Edit 1/ Old and trying
Edit 2/ Elusive standard
Dialogue before the duel
Fifth Column/ The last days of a white world
A millennium tête-à-tête
Flowering of a beautiful town in the hills
Letters to the editor

The old Adam in Mr Jyoti Basu, West Bengal’s octogenarian chief minister, dies hard. He has decided not to retire. Under normal circumstances, there would have been no cause for surprise at this decision. But the fact of the matter is that Mr Basu, both privately and occasionally in public as well, has expressed a desire to relinquish his responsibilities. The reasons he has given are related to his advancing years and to his failing health. It is true that Mr Basu has never quite announced his retirement but he cannot deny that he has deliberately fuelled speculation on the subject. As a loyal member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), he always left the question of his retirement to the politburo and central committee of his party. The latest announcement that no timeframe has been put on Mr Basu’s exit was made after Mr Harkishen Singh Surjeet, the general secretary of the CPI(M), met Mr Basu and had a discussion with him. It will not be unfair to conclude that Mr Singh prevailed upon Mr Basu to continue as chief minister and the principal leader of the Left Front. But there are grounds to suggest other reasons that may have worked to influence Mr Basu. It is common knowledge that Mr Basu has been unhappy with his party’s decision not to participate in the United Front government. This robbed him of the chance of becoming prime minister. Since then Mr Basu has been working behind the scenes to bring about changes in the party programme. Behind the willingness to continue, despite ill health and age, may have been some assurance from Mr Surjeet on this matter.

Mr Basu is a consummate politician and it is conceivable that he played the ace about his resignation to pressurize his party to consider changes in the party programme along lines that he desires. Mr Basu is in a position to do this because he is conscious of the position he enjoys. Notwithstanding what members of the politburo and the central committee might think, Mr Basu is the left movement in India. All other figures are either unknown or irrelevant at the level of national politics. Comrades who have never contested elections or addressed a mass meeting bigger than a students’ general body in Jawaharlal Nehru University may wheel and deal or even make ideological pronouncements of great pitch and moment but Mr Basu carries the can and gives the left a modicum of credibility. The importance of Mr Basu is evident from the reluctance of the party to let him retire. It is ironic that a party believing in the iron laws of history and in the irrelevance of individuals to those laws should think of Mr Basu as being indispensable.

This indispensability is by itself a pointer to the anachronism that is communism. As an outmoded ideology communism no longer draws fresh and bright talent. Hence, its ranks are full of mediocrities who are incapable of commanding the respect that Mr Basu does. Thus the CPI(M) has no other option save flogging an octogenarian. Mr Basu, for his part, seems to rather enjoy the unique stature that has been thrust upon him. So he does what he knows best: politics. Communism is no longer the everlasting gospel it was once thought to be. But Mr Basu is its everlasting man in West Bengal.    

That touchstone of agony, the examination pass mark, has once again become the subject of discussion, courtesy the Bombay high court. The court has ruled that a state can raise the pass mark of a professional examination in order to ensure better standards, even if this bypasses a university rule or a Central act. The Maharashtra University of Health Sciences had raised the pass marks of its examination over the norm fixed by the Pharmacy Council of India, a statutory body established under a Central act. The petition brought to the court challenged the right of the state university to violate the general rule framed by the overseeing statutory body. The Bombay high court dismissed the petition and ruled in favour of higher standards in professional qualifications. No thinking person would disagree with the principle behind the ruling. This does not mean, however, that the process of going to court with a question concerning examinations is one without its own difficulties and confusions.

For one, this is a simple matter of academic and professional standards. True, the whole paraphernalia of constitutional preferences and concurrent lists and the relative superiority of Central policies over those of the state as far as education is concerned can be brought to bear on the issue. Once put into this frame, nothing but operations of the law can resolve anomalies. But that is entirely unnecessary and somewhat misplaced, apart from being a waste of public money and the court’s time. The benchmark for passing a professional examination should be fixed by professionals, preferably those attached to the institution in some capacity, even if only an advisory one. Legal and constitutional technicalities are quite irrelevant in identifying the new professionals in a highly professionalized age. It is possible to arrive at some parity of standards by discussion with institutions dealing with similar professions, so that there is no wild fluctuation in standards from region to region. This system would inevitably bring up questions about the notion of a “pass mark”. It would be useful to consider whether grading, with merit whenever deserved, should not be adequate for professional degrees. In any case, the role of the courts in professional examinations should be peripheral, except in the case of unjust assessment.    

Can India and Pakistan talk sensibly about nuclearweapons? It is certainly time to do so, with both sides having had two years in the company of these all-powerful weapons. The idea of having nuclear weapons is not only to threaten but reassure. Assurance and threat are the ying and yang of nuclear deterrence.

The author is director, Delhi Policy Group, and former director-general military operations The amazing thing about nuclear weapons is their ability to drive some sense into states which possess them. Every state, when it first gets them, gloats in its ability to vanquish all its enemies. Possession by one forces the others to go get themselves nukes. Some are willing to eat grass to get the nukes, some others steal and yet others work their own way to obtain the ultimate insurance against the enemy. When others can do as much harm as one can to the others, better sense prevails and leads to attempts to reduce the dangers from nuclear weapons. Risk reduction measures are then put into place to prevent a nuclear war either by accident or design. Will India and Pakistan do so?

Nuclear weapons are no doubt dangerous. Even more dangerous are the possibilities of organizations, and people in organizations controlling nuclear weapons, making wrong decisions. Nuclear weapons are not for use, and they are also useless, without the threat of their being used.

The Cold War experience of living under threat of instant vapourizing in a nuclear exchange led to the nuclear disarmament movement. Millions demonstrated over the years to show their unwillingness to be pawns in the hands of unthinking strategists and military leaders who wanted nothing better than to “nuke” each other. The realization of what an unintended nuclear exchange could do took time to sink in. Once it did, the process of placing a fence around the possibility of a holocaust did not take long. The fence consisted of thorns and brambles in the form of risk reduction measures, confidence building measures, the right to inspect each other’s nuclear facilities, hot lines and so on. What marked these measures was the conviction that a nuclear war cannot be won and, therefore, must not be fought.

India and Pakistan seem not yet ready to absorb the nuclear lessons of the Cold War. The official attitude is that “we are responsible nations and we will not be so foolish as to throw nuclear weapons at each other”. What is forgotten in this argument is that human beings — be they political leaders, military commanders or those in charge of nuclear weapons — are capable of misperceptions, misunderstanding and plain fear. None of these conditions is the right one to have when there are nuclear weapons around. The best way to prevent the fear and misperceptions influencing crisis decisions is for both sides to clear each other’s doubts and anxieties on the use or misuse of nuclear weapons. That needs a dialogue and the political willingness to come square with the nuclear adversary. The need for transparency and trust on nuclear weapons issues was the major lesson of the Cold War. India and Pakistan need not wait three decades as the two nuclear superpowers did, before putting into place the steps which would eliminate the risks of an accidental or deliberate nuclear exchange.

What are the risk reduction measures which can be effected by India and Pakistan? There are quite a few and not all of them are complex or politically inexpedient . India and Pakistan have both committed themselves to a moratorium on further nuclear tests. They have also not deployed their weapons and delivery means, in keeping with assurances given to one or more major nuclear weapons powers. India and Pakistan can go further to say that they have not targeted each other. They can announce that their nuclear warheads and missiles or aircraft have not been brought together. They can go still further to say that they have no intention of using nuclear weapons unless the very survival of the nation is at risk. These may sound like platitudes which can be discarded any time. They are, however, the first steps towards declaring the unwillingness to even consider the use of nuclear weapons, except in the most exceptional circumstances. The circumstance which would amount to a condition for the use of nuclear weapons can then become easier to articulate.

The knowledge of each other’s nuclear decision-making process, and structures which facilitate command and control of nuclear weapons, can greatly reduce the fears of the two governments. At present there are large amounts of doubt on this. In a crisis which can develop speedily in complexity, doubts on these issues can reinforce fears. These and other technical arrangements, which can stabilize the nuclear deterrence between India and Pakistan, are in need of being put into place. Nuclear risk reduction centres in the two countries, which have direct communication facilities with each other are another means of keeping both sides informed. A dialogue of any kind has become impossible to come about in the current mood of anger, suspicion and mutual recrimination. The combined impact of no dialogue and no trust can be a dangerous one.

The memorandum of understanding which formed part of the Lahore declaration in 1999 anticipated these nuclear risk reduction measures. The two governments are understandably uncertain about what to do with the Lahore declaration. India feels the man who scuttled the Lahore process now heads the government in Pakistan. India cannot do business with him, particularly since he makes no attempt to lower the armed violence in Jammu and Kashmir. As for Pakistan it seems stuck in the fixations of what it calls the core issue. The fact remains that in the heightened tensions from the armed violence in Jammu and Kashmir and the military duels on the line of control, the potential for a wider conflict cannot be altogether ruled out. India’s chief of army staff is on record more than once that a war cannot be ruled out.

A war will bring the two countries face to face with the choice of using nuclear weapons. Pakistan would use nuclear weapons first since it has not clearly defined what conditions constitute the non-survivability of the nation. As for India, the possibility of a Pakistani nuclear attack rises by the day when it attacks across the border or the LoC. The Pakistani assertion that it will use nuclear weapons first makes that a high probability. Lack of communication and rising fears of a nuclear strike will place the Indian government under intolerable public pressure.

Can it then wait for the Pakistani nuclear strike to take place? It is these scenarios which need to be guarded against through formal and informal arrangements which act as fire breaks. If India and Pakistan do not yet find it opportune to talk formally, it is even more important that non-official and “track two” means be utilized. The risks from nuclear weapons cannot be allowed to wait for resolution until all other problems between India and Pakistan are resolved.    

“Whites will be a minority in Britain by the end of the century....It would be the first time in history that a major indigenous population has voluntarily become a minority, rather than through war, famine and disease. Whites will be a minority in London by 2010.”

So began a frontpage article in last Sunday’s Observer, normally Britain’s least sensationalist Sunday newspaper. Inside was a full-page story headed “The Last Days of a White World”, which led with the news that the United States census bureau has just predicted that “non-Hispanic whites”, currently almost three-quarters of the American population, will drop below half between 2055 and 2060.

Let’s unpick the assumptions in there. The first, obviously, is that Spanish-speaking whites aren’t really white. This is bizarre, but it really has to do with misplaced fears about Spanish becoming the unofficial US second language.

The second is that birth rates among recent immigrant groups will remain unchanged for the next 60 years, and not drop towards the norm as people climb up the socio-economic ladder. For the census bureau to be right, the prosperous, urban, American grandchildren of today’s Hispanic or Asian or West Indian immigrants must have as many children as their grandparents, who may have grown up illiterate in a village sans electricity.

If this is true of the US, what are we to say about the Observer’s prediction that whites in Britain will become a minority by 2100? There is no appropriate comment publishable in a family newspaper.

Colour lines

Britain takes in around 185,000 immigrants a year, about half of whom comes from mainly non-white countries. A great many of them settle in the capital, with the result that fewer than half of Londoners will be white 10 years from now (but then, around 40 per cent of us are already other colours, and the sky hasn’t fallen yet). Paris lags behind, but is heading in the same direction, and Toronto’s mayor says that it will reach 50 per cent non-white this year or next.

But this is mainly a metropolitan phenomenon. When pseudo-demographers warn us that almost all the larger countries of western Europe, North America and Australasia will cease to have a white majority within this century, it is just sensationalist nonsense, since it requires childbearing patterns to stay unchanged over generations.

And even if it were true, so what? The kids of Chinese parents in Vancouver and of Somali parents in Toronto speak English with perfect English-Canadian accents. The kids of Senegalese parents in Paris speak French with perfect Parisian accents. The kids next door to me in London have Barbadian parents, but they are manifestly English kids with London attitudes and north London accents. It’s called assimilation, and in an era of wall-to-wall mass media it happens much faster than it used to.

And attitudes about race have changed. In the late Jurassic, everybody knew that people of different races could not live comfortably together, but these kids never got the message. They go around in multi-coloured gaggles, and they date and mate across what was once called the “colour line”.

Choice of friends

In Britain, in France, in Canada, and increasingly in places like the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain and Italy, multiracial societies are emerging that do not conform to the harsh patterns we have come to expect from the experience of the first society to go down this road, the US. One wonders if it is because the US is the only Western country where race-based slavery was a major domestic institution .

Despite exceptions like the Observer’s nasty little outburst, both governments and the general public are greeting this change with little fuss. As Jean-Pierre Chevenement, French minister of the interior until his resignation, told a meeting of European Union ministers: “Public opinion must be told clearly that Europe, a land of immigration, will become a place where cross-breeding occurs.”

Nobody seems to mind. As columnist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown wrote in the Independent, “On the whole, I do not observe white Londoners creeping about laden with deep sorrow. Most have never had it so good in terms of choice, whether one is talking about food or lovers... The English, particularly in big cities...have embraced this diversity with uncharacteristic passion.”    

“Mani Talk” has scooped the conversation between the prime minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, and the president of the United States, William Jefferson Clinton, even before it has taken place. Excerpts:

WJC: Welcome to the White House, Mr Prime Minister. And how are we?

ABV: Don’t believe all these Congressmen. Nothing wrong with me.

WJC: Congressmen, which congressmen?

ABV: Not yours on the Hill, Bill sahib. Ours in Akbar Road. Spreading all these rumours.

WJC: (laughs — infectious) Never believe rumours, Prime Minister. Just think what our congressmen have said of me! Err...won’t you sit down?

ABV: I am trying to.

WJC: Here let me help you...There we’ve now got you seated, tucked in nice and cosy. Would you like something hot to drink?

ABV: At this time of the morning? Nothing hot, Sir, just some tea.

WJC: Oh, I see what you mean. This English can be a very confusing language. I didn’t mean hot-hot, that is for after sundown, I mean hot as in hot or cold. Yes, certainly, tea. (Picks up the phone, whispers into it. Looks at his notes). Well, Mr Prime Minister, what brings you to these United States of America?

ABV: My knees.

WJC: Why, what’s wrong with them?

ABV: Nothing at all, no, nothing at all. I was speaking metaphorically. My knees are fine. I came to bend them. You are, after all, the only superpower left. The IT leader of the world!

WJC: That’s very flattering, Mr Prime Minister, very (looks again at his notes), very poetic. We can certainly give you a few more H-IB visas, if that’s what you want. Another thousand a year. And when I say a thousand, I mean, of course, another hundred thousand.

ABV: You are so generous, Your Majesty, I mean, Your Highness, I mean, Mr President. Yes, my people’s greatest ambition is to go forever out of my country. Not just anywhere, only to the great US of A. So, if you can help one lakh of us get out every year, we’ll never forget you, Sir, never, never, never.

WJC: Lakh?

ABV: (Looks at his notes) That’s Hindi for “hundred thousand”.

WJC: Great country you have out East, Mr Prime Minister. And those village belles dancing around Chelsea and me. Throwing colours. Clapping. Smiling. Is that how it always is in your suburbia?

ABV: Oh, yes, Mr President, whenever we have US presidents visit us, it is “Holi hai! Holi hai!” You remember, Lyndon Johnson, when he was vice-president, went to Pakistan and brought home a camel driver? Well, when President Carter came — I was foreign minister then — we found the village where his mother had spent some time — gracious lady — with the poor. And we took Carterji all the way out there and named the village Carterpuri. The village hasn’t smiled since Carterji left. But there is an old haveli there — no one lives in it, full of ghosts, like the picture, Mahal, Ashok Kumar and Madhubala, have you seen Mahal? — and all the local people still say that is where Jimmy beta was born and played gulli-danda like all of us until he went away to Amreeka and became Rashtrapati there. We love you, America.

(Tea arrives. Everyone fusses around for a bit. The conversation resumes. )

WJC: Yes, well, let’s to business. Visas aside, what can I do for your great country, Mr Prime Minister?

ABV: Lift sanctions?

WJC: Can’t. No, no. Out of the question. We’ve eased them as best we can. But remove them? Out of the question. Not in an election year. It will finish Gore as a proliferator. Serves him right for pretending to be holier-than-me, but the party won’t stand for it. No, sorry, not a word on sanctions.

ABV: I understand, Shrimanji. Then what about recognizing us as a nuclear power? You say you must have sanctions against us because we are a nuclear power. And then when we ask, please recognize us as a nuclear power, you say we are not a nuclear power. What is this?

WJC: It’s called “diplomacy”, Mr Prime Minister. Sanctions, yes; recognition, no.

ABV: Then, Mr President, a permanent seat for us in the security council?

WJC: Yes, of course, no problem about that. Just two small things.

ABV: (eagerly) Yes?

WJC: One, throw your bomb into the sea.

ABV: And second?

WJC: Second, come to Camp David.

ABV: And walk up the hill? Can’t, Mr President. Knees.

WJC: No problem about that. We’ll take you by helicopter and carry you to the lodge on a stretcher.

ABV: Alright, then. When?

WJC: Oh, as soon as I can get Arafat to come.

ABV: Arafat? Yasser Arafat?

WJC: Oops, sorry, my mistake. I meant the other chap, Musharraf, CEO Musharraf.

ABV: But why Musharraf? What will Nagpur say?

WJC: Don’t know “Nagpur”. Make a note on that, Madeleine. To talk to Musharraf, of course. Under my aegis. Good offices and all that. Arafat’s wrecked my plans with his obstinacy over Jerusalem. Now, if you would come up with Musharraf, we can fix things hunky-dory. You can go back to Lahore. Musharraf can go to Kabul. And I can go to Oslo come December and collect my Nobel prize. Any questions?

ABV: Yes, Mr President, my next one. What if I say I won’t meet you in Camp David with Musharraf?

WJC: Then, of course, you understand, Prime Minister, no permanent seat to rest your knees.

ABV: I understand, Rashtrapatiji, but what about some dakshina?

WJC: What’s “dakshina”? Madeleine, make a note.

ABV: Economic assistance. We are in a bit of a mess, Mr President. NRIs taking out their money. Last year, more outflow, less inflow. Foreigners come, take approval, then disappear. 40 billion approvals. Only four billion inflow. What to do, Sir? Pramod Mahajan says, IT, IT. I say, what IT-shy T? He say, Amreeka lots of IT, but no IIT. We: lots of IIT, no IT.

WJC: Yes, of course, delighted. The new economy. It’s the new economy, stupid. No, please don’t misunderstand me, I don’t mean you. That was our slogan in the election: It’s the economy, stupid! What a slogan. Pity Bore doesn’t know it.

ABV: “Bore”, Excellency?

WJC: That’s what we call Gore in the White House. Gore the Bore. Nothing snappy about him. Not like us. Stuffed up prig. Couldn’t spot an intern at a hundred paces. Pity, we can’t stay.

ABV: But why can’t you stay, Mr President? After all, Panditji stayed in Teen Murti for 17 years and Indiraji in Safdarjung Road for 20 years and Rajiv in Race Course Road for...

WJC: But our constitution says I become a nobody in November — and have to pack my bags and leave in January.

ABV: Otherwise, Jagmohan throwing you out? (Chuckles joyously at his own ready wit). Well, Mr President, you can give us a hundred thousand more visas. What else?

WJC: Frankly, nothing. I am a lame duck.

ABV: You too?

WJC: Lame? No, lame duck. Can do nothing. No instant gifts, no promises for the future, nothing. I’ll be a museum piece in two months time.

ABV: Then, why did we come now?

WJC: That’s what I was wondering myself. But it’s been a pleasure. Prime Minister, a real pleasure. Sorry, I have to leave now. Got to run to help Hillary in New York. You know what she’s like if one is late. Suspicious, very suspicious. And snappy, says the rudest things. Well, bye for now. Bye-bye. And see you later, Alligator.

ABV: Namaskar. Always an honour to bask in your sun. Your royalty.    

The Darjeeling municipality celebrates its 150th anniversary this year. It might be interesting to look back and see how it grew, since at the moment it is at the very heart of an area unsettled by conflicting pulls. The municipality has helped the growth of the urban areas of Darjeeling since its inception in 1850.

The area of the municipality originally corresponded with that of the tract ceded by the raja of Sikkim to the British in 1835, and covered an area of 138 square miles. This provided for a conservancy and police establishment in the Darjeeling station and maintained about 120 miles of roadway in the interior.

In the 19th century, the municipality undertook activities such as sprucing up the churches, dividing the town into wards, mending the roads, constructiing the new Town Hall and improving the water supply.

Solid structure

By 1907, the area of the municipality was 4.85 square miles. According to a document, written in 1907, the municipal administration of Darjeeling was governed by a special act, which was introduced to make the municipality deal better with landslides. It was empowered to take steps to ensure the safety of the town and control all roads, bridges, drains and construction of buildings.

The municipality was then administered by a municipal board comprising 25 members, with the deputy commissioner as chairman. Most of the commissioners were Europeans. A committee of commissioners reported on and attended to the affairs of the nine wards under the municipality. There were various other consultative committees as well.

Fire ordeal

The municipality building on the present Laden La Road was constructed in 1917, the foundation stone of which was laid by the Earl of Ronaldshay, the then governor of Bengal.

By 1939, there were fewer European commissioners.Wellknown locals such as D.E. Avari, B.M. Chatterjee, C. Tenduf La and J.N. Mitra became part of the board. They were concerned with issues such as the building of the new motor stand and the importance of healthy food. More roads were opened up for vehicular traffic.

The sources of the municipality funds were municipal taxes, markets, slaughterhouses, land rents, hydroelectric taxes, among others. This was regulated by the Bengal Municipal Act (XV of 1932) by 1947.

The municipality offices were destroyed by fire in 1996. Most of the records were burnt. The offices were then shifted temporarily to Sagarmatha Guest House near the bazaar. The municipality moved back to its restored offices in 1999.

Today the municipality has to make provisions for an increased population as well as for the tourists. The situation has naturally changed much since 1850. The Darjeeling municipality is trying to adjust itself to this changing reality.    


In all unfairness

Sir — The national cricket selectors were unfair in not considering Mohammed Azharuddin, Ajay Jadeja and Nikhil Chopra for the coming knockout meet in Nairobi. Nothing reveals better the hypocrisy within the ranks of the Board of Control for Cricket in India, since some of the BCCI members were themselves under scrutiny by income tax officials. None of them chose to resign. The recent step is tantamount to passing a verdict not just before the trial is over, but even before enough evidence has been accumulated. The reason being put forward, that “the players are not in the best frame of mind”, again speaks of a thoughtless handling of the crisis. Isn’t their performance on the field the best way to judge the players’ frame of mind? What if they are proved to be innocent afterwards? Will they be in any better state of mind then, knowing that they had been made to lose an opportunity to represent their country? What is even more unfortunate is that some brands are trying to derive mileage from this situation.
Yours faithfully,
Kapildev Gangopadhyay, via email

Prosperity graph

Sir — The editorial, “State within a status” (Sept 3), yet again raises the question of West Bengal’s economic performance. Some of the arguments can be traced back to N. Chandrababu Naidu’s complaints against the 11th finance commission’s allotment to some of the “poorer” or “non-performing” Indian states. Naidu took a series of potshots against Bihar and West Bengal. Naidu is the new darling of the Indian media and anything he says is given wide coverage.

The editorial, by quoting certain selective aspects of a report, has attempted to justify that West Bengal is at the “bottom of the heap”. Interestingly, the day The Telegraph presented us with the term “Bigrao”, which was incidentally borrowed from an economist, another publication claimed that the World Bank had placed West Bengal in the high income category. Even the 11th finance commission clubs West Bengal along with Andhra Pradesh in the middle income category. And the recent publication of the Confederation of Indian Industries report has come as a bolt from the blue for the critics of West Bengal and the Left Front. Sourav Dasgupta, Miami

Sir — The report, “Delhi topper, Bengal surprise on state scorecard” (Sept 2), is thought provoking. Of the eight most affluent states, apart from Kerala and Goa, which rank first and fifth, all six are ranked 10th or below in the law and order rankings. Is affluence at cross purposes with law and order?

Yours faithfully,
Sudhiranjan Pal, Calcutta

Sir — The recent findings of the CII commissioned study should be the cause of much chagrin for the media which has been running a motivated campaign against the Left Front government. It is hoped that the state government will feel this as a pat on the back.

Yours faithfully,
Rajib Kumar, Calcutta

Sir — Given the choice between distributing the Centre’s resources in exact proportion to the states’ individual capacities of resource mobilization and repeating the stock formula of reducing regional economic inequalities using Central doles, the 11th finance commision had little manoeuvrable space. Mahesh Rangarajan (“Fiscal federalism”, Aug 31) finds the lack of frugal economic habits to be the sole explanation for the consistent economic underdevelopment in West Bengal, Bihar and so on. But this argument is too simplistic. The astounding industrial growth experienced in Maharashtra, Gujarat and Delhi can be attributed to enhanced prices of minerals and ores from their mines. Bihar, West Bengal and Madhya Pradesh could easily have amassed billions of rupees through higher rates of mineral prices, royalties, agricultural income tax and so on. But they were not allowed this freedom.

Yours faithfully,
Susanta Kumar Biswas, Calcutta

Soldier, writer, reviewer, priest

Sir — The review by Kaushik Roy of Srinjoy Choudhury’s Despatches from Kargil as “Memories of a modern war” (Sept 1) has drawn the attention of many. Roy’s observations of soldiers developing gangrene because of their commanding officer’s lack of consent for anaesthesia is objectionable. As a rule, once a soldier is admitted to a military hospital, he comes under the command of the commanding officer of the hospital. A soldier is himself eligible to give consent for anaesthesia, if he is mentally fit. Otherwise the commanding officer of the hospital is empowered to give permission for the necessary treatment including amputation of limbs. Surgery under anaesthesia is also performed on casualties among prisoners of war.
Yours faithfully,
Nitish R. Baul, via email

Sir — Kaushik Roy’s book review of Srinjoy Chowdhury’s Despatches from Kargil regards religion as a motivating factor for soldiers. The fighting spirit of the Indian army springs from its regimental ethos. This was recently on display during the Kargil imbroglio. This is a unique characteristic that has emerged in the last 200 years and is based on the national cohesion of separate military units based on common ethnicity and regional culture, in which religion, among other things plays a major role. Hence the class-based regimental composition of many of the combat units of the Indian army which have to ultimately face the enemy ( such as, the Gorkha rifles or the Kumaon regiment). Meanwhile, there is no class composition for the officer corps. The officer’s religion and class is that of the men he commands.

The Indian army is not a “Hindu” army as Stephen Cohen superficially observes (and which Roy quotes in his review). It is an “Indian” army composed of Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Christians, whose religious needs are ministered by religious teachers of various faiths (one religious teacher authorized for every 120 soldiers of any particular faith in a unit). Pundits minister to our Hindu soldiers. For instance the 13th battalion Jammu and Kashmir rifles are essentially composed of Dogra troops who belong to the Hindu faith. At Kargil, the army also had an eighth battalion which is a Sikh regiment. This is a Sikh unit whose spiritual needs are catered to by gyanis. Again, at Kargil, there were 18 grenadiers and 12 Jammu and Kashmir light infantry units. Half the soldiers of these two battalions were Muslims whose religious requirements are met by maulvis.An assertion to the effect that the Indian army is Hindu and there is no place for other religions in its scheme of things is decidedly an unfounded one.

Yours faithfully,
S. Roychowdhury, Calcutta

Learning to hate the bomb

Sir — It is difficult to go along with Arvind Kala when he compares India’s nuclear status with that of Argentina, Brazil, the south Pacific nations and particularly South Africa (“No reason still to love the bomb”, Sept 8). The current geo-political situation in India’s neighbourhood is entirely different from that of the countries mentioned. It is also unfair to see India’s nuclear status in terms of a competition. China’s growing military power has become a concern not only for India but also for the United States. When China and Pakistan are trying to upgrade their nuclear arsenal, it is useless to argue that India should take lessons from others to denuclearize south Asia region. Similarly, the denouncing of nuclear weapons by 182 signatories to the nuclear nonproliferation treaty has only a notional value. The NPT’s goal can be achieved if the five permanent members of the United Nations security council initiate positive action by dismantling their own nuclear arsenals.
Your’s faithfully
Sanjay Prasad, Calcutta

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