Editorial 1 / Cut to slowdown
Editorial 2 / Matter of the mind
Sangh family feuds
Fifth Column / Painful standoff in West Asia
In search of a spiritual quotient
Food for thought and some worries
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1 / CUT TO SLOWDOWN 
 
 
 
 
One of the more remarkable features of the world economy during the latter half of the last decade has been the sustained growth of the United States economy. Year after year, the American economy continued to grow at rates which were about twice the average long-term growth rate witnessed during the period 1973-95. Americans flocked to shops in ever increasing numbers or spent millions through e-shopping on a wide variety of products. The spiralling demand stored up business confidence and entrepreneurial expectations. This was soon translated into increased investment, which in turn bolstered the rate of growth of the economy. But over the last six months or so, fears were expressed that the US economy was resembling a bubble — the economy would outstretch itself and then the bubble would burst. Indeed, several characteristics of the US economy seemed too good to be true. Chief amongst them was the US stock market. The cumulative return on US stocks exceeded a mind-boggling 270 per cent during 1995-99. This works out to a compound annual rate of 30 per cent, which was obviously several times the average increase in rates of profit enjoyed by US companies. Clearly, US stocks were grossly overpriced, and a mini-crash was bound to occur. This happened last year when the return on US stocks was negative.

There are also other more fundamental reasons for believing that the US economy is incapable of sustaining long-term growth rates significantly above 2 to 3 per cent. A sustained expansion in aggregate demand exceeding this level is soon bound to come up against supply constraints. Current unemployment rates in the US are negligible, and so higher volumes of output can only come from increases in labour productivity. This in turn requires a constant flow of technological inventions — scientists must develop new labour-saving methods of production. There are obvious limits to how fast this process can be carried out.

An unpleasant consequence of globalization is that individual economies are now so very closely interlinked that recessions soon transcend geographical boundaries. The larger the economy, the larger is the number of other countries affected by “local” events. This logic suggests that the consequences of a slowdown in the US economy will inevitably have ripple effects on the entire world economy. That is why everyone has been hoping that the transition to a lower growth path in the US will be carried out in an orderly manner because a gradual and smooth transition will allow other economies sufficient time to make their own adjustments in a systematic manner. Much attention has been focused on the actions taken by Mr Alan Greenspan, the chairman of the US Federal Reserve Bank. Mr Greenspan has acquired a larger-than-life image, with his countless admirers believing that he has mastered the art of macroeconomic fine-tuning. Mr Greenspan has just taken the first action by lowering US interest rates. He has also promised to effect further cuts in the interest rate if necessary. Initial reactions have been positive in the sense that US industrialists have welcomed this move. US stock prices have also moved up almost immediately. Of course, it is too early to make any definitive statements about whether this action will prove sufficient to boost business confidence in the US and thereby provide for a smoother transition to a lower growth path. New fiscal measures such as president-elect George W. Bush’s promised tax cuts will be a big help.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2 / MATTER OF THE MIND 
 
 
 
 
Promises sit well on the prime minister. Inaugurating the 88th session of the Indian Science Congress, Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee stressed the government’s commitment to the progress of science and substantiated it with the promise of a national mission of technology education. Its work would be to upgrade the Indian institutes of technology, regional engineering colleges and other centres of scientific research. There would also be an enhancement in funding for research and development and a dismantling of bureaucratic controls over higher education institutions and centres in the interest of high grade research. From all this would emerge “genomic valleys” much like the Silicon Valley, and Indian scientists would be in the vanguard of bioinformatics. Such noble visions have an inspiring ring. But it is not clear why the government should take on itself the role of science’s big brother. A government which is truly interested in unfettered scientific activity needs to provide the ambience for scientists to work in. To suggest that the removal of bureaucratic controls will help the free flow of funds from private sources such as the alumni of scientific institutes and non-resident Indians is not enough. What is needed is cooperation among the state, industry and scientific and technological institutes in a much greater degree than now exists. The resultant boom in applied sciences and technology will allow support for an independent field for pure science research, without which all visions of being a world leader in the field of science will come to naught.

The crux of the matter is the misdirection of the government’s interest. Given that education in India is still largely the government’s responsibility, its intervention, if it cannot help itself, should operate at the level of universities. It is no use mourning the loss of good brains to information technology from the sphere of the pure sciences, when the syllabi and facilities at the higher education level are so discouraging. There is no real recognition of the need for pure science research — thinkers are not made because thinking of this kind is ultimately devalued. Perhaps the government needs to water the roots first. To do that, it needs to change its mindset.

   

 
 
SANGH FAMILY FEUDS 
 
 
BY SHAM LAL
 
 
It is fun to see the Indian state pictured as a milch cow with too many babus, in politics as well as in the administration, sucking dry its dugs. Having been for long a cog in the vast government machinery, Upamanyu Chatterjee knows why it creaks in every joint. It has to be oiled with money to get any of its parts moving. Even those who have to deal with a municipal office seldom return home without a hole in their pocket. The reader gets a close-up of the innards of both the political and the bureaucratic systems in the author’s latest novel. His jaunty style, I-could-not-care-less manner and prodigal use of four-letter words will annoy the more sedate. But how else could he give vent to his rage at the cruel parody they had made of governance and jab hard in the ribs those he wanted to hurt? This piece is not intended to review his work, which is neither surrealistic nor magic realistic, but to use his brooding over the predicament of the sick Indian state as a foil to the prime minister’s musings during his brief holiday in Kerala which hit the media headlines last week. The chief government executive’s concerns are entirely different from those of a civil servant turned novelist. The growing tensions in society, with the mosque-temple controversy acquiring a new potential of communal rioting, is his main worry. The word, “musings”, has a poetic aura and is redolent of a quiet retreat. Whatever the reason for its use in the present context, the gist of the prime minister’s stray thoughts does not make very exciting reading. What new ideas could the poor man have on the banal subject of the need for amity between the two major communities in a country where the dawn of independence itself arrived in the midst of an orgy of mass killings? The best he could do was to invoke the spirit of tolerance in the manner of the great Ashoka’s homilies to his subjects in his inscriptions. He exhorted them to show due regard for the faiths of others, tolerate differences on matters of doctrine and belief and learn to live in harmony with their neighbours. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi did the same in the pre-Partition days and had to suffer the shame of seeing large parts of the country convulsed by a mad frenzy of rioting. It is a forlorn hope that a new spirit of tolerance can grow in the midst of so many insurgencies, separatist demands and aggravated ethnic identities. If the prime minister had any illusions on this score, the response to his firm commitment to abide by the concerned court’s verdict on the ownership of the disputed land in Ayodhya from some members of his ideological family is chilling enough to freeze his spirit. Ashok Singhal, the head of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, has gone on record to declare that, come what may, the construction of the proposed Ram temple at the site of the demolished mosque in Ayodhya would start on the auspicious day chosen next week by the sadhus and sants gathered in Allahabad for the Kumbh Mela. It cannot but be particularly galling for the prime minister that his cautious approach to an explosive issue should be challenged so recklessly by his own ideological kith and kin. How can he deal with the far more knotty Kashmir problem or remove the obstacles in the way of the economic reform process if some front organizations of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh put spanners in the government’s works?

There are only two options open to him now if he wants to frustrate the Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s plan. The one is to seek a stay order form the Allahabad high court barring Singhal and his henchmen from disturbing the status quo until it has made up its mind on the issues under dispute.

If the prime minister fears that this course will disgrace the sangh parivar in the eyes of the public and create tensions in the Bharatiya Janata Party itself, he should lodge a strong protest with the sarsanghchalak against the irresponsible behaviour of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad boss and ask K.S. Sudarshan to restrain him from resorting to a course of action which could only mean his organization’s confrontation not only with the Muslim community represented by the Babri Masjid action committee but also with the government.

It is at this point that the new development raises many intriguing questions. Could Singhal have spoken so aggressively without prior approval of the sarsanghchalak? Is there a continuing secret war or nerves between Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Sudarshan over some unresolved differences between the two? And do the militants in the front organizations of the RSS, who supply most of the active cadre to the BJP at election time, want to cut the prime minister down to size for treating them as a nuisance?

The RSS leadership is not so dumb as to be oblivious to the many factors which are making management of change a most daunting job. As it is, the government is working against tremendous odds. It is unable to put an end to the insurgencies in the Northeast which have made Assam almost ungovernable. The chances of reaching an agreement with the All-Party Hurriyat Conference leaders on the basis of a somewhat larger measure of autonomy for Kashmir within the Indian Union are pretty bleak. There is no credible plan to create some order out of the growing urban chaos. And all parts of the infrastructure are in a miserable shape.

The breed of Singhals only distracts the attention of both the government and the public from the big challenges which call for bold initiatives and a broader national consensus by blowing up issues which only create new fears and suspicions among different communities. The BJP has been somewhat chastened by the need to work with a number of secular groups and a new sense of realism that power often brings with it, though there are some elements in the party which are not quite happy over the change and which try to give effect to one part or another of their old agenda surreptitiously whenever they get the chance.

As for the RSS, it still feels sore at the concessions the BJP has had to make by ditching or diluting parts of its own programme under pressure from its allies or because of the logic of the liberalization and globalization processes. What makes its whole approach to management of change untenable is the way it is busy antagonizing the minorities. What has it gained by earning the hostility of the Christians? Would it not have been better for it to compete with them in setting up schools and hospitals which, because of their high standards, cannot often accommodate even one out of the four students or patients seeking admission?

The RSS prates of indigenous culture all the time but has done nothing to promote the study of the history of Indian civilization. It has sponsored few worthwhile works in the human sciences which commend themselves to scholars all over the world. The irony is that for all its loud talk, and its success in changing the medium of instruction to Hindi in so many universities in the north, there are no textbooks or even reference works on any subject that can remotely come up to the level of the best in English. Even on most Indian subjects more books are published in the foreign language every year than in the various vernaculars.

But how long can an organization bluff the public with its claim to be the main custodian of the Indian civilization, with so little to show for its labours? Even if it is interested in propagating Indian culture, its purpose will be achieved less by trying to prove that the Indus civilization people, too, were Ar- yans than by making all the Vedic texts available in the various regional languages in competent translations so that at least one family out of a hundred has a clearer idea of what they are all about. Is it just an accident that not one out of ten Hindu priests who preside at important rituals today, at least in the north, can even pronounce the mantras correctly?

The truth is that the sangh’s cultural pretensions are no more than a façade. Its objectives are largely political. Even the religious issues which concern it most, as in the case of other communal outfits, have less to do with matters of genuine faith than with using them as a means of whipping up sectarian feelings and widening the support base of its political wing.

Though this strategy may have won the BJP the largest number of seats in the Lok Sabha in the last elections, it goes against the grain of coalition politics, makes the BJP’s allies more reluctant to let the party strike roots in the states they dominate and more suspicious of policies bearing the Hindutva stamp for fear of losing minority support in the areas they control.

It will not be surprising if the new squabbles in the sangh parivar weaken the BJP’s hold on the Central government and also erode its support base in the Hindi belt even as it makes the task of governance more tricky. All this is provocation enough for the prime minister to do more heart-searching than his musings allowed him to.

   

 
 
FIFTH COLUMN / PAINFUL STANDOFF IN WEST ASIA 
 
 
BY ARSHI KHAN
 
 
The failure of the west Asia talks — after running for over nine years — between Israel and Palestine has exposed that Israel and the United States are against a viable settlement of the conflict over Palestinian areas occupied since 1967. Israel has adopted the approach of “concessions” rather than the “cessation of colonization”. The US leadership, which supervised the peace talks, has not quite been an impartial player in the settlement process. Neither has the United Nations security council tried to resolve the crisis in the way it did in East Timor, Iraq, Sierra Leone and Afghanistan.

Few weeks before the end of his presidential term, Bill Clinton came up with a new package after discussing the issues with Israeli and Palestinian negotiators at Washington. The last Camp David talks in July, 2000 had disappointed Palestinians. The US approach at Sharm El-Sheikh the following October appeared to be more sketchy. The five-day long Washington talks in December were aimed at bringing Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat to the US capital for intensive talks towards a final settlement.

On January 3, after two rounds of discussion between Arafat and Clinton following their 45-minute telephonic conversation on Jan 1, it was apparent that the Palestinians were not satisfied. Clinton’s last-ditch bid fails to address the basic problems of the Palestinians. At the macro level, there are two major issues — end of Israeli occupation and granting Palestinian refugees the right of return.

UN unresolved

Palestine wants total withdrawal of Israeli control over the areas occupied since 1967, while not insisting on regaining about 22 per cent of Palestine occupied by Israel in 1948. However, it insists on the right of return for about four million Palestinian refugees.

The UN resolution 194, adopted on December 11, 1948, regarding this right or compensations for those choosing not to return and for the loss of or damage to property, had been adopted through a clear majority. Even Israel had accepted its implementation as a condition for membership to the UN. Since Israel has not honoured its promise, it should have lost its UN membership.

Clinton’s package calls for Israeli withdrawal from most of the occupied areas provided Palestinians disclaim their right to return. Interestingly, the proposal also calls for Israeli annexation of five per cent of the Palestinian land, long-term lease by Israel of three per cent, and one per cent annexation of Jewish settlements in Jerusalem. The leasing arrangements will help Israel hold on to the settlements of Kiryat Arba, Hebron, and retain its settlements in areas inside Hebron. The package is hardly different from what was proposed in Camp David last July.

Time out

Both the Israeli presence in about nine per cent of Palestinian territory and the negation of the right to return clearly violate UN resolutions. The US proposal is disturbing since it does not condemn Israeli occupation and does not recognize the fundamental right of the Palestinians to repatriate.

While armed interventions have been made in the name of humanitarian intervention and safeguarding popular sovereignty in Yugoslavia, Iraq and some Latin American states, no such intervention was made in the case of Palestine. About four million Palestinian refugees are scattered throughout Jordan, Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, Gaza and West Bank. Israel has never been forced to pay compensations to them.

The Palestine problem has made it necessary to convene hundreds of sittings of the UN general assembly and the security council. The issue has almost become a civilizational tragedy of the west Asia. It has also become amply clear that peace will not be established without looking into the basic issues.

On the other hand, the changed scenario of the area must also be considered. With the Arabs becoming aware of unipolarism, and Israel becoming assertive, the Palestinians have also become restless. This is the moment for Israel to begin talking about ending total occupation and accepting that the Palestinians must be granted their right to return. Else extreme measures, such as sanctions, armed intervention, international protection and weapons inspection can be used to bring about a logical end to the longstanding problem.

   

 
 
IN SEARCH OF A SPIRITUAL QUOTIENT 
 
 
BY ASHOKE SEN
 
 
The recent proposal of the Union human resources development ministry, enumerated in the National Curriculum Framework for School Education — drawn up by the National Council for Educational Research and Training — is a classic example of noble intentions going awry.

The noble intentions in the proposal are not difficult to find. For one, it seeks to remove the widespread disparity in the standards of examination conducted by 34 boards of secondary and higher secondary education in the country. This, the government argues, “has led to multiplicity of entrance tests conducted by professional institutions in areas like engineering, medicine and management, causing stress and strain among students and parents, besides giving rise to malpractices and wasteful expenditure.”

With the objective of reducing the burden of the syllabus on the young learner, the government has sought to integrate the teaching of science and technology upto the secondary level. Also, a new “three language formula” has been promoted which lays emphasis on “teaching Hindi as the official language of the country and Sanskrit as the language of traditional wisdom and culture of the land”.

The most “revolutionary” proposal of the government — and here it has gone one step further than the Left Front government in West Bengal — is to do away with examinations altogether in schools and having a comprehensive and continuous assessment instead. The NCFSE says, “The performance of students at the secondary level in school examinations will be graded on a five point scale, using absolute grading and grading by directly converting marks into grades.” Upto the secondary level, the proposal visualizes no “pass” or “fail”. Students will thus have a free ride upto class X.

At the higher secondary stage, the courses will be organized in four semesters. Evaluation of the first three semesters will be done in the respective schools, while the fourth semester examination will be conducted by the board.

The government wants to ensure availability of pre-school education for all children and forbid formal teaching and testing of different subjects at this level. One need that has been identified is for a broadbased education for all children upto the secondary stage to help them become lifelong learners and acquire basic skills and high intelligent quotients, emotional quotients and spiritual quotients. The last two are novel concepts which the NCERT has come up with recently. Twenty per cent of the seats in all government and non-government institutions are to be reserved for students from the poor and underdeveloped sections of the society.

These proposals must be examined first from the standpoint of practicability and ethics. The government’s views have been premised upon the theory that examinations are not the true indicators of a student’s knowledge, nor is there always a proper assessment of examination scripts. These criticisms are true to an extent, but this is still the best system at our disposal. Even the suggested grade system does not succeed in bypassing examinations altogether. The assessment in grades is a the reflection of conventional system, where a poor grade will be equivalent to failure.

The NCERT’s recommendation is thus old wine in a new bottle. Nor is it the first time that such a recommendation has been made. In 1975 and 1988, proposals similar to this were not implemented following stiff resistance from various universities. Moreover, the grade system only makes a general assessment possible, but not a specific assessment of the students. Hence, straightforward marking is far more consistent and significant.

In the semester system, students would be required to earn credits. But even here, marking cannot be dispensed with. The experiment with such a system has been far from satisfactory. In West Bengal, at the primary stage, there is neither examination nor marking. This has not helped the state’s overall educational standard. It is not without reason that most of the teachers’ associations and teachers have protested against this recommendation.

The revised three-language formula, proposed by the NCERT, is ill-intended. At the primary level, apart from English and the state language, it recommends the teaching of Hindi, the “national language”. This proposal is reminiscent of the official language commission of 1956 which was rejected. In a multilingual country like India, a common language of communication is important, but does Hindi fit that bill? By what criterion should Hindi be considered as the national language of India and the rest of the languages “regional”?

The term, “national language”, may imply either the language used for governmental work or the common language of all citizens. If the first meaning is accepted, it would be unreasonable to think that the governments of West Bengal, Manipur, or Tamil Nadu would use Hindi as their language of administration. Neither can the term be taken in the second sense, as India never had and still does not have a common national language.

Hindi should not aspire to assume that status, because that would only cause dissension. Any attempt to make Hindi compulsory in non-Hindi speaking states and give it an elevated status would be fraught with danger. The sangh parivar zealots are already going about exhorting people to speak Hindi and abjure English. If this linguistic jingoism is allowed to continue unabated, non-Hindi states will take the cue and carry on with their brand of linguistic chauvinism.

In West Bengal, organizations such as the Navajagaran Mancha, Bhasa O Chetana Samity and Amra Bangali have started clamouring for the banishment of English in schools. Even the capital, Calcutta, has been renamed Kolkata.

Insistence on Sanskrit as a compulsory language is likely to create problems among non-Hindu students, who are not likely to accept it as “the language of traditional wisdom and culture”. What the NCERT has failed to realize is that English cannot be dispensed with and in this age of globalization, its importance cannot be overestimated.

The introduction of value education at the elementary and primary levels has been proposed with a view to saffronizing education. The ideas of a spiritual quotient and an emotional quotient are preposterous. When asked how one could measure one’s SQ, the NCERT director, I.S. Rajput, is reported to have said, “Some things like beauty and truth cannot be measured in numbers. Teachers will be trained to measure SQ.” But he is silent as to how this mystic quotient will be arrived at.

Even if there were, at the origin of the proposals, the good intention to improve the general standard of education, one fears that the government has put the cart before the horse. Teachers today have moved far from their ideals. Many of them are engaged in private tuitions. It is not as if the government is unaware of the situation, yet it has made no attempt to change the state of affairs. And till that is done, all the reform proposals will be futile. The first thing the country needs is genuine and dedicated educationists. Reforms can follow.

   

 
 
FOOD FOR THOUGHT AND SOME WORRIES 
 
 
BY TIRTHO BANERJEE
 
 
It is a paradox of sorts. While the commerce ministry is looking into allegations of genetically modified food having reached flood victims in Orissa as part of aid from the United States, the 88th Indian Science Congress celebrated GMF, courtesy the strong lobby in its favour.

There is a big question mark over the safety of GMF. The European Union has barred its entry, Iceland has banned its use in feedstock and big firms like MacDonalds, Marks and Spencers and others shun it. In India, the words “genetically modified food” were unknown till recently when the US was alleged to have dumped its rejected genetically engineered soya and corn in India.

It is also alleged that genetically engineered rice is being marketed in India by foreign seed companies. Moreover, the US-based seed giant Monsanto, which is involved in cotton plantations in India, has patented technology on terminator seeds which is banned in India. The science congress by recommending the GMF has provided a launching pad to companies involved in the GMF business.

Trigger reaction

GMF is produced from plants or animals which have had their genes changed by scientists to get the desired results. Soyabean, potato and bananas are all being modified to either increase their shelf life or to make them more delicious.

It is true that genetic modification allows one to improve not only the flavour and texture but also the nutritional value of food. However, the anti-GMF lobby has rightly asserted that use of DNA from plant viruses and bacteria in the modification of crops may trigger a host of diseases and damage our immune system. Environmentalists stress that some of the genes injected into crops could escape to other species where they might have adverse effects. They apprehend that leakage of insect resistant genes could result in the emergence of superweeds which may affect the food chain.

Safety concerns

However, genetically modified crops would undeniably require fewer chemicals and prevent erosion. Despite the benefits, there is no gainsaying the truth that the use of antibiotic resistant marker genes in modified crop could be transferred to micro-organisms that may trigger disorders in us.

The choice of eating GMF should be left with the consumer, although he has to be made aware of the nature of the product he chooses to eat. Labelling could be one way. Every GMF item should have a tag which clearly mentions what it is. In the West, agencies are monitoring shopping habits to assess the possible impact of GMF on human health. GMF also has to be tested for safety using a sound scientific basis. In India, safety protocols andsui generis legislation are yet to be put in place. The Indian Science Congress concludes that “most of the concerns about the safety of GMFs have not been substantiated through experimental evidence”. Till they are, it would be risky to give a go-ahead to GMF in India.

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

New Vietnam

Sir — The shadows of war have faded and the ghosts of the past have been laid to rest. The Vietnam that the Indian prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, has seen is a confident nation taking rapid strides into the future, a country where the influences of the West are clearly visible in the innumerable discos that have come up in different parts of Hanoi (“Uncle Sam meets Uncle Ho in discos”, and “Vajpayee tells Vietnam of spontaneous joy”, Jan 9). The determination with which Vietnam has been trying to normalize relations with the United States demonstrates its desire to forge new ties with both the East and the West. Vajpayee’s well-timed visit to the country is symptomatic of India’s policy of maintaining cordial relations with countries on both sides of the globe. Although the two nations have agreed to cooperate in the field of nuclear technology, the actual emphasis will be on economic issues and trade. India is also aware that stronger ties with Vietnam will help it gain leverage in southeast Asia.
Yours faithfully,
Neha Sharma, via email

History unwritten

Sir — The editorial, “Nominal change” (Dec 24), has rightly pointed out that a change in the name of a city does not necessarily bring about a transformation in its life and culture. If the state government really wants to make a difference in the lives of the people, then it should try to rejuvenate the economy and encourage industrial development in the state.

Changing the name of the city from Calcutta to Kolkata merely speaks of the parochialism of those who were responsible for it. Furthermore, Calcutta has always had a cosmopolitan colouring and has been home to people from all states. This change is no doubt a part of the state government’s desire to wipe out the vestigial reminders of colonial rule in the state and in India. In the past, the Left Front government had also changed the names of different streets in the city but without much success. It is very likely that the people of this city will reject this change too.

Yours faithfully,
Mita Sinha, Calcutta

Sir — The chief minister of West Bengal, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, deserves praise for taking the initiative to rename the city of Calcutta to Kolkata. Such a move was long overdue as it is unusual for a city’s name to have two different spellings. It would make sense to change the name of our state from West Bengal to Bengal, since the erstwhile East Bengal is now called Bangladesh. But, educational institutions should be given a choice in the matter.

Yours faithfully,
Rita Sen, Calcutta

Sir — The West Bengal government has finally had its way and Calcutta is now known as Kolkata. It is very difficult to understand the rationale behind this change, especially since the state will not benefit from it. Reeling under nearly 24 years of leftist rule and the consequent decay of the economy coupled with falling standards in education, the state needs to revive its past reputation if it is going to claim its rightful place in a post-modern India.

Instead of proving that it is committed to the growth of the economy and to the encouragement of foreign investment, the state government has taken two steps backward. Perhaps the chief minister of West Bengal, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, needs to be reminded that Bombay did not become the industrial capital of India after being rechristened Mumbai. A change of name is hardly going to affect Calcutta’s future.

Yours faithfully,
Sougat Banerjee, Serampore

Sir — The renaming of Calcutta as Kolkata to free it from the shadow of colonization is an exercise in futility since the city reached its zenith under the British. The name, Calcutta, has a history of its own and changing the name of the city will hardly make any difference to its people. It is disheartening to see the state government waste so much time, energy and money on such trivial issues instead of embarking on projects that would benefit the poor and the needy. By imitating Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu, we have proved that Bengal has lost its former glory and is no longer capable of leading by example.

Yours faithfully,
Maqsood Hasan, Kankinara

Red in the face

Sir — That a number of armed militants succeeded in storming the Red Fort and killing three people including two army persons, is alarming to say the least (“Red faces after Red Fort raid”, Dec 24). This obvious lapse in security is another example of the vulnerability of India’s defence installations and has once again demonstrated our unwillingness to learn from our mistakes.

What is much worse is that the army and the Delhi police have come up with two different versions of the truth. Not only did the militants manage to escape before the quick action team of the army could fire back, the Delhi police were not allowed to enter the fort even though they could have provided vital assis-tance.

Moreover, one wonders how the militants were able to gain access to the fort despite the fact that both the Salim and Lahori gates were guarded by security personnel.

Yours faithfully,
Nitin Kapoor, Calcutta

Sir — The lapse of security that led to the attack on the Red Fort demonstrates to the rest of the world how weak and ineffective India’s defence network really is. The defence minister of India, George Fernandes, is answerable to the people of the country who have a right to know what happened.

In the light of these events it is essential that the government takes the necessary steps to make sure that similar attacks do not take place again.

Yours faithfully,
Dhaneswar Banerjee, Bolpur

Sir — The militant attack on the Red Fort and the Delhi police’s arrest of Ashfaq Ahmed seem to be shrouded in mystery and secrecy. The protests made by the residents of Jamia Nagar who have alleged that the encounter was probably fake, have added yet another twist to this issue.

The police had claimed that Ashfaq is a Pakistani citizen while the residents of Jamia Nagar said that his parents were from Uttar Pradesh. Is the Delhi police trying to cover up something and, if so, what? While the people of India deserve to know the truth, it is becoming increasingly doubtful as to whether it will come out.

Yours faithfully,
Nina Singh, Nagpur

Letters to the editor should be sent to:

The Telegraph
6 Prafulla Sarkar Street
Calcutta 700 001
Email: [email protected]
Readers in the Northeast can write to:
Third Floor, Godrej Building,
G.S. Road, Ulubari, Guwahati 781007
   
 

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