Editorial 1/ Getting nowhere
Editorial 2/ People’s chieftain
Legends and after
Fifth Column/ with Due credit to new policies
This Above All/ Of feminine mystique and poetry
A historic song and its many settings
Letters to the Editor

A series of suspended negotiations, leading absolutely nowhere, in a matrix of debased politics. This is the ambience within which Calcutta recently experienced yet another civic paralysis. This time, even a city as jaded with strikes as this one found the three day long suspension of private bus and minibus services severely disruptive of the basic rhythm of civilized existence any modern city ought to be able to take for granted. The state government has, at last, agreed on a fare hike, and although the amounts do not really measure up to the private bus operators’ initial demands, the strike has been called off and the Bengal Bus Syndicate has decided to accept the proposed fare structure. But a sense of the fatuousness of it all has to be addressed. First, the duration of the strike — and the consequent public inconvenience — are significant, three days instead of the token single day. What is even more amazing was the initial support given to such an anomaly by the state transport minister, Mr Subhas Chakraborty. What Mr Chakraborty had invoked was, of course, the unions’ “democratic right”. Serving an abstract demos in complete disregard of what countless real people are being put through is quite usual in West Bengal. Even public lynchings have been celebrated as people’s power. This populism cuts across the political parties. Trinamool Congress, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Youth Congress in the state had all threatened to agitate and disrupt services if fares were hiked.

But, in this particular case, what has perhaps been most annoying for the public was the orchestrated failure of the incessant negotiations that have gone on around this issue. And this has occurred at every level. Clarity of communication seemed to have been completely lost in the exchanges between the state and the Centre. The chief minister asked the prime minister for clarification regarding the price of petroleum. The latter replied, but in the vaguest and most noncommittal of terms. This vagueness was then taken up by the transport department and communicated to the operators as an excuse for further indecisiveness. The negotiations between the chief minister and the prime minister is further complicated by the latter’s ongoing duel of pressure and evasion with the Union railways minister over the rollback issue. The prime minister has vetoed any concessions at present, but the possibility of a rollback in the future does not seem to have been entirely ruled out. This strategic ambiguity is then taken up into the debased electoral interests of the state. The state government’s initial support of the strike is also believed to be underlining the Trinamool Congress chief’s inability to achieve a rollback. Where this senseless combination of ineptitude, evasion and crass politicking leaves the public has been most annoyingly demonstrated over the last few days.    

Trust Mr Shibu Soren to muddy already muddied waters. It is strange that he should hope to be chief minister of Jharkhand, in spite of the fact the National Democratic Alliance appears to have made up its mind against it. It is, of course, not Mr Soren’s fault that politics in India accommodates, in a routine manner, all kinds of unethical behaviour. It is only in India that a leader of a people’s movement for self-determination, together with his political colleagues, can remain a leader years after his feet of clay have been discovered, anatomized and displayed to the world. Even if it is possible to overlook the wheeling-dealing among leaders of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha itself for an increasingly greater share of the cake, there are certain other deeds that are rather more remarkable. Especially now that the courts have started insisting that an electoral candidate’s police record, if any, should be released to the voters. Mr Soren allegedly accepted a bribe from the former prime minister, Mr P.V. Narasimha Rao, in order to vote for his government in the now famous confidence motion. And he has also been charged with kidnapping and murdering his private secretary, Shashinath Jha. All this has not stopped him from laying vociferous claim to the chief ministership of the newly formed Jharkhand state. His rhetoric focusses on the “sacrifice” the JMM has made for years to bring the new state into being. His understanding, however, seems to focus on something simpler — because more material. The chief ministership was as good as promised to the JMM, he feels, when the party extended support to the shortlived government headed by Mr Nitish Kumar.

Typically, Mr Soren has been trying to blackmail the NDA government on this issue. It is also a measure of desperation, because with the indisputable majority of the Bharatiya Janata Party and its supporting parties in the Jharkhand assembly, the NDA really can do without him. In spite of his vaunted popularity, the people of Jharkhand evidently did not trust the JMM enough to vote it into a majority in the assembly. The threat he might represent, though, is that of violence. Of the three new states, it is likely that Jharkhand’s birth will be the bloodiest. There is already violence from the JMM side regarding the location of the new assembly. November 15, the day the state will formally come into being, has been chosen for a rally by ultra-left and extremist parties. A discontented Mr Soren let loose may exacerbate the situation. But given Mr Soren’s immense capacity for adjustment — he has in turn supported the Janata Dal, the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the NDA — he might be simply signalling that he is amenable to reason. He already has a candidate for the deputy chief minister’s chair, Mr Durga Soren, his son. He may not get the chief ministership, but would surely be loathe to let go of even very little of a good thing.    

No matter what might be said about avoiding invidious comparisons, and underlining the point by physically removing the chief minister’s chair, Buddhadev Bhattacharya will be measured at every turn against the man who has been described as the best prime minister India never had.

But with the Congress in habitual disarray and the Trinamool Congress more sound than substance, the Left Front’s worst enemy is still the Left Front. The change of guard need not, therefore, be the CPI(M)’s dushsamay if the new chief minister is able to recognize the nature of the challenge that faces West Bengal and its leadership, and meet the revolution of unfulfilled expectations by encouraging economic growth with a human face.

Legends once born are hard to demolish. A British commentator once said that the royal family there was famous for being famous. Jyoti Basu’s boast that “the biggest achievement of the Left Front is the very fact that it is in power for the past 23 years” recalls that negative asset. In the short term, power is an end in itself. Ultimately, however, it can only be justified as the means to ends that bestow benefits on others besides those who actually wield and enjoy it.

The retiring chief minister need only cast his gaze on the national scene to realize that no one holds the Congress in high esteem simply because of its unbroken monopoly of power at the central level from 1947 to 1977, seven years more than the Left Front’s. Of course, there were three leaders at the helm during that long stretch against West Bengal’s one. Even so, Congress rule is evaluated in achievements and failures, not in years.

Bhattacharya has already demonstrated wise appreciation of what the public expects by identifying flood damage and the breakdown of law and order as his immediate concerns. Unless law and order includes stamping out political violence, and rehabilitation and reconstruction are interpreted in the widest sense of the words, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) cannot hope to regain power legitimately next April. It gained a tremendous advantage as the apotheosis of Bengal’s culture and identity during Indira Gandhi’s Emergency, when Congress was perceived to have sold its soul to the cow belt. That advantage has gone now that its own purse and policies are thought to be hostage to commercial backpackers who bankroll the Marxists in return for slices of our state.

Even that might have been overlooked if all Bengalis had prospered. True, Operation Barga was more successful than similar exercises elsewhere. True, too, that West Bengal is on the whole an island of secular calm in Hindutva’s raging waters. Primary and, perhaps to an extent, secondary education can also claim some credit. Spending accounts for a bigger share of the budget than at the Centre, literacy is high, and more than 75 per cent of children go to state-aided schools.

But believers in historical inevitability can argue that Operation Barga was only a palliative that impeded the unavoidable transition to industrialization without promoting largescale scientific agriculture. Similarly, the deterioration of centres of excellence is forcing young Bengalis to go elsewhere for higher education. Only the secular boast remains unchallenged. On the debit side, 51 per cent of the population languishes below the poverty line against the all-India average of 39 per cent, and while Punjab’s per capita income is Rs 6,380, West Bengal’s is a mere Rs 3,157. Figures for unemployment, industrial closures and the development of infrastructure and public services are even more dismal. The quality of life must be India’s worst.

There are many reasons for decline, not all necessarily the Left Front’s fault. To be so severely taken to task for them might even be the penalty of success. Land for the landless, secular peace and basic education have aggravated discontent with the deprivation of village life. Our towns — town really, for there is but the one — do not offer any improvement. Upward mobility is suddenly aborted, causing intense frustration. The newly-emancipated upper peasantry is throwing up a first generation of bhadraloks that has very little to sustain its bhadra status. It needs money, which means jobs, which means urban renewal. That calls for greater productive activity which, in turn, demands investment. A bankrupt state cannot even build a long talked-of Siliguri-Calcutta expressway.

It is ironic to think that Basu was India’s first chief minister to seek investment funds abroad. That was in the Eighties, and the American consulate-general in Calcutta hosted a specially grand Fourth of July reception, with the Marine band in full swing, as a send-off for the chief minister on a historic mission. He had already been to Britain on a similar search, thanks to the initiative of a group of Calcutta corporate chiefs, several Bengalis among them then.

If those trips had succeeded in their ostensible purpose, Bengali doctors, engineers, academics and computer specialists would not today have accounted for the biggest single group among Indian professionals who flee to Singapore, Britain and the United States. Later excursions by Somnath Chatterjee and the late Bidyut Ganguly turned out to be equally fruitless. These peregrinations remind me of the story of Chakravarti Rajagopalachari telling a delegation that wanted to convert Raj Bhavan into the National Library not to expect him to give up a house that it had taken him so many years to get into. Marxists in office seem to grasp at travel opportunities with much the same gusto.

Bhattacharya is apparently free of such vanities. In comparing him to his predecessor, I am tempted to quote Graham Greene on journalistic caste distinctions — “I’m a reporter; God exists only for leader-writers.” The new chief minister will never be a legend no matter how long he serves, for his ideological baptism was at home, and he speaks the same language as the rest. But if he is too desi to be the glamorous Indira Gandhi of West Bengal, he can try to be the quietly efficient Lal Bahadur Shastri.

Nobody should underestimate the problems he might have to deal with in his party and coalition. But the biggest problem of all will be with the electorate. Not because Basu has gone but because the CPI(M) has substituted charisma for achievement for far too long. It must be the public hope that, win or lose, Bhattacharya will ensure that people can choose without being murdered. The Trinamool Congress has no credentials as yet; let Marxist violence not allow it to clutch a martyr’s halo.

There is much that the CPI(M) can still attempt. First and foremost, it must try to win back investors without whom there can be no growth. But it can temper globalization with human concern by instituting effective health and welfare systems. Instead of courting cheap popularity by condoning squatters, it should cooperate with the Asian Development Bank’s proposal for rehabilitating the evicted. Indeed, eviction should be only the first step of an integrated scheme that puts personal industry and entrepreneurial skill to profitable use.

When Singapore decided to abolish itinerant food vendors, it first ruled that cooked food could be sold only where there was running water. Then the government built heavily subsidized clusters of small stalls with water and electricity round common eating patios and sold or leased them on easy terms to the out-of-work hawkers. The “democratic atmosphere” in which Basu takes understandable pride is meaningful only when human resources are fully utilized.

I have no idea whether Bhattacharya is up to the task. But on him has devolved the responsibility of saving a creed that, having lost its revolutionary raison d’être, is now synonymous with Bengali thought. Its future will be determined in the next six months. The sons of Britain’s Labour peers invariably become Tories. It is up to the new chief mi- nister to ensure that not every Communist leader’s son becomes a capitalist.    

In its mid-term review of monetary and credit policy for the fiscal year, 2000-2001, the Reserve Bank of India approved guidelines for investment by banks and allowed greater flexibility to corporate organizations to raise short term resources.

Banks have been allowed to invest upto five per cent of their outstanding credit as on March 31, 2000, in the stock market or equity-linked mutual funds. This will yield as much as Rs 23,000 crore. Moreover, such investment by banks would give a major boost to the Unit Trust of India because none of the banks has any in-house expertise in making investments in the stock market or in equity linked instruments. Therefore, the safe vehicle for investments by banks will be the UTI.

As part of the second generation reforms, the Union government has constituted a high level committee to consider the merging of all banking laws with a view to weeding out the existing defects.

In future, it is likely that a single act will govern the working of commercial banks, all India financial institutions and other non-banking financial intermediaries. This is the recognition of the growing belief among many bankers that no separate statutes should exist governing different financial intermediaries if there is a growing convergence among their functions.

Lawful concern

Therefore, the State Bank of India Act, the Banking (Regulation) Act, the Recovery of Debts Due to Banks and Financial Institutions Act, along with the other connected laws pertaining to transfer of property, evidence, industrial sickness and so on are going to be redrafted and merged. It is true that the evolution of a legal framework has not kept pace with changing commercial practices and financial reforms. A related issue is the question of institution-specific regulation. In view of the multifarious activities conducted by modern banks, a function-specific regulation would be more suitable. But this would make the task of regulation extremely complex and coordination among different regulators would become tedious.

Now that banks have been allowed to play a role in the capital market, it would be helpful if they became active. So far, with the foreign institutional investors coming into the capital market, the financial institutions and banks have reduced their operations. But, it is encouraging that the RBI governor, Bimal Jalan, has observed that the RBI should try to maintain a stable interest rate environment.

Another area that needs a critical revamp of the law is with regard to loans not recovered by banks and financial institutions. Debt recovery tribunals had been set up against a backdrop of more than 15 lakh cases filed by public sector banks and about 304 cases filed by financial institutions. The recovery of debts involved more than Rs 51,700 crore as dues to public sector banks and about Rs 400 crore to the financial institutions.

Those debts are bad

It is imperative to give more legal powers to these tribunals. It is essential to introduce the principle of summary trials without recourse to appeals. It is a sorry state of affairs in the Indian banking industry that banks have been holding bad debts to the tune of Rs 43,000 crore. More than half of these originate in large corporate houses.

These outstanding loans (non-performing assets) are the banks’ biggest problem. The Union finance minister, Yashwant Sinha, recently authorized bank chairmen to decide on the one-time settlement or a rehabilitation package for outstanding loans of Rs 10 crore and above. Recovery suits were to be filed by September 2000. But nothing has happened.

In a meeting with chief executives of public sector banks, Sinha had declared on June 13, 2000 that punitive action would be taken against leading defaulters and their names would be publicized. A deadline of six months was set for all cases to be settled before the debt recovery tribunals. But there has been no progress. Recovery proceedings can still be stalled by companies declaring themselves sick under the board for industrial and financial reconstruction. There is nothing that the tribunal can do till the case is disposed of by the BIFR. And this process takes years. The time has come to demand radical changes in such banking laws.    

Six years ago, when dining with the Mathens, I suggested to Nirmala to plant avocado trees in her garden. Avocados don’t need much care, they are prolific fruit-bearers, rich in nutrients and taste like butter. Though taste for them has to be cultivated, once you acquire it, nothing equals them in mixed salads or makes good wine taste better. I also introduced Nirmala to Grover’s wines made in her city. After six years, Nirmala’s avocados bore fruit. She sent the first pickings to me with a bottle of Grover red wine through her friend, the film producer, Kavitha Lankesh, who was in Delhi to receive some kind of award for her film, Deveeri. Kavitha was an unexpected bonus — more animated than anyone I have met — feline litheness and tiger-brown eyes. And all of 35. I was completely bowled over and wished she was living in Delhi and not in distant Bangalore.

It transpired during our brief meeting that I had met her father, the late P. Lankesh, editor of Lankesh Patrike and author of several novels in Kannada. It was on his novella Akka (sister) that she made her award-winning film, Deveeri. It is based on a true story of an orphaned boy of the slums who lived with a young woman who treated him as a younger brother, fed and mothered him.

She carefully guarded him against her night-life; she was a common prostitute. Once she did not return to her hovel. When Lankesh asked the boy, he replied: “It has been four days since my sister returned home. That bitch!” In due course of time the boy discovered the sordid truth about his “sister’s” life. By then, he led the kind of life slum children lead. He was caught and sent to an orphanage. He longed to return to his slum to be with his akka. The film was received very well. Kavitha went on to make documentaries on different subjects largely depicting life in Karnataka, including one on Bangalore.

I asked Kavitha about her career. She has an MA in English literature from Bangalore University. When she was 16 her father suggested she get married and started assembling jewellery for her dowry. She persuaded him to give her the money to travel and see the world. He agreed. So she went all alone over Europe and the United States.

Ultimately she agreed to give marriage a try. It did not work out. “I have tried my hand at marriage but I felt the loneliness. I felt lonely within the confines of a marriage much more than now when I am really alone. Probably because loneliness within company is much more than the solitude of the present,” she said.

Kavitha lives in a sparsely inhabited suburb of Bangalore. Her mother runs a sari store in the city. For company, she has two German Shepherds who accompany her when she goes jogging in the early hours of the morning. Then she does yogasana for one and a half hours. That explains her suppleness. “Believe me I am like rubber and it comes to use for some strategic positions,” she says somewhat naively. I can think of quite a few such positions.

Kavitha admits to having a quick temper and “a bitchy way with words”. She has her allergies: fools, unpunctuality, liars, horn-happy drivers and people unkind to dogs. I share most of them but have learnt to put up with fools. I am not quick-tempered but have a large vocabulary of Punjabi abuses. She is somewhat confused about religion. She is a Lingayat, reads Basavanna’s vachanas, Panchatantra tales and P.G. Wodehouse. She quotes Somerset Maugham: “I am a deeply religious person who doesn’t believe in god.” That goes for me as well. “I get easily bored with people,” she says. So do I. We are kindred spirits 50 years and 1,500 miles apart.

Love for India and Indians

Elizabeth is a Belgian married to an Indian Muslim from Bhopal. She, her husband and her children are settled in Canada. Some days back she wrote to me enclosing a poem on her first visit to the Taj Mahal. I quote a few verses from it:

“He wanted to show me the Taj Mahal, he said
Eternal monument to Love Eternal
And so it was that on the hottest day
Of the hottest season we set off
In his ancient Ambassador
On the dusty road to Agra
My face soon turned the colour
Of tandoori chicken
Cooked alive, I did not complain
I was in love
Our progress was slow, too slow he felt
He honked impatiently at a herd of goats
Ahiste, Sardarji, ahiste, the goatherd chuckled
The Taj has been there for a hundred years
Or more, it will still be there tomorrow
Such insolence from a mere village boy
He said, and I thought, such wisdom.”
“Even the Third World
Is not equally third all over
When we were driving again
He asked me what I was looking at
So intently, and I said:
Your country I am soaking it up in my every pore
And will carry it with me forever
Its colours and its scent and most of all
This mood
By the entrance to the Taj Mahal
A vendor with two pitchers
Water for Hindus and water for Muslims
We Sikhs can drink either, he said,
But personally, I prefer Coca-Cola.”
“The Taj, they say, is crumbling now
Its blinding sheen grown dull and grey
Once solid stone turned brittle, porous... And I have long ceased to believe
In tales of kings and queens
And love that lasts forever
For nothing wrought by human hands
Or hearts, I found,
Can claim to be eternal.

At your expense, thank you

Israelis tell stories at the expense of Arab leaders. A young Israeli woman gave birth to a seven-pound boy in a hospital in Jerusalem. “Good morning,” smiled the nurse, “So you are the mother of a fine seven-pound boy?”

“That’s right,” she said.
“What are you going to name him?”, the nurse asked.
“Arafat”, the mother said.
“Arafat?” the nurse blanched. “Are you kidding?”
“Nope,” the woman said.
“I ... I never heard of an Israeli mother calling her child by that hateful name. Does your husband also like that name?”
“I am not married,” said the young mother.

(Contributed by Judson K. Cornelius, Hyderabad)    

On November 7, 1875, on the occasion of Akshay Navami, Bankimchandra Chatterjee wrote his famous song, “Vande Mataram”, at his residence in Kanthalpada, Naihati, a few miles from Calcutta. This year, Akshay Navami will be celebrated on November 5 and “Vande Mataram” will be 125 years old. That the song has surviving that long says a lot about its relevance in modern India.

This is probably the only Indian song that is still very popular, and musicians and singers want to recompose it and sing it time and again. This year’s celebrations were marked by the publication of Vande Mataram: Ek Shodh, a book in Marathi by Milind Sabnis. This carefully researched document will soon be translated into Hindi and Marathi. An edited version of Bankimchandra’s novel, Anandamath, was also published in Mumbai. A Mumbai-based organization, “Society of Indian Record Collectors” has traced about 100 versions of the song that were recorded in this period. These vary from the voices of Rabindranath Tagore to that of A.R. Rahman.

Bankimchandra wrote “Vande Mataram” in a moment of inspiration and later included the song in the novel. The song was written as a prayer addressed to the nation or the mother. Written in a mixture of Bengali and Sanskrit, it was severely criticized by his friends as well as by his daughter. He argued that he had written it spontaneously to express his emotions and thoughts and also predicted its popularity

The song remained in the. novel until it was sung by Rabindranath Tagore at Beadon Square in the 1886 convention of the Indian National Congress. It then became a tradition and even today, Lok Sabha and state assembly sessions begin with the recitation of the first stanza of this song. In 1905, during the partition of Bengal, a large crowd gathered outside the Town Hall to protest against the Partition and someone in the crowd cried out, “Vande Mataram”.

The slogan soon became the cry of an entire nation and spread all over the country. Soon the British rulers banned the song and the slogan. Keeping in mind the popularity of the song, H. Bose Records and Nicole Record Company recorded it in the voices of Rabindranath Tagore, Surendranath Banerjee, Satyabhusan Gupta, R.N Bose and others. Hemendra Bose had released it commercially, but the police had destroyed the factory and the records. Few copies of the record survived and we can hear the song in Rabindranath’s high-pitched, nasal voice. This song has now been released on compact disc and is available along with a book.

Because of the ban, the song became even more popular and a source of inspiration. In the pre-independence era, Vishnu Digambar Paluskar sang it in raga Kafi for the Congress conventions for several years. In additon to its status in political organizations, several composers and singers, both in Bengal and in Maharashtra, considered it a wonderful lyric for the expression of a certain kind of patriotism.

The song was also recorded by different Bengali singers and composers who were cashing in on its popularity. Different Bengali pronunciations and mridanga accompaniments were used. In the South, M.S. Subbulakshmi has sung it with Dilip Kumar Roy, using a different raga and tempo for each stanza.

Several orchestral records of “Vande Mataram” were made and released commercially, to be used in public functions or meetings. On the suggestion of Subhash Chandra Bose, Timir Baran set the tune of the song in raga Durga and in a marching song style. This gramophone record was used for the parades of the Azad Hind Sena and was frequently broadcast over the radio from Singapore.

Several composers, musicians and singers from Bengal and Maharashtra were convinced that this song would be the anthem of independent India. Therefore they set it to a number of tunes. Most of these tunes were ultimately rejected by Jawaharlal Nehru. In a meeting of the Constitution committee, held on January 24, 1950, Rajendra Prasad announced that “Jana gana mana” would be the national anthem of independent India and “Vande Mataram” the national song, from now on to be known as the “anthem”. With this all efforts ended and the recordings have now become a part of our cultural heritage.

In the post-independence era the song was used in many Hindi films. However the most famous one was in the film, Anandamath, which was made in both Hindi and Bengali. It was composed using a mixture of Malkauns and Bhairavi. In 1997, Usha Utthup sang it in Shyam Benegal’s Making of the Mahatma, in a tune set by Vanraj Bhatia. It is interesting that both “Jana Gana Mana” and “Vande Mataram” have five stanzas each but only the first stanza is sung.

In 1997, India celebrated 50 years of independence. On this occasion, A.R Rahman released his music album, Ma Tujhe Salam. Although this album contained the original song in Desh-Malhar, the title song was readily accepted by music lovers of all generations.The video showed citizens of all ages trying to hoist the national flag. At the same time, a special session of Parliament was convened in which Bhimsen Joshi sang it in a two-minute version.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that this song is the cultural anthem of our country and can be appreciated in the various forms in which it continues to be sung today.    


Not environment friendly

Sir — The Supreme Court judgment on the Sardar Sarovar project and its fallout act reveal the real nature of environmental activism in India (“Medha vows to carry on crusade”, Oct 19, “Medha takes battle to people’s court”, Oct 21, “Medha vows to fight law for life”, Oct 23). Environmentalism in India is the favourite pastime of several people, including celebrities and socialites. The common people and their true interests feature lowest in their list of priorities. Their agitations, like Medha Patkar’s Narmada Bachao Andolan, delay the execution of projects leading to cost overruns, and deprive the people for whom the benefits were intended in the intermediate years. Environmentalism and development are not mutually exclusive. Ideally, there should be a happy balance between the two. And the people’s representatives are best equipped to look after the needs of the people. The self-appointed environmentalists of dubious intentions and competence must be shown the door.
Yours faithfully,
Tapan Pal, Howrah

Weeping willows

Sir — The report on matchfixing, made public by the Central Bureau of Investigation on November 1, has hurt millions of diehard cricket lovers in India (“CBI rips cricket mask”, Nov 2). It is shocking that some of the cricketers, for the last 10 years, not only fixed matches but also played with the emotions and trust of millions of countrymen.

Cricket is no more the gentleman’s game that it once was. The Board of Control for Cricket in India must set an example in the way it punishes the guilty cricketers. This will ensure that in future cricketers will think at least twice before selling their country’s pride to the unscrupulous bookies.

Yours faithfully
Rajarshi Ghosh, Calcutta

Sir — The CBI has opened the worst can of worms. At last, the details of the nexus between bookies and cricketers have been unearthed. And the picture it presents is terrifying. The same individuals who were treated as icons yesterday have turned into villains. The menace of matchfixing has crossed national borders; no test playing nation has remained unscathed.

Credit is due to Manoj Prabhakar. Though he has also been implicated in matchfixing by the CBI, yet it was his sensational revelations that had set the juggernaut rolling. Cricket has become as predictable as the daily soap on television or the circus which goes by the name of a World Wrestling Federation match.

However, mere banning of a few players is unlikely to solve the problem. The cricket boards of all the countries as well as the International Cricket Council are also guilty of being complicit as they have hidden some important facts. Also, they have failed to act in time. For instance, the Australian Cricket Board let Mark Waugh and Shane Warne go scot free in spite of knowing their involvement in matchfixing in a series against Pakistan.

All test playing nations must now come together along with the ICC and draw up a common code of conduct to curb this evil.

Yours faithfully,
Somnath Bhaumik, Calcutta

Sir — Now that the matchfixing report has been made public, strong action should be taken against the guilty players and the others involved in it. Since there seems to be no law in India which can pin down the matchfixing cricketers, a different set of steps can be easily taken against the guilty. The guilty cricketers should be banned from all matters related to cricket. The media should ban all advertisements featuring these players. The public should boycott all products endorsed by them. This is the only way to make the young people of the country realize that the players they worship as heroes have feet of clay.

Yours faithfully,
Malik Aijaz, Calcutta

Sir — The most important aspect of the CBI report is something that has got to do little with the content of the actual report. It has to do with the fact that the report saw the light of day in just over five months. This is a colossal achievement, going by Indian standards. This can be attributed to the free rein that the CBI has been given in conducting its investigations.

This only goes on to show what the investigating organization is capable of doing once it is allowed to do so. It will surely not be unfair to draw the conclusion that, given similar “freedom” in cases where political leaders are involved, the CBI is capable of delivering the goods, and on time.

Yours faithfully.
Sanmay Majumdar, Calcutta

Sir — With the recent report of the involvement of Mohammad Azharuddin, Ajay Jadeja, Nayan Mongia and few others in matchfixing allegations, cricket seems to have lost all its glory. One fails to understand why cricketers must involve themselves in such activities when they already get hefty sums of money from different sponsors, apart from fat sums they earn as match fee. A cricket lover cannot be blamed now for expressing doubts even when a country wins a match fairly. The BCCI has never taken stern action against cricketers at fault. This is why the players have felt no urge to rein in their unscrupulous tendencies. The accused henceforth should be treated just as ordinary criminals. As an additional deterrent, India should stop playing cricket at least for one or two years.

Yours faithfully,
D.V. Vamseekrishna, Bhubaneswar

Missing the reforms bus

Sir — It is amazing that West Bengal’s minister for transport, Subhas Chakraborty, could say that his government would take no action against the buses and minibuses in support of the fare hike. A number of questions crop up immediately. One, why should the majority, that is the passengers, suffer at the hands of a minority of bus owners in a democratic set up? Does not transport come under essential services? Then, why should strikes not be declared as illegal and appropriate steps taken against them?

Also, why should the state not consider it a duty to make transport an essential service to the people? Is it to protect the interests of the bus owners? The minister must speak out in the public interest. Were the bus owners making marginal profits before the diesel price hike?

More than 60 per cent of private buses operating in Calcutta would not get a fitness certificate even in places like Mumbai, Chennai, Bangalore. Why is the Left Front government reluctant to enforce minimum safety and comfort to the passengers? The transport minister should not pass the buck. The city demands a more positive response from a government it has elected.

Yours faithfully,
Saroj Kumar Mukherjee, Calcutta

Sir — “Bus strike continues” (Nov 3) even as the outgoing chief minister of the state, Jyoti Basu, moves New Delhi to urge the rollback of the fuel prices. No other Indian state has howled in protest. This is probably because unpleasant pricing decisions translate into poor politics. India has had a subsidized fare structure for decades. The communists took pleasure and electoral credit for keeping fares down while all over India the rates went up in digestible doses. Today, the subsidy pill has become too large to swallow. That is the reason why Atal Behari Vajpayee’s decision is being regarded as barbaric.

Vajpayee should not roll back his decision. The protests in West Bengal have more to do with the assembly elections which are only five months away.

Yours faithfully,
Sush Kocher, Calcutta

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