Editorial 1/ Beyond normal
Editorial 2/ Rivals in abuse
Bickering on the brink
Fifth Column/ Lowering clouds on the new state
A matter of lawful gain and unlawful loss
Letters to the editor

It often seems the present summitry and diplomatic dialogue between India and the United States is all overblown rhetoric and subcommittee minutiae. But it is from these verbal frames and institutional bricks that post-Cold War relations is built. Previously, the two largest democracies have lacked the regular and commonplace interaction that most countries in the world take for granted. The powwows by Mr Bill Clinton and Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee are not yet about a special relationship, they are about a normal relationship. The working groups, trade dialogues and so on that are formed after each summit exist between the US and dozens of other countries. The same is true for high level contacts. US presidents routinely go to a dozen countries each year. Only when it came to India was all this absent. Mr Vajpayee’s visit to the US, his meeting with Mr Clinton, his addressing the US congress: all seek to end this absurdity. It helps that after the Cold War both countries have shed many prejudices against each other. India has ended its economic isolationism. The US no longer treats India as a Soviet cat’s paw.

The second goal of the Vajpayee-Clinton dialogue has been to see whether relations can go beyond “normalization”. This is where the vision statements and similar rhetoric come into play. As the Indian prime minister had said a few years ago, India and the US are “natural allies” in the present world. With Mr Vajpayee’s visit the case for such a merging of worldviews is achieving tangible form. First, the US believes global stability will be determined by the spread of open societies and open economies. India, though still a very unfree economy, is clearly the sort of country Washington prefers. Second, the two countries are much closer on the core security issue of nuclear nonproliferation. The US has come to accept that India has long term security concerns — a nuclear armed Pakistan and China — that require it to maintain the option of a minimum deterrence. India has indicated it is not opposed to a nonproliferation regime as long it has a nuclear fallback. According to reports Mr Vajpayee has promised Mr Clinton that the present moratorium on nuclear testing would continue ad infinitum fit the trend of recent Indian policy. Finally, the two countries have found in information technology an area of economic interaction unparalleled in 50 years in terms of both size and sophistication. It all comes down to an agreement that there are no fundamental differences between the two countries — just bickering on the details.

In recent times, Washington has urged India to play a more active role in various international fora ranging from the Asian regional forum to the world trade organization. It has been debating whether to let India join the Asia Pacific economic cooperation forum or observe group of eight summits. In the past, the US doubted an India obsessed with nuclear weapons, protectionism and Kashmir could contribute much to the deliberations of the world community. It no longer believes that. From nuclear weapons to terrorism to peacekeeping, the two countries are more or less in alignment. India and the US are not being thrown together because of an overriding security concern. They are meeting at a dozen different levels in a score of different areas. The summits are only the visible tip of a much larger evolutionary process.    

West Bengal and Bihar are vying with each other for notoriety. A comparison between the states has figured in the recent exchange of letters between the home minister and Mr Jyoti Basu. Mr Basu could counter his state’s ignominy by citing some statistics released recently. The national human rights commission has revealed that Bihar tops the list of deaths in custody that were reported during 1999-2000. Out of a total of 1097 deaths — the national picture is also grim — Bihar boasts of 162. This, as in most other states, speaks of a combination of factors: appalling overcrowding in the jails, nonexistent medical care, the prolonged incarceration of those awaiting trial. But the possibility of a significant number of these deaths being the result of custodial brutality is perhaps most alarming. The NHRC has also pointed out that Bihar does not have its own human rights cell. The brutal physical and sexual assault by the Jehanabad police on the women of Senari village in July is the most recent instance of what this obliviousness to human rights could mean for civil society. The entire Jehanabad police force has been indicted by the district judge recently.

Yet the disorganization and callousness characterizing West Bengal’s handling of medical care in its prisons could also be seen as a kind of brutality, comparable to Bihar’s sins of commission. Medical equipment worth several lakhs of rupees lie unused in Calcutta’s Alipore central jail in the absence of proper infrastructure for treatment. Doctors from the health services, on duty in Alipore and Presidency jails, are seldom seen on the premises. There are no doctors in the 31 sub-jails. The three crore rupees allotted by the Centre almost three years ago is lying unspent or has been wasted on equipment the jails are unable to use. This is part of a more general syndrome. The state has remained oblivious, for years, to the gruesome effect of arsenic contaminated water on many of its inhabitants. Here, too, substantial funds remain unused. Government hospitals have to be regularly chastized by the municipal authorities for breeding pigs on its premises. New computers and making a state survey of quack doctors will remain absurdly inadequate measures to cover up a shocking unconcern for the citizen’s right to certain basic services. This unconcern can only be described as inhuman.    

The intense dissatisfaction of some of the states with the recommendations of the 11th finance commission has succeeded in diverting the attention of practically everyone to the appropriate share of each state in the divisible taxes of the Central government. Of course, this is an issue whose importance cannot be overemphasized in a federal structure. The issue is particularly important in India because of the specific rules governing the powers of taxation of the states and the Centre. Since the Central government has control over the more lucrative taxes, Indian states are more dependent on grants received from the Central government than provincial governments in other countries.

A great deal has been written on this topic during the last month, and it is perhaps time to focus on other issues brought up by the finance commission. In fact, the terms of reference of this commission included a distinguishing feature — for the first time, the commission was asked to review the state of finances of the two tiers of government. It was also requested to suggest ways by which the governments could restructure public finances so as to restore budgetary balance and maintain macro- economic stability.

The commission’s report carries a detailed and troubling description of the trends in government finances in India. It seems difficult to believe that there was actually a time when several governments, both at the Centre as well as in the states, actually had surpluses in their revenue budgets. But this was not uncommon in the Seventies and earlier. The revenue surpluses enabled governments to finance at least modest levels of development expenditure without running unduly large overall deficits.

The watershed came in the Eighties when governments started running deficits even in their revenue budgets. In the early Eighties, the revenue deficit of the Central government was still modest, being slightly over one per cent of the gross domestic product. This figure has climbed steadily and has now crossed four per cent of the GDP. The combined revenue and expenditure of the states actually reveals a revenue surplus for the period 1980-81 to 1984-85. Unfortunately, the states soon followed the example set by the Centre — expenditures rose steeply while receipts stagnated. The net effect has been a current revenue deficit of over three per cent.

It is abundantly clear that the Central and state governments are sinking deeper and deeper into the mire. It is equally clear that despite attempts on both sides to pass the buck, neither the state governments nor the successive Central governments have been anything other than grossly irresponsible. Perhaps the only exception was the effort made by Manmohan Singh during the first two years of the structural adjustment programme launched in 1991. He made desperate efforts to control expenditure. This did rein in the deficits. But political compulsions soon overtook economic sense, and governments reverted to the bad old ways with remarkable sangfroid.

There is no reason to believe that the current crisis is a cyclical phenomenon which will ease over time — the commission’s report cites a recent Reserve Bank of India study which points out that the underlying causes are more structural in nature. Hence, the two tiers of government have to make conscious efforts to reverse the trend. Moreover, these efforts must ensure improvements both on the revenue and expenditure sides.

Government revenues have not been increasing at anything like the required rate. The “culprits” are a falling ratio of taxes to GDP as well as stagnant non-tax revenues. The buoyancy of Central gross tax revenues during the Nineties has been only 0.91 whereas it was 1.15 in the Eighties. State tax revenues show a remarkably similar pattern. A major reason for the lower buoyancy of Central tax revenues has been the sharp deceleration in revenues from excise taxes and customs duties.

Perhaps, one reason for the failure of excise taxes to generate sufficient tax revenues may be the growing importance of the services sector in the overall economy combined with the lower rate of taxation of this sector. The Centre and the states must soon decide whether they should raise taxes on this sector.

There is also the danger that the overall preference for dismantling tariff barriers along with policy-induced constraints on the expansion of imports will mean that revenues from customs duties will not increase at a very rapid rate. Fortunately, there is a silver lining — receipts from direct taxes have been rising relatively rapidly. Although it is too early to make predictions with a lot of confidence, it is possible that computerization and other measures taken by the central board of direct taxes to increase the tax base and enforce greater tax compliance have borne fruit.

Much has been written about the need to supplement tax revenues by adequate non-tax revenues from public sector enterprises. Unfortunately, there has been very little effort to improve the efficiency of public sector enterprises. Here the record of state governments is even worse than that of the different Central governments. States are also particularly averse to raising user charges so as to recover the costs of public services. Given their failure to generate adequate returns on the vast amounts of capital employed in public enterprises, one would have thought that the governments would be eager to get rid of these white elephants. But the entire programme of privatization seems to move along at a snail’s pace.

Certainly, disinvestment targets seem to be missed with monotonous regularity, and the current year promises to be no different. Governments must also curb all non-developmental expenditures. Government expenditures have shot up after the last pay commission awards. There is a tendency to blame the pay commission for being unduly generous. However, there is very little merit in this allegation. Despite the salary increase, government salaries are appreciably lower than private sector pay packages. The blame lies entirely with the governments for implementing only a part of the pay commission recommendations because the commission had also pointed out the need to downsize governments. It even suggested a very specific target for downsizing — reduce manpower by 30 per cent over ten years. This need not have been done by actually terminating anyone’s service — governments could simply have taken advantage of the regular attrition due to retirements. Unfortunately, vested interests have ruled the roost, and the governments remain as bloated as ever.

Another component of expenditure, which shows signs of exploding out of control, is the category of subsidies. The public distribution system does provide the benefits of subsidized food to large numbers of the needy. But the PDS in all states is completely untargeted — the consumption of the affluent is also subsidized. This means that the benefits of the PDS are not commensurate with the costs incurred in running the system. Similarly, the large farmers derive substantially larger benefits from the fertilizer subsidy, although the ostensible purpose of the fertilizer subsidy is to protect the smaller farmers.

Apart from their huge cost, the presence of subsidies changes relative and cause allocative inefficiencies. For example, farmers tend to use more of subsidized fertilizers than is warranted. Subsidized kerosene is used in the adulteration of diesel. The reforms in 1991 came about because the prevalent system was on the brink of collapse. It is no exaggeration to say that government finances have reached a similar state of near collapse. Perhaps that is the best hope for a complete overhaul of government finances in India.

The author is an economist at the Indian Statistical Institute, New Delhi    

Jharkhand has always been in the eye of a political storm. Even before the dust has settled over its nascent horizon, a fresh crisis is threatening to snap the fragile lifeline of the fledgling state.

The pan-ethnic unity or the hor mitan (universal tribal brotherhood), which is the essence of the tribal social fabric, is under siege. The tribals now are a split lot. The Santhals and the Mahatos, two dominant sub-groups, have fallen apart from the Oraons. The rift, which has been simmering for quite sometime now, came out into the open with the Santhals boycotting the traditional Karam (tree-worship) festival organized by Oraon cultural groups in West Bengal recently.

Santhal tribals avoided the Karam utsav organized at Calcutta’s Rabindra Sadan last week. They preferred to host separate festivals at Jhargram, Bankura and Purulia districts, where Santhals form the majority.

For the first time in the 200-year-old history of tribal activism, the indigenous groups are divided along political lines. The Oraons, a migrant community inhabiting the marshy outbacks of Sunderbans and the tea gardens of north Bengal, have thrown in their lot with the Congress and the Revolutionary Socialist Party in West Bengal.

Tribes apart

A loose amalgam of the two parties has managed to wean away the Oraons from the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, thereby nipping in the bud the demand for a “greater Jharkhand” comprising areas of West Bengal, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar. The rift has marginalized the Oraons, mostly settlers from Bihar’s Chhotanagpur region, and split the tribal votebank on the eve of the assembly polls early next year. However, for the ruling Left Front, the development is a windfall in disguise. Since the passage of the Bihar state reorganization bill in Parliament, the Santhals and the Mahatos in West Bengal have been vocal in their demand for a greater Jharkhand. Their contention— “If Bihar can, why not us”— found unexpected takers, especially in the Trinamool Congress and the Christian missionaries active in Purulia and Bankura districts.

Clamour for a greater Jharkhand before the polls would have proved embarrassing for the Left Front. So a vertical division in tribal votes at this juncture was essential to stave off the demand.

The Oraons, whose inclusion in the scheduled tribe list was fraught with controversies, stand to lose. They will neither be conferred their legitimate tribal status nor can they contribute to the greater Jharkhand surge, monopolized by the Santhals and the Mahatos.

Divided paths

The discord is likely to spill over to Jharkhand as well. The new state, which is in the throes of an ugly debate over the status of “outsiders” is also discriminating against the Oraons. Two Ranchi-based organizations, the Jharkhand Arakshan Raksha Manch and the Dishum Akhra, recently issued advertisements demanding withdrawal of reservations for “backward classes from outside the state’’. This is a ploy to drop the Oraons from the ST list as the community migrated to Jharkhand from central Bihar centuries ago. The Ho tribals also resent Santhal hegemony in Jharkhand politics and look towards the Congress. The Mundas have long since drifted away from the Santhals and the Mahatos.

The seeds of disunity were sown in 1991, when tribals in undivided Bihar were asked to register themselves under 53 religious faiths like Sarna, Sari, Sansari and Jaher besides broad categories like Hindus, Muslims and Christians.

While the animists, like the Sarnas, remained more or less floating, up for grabs for various political parties, the Hindu tribals were brought into the saffron fold following reconversion campaigns by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.

The Christian tribals owe allegiance to the church, which has been a pillar of strength for the statehood activists, while the Muslim tribals have been a part of Laloo Prasad Yadav’s Dalit-Muslim-Yadav axis. This complex sociopolitical diversity has always stood in the way of greater tribal unity despite claims of “kinship.’’

For the Bharatiya Janata Party in Jharkhand and the Left Front in West Bengal, the gaping breaches in tribal ranks will provide ample manoeuvring space to derail the greater Jharkhand dream.    

The general agreement on trade in services is part of the Uruguay round of general agreement on tariffs and trade negotiations which came into force on January 1, 1995. GATS envisages liberalized trade in services “as a means of promoting the economic growth of all trading partners”. While doing so, it accommodates a fair balance of rights and obligations with due respect to national policy objectives and the level of development of member countries. Trade in services is defined as the supply of a service from the territory of one member to the territory of any other member or by a service supplier of one member, through commercial presence in the territory of any other member.

Each member is obliged to accord to services and service suppliers of any other member, treatment no less favourable than it accords to like services and service suppliers of any other country. Transparent, fair, impartial and reasonable administration of operation of the agreement in each member country is envisaged. Towards this end, member countries are obliged to enter into successive rounds of negotiations beginning not later than five years from the date of entry into force of the World Trade Organization agreement and periodically thereafter (that is, from January 2000 onwards).

The only saving grace is clause 2 of Article XIX. It permits accommodation of level of development and national policy objectives in the liberalization process. It permits flexibility for individual developing country members for opening fewer sectors and liberalizing fewer types of transactions when making access to their markets available to foreign service suppliers.

Liberalization of trade in services, no doubt, will benefit every country in the long run as it strengthens economy and improves the quality of services. In the medium term, it is a mixed bag heavily loaded in favour of developed countries. It is perhaps the acknowledgement of this situation that necessitated the inclusion of flexibility and reservation provisions by developing countries while liberalizing trade in services.

To avail of these rights and privileges, countries have to be clear about their “national policy objectives” vis-â-vis legal services. Countries have to work out detailed regulations under which they would allow entry of foreign lawyers and justify and restrictions as fair, impartial and reasonable given the level of development and the prevailing asymmetries in the system of delivery of legal services.

It is surprising to find that preparations for articulating the national policy objectives and mounting the most beneficial regulatory systems have neither been made nor even been mooted in concerned circles in many of these countries. In India, the bar association of India reportedly passed a resolution in 1994 asking the government of India to set up a task force to undertake the job. There has apparently been no response from the government till date. The law commission of India on its own motion prepared a working paper in 1999 suggesting certain amendments to the Advocates Act and thereby empowering the bar council to regulate the entry of foreign legal consultants.

The bar council of India and its subsidiaries strangely opposed the move of the law commission even without a discussion and successfully stalled and initiative in this regard. On its own, the bar council adopted certain regulations which are too feeble and uncertain for effective regulation of the growing demand for trade in legal services.

A court decision on a public interest litigation has clarified that “practice” includes not only court work but also counselling, documentation and so on. The bar council does not have any adequate machinery to monitor the work of foreign legal consultants who seem to be merrily carrying on their business of advising their clients in India (without appearing in courts).

Many foreign law firms have set up their liaison offices in India and have employed Indian lawyers in large numbers. They argue that they are not covered by the Indian Advocates Act as they are not practising the profession of law and have taken permission to do what they are doing from the Reserve Bank of India (in respect of foreign exchange transactions). The issue of scope of “practice” under Indian law is still sub-Judaic and the profession seems to be concerned only in buying time rather than facing the challenge confidently.

The Indian law commission made an abortive attempt to force the profession and the government to anticipate developments and to open up the legal service sector in a manner which would have promoted the health and wealth of the host country lawyers. An appropriate regulatory system alone can protect the internal market in legal services from total exploitation by outsiders and, whenever possible, develop the international market in legal services in a manner fair to the Indian lawyers.

Admittedly, India does not have large law firms professionally organized; nor does the profession maintain offices transnationally. Legal education is in bad shape and the average client has little option in the matter of access to quality legal services. The system of multiple professional services organized under one roof is unknown in India. There are lot of problems in the matter of delivery of legal services because of infrastructural inadequacies and uneven distribution of available services.

The law commission felt a fresh look is warranted at the organizing of legal services nationally and internationally. The regulatory system to be mounted in India should have at least for some time both “full” and “limited” licensing approaches built into it. An authorized committee of the bar council of India should manage the system through appropriate rules.

The law commission also felt that in the interim, it is desirable to define “practice” as inclusive of advice, documentation, certification, research and information services and so on besides representation in courts or tribunals.

Meanwhile, the legitimate power under clause 2 of Article XIX of GATS should be exercised to spell out “qualifications barriers” for regulating entry of foreign lawyers. The bar council of India till recently had a liberal approach towards recognizing foreign law qualifications of applicants seeking enrolment to legal practice. Now it has amended rules, making it obligatory for foreign law degree holders to pass a bar council conducted examination on Indian law and procedure.

No examination under the rules has so far been held and it is not clear how much of a barrier it is going to be. Several reforms in legal education have been proposed; but what obtains on the ground is far from satisfactory. In the existing situation, the bar council has to tighten its own rules for admission before seeking to restrict entry of foreign lawyers. The Canadian model of university training, examination and articleship administered through a joint committee on foreign accreditation seems to be a viable solution for the Indian situation.

The provision for multidisciplinary partnerships offering a variety of professional services is attractive, particularly in view of similar schemes existing elsewhere. It is advisable for the bar council to examine how it can be organized without diluting the quality of services and accountability of systems. The code of ethics also needs to be looked again in the context of the bar council principles and the changing scenario of international legal practice.

Foreign lawyers seeking licence for full and regular legal practice like that of host country lawyers have to be governed by different set of rules as compared to foreign lawyers who come as consultants for foreign partners and are seeking limited practice largely on home country laws. The former may have to be subjected to immigration and citizenship laws. In fact, such cases are likely to be very few for some more years. The immediate challenge is from foreign legal consultants who are brought by their corporate clients seeking investment in India.

These clients, for a number of reasons, prefer the service of the law firms which serve them in their home countries. They get their fees paid in the home country at a scale far higher than what obtains in the host country. They manage to get local law inputs from host country lawyers to whom they have to pay much lower amounts, since such payment is according to host country rates.

In the absence of any mechanism to detect such operations, they carry on the trade without challenge. They avoid possible professional challenges and even develop unhealthy partnerships with host country law firms with no scrutiny whatsoever from the organized legal profession. It is to bring this confusing and complex scenario to some sort of a transparent, fair and accountable system that we need to focus immediately on the issue of foreign lawyers and internationalization of legal practice.

The author is vice-chancellor, West Bengal University of Juridical Sciences, Calcutta    


Promiscuity is passé

Sir — Khushwant Singh’s “All in the first family” (Sept 11) makes an infuriating statement about “man’s innate promiscuity and the female’s tendency to get emotionally involved even in a passing affair”. This, as Singh would do well to grasp, is an assertion based on no scientific or psychoanalytical reasoning. There is nothing called “innate promiscuity” about a particular gender. It is a mindset and virtually anybody can be promiscuous if he or she wants. Besides, his obtuse notions about pregnancy (he has not heard of protected sex) are about as outdated as he is. He talks about a particular hormone, oxytocin, which is supposed to be responsible for inducing this kind of behaviour. But, by the end of it, he too acknowledges that the experiments that have led to such reasoning are still in an embryonic stage. Singh’s politically incorrect comments jar the nerves a bit nowadays. But mercifully, this time he did not have his usual doggerel following the column — which is such a welcome relief.
Yours faithfully,
Rama Maitra, Calcutta

Fiction in the archives

Sir — This is in response to A.W. Khan’s very interesting letter of September 13 (“Living history”). In relation to the extract from my novel, The Glass Palace, published in The Telegraph, the writer points out that there was no unit called the 1/1 Jats in the Indian army; that there was no Colonel Buckland at Jitra and no officer called Arjun. He is correct on every count. Because of the brevity of the extract it was perhaps not clear that The Glass Palace is a novel. As befits a work of fiction, the 1/1 Jats are a fictitious unit. Similarly Lt-Col. Buckland and Lt Arjun Roy are fictitious characters. However, the movements of the fictitious 1/1 Jats of The Glass Palace correspond very closely to those of the historical 14th Punjab Regiment (which Khan mentions in his letter). Captain (later Colonel) Mohan Singh, whom Mr Khan met in Malaya, was an officer of this regiment. My description of the engagements in northern Malaya in 1941 follows very closely the accounts provided by Colonel Mohan Singh and Lt-Col Gurubakhsh Singh Dhillon (also of the 14th Punjab Regiment). For my account of the battle of Jitra I also relied on the regimental history of Mr Khan’s own regiment (Vol. I, Lt-Col W.L.Hailes; Vol. II, Major J. Ross, Bareilly, 1967). It was a pleasure to have these accounts supplemented by Mr Khan’s own reminiscences of that period.
Yours faithfully,
Amitav Ghosh, Calcuttat

Flag down

Sir — It is indeed disgraceful that the national tricolour was not hoisted atop the party headquarters of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (“Flagged off”, Aug 19). Although the unfurling of the national flag is not the true test of patriotism, ignoring it certainly reflects a lack of respect towards the national flag. That the hoisting of the tricolour was undertaken against all odds, even at the cost of valuable lives, during British rule speaks of its importance. Since this is the attitude of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s parent organization towards the flag, the flag-hoisting ceremony organized by L.K. Advani in Srinagar seems a complete farce.
Yours faithfully,
Desh Deepak, Patna

Sir — I agree with the editorial’s view that “to regard the absence of the national flag atop the RSS and CPI(M) party offices on Independence Day as a lack of patriotism is the mark of an immature democracy”. But where the CPI(M) is concerned, the incident does not come as a surprise. “Patriotism” and “nationalism” are words alien to an Indian communist, taught to pay respect only to Russian, Chinese and Cuban icons.

Yours faithfully,
Biren Saha, Titagarh

Advertising folly

Sir — “From the mouth of babes”, (Aug 19) has attracted attention to a very recent phenomenon in television commercials: the increasing use of children in advertisements, which seems to be a ploy of the multinational companies to boost their sales by making a mark on the impressionable minds of children. That such advertisements prove costly for both children and their parents is a foregone conclusion.

Also damaging are the commercials promoting liquor, which proclaim that drinking certain brands of beer or whiskey invests a man with more machismo than he would normally have.

It is surprising that the moral police in the information and broadcasting ministry are not concerned enough about the evil effects of such commercials to try and stop their airing. Commercials of children’s products are also frequently aired in the middle of programmes designed for adults and vice versa.

These aspects of commercials have been highlighted in a report titled, “The killing screen”, published by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. It is time children were protected from such aberrations of the mass media.

Yours faithfully,
Santosh Kumar Sharma, Kharagpur

Sir — Anchita Ghatak has rightly condemned the advertisement where a young rich motorcycle rider sticks out his shoes on the face of a shoeshine boy, all for the sake of promoting the brand of motorcycle (“Selling a shine”, Sept 10).

Perhaps owing to the civilized ambience of Ghatak’s home, her child has asked why adults cannot polish their own shoes. But such children are not many in number. Several children will be overawed by the “heroics” of the rider and even try to emulate him.

It is unfortunate that the advertisers have not bothered about the inhuman angle of the commercial or even tried to be politically correct. Adults should learn to at least take off their shoes and hand it to the cobbler, if not polish their own shoes.

Yours faithfully,
Kajal Chatterjee, Dhanbad

Sir — An advertisement for a music system says that the Pandavas of the Mahabharata would have willingly sacrificed Draupadi in order to possess the superior music system. This is a vicious slander on the great Indian epic and will hurt those who look upon the Pandavas as heroes. The manufacturer may well be a foreign multinational, but it should be careful about hurting Indian sentiments if it wants to tap the Indian market. Is Arun Jaitley, the honourable minister for information and broadcasting, listening?

Yours faithfully,
Sachin Jha, Calcutta

Sir — The advertisement depicting Durga carrying different models of a television in each of her five pairs of hands, is in bad taste. It is unfair to distort the image of any religious deity. It can be safely said that if the advertisement had depicted in such a pejorative manner an Islamic symbol in an Islamic country or Jesus Christ in a Christian country, the advertisers would have been charged under blasphemy acts.

The Hindus being a conglomeration of different customs and being mostly liberal, there has not been a hue and cry about this advertisement. But more such advertisements can have unpleasant repercussions at the national level.

Yours faithfully,
Mrinal Kanti Das, Calcutta

Sir — The makers of the advertisement which portrays Durga with TV sets must have thought that Durga has ceased to be a goddess and joined the much envied profession of modelling. But will they have too many takers among the devout Hindus of the country?

Yours faithfully,
Bikash Khandai, Calcutta

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