Editorial 1/ Oil slick
Editorial 2/ Horse nonsense
Fiction into fact
Fifth Column/ Litmus test of people’s power
Mani Talk/ The times are out of joint
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1/ OIL SLICK 
 
 
 
 
At least for a while, the most basic industrial commodity of all is wreaking vengeance on the world’s “new economies”. The savage increase in petroleum prices has damaged the political fortunes of Western leaders from Washington to Helsinki. The United States presidential hopeful, Mr Al Gore, has seen his poll lead halved. One week of fuel price protests has crippled the presidential ambitions of the French prime minister, Mr Lionel Jospin. The most telling blows have been dealt to the once invincible standing of Mr Tony Blair. For the first time in eight years the opposition Conservatives lead in the opinion polls. Even as the Labour party faithful congregate this week for their party conference, the Tory lead has grown to a solid eight per cent margin. Remember that Labour commanded a 12 per cent lead as recently as the beginning of September.

It is difficult to judge how much of this is due to actual public anger over oil prices. The present price increases have had far less impact on developed economies than the Seventies’ oil shocks. However, for several reasons the political impact has been striking. One is that oil price hikes have served to accelerate trends that existed before oil producers put on the squeeze. Mr Blair’s satisfaction ratings have been heading downward since spring. Mr Blair’s handling of the protests only reinforced the negatives undermining his image — the view he is arrogant, out of touch with the common man and prone to control freakery. New Labour has pretty much done everything listed in its 1997 manifesto. No vision binds its technocratic efficiency today. This leads the public to blow temporary blips like petrol price hikes out of proportion. Two, there is a tendency in the West for small groups of activists to push an agenda via protests rather than through democratic institutions. Throughout Europe, it was relatively few truckers and farmers who used blockades to force their governments to reduce petrol taxes. Unfortunately, political debate via the pavements is finding increasing acceptance. This means Mr Blair cannot ignore them with equanimity. Three, the strongest reaction against the price increase has been in Europe. This reflects the statist bent of the European Union. Europe imposes huge taxes on petrol when compared to the US. In the United Kingdom, taxes constitute three quarters of the pump price. It did not help the cause of Europe that the French government cravenly surrendered to the truckers’ demands and this helped trigger similar protests elsewhere in the continent.

Mr Blair is reeling, but hardly written off. Despite present poll ratings, he could conceivably win a snap election in coalition with the Liberal Democrats. He may have to face increased dissidence within the Labour party during his period of weakness. The UK prime minister has an opportunity this week and over the next two years, to build a new Labour vision. At present, the only real difference between the Tories and Labour are their views on European unity. The oil price problem has only reinforced British scepticism about Brussels. Two other prime ministers, Ms Margaret Thatcher and Mr John Major, faced confidence destroying crises over poll taxes and a currency crisis, respectively. They never recovered politically. It remains to be seen whether Mr Blair has more mettle, media savvy and metamorphosing skills than his two predecessors. Making a nuisance of oneself can become strangely addictive. This syndrome is particularly bothersome when used as a means of grabbing political attention. The palaver created recently by Ms Maneka Gandhi around the whipping of race horses will be familiar to those who have been keeping an increasingly weary eye on this Union minister’s long wrestle with her nation’s various cruelties to animals. The animal welfare division of Ms Gandhi’s ministry of social justice and empowerment has issued an ultimatum to the Turf Authorities of India on banning the whip from race courses. This is in spite of stringent existing guidelines on the non-abusive use of the whip and of the well-established fact that the whip is more a crucial safety device than an instrument for the indulgence of the jockey’s sadistic whims. The completely avoidable expense of bureaucratic time, money and energy this sort of peremptory ignorance creates was amply demonstrated a couple of years ago. This was when Ms Gandhi had almost succeeded in paralysing bio-medical research in India by creating an elaborate machinery of vigilance over experiments involving animals. Her bureacratic paraphernalia had then included a 17-member committee, chaired by Ms Gandhi, called — impossibly — “committee for the purpose of control and supervision of experiments on animals”. Her proposals were mercifully stalled under pressure from scientists, preventing what the director-general of the Indian Council for Medical Research had described as “chaos and confusion leading to anarchy”. Since then, man-eating wolves and lactating cattle, among other creatures, have been the objects of her active compassion. The overwhelming question remains. Can the Indian state machinery afford to bestow ministerial status on a form of elite activism — inspired by Western extremist organizations working within a completely different set of realities — that remains doggedly lopsided in its political priorities? Whether the ethics of drinking milk is more important than flood relief or human malnutrition is perhaps a subject for philosophical debate. But the feasibility of making room for a lunatic fringe of sentimental activism within a cabinet badly in need of streamlining could be a more immediate and pragmatic concern.    


 
 
EDITORIAL 2/ HORSE NONSENSE 
 
 
 
 
Making a nuisance of oneself can become strangely addictive. This syndrome is particularly bothersome when used as a means of grabbing political attention. The palaver created recently by Ms Maneka Gandhi around the whipping of race horses will be familiar to those who have been keeping an increasingly weary eye on this Union minister’s long wrestle with her nation’s various cruelties to animals. The animal welfare division of Ms Gandhi’s ministry of social justice and empowerment has issued an ultimatum to the Turf Authorities of India on banning the whip from race courses. This is in spite of stringent existing guidelines on the non-abusive use of the whip and of the well-established fact that the whip is more a crucial safety device than an instrument for the indulgence of the jockey’s sadistic whims.

The completely avoidable expense of bureaucratic time, money and energy this sort of peremptory ignorance creates was amply demonstrated a couple of years ago. This was when Ms Gandhi had almost succeeded in paralysing bio-medical research in India by creating an elaborate machinery of vigilance over experiments involving animals. Her bureacratic paraphernalia had then included a 17-member committee, chaired by Ms Gandhi, called — impossibly — “committee for the purpose of control and supervision of experiments on animals”. Her proposals were mercifully stalled under pressure from scientists, preventing what the director-general of the Indian Council for Medical Research had described as “chaos and confusion leading to anarchy”. Since then, man-eating wolves and lactating cattle, among other creatures, have been the objects of her active compassion. The overwhelming question remains. Can the Indian state machinery afford to bestow ministerial status on a form of elite activism — inspired by Western extremist organizations working within a completely different set of realities — that remains doggedly lopsided in its political priorities? Whether the ethics of drinking milk is more important than flood relief or human malnutrition is perhaps a subject for philosophical debate. But the feasibility of making room for a lunatic fringe of sentimental activism within a cabinet badly in need of streamlining could be a more immediate and pragmatic concern.    


 
 
FICTION INTO FACT 
 
 
BY BRIJESH D. JAYAL
 
 
“The opponents of change had gambled that the system that had served them thus far would serve them adequately in the future. Ajit Sinha felt terrified as his mind raced through his recent analysis of the system. It was no longer a case of preparation. The nation was on the brink of a very real war. ...Sinha was overpowered by shame and helplessness as he recalled the national humiliation of 1962. Shame, because a whole new generation had grown up and the only legacy left to them was the possible repeat of 1962. He wished he could be with the soldiers, sailors and airmen at this time, but it was a futile wish. He had failed them, and it was his lot to face his conscience with the knowledge that they went with valiant hearts to their battles, unaware that that they had been betrayed. Ajit Sinha felt irretrievably depressed as he slumped in his chair.”

These are the extracts from a novel, Of Mandarins and Martyrs, by this writer published in 1996. The story highlights grave deficiencies within the higher defence organization and intrigues that flow through the security management system not excluding the military. Ajit Sinha, the prime minister, realizes that this self-perpetuating system has a primary interest in maintaining status quo. He chooses to set the system right. As the closing lines of the novel show, however, things do not quite work his way.

“Parliament had been in session throughout the night. The Indian and Pakistani forces had been on alert for well over a fortnight. Frantic efforts by the international community to defuse the tension had resulted in a UN envoy bringing a proposal to the two countries. It was this proposal that the Lok Sabha was debating hotly...Sargodha airfield was still, save for the low whistling of six F16s in their shelters. Zalim leader concluded the pre-briefed R/T check and rolled out on to the tarmac towards take off point. He glanced at the aircraft on his right.

It had a long bomb slung on the centre pylon, between the long-range tanks. Zalim leader had exactly the same configuration on his aircraft. The other four were configured for air defence and electronic warfare — their task was to get Zalim leader and Zalim two safely to their target. Zalim leader allowed himself a second to contemplate his cargo —the not so secret Pakistani nuclear bomb. They would not fail...In Parliament, the prime minister had risen to his feet to conclude the night’s debate. He had barely addressed the speaker when air raid sirens shattered the quiet dawn.”

Mercifully, the writer spared his readers the gory aftermath of a nuclear strike on New Delhi. Not so another novel recently published, of which more later.

Between these fictional accounts, much has transpired on the Indian security front. For the first time in independent India’s history, personnel in one military service resorted to open agitation on the question of pay and allowances following the fifth pay commission awards.

Another dubious first followed when an open feud between a service chief and the ministry of defence was played out in public view with accusations flying thick and fast, finally leading to the dismissal of a chief and transfer of the defence secretary. Favoritism in senior military promotions and appointments continued to be reported in the media and challenged in courts. Even to a casual observer of the security scene, this deterioration in the security ethos was patently alarming. But so engrossed were those reaping the fruits of power that the obvious evaded them until Kargil came as a bolt from the blue.

The Kargil review panel set up by the government chose to publish the unclassified portion of its report in the form of a book titled, From Surprise to Reckoning. Ironically, notwithstanding the formal nature of the report, the contents still read like a novel. A nation faced with border disputes with two nuclear neighbours, having fought four wars in 50 years and having opted for nuclear security suffers from grave deficiencies in its basic security management. The political, bureaucratic, military and intelligence establishments on the very shoulders of which rests national survival, are found to have developed a vested interest in this status quo. While the review committee sidestepped the crucial issue of accountability for fear of facing a bureaucratic stone wall, the report nevertheless was forthright enough to cause red faces in the government. The latter had little choice but to take shelter behind the timetested bureaucratic action of forming a committee. This group of ministers in turn set up four taskforces to uncover weaknesses in defence organization, border management, intelligence, and internal security.

The taskforces will now be submitting their reports to the GOM. Optimists will believe that this paves the way for appropriate remedial measures and the nation can breathe easy. The realists, of whom this writer is one, are not too sure.

Lessons of previous conflicts continue to gather dust in the ministry of defence. The history of the 1965 India-Pakistan conflict, formally still under wraps, though available on the net, reveals a total lack of coordination amongst the armed forces. A similar fate has befallen other committees like the one on defence expenditure under the able stewardship of an erstwhile minister of state for defence. Had appropriate lessons been learnt, thousands of our servicemen may not have died in vain in subsequent years and Kargil itself may never have happened.

Even as reports of the four task forces come under scrutiny of the GOM, another novel beckons attention. Dragonfire by Humphrey Hawksley, published only recently, is billed as the novel of the next war — India versus China and Pakistan in 2007. Pakistan uses its tactical nuclear weapons early on and its leadership stands neutralized in its underground centre by new generation non-nuclear warheads delivered by United States cruise missiles from B-52 bombers.

Particularly gripping are the final stages with American, Russian, British, Chinese, Japanese and Indian leaderships grappling with a rapidly escalating nuclear scenario — a nightmare situation for which nuclear armed nations and their command and control systems must forever be prepared.

A 15 kiloton Chinese nuclear weapon explodes in Bombay. (Later estimates put the number of dead at 200,000.) The Indian prime minister, while retaliating steadfastly, refuses to choose civilian targets, opting for military ones. Shortly after this last act of morality, he and the men in charge of the government of India are dead and the institutions, which ran the country, put out of action. A second Chinese nuclear strike at the very heart of Lutyens’s Delhi ensures this finale. Devastation, human misery and national panic, though briefly mentioned, are left by the author to the reader’s imagination.

As novels go, Dragonfire is a gripping story. What however must stir the nation’s conscience is whether our security system, its institutions and, most importantly, its leadership profiles are up to facing challenges such as those depicted. Because today’s novels could well become tomorrow’s nightmares. If Dragonfire stirs the conscience of the Indian people, it is possible that reports of the post-Kargil task forces will not find their way into the dust laden ministry of defence archives.

The author is a retired air marshal of the Indian Air Force    


 
 
FIFTH COLUMN/ LITMUS TEST OF PEOPLE’S POWER 
 
 
BY MOHIT SEN
 
 
Mamata Banerjee seems ready to do anything to dethrone Jyoti Basu before the octogenarian chief minister of West Bengal has a chance to retire gracefully. In the exchange of personal attacks, the central issue — the rescuing of democracy in West Bengal — is in danger of being forgotten. Banerjee’s demand for president’s rule in the state is symptomatic of this.

Democracy denotes rule for the people. The Communist Party of India (Marxist), with all the strength of its Stalinism, would claim to practise democracy in this sense. But democracy also means rule of and by the people. Crucial to this meaning of democracy are civil liberties and the absence of terror. In this sense, the CPI(M) cannot be regarded as the upholder of an ideal democratic framework.

The latter aspect of democracy was never fully appreciated and much less practised by the Stalinists. There were historical reasons for this. Socialism as the alternative to capitalism had from its inception the goal of combating the liberal democratic defenders of capitalism, besides upholding individual freedom.

Battle for freedom

Liberal democracy has been behind the most brutal colonialism of the 20th century. There were liberal democrats who opposed colonialism and imperialism. But civil liberties at home as a system did not come in the way of brutal terror and rapacious exploitation in the colonies. British colonialism had to be fought successfully in India not by clinging on to liberal democratic forms of struggle, but by mass revolutionary democratic struggle.

As late as in the mid-Seventies, Vietnam presented a classic case of a liberal democracy using the most barbarous methods in an attempt to deny a people their freedom. However, the war ended only when the armed forces of the people of Vietnam fought their way into and captured Saigon.

Contrary to what is being propagated today, liberal democracy and the free market were unable to prevent catastrophic economic crises, massive unemployment and mass hunger in the developed capitalist countries. It was not able to prevent the triumph of fascism.

Moreover, the communist parties in Russia, China, Yugoslavia, Cuba, Vietnam and elsewhere triumphed not because of the opportunities presented by liberal demo- cracy, but through bitter battle.

New alliance

It is, however, wrong to denigrate civil libertarian democracy on the basis of this experience, and to seek to deprive the people of choice. Liberal democracy should not be suppressed; its limitations have to be overcome, and its positive features preserved.

The CPI(M) has trangressed this universal law of development in West Bengal. Failing to analyse the cause for its long tenure of governance, it has impeded the growth of civil libertarian democracy and sought to deny people their oportunities. Nurul Hasan, a reputed Marxist historian and former governor of West Bengal, felt that the CPI(M) mistook power as residing in the police station rather than in an awakened people.

The failure to grasp the full meaning of democracy is reflected in the attitude of the CPI(M) leadership to dissent within the party.

Basu is disdainful of and autocratic towards all those in his party who do not agree with him. Whether it be Nripen Chakravarty or Benoy Chowdhury or Saifuddin Chowdhury, all are asked to be silent or to leave the party. Basu seems to have forgotten his own struggle in 1949-50 against the dictatorial rule in the Communist Party of India of B.T. Randive, Bhowani Sen and Somnath Lahiri. Thus the anti-democratic orientation of the CPI(M) is its Achilles heel.

Banerjee was seen as a fearless fighter against the terror perpetrated by the CPI(M) and as a symbol of democracy. But now, doubts have cropped up regarding her democratic credentials.

Ideally, the Trinamool Congress should break its association with the Bharatiya Janata Party and form a mahajot with the Congress and the dissenting factions of the left. Should Banerjee refuse to do so, the Congress ought to take the lead, seek alliance with the dissenting members of the left and firmly assert its presence in the state. For, reducing the power of the CPI(M) in West Bengal is as important as preventing any further growth of the BJP.    


 
 
MANI TALK/ THE TIMES ARE OUT OF JOINT 
 
 
BY MANI SHANKAR AIYAR
 
 
Vir Sanghvi, my former editor at Sunday and now head of the K.K. Birla media empire, has a thought-provoking piece in The Hindustan Times (September 24) asking what it is that accounts for Atal Behari Vajpayee’s personal popularity. He concludes that the answer lies in the prime minister reflecting the mood of the times in which we live.

He is right. Vajpayee is the man for our times. It is the times that are out of joint, more even than the prime minister’s knee. As a people, we once believed (not long ago, indeed just a century to half-a-century ago) that our strength lay in ahimsa. Now, as a nation, we have lost faith in non-violence. Our strength lies, we believe, in the Bomb. We have got away with Pokhran II, and this we believe entitles us to a place at the high table. That in getting the Bomb, we have ensured that Pakistan gets one too, thus wiping out whatever conventional advantage we had over our recalcitrant neighbour, does not seem to worry us. That we have rendered ourselves vulnerable to instant annihilation, especially if we over-annoy that neighbour, causes us to lose little sleep. That disarmament is on no one’s agenda only gives us relief for then we can get on with what we really want to do — build more and better bombs.

Along with the abandonment of ahimsa, we have also thrown out of the window our fierce and assertive independence. We once sought a world order of our own. We now seek to be coopted into someone else’s. That Nehru quoting the Buddha at the 15th anniversary summit of the United Nations took him to the memorable obituary cover of The Economist with the legend, “World without Nehru”, is remembered only by ancient old codgers like myself; what the country wants to hear at the United Nations millennium summit is Vajpayee bashing Pakistan abuse for abuse even if no one else cares a damn. If, indeed, the world is taking any notice of us, it is because they are deeply concerned over Kashmir as the cockpit of the world’s most looming nuclear conflict. If, therefore, we do not come up soonest with a bilateral settlement, we are going to have an international (read “American”) settlement imposed on us.

That is the import of Bill Clinton having the gall to describe Kashmir as a “dispute” in the Central Hall of Parliament, and deliberately bringing it up, in exactly those terms, in his White House talks with Vajpayee, notwithstanding Brajesh Mishra’s pretence that Kashmir was not on the agenda of the visit. Instead of asking ourselves what is the meaning of this, we are content that the real cause of the nascent American interest in us is papered over with communiqué clichés. We also blind ourselves — for to not do so would be to rob us of our euphoria — to the implications of the UN security council, at American bidding, having revived the issue of Jammu and Kashmir after acquiescence of 35 years. For it is glasses of champagne, not swords of Damocles, that are raised at banquet toasts.

The “feel good” sentiment which pervades the country is the belief, expressed repeatedly by Vajpayee, most recently in a signed article for The Asian Age, that India and the United States are “natural allies”. Really? Then what happened to non-alignment? The fact is our relationship with the US is that of the flea to the dog. It is the relationship once cultivated by Pakistan with the US in the fond hope that the Americans would get for Pakistan what Pakistan could not get from India. Therefore, the Pakistanis loved Ayub Khan. And, therefore, we love Vajpayee.

The other major reason for Vajpayee so precisely reflecting our times is that over the Nineties we have lost faith in the Nehruvian model while groping for an alternative. Self-reliance, we have decided, has led us nowhere, so let us latch on to the more successful. Thus the obscene spectacle of no less than 10 chief ministers air-dashing to the capital (as the peculiarly Indian English expression goes) to get themselves photographed with Bill Gates (even as the Indian prime minister waits, at the other end of the world, for his photo-op with the other Bill). Bill Gates responds to this generous demonstration of sashtang namaskarams with his customary generosity. He promises 50 million dollars to Karnataka (to make up for Emperor Bill having preferred Hyderabad to Bangalore). Before the squeals of unconcealed joy quite die down, we are told that the Gates fortune, though down 22 billion dollars on the last count, is still upward of 63 billion today. So, depending on whether a billion is a hundred million or a thousand million, the flood-Gates have produced a trickle of between 1/125th to 1/1025th of the Bill Gates fortune. A touch below the fare needed to take us to the Valhalla of the “new economy”, would you not say? That is why our national squeals sound exactly like that of the household servants at Puja when the master doles out to them their new Bijoya clothes.

We, and by “we” I do mean not just India but all the developing countries of today’s world, were the hewers and drawers of the Industrial Revolution. We, and by “we” I mean particularly India, are now being positioned as the hewers and drawers of the IT revolution. An eminent economist-columnist has reasoned that an additional one lakh H1-B visas a year means one million more Indian-Americans over the coming decade. And since each immigrant brings with him an average of five dependents, by 2010 there will be five million more of us there, not here. Imagine, he says, the clout India will then have in Washington. Yes, indeed — about that of the Serbo-Croatians. But what about the 995 million of us our emigrants would have left behind? Are we to give up self-reliance and put all our eggs in the L&G basket? (For the uninitiated, that’s liberalization and globalization.)

“Yes,” says Vajpayee. And “yes,” says the nation (or at least that minuscule part of it which reads The Hindustan Times). “Yes” because at long last, after 50 years of Nehruvian rubbish, we are embarked on sound, sensible economic policies. Such as limiting the food subsidy to two per cent of the Central budget by doubling the price of grain for BPL (that’s below the poverty line) families while doubling also the quantity available to the poorest of the poor (never mind that doubling the prices has slashed their capacity to buy).

Simultaneously, Vajpayee’s ministers have so calculated the “economic cost” at which they are to sell grain to the APL (that’s above the poverty line) that the current open market price of wheat is two rupees a kilo below the ration shop price! Little wonder then that off-take has so drastically fallen that food minister Shanta Kumar is spending Rs 4,000 crore a year (that is half the annual subsidy) hoarding the grain to prevent it reaching the people. This exactly reflects the economic policy of the British empire, who brought us into the world economy by expanding our mill cotton exports but wrecked, in the bargain, the cottage spinning and handloom economy. That led to a historical curiosity called the swadeshi movement. But who in the dulcet sounds of Clinton’s encomiums would wish to be reminded of so old-fashioned a word?

For, under Vajpayee, we as a nation are in the position of the landed aristocracy after the collapse of the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 — having “neither youth nor age/But, as it were, an after-dinner sleep/ Dreaming on both” (T. S. Eliot, “Gerontion”). The British having conquered us, the aristocracy decided that it was better to join ’em than lick ’em. Vajpayee thus emerges as the Sir Syed Ahmed Khan of the 21st century. Someone had perhaps remind him that we now call the Sepoy Mutiny the First War of Independence.    


 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Troubled ways

Sir — Ghazala Wahab talks about an extremely pertinent problem in her article “Danger Ahead” (Sept 23). “Road rage”, as she has put it, is a growing problem. This rage is often the result of bad traffic management, poor road engineering and a whole array of other reasons. Driving in most Indian cities, and especially in Calcutta, far from being pleasurable, could become a nightmare. Naturally, this leads to enormous frustrations in drivers. Verbal and physical aggression, no matter how harmful they tend to get, is the only form of self-expression that irate drivers can hope to find against this dismal situation. Calcutta requires three times the surface area dedicated to roads than the city currently has. And this is a minimum. Despite this situation, Calcuttans are making do with the roads they have, braving traffic jams every morning, battling curses from fellow drivers and generally feeling exhausted even before they reach their destinations. Is it a surprise that “road rage” is becoming increasingly common?
Yours faithfully,
Subhodeep Chatterjee, via email

Chief weakness

Sir — The editorial, “None to lead” (Aug 24), rightly suggests that even Pranab Mukherjee’s best friends will admit his unsuitability to carry out the task of rejuvenating the West Bengal state Congress from the moribund state it is presently in. He has neither the following nor the political skills needed for this purpose. He will have to pull off something miraculous to contend with Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress in West Bengal. His earlier tenure as state Congress chief was remarkable for its lack of success. His new position comes as a surprise given the fact that Mukherjee has never won an election and has no contact with the masses. This is in sharp contrast to Banerjee. Mukherjee therefore has an uphill task ahead of him. Why is he being assigned such a job? Could it be possible that he is slowly being elbowed out of the Centre? Or may be the Congress is deliberately putting up a weak leadership in West Bengal because it is contemplating an alliance with the Communist Party of India (Marxist) to face the challenge posed by the Trinamool Congress.
Yours faithfully,
B.C. Dutta, Calcutta

Sir — The replacement of A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury by Pranab Mukherjee as the West Bengal state Congress chief is not going to cause any upswing for the party or its image. The factionalism within the Congress will prevent it from becoming a potent political force in the state again. The developments in Panskura and the Calcutta Municipal Corporation elections have all proved that the main political contestants in West Bengal are the Trinamool-Bharatiya Janata Party alliance and the Left Front. Mukherjee has no political appeal among the masses and his lack of charisma will only drag the Congress’s popularity downwards. He should remain within the confines of the Rajya Sabha, where he is most comfortable.

Yours faithfully,
Manoranjan Das, Jamshedpur

Future shock

Sir — Bihar has a vast population of landless labourers. There have been many attempts to redistribute surplus land in this region. But the redistribution programme following implementation of a land ceiling has failed. While the masses remain landless and impoverished, a handful of people in the region live lives of great comfort and own several acres of land.Their operational landholdings are almost always larger than what they declare. They evade the provisions of the land ceiling programme. What is most surprising is that even bhoodan land is being captured by landowners.

In order to preempt the distribution of land, many landholders have falsely implicated in court cases people who have attempted to resist the forcible occupation of surplus land. Moreover, the distress of the agricultural labourers increases when food production falls. This happens because of an alarming lack of technological support for intensive farming and also because of natural calamities. This results in a decline of real wages and a reduction of the number of days of employment. So the debts of landless labourers are continuously on the rise. If something is not done urgently, Bihar with its caste wars will remain a problematic state.

Yours faithfully,
Rajiv, Giridih

Sir — The Congress president, Sonia Gandhi, should look into the abysmal condition the party is in in Bihar. The social or political effectiveness of a party ultimately depends on its workers andhow conscientious they are. These workers are the ones who are in touch with the masses and know how to respond to their immediate and larger needs. Unfortunately, the Congressmen of Bihar (from whom the people, at one stage, had great expectations) have done practically nothing to counter the barbaric rule afflicting the state. It must be mentioned that the tacit support of the Congress has abetted the misrule in Bihar. If it continues to maintain its association with the Rashtriya Janata Dal, it will soon lose its reputation of being a self-respecting party with a firm commitment to its policies and programmes.

Yours faithfully,
S.I. Ahmed, Bokaro

For your information

Sir — We have always supported the right of newspapers to exercise its freedom, but we certainly do expect facts to be as accurate as possible.

This is in reference to two recent news items (“Darkness may descend at halls before Devi”, Sept 18, and “Documentary diktat on cinemas”, Sept 19) and an editorial comment (“Watch big brother”, Sept 20) in The Telegraph. Firstly, your news items and the subsequent editorial on screening of Film Divisions’ documentary are based on incorrect information. No new decision has been taken during my tenure as information and broadcasting minister in this regard. You have virtually credited me with the entire responsibility of certain decisions with regard to compulsory screening. This is on account of the licensing terms and conditions under the relevant laws that a cinema hall owner has been obliged to exhibit the Film Divisions’ documentary. The decision with regard to payment of certain charges for the same was also pronounced by the Supreme Court before I became a minister. I reiterate that there is no new decision or any change in the status about the screening during my tenure. Your news item and the editorial comment on that certainly do not reflect the correct position.

Secondly, a news item (“In victory and defeat, India under DD darkness”, Sept 18) did complain that the India-Argentina hockey match was not shown at 3 am in the morning. I wish the paper had been fair enough to record that the match which was not shown at this early hour at 3 am, was shown thrice on three channels of Doordarshan the next day. Doordarshan is going to telecast a total of 736 hours of Olympic events; eight hours on the National channel, seven hours on the Metro channel and 24 hours a day on the Sports channel. In recent months, besides having the sole authority to telecast the matches played — both domestic and international — the important events like Wimbledon, French Open, European Soccer and Olympics have been telecast on Doordarshan. For showing all these events round the year, the Doordarshan Sports channel makes it a pay channel which is commercially and technically a wise decision. The cable operator in Calcutta, which commands a monopoly, decides to boycott it or pirate the exclusive rights of Doordarshan and tries to link it from somewhere outside. Your adverse comments should have been directed to the cable operator. Unfortunately, your story only strengthens the improper conduct of such a cable operator.

Yours faithfully,
Arun Jaitley, minister of state (independent charge) information and broadcasting, and minister for law, justice and company affairs, New Delhi

Letters to the editor should be sent to:

The Telegraph
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Readers in the Northeast can write to:
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