Editorial 1/ Out of this world
Editorial 2/ Violent reminder
Judiciary to the rescue
Fifth Column/ Lessons for the new entrants
Drawing the world closer together
Never to go strictly by the figures
Letters to the editor

There is something comic about a communist party trying to catch up with history. When the opportunity presented itself in 1996, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) ruled that it was not willing to participate in a government at the Centre. At that political juncture, the consent of the party’s decisionmaking bodies would have meant that Mr Jyoti Basu, the only Indian communist leader with some kind of public acceptability, would have become prime minister of India. This opportunity was allowed to go by default on the plea that the programme of the CPI(M) did not allow for such participation. The programme has now been changed at the just-concluded special conference of the CPI(M) to permit participation in a government at the Centre. There is the caveat that the decision to enter a government would follow “after examining the concrete situation”. Mr Basu, who in 1996 castigated his party for perpetrating what he described as a “historic blunder”, may feel satisfied at this turn of events. But he must be aware that within the existing configuration of politics, the possibility of a communist being asked to lead a government in New Delhi is remote. One could even hazard the speculation that equally remote are the chances of CPIM) being invited to join a government at the Centre. The CPI(M), in other words, has missed the proverbial bus.

This cosmetic change only highlights the hidebound character of the CPI(M). The programme to which this alteration has been made was drafted some three decades ago. Indian politics has changed, communist parties have disappeared from most parts of the globe and the idea of communism stands discredited. But the CPI(M) has, in its wisdom, decided to remain inert and static. It is immune to new ideas and the idea of reform is anathema to its leadership. Mr Harkishen Singh Surjeet, the general secretary of the CPI(M), won applause from the faithful when he smugly announced that “We are confident the revised programme will enable us to march ahead.” Those outside the charmed circle and not indoctrinated by party talk can only raise a hollow laugh at that kind of confidence from the principal office bearer of a party that has recently been declared a regional party by the Election Commission. The CPI(M) is marching out of history.

The real issue that the CPI(M) refused to address was the question of inner-party democracy. It is still proudly married to the idea of democratic centralism. By this doctrine, once a decision has been arrived at by the party’s central committee, it becomes binding on all measures. The party is always right is the first article of the faith of comrades. In a world in which information is easily accessible, it is impossible to cling on to such an antediluvian idea. Members of the party, willy nilly, will be exposed to news and interpretations that do not tally with the party gospel. This will lead to questions and doubts. The CPI(M) has neither time nor space for such things. Doubting Thomases have one option, they are shown the exit. In earlier times, under Joseph Stalin in the erstwhile Soviet Union, doubts led to punishments, torture and killings. The CPI(M) does not go that far but it is intolerant towards doubters and dissenters. The CPI(M), like the ideology it advocates, is a political dinosaur. When it disappears from the landscape, future historians will wander how it survived the way it did.    

There can be no forgetting. Just when the Assam government was getting smug about having tackled insurgency in the state, the United Liberation Front of Asom has come up with a violent reminder of its presence. Last Sunday, ULFA militants gunned down 15 people in the Dibrugarh and Tinsukia districts of upper Assam. After a long career of killings, abductions and civic disruption for the cause of Assamese independence, this is the outfit’s first reported massacre on this scale, although they have officially denied responsibility for it. It is significant that most of the victims were new settlers from Bihar. Militant discontent with the foreigners issue — with its long, violent and unresolved history in the state — is at the root of this episode.

Assam’s problem with the ULFA militants has probably got out of hand, largely because of the confusing and obstructively politicized form the issue of autonomy has taken ever since the inception of the state. The Centre’s tokenist concessions to autonomy by keeping the autonomous councils superficially placated without thinking through proper modes of devolution are largely responsible for this impasse. The demand now, both with the ULFA and with the Bodo militants, is more extreme — independence (or statehood) rather than mere autonomy. Both regard themselves as distinct from the Indian federal polity, on ethnic, linguistic and territorial grounds. This separatism is, however, networked with the other insurgencies in the Northeast, making it all the more difficult for the Centre and the states to tackle each insurgency separately. The terrorism in Nagaland and Manipur is now inextricable from the Assam situation. These networks of secessionism are further linked to Myanmar, Bhutan, Bangladesh and China. The porous border between Bangladesh and Assam also aggravates the conflict with illegal immigrants. This is manifested in the catastrophic changes in Assam’s political equations as the parties align themselves differently to the contentious Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunals) Act, whose repeal has been recently directed by the Supreme Court. With the surrendered ULFA militants creating a different order of civil disruption in the state, the chief minister will have to rethink his complacence as Assam gets ready for its forthcoming assembly polls and the long-delayed panchayat elections.    

The preliminary judicial verdict is not the end of it. There are other rungs of the judicial hierarchy to be negotiated, likely to be followed by processes within the administrative hierarchy. The final outcome, therefore, remains altogether uncertain. Even so, the conviction and sentencing of the former prime minister and his cabinet colleague have been, really and truly, an immense emotional catharsis for this hapless nation. For the first time, a bunch of political bigwigs has been found guilty of indulging in corrupt practices while in office, and the trial judge has not minced words to condemn them in outspoken terms.

India, according to international statistics, is reckoned to be among the 10 most corrupt countries of the world. Such corruption, as about everybody is now aware, has its genesis at the top, from where it spreads throughout the system. The cynicism the sequence of events breeds has an eerie quality. Since the highest in the land is involved, corruption, it is generally assumed, is the nation’s inexorable destiny. Justice Ajit Bharihoke has, by his judgment, tried to blunt the impact of this fatalism.

Maybe, after the labyrinth of various administrative and other procedures has been traversed, the punishment ordained for the former prime minister would not be acted upon, thus providing to many further evidence of the inequity of the Indian legal system, notwithstanding the presence of Article 14 in the Constitution. But the very fact that the high-ups concerned have been, at least in the first instance, dealt with so severely would mark a milestone in the annals of contemporary India. On that ground alone, the judge deserves the nation’s collective gratitude.

Irrespective of the denouement of the case, two issues of jurisprudence arising out of it will still continue to grip public attention. Because of a ruling handed down by the Supreme Court, the alleged bribe-receivers in the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha bribery case have remained beyond the pale of the judicial process. The members of parliament who reportedly received the bribe money dispensed by the former prime minister and his cabinet colleague have escaped prosecution on account of the ruling. What transpires within the precincts of Parliament, the Supreme Court has implied, is outside the ambit of the judiciary; the presiding officers in Parliament have the exclusive jurisdiction in the matter.

Why should this be so? Bribe-giving and bribe-taking are a composite activity; both should be regarded as criminal pursuits as per the provisions of the Prevention of Corruption Act. If a terminology in vogue in economic science is invoked as analogy, the act of bribe-giving and that of bribe-taking are joint products, the existence of one automatically implies the existence of the other. It therefore appears to involve some asymmetry that while the former prime minister and his cabinet colleague would be packed off to prison, the bribe-takers would escape unscathed. Justice Bharihoke evidently saw the absurdity of this situation. In the face of the Supreme Court ruling, he was however helpless.

He has, nonetheless, instructed the Central Bureau of Investigation to liaise with the income tax authorities so as to ensure that the MPs under the cloud of suspicion could be prosecuted for having income disproportionate to their station in life. This route, it is much to be hoped, would succeed in bringing the alleged bribe-takers to book.

But cannot the Supreme Court be appealed to review the ruling itself? The sovereignty of Parliament must not of course be breached under any circumstance. But the fact remains that the conspiracy of the offer of a bribe and, simultaneously, the reported acceptance of it took place outside the premises of Parliament.

Hence, the bribe-receivers deserve to be treated on the same footing as the bribe-offerers. The accent in judicial consideration should not be on the nexus between bribe-taking and the switching of votes in the no-confidence motion against the government on the floor of the Lok Sabha, but on the participation of both sides in the act of bribery. Should the Supreme Court be sympathetic to this line of reasoning, a modulation of its ruling would be the logical consequence. That would be a blow for natural justice.

The other issue relates to some of the seeming absurdities which feature legislation pertaining to the special protection group, the top-notch body set up to protect the life and limbs of a select number of very important citizens of the country. The SPG is required by law to offer highest category security to the present prime minister as well as his predecessors and their families. By virtue of this legal provision, the former prime minister, had he been denied bail pending appeal to the superior courts, and immediately packed off to Tihar Jail, would have continued to receive full SPG security even in prison.

As the law now stands — assuming that his appeals to the superior judiciary are negatived, so that he would have no alternative but to serve the prison term — he would still be accorded SPG protection while undergoing a sentence of hard labour. This, to say the least, is ludicrous. For let us take the existing provision of the law to its logical conclusion. Suppose a former prime minister has been found guilty of murder and sentenced to death by hanging, he would continue to enjoy SPG security until his corpse drops off from the gallows.

Hard datum is hard datum. Thanks to the manner things have regressed over the past three decades, the country is infested with rogues and crooks at high places. Some of these specimens, because of the offices they occupied in the past — and some of them occupy at this very moment — enjoy full-blown SPG security. This particular provision in the SPG legislation enabling this kind of outrage should be scrapped immediately. For instance, a simple amendment could specify that any person convicted on account of a criminal offence, who had hitherto been accorded SPG protection, must cease to enjoy this privilege the moment he is convicted.

In case the present administrators are chary to approve of such an amendment, the suspicion is bound to grow that they are reluctant to remove an insurance cover for themselves. Were the government to persist in stonewalling the proposal, there ought to be a case for moving a public interest litigation before the Supreme Court.

In the final analysis, therefore, it is the judiciary which emerges as the custodian of the liberal democracy our Constitution has aspired for India to be. There is here an echo of the aftermath of the patent irregularity the state governments of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, with the apparent connivance of the Union government, have indulged in, in the Veerappan-Rajkumar episode. The supposed enforcers of law and order have ceased to fulfil, in the proper manner, the duties and obligations the Constitution has delegated to them; the Supreme Court had to intervene in this situation.

The prime motor force of proliferating corruption in the country is the claque of politicians at the helm of administration who are devoid of both conscience and morality. The inevitable outcome is the sinking of the nation into a morass with each day. The dilemma voiced in St. Matthew suddenly seems to be of the acutest relevance: how shall the earth be salted when the salt itself has lost its savour? The highest judiciary in the land has the awesome responsibility of convincing the citizenry that all is not yet lost.    

Carving out new states out of existing ones is a much easier task than sustaining an administrative, economic and financial set up fired by an idealism. Politically, the three new states of Uttaranchal, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand may become a reality soon; but framing a long term policy of development and sustainability would require a lot of effort.

Fortunately, for the emerging states, resources will not pose much of a problem. In Jharkhand, mineral resources, power, steel plants and other industries already exist, which will give a lot of strategic advantage. Chhattisgarh has some of the world’s best quality iron and other ores in abundance. Uttaranchal, too, has no major problems and has plenty of agricultural produce in the terai belt and reasonably good horticultural and water resources.

The chief concern will be how to streamline the system of governance. For this, the leadership in the states will prove crucial.

It will be important to stem corruption in these states. First, all government employees and public functionaries may be asked to annually declare their immovable and movable property along with their liquid assets.

Second, accountability of ministers and bureaucrats should be fixed on the basis of the decisions taken by them in their individual capacity. Third, an independent institution like the central vigilance commission should be provided with powers to punish culprits.

Concentrate locally

Local self-government institutions will need to be democratized and strengthened. Democratic decentralization has so far only helped influential locals. The benefits have also been cornered by the elite. The new states may prescribe educational qualifications and salary of panchayat officials to make it a normal career for villagers.

Further, as suggested by the 11th finance commission, financial management and performance reporting system of panchayats must be looked into. Without this, money allocated for rural development will continue to go down the drain. Once panchayats are rejuvenated and democratized in time, they can be converted into nodal implementing agencies for various developmental schemes. Accounting and auditing of panchayats’ records will, of course, be a fundamental question and requirement. Politics should take a watchdog’s role here, not the front seat of the party vehicle.

The larger investment and economic policy should be such that it burdens the citizens the least and there is no siphoning off of the money earmarked for development. A mix of private and public investment should be targeted in financially viable projects.

Management study

Public expenditure management and the budget management system should be performance and productivity oriented, not merely a recording and meeting of expenditure targets.

This would, of course, require a definite departure from the existing financial management practices and leadership initiatives. Being new, the states would find it easier to innovate on this score.

Something that lacks in the existing management system of the states is the presence of an efficient internal controls and audit system. Internal audit provides a remedial mechanism and a feedback that is of core importance.

It is important to realize that review of projects and their results should be done by an independent and neutral institution which should not only be responsible but also be given due importance in the administrative set-up. Such a body can best examine records and performance of the panchayats and other local autonomous bodies on behalf of the government. Internal controls to make the bodies work as desired has, of course, to be ensured.

Finally, the new states must realize that the size of their cabinet and bureaucracy should be small. Half the problems can be taken care of by avoiding superannuated politi    

Whether it genuinely believes in the idea or not, the Atal Behari Vajpayee government, which has just concluded one year in office following the last elections, has achieved one thing: it has maintained a near-harmonious Centre-state relationship. Pressures of a coalition government notwithstanding, president’s rule has not been imposed in any state.

But the Vajpayee government has facilitated the creation of three new states. Contrary to the reputation of his Bharatiya Janata Party being a party believing in a “strong centre”, the prime minister did something which none of his predecessors had done. He said that he was prepared for talks in Kashmir beyond the parameters of the Constitution for the shake of insaniyat.

True, his initiatives for dialogue with the Kashmiri extremists have not exactly succeeded, but the ground situation in the state is much better than a few years ago. There seems to a perceivable change in the popular attitude in Kashmir, as evident from the recent opinion poll conducted by a national newsmagazine, against terrorism and violence. The same seems to be the mood in the troubled Northeast, if the prolonging of the ceasefire in Nagaland and the rising surrenders of the extremists in Assam are any indication.

In a sense, and this is the most important thing, federal relations in India under Vajpayee have been in tune with the emerging global norm of the waning of ethnic warfare. There is now a decline in new ethnic wars the world over. The old ethnic disputes are being gradually settled, thanks to the proactive efforts of democratic states to recognize group rights and channel ethnic tensions into competitive domestic politics.

This development is reassuring, to say the least. Because, the decade of the Nineties, particularly after the end of the Cold War and the disintegration of the Soviet Union, was alarming for India. The global trend then was towards more and smaller countries. As Juan Enriquez, professor in Harvard University pointed out, as against an average of 2.2 new states being created per year in between 1950-90 — mainly because of decolonization and wars among nations — from 1990 to 1998, the corresponding rate was 3.1 new countries per year, attributed mainly to the phenomenon of civil wars within national boundaries. That is, internal turmoils, because of the ethnic, religious, linguistic and regional animosities, increasingly led to abrupt border changes.

However, what facilitated this trend was globalization, which has two conflicting aspects: breaking the world down into its component parts as well as drawing these parts closer together. The first aspect was more appealing during the first half of the Nineties. Many thought that wealthy regions of a country could have greater prosperity, if separated from the mother country. The argument was that since their wealth was unfairly distributed among the poorer parts of the country, they were not reaping the benefits of economic restructuring.

Even the poorer regions of a country thought that separation would be less painful in this age of globalization. They hoped that with the world becoming more globalized, small countries would not be dominated by the larger neighbours, provided they opened their borders to greater foreign investment and free trade, like Taiwan and Singapore. They kept in mind the fact that small countries were among the fastest-growing and most effective traders in the post-war era.

However, it is the second but integrating aspect of globalization that seems to have made the ethnic wars in the world over the last five years fewer. As Ted Robert Gurr, professor in the University of Maryland has proved in a recent study, “Of the 59 armed ethnic conflicts under way in early 1999, 23 were de-escalating, 29 had no short term trend, and only seven were escalating — including Kosovo. By the late 1990s, the most common strategy among ethnic groups was not armed conflict but prosaic politics.”

According to him, two-thirds of all new campaigns of protest and rebellion since 1985 began between 1989 and 1993; few have started since. “Since the number of new ethnically based protest campaigns has declined — from a global average of 10 per year in the late 1980s to four per year since 1995 — the pool of potential future rebellions is shrinking,” he concludes.

Gurr calculates that between 1993 and the beginning of 2000, the number of wars for self-determination has been halved and that during the Nineties, 16 separatist wars were settled by negotiated peace settlements, and 10 others were checked by ceasefires and ongoing negotiations.

To a considerable extent, Gurr’s thesis is applicable to Kashmir. The intermittent militancy-related killings in the valley have obscured the fact that the Kashmiris, despite the horrible insurgency, are economically doing better these days. Unlike in the past, Kashmir’s manufacturers have now ventured out and found the markets for their handicrafts in the rest of urban India highly rewarding. Earlier, their contacts with the rest of India were through the middlemen, who were taking away most of their income.

No wonder there is a construction boom in the Kashmir valley these days. More Kashmiri young people are now seeking admission in the universities outside the valley. Gradually, the psychological barrier of the Kashmiri middle class vis-à-vis the rest of India is weakening. The result is that more and more of the educated militants are giving up violence. They find that they have a better future in a liberal and more globalized India than in a Pakistan that is essentially authoritarian, sectarian and backward looking.

Globalization promotes, among other things, democratic institutions and practices. Not only does it engage the nongovernmental organizations and international bodies such as the United Nations to speak for minority rights, it also encourages accommodating behaviour on the part of both warring separatists and central governments. For material and social costs of accommodation are invariably less than the costs of prolonged conflict.

That is why in recent years there have been cases of wars of self-determination, beginning with the demand for complete independence, and ending with negotiated or de facto autonomy within their respective countries. Establishment of Mizoram as a separate state within India, an autonomous republic for the Ganguz minority in Moldava, regional autonomy for the Chakma tribal group in Bangladesh’s Chittagong Hills in 1997 and concessions to Kachin and Mon peoples of northern Myanmar are some of the recent examples in this regard.

It is being increasingly recognized the world over that economic productivity and greater access to the markets are not possible without regional order and prosperity. Therefore, major powers prefer containment of local conflicts and fewer civil wars to empire-building or creating zones of influence. It is an illusion that globalization is bound to dissolve national power and sovereignty. The modern forces of the market may challenge the established forms of national authority, but they do not alter the political reality that each is ultimately subject to state power, even if the mechanisms of that power have to be changed. When deregulation threatens national interest or state power, regulation is reimposed, something Malaysia did by cutting itself out of the Asian economic crisis.

Viewed thus, gone are days of the craze for seeing more and more flags in the United Nations. “Autonomy”, rather than “independence”, is the catchword now. Therefore, one only wishes that the Vajpayee government reinforces its commitment for autonomy not only in Kashmir but also in other parts of the country. In very few contemporary instances did negotiated autonomy lead to independence. On the other hand, as Gurr reminds us, the ethnic statelets that have won de facto independence in the Nineties — Somaliland, Abkhazia, the Trans-Dniester Republic, and Iraqi Kurdistan — did so in the absence of negotiations, not because of them.    

The Indian stock market is back to its sentimental ways. As soon as the news of the Standard & Poor’s downgrading came, the stocks began their downslide. The foreign institutional investors joined the party by selling more than they have done in months. The end result was sharp plunges in the Bombay Stock Exchange and National Stock Exchange indices and worries writ large on the faces of market managers. Since then, the sensitive index has been tumbling hopelessly, even for otherwise sound scrips.

While many suggest that the Indian stock market is sensitive to the pulse of the economy and reacts symbiotically, this is questionable. The “noise” element — in stock market parlance — is instrumental in deciding the behaviour of Indian scrips. In other words, the stocks are susceptible to the flow of market rumours and react by fluctuating unreasonably.

Very sensitive index

This is partially true for all stock markets. But the Indian stock market appears to be guided more by the “unseen” elements. It is quite common to observe share prices dipping sharply, even if the scrips enjoy strong fundamentals. This erratic behaviour raises a few basic questions. First, are the stock market trends appropriate indicators of the general health of the economy? Second, can the stock market actually serve as a barometer for the Indian economy?

At present, the economy is not exactly in the pink of health. But this is not to suggest that a depression is round the corner. In a reforming economy, there are bound to be occasional hiccups in key sectors like manufacturing and services. High oil prices have dampened economic activity all over the globe. Moreover, floods and other calamities have affected parts of the country. During the festive season consumption demand is expected to recover, increasing the demand for durables and manufactured goods.

Wrong indicator

Internationally, apart from the United States, no other economy is doing well. Japan is down in the dumps while Europe is making halting progress. In comparison, a six per cent plus projected growth rate for India looks quite impressive. The nose-diving stocks however would suggest otherwise. The scrips seem to have been heavily influenced by the occasional market asymmetries. This only underlines the largely speculative motives of operators and the lack of maturity in anticipating the cycles of the economy. Econometricians can eliminate seasonal fluctuations through levelling techniques. But the average market watcher has to rely on raw data and is gullible to wrong impressions.

The shortcomings of the stock market give negative answers for both the questions raised. The market is an inaccurate reflector of actuals and cannot serve as the barometer for the economy. There is no point in losing sleep over the falling indices. Things are not as bad as the values would have us believe.    


Keepers of disorder

Sir — The editorial, “Less law, more fun” (Oct 23), has rightly pointed out that the politicization of the police in West Bengal and increasing corruption and indiscipline within it have heightened the unpopularity of the police. As long as such blatant hooliganism and defiance continues, the faith of the people will continue to waver. The shameless merrymaking indulged in by the officers at the Alipore Bodyguard Lines, with their unconcern for the patients in the intensive care units in the neighbouring hospitals, exemplify this general decline in the police force. In fact, such behaviour is nowadays more the rule than the exception. The refusal of the police to participate in an official game emphasises their lack of camaraderie and amounts to an act of insubordination.The reluctance shown by the police association to deal with such issues will encourage further indiscipline. The question that we have to ask ourselves is whether we can trust such a group of callous individuals to take care of us and our city.
Yours faithfully,
Shantanu Mahapatra, Calcutta

Selfish centuries

Sir — It is ridiculous how the media, particularly The Telegraph, always shower lavish praises on Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly whenever they score a century, or for that matter, bag a few wickets. The fact that their selfish ventures often make India lose a game is thus downplayed. So much is made of a century that players are often confused as to which comes first on their priority list — the country or their personal achievements.

In the opening match of the Sharjah tri-series against Sri Lanka, Tendulkar made no bones about what he was chasing — his 26th century. Even as India entered the crucial slog overs, Tendulkar waited flagrantly in his pursuit of his century. Yet this deplorable fact was never mentioned. On the contrary, as though to shield Tendulkar from all blame, The Telegraph published a list of his centuries and added a fitting headline to to grace the report, “Tendulkar’s 101 not enough for India” (Oct 21).

Why does India keep losing consistently despite being loaded with players whose statistics would put to shame even the best teams in the world, and despite appearing so formidable on paper? It is because our players aspire to be remembered as individuals rather than as a team.

Yours faithfully,
Kapildev Gangopadhyay, via email

Sir — One of the main reasons behind the downfall of Indian cricket is the press. The media first make heroes out of the cricketers and then do all that is possible to destroy them. The Telegraph has been carrying on as though Sourav Ganguly and company have conquered the moon.What readers really want is an indepth analysis of the matches, not reports showering unnecessary praise on cricketers.

Yours faithfully,
Somesh Dasgupta, via email

Sir — Just when we were happy that the Indian cricket team had arrived as a cohesive unit with comprehensive wins over Australia and South Africa, we witnessed the dismal final against New Zealand at the international cricket council knockout meet. Sachin Tendulkar was going great guns and looked quite menacing till Sourav Ganguly ran him out after calling. The match was decided that very moment as the team could not get itself back into the game again. Some missed catches and run outs completed the picture.

The same thing happened in Sharjah against the Sri Lankans. The cricket board should introduce a strict rule that the player who calls for a run should complete the run irrespective of his getting out in the process. Such unnecessary run outs have become legendary in Indian cricket.

Yours faithfully,
S. Ramakrishnan, Calcutta

Sir — Sourav Ganguly should be congratulated for his achievement in the ICC knockout tournament recently concluded in Kenya. His performance was excellent insofar as he scored two consecutive centuries in the semifinals and finals of the tournament. However, the feat was accomplished at some cost. Ganguly’s centuries were scored by compelling both Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid to cut short their innings because they were run out. Ganguly’s personal ambition has cost the country a tournament. And this is not the first time he has caused his partner to get run out.

Yours faithfully,
Arun Tulshan, via email

Sir — When will Indians stop playing cricket altogether? We should realize by now that we are not a sporting nation. The complete lack of fighting spirit was evident in the recently concluded ICC knockout meet finals. The captain seems to choke when a crisis arises and he has to take decisions on the field. What India needs is a an administrator with a whip. Indian cricket needs a vision, a plan, to decide on and execute.

Yours faithfully,
Amir Rai, via email

Sir — It is disappointing that Indians did not lift the ICC knockout cup. But there are some positive sides to the story. Yuvraj Singh and Zaheer Khan are most certainly promising finds for India. The best thing about the Indian performance was the confidence that our players, especially the youngsters, showed. The sacking of Mohammad Azharuddin, Ajay Jadeja, Nayan Mongia and Nikhil Chopra has definitely proved to be a blessing in disguise. However, as Ian Chappell has pointed out, we need to keep up the good work.

Yours faithfully,
Chandragupta, via email

Comics in the canon

Sir — The picture of a young lady sitting with the Peanuts anniversary treasury beside a cutout of Snoopy embracing Charlie Brown in the front page of The Telegraph (Oct 20) was thought-provoking. That the picture was shot at the Frankfurt Book Fair is evidence enough that comics have come a long way in the 20th century.

The caption, however, is misleading as it reads “For the first time, comics have been recognised as a literary form”. This is untrue. It’s been a few decades since the study of comics was recognized as an academic discipline. Several American universities offer full-term courses on comics and academic publications on comics are making their presence felt steadily.

In India, Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi recognises M.Phil dissertations on comics. A few years ago, a student completed a dissertation on the popular comics series brought out by Indian Book House, “Amar Chitra Katha”.

The department of English, Jadavpur University, Calcutta, also offers comics (under the broader category of popular literature) as an optional subject in the post-graduate level. A research scholar from Jadavpur is currently doing his PhD on “Amar Chitra Katha”.

The study of comics has opened up newer possibilities in understanding culture from the perspective of the common reader. No discussion of popular culture is complete without taking comics into account. Furthermore, comics have shown remarkable flexibility in adapting the hypertext form beside continuing with the codex format.

Today, an online reading of “Amar Chitra Katha” is possible. Its popularity has led to the dissemination of older traditions of myth, history and legend throughout the Indian subcontinent and beyond. It will certainly not be an overstatement to say that comics like this have fulfilled many demands of the oral tradition by making itself available to everybody in the most accessible and reader-friendly format.

The high-brow dislike of comics is now a thing of the past.

Yours faithfully,
Anshuman Bhowmick, Calcutta

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