Editorial 1/ Follow the leader
Editorial 2/ Phoney war
Our man in America
Fifth Column/ Sliding down the greasy surface
Where rule of thumb does not work
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1/ FOLLOW THE LEADER 
 
 
 
 
Abrupt decisions do not always denote decisiveness. This could well apply to the sudden change in the Uttar Pradesh Congress committee, where Mr Salman Khurshid as state unit president has been replaced overnight by Mr Sri Prakash Jaiswal, first time member of parliament from Kanpur. What is most puzzling is the timing. The all India Congress committee president, Ms Sonia Gandhi, has made the change just 45 days ahead of the party’s organizational elections. The logic of the action is not very obvious. Surely, the party should now be concentrating on the forthcoming polls and not have the committee in the largest state thrown into confusion. To balance the confusion, the party must be seen to have made notable gains. These are certainly not easily discernible. True, there has been a strong lobby against Mr Khurshid’s presidentship for quite some time and his critics, led by Mr Jitendra Prasada, have been targeting the high command through the state president. Neither has Mr Khurshid himself been able to keep out of controversy, the most recent one being the trouble over the district returning officers list released by the state committee. But it is difficult to believe that this last could have been behind his exit. Alternatively, Mr Khurshid’s alleged failure as president could have been dealt with earlier, or could have been left till after the election process was over.

The decision is puzzling even if it is seen as placatory. Mr Prasada heads a powerful lobby in the party and the Congress president may conceivably have wanted to muffle him before the presidential election. From this point of view, the choice of Mr Jaiswal, a little-known face outside of Kanpur, is mysterious. Once part of the Congress (Tiwari), his coronation seemed to have left even the Prasada camp bewildered. In a base as caste-dominated as UP, every choice is important — and difficult. But Mr Jaiswal, from the backward classes, is unlikely to win back the upper caste voters who are irritated with the Bharatiya Janata Party. Besides, Mr Khurshid’s unceremonious departure would allow political rivals, like Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav, to argue that the Congress is an anti-minority party. And even Congressmen are uncomfortable about the president’s unilateral decision, which suggests a lack of inner party democracy. At the end of it, there does not appear to have been anything but intra-party squabbling behind the change. Mr Khurshid’s failure to mobilize greater support from other backward classes or the minority communities may well have been a reflection of the general failure of the Congress. To fight against those odds, the Congress needed a popular, mass-based politician as state president. Mr Khurshid belongs to the other category of poli ticians, the men of ideas. Perhaps the decision to make him state committee president was itself of dubious wisdom. Only this was not the right time to correct it.    


 
 
EDITORIAL 2/ PHONEY WAR 
 
 
 
 
It was always expected that corporatizing the government’s department of telecommunications operations would be a difficult affair. But the present strike by some telecommunications workers, which has left in its wake millions of dead telephone lines, has reduced the process to a low water mark of pettiness. Telecom workers have exploited the government’s determination to spin the various urban basic telephone services into a Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited to put forward dozens of demands. Some of them, like a guarantee of their present pensions, are justifiable. Some, like job and rank security, are unfortunate but expected. The demands that led to the present strike are absurd. New Delhi has acceded to almost all the demands of the various telecom unions. The unions, in turn, had declared earlier this month that they would not oppose corporatization. However, one of these concessions, namely bringing salaries in line with the recommendations of the fifth pay commission, has thrown two unions into conflict with each other. Specifically, the commission had recommended that the wages of group C telecom employees be raised to the levels of some group B employees. This has infuriated group B workers represented by the Telecom Engineer Services Association and led them to down their tools. The Telecom Officers Association of India, which represents group C workers, has threatened to strike if the government resiles from the pay commission’s recommendations. The dispute is a no win situation for New Delhi and the Indian customer.

At one level this is a unionized public sector workforce trying to squeeze as many concessions from the government as it can. On another level, it is a manifestation of the negative work culture that permeates the public sector. It is a system where appointments and promotions are based either on connections or bland seniority. The result has been static and hierarchy riddled labour - a modern day caste structure. Employees have found that the best means to further their personal interests is to hold the nation hostage rather than working harder or moving on to new jobs. The BSNL is likely to be horribly deformed from the moment of its birth. It will be saddled with 320,000 employees steeped in a work culture of agitation rather than meritocracy. It will have shoddy infrastructure and, theoretically, no government financial support to cover up its many failings. The tale of India’s telecom reforms has been a story of corruption, haphazard decisions and governmental infighting on a shameful scale. The present strike, though particularly petty and absurd, is simply more of the same. Corporatization that does not lead quickly to privatization will only mean old wine in a new bottle. The government needs to start speaking the language of privatization and increased competition much more loudly and clearly.    


 
 
OUR MAN IN AMERICA 
 
 
BY K.P. NAYAR
 
 
It was a moment which White House television cameramen caught for posterity, but one which their Indian counterparts missed altogether. At the end of formal welcome ceremonies for the prime minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, on the south lawn of the White House, the American president, Bill Clinton, led his honoured guest to the podium from which they were to speak to the media.

The president made his remarks first, effusive as usual about India, and then invited the prime minister to take his turn. But before Vajpayee took the stand, for a fleeting moment Clinton leaned over to the base of the speaker’s stand making White House cameramen wonder what the president was up to. What he did was unusual. He personally pulled out the step at the base of the stand, made for guests who are considerably shorter than the president. Clinton is used to guests at the White House who are no match for him in their height — the late King Hussein, leaders from China, Japan, South Korea and so on.

But never before, according to White House staff, has he leaned over the speaker’s stand and pulled out the stand for guests himself. That was what alerted the White House photographers — who are used to presidential motions on ceremonial occasions — to what Clinton was doing. If the Indian cameramen could not capture that rare moment on film, they could not be faulted because almost all of them were in the White House for the first time and could not have known the presidential routine there. But that is beside the point.

White House aides say every action, every move during the welcome ceremony had been worked out in advance. When the president was told in the weeks before Vajpayee’s arrival in the United States that the prime minister was unwell, he took it upon himself to go that extra mile in being solicitous to his guest. The president told his staff that he would pull out the step on the speaker’s stand himself for Vajpayee to stand on at the end of the ceremonial welcome.

He took the initiative not to have the guard of honour upon Vajpayee’s arrival in the White House so that the prime minister’s damaged left knee would not be strained by the brisk walk to inspect the guard. Again, it was the president who suggested that there should be no receiving line at the state banquet at the White House on the last day of Vajpayee’s visit here. Imagine the strain on the prime minister if he were to stand up and shake hands with the 700-odd guests at the dinner. Yet, Clinton did not want to disappoint those who had come for the banquet. After Vajpayee left for the airport, he along with the first lady stood for hours personally receiving every single guest who had come for dinner.

The White House was interested in the substance of Vajpayee’s visit, not in ceremony. It was unconcerned with images, it looked for progress in the agenda that Clinton and Vajpayee had drawn up together in New Delhi in March.

With the Indians, ‘especially sections of the media, it was different. They faulted Vajpayee for the slowness of his speech, they said his remarks were tepid compared to those by Clinton. Had Mao Zedong visited Washington and the White House in his last years to return US president Richard Nixon’s historic journey to Beijing, would the Americans have been interested in how the aged Chinese communist leader behaved before TV cameras? Or would they have been more concerned about what Mao could achieve in Washington?

The same yardstick should apply to Vajpayee’s visit at a time his health is bad. The Americans are clearly satisfied by what the trip has achieved, even if Vajpayee created a poor impression before TV cameras. They believe he has provided the leadership that India needs to work with the US so that, as Clinton said, “Together we can change the world”.

Admittedly, it is easier for the Americans to do this than for the Indians to accept it. It is difficult to imagine any country other than the US would have sent its president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, in a wheelchair to Yalta to meet Josef Stalin and Winston Churchill in 1945 and earlier to meet World War II allies in Casa-blanca, Teheran and Cairo. At these meetings, a handicapped Roosevelt decisively influenced the course of events.

But that is not all. Had the Americans voted differently four years ago and elected a Republican to the White House, they would have had as president Bob Dole, who cannot use his right hand as the result of an injury during the war. John F. Kennedy had chronic backache resulting from injury in a plane crash, much the same as Vajpayee now suffers from knee pain and is on painkillers and other anti-inflammatory drugs.

Yet the Indians could have managed Vajpayee’s visit better if only protocol officials who came from New Delhi with the prime minister had applied their mind to the management of Vajpayee’s public persona in Washington.

Officials who conducted the substantive part of Vajpayee’s business did a commendable job. They were at their best even in the art of drafting. For instance, whatever assurance Vajpayee may have given Clinton on the comprehensive test ban treaty, the prime minister’s officials ensured that he will be insulated against criticism back home that he had sold out to the Americans on the issue of future nuclear tests.

In the joint statement in which India has once and for all given up its nuclear option, they have clearly introduced a proviso. “They (Clinton and Vajpayee) reiterated their respective commitments to forgo nuclear explosive tests,” said the joint statement. “India reaffirmed that, subject to its supreme national interests, it will continue its voluntary moratorium until CTBT comes into effect.” The phrase “subject to its supreme national interests” is an insurance which Indian officials with excellent drafting skills insisted upon in order to protect their prime minister against domestic criticism. Had not Karl Inderfurth, the assistant secretary of state for south Asia, let the cat out of the bag, the significance of this phrase would have gone unnoticed.

At a briefing in Washington, Inderfurth was pointedly asked about the progress on CTBT at the Clinton-Vajpayee summit. He conceded that fresh ground had been broken at the summit and reported progress. But he also dismissed the phrase “subject to its supreme national interests” as virtually meaningless. Because CTBT itself contains a clause which takes into account “supreme national interests” while testing nuclear bombs. But to get back to the protocol officials from New Delhi who were, to say the least, an albatross around Vajpayee’s neck in Washington. While the Americans had worked out every step to be taken by the prime minister and the president, protocol officials failed to convey these to Vajpayee.

As a result, Vajpayee appeared lost on several occasions, not knowing what to do, unable to anticipate his host and keep up with him. It added to Vajpayee’s discomfiture from the knee pain. At the joint meeting of the congress, for instance, protocol officials hijacked Vajpayee instead of leaving him to Indian officials at the embassy in Washington who knew congressional proceedings and could have told him what to do.

The awkwardness caused when Vajpayee failed to greet the speaker on arrival and had to be nudged to do so could have been avoided had he been in the hands of embassy officials. Equally distressing was his reaction to a chair to seat him in the congress. The lapse is unforgivable because one key protocol official from South Block who travelled with Vajpayee had earlier visited Washington to work out the nittygritty of Vajpayee’s trip. Obviously, this protocol official treated this as a junket to the US rather than as a working trip to firm up every aspect of the prime ministerial itinerary. Fortunately for Vajpayee, the official in question will not remain in protocol long enough to inflict any further damage on Vajpayee’s foreign trips in future.

An unreported tailpiece to the prime minister’s presence in Washington: his visit made it possible for owners of several formal apparel shops to laugh all the way to the bank. White House dinners require guests to arrive in tuxedos, not just lounge suits. The 700-plus guest list for Clinton’s banquet for Vajpayee created such a demand for tuxedos among the Indian delegation and Indian Americans that shops renting out the formal outfit, complete with lacquered shoes, waistbands, bow ties and black cufflinks were besieged with demands for formal wear. Of course, Indians had the option of going for the banquet in “bandhgalas”, but many did not want to miss the opportunity to wear a tuxedo. One member of the Indian delegation spent over $ 1200 buying a tuxedo set, which he may not wear ever again.

The tuxedos were a fitting finale to a high profile visit. Even though officials of Andrews Air Force Base were somewhat bewildered to find some members of the Indian delegation using the base to hurriedly get out of their rented tuxedos, hand them over to Indian embassy officials and dart into the prime minister’s plane in their own clothes minutes before taking off for India.    


 
 
FIFTH COLUMN/ SLIDING DOWN THE GREASY SURFACE 
 
 
BY GWYNNE DYER
 
 
Last March, shortly after the oil price first soared through $30 a barrel, Sheikh Ahmed Zaki Yamani said: “OPEC has a very short memory...It forces the price to go way up. The effect is much more production in non-OPEC countries, which means that OPEC will find itself in a few years from now in a situation where it has to further reduce its price, its production.”

Yamani was Saudi Arabia’s oil minister (and much hated in the West) during the 1973 oil crisis, when the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries forced the quintupling of the oil price in a relatively short time and threw the world into a deep recession. The 11 oil ministers at the OPEC summit in Vienna on September 10 clearly understood his point because they agreed to raise production a bit to ease the rising price.

The problem is that when oil prices are high, it becomes economically rewarding to develop new high-cost oilfields in non-OPEC countries. After a few years, therefore, global production soars, OPEC’s share of it sinks, and the price collapses again. The market for oil is so sensitive to gluts and shortfalls — world supply is now around 75 million barrels per day, but a change of just 2.25 million barrels per day can halve or double the price — that we’ve been around this cycle three times since 1973.

Sticky issue

OPEC doesn’t want to go around it again any more than the rest of the world does, which is why its ministers have just agreed to increase output by another 800,000 barrels per day. The price duly retreated from its 10 year high of $35 — but only by about a dollar. And Yamani, who now runs an independent think tank in London, was not impressed.

“OPEC...will pay a heavy price for not acting in 1999 to control oil prices,” he said on September 5. “Now it is too late. The Stone Age came to an end, but not for lack of stones. And the Oil Age will end, but not for lack of oil.”

To be fair to Yamani’s struggling successors, trying to micro-manage the level of oil prices by fine-tuning output levels is a thankless and almost impossible task. Consider the last 10 years, for example.

The day before the Western-Arab coalition began bombing Iraq in January 1990, the price of oil stood at over $40 a barrel. As Kuwait’s production gradually re-entered the market, the price drifted down to the $20-25 range for some years — and then fell off a cliff when the Asian financial crisis of 1997-98 cut the demand for oil in Asia, by far the biggest importer. The Asia-Pacific region produces only eight million barrels a day, but consumes around 21 million.

By January 1999, the oil price was below $10 a barrel. Allowing for inflation, that was half the real price of oil in the Fifties, and one-fifth of what it had been at the start of the Eighties.

Not a drop to waste

So the desperate OPEC countries, galvanized by the charismatic leadership of the new Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez, managed to agree on production cuts and (more unusually) to keep to them. Eighteen months later, the price is back to over $30, and maybe heading for $40 or beyond.

These wild fluctuations in the key industrial input have typically caused big surges of inflation followed by painful recessions, but at least OPEC’s leaders now understand the cycle, and are trying to damp it down. That is why they have raised production several times this year. But the market behaves in ways that make it very hard to stabilize oil prices in the $20-$30 per barrel range.

As soon as the last bout of high prices and recession fades far enough into the past (about five years), everybody starts to act as if it could never happen again. Oil companies cut back on the search for more expensive non-OPEC oil because the immediate returns are too low when the price is down, and the effort to reduce oil consumption dwindles away. This year, for example, Americans actually bought more gas-guzzling trucks and sports utility vehicles than cars.

So we may be heading into one more swing around the familiar old cycle of soaring prices, inflation, recession, falling demand for oil, and price crash. But if so, it will probably be the last, because on one thing Yamani is wrong. The “oil age” will finally end for a lack of oil, well within the lifespan of most people who are now alive.    


 
 
WHERE RULE OF THUMB DOES NOT WORK 
 
 
BY BIDYUT CHAKRABARTY
 
 
The founding fathers of the Constitution discussed threadbare the provision for the dismissal of an elected government on grounds of breakdown of constitutional machinery and there was a broad consensus that it would be a measure to be rarely resorted to, if at all. Yet, no provision received such grievous and repeated outraging of constitutional modesty as Article 356 and its colonial precursor, section 45 of the Government of India Act, 1935.

There seems to be a tradition in abusing the provision. For instance, the Congress vehemently opposed the Government of India Act, 1935, but effortlessly absorbed the malevolent spirit of the measure once it replaced the British as the ruler of this subcontinental nation. It passed on the baton to the Janata Party in 1977, got it back in 1980, 1984 and 1991 to pursue the policy which had by now acquired the imprimatur of a routine constitutional instrument in the hands of those in power at the Centre. The interlopers, the Janata Dal, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the United Front imbibed its true spirit and its utility in eradicating political foes in the states.

The views of political parties seem to follow a consistent pattern. When in opposition, ask for the abolition, amendment or abrogation of Article 356 and when in power at the Centre abuse the provision for political ends. The BJP, when in opposition, left no stone unturned to criticize the Congress or any other ruling party whenever steps to impose Article 356 were undertaken. The same BJP did not find it incongruent to suggest to the president for the invocation of Article 356 against the Rabri Devi government in Bihar last year, primarily to placate the Samata Party which, given its numerical strength in the Lok Sabha, was too strong to be simply wished away.

As for the duplicity of the communist parties, including the Communist Party of India (Marxist), one needs only to recall their unconditional support to the United Front government of H.D. Deve Gowda that imposed Article 356 in Gujarat in 1996 even after the BJP-led state government proved its majority on the floor of the assembly.

The recent Trinamool Congress demand for the invocation of Article 356 in West Bengal and the CPI(M) opposition to it repeat history. Mamata Banerjee defends her demand by saying the promulgation of Article 356 is necessary to combat state-sponsored violence, unleashed at the behest of the CPI(M).

She further adds that order has completely broken down and unlike other states where there is caste or class violence, in West Bengal we see political violence perpetrated by the state government. Warning against the imposition of Article 356, the CPI(M) politburo criticized the George Fernandes mission as nothing but a blatant attempt at utilizing the Central government to interfere in and encroach upon the affairs of the West Bengal government. In its press bulletin, the politburo has gone to the extent of saying that Fernandes has also resorted to political chicanery of the lowest form by declaring that the life of Banerjee is in danger in the state.

On the surface, the plea of breakdown of law and order in the state does not appear to be tenable because the affected areas, even in Banerjee’s assessment and endorsed by the Centre’s emissary, are confined to the three districts of Hooghly, Bankura and Midnapore. Stern action by the state government with the help of the Centre may yield impressive results because the disorder is limited to three districts. This is certainly a viable solution even in the opinion of the Sarkaria commission.

According to the commission, practical considerations make it essential that the Union government should invariably consult and seek the cooperation of the state government if it proposes to deploy suo motu its armed forces in that state, the constitutional position notwithstanding. The commission said that it should not make such consultation obligatory, but that federal forces should be used only as a last resort. The commission also foresaw that it is conceivable that a state government is both unable and unwilling to suppress an internal disturbance and may refuse to seek the aid of Central government armed forces. In such a pass, the commission continued, the Centre cannot be a silent spectator when it finds the situation fast drifting towards anarchy. Then it may deploy its armed forces suo motu to restore public order.

How does one then explain the apparent endorsement of Banerjee’s demand by the National Democratic Alliance government? There are two possible answers. First, by sending Fernandes for an on-the-spot assessment of the situation, the BJP-led Centre has endorsed the demand of one of its formidable allies. The NDA government cannot afford to annoy Banerjee simply because of the fragile nature of the coalition which is sure to suffer a setback if she should decide to withdraw. Why is this demand made by Banerjee now? The logic is simple. Elections are just months away and the CPI(M) with its control over the state machinery will be geared to contain Banerjee electorally by using both constitutional and unconstitutional means.

In this context, the recent municipality elections in the Salt Lake area come to mind. There the majority of the votes were reported to have been obtained by the CPI(M) by deploying less than fair means. So with the application of Article 356, Banerjee’s fears will invariably disappear because whatever the conditions under which president’s rule is proclaimed, the governor typically acts not on own initiative but on the Central government’s instructions.

It is true that the Central rule will ensure that appropriate steps are taken to curb abuse of governmental machinery, particularly the police and the bureaucracy, during the elections. It is also true that the invocation of Article 356 may cost the Trinamool Congress and its allies the aspired for political goal of capturing the government in West Bengal for two reasons. The dismissal of the CPI(M)-led Left Front government just a few months before the completion of its five-year term will enable the CPI (M) and its partners to gain political mileage by focussing on the design of the Centre aimed at displacing a democratically-elected state government.

This idea is certain to gain currency, especially in a highly politically-conscious state like West Bengal. The promulgation of Article 356 might therefore act as a boomerang for Banerjee and her colleagues. Also, the uninterrupted reign of the Left Front in West Bengal has had its own obvious effect on the administration. Hence it would be suicidal to surmise that with the imposition of Central rule the state apparatus would shift its loyalty overnight to the Left Front’s political adversaries. This would chiefly be because of the administration’s political complexion that was gradually created by a well-devised policy of recruitment not only at all levels of the state bureaucracy but in schools, colleges and universities.

The policy of accommodating only the supporters of the Left Front in government and semi-government jobs is sure to give political dividends to the CPI(M) and other left parties during the forthcoming elections. There is another aspect, that is favourably inclined towards the Left Front. It is the front’s well-entrenched political organization stretching the length and breadth of the state.

The ubiquitous CPI (M) local committees are what constitute the nervous system. They have been, so far, most efficient in sustaining both the party and the government in an environment where the opposition is too feeble to combat the state-sponsored agenda.    


 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Envy in the wrong place

Sir — The article, “Last standing male bastion falls” (Sept 18), is interesting. The new gadget invented by the Amsterdam artist, Moon Zijp, known as the “P-Mate”, which enables women to urinate standing, is full of practical sense. It would, as Zijp says, prevent women from going to a lot of trouble, especially when they have to urinate while travelling. On the other hand, is not the thought behind inventing such a device also ludicrous? It appears that women value what is comfortable — from the point of view of male standards. The argument that postures for urinating are “natural”, in accordance with the male and female anatomy, does not seem acceptable. But it is still questionable how well women will be able to “adjust” to this new device. The fact that these gadgets are selling well in spite of being expensive does not prove that all women always wanted to urinate like men. It suggests that if some women wish it that way, may be it is an expression of penis envy.
Yours faithfully,
Sweta Das Gupta, Calcutta

Hindu by birth

Sir — Rakesh Sinha’s “More bashed up than bashing” (Aug 28) comes as a refreshing and welcome change in a warped setup where all “prestigious” newspapers and “respectable” writers of the media revel in Hindu-baiting and sangh parivar bashing.

However, Sinha is neither correct nor objective in his notion of Hindu cultural nationalism or the civilizational and geographical connotation of the term “Hindu” as something “created” by or as something particular only to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. That Hindu means Indian or vice versa, has always been an impersonal historical truth, since both the words share the same etymological source. The ancient Persians pronounced the river Sindhu (Indus) as Hindu, which they also employed to designate the race and civilization in this land. The “Hindu” later on became “Indus” in the Greek tongue of Alexander’s attacking army, which in turn gave birth to the term “India”.

Hindu and Indian are thus different alien adaptations for Bharatvarsha sanatan dharma since it permeated all aspects of their life.

This fusion, therefore, becomes the real guarantee behind the Indian identity. So irrespective of the mode of worship followed, alien or of Indian origin, a native Indian is still a “Hindu” or, if the Greek adaptation is preferred, an Indian.

“Secularism” in its true form, is inherent in the Hindu ethos. That is why there was never any reason to invent the word. This makes totally irrelevant in the Indian context the monstrosity of “Nehruvian secularism”. A totally different phenomenon altogether, in spirit and practice, it took birth only in the post-independence era, when the self-alienated Hindu in Nehru imported it to India to mean exactly the opposite of what it meant originally in Europe, where it was born as a protest against the tyrannical and oppressive control of the individual life by the church.

Yours faithfully,
Sambuddha Majumdar, Calcutta

Sir — Rakesh Sinha’s article, though timely and enlightening, suffers from his half-baked logic and unnecessary protection of K.S. Sudarshan’s statement about “another epic war between Hindus and anti-Hindus”. Was the statement at all necessary at this juncture? Whatever his specific interpretation of the term “Hindus and anti-Hindus”, there is no doubt the statement provoked the intellectuals and the print media to denounce it as a veiled threat to India’s minorities.

Second, the statement contradicts what was espoused by M.S. Golwalkar — that all Bharatvashis (Indians) are Hindus in the wider and positive sense. And there is no place for being anti-Hindu if the concept of nationalism in cultural terms, delineated by both Vivekananda and Aurobindo Ghosh, is taken into account. In their terms, a person is Indian, whatever the faith, caste or creed.

Sudarshan is politically inclined and his sole purpose is to stick to the hardline stand of the sangh. Golwalkar had wanted swayamsevaks to be missionaries with a national vision. Sudarshan unfortunately lacks that.

Yours faithfully,
Kalyani Banerjee, Calcutta

Tale of the ancient hills

Sir — Parimal Bhattacharya’s “And thereby hangs a tale of despair” (Sept 13) is one of the best articles I have read in recent times on the situation in Darjeeling hills. While the Left Front government has done nothing for the hill regions in the last 23 years, it is the political parties in the hills which have repeatedly betrayed the people in these subdivisions.

Bhattacharya has rightly shown the three ills plaguing this region: ecological destruction, corruption and inefficiency. I would like to add another, hypocrisy. Having lived and worked in this area for more than two decades, I have seen how people in the plains of West Bengal have taken pride in the fame of this queen of hills and at the same time been snooty about the people who live here. It is this mindset in the ruling party as well as in the administration that has allowed the rot here. Bhattacharya’s article should wake up the mandarins as well as the masses before the situation in Darjeeling spins out of control.

Yours faithfully,
G. Sarkar, Darjeeling

Sir — What is true of a part of West Bengal is true of a larger part of India. The plight of Darjeeling encapsulates the ultimate shattering of the dream of autonomy. The Northeast, riven by inter-tribal and intra-tribal squabbles, is living this nightmare. And so will the just born states of Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Uttaranchal. The people of Darjeeling can rest assured that the hopes for a Gorkhaland will be revived and the battle for it recharged once Subhas Ghising, having had enough of the spoils, is dethroned by an equally, opportunistic “politician”.

Yours faithfully,
Jairam Srivastava, Calcutta

Off centre

Sir — Amit Roy’s “Eye on America” (Sept 17) mentioned under the headline “Clean sweep” on the US Open and its participants that “Vanessa Williams” had played in and won the championship this year when actually she — even though a mulatto — is a romantic ballad singer, who has acted in a couple of movies. It was Venus Williams, who won the US Open.
Yours faithfully,
Arjun Chatterjee, via email

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