Editorial 1/ Little choice
Editorial 2 / Canny call
Tightrope comedy
Fifth Column/ A secular leader in a narrow corner
Abortive focus on morality
Letters to the editor

There is a big gulf between being a second to a Titan and succeeding a Titan. Mr Buddhadev Bhattacharya traversed this distance when he was sworn in as chief minister of West Bengal. For many years, he served as the deputy to Mr Jyoti Basu. Unfortunately for Mr Bhattacharya, there is a change of chief ministers and change in little else. The new chief minister has to work with the old team and carry his predecessor’s baggage. The winds of change could have blown if Mr Bhattacharya had at least been allowed to choose his own cabinet. Over Mr Bhattacharya’s chief ministership will perpetually fall the shadow of Mr Basu’s tenure. It is a long and dark shadow since Mr Basu was not a great success as a chief minister. He held the post for 23 years but this is no measure of his success as an administrator. It is an index of his political acumen. Length of tenure does not necessarily indicate efficiency and competence. In India, length of tenure can reflect a lot of things: in West Bengal, it was a result of the unity of the Left Front which Mr Basu preserved with great political skill. Mr Bhattacharya faces the challenge of reversing these priorities. He needs to reassert the precedence of policy and administration over the exigencies of politics. This may not bring to Mr Bhattacharya the image that Mr Basu enjoyed, but he may have the satisfaction of serving the people better.

To meet this challenge with any degree of assurance, Mr Bhattacharya needs to be his own master. This he is not. He has to reckon with orders from his party headquarters in Alimuddin Street, the claims of the various constituents of the Left Front and the intangible demands emanating from Mr Basu’s legacy. Moreover, Mr Bhattacharya, because he is such a loyal party man, may not have the political and ideological inclination to take on the challenge. He will prefer and may be forced to prefer to stay on the grooves made by Mr Basu. This is a pity since on at least one front, Mr Bhattacharya has already earned some goodwill. Most industrialists in Calcutta are not unhappy over his appointment. Mr Bhattacharya will thus initially have their support. He should take care not to squander this goodwill. He should take even greater care not to appear as a culture vulture chief minister. This is an important warning as he has a penchant for matters cultural. Witness his unwillingness to give up his information and culture portfolio. As chief minister, he cannot afford to be too preoccupied with issues like the correct name of Calcutta. There are enough cultural icons in West Bengal to provide inspiration. But there are no political leaders who inspire the confidence that under him or her the state will be well governed. The people of West Bengal have put their hope, against their hope, on Mr Bhattacharya.    

The tussle between ideology and pragmatics is beginning to pull towards pragmatics quite markedly. There is no ambiguity about the statement of the Bharatiya Janata Party president, Mr Bangaru Laxman, that the Congress was welcome to join the Trinamool Congress-Bharatiya Janata Party combine in West Bengal in order to defeat the Left Front in the coming assembly elections. This is not the first time the idea of the mahajot has been mooted. There was quite a lot of heartburn over the question earlier, when Mr A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury was chief of the West Bengal Congress. The state Congress was quickly divided between the pro-mahajot and anti-mahajot lobbyists. The latter won. At the time, the all India Congress committee president, Ms Sonia Gandhi, had made clear that any alliance with the BJP, even at a state level, would be bound to damage the Congress’s fortunes elsewhere. Yet a mahajot of this kind seemed to be the logical and politically canny thing to create then. The Congress desperately needed to lose its tag of B-team of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and consolidate the gains it had made in the local polls. Time has shown, though, that the high command’s decision was not too unwise. The voters have their own ideas. The large Muslim electorate in West Bengal would in all likelihood have turned firmly away from the Congress if it stretched its hand towards saffron. Ms Mamata Banerjee still has not been able to overcome the loss of her Muslim voters since she cosied up to the BJP. A mahajot might have worked to the Left Front’s advantage.

The pros and cons would not be unknown to the BJP. But Mr Laxman’s invitation is clearly pegged on different circumstances, those which might be favourable to a certain amount of risk-taking. Mr Jyoti Basu has retired, leaving the Left Front with its Achilles’ heel the wrong side up. Ms Banerjee is making noises critical of the BJP, and making quite clear that defeating the Left Front is her primary aim. She might think up ways of doing so without the BJP. A mahajot could get both birds at a shot. But this little mahajot fable is also a symptom of a broad countrywide trend. The nature of politics in India is changing. The tricolour or the saffron or the red no longer represents the colours of ideology. The gradual victory of pragmatics is becoming more likely as the BJP begins to lighten its saffron. Should this happen, there would be very little difference between the Congress and the BJP in policy or governance. Conciliation rather than conflict might become the most fruitful approach as the electoral appeal of the two national parties begin to converge and the two come to share approximately the same game arena.    

If the vice-president of the United States, Al Gore, scrapes through to the White House on Tuesday in the most closely fought US presidential election in 40 years, it will be a historic hat-trick for President Bill Clinton. It is an acknowledgement of Clinton’s undisputed ability to win a third term as president — if only it was permitted by law — that in the final week of the presidential campaign, Democrats lined up at the White House pleading with the president over Gore’s objections to rescue the party’s ticket.

The writer of this article was in an American home the last time Clinton spoke at a national event which was covered live by every major television network and radio station in the US: his farewell speech to the Democratic Party’s national convention in Los Angeles in August.

My hosts were in their garden, entertaining guests who were savouring the pleasures of a late summer evening. Their nine year old son burst into the garden telling his dad that there was something on TV which he should not miss. We all trooped into the living room to find that the son had been watching Clinton’s address to the party convention. All of us remained in the living room, glued to the TV sets for a whole hour as the president held the nation in thrall.

An opinion poll taken the following day showed that Clinton’s approval rating was 63 per cent. No wonder Al Gore insisted that Bill and Hillary Clinton should leave Los Angeles soon after the speech lest the pre-election convention became a Clinton show instead of an occasion for endorsing Gore. The only time Gore was significantly ahead of his Republican rival and the governor of Texas, George Bush, throughout this campaign was during the week following that Clinton speech endorsing his successor to the party faithful in Los Angeles.

If anyone had doubts whether Clinton’s marriage to Hillary would survive Monica Lewinsky, Kathleen Willey, Paula Jones, Gennifer Flowers, Juanita Broaddrick and whoever else, these should have been put to rest by the best birthday gift the First Lady could have hoped for from her husband last month.

The president took time off the bruising budget battle he is now having with the Republican-controlled Congress in Washington and travelled to New York to attend a birthday party on October 25, actually Hillary’s birthday-eve. The party netted two million dollars for Hillary’s campaign: 200 guests paid $ 10,000 each to watch the actors, Robert de Niro, Tom Cruise, Cameron Diaz, and the performers, Cher and Al Green, poke fun at American politicians. The president was the keynote speaker that night. The following day he campaigned for his wife in upstate New York. Is there anything that a politician seeks more than power? By that yardstick, a valuable insight provided by this election campaign is that Hillary will remain married to Clinton in her eventual quest of the US presidency.

Except on Long Island — which Hillary’s Republican rival, Rick Lazio, has represented in the House of Representatives — this writer is yet to meet anyone in New York state who will vote for Lazio because they want the congressman to speak for them in the senate.

People are voting for Hillary because they adore her or because they are Democrats. Most of those who will vote for Lazio on Tuesday will do so because they hate the First Lady. If one politician is acutely missed in the US election 2000, it is Newt Gingrich, the portly, crusading Republican speaker of the house of representatives who was the bête noire of the Clinton White House for at least four of its eight years in the saddle. No one is talking any more about Gingrich’s “Contract with America” which gave the Republicans a majority in the house of representatives in 1994 for the first time in 40 years.

Gingrich was the most powerful house speaker in half a century and a very likely future president at the height of his popularity. In his megalomania, Gingrich forced a shut down of the US government in 1995 over budget disputes with the White House and pressed ahead with an ultra-conservative Republican agenda on abortion, gay rights, religious prayer in schools and so on.

It was Gingrich who took the politically fatal decision to release the 453-page Ken Starr report on Clinton’s sexual indiscretions with Monica Lewinsky. Instead of turning the American people against the president, it fuelled popular disgust against Starr and Gingrich.

Gingrich’s gravest miscalculation was that Americans would approve of the impeachment of the president by the Republican majority house. He forgot that when people living in glass houses threw stones, they ran the risk of retaliation. The White House hit back, exposing the speaker’s illicit sex with a congressional aide, Callista Bisek.

That he eventually married Bisek did little to restore Gingrich’s aura because he was already married when he was having the affair with Bisek. Meanwhile, in the house, Democrats initiated an ethics case against Gingrich, charging him with false testimony. He was reprimanded and fined $ 300,000. Gone forever was the halo of the crusader who once had the temerity to say about America: “People like me are what stand between us and Auschwitz.” The poor showing by Republicans in the 1998 congressional elections put an end to a promising political career. Gingrich was devoured by the conservative revolution he hoped to lead. Both Gore and Bush have learned from that valuable experience. If Bush is elected, Washington will veer to the right on a host of issues from abortion and gun control to missile defence and China, but not as sharply as to cause the kind of alarm that Gingrich set off among his compatriots. A Gore victory, on the other hand, will mean a centre government, slightly leaning to the left of centre.

In the final analysis, this election is all about retaining the centre by being just right of centre as in the case of Bush or tilting a little to the left as in Gore’s case. It is a tight-rope walk which enabled Clinton to win reelection in 1996 and retain approval ratings of 60 per cent or more for much of his eight years in office. Whether they vote Bush or Gore on Tuesday to the White House, the Americans will be voting for status quo as they see it.

The World Wide Web has played a bigger role in this election than in any previous ones in the US: so much so Gore’s contribution in developing the internet is being advertised extensively by the Democrats. Bush has sought to underplay Gore’s advantage by joking that the www. in the World Wide Web stands for his middle initial. “Not one ‘W’, but three”, he tells audiences. One website which has been a massive draw has been put together by comedians. Hundreds of thousands of Americans have logged on to this site to sign a petition urging a third White House term for Clinton so that comedians, who had ready fodder for their TV shows in the president’s escapades, could stay in business.

Like the internet and the 24 hour news channels, late night comedy shows have had unprecedented influence on this week’s election. Having got used to eight years of Clinton jokes, these shows have become the primary source of political news for millions of voters.

If Gore does, indeed, make it to the White House, it will be, in part, because on almost all these late night shows, Bush has been portrayed as stupid and incompetent, while his Democratic rival has got away by being just “stiff”.

A typical example is that of one talk show host asking his audience: “Bush promises to spend an additional $ 13 billion on education. OK, George, that covers you. Now what about the rest of the country?” Or another with reference to the extensive use of death penalty in Texas, where Bush is governor. The show’s host is defending the Republican nominee against charges of laziness. “He is not lazy, he executed two prisoners today”.

The American voters have come a long way since the 1992 election when no comedian would touch the story of Clinton sanctioning the execution of a mentally deficient prisoner in his native Arkansas.    

Reports of massacres and violence in Bihar no longer create shock waves if only for their regularity. The killing of 13 people including 11 Yadavs on October 14 and the retaliatory murder of five Muslims on October 16 in the Siwan district of Bihar do not look good for Laloo Prasad Yadav and his Rashtriya Janata Dal for quite different reasons.

The violent conflict between Laloo Yadav’s caste men and followers of his party’s member of Parliament, Shahabuddin, threatens to disrupt the Muslim-Yadav alliance that Laloo has built over the years but also disturbs communal peace in the state. Although the recent spate of killings in violence-prone Siwan has been described as a gang war for the control of landed property, the Bihar police is reluctant to implicate Shahabuddin.

For both the Mujahidpur carnage of Yadavs as well as the revenge killing of Muslims in Tahira village, first information reports have been filed against “unknown persons”. Sensing an impending crisis for the RJD government in Bihar, dependent as it is on the Yadav-Muslim vote bank, Laloo Yadav rushed to Siwan to console the families of the victims and to ensure prompt action against the culprits. The Bharatiya Janata Party and the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist), the two other influential political forces in the district, however, blame Shahabuddin’s men for the massacre. Both the BJP and the CPI(ML) separately organized a bandh to protest against the alleged terror tactics of the RJD MP.

Massacre campaign

The situation in Siwan continued to remain tense after the massacre and the district administration, anticipating communal violence, clamped curfew in the affected regions in order to avoid any untoward incident.The Central Reserve Police Force and the Rapid Action Force to assist the local police in maintaining law and order. Political observers feel that the Siwan carnages are the result of gang rivalry between Satish Pandey, a Samata Party strongman with criminal antecedents, and Shahabuddin, over 200 acres of land belonging to the Dhanauti math.

Both the supporters of Pandey and those of Shahabuddin were killed. The Siwan district magistrate, Rashid Ahmed Khan, affirms that Pandey is the leader of one gang but stops short of naming the RJD MP as the leader of the other.

In fact, no one in Mujahidpur is willing to publicly name Shahabuddin for the massacre. Till now, Siwan has remained a virtual fiefdom of Shahabuddin. But the rival Pandey gang backed by the BJP-Samata combine has now dared to challenge his hegemony over the district thus inviting trouble.

Terror regime

Being an important leader of the ruling party, Shahabuddin enjoys the backing of the administration. Now that the Yadav-Muslim conflict is threatening to jeopardize Laloo’s traditional base, the RJD chief will have to discipline the Siwan MP to protect the party’s vote bank. However, that is easier said than done since Shahabuddin has a large band of lieutenants ready to do his dirty jobs.

According to a government official, even Indian police officers in the district do not feel safe. Though Shahabuddin has been accused in a number of murder cases, he has not been convicted so far by any court of law. Moreover, he remains a source of power for Laloo Yadav and enjoys the latter’s patronage despite the public outrage against him. It is now time for Yadav to rethink his relationship with the notorious RJD MP because of the threat to his Muslim-Yadav bank.

The present state of massacres and counter-massacres in Siwan also pose a danger to the fragile state of communal harmony in Bihar. Under RJD rule, Bihar has remained free from communal violence owing to solidarity between the scheduled caste, other backward classes and Muslim communities under Laloo Yadav’s stewardship. But strains are beginning to show in the secular front as was evident in the clashes between the majority and minority communities over the construction of a temple on a disputed site.

Not surprisingly, the RJD minister from Siwan, Awadh Bihari Chaudhury, has hinted at a sinister conspiracy to create communal disturbance in the state. However, his words lack conviction. Peace will come to Siwan only when both Shahabuddin and Satish Pandey are behind bars.    

With the United States presidential elections on, I am reminded again that this is a weird country that I live in. As a global superpower and as the minder of the whole world’s business, I would have expected the contending parties to have less easily predictable views on so many matters to do with foreign and domestic policy. Instead, it appears that I need to know the views of the candidates (or for that matter, their parties or the population in general) on just one matter to be able to foretell their views on virtually everything else.

This all-defining matter is that of abortion, a subject in which as a demographer I have always had great interest. But my professional interest in abortion is born from a concern about the ways in which it impinges on women’s reproductive health. I never felt ready to judge a person’s overall morality or politics by his or her attitude to abortion.

It is completely different here. An outsider (of any religious persuasion) is bound to be very puzzled by the way in which an American’s attitude to abortion is repeatedly used as a marker of so many other things about him — his national politics, his feminism, his religiosity, his very morality.

And so the televised debates between the presidential candidates always include some questions on abortion. That these are not merely idle questions is clear from the way other interest groups get into the act. Last week, the New York Times carried a full page advertisement signed by various Catholics and Catholic groups, detailing their position on a range of issues including abortion, on which they declared that they had a multiplicity of opinions. This position on abortion was buried supposedly innocuously somewhere in the middle of the entire statement, but of course it was the meat of the matter.

This was apparent from another advertisement (the appearance of both ads on the same day suggests that inter-group espionage is alive and kicking), from another group of Catholics. This second advertisement completely ignored the first one’s remarks on all issues but abortion and claimed that the true Catholic stand on abortion could be nothing but negative. Both these advertisements were clearly aimed at influencing voters’ choices — the first one pushing for Al Gore and the second supporting George Bush.

Television channels too have advertisements on prime time endorsing or opposing the candidates’ views on abortion and implying that the voters’ final decisions must depend on these views. This time around, the political debate on abortion has also become charged by the recent clearance given by the Food and Drug Administration to RU486, a non-surgical drug to induce abortion, which has been used in many other parts of the world for years, but which the pro-life lobby in the United States succeeded in blocking until now.

Gore and Bush have had to publicly state their positions on this supposed impertinence by the FDA. Bush, in particular, has been caught in something of a bind trying to show his respect for the FDA as a neutral scientific agency and at the same time not being able to clearly assert that he will also respect this FDA ruling if he becomes president.

I also find it interesting that the US debate on abortion relies heavily on semantics as a political and moral tool. There is a strong moral underpinning to the terms — pro-choice and pro-life — used by those for and against legal abortion to define themselves. In more recent times, the graphic phrase “partial-birth abortions” was snapped up by the anti-abortionists as eagerly as the pro-choicers are now using the advent of RU486 to emphasize its non-surgical ability to “terminate a pregnancy” (not “cause an abortion”) painlessly and privately. To a pill-popping nation like the US, this representation of mifepristone as needing little more than a glass of water is likely to be more effective in legitimizing its presence than any technical chronicling of its benefits and side effects.

These debates are far from being purely domestic matters. They colour US foreign policy in so many ways. United States payment of dues to the United Nations gets tied up with the abortion policies of the UN population fund. Aid from the US Agency for International Development to overseas family planning programmes and non-governmental organizations gets blocked if these programmes or agencies use their own independent funds to provide abortion or even influence abortion policy. The senate has just agreed to clear this last hurdle to foreign aid but with the proviso that the clearance will come into effect in February 2001, thus allowing a possible Republican president to again reverse the decision.

But abortion is not such a central issue in the rest of the world and the US is mistaken in blindly applying its own definitions of right and morality to its dealings with other nations. For example, in the outside world, when societies condone abortion, it does not mean that they are necessarily pro-choice any more than those who condemn it are pro-life.

The communist east European regimes that denied contraception to their populations while strongly endorsing medical abortions, the Chinese population policies that pressurize women with more than one or two births to abort, the unique kind of Indian patriarchy in which female foetuses are routinely aborted, are all stark examples of the great restrictions on “choice” that can still underlie liberal access to abortion.

On the other hand, the diverse women’s groups, governments, and societies, which treat abortion as acceptable under certain conditions, are hardly all crusaders of the right to take another life.

In fact these individuals and groups often belong to very humane traditions that in principle, even if not in practice, are committed to a live and let live policy. Indeed, as the Catholics for Free Choice organization has repeatedly pointed out, the anomaly is much stronger in the staunch anti-abortionists: this group is rarely pacifist in its loyalty to its own principles, and is often quite supportive of the taking of lives for all kinds of nationalistic, militaristic or ideological reasons.

The absence of a dichotomy does not, however, mean that other cultures do not have their own abortion ethics, as those who take the moral high ground on abortion in the US would have us believe. The abortion decision is never easy, even in cultures that have a relatively positive attitude to abortion. Not surprisingly, semantics again comes to the rescue in subverting the doubts — personal, religious, social and political — that invariably precede a decision to abort.

Most of the weapons of subversion exploit the uncertainties that can surround the distinctions between a pregnancy, a life and a “soul”. Thus, in many African cultures, a delayed period is just that — a delayed period, signifying, if anything, other health problems which may in fact later prevent a much wanted pregnancy.

Taking herbs or other mechanical measures to restore healthy menstrual flow is thus merely maintaining reproductive health. Even if the missed menstrual period is equated with a pregnancy, measures to restart menstruation are only putting the pregnancy “to sleep”, to be awakened at a more fortuitous time.

Multiple interpretations of religious prescriptions are also widely evoked. The Catholic church itself has historically had changing views about the time of ensoulment. Buddhism exists in two major forms — the restrictive Theravada or southern branch which still influences abortion policy in countries like Sri Lanka and the relatively liberal Mahayana or northern form which exists in Korea or Japan.

Hinduism, of course, has always meant different things to different people and thus there is no contradiction in having a currently Hindu nationalist government in India, which nevertheless has not tried to change India’s liberal abortion policy.

Four of the five schools of Islamic jurisprudence do not outrightly prohibit abortion before ensoulment. Moreover, there is not complete agreement on when ensoulment occurs. The leeway that this ambiguity provides has been strengthened by developments in medical technology. Bangladesh, for example, uses the technique of what is called “menstrual regulation” (or, even more neutrally, MR), to restore menses that are not more than a few weeks late.

When the law makes even these forms of subversion difficult, other mechanisms arise to meet the virtually inevitable endemic need for some abortion in all societies. Either the state does not prosecute even when it knows that illegal abortions are rampant (Mexico), or private practitioners come up with good quality services (Sri Lanka), or inventive local hawkers sell “tonics” which they warn women not to take if they are pregnant since they might then miscarry (Ghana).

In other words, most cultures are very conscious of the conflicting emotions that the abortion decision can arouse and have therefore developed a number of rationales to lessen the pain of the decision.

At the same time, the use of these moral loopholes does not mean that they are merely arguments to justify otherwise sinful or unworthy behaviour — several non-Catholic cultures genuinely do not contain any explicit injunctions against abortion as such.

The US public debate must incorporate more of some of these non-US moral positions on abortion. This is necessary to place abortion in a more realistic and less central perspective within the US itself. But it is also necessary in a unipolar world in which the US dictates the policy of other countries through both money and muscle power.

Otherwise we stand to lose much of the progress made on women’s reproductive rights since the Cairo conference. And a restriction of resources for family planning programmes that do not prohibit abortion can only end up being counter-productive because the additional unwanted pregnancies that will result will often end up at an abortionist’s.    


Don’t stop press

n Sir — Sunanda K. Datta-Ray has judiciously defended the case for foreign newspapers being published in India (“Fear is the key”, Oct 28). Editors, academics, journalists and other members of the intelligentsia should come forward now and demand the same from the Centre. Indian readers should be given the opportunity to read the Times Literary Supplement, New York Times and so on. At the moment, foreign newspapers and journals are prohibitively priced here. This regime of protectionism in the fourth estate should be abolished. English, as a language, is no longer foreign to us. The question of sovereignty being threatened is a bizarre theory being touted by the Centre in order to camouflage its archaic policies. The freedom of the press should not be limited by national boundaries. We talk about globalization or the information age with alacrity. But when it comes to policy formulation, we are far behind in ushering in widespread dissemination of information.
Yours faithfully,
K.R. Venkatasubramanian, Calcutta

Look back in autumn

Sir — The editorial, “Exit without a flourish” (Nov 5), on Jyoti Basu’s performance as chief minister is right on many counts. West Bengal was a leading industrial state in the Sixties but now, mainly owing to the wrong policies of the former chief minister, it is not even among the top 10 states in India.

The government in the Sixties was free from corruption. During its regime people could approach the top officers for redressal of grievances. Such a situation is no longer conceivable.

Land reforms, about which Basu and his party boast no end, has benefitted only the party cadre. There is no semblance of the rule of law in rural Bengal.

Basu has probably read the writing on the wall. That would explain why he has beaten a hasty retreat from the chief minister’s post just before the assembly elections in the state.

Yours faithfully,
S. Ramakrishnan, Calcutta

Sir — The West Bengal public works department minister, Kshiti Goswami, has displayed how far the Left Front has drifted from communist philosophy by demanding that Jyoti Basu’s chair in the Writers’ Buildings be preserved in a museum. In saying this, Goswami has placed a person above the party and the government. In this context, one can remember that at the height of sycophancy during Indira Gandhi’s prime ministership, Deb Kanta Barua issued the statement, “Indira is India and India is Indira.” If any chair in the state deserves to be preserved, then it is the one that belonged to Bidhan Chandra Roy, the first chief minister of the state.

Yours faithfully,
C.R. Bhattacharjee, Calcutta

Sir — The formal exit of Jyoti Basu from the Writers’ Buildings did not come as a surprise since the possibility was there ever since Basu expressed his desire to quit on the pretext of ill-health. There is no denying that West Bengal has moved from bad to worse in the fields of education, employment, primary health, irrigation, transport, law and order, trade and commerce during the last 23 years, and other states have left it far behind. The annual foreign trips undertaken by Basu ostensibly to attract foreign investment have not borne fruit either.

The recent Lok Sabha byelections in the state and the civic polls have revealed the growing unpopularity of the Left Front in the state it has ruled for the longest period. As Bidhan Chandra Roy is remembered as the pioneer of a modern, resurgent West Bengal, Basu will be remembered as the one who turned that resurgent state into a failing one. In fact, things have come to such a sorry pass that no matter how competent the new chief minister, Buddhadev Bhattacharya, is, it will be difficult for him to bring about any major change. Hence the change of guard in the chief minister’s chair is just another event in the state’s political calendar.

Yours faithfully,
Sasanka Sekhar Adhikary, Uttarpara

Sir — As the editorial, “Stepping into reality” (Oct 29), points out, Jyoti Basu’s admirers will hold that he should have left “before he appeared as a tired old man who was an object of pity and at times, ridicule”. But an analysis of his life will reveal that he was never a true communist wedded to the ideals of Das Capital. He was rather an aristocrat who turned communist under the influence of the likes of Rajani Palme Dutt, Harry Polit and others in England. Throughout his political career, he has said one thing and done just the opposite. This is what has resulted to Basu being called an “enigmatic” leader.

Yours faithfully,
Govinda Bakshi, Budge Budge

Sir — Jyoti Basu has reason to be pleased about the fact that he has held the position of chief minister of a state for the longest period in the history of India despite the decline of communism the world over. It was to his credit that he held four parties together in the Left Front. His popularity in the rural areas was created by the implementation of the Land Ceiling Act and the holding of regular elections at the panchayat level. There has also been less communal tension in West Bengal than in other parts of India. This consolidated Basu’s popularity.

On the other hand, industrial development has been slack in West Bengal during the 23 years that Basu has been chief minister. Half of the 60 odd jute mills in the state are closed. The Durgapur industrial belt is in a shambles. Small and medium engineering factories in Howrah, Hooghly and North and South 24 Parganas are things of the past. The situation is similar in the state public sector units. As a result, unemployment has grown by leaps and bounds. This failure in the industrial field is the outcome of a poor work culture generated by the communist philosophy of treating industrialists as the bête noire of the proletariat. Basu cannot exonerate himself from the blame of letting the state come to such a pass.

Yours faithfully, Manoranjan Das, Jamshedpur

Sir — Jyoti Basu left his office at the Writers’ Buildings on November 3, 2000, for ever. The goods and evils of his tenure as chief minister of West Bengal will be widely debated in the coming days. The industrial backwardness of the state will be counted a major drawback. The business environment of the state still scares off industrialists. But the work in land reform, maintenance of harmony between castes, cultures and religions are some of the achievements for which Basu will be remembered.

Yours faithfully,
Ashoke Kumar Bothra, Joteshibrampur

When the floods came

Sir — The devastating floods of August 2000 had washed away most of the villages under the Badkulla gram panchayats in the Nadia district of West Bengal. Thousands of people were rendered homeless and their belongings were destroyed. They had to take shelter in the Badkulla bazar and on railway platforms. Since Badkulla became inaccessible either by railways or by road, no relief could reach the affected areas.

Under these circumstances the local clubs came forward spontaneously and tried to feed as many mouths as possible. One wonders what will happen to these people. Will the state government take responsibility for these people and help them get their lives back on track?

Yours faithfully,
Joydeb Choudhury, Badkulla

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