Editorial 1/ Dyed in the jute
Editorial 2/ Red fort breached
Gates of bedouin land
Fifth Column/ Capital gains on food surplus
Uneasy lies the head in the clouds
The making and breaking of young warriors
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1/ DYED IN THE JUTE 
 
 
 
 
Mr Arun Bajoria, the jute baron from Calcutta, has caused a few flutters in the world of business by announcing the extent of his shareholding in Bombay Dyeing. He is suspected of trying to take over the company. The Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry maintains that as long as the takeover code was not violated, nothing need be done. The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry and the Confederation of Indian Industry would like to see a review of the takeover code. The problem is that no one seems to know whether the takeover code was violated, least of all the Securities and Exchange Board of India. Mr Bajoria has, over the last several months, bought up 14 per cent of equity of Bombay Dyeing. Until June, the acquisition passed unnoticed. Once it was discovered, Bombay Dyeing dashed off a letter to SEBI, complaining that the takeover code had been violated.

Under the code, firms and individuals who acquire more than 5 per cent equity have to inform the company. When this 5 per cent was crossed is not clear, since shares were bought through Mega Resources and computers and depositories make tracking of acquisitions difficult. The Bajoria claim is that the threshold was crossed in March and letters were written to Bombay Dyeing and Calcutta Stock Exchange. There are certificates of posting from a Calcutta post office, but Bombay Dyeing and CSE deny having received these letters. Bombay Dyeing says the threshold was crossed in May and detected in June, without any intimation from Bajoria, and in July. Bombay Dyeing dashed off a letter to SEBI. Reminiscent of the dog that did not bark in the night, SEBI did absolutely nothing with this letter, which is a sad commentary on the role of a regulator. The issue becomes murkier still because of an additional complication. The takeover code stipulates that if collective holdings of Bajoria and his colleagues exceed 15 percent, an open public offer will have to be made for acquiring 20 percent of Bombay Dyeing shares.

Mr Bajoria’s holdings are perilously close to 15 per cent and the threshold may well have been crossed. Given that promoters own 40 per cent of Bombay Dyeing shares, it is unlikely that Bajoria has much to gain from the public offer. Why should he venture away from his core competencies and attempt a takeover of Bombay Dyeing? The game plan seems to be the following. Having bought shares at Rs 72 per share, sell them off when the price touches Rs 200 or thereabouts and make a killing. Even if Bajoria were to have resources to make the public offer, since the offer price has to be lower than present market prices, there will not be any takers for the public offer. Mr Bajoria’s intentions are beside the point. SEBI ought to have investigated whether the threshold had been crossed and if it had, ought to have compelled Bajoria to make the public offer. And assuming that Bajoria is not in a position to make the public offer, there is the question of getting rid of the excess over 15 per cent. Norms are not clear, although a public auction is undoubtedly the best option. The egg on SEBI’s face in the present fiasco will presumably pass, since Bajoria does not seem to be interested in a takeover. But the general issue of hostile takeovers will not go away and is likely to increase in importance. This is what explains the ASSOCHAM and CII reaction, especially since hostile takeovers may be funded by public financial institutions.    


 
 
EDITORIAL 2/ RED FORT BREACHED 
 
 
 
 
A split in the West Bengal unit of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) has been long in the making. That the apparatchiki of the CPI(M) is incapable of coping with any kind of dissent is demonstrated by the statement of Mr Anil Biswas, the secretary of the state unit. Mr Biswas announced that expression of dissent was permissible but it could not be taken outside the party. It was this “crime” which led to the exit of Mr Saifuddin Chowdhury. Criticism of the party in public is tantamount to indiscipline in the rule book of the CPI(M), indeed of any communist party wedded to the principle of democratic centralism. The party is incapable of being in the wrong is a principle embedded in Leninism. The CPI(M) not only adheres to democratic centralism and other principles of Leninism, it also sees itself as a revolutionary party. In its self-image, therefore, the CPI(M) sees itself as a party that is radically different from other political parties. It occurs to no one in the CPI(M) leadership that in practice, the CPI(M) is far removed from revolution. More importantly, in today’s world, the whole idea of a monolithic and all-powerful revolutionary party is absurd. It is as risible as the notion that the earth is flat.

Mr Chowdhury is one of the few who have shown the courage and good sense to speak out against the smug, incestuous and claustrophobic atmosphere that prevails within the CPI(M). At the moment, the steps taken against Mr Chowdhury by the CPI(M) and his subsequent departure might appear to be an inconsequential thing for the CPI(M). But the issues that Mr Chowdhury raised within the party are the issues of the future. The issue of democracy within the party can be neglected by the CPI(M) only at its own peril. As communists, the CPI(M) leadership are believers in the impersonal forces of history, yet they refuse to recognize the signs of the team. It is significant that Mr Chowdhury, when he formulated his future political plans, did not disassociate himself from the left. His new party would be a left one but a non-CPI(M) one. It would be open to negotiations with other parties who disapprove of the CPI(M) and its policies. Mr Chowdhury was shown the door, others, preferring light to darkness, may follow him.    


 
 
GATES OF BEDOUIN LAND 
 
 
BY K.P. NAYAR
 
 
It is a telling comment on the state of the foreign policy debate in India that the postponement of the visit of the external affairs minister, Jaswant Singh, to Saudi Arabia has been accepted by all concerned without any questions. The spokesman of the ministry of external affairs announced a day before the minister was to leave for Riyadh that the visit had been postponed — sorry, er, deferred — because a mini-Arab summit of the presidents of Egypt and Syria with the king of Saudi Arabia was to open in the kingdom on Monday. But Monday came and went and there was no sign of the mini-summit in Saudi Arabia. Syria’s new president, Bashar al Assad, did arrive in Riyadh, but he reached there on Tuesday evening, but even then — on Tuesday evening — Egypt’s president, Hosni Mubarak, was still in Cairo.

The mini-summit may yet take place in Riyadh later in the week, given the volatility of the situation in west Asia. but if the Saudis told Singh that they could not meet him in the early part of this week — and the spokesman agrees that they did — it was not because King Fahd had to be with Mubarak and Assad on Monday and Tuesday while the crown prince, Abdullah, and the foreign minister, Saud al Faisal, had to be around all the time to assist these three leaders. The truth lies elsewhere.

The last time any country similarly asked the Indian foreign minister not to come was a decade ago. As in the case of Saudi Arabia now, Iran then asked I.K Gujral at the eleventh hour to put off his flight to Teheran. But Saudi Arabia and Iran are as different as chalk and cheese and the way they handle their foreign affairs is typical of the two societies. Iran’s revolutionary regime is used to kicking those they are angry with in the teeth. When they told Gujral that he was not welcome in Teheran, they plainly told him so. To add insult to injury, as the cliche goes, they issued a statement that India was murdering Kashmiris and that in protest, they were calling off Gujral’s trip.

The Saudis will never dream of doing anything that could even remotely be compared to the Iranian action. When the kingdom settles its dispute, say, with Qatar over offshore oil fields with the use of force, it is done with a smile. When the Saudis systematically encroach and occupy territory held by neighbouring Abu Dhabi, they do it by sending in their bedouin by using one hand and extending the other hand in friendship to the ruler of Abu Dhabi.

Unlike the Iranians who will knock you down from the front and can be trusted from behind, the Saudis will hug you with a smile and then drive a knife into your back. In unquestioningly accepting the spokesman’s explanation for the postponement of Singh’s trip to Riyadh, all those concerned appear to have ignored these hard realities of realpolitik in the west Asia. Of course, a few months ago, Israel too asked Singh to put off his much-publicized and high profile visit to Tel Aviv. But it was clearly a case of black and white.

The prime minister, Ehud Barak, whom the Indian foreign minister was to meet, was leaving for the Israeli-Palestinian summit arranged by the American president, Bill Clinton, in Washington. There was no ambiguity about the presence of either Barak or Yasser Arafat in the United States. Unlike the mini-Arab summit now offered by South Block as the excuse for “rescheduling” Singh’s visit to Riyadh.

MEA’s sensitivity about the choice of words in announcing the postponement of Singh’s Saudi trip, though, is understandable. When Singh’s Israel trip was reworked jointly by New Delhi and Tel Aviv, some MEA officials were severely pulled up by the powers-that-be for the way it was made. Public civil servants, after all, cannot be blamed for following the adage, “Once bitten, twice shy”.

But let us get back to the explanation that Riyadh offered New Delhi for seeking a unilateral postponement of Singh’s visit. Even a cursory analysis of the comings and goings in official Riyadh immediately before and during the days the Indian minister was to visit Saudi Arabia would show that the excuse the kingdom offered does not stand scrutiny. It was not as if the Saudis had suspended all official activity unrelated to the west Asia crisis as they would have the Indians believe.

If that was the case, what was Lamin Sidaimi, the prime minister of Guinea, of all people, doing in Riyadh at about the same time that Singh was to call on King Fahd and the crown prince, Abdullah, and parley with the foreign minister Saud al Faisal? The Saudi royals, who had no time for the Indian minister, were not too busy to spend time with Sidaimi.

In the week prior to Singh’s aborted trip to Riyadh, both Jordan’s new king, Abdullah II, and the Libyan strongman, Muammar Gaddafi, were in Saudi Arabia: just as the presidents of Syria and Egypt were to have been in Riyadh on Monday, as the MEA spokesman would have us believe. But the presence of the Jordanian monarch and the Libyan leader did not prevent King Fahd and others in the Saudi royal court from receiving other guests from abroad.

Indeed, it is interesting to look at the calendar of events in the Saudi foreign ministry on the day Singh was to have had substantive discussions in Riyadh with his Saudi counterpart. On that day, the Saudis cleared an agreement with Manila on security cooperation: King Fahd designated his interior ministry as the nodal point for such cooperation, but the foreign ministry was heavily involved in the preparations. Also on that day, Saudi Arabia and Syria extended an economic cooperation agreement which was only expiring on October 23 and could have been deferred — as in the case of Singh’s visit — if the Saudis were neck deep in dealing with Palestine.

But the worst is yet to come. The Saudis even had time to discuss with visitors from New Zealand — and finalize — an agreement for cooperation between the two countries. The agreement was not on foreign affairs or strategic cooperation, but — hold your breath — on sports, culture and youth. Although other ministries were involved, it was the Saudi foreign ministry which negotiated the agreement.

There were other events. a delegation from Romania held talks with a host of Saudi officials from various ministries. There was a meeting of ministers of higher education and scientific research from Islamic countries which had nothing to do with Palestine. Also, the defence ministers of Gulf Cooperation Council countries began their 19th meeting in Riyadh on Tuesday. Lest anyone should have any doubt, this meeting too had nothing to do with the west Asia crisis and was planned much in advance. Its agenda was wholly made up of items about ongoing GCC defence cooperation.

It should be clear even to those uninitiated in foreign policy that given this scenario, the Saudis were merely using the crisis in Palestine as an excuse to put off Singh’s visit. It is beyond the realm of logic and reason that South Block should have bent over backwards to cover up Riyadh’s action instead of taking the media and the entire political spectrum in the country and the people into confidence. It is, after all, not imperative that every foreign policy initiative by the government has to succeed. Moreover, when innovative efforts are made to change external affairs and chart a new course for the nation, it is inevitable that there will be setbacks. South Block could contribute to a healthier political role in the conduct of foreign policy by admitting these setbacks instead of papering them over with a verbal circus.

When it comes to Saudi Arabia, in particular, any admission of failure would be without any popular or political backlash. South Block knows — and the people should have been told — that there were only two countries in the whole wide world which chose to raise the Kashmir issue both at the millennium summit at the United Nations last month and at the ongoing 55th session of the UN general assembly.

One of these countries, predictably, was Pakistan. The other was Saudi Arabia. Partly the reason why South Block is unable to put relations with countries like Saudi Arabia in a correct perspective for the public is that it has exaggerated India’s role in the west Asia. True, Barak spoke to the prime minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, twice since Palestine flared up, but India is central to the current west Asia crisis only as much as, say, South Africa, Malaysia or Ukraine.

One visitor to Saudi Arabia this week, who was in Riyadh precisely on the same days originally fixed for Singh’s trip, would bear this out. He is Tunisia’s foreign minister, Al-Habib Bin Yahya. Tunisia is one country which has a clear grasp of its weaknesses and strengths in dealing with international affairs. Despite being a part of the Arab world, it has no illusions — unlike India — that it is central to the current crisis in west Asia. That the Saudis asked Bin Yahya to go ahead with his visit and asked the Indian foreign minister to postpone his trip speaks for itself. It should give South Block a lot to think about, if only there is a willingness to do so.    


 
 
FIFTH COLUMN/ CAPITAL GAINS ON FOOD SURPLUS 
 
 
BY V.S. MAHAJAN
 
 
Indian agriculture is going through a spell of favourable weather for the last 10 years. Earlier two to three years of monsoons would be followed by drought which often necessitated a more cautious government policy on the storage of grains.Such storage was necessary to meet the demand from perpetually deficit areas.

It was as a safeguard against such uncertainty that the government enacted a law against the movement of grains. This in turn would encourage their purchase at predetermined prices so that stocks are available in central and state godowns. The Food Corporation of India became the principal food storage agency to ensure the availability of sufficient stocks of grain at nodal distribution points. Moreover, export of grains was also prohibited.

The situation has improved considerably over the last decade with a bumper harvest almost every year resulting in storage problems Limited storage capacity led to large amounts of grain being stored in the open which led to considerable damage and made a large quantity unfit for consumption .

Thus the country lost crores while many people suffered from malnutrition as they could not afford to buy the grain.

Rehashing the system

This calls for an evaluation of the system to restore the balance in stocks and use the excess to meet the needs of people below the poverty line. This excess can be used as a payment for workers employed in rural capital formation activities like construction of roads or digging of irrigation channels. Employment avenues would thus be provided to those without regular jobs. At the end of the day the workers would be issued coupons which would record their daily wages and would be encashable at public distribution shops and help them procure grains and other essential items.

To facilitate the smooth functioning of this system, more shops would have to be opened and the manpower of existing ones strengthened. Moreover, workers should be able to collect their requirements at their own convenience so that the members of their family can visit the shop and get the required items after the surrender of coupons.

If the system works and workers’ needs are adequately met, they could be paid both in cash and in kind. This would enable them to buy other items against the cash they have received.They would also have to be taught how to save a part of their income in order to meet an emergency.

Grains for work

Since panchayats are now functioning in almost every village, this institution can be used to help in the functioning of the food security system. Each panchayat can create its own food storage facility. This would be useful during an emergency and would cut down the cost of constructing and maintaining mega storage facilities.

With the proper functioning of such a decentralized system of storage the pressure on Central and state godowns would be substantially reduced, leading to high saving in cost as well as a better distribution of grains.

One of the principal factors obstructing growth in rural areas is the poor communication network that exists even after 53 years of independence. As massive costs are involved in creating this system, by deploying manpower below the poverty line the country would be able to tackle this complex problem to a large extent and thus reduce the gap between the urban and rural areas.

Fortunately surplus gains have started emerging right from the time the country entered the phase of globalization. Globalization can be made more effective with better communication.

A positive approach to food surpluses would enable them to reach the poorest of the poor by providing them with productive jobs, thus raising their earning capacity and providing access to the surplus grain. A reduction in the level of malnutrition would encourage them to lead a more healthy and purposeful life. The creation of essential assets would also be of great help. The country should also be spared the unproductive expenditure incurred in maintaining large buffer stocks of grain.

Rural capital formation will yield capital gain and would provide capital resources, the lack of which has contributed to backwardness and poverty.    


 
 
UNEASY LIES THE HEAD IN THE CLOUDS 
 
 
BY SANKAR RAY
 
 
Political analysts await eagerly the outcome of the special conference of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in Thiruvananthapuram by the end of this month. How the party is going to tune its new party programme to ground realities remains to be seen. But the wishy-washy way the draft of the updated party programme was adopted by the central committee in the last week of April does not generate much expectation. Besides, contrary to the party constitution and past practice, the draft party programme was neither circulated among party members nor published in the party mouthpiece .

The bar on joining the Central government has been lifted but the draft document does not contain this mandate. The programme commission received 530 suggestions, of which 407 were accepted by the central committee. The matter now rests before the plenum which is supposed to finalize the new strategy of the party.

In all likelihood, the much hyped special plenary meet of the CPI(M) will end as a damp squib. Much like the meets of the Communist Party of India, which shelved the updating of party programme — adopted in 1964 and amended in 1968 — and instead adopted a 24 page programme document at its 15th congress in Hyderabad. A few political theorists who had been card-holding communists until the end of the Sixties and are still interested in the CPI’s fate felt that the document was “an extended version of a political resolution in any party congress”.

A small section among the middle-cadre of the CPI(M) is apprehensive about a critique of the present state of communist movement. Some of them think that the central leadership should initiate and encourage an open debate as to whether the celebration of Euro-communism is correct since party journals often hail the electoral successes of “reformed communists” of Europe and Japan.

“If the party does not make a self-criticism, it is unethical to be upbeat about the electoral success of the present communist party in Russia,” says a CPI(M) activist. He feels if the party brings the controversies into the open, many democrats and progressives, who are not sympathizers of the left, will gravitate towards the party. Besides, criticism from outside will also strengthen internal democracy. It may be interesting to note that Saifuddin Chowdhury, who was struck off the membership list of the CPI(M), has criticized the “Stalinist mindset” of the organization, saying that there was much to learn from the questions raised by Imre Nagy in Hungary in 1956 and Alexander Dubcek in Czechoslovakia in 1968.

Chowdhury apart, many feel that in the name of democratic struggle, “barrack communism”, which V.I. Lenin criticized severely, is in vogue in the CPI(M). When Dhiren Majumdar, leader of the Calcutta tramways workers’ union, refused to leave the all India trade union congress in order to join the new-born CPI(M)-backed centre of Indian trade unions, he was expelled without a showcause. Promode Dasgupta had defended this action, stating that it was not necessary. This method had nothing in common with Leninist principles of democratic centralism, nor was it consistent with the CPI(M) constitution. The Stalinist-Beriaite leadership of CPI(M) seems afraid to allow independence to mass fronts and makes them subordinate to party organization.

As it increasingly adjusts itself to parliamentary democracy, the CPI(M) is finding its problems of internal democracy are no longer confined to its cardholding members. Saifuddin Chowdhury and his political supporters like the West Bengal transport minister, Subhas Chakraborty, tried in vain to bring this question of internal democracy into the open. Chowdhury’s name has been struck off the membership roll apparently because of his defiance of party discipline, mainly his habit of divulging his difference with the party to the media. But that has not dismantled Chowdhury’s basis of revolt. The CPI(M) constitution cannot decide whether this is tantamount to challenging the Leninist tenets of democratic centralism.

Today, Western apologists of anti-communism thank Josef Stalin for two reasons. First, he took the leading role in winning World War II for the imperialists against fascists. Second, his dictatorial methods would discourage many democrats from gravitating to communism. But CPI(M) leaders were often seen parroting Stalin, disregarding the central committee resolution of the CPI(M) in 1978 at the Salkia plenum that Stalin’s deviations were a lesson.

But Stalinism no longer holds water. The August 2000 issue of Nandan, the literary and cultural monthly of the CPI(M), carried a review of a book on Nikolai Bukharin which condemned the assassination of Bukharin and others during the Stalin period. The reviewer cited the cruelty of Stalin when he rejected the request of Bukharin to be killed by sedation five days before he was shot dead on December 15, 1937. No action has been taken against Biplab Dasgupta, the editor of the monthly. Have the CPI(M) leaders decided to allow glasnost in the literary arena only and not elsewhere?

Another inescapable eventuality is that today or tomorrow, if the CPI does not wither away and the CPI(M) exists, the two parties must come together. It would be an historical compulsion as obscurantist ideologies, particularly Hindutva, are spreading their tentacles. For this reason, both the CPI(M) and the CPI have to review the genesis and development of the split in the Indian communist movement.

The majority of party members who joined the CPI(M) after the mid-Seventies do not know that those who broke away from the CPI in 1964 mooted the concept of a people’s democratic revolution in the undivided CPI but did so in a vague way. Interestingly, both the groups, one proposing a national front ( support to Nehruvian policies like the second five year plan and nonaligned foreign policy) and the other dishing out the democratic front (emphasis on leftist consolidation and a critical stand towards Nehruvian politics having no truck with the Congress or any section thereof) endorsed a national democracy at the Vijaywada congress, 1961, the last congress of the undivided CPI.

The current draft document, a half-hearted exercise, does not really correspond to the complex polity that we have today. The left is marginalized and is an insignificant force in the industrial belts of Maharashtra, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. The slogan of people’s democratic revolution under the leadership of the working class sounds vacuous in the present reality. Which is why the majority of members who joined the party in the middle cadre be- fore 1977 are unhappy with the draft document.

“The programme of the CPI(M) adopted in November, 1964 continues to remain basically valid for the stage of the revolution, the strategy, class character of the Indian state and government and the class alliance to achieve the people’s democratic revolution. However, there are sections in relation to the assessment of the international situation and national developments which need to be updated,” stated the resolution on the decision to update the programme at the CPI(M)’s 14th congress in Chennai in 1992.

If it were so insignificant a task, why did it take more than eight years? Harkishen Singh Surjeet and his colleagues should be able to face the truth: the growing hiatus between the CPI(M)’s grey perception of reality and the features of the day-to-day business of a polity-in-a-flux.    


 
 
THE MAKING AND BREAKING OF YOUNG WARRIORS 
 
 
BY RADHAKRISHNA RAO
 
 
Exploitation of children is an inseparable part of global social dynamics and child abuse continues as before in the new millennium. Children now are getting involved, willingly or unwillingly, in militancy, ethnic conflicts, guerrilla wars and even fullfledged battles. From Kashmir in India to the Jaffna peninsula in Sri Lanka, from Afghanistan to war-torn Uganda, child soldiers are being made to bear the burden of “physical impairment and mental trauma” of ethnic wars and tribal conflicts. They prepare meals, serve as conduits, spy and even fight in the frontline .

A recent pathbreaking study, “The use of children as solders in Asia-Pacific region”, says at least three lakh children under 18 are taking part in hostilities. They are recruited, sometimes forcibly, for gruesome armed conflicts and made to suffer for causes they are least interested in.

End of innocence

The study has expressed concern over the misuse of many madrassas for recruiting child soldiers. Many in Afghan- istan and Kashmir serve as centres of indoctrination and training of teenagers drawn into militancy. In Kashmir, many schoolgoing children are coerced to join separatist groups. The subsequent hardships often turn them into psychopaths. About 70 per cent of the rehabilitated children in the valley are known to suffer from psychiatric disorders.

In Sri Lanka, the “baby brigade” of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam is fed on a diet of “hatred for the Sinhalese” and motivated to torture and kill captive Sri Lankan soldiers. In Afghanistan, a generation of children has grown up under the shadow of arms, first as members of groups resisting the Soviet forces and then as members of ethnic war groups. The taliban, which today controls much of Afghanistan, continues to recruit young men.

Ward off

In militancy-ridden Manipur, child soldiers are conspicuous by their presence in every insurgent group. The recent trend has been to recruit young girls in order to avoid suspicion. In neighbouring Tripura, armed groups continue to recruit young girls and boys. Similarly, in the Telengana region of Andhra Pradesh, the People’s War recruits children.

In Uganda, the Lord’s Resistance Army, a Christian fundamentalist group waging a war against the Ugandan government, is actively engaging children in its militant activities. The modus operandi is to kidnap children from cities and villages of this impoverished east African country. Perhaps the most poignant dimension of this is that parents in Uganda have often refused to accept back their wards because of the atrocities they have committed as “soldiers”.

The United Nations secretary general, Kofi Annan, says that the international community has to do much more to move from words to deeds to stop children being drawn into armed conflicts. The UN deputy secretary general says that for this, the world has to be made “safer for children”.    


 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

That mythical tree

Sir — The article, “Branches that take you to your roots” (Oct 17), makes a very interesting point. It talks about how fascinating it is to be involved in the charting of family trees and the telling and receiving of family anecdotes. This is all very well, but somehow one feels that this exercise overlooks a variety of larger factors that are set into play by this kind of activity. Although seemingly innocuous, this practice invariably creates a consciousness of clan. Indians are notorious for having numerous identities. These are based on class, caste, gender, religion. clan and so on. In fact, this is perhaps the only country in the world where an individual can be defined in so many ways. Tracing family trees and drawing up ancestral charts may give a person an idea of his “roots” but, simultaneously, it reinforces his clan identity. One becomes conscious of ancestral wealth, property, prestige or even the absence of all this. In the bargain one runs the risk of forgetting who one really is in the real world.
Yours faithfully,
Biren Sanyal, Calcutta

Rule by might

Sir — The editorial, “Art of minimum” (Sept 27) is a fine example of balanced opinion and mature thinking. It has been correctly observed that Article 356 of the Constitution has vested enormous powers with the Centre. If the president is “satisfied” that the administration of a particular state cannot be carried out in accordance with the Constitution, he can dismiss the government of the state and declare Emergency. The matter depends entirely on the subjective viewpoint of the president.

The editorial quite rightly notes that the leftists have never been consistent in their view of the article. At times they have been vehemently opposed to its use but in cases where their interests were involved, have firmly urged its invocation. In 1959, when the government of Kerala was ousted by this mechanism, they resented it, but loudly praised the Janata government when in 1979 it drove out the Congress governments in nine states by the use of the same article. In 1977, when the United Front government made it to power in West Bengal, it demanded the deletion of Article 356. Yet Marxists expressly rejoiced at the ouster of four Bharatiya Janata Party led governments by the P.V. Narasimha Rao government in 1992.

The editorial, however, errs when it says that the communists were the “first victims of this process” when the elected government of Kerala was ousted in 1959. This is probably because of the misleading representations by Marxists themselves. Two recent books in Bengali, one by former Communist Party of India leader, Kalyan Roy, and the other by the eminent journalist, Sankar Ghose, tell a little known story about the dismissal.

Within two years of its election, the Kerala government had apparently alienated all sections of people. Its land policy annoyed many, its education bill was resented by the minorities and its policy of controlling educational institutions was opposed by teachers and students alike. Police firing on workers in coconut farms had resulted in a violent labour unrest. Above all, the Nayar community, with its wide influence, became an enemy of the leftist government. Soon a mass movement gripped the state in which a number of people were killed. At this juncture, two top leaders of the CPI indirectly suggested to Jawaharlal Nehru that Article 356 be used so that the government could die a martyr. So in Kerala, the CPI was not the victim. It cunningly capitalized on the article, exploiting the humility of Nehru.

Yours faithfully,
Nirmalendu Bikash Rakshit, Calcutta

Sir— As Nirmalendu Bikash Rakshit pointed out in “Looking for the right article” (Sept 11), the National Democratic Alliance government cannot easily get majority support for the use of Article 356 in the case of West Bengal. The president will also act as a hindrance. In 1998, the president, K.R. Narayanan, had returned the recommendation of the I.K. Gujral cabinet for ousting the BJP government in Uttar Pradesh. Narayanan had acted the same way when the BJP demanded the imposition of Article 356 in Bihar. That the NDA is still undecided on the issue is probably because of this.

For the past few months, Midnapore, Bankura and Hooghly have seen mindless violence. The governor, Viren J. Shah, has expressed concern over the lawlessness and opposition leaders have been attacked in these trouble torn districts. The president should be given a correct estimate of the situation so that he can then decide on the proclamation of the article.

Yours faithfully,
Niloy Sinha, Azimganj

Sir — It is to please Mamata Banerjee that the defence minister, George Fernandes, on his recent visit to West Bengal reported that the law and order situation in the state was worse than that in many other states. The assessment is ridiculous. Fernandes should read the survey results of a recent initiative taken under the aegis of the Confederation of Indian Industry. Various parameters of 18 major Indian states have been studied. The law and order situation in Bihar was put 18th, that is the last position. West Bengal was seventh.

No wonder the Centre has refused to grant Banerjee’s request for the imposition of president’s rule in the state. Even her request to use the disturbed areas act on Midnapore, Burdwan, Bankura, Hooghly and Birbhum has been turned down.

Both Banerjee and Fernandes should have considered the situation in Bihar. Massacres like Bathani Tola, Laxmanpur Bathe, Sankar Bigha, Senari and Mianpur have never taken place in West Bengal. It will be undemocratic to impose president’s rule on the latter without first imposing it on Bihar.

Yours faithfully,
Manoranjan Das, Jamshedpur

Arms and the men

Sir — N.B. Grant’s letter, “Disarmed by disillusion” (Sept 22), is misleading. Whenever there is any attempt to probe the functioning of the army, people like Grant raise a hue and cry. While no one is asking the army to come out with all the operational secrets, it should know that it cannot stay sheltered from public scrutiny either.

It is maintained at tax payers’ expense, and swallows a large chunk of the budget allocations. Some sort of transparency in its functioning is badly needed. The “negative effect on morale” card cannot be played every time to stall scrutiny.

Yours faithfully,
Chameli Pal, Howrah

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