Editorial 1 / Bring it home
Editorial 2 / Cut out for glory
Courting animosities
Fifth Column/ Dream of a third front yet again
The big fight, or elections Congress style
A curious jumble of godman and activist
Letters to the editor

Economic reforms proceed in fits and starts, more fits than starts. Last week, there have been two starts. The new textile policy has dereserved textiles and garments and direct to home television has been thrown open to private players. In the initial formulation of DTH, there was a provision that DTH would be the exclusive monopoly of Doordarshan for five years. This clause has been dropped, so there is genuine opening up. But what does opening up mean? Consumers can opt for DTH and be offered better quality and 100 channels. They will also no longer be at the mercy of cable operators who act as local monopolies. But for this privilege, consumers will have to pay start-up costs of Rs 25,000 and monthly charges of Rs 600. This is against present cable charges of Rs 200 a month. Consumers may still be tempted to switch, because of the way the present cable system operates. However, this is the way the cable system operates today and is unlikely to be the way the cable system operates tomorrow. With fibre optic cables and digitization, convergence is on the cards. In fact, the government itself has been pushing for a convergence bill. This means that through cable, one will soon have access to 200 television channels and the internet, without any significant increase in consumer costs. Of the 30 million cable TV households, how many will be tempted to switch to DTH under these circumstances?

In many of these infrastructure sectors, the government has a dual role to play. First, it must protect interests of consumers by ensuring that there are a sufficient number of players, so that monopolist providers do not take consumers for a ride. Secondly, it must ensure that the market develops. While the opening up of DTH is welcome in principle, the conditions the government has set seems to suggest that neither of these conditions will be satisfied. A prospective DTH service provider will have to pay Rs 10 crore as entry fee, Rs 40 crore as bank guarantee and 10 per cent of his annual earnings to the government. In addition, there will be costs of earth stations and decoding boxes. There will thus be very few players, so that consumers will not have the requisite choice. The market won’t develop, since volumes generated won’t be sufficient. Those who bid for DTH licences, will subsequently complain. Surely, the government should have thought things through better. After all, it should have benefitted from earlier experience. For example, frequency modulation channels were auctioned one year ago and the government expected licence fees of Rs 450 crore. Only Rs 150 crore has come in and disputes are going on about the terms of the contract. The initial experience with telecommunications liberalization was no different.

In a completely new sector, entrants often tend to over-estimate demand and are subsequently unable to adhere to initial commitments. Revenue considerations should have been the last thing on the government’s mind. Instead, the focus ought to have been on developing the market, since this also serves interests of consumers better. Stated differently, lower thresholds and entry-level costs would have ensured more players and this would have been the sensible course of action to adopt. Admitted, technological advances can significantly lower start-up costs. But there is nothing imminent in technology that will bring down costs of decoding boxes to much below Rs 25,000. Nor are monthly rentals likely to drop much below Rs 600. De jure, there is an impression that competition is being created. De facto, nothing much will happen.    

A genuine distaste for fuss, brusquely expressed. This may have been the hallmark of Mr Jyoti Basu’s public persona. But this was neither the spirit nor the aesthetic determining the public farewell for West Bengal’s former chief minister. The organized — and disorganized — pomp of the valedictory journey from his residence to the Netaji Indoor Stadium, via the Raj Bhavan, could only bring to mind a royal progress, the excesses of which were anticipated by the riot of emotions lavished on his vacated chair in the Writers’ Buildings. That the evidently proud master of these ceremonies was one of his comrades, the transport minister, is also wonderfully ironic. The entire show seemed to undermine — embarrassingly and perhaps a trifle comically — Mr Basu’s claim, at the felicitation, that “an individual like me is not important”. Yet what Mr Basu goes on to say after this brings out the paradox of the Marxist leader’s predicament vis-à-vis individualism. Mr Basu wishes to be remembered as “the icon” of the “toiling and struggling people”.

There was, indeed, much toiling and struggling for the people on this occasion. Apart from the disruption of public life in the city because of his progress, the stampede and mismanagement at the gates of the venue of his felicitation had resulted in a number of injuries, from which even veteran politicians have not been spared. Moreover, Mr Basu’s self-image as an icon was given concrete form in a gigantic cutout, placed near the statue of Subhas Chandra Bose. The caption underneath this, in giant lettering, quoted Rabindranath Tagore’s lines celebrating the catastrophic arrival of a divinity. Rubbing shoulders with Bose and Tagore, Mr Basu’s towering image seemed to proclaim his entry into a pantheon of icons. As the beating of drums and the blowing of conchshells at the start of his journey attest, this pantheon continues to be worshipped, in communist Bengal, with a zeal that combines tacky sentimentality, disruptive populism and feudal reverence.    

The feeling of enchantment has soared to ecstasy. We have entered into a very special relationship with the United States administration; President Bill Clinton’s Happy Diwali greetings are resounding proof of that. The heartbeat of the US is our heartbeat; our heartbeat, goes the assumption, is theirs too.

With such as the credo and belief of our current rulers, certain things become easy to understand. France has raised its banner of revolt against the continued US policy of imposing severe trade restrictions on Iraq and the diktat that those who want to curry American favour must follow suit. The people of Iraq have been victims of indescribable suffering for one full decade. Now resentment is accumulating against this unfair regimen.

Apart from France’s prime minister, the Venezuelan president has also cocked a snook at the US administration; with tremendous flourish, he flew into Baghdad to participate in a ticker-tape reception and announce his solidarity with the cause of the Iraqis. India, the proud sponsor and main inspiration of the non-aligned movement some decades ago, has, in contrast, kept mum. The erstwhile United Front government risked American ire to show at least a gesture of camaraderie toward Iraq. That is distant history. The Bharatiya Janata Party-led government obviously considers outrageous a repetition of that kind of folly. Out, out, brief candle. Since the ongoing motto is to do as the Americans do, this change of stance was only to be expected.

Is there, though, something a bit more in what constitutes current Indian foreign policy? Please take into account the latest episode of gruesome aggression by Israel against Palestinians along the entire stretch of West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Public opinion in Asia, Africa and Latin America has been incensed no end by reports on the nature of atrocities that are being perpetrated, so much so that the United Nations human rights commission has been forced to have a discussion on the issue. Even more significantly, the UN gen- eral assembly has passed a resolution condemning Israel and drawing the attention of the world to the barba- rity unleashed against the people of Palestine.

Most of our neighbouring countries have been forthright in their support of the Palestinians. Sympathy has flowed in generous proportion for the afflicted people. The government of India has however been extraordinarily mute in the matter; silence is golden, or so it has been concluded. Even that stooge of stooges, the government of Saudi Arabia, has issued a communiqué not only lambasting Israel for its attacks but also severely criticizing the US administration itself for its covert support to Tel Aviv. That too has not shamed us into committing indiscretion. We have continued to be demure. No disapproval of Israel has been voiced by New Delhi; admonishing the US is of course an undreamt-of proposition.

This is where a doubt sneaks in. Is it merely an endeavour to establish ourselves as the loyalest of American lackeys, or is there a more basic consideration at work? Can it be that the Hindutva psychosis has infiltrated into the arena of foreign policy too? We will in any circumstances be on the right side of the Americans, but perhaps the demonstration of subservience to American policy is also being further invigorated by a decision to combine it with hatred of believers in Islamic tenets, which are regarded as a sworn adversary of Hindutva. We will not in any case lift even a little finger in sympathy with the Iraqi cause; for that nation is infested by Muslims.

A similar point of view on the Israel-Palestine imbroglio: forget the valour of the struggling Palestinian people, spanning more than half a century, in defence of their right to stay as sovereign entities in their own land. They deserve to be despatched to their fate, for they are heathens par excellence, and never mind whether the instrumentality for their execution be Israel or the US. Not that either the Christians or the Jews are our particular friends; we will deal with them in due course. But, for the present, the strategy of Hindutva, as it guides our external affairs, is to treat the enemy of our enemy as our chum; team up with the Americans and the Israelis to give a bloody nose to wherever those owing allegiance to Islam are concentrated. There are umpteen other reasons for loving the Americans, this is however a very special one.

The US is a superpower, in fact, the only superpower left on earth. The Americans will therefore be able to take care of themselves even if, for argument’s sake, the rest of the world turns against them. Should we, however, not be prepared to calculate where our long-term interests lie? Hindutva may be by axiom über alles; does that automatically imply that we must court the animosity of certain countries? Such an attitude, and practice based on this attitude, can have awesome consequences. Just look across our borders.

Even apart from Pakistan we have, within the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation combine, such Muslim-dominated nations as Bangladesh and Maldive islands. Along the southeast Asia region, Malaysia and Indonesia too are predominately Muslim nations. And how can we ignore west Asia and north Africa, that vast continuous stretch of one Arab country after another, not only oil-rich but equally proud of their Islamic heritage.

A species of insanity is seemingly abroad, with some fundamentalists assuming that revolutionizing domestic policy is not enough, the imprimatur of Hindutva must be impressed on India’s foreign policy as well. We are not well disposed towards China. If, on top of that, we actively cultivate unfriendliness with most of the countries that either surround us or are reasonably proximate to us, there could be a grave question mark over our ability to survive in a globalized economic system.

True, much of what has just been stated above may not yet have permeated into the corpus of the country’s overall policy. In some sphere, though, image matters as much as substance. If the impression spreads that Hindutva is the motive force driving the New Delhi regime’s urges and activities, India would increasingly be alienated from a significant number of countries. To cite an instance, the excessive complaints by BJP camp-followers about alleged infiltration from Bangladesh have been mainly responsible for stoking the indignation of large sections in that country against India. This was altogether avoidable.

Perhaps the BJP has still a few sensible elements left in its fold who perceive the enormity of the danger the country faces from its more sectarian agenda and would do something about it. The party received less than 25 per cent of the votes cast in the last Lok Sabha elections. It does not by any means have the mandate from the Indian electorate to do a drastic re-ordering of the country’s foreign policy, effecting a permanent damage to long range national interests. The party has to rein itself in.

If this does not happen soon, the rest of the political parties owe it to the nation to come together on the issue. The protestations of the newly installed president of the BJP have a hollow ring; the party’s cohorts are behaving in a manner which belies his supposedly filial ardour for the minority communities. To repeat, if foreign policy is to be built in the image of the party’s domestic policy, it is going to be darkness at noon.

The Hindutva enthusiasts have not only alienated quite a few Islamic nations; they have gone some way to mess up our relations with the country described as the only Hindu kingdom in the world as well. Nepal has a Hindu king, but the Viswa Hindu Parishad’s zeal to regard the people of that country as part of the vishal Hindu fraternity has caused widespread anger there. The BJP has to, or has to be made to, pipe down, as much for the sake of the nation as for its own sake.    

The plea made by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in its national conference at Thiruvananthapuram for the creation of a third front is not new. The only element of surprise is that a few months ago, its veteran leader, Jyoti Basu, had disclaimed such a possibility. Little more than a year ago, the party was determined to put the Congress president, Sonia Gandhi, in the office of prime minister. This action led to the eventual disintegration of the third front.

This happened because all those to whom the Congress was anathema were disillusioned and started dissociating themselves from the front and some of them chose to become a part of the National Democratic Alliance. Meanwhile, the Samajwadi Party and the CPI(M) had got estranged from each other over this issue, although both continued to oppose the NDA coalition government. It is therefore comforting for the votaries of the third front that whatever closeness there existed between the CPI(M) and the Congress has now vanished.

Leaders from several parties were present in Thiruvananthapuram, ostensibly to discuss Centre-state relations. Many of these leaders displayed their close association with one another and the host party. These leaders included the presidents of the Rashtriya Janata Dal, the Asom Gana Parishad and the Janata Dal (Secular). The general secretary of the Communist Party of India was also present.

The right mix

The proposed third front can become a reality only if, along with those present on this occasion, the leaders of the Samajwadi Party, the Nationalist Congress Party, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the Trinamool Congress also participate in it. Whether they were also invited to the conclave is not known.

The Thiruvananthapuram conference of the CPI(M) discussed the role of the Congress in detail. But, it rejected the Congress’s candidature in the proposed front because of its economic policies. But what was no less important was the fact that doubts were expressed about its total commitment to secularism. The importance of this assessment lies in the reasoning that the leading party in the NDA, the Bharatiya Janata Party, has continued to raise communal issues, either on its own, or through its ideological fraternity.

These attempts have been denounced by all secularists throughout the country. This was the reason why the CPI(M) and the Samajwadi Party at one time came closer to the Congress. But, the Congress’s inaction at the time of the demolition of the Babri masjid remains fresh in the minds of many secular parties. Now, on this issue as well, the CPI(M) has reformulated its position and taken a stand against the Congress. Therefore, there will now be greater clarity and cohesion in the newly proposed front, especially owing to the unanimity of opinion against the Congress. Therefore, the involvement of the Samajwadi Party is now more a possibility than before.

Test of secularism

The main electoral test of the unity of the secular forces will come about in Uttar Pradesh, the bastion of the Samajwadi Party. The ideal development will be a pact between the Samajwadi party and the Bahujan Samaj Party. But this is unlikely. The second best option would be that other constituents and leaders also collaborate. Some of these could be from the Janata Dal, of which the Samajwadi Party was also a constituent.

There is no gainsaying that the party president, Mulayam Singh Yadav, should take the lead in galvanizing these forces. The major issue that should give impetus to such a prospect is the plight of the peasantry and the workers in small and medium industries, apart from the vast majority of the people living in impoverished conditions. Their plight is a direct consequence of the economic reform policies followed by the Union government. In fact, one of the main reasons for not allowing the Congress into the proposed front is its broad support to those policies.

A problem, however, arises when one wants to devise a coherent alternative to these policies. The major difficulty for the third front will be the planning of policies and reforms which will be different from the earlier models, forming a solid base for development, especially for the impoverished masses.    

This is a true story. At 5 pm on Saturday, November 4, nominations close for the election of the president of the block Congress committee for Kuthalam block in my constituency. Six candidates have filed to contest: Mani, the sitting president; Nambi; Balu; Senthil; Rajendran and Surya. As the final list of candidates goes up, realization dawns that this is it; unless a compromise is worked out, five are going to face the humiliation of defeat. More to the point, each will have to put down a few thousands to bring his supporters to the polling booth — transport, tiffin and, somewhat more distantly, a feast were he to, god forbid, actually win!

The six contestants retire to the roof upstairs to see whether they can come to a conclusion among themselves. The proceedings begin with each in turn reciting the reasons for which he believes himself to be the best candidate. The most eloquent speech comes from the sitting president, my namesake, Mani, who expands on what a superb job he has done in the face of relentless opposition from within. At which point he is interrupted to be told that it is only because he has annoyed everyone else that he finds himself opposed by no less than five other candidates. Each of the five solemnly announces that there is no question of any of them stepping down unless Mani goes. Impasse.

The time is now 7 pm. All six descend from the roof to report failure. It is, therefore, decided to constitute a committee of five senior Congress leaders to see whether mediation might succeed where dialogue has failed. The committee climbs to the roof, the six candidates in tow. After more speechmaking, the particularly respected elder, Anbazhagan, puts matters in a nutshell. The contest, he stresses, is necessitated only by the insistence of five that the sixth must go. He, therefore, appeals to Mani to withdraw. Mani accedes. At which Senthil immediately stands up to announce his withdrawal. Rajendran and Surya follow suit. That leaves two in the ring, Balu and Nambi.

It is now past eight and the first pangs of hunger are beginning to gnaw into the vitals of the contestants and the committee. Nambi rises to remind the gathering that in the last elections three years ago, he had maintained his candidature till the end and then withdrawn only to facilitate the election of Mani at the request of everyone else. All his apprehensions about Mani have been borne out. It would only be fair, therefore, if he is not compelled against his better judgment to step down once again. He will, therefore, not withdraw.

Balu rises in reply to remind the audience of what happened in the elections to the telephone advisory committee. (The background to that is that the minister of state for communications, Tapan Sikdar, had kindly agreed to my nominating six members to the district TAC. Instead of choosing them myself, I had arranged an election within the party to pick one member for each of my six assembly segments.)

Balu recalled that Nambi had promised him his support and everyone would remember how the two of them had gone from house to house canvassing support together. Then, just on the eve of the election, Nambi had deserted him — doubtless for a consideration. (Loud protestations of innocence from Nambi.) How could anyone entrust the block to so untrustworthy a person?

It is now nearly 10 o’clock, and no one has had dinner. All descend from the roof once more to report that neither remaining candidate is willing to withdraw. It is, therefore, announced that as the list of candidates has been whittled down to a manageable two, everyone might now go home and return at eleven next morning to start casting their secret ballots for one of the two remaining candidates.

Promptly, what till then has been whispered consultations over next day’s polling arrangements between each candidate and his supporters rises to a crescendo of protest over the inadequacy of the candidate’s arrangements. Both candidates realize that it is one thing to vow a fight to the finish; quite another to actually do so. Since neither is now quite sure of his support, the two candidates request a re-convening of the meeting. Everyone returns to the roof.

It is now past midnight. Each candidate then announces that he would be content to withdraw if the other withdraws and a third person is picked to be declared the winner. Someone gets up to say that of the six candidates who had filed their nominations, Rajendran is the seniormost. Would it not make sense to select Rajendran, who had earlier served a full and successful term as block president?

Support to the proposal is instantaneous and unanimous. There is only one fly in the ointment. Rajendran is nowhere to be found. It is getting to 1 am. Where is he to be located to get his consent? Even as they are agonizing over this conundrum, in walks Rajendran, looking none the worse for wear.

He cheerfully announces his willingness to contest. Immediately, several others rise to say that they had supported the proposal only in the expectation that as he had already served once he would do the decent thing and refuse to stand again. If, in fact, as now seemed certain, he was going to stand, then they would have no alternative to opposing him. What then is the alternative? Well, suggests an elder, why not go back to the immediate past president?

It is now gone 2 am. Mani, the Ever-Ready, announces that he is only too willing to continue. At which Senthil rises to say that he withdrew only because Mani had withdrawn; if Mani were back in the ring, then, he, Senthil, would not be far behind. That is the signal for Surya to say that he too is back in the fray. As also for Rajendran to announce that if it comes to a choice between him and Mani as former presidents, he would reenter to show everyone who was who.

The clock strikes three. It is now back to next morning’s ballot, with Balu and Nambi back in the ring. Nambi says his objection is only to Balu. Balu says his objection is only to Nambi. Square one. At this an utterly exhausted Uthaman, who has remained silent through eight hours of negotiation, wearily asks whether there is not someone completely fresh, someone whose name has not yet come up, to fit the bill? Senthil leaps up and says he knows just the person. Why not Uthaman himself? Uthaman protests that he was not talking about himself. He wants no part of the job. He is happy being a nobody. No, no, no, he will not contest. At which one by one each of the six candidates rises and insists that they will accept Uthaman and no one else.

It is now four in the morning. It is either sleep and Uthaman or daybreak and a contest that no one wants. Uthaman is the one. His name, in any case, means the Best Man. As they all get up to go home in cheerful weariness, someone remarks that the guest who came for the wedding feast has ended up as the bridegroom. The roars of laughter drown out the crowing of the cock.    

While there was a controversy raging over the non-invitation of the dalai lama to the United States world peace summit, an Indian made his country proud with his speech on the topic, “Let’s move to an era of communion.” Ravi Shankar is becoming an increasingly familiar name in India as the founder of the Art of Living Foundation. He is also the co-founder of the International Association for Human Values, based in Geneva. He was recently described as a curious jumble of godman and activist.

Ravi Shankar’s teachings take cognizance of the stress of modern life. His aim is to enhance the quality of life by absorbing and amalgamating the wisdom of the Vedas into the inventiveness of modern science. Another feature that sets him apart is that he is not the voice of doom as far as modern times are concerned. He regrets the fact that the world is more intolerant than it used to be, but also praises the positive changes.“We are in a very fortunate time, because we are coming up from barbarism to an era with more trust, more love, more compassion, more service and more caring for each other. Not only caring for each other, we have started to care for the planet, which was never heard of till recent times,” he argues in defence of the new millennium.

He also argues that modern scientific research has progressed because it has not completely ignored ancient schools of thought. Using medicine as an example, Shankar says, “If the herbologists of today had to do all their own research to find out which herb is suitable for which disease, without using the available ancient knowledge, it would have taken them forever, because there are millions of herbs”. Shankar is also deeply opposed to those who predict that doomsday is round the corner. He believes that such prophecies arise from the prophets’ “own fears, anxieties and desires”.

“Everywhere...people have not been taught how to live life. Now we can begin to educate people about their own mind, their ego, about how...and why they are here. This is the main knowledge that is needed for this new age,” he prescribes. Shankar wishes to spread the antidote of simplicity to counter-balance the complexities of modern life. Sceptics abound and cynics are dime a dozen. But a simple message that helps people to cope with stress and confusion has an appeal of its own. To decry it would be to deny a genuine need.    


End of ideology

Sir — The editorial, “Canny call” (Nov 7), has rightly pointed out that pragmatics, and not ideology, is now the driving force behind all political strategies. Political parties, be it the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or the Congress, have finally accepted the dynamics of coalition politics. However, the idea of the mahajot, brilliant as it may be, could not have solved the problems of either the BJP or the Trinamool Congress. The political scenario is indeed changing and one hopes that a spirit of cooperation and conciliation will replace one of petty rivalry and name-calling. Such an atmosphere will usher in an era of decent politics with politicians devoting more time to people’s welfare than to power games. As for West Bengal, most people here care less about who comes to power than about prospects of industrial growth in the state so that it loses the dubious distinction of being one of the poorest states in the country. A revaluation of the education policy would also be welcome.
Yours faithfully,
Suraj Kaul, via email

Crime and punishment

Sir — Rudrangshu Mukherjee in his article, “To chase a crooked shadow” (Nov 4), has prescribed social ostracization of the guilty cricketers. It seems that his love for the game has triggered his passionate outburst against the shocking exposure of bribery and matchfixing, which involves some of our leading cricketers. It has become urgently necessary now to break the nexus between players and bookies and underworld dons to eliminate the recurrence of these clandestine operations. Unfortunately, in today’s materialistic world, the traditional values are eroding rapidly.

As a society, we have to take a hard look at ourselves and endeavour to change the system that breeds power-hungry politicians, greedy businessmen, bureaucrats and all those eager to “get rich quick”. Ostracizing Mohammed Azharuddin and his ilk will not help in eliminating the malady just as the death penalty doesn’t wipe out the possibility of murders in the future.

Yours faithfully,
Subir Sen, via email

Sir — The problem with most Indian intellectuals is that they don’t have a clear concept of ethics. In one paragraph of his article, “To chase a crooked shadow”, Rudrangshu Mukherjee says that the cricket matchfixing goes beyond the legal, “there is an ethical point involved”. But then in the next paragraph he says “the guilty should be made targets of an orchestrated social boycott”. And how are they going to prevent a social boycott from not proceeding towards lynching? Is ethics not involved here? The problem is that as long as the proceeds keep coming in, we praise our players to the skies, we don’t ask ethical questions. Once their function is over, they are dropped like hot potatoes.

Yours faithfully,
Hallel Ghonglah, via email

Sir — There was a time when on a day India played cricket matches, streets would get deserted and everybody would sit at home to watch them. Viewers were not aware that the players were playing for money. Rudrangshu Mukherjee rightly observes that the game is now beyond redemption in India. The players have betrayed the sentiments of the viewers and finished the game. A social boycott would be, perhaps, too small a punishment for the crime. It is a disgrace to have unworthy people like Mohammed Azharuddin stay in the country and let it down so completely. Such people should be thrown out of the country.

Yours faithfully
Nidhi Dokania, Calcutta

Sir — The game of cricket had reached its nadir years ago. The skeletons are now coming out of the cupboard because of the propensity of the International Cricket Council to jam the calendar with as many one-dayers as possible, even in countries where the game is alien. Added to this is the curse of sponsorship that has caused rank commercialization. There is also the media which has raised cricketers to demi-god status. Given this background, it is foolish to expect players to be pious.

Cricket could be hoisted up from the present quagmire by restricting it to its season. If necessary, world cup tournaments could be conducted every year so that all cricketing nations could take part. Guidelines should be drawn up for the sponsors, clear cut stipulations given to players regarding advertisements. Those who transgress should be punished and all awards withdrawn forthwith.

Yours faithfully,
A.U.S. Lal, Calcutta

Northern impasse

Sir — The editorial, “Tea for terror” (Oct 31) highlights how the Kamtapuri movement in north Bengal has put the tea industry in a quandary. The state government should take drastic steps to control this unlawful movement. The Kamtapuris have been inspired by a group of Rajbanshis and have been demanding separate statehood similar to the Gorkha National Liberation Front movement. The United Kamtapur Liberation Front is making its presence felt in Cooch Behar, Jalpaiguri and parts of Darjeeling, the three districts in north Bengal which are only partially inhabited by Kamtapuris. The rebels are also known to be receiving the support of the United Liberation Front of Asom.

The new chief minister of West Bengal, Buddhadev Bhattacharya, has already visited the area. He should endeavour to nip the movement in the bud. He should also ensure that the tea industry does not suffer because of the insurgents.

Yours faithfully,
Naren Sen, Howrah

Sir — Parimal Bhattacharya’s “And thereby hangs a tale of despair” (Sept 13) has been entirely honest in highlighting the plight of the common man in Darjeeling and the total indifference of the administration to the region. Look at the decades old water crisis for example. Yet there are more than a dozen perennial springs within a radius of 10 kilometres of Darjeeling. This is in spite of the heavy rainfall in the region every monsoon.

The problem evidently is not being solved because it is a goose that lays golden eggs every dry season. The amount of money that is raked in through inflated bills on water carriers and their repairs, the seasonal contracts of supplies to hotels are enough stimulus to keep the issue unresolved. Who gives a damn if the people of Darjeeling and their children have to trek a couple of miles to fetch a few jerry cans of fresh water?

There is again the tourist season when hordes of tourists descend on Darjeeling, disrupting the daily lives of its inhabitants. Tourists travel to Tiger Hill at three in the morning, creating thoughtless ruckus and making it impossible for anyone to sleep. As Bhattacharya has rightly pointed out, this “shoestring tourism” is operated by people from Calcutta. As a result, the revenue generated from such tourists doesn’t stay in Darjeeling. The only contribution of this business is garbage.

We don’t know where the solution lies, certainly not with the council and its councillors who are busy lining their own pockets. We need the educated class to come forward and be at the helm of affairs.

Yours faithfully,
S. Guha, Darjeeling

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