Editorial 1 / Sense of reality
Editorial 2 / Body talk
Games of desperation
Fifth Column/ Hurdles to a natural alliance
Hunger in a world of plenty
Brief account of travels on a fast track
Letters to the editor

It is hardly to be expected that a prime minister of a country will paint a pessimistic picture of his country’s performance at an international forum. Thus Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee cannot be faulted for his speech to the India summit of the World Economic Forum which just concluded its meeting in New Delhi. The prime minister’s version of the economic reality was optimistic, if not rosy. He voiced his expectation that this year the gross domestic product would grow at more than six per cent and he seemed reasonably certain that in the not-so-distant future growth would touch nine per cent. His enthusiasm about the performance in the sphere of infrastructure may raise a few eyebrows. Mr Vajpayee was satisfied with the progress of the highways project and with the achievements in the power sector. There was scant recognition in Mr Vajpayee’s speech about the palpable slowing down of the economy. The Telegraph has recently argued in these columns that the slowing down of the economy may be related to supply constraints that are creations of poor infrastructure facilities. Higher investment in infrastructure, it was argued, would boost the demand side of the economy especially in times of deficient aggregate demand. Even if one were to accept the prime minister’s views at their face value rather than as a public relations exercise, there exists a case for improving the performance in infrastructure.

The counterpoint to Mr Vajpayee’s optimism was provided by the managing director of the WEF, Mr Claude Smadja. At the heart of Mr Smadja’s speech was his concern over the fiscal problems both at the Centre and the state levels. According to him, the combined deficit was hovering around 12 per cent and this could not fulfil the rates of growth that Mr Vajpayee expected. Not surprisingly, Mr Smadja was critical about dwindling foreign direct investments and of the cancellation of large projects. Most of Mr Smadja’s points are well taken. But there exist reasons to debate with the emphasis he placed on the size of the deficit. The latter is undoubtedly a cause for worry. But it is also true that in the late Eighties and through the Nineties, the Indian economy, despite huge deficits, registered its highest rates of growth. The deficit, of course, grows partly out of the refusal of the government to cut subsidies that only increase wasteful expenditure. There exists structural constraints on the ability of the states to raise tax revenues. Yet there is a continuous pressure on them to improve supplies of public services. This only creates an impasse for the states so far as curbing the deficit is concerned. The huge space between pessimism and optimism is always informed by what Isaiah Berlin called a sense of reality. Prime ministers and members of thinktanks need to have a good dose of this. Sound and fury change nothing.    

It is a blessing that the leaders of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Trinamool Congress have not actually descended to mutual assault like their followers. It had been expected that they would ultimately succeed in calming their warring supporters in the districts and in the city. Instead, they seem to have chosen to follow their followers by unleashing on one another a fusillade of words ringing with accusations and threats of violence. Like cats yowling ferociously at each other just before a quarrel, political leaders in West Bengal seem quite capable of springing at one another’s throats. It is bad enough that Ms Mamata Banerjee, the Union minister for railways and the Trinamool Congress leader, has made a special vocation of publicly accusing the CPI(M) in the most colourful and melodramatic terms. The discourse of fullfledged war is an essential ingredient of this. It is perhaps worse that the chief minister of the state, Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, should decide to take the same rhetorical line, whether or not with the encouragement of his predecessor, Mr Jyoti Basu. Mr Bhattacharjee has a lot to answer for. True, he seemed to have taken the right tone while talking about removing corruption and irresponsibility from the government scene. But it is also true that he has been unable to put a stop to the political violence in the districts, either as police minister or as chief minister — witness the new spell of violence that left four dead in Midnapore. The problem for him is obviously the uncontrollable aggression of CPI(M) supporters, irrespective of the alleged provocation offered by Trinamool Congress supporters. Neither has the chief minister been able to explain the scarcity of relief for the flood-ravaged population in the state. It is not enough to ask for more money from the Centre or accuse Ms Banerjee of having failed to bring in any funds in spite of being a Union minister. He has to explain why the relief that has been released has not reached the target population. The outburst of robberies and murders in the city remains unchecked too. For the Trinamool Congress, this is bonanza time. Only neither side is showing any sign of concern for the suffering people. They are focussed on besting each other in the assembly elections. For that, they are willing to go to all lengths.

This is best shown by the ugly tug of war over the two bodies of slain Trinamool Congress workers. While the Trinamool Congress brought them over to be displayed at the public rally Ms Banerjee held on Tuesday, the police took the bodies away and returned them to Midnapore. This is hardly politics, it is not even melodrama. Both the CPI(M) and the Trinamool Congress are exhibiting their extreme insecurity and choosing the most shockingly indecorous behaviour to give substance to their war of words.    

“Not a soul/ But faces the fever of the mad and plays/Some tricks of desperation.” These lines from The Tempest define the mindset of all those who have had anything to do with the Kashmir imbroglio, though games will be a more appropriate word than tricks in the new context. The ways of some parties and groups may be devious but all of them share a sense of desperation. This is no surprise after the wounds, neuroses and traumas caused by over a decade of guerrilla war.

Most of them are desperate for a return of peace to the war-ravaged state. This is why New Delhi has opted for a ceasefire during the month of Ramadan which began on Tuesday despite its sad experience of a similar move in July which fizzled out amidst a flurry of bickerings. As for the fever of the mad, it has shown itself in the burning of the prime minister’s effigy in Delhi, ironically by members of a constituent of the ruling coalition, as also in the attempt of some fanatical terrorist groups in Pakistan to sabotage the new Indian initiative to give peace a chance.

What is the story from behind the scenes? Ajiz Mansoor, an American businessman of Pakistani origin, has claimed in an article in the International Herald Tribune that he was the one to have hit upon the idea of a peace settlement based on “empowerment of the common Kashmiris, civilian and militant, as the central partners for peace”. The phrase sounds as phoney to start with as “all power to the Soviets” in retrospect. But there is no doubt that its author had been in close touch with both Pervez Musharraf and Atal Behari Vajpayee.

That Mansoor was not acting on his own is clear enough from his own narrative. In revealing that his proposal had the backing of Bill Clinton, he gives the game away. It is obvious that the Americans used his services to sound out the parties concerned on a fuzzily worded proposition which might launch the two hostile neighbours on a journey along a tortuous road to peace, with too many potholes and hairpin bends.

Musharraf initially seemed to be receptive to the first ceasefire proposal, according to Mansoor, but developed cold feet when the fundamentalist groups dismissed the idea as a sellout. Is there any reason to believe that he has acquired a new backbone in the intervening months? Or that the fundamentalist groups feel more chastened today? Going by all the evidence at hand, the answer to both these questions is a loud “no”, whatever the ifs and buts hedging the rejection.

On the other hand, if Musharraf refuses to go along with the new Indian move, it will cast doubt on the credibility of his oft-repeated desire for resumption of peace talks between India and Pakistan. L.K. Advani, the Union home minister, has left no easy escape route for him with his statement that if the ceasefire goes through and the traumatized state has a month’s spell of peace, New Delhi will consider the situation favourable enough for a meaningful dialogue with Pakistan. What the Indian initiative amounts to is thus an offer for a renewal of the peace process. It also meets the militants’ demand for Pakistan joining the talks, though with the proviso that this will be feasible only after the ceasefire has held for a month.

Any plea by Musharraf that he cannot afford to alienate the fundamentalists will not pass muster. It would be another matter if he frankly admitted to being close to them in his approach to the Kashmir problem and said that, having antagonized the old political establishment at home, he badly needed the active support of those using the paranoiac language of jehad to strengthen his stranglehold on the country.

Musharraf’s game is one of doublespeak. At home the general does not hide his sympathy for the fundamentalists. This line is dictated not only by political expediency for someone who has nothing to show for his pains during the first year of his rule and has failed to deliver on any of his promises. It is also militarily a safe ploy in a situation in which the virus of the jehadi sentiment is said to be spreading fast in Pakistan’s armed forces. In any case it was Musharraf himself who masterminded the Kargil operation and decried the Lahore accord.

The propaganda package designed by Islamabad for sale abroad is entirely different. It projects Musharraf as the only person with enough authority to prevent the fundamentalists from taking over in Pakistan and the only bulwark against the talibanization of the regime in Islamabad, a prospect which sends shivers down the spines of the big shots both in the Pentagon and the state department. But policymakers in the United States have their own sources of information and, whatever they may say for public record, know more about the close links between the Pakistan army and the many fundamentalist terrorist organizations it uses as instruments of its Kashmir policy than any other power.

The crucial question for the US administration is always to what extent a country’s policy chimes with its own strategic interests at a given time. It had no qualms recently in waiving sanctions against China for selling missile technology to Islamabad while imposing them on Pakistan for buying it. If it does not want to push Musharraf too hard just now, it is because of the fear that the subversion of democratic institutions and the miserable economic mess have already brought Pakistan to the brink of anarchy.

There is good reason to believe that there has been a shift in US policy in regard to south Asia during the last two years. Its firm insistence on withdrawal by Pakistan of all militants and troops from the Kargil area to its side of the line of control was a first clear indication of this though it is not willing to go beyond imploring the military regime to put a stop to the murderous business of cross-border terrorism and prefers New Delhi to deal with this problem.

Another sign of a tilt against Pakistan is its realization that Musharraf, for all his promises to tame the taliban government, continues to back it to the hilt. Otherwise, the US administration would not have promised help to the Ahmed Shah Masood regime, which controls parts of northern Afghanistan, and decided to work in concert with Russia and Uzbekistan in checking the spread of the vicious form of fundamentalism propagated by the taliban to other areas of central Asia.

The best New Delhi can do in this situation is hope against hope that the ceasefire will somehow hold this time despite the cries of betrayal by the more fanatical of the terrorist outfits. But there is no reason for it to incur too much expense of spirit on this gamble since, even if it succeeds, it will only clear the ground for resumption of talks interrupted by the Kargil war. The crucial test for a peaceful settlement is whether Pakistan has digested the bitter lessons of the four wars it has fought with its big neighbour enough to come to terms with the political, economic and military realities on the ground. And there is little room for optimism on this score.

There is no disputing the point that New Delhi made a grievous mistake in failing to drive a harder bargain with Z.A. Bhutto at Simla in 1972 and in taking him at his word that the LoC in Kashmir would in due course become an international border without insisting on a written commitment. But nothing since then has changed the nitty-gritty of the problem. The only feasible solution, when it comes to the crunch, still remains the same — converting the line into an international border. An increasing number of people in Kashmir are sick to the bone of terrorism and the more the militants prolong their agony the more alienated they will get.

There is also the tough problem of how to end the alienation of the Kashmiris from India. But the degree of autonomy of the state under any future dispensation is a matter in which Pakistan does not come into the picture at all. The kind of treatment Sindhis, Baluchis and the mohajirs have received at the hands of successive regimes in Pakistan should be sufficient warning against any illusion among the militants that Kashmiri identity will be safer under a system where, in any contest between civilians and soldiers, it is the generals who always have the last word.

Faced with a rising tide of public discontent, Musharraf will be tempted to repeat the words of Coriolanus, if he has read the bard’s play by that name: “What is the matter with you, you dissentious rogues/ That rubbing the poor itch of your opinion,/ Make yourselves scabs?” But then generals in power have a poor memory for such things and, when angry, are more likely to voice their rage in four-letter words.    

The Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Communist Party of India are still unable to come to terms with political reality. After an inexcusable and a rather expensive delay, they seem to have finally concluded that the Bharatiya Janata Party represents communal and fascist forces and therefore is the left’s main enemy. They have also decided that the fight against the BJP cannot be fought in isolation. The left needs allies. But it cannot advance from here. The parties are stuck with their anti-Congressism.

The reason for refusing to ally with the Congress is its economic programme which, according to the left is pro-imperialist and subjects the nation to the dictations of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The BJP allegedly is carrying out the same economic policy. The Congress moreover is seen to compromise with communal forces.

The second reason, and the left realize it, is totally baseless. The Congress may have made mistakes combating communal forces, but it has never made compromises with them. The Congress, for example, has never entered into an alliance with the BJP. Even in West Bengal the Congress has refused to have an electoral understanding with the BJP indirectly through the Trinamool Congress.

Keep it secular

The left has not acted in such a principled manner. For example, the CPI(M) allied with Jayaprakash Narayan and his “total revolution” in 1974-75, the backbone of which was the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.

Later, both the CPI and the CPI(M) supported the Janata Party government, of which the Jana Sangh was a major component. In 1989, both the left parties joined hands with the BJP to support the National Front government.

One might hint at the “communal” complexion of the Congress in Kerala, where it heads the United Democratic Front of which the Muslim League is a part. The party insists it is different from the pre-independence Muslim League. Left parties also had an alliance with the Muslim League in the past.

If electoral politics were not such a strong determinant of the political future in the country, there would no compulsion or temptation on the part of a secular party to enter into any understanding with a communal party. But elections do count and electoral agreements and contests take on bizarre dimensions. A principled stand, however, needs to be taken by political parties. There should be no agreements between communal and secular parties.

Not much difference

The left’s first reason for avoiding an alliance with the Congress also does not hold much water. There is hardly any difference between the election manifesto of the Congress and the economic component of the minimum common programme of the United Front government, which was supported by the left.

There is however the thorny question of how to settle matters in West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura. In all these states, the Congress and the left have been the main contestants. It is only recently that the Trinamool Congress has emerged as a major opponent to the left in West Bengal. In the three states, it would be suicidal for both the Congress and the Left Front to give up the contest against each other.

This issue is not given as much stress as the “economic” difference by the left in its promotion of the third front. But which “third front” party is opposed to economic reforms? The parties were all a part of the United Front government which had a pro-reforms P. Chidambaram as its finance minister.

Then how is the “third front” different from the Congress? Except for the left all other parties in the third front are state-based, rather than regional, and some tinged by casteism and separatism.

These parties can be the allies of the Congress and of the left in the struggle against the BJP. A broadbased alliance should be aimed at, the core of which will be provided by the left and the Congress.

The left should give up the illusion of eliminating the Congress. The latter has had ups and downs, but none will deny that there is an objective historical basis for the persistence of the party.

The Congress and the left are natural allies. Or, as P.C. Joshi once put it, they are the two immortals of modern and contemporary India. They need each other and India needs them both.    

World Food Day was celebrated on October 16. A coalition of international and national organizations, including the World Bank and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, on October 12 launched a new curriculum: “Feeding Minds, Fighting Hunger”. “The curriculum we are releasing today is the first in a series to introduce children all over the world to the problem of hunger and what needs to be done,” said Klaus von Grebmer, director of the communications division of the International Food Policy Research Institute.

It is not for the first time that human civilization is on a mission to sensitize impressionable young minds to the related issues of hunger and malnourishment but this is the first formal attempt to do so on the part of the institutions that represent the world order. World Food Day is celebrated every year on October 16 to commemorate the founding of the FAO in 1945. World Food Day aims to heighten public awareness of the plight of the world’s hungry and malnourished and to encourage people to take action against hunger. The theme for 2000 is “A Millennium Free from Hunger”.

The curriculum includes lessons for three levels: elementary, middle and high school. In the future, lessons will be translated into at least four languages and taught to students around the globe. All levels cover the topics: what is hunger and malnutrition and who are the hungry? Why are people hungry and malnourished? What can we do to help end hunger?

As the world development report 2000/2001 has pointed out, the world has deep poverty amid plenty. The following statistics speak for themselves. Of the world’s six billion people, 2.8 billion, almost half, live on less than two dollars a day, and 1.2 billion — a fifth — live on less than one dollar a day, with 44 per cent living in south Asia.

In rich countries fewer than one child in 100 does not reach its fifth birthday, while in the poorest countries as many as a fifth of children do not. And while in rich countries fewer than five per cent of all children under five are malnourished, in poor countries as many as 50 per cent are. There is obviously a need for tackling the problem on a war footing. So far, poverty alleviation has been regarded more or less as one of the many social programmes of governments around the world that can be ignored by them with impunity. They are seen as something like charity — the programmes are supposed to “benefit” the targeted groups and the poor who are lucky enough to receive one or two drops of these are referred to as “beneficiaries”.

This mindset has to be changed — it is the responsibility of civilization to feed hungry mouths and to pull out malnourished people from a subhuman existence. As von Grebmer pointed out, “The world is a global village. If some houses in that village are hungry, it is a problem for the village as a whole.” And that is why the children of today should imbibe this idea that fighting against poverty is not charity but a solemn responsibility.

The global market (except that segment of the market which deals with arms) cannot grow to its fullest potential and capacity unless hunger and absolute deprivation are wiped out. The world community has much to fear from these two factors since these factors have the potential to foment unrest everywhere. They can endanger the stability so vital for the globalization of market.

Destitution persists even though human conditions have improved more in the past century than in the rest of history — global wealth, global connections and technological capabilities have never been greater. But the distribution of these global gains is extraordinarily unequal. Even though income is not the only determining factor in the fight against hunger and malnutrition, it is, undoubtedly, the most important factor.

Some facts and figures from the world development report help depict the inequality in income distribution, infant mortality and life expectancy. All these indicators are closely related to hunger and malnutrition. The average income in the richest 20 countries is 37 times the average in the poorest 20 — a gap that has doubled in the past 40 years. The experience in different parts of the world has been very diverse. In east Asia the number of people living on less than one dollar a day fell from around 420 million to around 280 million between 1987 and 1998. Yet in Latin America, south Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa the numbers of poor people have been rising. In the countries of Europe and central Asia in transition to market economies, the number of people living on less than one dollar a day rose more than twentyfold.

There are success stories as well — in the most advanced state of India, Kerala, life expectancy is greater than in other places with many times the level of income (such as Washington, D.C.). Yet in countries at the centre of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa, such as Botswana and Zimbabwe, one in four adults is infected. AIDS orphans are becoming an overwhelming burden on both traditional and formal support mechanisms, and all the gains in life expectancy since the middle of the 20th century will soon be wiped out. The varying infant mortality rates across the world — sub-Saharan Africa’s is 15 times that of high income countries — give an idea of this widely differing experience.

Experiences are also vastly different at sub-national levels and for ethnic minorities and women. Different regions in countries benefit to very different extents from growth. In Mexico, for example, total poverty fell in the early Nineties, but rose in the poorer southeast Asia. Inequalities also exist across different ethnic groups in many countries. In some African countries infant mortality rates are lower among politically powerful ethnic groups, and in Latin American countries indigenous groups often have less than three-quarters the schooling on average of non-indigenous groups.

And women continue to be more disadvantaged than men. In south Asia women have only about half as many years of education as men, and female enrolment rates at the secondary level are only two-thirds the male rates.

“The children sitting in schools around the world today are the future presidents and prime ministers of the world tomorrow,” said Lynn Brown, rural technical specialist at the World Bank. “Today there is more than enough food to feed everyone, the cost of food is at its lowest price for years, and yet millions of people go hungry. So, it is a question of global leadership. By teaching today’s children about hunger we hope to build a generation of future world leaders committed to ensuring that no one goes hungry in their world.” That there is more than enough food to feed everyone points to one inevitable conclusion — that the distribution of food or income with which one is to buy food is seriously flawed. There should be an effective global leadership that would correct this imbalance.

“Around the world, nearly 800 million people are malnourished, including 200 million children,” said Robert Patterson, deputy representative to North America for the FAO. “But this problem can be solved. We believe that ‘Feeding Minds, Fighting Hunger’ will sensitize children to the needs of poor and hungry people and motivate them to get involved. This programme is not aimed at any one particular country, region, or economic level, this is aimed at the world as a whole.”

The founding members of “Feeding Minds, Fighting Hunger” are American Federation of Teachers, FAO, the International Education and Resource Network, the International Food Policy Research Institute, the National Peace Corps Association, Newsweek Magazine Education Program, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, the United States national committee for World Food Day and the World Bank.

India also should gain from this rich exercise. Indian school curricula do not impart an iota of training that can motivate children to work for alleviating poverty. Those children whose parents can afford to send them to school should have at least some knowledge of what poverty is and how the majority of their brethren remain hungry and malnourished, preferably with the theoretical knowledge laced with some practical experience.

There are some such token sensitization programmes for government officers (that, too, only at the group ‘A’ level) in the form of village study and trekking in the hills. But the age at which the officers go through these sensitization programmes does not help in moulding their mental make up. Moreover, it is the responsibility not only of the government but also of society as a whole to fight against the scourge of poverty. That is why we should make a serious attempt to sensitize all children to this problem.

This is the need of the hour not only in India but also all over the world since even mainstream economics curricula in almost all the universities of the world treat issues relating to poverty as peripheral. This lack of sensitivity on the part of the educated upper strata is largely due to the incompleteness of the kind of education they are given and it is high time this was rectified.    

For any tourist in Cologne, Germany, the fabulous Tanz-brunnen (dancing fountains) Park on the Rhine is a major attraction. There might also be a Tanz-brunnen park on the 21 acres of vacant land at Salt Golah along the Hooghly belonging to the Eastern Railway, if developers, invited by the rail technical and economic services to bid for a 60 year lease, loosen purse strings to pay the Rs 15 lakhs security deposit for the first stage.

Bound on the east by the Hooghly river, these mud banks are in for a massive dose of beautification. One could dream up images of a beautiful park with a winding promenade, eating joints, and a shopping mall dotting the river bank. The area could be turned into a giant amusement park, which, because of its unique location, has all the potential of becoming a veritable money spinner. A model could easily be found in the world’s renowned amusement sites like London’s Battersea Park, Tivoli Gardens of Copenhagen, or a miniature village on the lines of Madurodam in the Netherlands.

Good going

The plan is part of the efforts of the Union railway minister, Mamata Banerjee, to put to good use large tracts of land which have been at the Indian Railways’s disposal since the first trains ran, but may no longer be needed by it. Hopefully, the substantial lease charges will help early completion of the scores of other ongoing projects starved of funds. This is the ultimate objective of the exercise.

Several new projects, when completed, will open up vast tracts of backward areas. The Kashinagar-Kakdwip section, at Rs 15 crores, has completed the phase I of Lakshmikantapur-Kashinagar stretch. The rest is expected to be ready soon. The 13.5 kilometres Kakdwip-Namkhana stretch is scheduled for commissioning by March 2002. The 14 km stretch of Eklakhi-Gazole, part of the larger Eklakhi-Balurghat costing Rs 50 crores, would be ready by March 2001. The Tamluk-Digha project with an outlay of Rs 100 crores will see the first train being flagged off some time in April 2001.

A dozen other projects like augmentation of line capacities, extension of existing alignments and key facilities in workshops and rolling stock maintenance depot, including modernization of Kanchrapara workshop are about to be completed, thanks to intense monitoring.

What’s in store

Commuters in Calcutta will soon see the Dum Dum-Garia Metro Railway line operational. The circular railway’s 5.8 km extension from Princep Ghat to Majerhat, electrification of the Dum Dum-Tala section, are due to be completed by March 2001. Commercial exploitation of railway property in Calcutta is also now on cards, starting with the addition of five floors on Metro Bhavan and leasing out the existing optical fibre communication system to private parties.

Furthermore, in order to give a better deal to the passengers Banerjee has now chosen 14 stations in West Bengal — Howrah, Sealdah, Burdwan, Bandel, Sonarpur, Asansol, Malda Town, Midnapore, Kharagpur, Adra, New Jalpaiguri, New Alipurduar, Alipurduar Junction, and Durgapur — to be converted into model stations. There are plans to provide platforms to accommodate 24 coach trains, train indication boards, installation of close circuit televisions for monitoring sensitive areas.

Lastly, with Howrah bursting at its seams in spite of the new complex and its four additional platforms, passengers destined for the South or southwest on the South-Eastern Railway system could hope to get considerable relief when a brand new complex, already in an advance stage of planning, comes up at Shalimar or Padmapukur in the near future. The goods shed activity will then shift to Sankrail.    


Lawless freedom

Sir — The nexus between politicians and criminals is becoming more sinister everyday. How else can one explain the daring escape of the gangster, Chota Rajan, from his hospital room in Bangkok ŕ la Bollywood, despite the fact that he was seriously injured and under police vigilance (“Chota Rajan in rope-trick escape”, Nov 25). Rajan’s escape could not have been better planned or come at a more opportune moment, since New Delhi had just begun discussing the issue of his extradition with the Thai authorities. Thai police have been unable to explain how the gangster was able to get away in spite of the 24-hour watch. It is very likely that Rajan will escape punishment — especially if he has managed to flee from Thailand — like many other criminals who are given protection by corrupt politicians for selfish political gains. It is disconcerting that the law does not always succeed in punishing the guilty in India and therefore a Veerappan can hold a Raj Kumar hostage without the police being able to do anything about it.
Yours faithfully,
Sangeeta Kaul, Pune

States of newness

Sir — One wonders what Ramachandra Guha is actually saying in “Saffron direction” (Nov 18) where he discusses the formation of the three new states. Replacing the word khand by anchal might have made the name of the newly formed Uttaranchal sound a bit Sanskritized. But does it make a significant alteration to the state’s destiny? Even if one assumes that the Bharatiya Janata Party has some ulterior political motive in changing the name, as argued by Guha, why didn’t it do so in the case of Jharkhand?

Guha’s argument that it was the BJP which injected the poisonous rhetoric of caste into these regional struggles also distorts facts. The essence of the struggles for Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Uttarakhand, from the very beginning, was to guard the abundant natural resources from the uncontrolled greed of upper caste plains people as well as to ensure the utilization of these resources for the benefit of tribals to whom the land actually belongs. In other words, the demand for a separate tribal state was founded on the pillars of tribal welfare and identity. How then does one dissociate casteism from these struggles? Casteism was integral to these movements.

It is true that Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Uttaranchal were the last things to have been conceived by either Jaipal Singh or Badridutt Pande. All three have been born out of sheer political opportunism, not just of the BJP and the Congress, but all political parties, including the left which voted in favour of the bill in Parliament. It is also true that in the states, the institutions of exploitation will continue, probably under a new garb. But then, what more can you expect in a parliamentary democracy?

The only bright side to the event is that the BJP, in one masterstroke, has preempted potential seeds of another set of separatist movements among a large antagonistic tribal population whose resentment could have easily changed into violent outbursts like those of the Bodos, Nagas or the Mizos.

Yours faithfully,
Susanta Kumar Biswas, Calcutta

Sir — In “House divided in new homeland” (Nov 15), Mahesh Rangarajan seems intent on throttling the newborn Jharkhand state. He should remember that after a united struggle for freedom from the raj, Indians divided into many parties which had different slogans. But this was in response to the needs of the different people who composed its population.

Rangarajan’s article is both biased and provocative. He has suggested that the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha leader, Shibu Soren, should render the state ungovernable by choosing to go on a warpath against the new government. This is reprehensible. Soren lost his parliamentary seat of Dumka and has won only 13 assembly seats in Jharkhand. He is no more the guruji he was two decades ago. He may try to win back his lost image in the next Jharkhand elections. But for now he has no moral claim to be chief minister of the new state. Laloo Prasad Yadav had his own selfish reasons to incite Soren. But that way his own political future may be doomed. The government of Jharkhand will, hopefully, be able to restrain them.

Yours faithfully,
Karuna Shankar Mishra, Deoghar

Sir — There is really no reason why Jharkhand should not prosper, given its huge deposits of minerals and forest resources. For this purpose, the politicians of the newly formed state should try and be honest in all their dealings.

The Babulal Marandi led government has a very difficult task at hand. It will have to take the necessary steps to eradicate poverty, and concentrate on healthcare, education and housing so that the state’s tribal population can reap the benefits of having a new state. Ailing industrial units should be resurrected and new investors attracted. All this will only be possible if the law and order improves. Naxalite activity in half of the 18 districts is not conducive to growth.

Finally, Shibu Soren should stop feeling sorry for himself and start improving his image so he can come to power in the next election.

Yours faithfully,
Manoranjan Das, Jamshedpur

Sir — After reading the scary facts in the editorial, “Bitter birth” (Nov 15), it is difficult to congratulate Babulal Marandi on receiving the thorny crown of chief minister of Jharkhand. The BJP has ensured that he gets a mention in the history books as the first chief minister of Jharkhand, but has done nothing to make his entry into history creditable.

Administering a state consisting of 18 districts, of which as many as 14 are affected by Naxalite and caste violence, will no doubt spell a troubled journey. Irate co-passengers like Shibu Soren and Karia Munda will also try to pull alarm chains whenever possible.

Yours faithfully,
Rajesh Kumar Sharma, Kankinara

Truant reason

Sir — J. Ramesh has hit the nail right on the head by pointing out that the government “has to first make sure that the parents have enough to feed their children before it demands that they send their children to school” (“Truant Parents”,Nov 1). This is why the parents of poor children cannot sent them to school and have to make them work instead.

Until the government of India can take measures to eradicate poverty, no amount of rhetoric is going to help alleviate the misery of these people. The government can make it mandatory for all employers of children to see they attend compulsory school for about two to three hours daily. Such an arrangement will help these children earn some money and learn at the same time.

The curriculum of elementary schools should be modified to include vocational training of some kind to help the children support themselves once they leave school at 14.

Yours faithfully,
J.C. Bose,Calcutta

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