservative newspapers. It has been accused of promoting precisely the wrong kind of incentives — rewarding bad governance and punishing efficiency.

However, since all finance commission awards are based on explicit formulae, it is probably more appropriate to analyse the desirability of the underlying formulae, rather than the recommended shares themselves. The 11th finance commission declares that “two basic principles for determining the interstate shares of states are those of equity and efficiency”. Of course, it is difficult to contest that these are indeed “basic” and sound principles. But, the interesting issue is to see how the commission has interpreted and implemented these criteria. Even a cursory reading of the 11th finance commission report suggests that while the basic definitions of equity and efficiency are above reproach, the commission has erred in their implementation.

It argues that horizontal equity means that the revenue sharing formula must compensate those states which suffer from resource deficiencies because of “systemic and identifiable” factors. In other words, a greater share should accrue to a state which is relatively backward because of factors over which the state has no control.

While this is eminently reasonable, the commission is aware that the principle of redistribution in favour of the resource deficient states can be abused — “it tends to create a vested interest in continuing with the resource deficiency”. That is, the poorer states have very little incentive to take hard measures to raise their own resources since they can fall back on the softer option of Central government largesse. That is why the 11th finance commission asserts the need to reward efficiency, which is defined as the effort to increase the volume of resources raised or the ability to deliver services at minimum costs.

The problem with the criterion of equity is that it is not easily applicable. A state may be poorer than other states because of a variety of reasons, poor resource base (alternatively, the endowment effect) or a succession of incompetent governments being the obvious ones. Typically, it will be a combination of the two reasons. (Unfortunately, it is difficult to blame the endowment effect for West Bengal’s current plight. How else can one explain the fact that West Bengal was once amongst the leading states in India?) The difficulty arises from the fact that it is almost impossible for a body such as the finance commission to separate out the two possible causes.

In practice, successive finance commissions have essentially assumed that the relative backwardness of a state is due entirely to poor endowments and other factors beyond the control of the state. That is presumably why they use the actual per capita incomes of different states in their use of the “income distance” criterion. This criterion takes into account the difference between the per capita income of a given state and the per capita income of the richest state. The commissions have felt that the larger the difference, the greater the “disadvantage” of the state, and hence the larger the compensation deemed fair to that state. It is worth emphasizing again that no attempt is made to find out whether the difference or distance in per capita incomes is due to incompetent governance.

The 10th finance commission started the practice of rewarding efficiency by giving some weight to tax effort — states having a higher ratio of own tax revenue to state income getting additional grants. In fairness to the 11th finance commission, it should be pointed out that it has strengthened the efficiency criterion by also rewarding fiscal discipline. Unfortunately, this has been negated by two factors. First, the income distance criterion has been given an overwhelmingly large weight of 62.5 (it was 60 according to the 10th finance commission formula).

Second, the Nineties has witnessed a very large increase in interstate disparities, with the states which have adopted growth-oriented programmes progressing rapidly while most of the other states lag far behind. So, the income distances have also expanded and swamped the effects of all the other criteria.

Despite the agitation launched by some of the adversely affected states, it is doubtful whether the 11th finance commission report can be undone. But, what course should finance commissions follow? Clearly, there is no substitute for hard work. So, the best option is for any such commission is to do its homework properly and actually isolate the endowment effect from the governance effect. If it cannot do so, it should at least reduce the weight given to what is so obviously a bad criterion.

Tailpiece: Naidu has been instrumental in whipping up resentment against the 11th finance commission and its bias against the better-run states. His own pique is easily understood since the share of Andhra Pradesh has come down from 7.98 per cent in the 10th finance commission award to 7.13 per cent in the 11th finance commission. This is not a paltry difference since it works out to a sum of almost Rs 3,700 crore for the period 2000-2005.

Is this punishment for its better governance? It is tempting to think so because Naidu has acquired the reputation of being one of the more efficient and progressive chief ministers in the country. Unfortunately, the facts do not support the popular perception. The performance of Andhra Pradesh in terms of fiscal discipline is worse than that of the average figure. Its ratio of own tax revenue to state income (the proxy for tax effort) is only the eighth highest among the 15 major states.    


 
 
FIFTH COLUMN/ BREAK UP STATES, DIVIDE THE COUNTRY 
 
 
R.J. VENKATESWARAN
 
 
The integration of the princely states smoothly within about two years of independence was the greatest achievement of Vallabhbhai Patel. But under the prime ministership of Atal Behari Vajpayee, India is slowly but steadily moving towards disintegration.

On the eve of independence, there were nearly 600 princely states ruled bymaharajas, rajas and nawabs. It was assumed that the process of their integration would take several years to complete. But under the dynamic leadership of Patel, deputy prime minister and minister of states, assisted by V.P. Menon, a brilliant bureaucrat, the secretary of the states ministry, the ministry worked with amazing speed and efficiency and produced remarkable results.

But, under the leadership of Vajpayee, fissiparous forces are vigorously asserting themselves in various parts of the country. The creation of Chhattisgarh, Uttaranchal and Jharkhand as separate states has given a fillip to the demand for the creation of more states like Telengana, Vidharbha, Gorkhaland and Bodoland.

The states of Jharkhand, Uttaranchal and Chhattisgarh have been formed mainly on political, parochial and personal considerations. No expert studies have been made about their viability from financial and administrative angles. Even now, many state governments have been unable to conduct their administration with reasonable efficiency.

Tongue tied

As a result, the development of agriculture, industry and infrastructure has been sadly and systematically neglected, aggravating the problems of poverty and regional disparities.

In recent years, many states have been pursuing policies of discrimination towards citizens of other states in matters of employment and admission to educational institutions.

Linguistic chauvinism has received a big boost. But English is the language of international trade, commerce, science, tourism and sports. It is the mother tongue of most people of the United States, and the main second language of millions of people in south Asia and other countries.

It is, of course, essential for Indians to develop their mother tongue as well as the national language. But it will be suicidal to eliminate the use of English, thereby severely retarding the country’s educational and economic progress. But this is what several state governments are now doing.

Vajpayee himself does not seem to have a proper appreciation of the crucial role of English as a world language. He addressed the joint session of Parliament in Hindi in the presence of the US president, Bill Clinton. He also spoke to the United Nations general assembly in New York in Hindi when he went there as minister for external affairs some years ago.

Small business

The fiscal policy of many state governments has been framed in such a way as to deprive the people of India of the opportunity of doing business in the vast Indian market as a whole. Many small countries in Europe have lately been showing a tendency to come closer to one another so that they can derive substantial bene-fits by the free movement of commodities.

But in India, state governments have been making it increasingly difficult for Indian and foreign businessmen to set up new industries, expand and modernize the existing ones and set up new units. This was clearly highlighted by the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry, in a study released in May this year. It held: “The unification of India as a single national economy is hindered by the diversity of control by multiple authorities at different levels, restrictions on inter-state (sometimes even inter-district) movement of goods, non-uniformity in standards laid down by different authorities and agencies, and taxes imposed at different rates in different states. These manifold restrictions and controls have served to break up the vast Indian market into a large number of small regional markets.”

Assocham added: “The artificial barriers to domestic trade have distorted the locational balance of industries, raised production costs relative to foreign producers and reduced the country’s attractiveness as a destination for direct investment.”    


 
 
NUCLEUS OF THE PROBLEM 
 
 
BY MANVENDRA SINGH
 
 
The visit of the Japanese prime minister, Yoshiro Mori, has yet again underlined the fact that India’s relations with the world have moved out of the orbit of the Pokhran tests of 1998. This was first apparent from the bonhomie generated by the visit of the United States president, Bill Clinton, and has since then been regarded as a declared fact. The word sanctions is now barely audible and the nonproliferation regime is no more the determinant of India’s communication with the rest of the world. Things are happening between India and the world, in the economic and security fields. Businesses are picking up, and there is a certain mood of confidence and achievement in the country. But is that enough to sustain India’s growth engines? And its security interestsvis-ŕ-vis the world community?

The visiting Japanese delegation did mention it, but out of diplomatic politeness, did not place undue stress on it. The fact of the matter, nevertheless, is that India’s accession to the global nonproliferation regime is a matter of concern to the world at large. Despite India’s declared unilateral moratorium on further nuclear testing, there continues to be a demand for New Delhi’s accession to the comprehensive test ban treaty.

Greater awareness of India’s security compulsions does certainly restrain most members of the world community from reducing the accession to the treaty into a zero-sum issue. The dialogue is no more of the “either — or” variety, and this says much for India’s ability to explain its position, and for the world community’s ability to listen, and dovetail, those concerns. In the new millennium that, however, is insufficient.

The fact remains that there are sanctions in place against India for the tests carried out in May 1998. And that those sanctions do prevent India’s access to monies and technologies for the further advancement of its economy and the general wellbeing of its people. These facts are undeniable. And what is also undeniable is that the India conducted the Shakti series of tests in May 1998 for supreme national interests. A point had arrived in the evolution of the Indian nation wherein it could no longer allow its security concerns to be determined solely by external factors while New Delhi remained a hapless bystander.

The two decade long illegal and surreptitious transfer of nuclear and missile technology by China and North Korea to countries in the vicinity of India was the final determinant of the decision to test, and exercise the nuclear option. The international nonproliferation regime did nothing to prevent and punish these transfers. Unwilling to repeat the mistakes of the Sixties India went ahead with the tests and the weaponization. These actions are irreversible, and neither is there any such demand for them to be reversed. But what are reversible are the sanctions imposed on India, and for which there are certain responsibilities that fall on New Delhi.

A carefully crafted five-decade long effort to put in place a global nonproliferation regime was destroyed by India’s 1998 tests. This is a fact that does not receive adequate attention in India. Not that it should for the sake of attention, but only so as to fully understand the world’s responses to the tests. And understanding the world’s responses is essential to coming to a conclusion on the future of India’s role, position and responsibilities.

There is no denying the fact that India can no longer continue to exist as though it lived in a vacuum. Being among the most isolated of economies has allowed India to bear the brunt of the sanctions with relative ease. But that is not sufficient for further economic progress since the country needs technologies if it is to improve the lives of its people. These are currently denied on account of the sanctions. And one method of eliminating this problem is by India’s limited accession to the global nonproliferation regime and the signing of the CTBT.

The debate in India on whether or not to sign the CTBT has been mixed up with the nuclear nonproliferation treaty issue. That is unfortunate for two reasons. Firstly, the CTBT issue has little to do with the discrimination perpetuated by the indefinite extension of the NPT. The CTBT is essentially a continuum of the 1963 partial test ban treaty of which India was a prime moving force. Atmospheric tests were banned with that treaty, and virtually all tests are sought to be banned by the CTBT.

And secondly, India’s isolation from the NPT is the result of a mystifying morality of the Sixties that neither read the writing on the wall, nor allowed science to determine security. Once the most advanced nuclear research programmes in Asia, India could quite conceivably have tested a nuclear device in the Sixties and beaten the NPT deadline of 1968. The world did not disarm, and India did not test. Thus neither was India’s security enhanced nor its morality appreciated.

This moralizing was to be reenacted almost three decades later when New Delhi went into fits trying to sell the saintliness of its decision to sign and ratify the chemical weapons convention. The Congress supported United Front government of I.K. Gujral signed and ratified it when the official Indian position was that it did not possess such weapons and was in principle opposed to such weapons.

Whose morality was served is difficult to discern. And what is more, the chemical weapons convention is a far more intrusive and expensive, treaty for India than the CTBT is ever likely to be. As a party to the convention India has to pay for the destruction of those very weapons that it first spent millions to produce for the protection and promotion of its security. India has also to pay for the inspection visits undertaken by the technical secretariat of Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons.

This inspection regime is an ongoing process and the destruction schedule is stretched over 10 years. Had India unilaterally begun the destruction process it would have saved a semblance of its morality, and a lot of money. It could then have signed the convention as a non-possessor state, and avoided the intrusive inspection regime. The mere suspicion of a chemical weapons facility now allows another country to impose a challenge inspection on India. To prevent challenge inspections from continuing, India needs to garner a three-fourths majority in the 41 member executive council of the OPCW.

The process, as far as the CTBT is concerned is, in fact, the reverse. An on-site inspection for what is suspected to be a nuclear test, not a facility or weapons storage or some such thing, has to be approved by, at the very least, 30 of the 51 members of the executive council of the CTBT organization. And that too after the global network of the international monitoring system detects signs of seismic activity. Accession to the CTBT does not prevent India from modernizing the designs of its nuclear weapons. And it also does not prevent India from conducting sub-kiloton tests for that modernization.

Data recovered from the 1998 tests, processed through the necessary software and high-speed computing, will allow India to continue the modernization of its weapons. Configured into the sub-kiloton variety, these designs can then be tested, legally. Anybody familiar with India’s sixth test in May 1998 will recognize the worth of the expertise available within the country. What is required is some technology, but for that India has to first sign some documents.    


 
 
LEARNING ISN’T FUN IF THE SCHOOL IS A PRISON 
 
 
BY SUMAN SAHA
 
 
Recently, we have been inundated by stories about torture in schools. Aloka Murmu of Siksha Sangha punished Prasenjit Mondal by making him stand in the sun and later beat him. The boy died the next day. A student joining class after a long absence because of his mother’s death was asked sarcastically by the teacher whether he had been busy arranging his father’s second marriage.

Mentors are slowly turning into tormentors. The teacher-student relationship, which is an inalienable part of any civilized society, is under severe stress today. Victimization, corporeal punishment and humiliation are being increasingly used to “straighten unruly students”.

The most immediate consequence of harassment is school phobia. The school comes to represent a kind of jail and this makes the student edgy or unduly aggressive.

New phobia

Education has been reduced to a business proposition. The scourge of private tuitions has damaged the quality of “classroom teaching” considerably. Numerous instances of harassment occur because of the refusal to take private tuitions from the concerned teacher.

Even though corporeal punishment is banned, it is widely present in most schools. Horrific stories about students getting their fingers disjointed, being severely beaten or even dying as a result of physical abuse are common. To quote K.R.J. Rao of the National University of Juvenile Sciences: “Under the juvenile act, anyone under 18 cannot be punished physically.” The Convention on the Rights of the Child, which India acceded to in 1992, lays down that a child has a right to “protection from conflict, neglect, exploitation, abuse and injustice”. But most students and parents fear retaliatory action by school authorities against complaints.

Don’t beat ’em, train ’em

Most teachers provide some rationale for their actions. They claim that by being indisciplined themselves, students provoke teachers to take strict disciplinary action. But indiscipline may stem from trying circumstances at home or within a child’s peer group or both.

The student may also be suffering from conduct disorder or special learning disability. Aniruddho Deb of Mon Foundation says that very often it is the teacher who notices a child’s persistent difficulty with reading, writing or arithmetic. Ratnabali Roy of Mentaid warns that if proper care is not taken, a child with learning disability may experience a cycle of academic failure and lowered self-esteem along with emotional difficulties.

This kind of disability is often not properly identified by the school authorities. Teachers are admittedly stressed out. Handling about 45 students for seven hours every day can be exhausting. But in their zeal to discipline students, teachers should not harm them. Insensitive behaviour on their part may have a lifelong impact on the mind of the child.    


 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Explain the knee jerks

Sir — India is on wobbly knees. Never was the country’s predicament more apparent. The prime minister’s visit to the United States was one chance to show off the post-Pokhran confidence, to win over an uncertain US establishment at a moment of political flux and to lay a bridge from Silicon Valley to India. Atal Behari Vajpayee and his weak knees have messed it all up (“Sick and tired”, Sept 3). The problem is not with the fact that Vajpayee is ailing. The problem is with the pretensions of the sangh establishment that everything is hunkydory. Vajpayee has been ill for quite some time. Yet a prying media was either fobbed off or the people of the country fed wrong information about the prime minister. This wouldn’t have been done unless the “health” of the leader was somehow construed as determining that of the party. In the cases of both Jyoti Basu and Vajpayee this psychology is obvious. Shouldn’t we remind ourselves that India is a democracy and the lives of its people are no longer dependent on the life of the king?
Yours faithfully,
Malini Vishwanathan, Calcutta

Not brothers in arms

Sir — Brijesh D. Jayal , (“Arms and the soldier”, July 25) and N.K. Pant (“For the nation to look back in pride and sadness”, July 27), along with several other mediapersons, have blamed the civilian hierarchy for the delay and denial of justice to Indian soldiers. Such unfair criticism of the democratic government is not expected from senior and retired servicemen.

As a retired armyman myself, I feel that the blame must finally rest on the shoulders of the top bosses of the army. They are only too happy to pay lip service to political leaders; this is evident from the fact that not one general other than General K.S. Thimayya has tendered his resignation on a difference of opinion with the government. India’s loss of its virgin territories in Pakistan occupied Kashmir and Aksai Chin can be attributed to a failure of command by senior armed forces officers.

Every year the civilian hierarchy allots about three per cent of the gross domestic product to the defence budget, which is not an unsubstantial chunk. And yet, the Indian armed forces have not been able to modernize either in terms of equipment or in terms of wartime strategy.

It must be admitted that the successive civilian governments have tried to give a fair amount of recognition to the Indian armed forces. Unfortunately enough, it is our senior officers who do not know how to interact with their men and get the best out of them.

Jayal and Pant have both insisted that the soldiers fight for izzat and civilians have not given them that. If that is so, then the soldiers have no other way but to go out and earn it.

Yours faithfully,
R.K. Gangopadhyay, Calcutta

Sir — While complimenting Brijesh D. Jayal on his article, it must be said that no amount of patriotic prodding can move India’s netas. Ever since the unedifying General K.S. Thimayya incident, when he had to eat crow by withdrawing his resignation, our political leaders believe that the men in uniform will bear any amount of abuse heaped on them. Nothing is likely to come out of the K. Subrahmanyam committee report on Kargil; it will join the pile of dusty files.

In Pakistan, betrayal of the armed forces by the civilian government during the Kargil war with India led to a coup. But successive parallel betrayals in India have not resulted in similar coups since the army has accepted the exploitation without protest. This must stop, even if it means the government has to be threatened with the possibility of a coup. Succumbing to the neta-babu nexus is a sign of spinelessness.

Yours faithfully,
Jayanta Kumar Dutt, Calcutta

Sir — Under the present rules of the Indian army, boys in the age group of 16 to 21 are considered suitable for enlistment in the Indian armed forces. Those above 21 years are considered too old for enlistment though they are, in reality, in the prime of life. At the same time, those below 18 years are not considered ineligible though they are still in schools, or at most, newly admitted to colleges. As such, they should be considered as minors and too young to undergo rigorous military training. Therefore, the correct age group for induction into the army should be between 18 to 25 years. The authorities should reconsider the matter and revise the present age of enlistment accordingly.

Yours faithfully,
Gangaprasad Subba, Darjeeling

Shed the old skin

Sir — In “Bangaru’s BJP buries trident” (Aug 27) a description was given of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s change of heart. The decision not to pursue Ayodhya and Article 370 alongside the sidelining of the BJP’s hardcore is not Bangaru Laxman’s prescription. In fact, these decisions are being taken by the astute statesman, Atal Behari Vajpayee, who is attempting to project his party as acceptable to the nation at large. He is desperately trying to fill in the vacuum that has been created by the Congress, which has more or less proved its incompetence in both gathering enough votes and ruling the country with any degree of efficiency.

The overt concern for the temple in Ayodhya that the BJP displayed has now been muffled. It appears that the BJP trusts organizations like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad to look after this issue. What is surprising is that the BJP has relinquished its fixation on Article 370. This had been the cornerstone of its political agenda. It will be interesting to see how the future policies of the party are shaped, once the National Democratic Alliance coalition settles down.

Yours faithfully,
Sush Kocher, Calcutta

Sir — The editorial, “Changing spots” (Aug 29), gave us an indication of how the BJP has changed tack. From the beginning of the Nagpur conclave, it was speculated that with a new president the party might face internal ideological and personal clashes and that this could pose a threat to the cohesiveness of the NDA government. But most of the fog has cleared after Bangaru Laxman’s declaration of the BJP’s new face. It seems that the party now will attempt to forge a close relationship with minority communities by leaving behind issues such as the Ram mandir in Ayodhya, Article 370 and the uniform civil code.

The BJP under Atal Behari Vajpayee’s leadership is eager to abandon its Hindu image and is trying to become a party with a nationwide appeal. Although in this new avatar, the BJP runs the risk of alienating itself from long time allies such as the other branches of the sangh parivar, it has no alternative now if it is to occupy the political space vacated by the Congress. What we are witnessing is a historic shift in Indian politics. We are entering an age where the ruling party is finally beginning to see sense and closing the gap between the Hindu nationalists and the liberals.

Yours faithfully,
Niloy Sinha, Murshidabad

Parting shot

Sir — Ranabrata Ray’ s idea of a Bengali sena is a good one (“A drastic demand”, Aug 24). But wouldn’t a vivek sena be a more sensible idea? As originally conceived by Vivekananda, this would be an army consisting of people organized on their own, with the sole purpose of combating corruption. In the present context, it would also demand the expulsion of corrupt politicians and expose corrupt police officers, besides keeping watch on the satta dons and drug pedlars. If current trends are anything to go by, Ray’s Bengali sena would probably start stoning buses, assault non-Bengalis and turn corrupt like the politicians. The need of the hour is a coming together of people on a moral platform rather than a regional one.
Yours faithfully,
Diptendu Chakraborty, Toronto

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