Editorial No. 1/ Agenda of hate
Editorial No. 2/ Promoting merit
The hoopla is over
Fifth Column/ Sharon’s madness and its gains
Two ways to begin the day
Get yourself a living doll with barbs
Letters to the Editor

 
 
EDITORIAL NO. 1/ AGENDA OF HATE 
 
 
 
 
Within the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, it is an axiom that its members hold a patent on nationalism, Indianness and their definitions. The RSS — witness, as the latest in a long series, the latest pronouncements of the RSS chief, Mr K.S. Sudarshan, — can thus dole out certificates of patriotism or question the Indianness of various peoples and groups. Speaking in Nagpur, the headquarters of the RSS, Mr Sudarshan accused foreign churches of instigating a conspiracy to destabilize the Indian nation. He felt no need to adduce any evidence to substantiate this allegation. The very fact that the churches were foreign was enough for Mr Sudarshan to taint them with the tar of treachery. The epithet, “foreign”, was used in this context as a label for the Roman Catholic Church. It is true that the Catholic church sees itself as a pan-national organization and owes allegiance to the Pope in the Vatican. This by itself cannot be taken as evidence of its treachery or its anti-Indian activities. There are hundreds of Catholic missionaries in India who are Indians by any accepted definition of the term and who carry out their religious activities keeping politics at more than an arm’s length. The Vatican believes — and has done so ever since its inception — that it represents the only path to salvation. This streak of superiority and intolerance need not be allowed to contaminate the basic core of catholicity which is at the heart of all faiths.

Mr Sudarshan has not stopped at excoriating the Catholic church. He has asked Christians to set up a swadeshi church. He cited the example of the Orthodox Syrian Church as a swadeshi church. Mr Sudarshan is oblivious that according to the beliefs of Syrian Christians, their church was established by St Thomas, one of the apostles who, according to legend, came to India. The origins of the Syrian Christian church are thus not swa- deshi. Syrian Christians, like many other Christians, including Catholics, have tried to Indianize many of their rituals and customs. Thus most churches have services in the language of the region in which the church is situated; even hymns are sung in the vernacular. This Indianization has taken place because various churches have tried to increase the size of their flock. Missionaries have carried out these changes through the logic of their own calling. They do not need either certificates or the urging of someone like Mr Sudarshan.

Mr Sudarshan believes that he has the right to give unsolicited advice to Muslims and Christians. This belief is grounded in one of the fundamentals of the RSS creed: India is the land of the Hindus. This piece of concocted history gives to the RSS and all those who sail with it the right to dictate to others how they should conduct themselves and how they should organize their faiths. The simple fact is that the RSS has no such rights. Mr Sudarshan has no other intention save the fanning of passions against non-Hindus. The timing of this play on Hindu fanaticism is no coincidence. The Hindutva flag is no longer flying as high as it used to a few years ago. Even the Bharatiya Janata Party and its leader, Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee, are eager to distance themselves from Hindutva and the RSS. Under these circumstances, the RSS has no other option but to issue an ideological clarion call. It can articulate this call only through a campaign of hatred.    


 
 
EDITORIAL NO. 2/ PROMOTING MERIT 
 
 
 
 
Linking teachers’ aspirations with promotion could be a dubious idea. Particularly if the latter is in the hands of a complicated bureaucratic machinery. The career advancement scheme devised by the University Grants Commission is proving to be a protracted hindrance to the “advancement” of academic excellence. For almost two years now the UGC has been vacillating about the scheme’s eligibilities and scope, provoking periodic nationwide protests from teachers. Focussing mainly on the promotion of readers to professorships, it had initially been made applicable to both university and college teachers. It went on review in July 1999, but was reopened in October after agitation by teachers. Now the UGC’s latest directive has withdrawn the scheme for college readers, making the promotions only applicable to university-level teachers. This has led to widespread political discord between college teachers (in institutions like Delhi University) on the one hand and the UGC, together with the Union ministry of human resources development, on the other. Only a radical revision of the role of the UGC in such matters can spare those who are committed to excellence such mindless bother. The promotion of a teacher — whether he teaches at the college or university level is quite irrelevant — should depend entirely on his academic merit in teaching and in research. This should have almost nothing to do with seniority in a hierarchy, based on duration of employment, and everything to do with how well he has taught, together with the volume and quality of his publications. Years spent in intellectual inertia, wasting students’ time and perfecting the art of petty politicking should hardly entitle someone to a promotion, whatever the hoariness of his head. Moreover, the relevant committees should be constituted by specialists qualified to assess the nature of his performance, unhindered by bureaucrats planted as “observers”. In fact, this could be taken a step further to question the practice of making permanent academic appointments in the first instance. A distinction between “tenured” and “tenure-track” jobs to be made permanent purely on merit may be a way of jogging the system out of such inertia. In all this, a decentralized structure which places excellence above bureaucracy is the only answer to the maintenance of standards.    

 
 
THE HOOPLA IS OVER 
 
 
BY ASHOK MITRA
 
 
The fortnight’s hoopla is over. Of the 925 medals won in the Sydney Olympics, India’s share is just one — 0.1 per cent of the total — and that too, a measly bronze. Would it be unkindness to remind ourselves that, in stark contrast, we constitute almost 20 per cent of the world’s population? In the single-point single-medal constellation, India is keeping company with, among others, such teeny-weeny entities as Barbados, Croatia, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Kyrghyzstan, the population of each of which is even less than one per cent of our own population.

Will it be invidious to take into account here China’s performance in the Olympics? That nation’s final ranking is third among the 160 competing countries, next to the United States and Russia. The participants from China have won 28 gold medals as against 38 and 32 by those from the US and France respectively. We Indians have of late been making a great deal of hullabaloo over our headlong rush toward globalization.

There should therefore be no squeamishness in acknowledging the rock-bottom position we have come to occupy in global ranking in the Olympics. China, whom, along with Pakistan, we have come to describe as our natural enemy, has outstripped us in practically all walks of life, as much in competition for economic growth as in the arena of sports and games. In the given environment, the odds are that the conspiracy theory would now rear its head: we are in fact a great nation, but, what perfidy, the rest of the world has schemed a foul plot to do us in.

Does not the true reason for our all-round miserable performance lie somewhere else? To be successful in any sphere, it is of course necessary to possess skill and aptitude, accompanied by grit and application. These attributes by themselves are not enough though; one also needs a measure of self-assurance and pride, pride in oneself and in one’s nation. This pride is different from conceit. Conceit Indians have in plenty — mera Bharat mahan — but it is a poor substitute for genuine patriotism reflected in the determination to put in one’s best for the sake of the nation and also a transcendental humility which leads one to admit one’s present limitation and impels one to do better and still better. Empty bragging has no place in the physiognomy of this pride. Self-assurance does not drop from heaven. One has to persevere for it and learn from the example of others who have done better. Picking fault with neighbours is no remedy for covering one’s own deficiencies. Self-assurance goes hand in hand with self-respect, the resolve that what has been targeted must be attained by one’s own efforts and not through the charity or indulgence on the part of others. In the concourse of international relations, no nation can prosper if it lacks a minimum quota of self-respect. The same is equally true for the nation’s athletes and sportspersons.

It is, however, not altogether fair to lay the blame for our ridiculously poor performance in the Olympics at the door of our participants. They are an integral part of the organism which constitutes the nation. Sportspersons develop their individual and social ethics from what they have imbibed from politicians and leaders. If the latter happen to be bereft of self-respect, it would be foolhardy to expect a different kind of example to be set by the general populace, including athletes. If the politicians are crooks, so too will be the athletes. If the politicians revel in the role of panhandlers, so too will the athletes.

Consider the example set by our prime minister in the course of his recent tour of the US. The manner in which he kowtowed to President Clinton brought to mind the analogy of a feudal serf paying obeisance to his lord and master, the baron. Or, if recourse is taken to a different parallel, it was a bit like the report card of a hitherto-deviant pupil whose progress was being strictly monitored by the school headmaster. Please, sir, we have denationalized the banks and the insurance companies and have opened them to foreign entities; we have permitted the entry of alien parties into our telecommunications, power, petroleum, mining and road sectors — even railways; we have served noticed on our public undertakings that they better be dead; we are closing them down one after another; we are trying our best to cut down public expenditure and enlarge the space for private, including foreign, initiative; we have scrapped, and are scrapping, obsolete regulations concerning exchange control and control of monopolies; we are hurtling forward to a zero-tariff regime; since thy will is our law; we are on the point of scuttling subsidized public distribution too; to sum up, we are a thorough-going reformed creature. In the circumstances, please, sir, kindly shower some benediction upon us; send us loads and loads of direct foreign investment so that we might overnight attain the standard of living your own people have attained.

Forget, for a moment, the performance of our prime minister and cross over to the current doings of our state chief ministers. An American citizen, stated to be the richest person on earth, was paying a flying visit to the nation’s capital. As many as 16 chief ministers, with gleaming eyes, rushed to New Delhi to seek an audience with him, knees properly bent. This guy is the world’s richest person, if only we scamper to lie at his feet, he might offer us baksheesh, tons and tons of it. He was no doubt properly impressed by the show of servility put up; he condescended to leave behind a few million dollars of tips for the backboneless chief ministers. There is an epilogue though to this pitiful story. One state chief minister contemptuously brushed aside the suggestion that he too should rush to New Delhi to salaam the visiting American; such a gesture, he was advised, would perhaps bring in a few extra dollars to the state and thereby accelerate the pace of its growth. The chief minister refused to follow the sage advice. The leading newspaper in the state could not restrain itself, it wrote a long editorial article castigating the chief minister: shame upon him, for he has brought shame upon the state; he had the audacity to decline to join the begging crowd; not the least mercy must be shown to this chief minister, he deserves to be despatched to the gallows.

Need one wonder that our athletes and sports people too are bereft of self-respect, they are the spitting image of the national leadership. The leaders hanker after pelf; the role model dazzles, the subject people, including athletes and sportspersons, also concentrate on moneymaking. And if you can still become a crorepati despite winning a mere bronze at the Olympics, what earthly reason is there to strive for higher levels of excellence?

But, another phenomenon, of much greater import than the Indian debacle, unfolded itself at the Sydney Olympics. The countrywise distribution of medals paled into insignificance, what emerged as a much solider reality was the ethnic, or, shall one say, pigmentation-divide of the participants. More than four-fifths of the medals have been picked by athletes and sportspersons who were non-white, whether of black or Mongoloid or Maori or Cherokee strain. The overwhelming majority of the spectators was white, a great many of them American, and it was a bizarre sight when they cheered Svetlana Khorkina, the Russian sprinter, because she was white, and not Marion Jones, an American citizen, but who was black. It is an omen of immense proportions. Nonetheless, with a tally of a mere 0.14 per cent of the total medals in our kitty, it is immaterial which side we choose to join. Most probably we would love to join the fat cats. Whether we will be accepted is a different matter; we are of the non-Caucasian stock, and no good performers either.    


 
 
FIFTH COLUMN/ SHARON’S MADNESS AND ITS GAINS 
 
 
BY GYWNNE DYER
 
 
“The Israelis have gone mad,” said Abu Ala, speaker of the Palestinian legislative assembly. “Israeli extremists are trying to derail the process.” But that is only half true.

The opposition leader, Ariel Sharon, is indeed trying to destroy the peace process, but neither he nor the prime minister, Ehud Barak, is the least bit mad. They are just engaged in a lethal political duel in which the main currency, unfortunately, is the lives of Palestinians and Israeli Arabs.

The violence that has swept Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and even Arab areas of Israel proper since October 28 is the direct and fully intended result of Sharon’s provocative visit to the Muslim holy sites recently. By now over 50 Palestinians and Israeli Arabs are dead and over a thousand seriously injured, and Sharon is most of the way to his goal.

Sharon started these riots because Israel is heading into premature national elections. Barak’s shaky coalition has been undermined, probably fatally, by the defection of religious parties who were unwilling to swallow the peace deal he came close to making with Arafat at last July’s Camp David summit.

When the knesset reconvenes later this month, a vote of no-confidence in Barak’s government will almost certainly start the process leading to new national elections this winter. Barak’s strategy for those elections is already clear, and it could work.

Camp futile

One-half of the strategy is to defy the religious parties openly. Since he cannot get their support for a peace deal, he is going to challenge them openly, seeking to rally all the Israelis who are fed up with the stranglehold they have on both politics and the rules of daily life. The other half of the strategy is to make the election a referendum on a final peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians — for which, obviously, he must have such a deal in place.

Most of the terms of that settlement were agreed last summer. The deal-breaker at Camp David was the status of Jerusalem, and especially of the Muslim and Jewish holy places in the Old City, the Haram al-Sharif and the Western Wall. But behind the scenes, that final, most contentious issue was also nearing a solution.

The Palestine Liberation Organization and Barak’s government were both close to accepting the proposal that practical control over the Muslim holy places should pass into Palestinian hands. The prickly issue of sovereignty would be finessed by placing them under the joint supervision of the United Nations security council and a small group of Arab Muslim states including Jordan, Egypt, Morocco and Saudi Arabia.

Wrecker on the loose

A parallel arrangement giving Israel custodianship but not sovereignty over the “wailing” Wall was also being mooted. So was a formula that would give the Palestinian authority practical control over most of the Old City except for the Jewish Quarter, while fudging the question of Israel’s proclaimed sovereignty over East Jerusalem.

There was still hard negotiating to be done, but a deal was emerging that recognized the facts, respected sensitivities, and could lead to lasting peace. It was a deal that could be sold to the Israelis in an election that also became a referendum on peace. So from Sharon’s point of view, it was a deadly political danger that had to be destroyed.

When he strutted into the Haram al-Sharif surrounded by Israeli policemen and asserted Israeli sovereignty over the site, it was his deliberate purpose to wreck the peace deal, and with it Barak’s re-election strategy, by triggering enough violence to bring the negotiations to a halt. He knew he could rely on Palestinians to react with fury to his presence on the grounds of Islam’s third most holy place. He could also rely on the Israeli army to make matters worse.

Israeli snipers have been firing from rooftops into unarmed crowds, and Israeli helicopter gunships have been blasting away at stone-throwers. So it would be fair to say that the Israeli army has gone mad. It has never taken the need for non-lethal forms of riot control seriously, and it never was very good at calculating the political effect of its actions.

But Sharon has not gone mad, and neither have Barak and Arafat. It’s just that Sharon has moved the strategic end-game onto the streets.    


 
 
TWO WAYS TO BEGIN THE DAY 
 
 
BY KHUSHWANT SINGH
 
 
“Japuji”, the Sikhs’ morning prayer, has been translated into English by scholars, Indian and foreign, scores of times. Among translators who also wrote lengthy commentaries on it were Acharya Vinoba Bhave and Acharya Rajneesh (Osho). The latest to appear is by the distinguished Punjabi writer, winner of innumerable literary awards and currently nominated member of the Rajya Sabha, Padma Bhushan Kartar Singh Duggal. His The Japuji: Sikh Morning Prayer, was released a few weeks ago.

The importance of Japuji, as Duggal spells, cannot be over-stated. Besides being the morning prayer to be recited at amritvela (pre-dawn ambrosial hour), it forms the opening statement of the Sikhs’ scripture, the Granth Sahib, and regarded as the essence of Sikh theology.

We are not certain about the time when it was composed but inner evidence points to the conclusion that it was in the later years of the Guru’s life and he took over several days to finalize it. It is the only piece in the Granth Sahib which can be read as one sustained piece where the Guru spelt out his vision of god as the ultimate, timeless and truth and the path a seeker must take in order to achieve salvation.

He was evidently inspired by the Upanishads: many theologians subscribe to the view that Sikhism is the essence of Vedanta.

Japuji is the only part of the Granth Sahib which is meant to be recited, preferably in silent meditation and not set to ragas of classical music like the other nearly 6,000 hymns of the Granth Sahib. The compiler, the fifth Guru, Arjan, gave it the first place as it contained everything that is cardinal to Sikhism.

Among the many translators of the Japjee (as I spell it) was myself. It was the first thing that I did when I set out to write on the religion and the history of the Sikhs. It was the earliest translation of the morning prayer remembered by a Sikh to be published abroad.

I am far from being a devout Sikh. Even while working on the translation, my literary inspiration was the Bible whose language I believe is most suited for translation of scriptures of other religions.

Duggal says his prays and visits Gurdwara Bangla Sahib every morning. His inspiration comes from his fervent belief in his religion. I reproduce below Duggal’s translation of the invocation and the first verse followed by my rendering of the same. Readers can make their judgments:

There is but one God.
Truth is His name.
He is the Master-Creator.
He is unafraid.
He disdains none.
His is the Image-Eternal.
He is beyond incarnation.
He is self-existent.
He is realized through the grace of the True Guru.
He was here in the beginning
And before the beginning.
He is here today,
He will be here hereafter.
If you were to meditate on Him,
You may not succeed
Even if you tried a hundred thousand times.
If you tried to take to silence,
You may not succeed
Even if you contemplated ever and ever.
A hungry man’s hunger remains unquenched
Even if he were to amass the whole world’s wealth.
A million means you may try
Not one will succeed.
Then how can one be truthful?
How can one tear the wall of untruth?
Do as He bids you to do,
This is what Nanak has to state forsooth.

Khushwant Singh:

There is one God.
He is the supreme truth.
He, The Creator.
Is without fear and without hate.
He, The Omnipresent,
Pervades the universe.
He is not born,
Nor does he die to be born again.
By his grace
shalt thou worship him.
Before time itself
There was truth.
When time began to run its course
he was the truth.
Even now, He is the truth
And
Evermore shall truth prevail.
Not by thought alone, Can He be known
Though one think,
A hundred thousand times;
Not in solemn silence
Not in deep meditation.
Though fasting yields and abundance of virtue
It cannot appease the hunger for truth.
No, by none of these,
Nor by a hundred thousand other devices,
Can God be reached.
How then shall the Truth be known? How the veil of false illusion torn?
O Nanak, thus runneth the writ divine,
The righteous path — let it be thine.

Deducted at source

The following letter appeared in an Iowa newspaper recently:

“Gentlemen: It is impossible for me to send you a check as you request. My present financial condition is somewhat fragile due to the effects of federal laws, state laws, county laws, corporation laws, by laws, brothers-in-law, mothers-in-law and outlaws that have been foisted upon an unsuspecting public. Through the various laws I have been held down, held up, walked on, sat on, flattened and squeezed until I don’t know where I am, what I am, why I am or if I am.

“These laws compel me to pay a merchants’ tax, capital stock tax, real estate tax, property tax, auto tax, water tax, gas tax, light tax, cigarette tax, street tax, road tax, school tax, sales tax, occupation tax, processing tax, gasoline tax, personal property tax, state income tax, state franchise tax, electricity tax, federal income tax, cotton tax, payroll tax, old age pension tax, and — I almost said carpet tax.

“I am suspected, inspected, disrespected, examined and re-examined until all I know is that I’m supplicated for money for every known need, desire or hope of the so-called human race. And because I refuse to go out and beg, borrow or steal, I am cussed, discussed, boycotted, talked to, talked about, lied to, lied about, held up, held down, and robbed until I am plum ruined. The only reason I am clinging to life is to see what the hell is coming next.”    


 
 
GET YOURSELF A LIVING DOLL WITH BARBS 
 
 
BY SHOMA A. CHATTERJI
 
 
The Barbie doll has come a long way. The question is whether she is the right thing to have happened to little girls who are looking for some fun, or whether it is just the thing that should not have happened to them at a time when there is a growing consciousness of the inequalities of the patriarchal world we live in. When girls are being critically distanced from sexist ideology, cribs are doing away with the traditional blue for a male baby and the pink frills for the girl-child; when the enlightened are trying to reduce the gender gap as much as they possibly can from a very early age. At this point of time, therefore, the Barbie syndrome throws up uncomfortable questions for feminists and humanists.

Barbie Millicent Roberts, belonging to Willows, Wisconsin, was named after the daughter, Barbara, of the Mattel founders Ruth and Eliot Handler. Barbie was introduced as “Barbie, the teenage fashion model” to sceptical toy buyers at the annual Toy Fair in New York in 1959. Forty one years later, this 1.9 billion-dollar-a-year industry is still going strong.

Over the years, Barbie has indeed achieved the title of the most popular fashion doll ever created. While the social history of the world has changed over these 41 years, Barbie remains essentially the same, her varied manifestations and incarnations notwithstanding.

The Barbie industry sustains and upholds beauty of face and figure of the female form as the highest aspirations of a girl, reinforcing the patriarchal stress on these qualities for the female of the human species.

The very same women who would frown on the inhuman practice of foot-binding for Chinese girls, are thrilled when someone presents their daughters with Barbie dolls. Barbie is a replica of a perfectly sculpted, beautiful woman who can change her persona according to the vicissitudes of global fashion. Aren’t the high heeled shoes that Barbie wears another kind of foot-binding?

At the 13th London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival in 1998, Susan Stern, in her film, Barbie Nation: An Unauthorized Tour, set out to expose the obsessive and self-parodying nature of the Barbie craze. The film threw up the question of whether the woman who created Barbie actually wanted to create a doll with breasts so that little girls could cope with their own breasts as they grew up.

If this is so, then has Barbie really helped girls cope with their physical development? A lot of people, said the film, shy away from acknowledging that Barbie is a sexual being in her own right.

But is Barbie a sexual being? She is not because she is an inanimate doll who cannot think, make choices or decisions and is subject to the manipulation of her commercial-minded manufacturers at Mattel’s.

What some of the people interviewed stated is more worrying — that Barbie is ripe for sexual abuse. Let her loose in the hands of real little boys — and Barbie could turn into an object of sexual abuse, without even knowing what they are doing, until, of course, it is too late.

In a world of sexual violence, Barbie is like a live bomb ticking away, waiting to explode in the faces — and lives of the 21st century society. If one allows little girls to idolize Barbie, then why criticize tribal women wearing necklaces that elongate their necks as a sign of beauty?

Barbie’s breasts often remind us of perfectly contoured silicon breast implants which are also distortions of the body. The difference between a 21st century woman undergoing a silicon breast implant, and the Barbie she had owned, is that the latter has no choice of what kind of breasts she would like to possess.

But the young woman intent on perfect breasts has the choice of changing it the way she wants. The question is — does she want it changed? Or has she been brainwashed for thousands of years to have a perfectly contoured body without which she is made to feel a lesser woman?

Choice is a dangerous word. Like a two-edged knife, it cuts both ways. Choice, says Manjula Padmanabhan, means precious little when, in order to get ahead in life, most women are expected to present themselves in a form that is decided for them by opinion makers in the society in which they live. Which also means that there is hardly any difference between these real women and the Barbie they gloated over as girls. Every single quality in Barbie is absolutely physical and dictatorial, repeatedly stressing the visual appeal of the female form.

The face of Barbie is no more than a mask and her body is just an object of beauty — to be emulated, idolized and imitated by girls; to be admired, ogled at, fingered, abused and molested by boys. With the help of Barbie, starting at an early age, girls receive a message that tells them their bodies will play a crucial role in their social acceptance in adult life.

They play with Barbie dolls to create a fantasy world of their future. This future revolves around just one figure — that of Ken, her boyfriend, and around the clothes she wears.    


 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Unfit certificate

Sir — The prime minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, had to go to the United States to have his osteoarthritis confirmed by a US based Indian surgeon, who is scheduled to come to India to operate on him. It has become common practice among politicians and bureaucrats to go abroad for medical treatment. What is not so apparent is that they do so at government expense. Yet statutes have it that a government servant can go outside the country for treatment at state expense only if the Indian Medical Council certifies that the necessary expertise or resources for such a treatment do not exist in the country. In the case of Vajpayee’s ailment, all the facilities are abundant in India, which also boasts of some renowned orthopaedic surgeons. The fact that the prime minister has no faith in our doctors, and that the IMC has given its approval with the auditor general shutting his eyes to the goings on, is a slur on the Indian medical profession. In the US, the president, as commander in chief of the armed forces, goes only to the army’s Walter Reed Hospital, though he could opt for any hospital of his choice.
Yours faithfully ,
N.B. Grant, Pune

Lady confusion

Sir — Your editorial, “Razor’s edge” (Sept 6), was unbiased, made for interesting reading and was appropriately titled. Both Mamata Banerjee and the chief of the Left Front should take lessons from it. Had the Communist Party of India (Marxist) been sincere in its commitments, there would not have been any escalation in violence in West Bengal.

Banerjee should not be complacent about the turnout of Trinamool Congress supporters in the Calcutta Municipal Corporation elections and the Panskura byelections earlier this year. Indeed most of these supporters have been sufficiently moved by her speeches and many of them genuinely want an alternative government. It is high time that Jyoti Basu stopped passing the buck to others for the dismal maintenance of law and order in West Bengal.

However, Basu has remained his party’s chief for a number of years and he is likely to remain a formidable political enemy. Banerjee should not imagine that there is an easy task ahead of her. The editor very rightly says that she will have to walk a tightrope with rhetoric on one side and realism on the other.

Yours faithfully,
Biren Saha, Titagarh

Sir — Mamata Banerjee’s demand for a rollback of the oil prices, just before the West Bengal assembly elections, is yet another instance of political chicanery rather than a genuine gesture of sympathy for the poor and the downtrodden. She seemed ready to sever her connections with the National Democratic Alliance coalition by offering her resignation as a cabinet member. In the meantime, the Congress leader, Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, mooted a secular democratic front to come closer to the Trinamool Congress. The motive behind this move was to win back the Muslim votes. Therefore, an opportunistic new alignment between the Congress and the Trinamool Congress could be in the offing. This will require deft manipulation of the communal card and the combine dressed in the garb of secularism.

Yours faithfully,
D.K. Chakravarti, Calcutta

Sir — Mamata Banerjee and her followers will not agree to the general feeling that she had made a mistake in resigning from the ministry, even though the situation has, to an extent, been redeemed by the withdrawal of the resignation on an assurance from the prime minister. The petroleum minister has categorically opposed her statement that she was not consulted before the price rise. In the administrative system, discussion in any forum with a cabinet colleague other than in a cabinet meeting is a prerogative that lies with the prime minister and she can stake no special claim in this respect.

The other basis on which the resignation was submitted was that there was too harsh a rise in the price of kerosene and cooking gas and that it would affect the common man. This argument is also not tenable. Cooking gas is used by people of all economic strata. Subsidizing this is hardly a pro-poor strategy.

As regards kerosene, Banerjee is correct to a great extent. It was unavoidable, given the fact that besides the international price rise, it is a part of the reform process. The latter will, in the next year and a half, abolish the administered price mechanism, while kerosene will be sold in open market. The process has to start at some point of time. The Trinamool Congress, as member of the NDA and with ministers in the cabinet, is part of the setup. It must help implement the reforms for the sake of setting right a sagging economy which is continuously supporting populist measures.

There is widespread adulteration and blackmarketing of kerosene and petrol. The opposition parties will always criticize the administration and, once in power, they will not take the necessary steps to control this.

Oil prices will dominate politics in India, since some nations with a monopoly over oil reserves will exploit others. We expect Banerjee and her Trinamool Congress to come out with definite programmes to combat this crisis. Some strategies would be to devise long term energy and fuel policies, extending railway electrification to reduce dieselization and such others.

Yours faithfully,
C.R. Bhattacharya, Calcutta

What’s wrong with quizzing?

Sir — Kaun Banega Crorepati seems to be turning out the whipping boy for anyone who is unable to find himself among the last 10 competitors on the sets of the show. The choicest appellations have been showered on the competitors — from “greedy” and “materialistic” to “gamblers”and “debauched”. Special “KBC jokes” have started doing the rounds. And now we have another person of that ilk — Achin Vanaik — who would have quizzing itself, and all quizzards alongside, banished from his ideal republic (“Niagara of visual gabble”, Sept 11). Vanaik begins his critique of “KBC” by making a sweeping statement on the art of quizzing, one that would not exactly gladden the heart of such quizzards as Siddhartha Basu, Dayita Datta or one of the O’Briens. According to him, the “problem” with quizzing is that “intelligence and knowledge are reduced to the ability to mentally accumulate and remember discrete facts”. He probably forgets that these “discrete facts” are the drops of water that make up the mighty ocean of knowledge. He feels that these “discrete facts” trivialize knowledge. According to his theory, therefore, aspirants to the Indian administrative services, collecting information about different fields for their preliminary examinations and main papers, are fools, and so are aspirants to the MBA programmes. Otherwise why would they go helterskelter looking for bits and pieces of information? Any rational person (and not merely quizzards), would affirm that quizzing is ultimately not just a test of how much you have assimilated, but also how fast you are able to recall it, especially under constraints of time. It is this feature of quizzing that is demanded by such examinations as the West Bengal civil services and IAS preliminaries and even by the management entrance tests such as the common admission test.

Yours faithfuly,
Santanu Ganguly, Calcutta

Sir — An easy source of money for people, Kaun Banega Crorepati has one problem. Compiling such a large number of questions could not have been easy and the researchers deserve credit for it. Though there is an attempt to mix easy and difficult questions, the selection is often not balanced. While some people get easy questions throughout, others get difficult ones from the start. The questions should be arranged in such a way that as the quiz advances, they grow more difficult.

Yours faithfully,
Chandragupta, via email

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