Editorial 1 / In an alien land
Editorial 2 /Problem child
Frustrating exercises
Fifth Column / Knowing is not always enough
Looking for the right balance
How to get all tanked up and win a war
Letters to the editor

The full human impact of statistics is always startling. And when the figures themselves are damningly negative, as in the case of the United Nations International Children’s Fund report, “The state of the world’s children 2001”, the hideousness of the reality can be barely imagined. India’s record of childcare and children’s rights has never been impressive: its almost total failure in ending child labour is just one indication of the fathomless indifference to which the Indian state and society subject the country’s underprivileged children. The UNICEF report does not even need to go into child labour in order to make its point. India stands 49th in the under-five mortality rankings. That this puts India below Bangladesh, a younger and more struggling nation, is an added lacing of bitter flavour. Most of the 11 million under-fives who die annually could have lived with better healthcare, since the killers were mainly respiratory infections, diarrhoeal diseases, vaccine preventable infections, malaria and prenatal conditions. This, apart from exposing the depths of ignorance and poverty among the people, shows up the fanfare over successful immunization programmes as resoundingly hollow. Even in immunization, Bangladesh scores far better.

Prenatal conditions, falling under the basic category of healthcare, actually point to a deeper malaise which affects India’s attitude to its children in a fundamental way. There is an inescapable link between how a country treats its women and what happens to its children. Inadequate healthcare and education of mothers lead to undernourished and often ill children. More than half of Indian children are underweight. Primary schooling levels are still poor, given the population count, with a high rate of dropouts. Gender bias persists in education, with 78 per cent enrolment for boys and 64 per cent for girls. That the report has criticized India for leaving under-six children out of the purview of the constitutional amendment bill making education a fundamental right further highlights the state’s total incomprehension of what children’s rights might mean. It is not a question of lip service to conventional categories of care to produce respectable statistics. Providing a nurturing atmosphere for every infant, from the point of view of nourishment, sanitation, love and non-formal teaching, is the duty of all states and societies. This is inextricably bound up with the ambience surrounding the families, how much money they have, what they get as sanitation facilities, the awareness levels and fatigue thresholds of the mothers, the gender attitudes of the fathers. For politicians and bureaucrats in India, this is probably an alien idea.

So, instead of nurture, a staggeringly huge percentage of children in India is offered violence, abuse and general wretchedness. Except for local, sporadic and shortlived government initiatives, there are only the efforts of non-governmental and rights organizations to ameliorate the effects of natural disasters and ethnic, communal and extremist violence. The child victims, if they live, turn to crime and training in extremist camps for their survival. That is their only schooling. Programmes targeted at the underprivileged, most famously the reservations policy, have obviously not had any effect on underprivileged children, that is, children from poor and illiterate families. It is time politicians studied this anomaly. It is not necessary to look at Bangladesh to feel ashamed. The statistics and percentages for India are shaming enough by themselves.


Nobody believes anymore that cricket is a gentleman’s game. This is not the same thing as saying cricket and cricketers have no sense of decorum and dignity. But this is exactly what the behaviour of the Indian captain, Sourav Ganguly, would have one believe. Ganguly has earned for himself the dubious distinction of being the first captain to be suspended. It should be recalled that even before he became captain he had been suspended once for showing dissent. Consistent good behaviour on the field, it would appear, is not one of Ganguly’s stronger points. One of the first principles a cricketer is taught — or more correctly used to be taught — is that the umpire’s decision is final and should be accepted by all players without any show of dissent and defiance. This does not preclude aggressive appealing. But it rules out petulance and aggressiveness after the umpire has given his decision. This is exactly what Ganguly did. His behaviour was so bad that the match referee was forced to rule that Ganguly’s histrionic could lead to a disruption of the match. This, not to put too fine a point on it, is deplorable.

It is clear that Ganguly is not fully alive to the responsibilities that devolved on him when he was made captain. It is expected that he will lead from the front by his performance and by his behaviour on and off the field. He cannot behave like a spoilt brat from a Calcutta suburb. His refusal to draw the right lessons from his first suspension reveals an unhealthy streak in his character: absence of shame, growing, possibly, out of smugness. It is not clear what attitude the Board of Control for Cricket in India will adopt towards Ganguly’s suspension. It would do no harm if a senior member drew Ganguly aside to have a quiet word with him about his on-field conduct and his responsibilities as captain. The problem should be handled now and nipped in the bud. No cricketer, however successful, should be allowed to grow too big for his boots. It goes without saying no cricketer — even one who scored a debut century at Lord’s — is more important than the game of cricket.


For sheer cheek the defence minister, George Fernandes, takes the biscuit. There was a fracas in the ruling coalition over two of the prime minister’s recent statements on the Ayodhya temple issue smacking of views for long voiced by militants in the sangh fraternity. Some allies raised the matter at the meeting of the National Democratic Alliance of which the Samata Party leader was the convenor, and it was to allay their fears that it had to pass a resolution assuring the critics that all parties in the coalition including the Bharatiya Janata Party were committed to the NDA’s agenda.

And yet, the defence minister had the nerve to tell the press that the prime minister’s statements which had created such a furore were an invention of the media. At this rate, he might one day dismiss the Kargil war as the brainwave of some crazy newspaperman and even the Pokhran blasts, the United States sanctions that followed and the many rounds of talks between Strobe Talbott and Jaswant Singh as mere episodes in a television serial.

The defence minister is not so daft as to imagine that the ruling coalition can get rid of its contradictions, which erupt every now and then in the face of the Vajpayee government, or that they can be overcome by blaming them on the media. Television offers politicians a captive audience of millions before which to put up a brave face on all the shenanigans that go on behind the scenes and get some propaganda mileage by overstating their case in noisy debates. The media today does shape politics to a much larger degree than before but cannot get away with selling fictions as facts to create convulsions in ruling coalitions.

As it is, not all the glosses put on the prime minister’s words have failed to do away with the lingering suspicion in the minds of the more secular-minded parties about what the sangh parivar is up to. Yet, after much hard bargaining, the two sides did at last arrive at a decision to debate the issue in Parliament and end the impasse which had prevented its two houses from functioning for 10 days.

The opposition parties, lying dormant for a long time, were naturally keen to make the most of the opportunity they got to give the government a good run for its money. The government, on its part, was in no position to oblige them by offering the heads of the three ministers who had been chargesheeted for their alleged part in whipping up mob frenzy leading to the demolition of the Babri mosque in Ayodhya eight years ago. The prime minister was, of course, not bound by the letter of the Constitution to ask for their resignation before they had been proved guilty. The pertinent issue, however, was one of political propriety, not strict legality. After all, it was this consideration which forced another minister in the same predicament to quit the government.

The opposition parties could not hope to force the government to yield to their pressure by prolonging the stalemate. Even public opinion would have turned against them for indulging in obstructive tactics to the bitter end. They had to reconcile themselves to the fact that the prime minister just could not afford to do what they wanted since capitulation to their demand would have split his party, turned large sections of the sangh parivar against him and put the very survival of his government at risk.

As for deepening dissensions in the alliance, the opposition parties do not have to exert too hard. They can leave this job to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh which has neither mentally nor emotionally reconciled itself yet to see its programme of giving a saffron colouring to the national polity put in cold storage for an indefinite period. But its dilemma is not as easy to resolve as it imagines. It can certainly make things hot for the BJP if it so wishes and put spanners in the works of the government. But no gain will compensate it for the loss of the position the BJP now enjoys in influencing the shape of national policies as the dominating partner in the ruling coalition.

The trouble with militants in the sangh parivar is that they are hopelessly out of touch with the political and economic realities on the ground. The abandonment of the policy of self-reliance by the government is no betrayal of the cause the BJP had once espoused as zealously as the Swadeshi Jagran Manch. With debt repayment obligations, mounting government servants’ salary and pension bills, the increasing burden of subsidies, the escalation of defence expenditure in the wake of the Kargil war and the policy of a credible nuclear deterrent, whatever it means, preempting most of the revenues, the talk of mobilizing domestic resources to meet the needs of investment in the infrastructure, industry, agriculture and social services on the scale needed for sustained high growth rates as well as for providing work and shelter to the millions of jobless and homeless sounds utterly hollow.

That the Left Front on the radical side and the Swadeshi Jagran Manch on the right have run out of ideas which can conjure up the capital resources the country needs desperately is no surprise. Nor is the frantic competition between states for foreign investment an accident. Most of them live on the brink of bankruptcy and the combined fiscal deficit of the Centre and the states already adds up to a frightening 12 per cent of the gross national product. It is this grim reality which called the NDA’s bluff in promising a radical departure from the Congress policy of a steady transition to a neo-liberal economic order.

That the new phase of the reform process has proved to be tough going is no news. This has been the experience of all countries, which comprise most of the third world as well as former communist states. This is because the process of getting integrated into the global economy is extremely painful. The influx of cheaper imports, technological upgradation of old plants and privatization of overmanned public sector units all result in loss of jobs for many. The increased presence of multinationals, moreover, means fancy salaries and perks for a growing class of managers which skews income distribution policy and creates a new source of popular discontent.

Coming back to the confrontation between the ruling coalition and the opposition parties, there is not much of a mystery about the circumstances which led the prime minister to make statements which he knew would damage his public image as a moderate who had kept the extremists in the sangh parivar on a short leash. That the statements referring to the unfinished business at Ayodhya and a settlement based on building a Ram temple at the site of the demolished mosque were made soon after his dinner and long talks with K.S. Sudarshan makes it a safe surmise that these were by no means off-the-cuff remarks. The words were chosen carefully and bore the imprint of the RSS chief’s thinking.

Of late, the head of the sangh parivar has made no secret of his resentment over the functioning of the government and the way the BJP’s own programme had been devalued, with the new currency of the market and secular philosophies in increasing circulation. If the prime minister’s ploy was meant to test the waters and find out how far he could push his allies into accommodating items carrying the BJP’s logo into the NDA agenda, the recent turn of events must have disabused both him and the RSS chief of any illusion on this score.

Thus whatever the outcome of the debate in Parliament which began yesterday to end the current confrontation between the government and the opposition, the political landscape at the end of all the bluster and invective will remain much as it is today. Stoppages of parliamentary work may capture the headlines for some days but do nothing to force the parties on either side of the main political divide to get a grip on the problems that besiege the country and address these with greater earnestness and integrity of purpose. Both are content to live under a cloud of unknowing.

The promise by NDA leaders to abide by the verdict of the Supreme Court is one instance of this since there is no case bearing on the temple issue before it until now. The one pertaining to the ownership of the land on which the demolished mosque stood still awaits a decision by the Allahabad high court. One would have thought that an explosive issue would be settled quickly. But the judiciary, like the bureaucracy, is never in a hurry. Both indeed are happy to proceed from delay to delay while the exasperated public can do nothing but wait. As the theatre people say, the show must go on but in this country it would continue only with more frequent and more noisy interruptions than ever before.


Kargil has unerringly brought the failure of the Indian intelligence into focus. But there are several illusions with regard to the concept. The first is that “intelligence” is information supplied by state and Central agencies. But the public has also an important role to play. People know more about crime and terrorism than the government. This “intelligence” can be naturally passed on to the police if the public has a friendly attitude towards the administration. Unfortunately, in India this attitude is a hostile one because the administration is corrupt, inefficient and repressive.

The second illusion is that the main target of intelligence agencies is anti-Indian forces or enemies of the nation. But the main target is often the enemies of the party in power, especially the prime minister or the chief minister. Enemies can be located even within the ruling party. Indira Gandhi was famous for her use of the Indian intelligence. Intelligence chiefs are thus often selected on the basis of their personal loyalty.

It is an unwritten directive to intelligence agencies that they are to assess the electoral chances of the ruling party and the main opposition parties. Intelligence branches are often involved actively in election work. Former Intelligence Bureau chief, B.N. Mullik, gives a detailed account of such involvement in My Years with Nehru, 1947-64.

Informed inaction

Mullik writes that before the 1957 general elections, Govind Vallabh Pant, then Union home minister, had asked for an assessment from the bureau about the respective chances of the communist parties and the Congress in the elections. The Intelligence Bureau had made “thorough assessment seat by seat” and concluded that the Congress could not get an overall majority. Events proved it right.

Even now, the practice of identifying the ruling party with the state has not changed. The Janata Party government had once appointed a committee under L.P. Singh to make recommendations about the manner in which the heads of the Intelligence Bureau and the Central Bureau of Investigation should be appointed so that the agencies are not dragged into party politics. The recommendations need to be looked into again.

Another illusion, and one which Kargil has highlighted, is that once intelligence is provided to the administration, action is bound to be taken immediately. Often no action is taken on account of electoral politics. One prime example of this is Assam, where, if Mullik is to be believed, it was not the failure of the intelligence, but a poor understanding of the intelligence’s information, combined with political motivation, that led to the anti-Bengali riots of 1960.

Too many illusions

Information about impending violence had been passed on to the state administration, which refused to take it seriously. The result was a terrible bloodshed that left thousands dead and hundreds homeless. The pattern was repeated in the Guwahati riots of 1968 and the riots of 1972.

The second example of the failure to act on the intelligence report is provided by Tamil Nadu in relation to the rise of militancy in the state. Former intelligence chief, T.V. Rajeshwar, wrote in an article in a leading national daily on April 9, 1998 that the serial bombing in Coimbatore in February of the same year proved convincingly that “Islamic fundamentalism had taken root in the state”. The organized manner in which the militants had proceeded showed signs of external assistance in the shape of money, material and guidance. The bombing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh office in Chennai in 1983 revealed a similar pattern. Ironically, the ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s policies interfered with proceedings against the criminals.

There is another illusion. It is often thought that intelligence is secretly collected. But a good deal of valuable intelligence is available in published material that is accessible to all. India would not have been shocked by the Chinese invasion of 1962 had it seen the geography and history books being used to teach Chinese children in schools since 1960. Nowadays, even the print media passes on valuable information that is overlooked.

Shouting at Indian intelligence’s failures is useless. The public can cooperate with the police, inform it and try to work with it in tandem. Is anybody listening?


The World Trade Organization, or the WTO, in common parlance, has captured the imagination of an entire generation of academics, businessmen, not to mention politicians. Yet, recent developments have led to a question. Is the WTO at all desirable? The much-hyped Seattle ministerial meeting last year has turned out to be a damp squib and voices of dissent against the alteration of domestic legislation in conformity with WTO provisions are getting louder.

The matter has especially assumed importance recently because the time limit for the developing countries to alter their policies is about to be reached soon. For example, India, which has already “freed” some items from its import restriction list will have to abolish quantitative restrictions on all 715 remaining commodities by April 1, 2001.

This may not be good news for our producers, especially those in the sick, loss- making units in the smallscale industry sector. But this will certainly be a boon for the traders who will now have the opportunity to import a variety of items at an extremely low price from low cost producers in countries like China.

While this might invite anti-dumping duties from the Indian government on the Chinese producers, thought must be given to the fact that the Chinese are indeed producing their goods at a much lower cost than their Indian counterparts. After all, the domestic consumers, faced with a variety of low priced products are the net gainers. Moreover, elimination by competition is the best way to exit the market as this minimizes losses, unless of course the board for industrial and financial reconstruction would like to sustain the sick units which have no hope of becoming financially viable again.

The deputy director general of the WTO, Paul-Henri Ravier, has recently stated that the next ministerial conference of the organization will be held at the end of this year. The likely venue is Qatar. With the failure of the Seattle meet, the news of the next conference should generate quite a degree of anticipation in industrialists and negotiators.

Not only have the issues of agriculture, anti-dumping, textiles and clothing failed to evoke a consensus among the developed and the developing countries, new issues relating to labour standards and environment have added to the list of controversies. The strategies of the major players regarding these issues are yet to emerge. Hence much depends of how well negotiations are undertaken.

For example, although the agreement on agriculture strives to reduce distortions in the trade, the real picture is a conflicting one. The United States and the European Union were at loggerheads for a long time owing to the barrier imposed by the EU in the form of export subsidies.

While developing countries, handicapped by their fiscal constraints, cannot subsidize their farmers too much, the rich nations effectively hide a large chunk of their support to agriculture — around 60 per cent — by inventing the “green box” policies. This is allowed by the WTO under the category of domestic support, which cause minimal distortion to trade. The strategy of allocating quotas to supplying countries and imposing prohibitive tariffs on imports beyond them (known as tariff rate quota) is also a common practice in the North.

Such malpractice will continue unless tackled head on. The US and the EU will go on providing export subsidies unless stopped. Not only should they be asked to reduce subsidies at the aggregate level, an attempt must also be made to ensure that they do not concentrate their subsidies on a few select commodities.

To its credit, New Delhi has notified its intention to modify the tariff bindings of some crops for which India is already self-sufficient and thus disallow free imports. Yet, more needs to be done. For example, India should argue for the abolition of the TRQ system, which is seen as a means for providing market access. India may also negotiate for the right to impose countervailing duties equivalent to the export subsidies by exporting countries on specific commodities.

The other area of concern for the entire developing world relates to the agreement on textiles and clothing. The good news is that the multi-fibre agreement is all set to be abolished. The MFA was a thorn in the way of free trade in textiles because it allowed for export quotas. This meant that the West, with no comparative advantage in manufacturing textiles, could export textiles using their superior technology while restricting the market for the least developed countries’ exports in the process.

The bad news is that the process is slow and India is likely to get into a direct confrontation with other developing nations that have gained from the quota system in the past. To their credit, our negotiators have argued that the integration process should be commercially meaningful and the anti-dumping action against quotas should be done away with since they are already under quota restrictions.

The point is that the 10 year phase out of quotas is yet to be over. As very little liberalization is expected to happen before 2002, there is no point in complaining about the Uruguay round package. The emphasis should be on the fact that liberalization should cover all major groups of textiles like yarn fabrics, made-up textile products and clothing and not just yarn and fabrics as has been done in the past by most nations.

The areas which generated the most heated arguments between the North and the South are undoubtedly the linking up of trade and environment and labour standards. There is no doubt that developed countries will try to permit exceptions to WTO norms on environmental grounds. Quite rightly, India has argued for the transfer of environmentally sound technology from the developed to the developing countries which will enable the developing world to adopt largescale environment friendly projects.

Environmental issues connected the sanitary and phytosanitary measures act as non-tariff barriers because this agreement sanctions standards better than international norms, provided these are based on scientific criteria — which is a vague expression. The positive point for the developing world is that there is a consensus among all developing countries in resisting protectionism through frivolous means.

Similarly, the issue of labour standards is best addressed through the International Labour Organization. One interesting fact is that India has signed far more ILO conventions than several developed countries. As far as the issue of child labour is concerned, each nation should tackle this through internal legislation because of the uniqueness of each country regarding the minimum age of employment. Further, only five per cent of child workers currently produce goods that are exported. Trade sanctions will only move these children into other, less pleasant employment.

The new round of negotiations gives the developing world its chance to become actively involved in the process. It can only be stressed that non-participation in negotiations and constant bickering for special and differential treatment has led to the present situation where the developed nations always get their way in international trade. The fact that countries like India can team up with certain developed nations will give them a headstart.

For example, India can join hands with Australia and New Zealand since these countries will provide enough ammunition against “unjust” tariffs and “green box” policies, which enable users to impose limitless subsidies, thus bypassing WTO norms.

Japan, whose subsidies are more than the net contribution of agriculture to its gross domestic product can be cited as an example. However, Australia and New Zealand being the beneficiaries of the TRQ system by virtue of consistent exports of agricultural commodities are in its favour while India is not. Herein lies the essence of negotiations.

The WTO is perhaps the only forum which gives the South the chance to correct the anomalies by applying pressure at the negotiating table. The emerging coalition between interest groups in the US — as that between the labour unions and the green brigade — shows that the system has lost its faith in multilateral trading, which is a key to all round growth. A team effort from all the developing nations is required to tackle these problems. In this light the next ministerial meeting assumes tremendous importance.


Pakistan recently exhibited its indigenously produced military hardware at an international exhibition. The progress made by Pakistan in achieving self-sufficiency in the field of defence equipment was impressive. The chief attraction in the much-hyped defence exhibition happened to be the battle tank, Al-Khalid. Weighing 46 tonnes and manned by a three man crew, the tank reportedly has a maximum speed of 65 kilometres an hour and a maximum cruising range of 400 kms, ideal for a battle scenario in the deserts and plains of the Indian subcontinent. The tank has a fire control system which can attack hostile targets while moving cross-country at high speeds.

On the other hand, the main battle tank Arjun, its Indian contemporary, weighs 58 tonnes and has a speed of 40 kms per hour on rough terrain in addition to room for a four-member crew comprising the commander, loader, gunner and the driver.

General Pervez Musharraf, while on a visit to the exhibition, IDEAS 2000, talked to the media. He revealed that the pilot production of nine tanks was in progress and mass production of the machine, which would be the main battle tank of the Pakistan army, is due to commence in 2001.

The threat of Al-Khalid

Musharraf called Al-Khalid one of the best and lightest tanks of the world. He also drew parallels with the Arjun developed by the defence research and development organization. The vehicles are now being produced in limited numbers by the Indian ordnance organization.

Musharraf seemed to be taking a dig at New Delhi by saying that Al-Khalid was initiated in 1991 whereas work on Arjun commenced in 1980. He also referred to the heavy weight of Arjun and the Indian army’s reluctance to accept it. He attempted to boost the morale of Pakistan’s much smaller defence science establishment by comparing it with the Indian one and claiming that it had achieved much more in a shorter period.

Only time will prove the veracity of these claims. But, if Al-Khalid’s declared qualities are true and the serial production does take place as planned, it is likely that the balance of power in the subcontinent may tilt in favour of Pakistan. With the DRDO’s MBT Arjun currently out of the race, India may have to look for a suitable alternative to deal with the impending threat emanating from Al-Khalid.

Wake up, it’s time

In India, T-72 tanks acquired from the erstwhile Soviet Union in the Eighties, and subsequently produced here, have been the backbone of the army’s main battle tank force. Unfortunately they are fast becoming obsolete. The development of the Arjun, the scheduled replacement for the T-72 in the early Nineties was also delayed beyond expectations. The DRDO took an unduly long time to design, develop and finally produce the prototype.

Moreover, it did not come up to the Indian army’s qualitative requirements. It could not, for instance, withstand a possible combat with the lighter Al-Khalid, which is capable of operating in extreme heat and on the sandy terrain of the Thar. An agreement has been signed with Moscow for the acquisition of 300 T-90s mainly in order to neutralize Pakistan’s recent addition of 300 T-80s imported from Ukraine and its new Al- Khalids. The Indian defence industry needs to emulate its Pakistani counterpart’s innovative zeal.

The appearance of the Al-Khalid on India’s western horizons should be a wake-up call to the DRDO. We should learn from the delays during the production of the MBT Arjun. The T-72 tanks need urgent upgradation. This is top priority. The western sector of the India-Pakistan border should be defended with the most sophisticated anti-tank deterrence.



On a rough pitch

Sir — It is not a frequent occurrence that the best player of a cricket match is suspended for the next one. But it has happened to the Indian captain, Sourav Ganguly (“One match ban on Sourav”, Dec 13). Adjudged the man of the match in the Kanpur one day international against Zimbabwe, he also earned the wrath of the match referee for showing dissent during the match. The result has been the one match ban. Also, this is the second time Ganguly has faced suspension. This does not speak too highly of the captain. His histrionics during the Kanpur match were not becoming of a captain, who is expected to keep his cool under pressure. It is irrelevant whether his appeals were genuine. The umpire’s decision is still final, and cricketers go into a match with this knowledge. Ganguly’s superb all round performance in the match came to nothing owing to his behaviour on the field. Ganguly must realize that he leads a team full of temperamental cricketers. As such, he has little option but to lead by example.
Yours truly,
S. Ramakrishnan, via email

Off the rails

Sir — The recent railway accident in which the Amritsar-bound Howrah express collided with a goods train in the Fathehgarh district in Punjab is a tragedy turned into a melodrama. A similar accident took place two years ago only about 20 kilometres from the spot. No one took the responsibility then, nor has anyone now. The irony is that lives are lost due to sheer negligence, but somehow heads never roll.

The melodrama began when the Union minister for railways, Mamata Banerjee, was informed of the accident. Going by press reports, Banerjee rushed to the accident site, but first decided to attend a political rally in Midnapore. Like most politicians, she clearly has her priorities laid out. She reportedly turned up at the accident spot 20 hours later and, characteristically, fretted and fumed and began blaming every one, except herself.

To make up for her delayed appearance and to salvage her sullied image, she chose to deploy her most potent weapon — resignation. Resignation has been used as a political instrument by politicians before to salvage consciences. Lal Bahadur Shastri used it effectively in the late Fifties. The former railway minister, Nitish Kumar, felt compelled to use the same weapon in the wake of the Gaisal tragedy. In Banerjee’s case, the weapon has clearly got blunted.

Yours faithfully,
Gautam K. Ghosh, Calcutta

Sir — Mamata Banerjee seems to have got into the habit of resigning every fortnight (“She resigns, he rejects, she relents”, Dec 5). Whenever she faces a problem in her political career, she decides to resign. Is this a new characteristic of the Indian political system?

Banerjee did not cause the accident. That bit is pretty obvious. The least she could have done is wait for the inquiry report. If this indicated any irresponsibility on her part, she could have taken the decision. What Banerjee fails to see is that if she persists with her habit of resigning at the drop of a hat, she will never be taken seriously by her electorate. In fact, this establishes her as an irresponsible politician. No matter how brave she might try to appear before the people, to me Banerjee is a coward. In fact she does not deserve to be a cabinet minister. She is best suited for West Bengal politics where she can continue to blame the Left Front for failing to develop the state.

Yours faithfully
Rajarshi Ghosh, Calcutta

Sir — Mamata Banerjee had staged a similar resignation drama over the fuel prices hike. She might have got a token rollback, but she received brickbats from all quarters. This time she has acted fast — accepting moral responsibility for the train accident and resigning. That the prime minister has refused to accept it is a different ball game.

The resignation shows that Banerjee is not hankering after the chair, but is trying to set things right. And now that the prime minister has given her a free hand in running the railway ministry, which translates into sweeping away corruption at the top levels, introducing public tenders for hundreds of crores of purchases, liquidating the entrenched babu-supplier nexus and also the transporters’ grip, it appears she may be attempting too much at one go. However if Banerjee has the support of the people, she might still be successful.

Yours faithfully,
Sush Kocher, Calcutta

Sir — One cannot help wondering what more trouble the prime minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, can expect from West Bengal’s maverick politician. If Mamata Banerjee becomes the future chief minister of the state, she will spell trouble for everyone. Indians cannot afford another election and confusion at this juncture. Will Banerjee please allow the National Democratic Alliance to complete its full term?

Yours faithfully,
S. Sundaresan, Dubai

Sir — Something is obviously wrong with the Indian Railways. The railways comprise a stupendous 6,600 kilometres of rail lines, 1.6 million workers and involve a budget of Rs 28,000 crore. Around 1,300 trains carry 13 million passengers and 1.2 million tonnes of goods every day. The system has expanded enormously and shortcomings are now becoming manifest in the alarming increase of railway disasters.

The Gaisal accident accounted for nearly 400 deaths. The accident in Khanna in Punjab claimed 210 lives. It should be remembered that even these figures are inaccurate since the actual figures are kept under wraps. The figures are indicative of the faults of the railway system. At least 70 per cent of all accidents must be put down to human failure.

A major reason behind this is the dependence on the human factor in the present era of modernization and technology. Other causes include worn out and unreliable equipment and inadequacy of safety devices. Another factor is the expansion of the railways as a populist programme to cater to vote bank politics. In the last few years, as many as 900 trains have been introduced, a large number of them because political masters considered them necessary to increase their political mileage.

Yours faithfully,
Sanjoy Mukherji, Calcutta

State of archaism

Sir — This is an era of nuclear warfare. Conventional warfare with tanks is over for good. So one wonders why India is keen on buying so many tanks from Russia. The threat posed by neighbouring Pakistan cannot be a good enough reason, since Pakistan itself is buying state of the art missiles from China.

The Indian army should buy more bullet-proof jackets, mine-proof trucks and jeeps, night equipment, advanced communications and lighter weapons. It should say no once and for all to T-90 tanks for these are going to be obsolete in wars in the future.

Yours faithfully,
Anjoo Poddar, via email

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